What We REALLY Should Have Packed

When planning for our longest trip to date, Shannon and I boldly decided we’d each only take one carry on bag and one backpack.  Just before departing last October, we gave some insight on what would be in those bags (check out the original post here). That was all great in theory, and mostly in practice, but I think it’s time for an update on how it all worked out for us. 6 months, 17 countries, and at least a dozen climates later; here’s the breakdown on What We’re Thankful We Took, What We Could Have Done Without, and What We Should Have Brought.

Michael’s Carry On


What I’m Thankful I Took

  • Roller Luggage – Every “real backpacker” out there may stick up their nose at this, but as they’re spending hundreds on chiropractors, I’ll be laughing in comfort.  I can’t tell you how many times I saw someone carrying a giant pack on their back as I wheeled right by.  Now, I will say that we saw several people with luggage the size of a VW; that I don’t get either.  In six months, there were only a handful of times that I really needed to pick everything up off the ground. I really encourage a debate on this, ‘cuz I just don’t get the opposition. Our High Sierra luggage is the best and we’ll put it up to yours any day.
  • Layers – Shannon may disagree with me on this, but I really am glad I did NOT bring a heavier coat.  Sure, I froze my ass off in the Swiss Alps for a few days, but I’d rather do that than carry around a giant jacket that only got used 5% of the time.  If I wanted to, I could wear an undershirt, t-shirt, long sleeve shirt, sweatshirt, and coat all at once.  It worked out just fine, and made sense for the variety of weather and seasons we saw.
  • Flexible Tripod – Aside from clothes and a camera, I need my tripod. My tiny, flexible one at that.  This thing barely takes up any space, is very strong (even for our dSLR), and provides me with the only real proof that Shannon and I actually went on this trip together.
  • Reusable Zip Ties – (the ones that can zip and unzip)  Small and easily forgettable, these suckers come in handy!  I use these all the time to lock up zippers on our luggage and backpacks.  Whenever we’re in a crowded area, it can be a real pain to fumble around with a lock and key, so I zip tie our things to safety!

What I Could Have Done Without

  • Power (Voltage) Transformer – Not the outlet converters (prongs) – those are a must.  No, I mean the voltage converter.  In the U.S. our electricity commonly runs on 120V, but in many other countries it’s 220V.  Thus, your electronics could explode if you plug them into the wrong outlet.  Well, I should I realized this before we left, but every electronic we brought had a transformer built in (i.e. that big block in the middle of your laptop cord), so having an external one is useless.  Make sure to check your power cords before you leave; if it says something like “Input: 100 – 240V,” you should be good to go.
  • Too Many Umbrellas – We brought along one small, cheap umbrella and one slightly larger, not-as-cheap umbrella.  Well, the cheap one barely got any use; it would virtually crumble whenever it was hard enough to rain, and turns out the other one was good enough for both of us.

What I Should Have Brought

  • More socks – 8 pairs sounded like enough, but I guess not.  With all the walking we were doing, I burned holes through my socks like nobody’s business!  I had to buy additional pairs in China and Lisbon.
  • Small Knit Gloves – I brought heavier, leather gloves, but those small knit ones – the ones that cost like $2 – those would have been good.  In fact they were, after I broke down and spent three times as much on them in France.  More often than not, I needed something lighter than leather, and heavier than nothing.
  • Camera Remote – As we were packing, I realized our camera remote was missing.  I should have run out and spent the $15 – $20 to buy a new one, but nooooooo.  I thought to myself, “We’ll just use the built-in timer, that’s just as good.”  WRONG!

Shannon’s Carry On


What I’m Thankful I Took

  • Boots – I’ve had a love/hate relationship with my black riding boots. As with the coat, these were essential once we got to Paris and I wore them every, single day, unless we were hiking in which case I opted for sneakers. Until then, though, they were an absolute nuisance. If I had shorter boots in more of a combat style (that I didn’t mind destroying) that would have been ideal. I couldn’t have imagined not having the boots in the cool weather; from snow to rain, mud, and city streets, they were great.
  • My bulky, winter coat – As you may have noted, Michael knocks the heavy coat. Sure, I had to lug that sucker around for 2 months in sticky, sweaty SE Asia, but when I got to Europe I was very happy to have my thick, outer layer.
  • Ear Plugs – From street noise at 2 am to screaming babies on airplanes, on several occasions I thanked my lucky stars for being able to dull the chatter.
  • Flashlights – Nothing huge, just small, LED flashlights we bought at the dollar store. I can’t tell you how many times we needed them.  Whether it was for a power outage, walking home on a dark road, or who knows what, we were happy to have this one hand!

What I Could Have Done Without

  • A few tees – We planned to pick up some things in Thailand, so I brought along some shirts I thought I could replace once we got there. I should have known I wouldn’t throw anything away. Come to think of it, I should have stuck with one sweater as well. I wound up finding this chunky, cable knit sweater in Switzerland for 5 CHF, but it was tough to squeeze in the luggage with the smaller ones I brought.
  • Makeup & Jewelry – I’m a pretty simple girl, and people that know me would agree I’m not one for many frills and getting all gussied up for everyday stuff. I didn’t bring much, but enough that I could have saved some room in my toiletry bag. For jewelry, I wore my basic earrings, necklace, and stand-in wedding ring (left the engagement ring and band at home!), but took a few extra pieces along to switch it up. Next time, I’ll skip any extras and leave room to pick up some of those things while traveling! A pair of pearl earrings from Thailand or coral bracelet from Venice would have made a great souvenir.

What I Should Have Brought

  • Sweatpants – I probably would have replaced my dark pair of jeans with those… even though that would have seriously cut down on my daytime ‘looks’ (i.e. I would look exactly the same in every European photo), but I would have been a zillion times more comfortable when we were indoors. From Paris on, I froze my butt off in poorly insulated apartments. I really wished I had something warm to lounge around in.
  • A smaller computer – Not only was it dead weight 30% of the trip, you know… because it died on us… but we had a bia of a time with its size. From the packing/unpacking at airport security, to trying to use it on a French, bistro table, to having to simply lug its bodacious self around for miles on end, it was a pain.
  • Extra ziplocks – Because you can never have too many and they ALWAYS come in handy.
  • Cold and Flu Medicine – If my future self could travel back to communicate with me pre-six-months-of-travel self, I would have said, “Pack some meds, because you’ll have a hell of a time trying to tell the Chinese pharmacist all the pollution gave you a head cold.” We got sick on a few occasions where we needed something to help get us back on our feet. Broken French or German, pictograms, and charades usually get the job done, but not without serious effort.

…And that’s what we thought about fitting our lives into less than 3ft³. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *