Round the World Packing: Backpack Contents for Career Break Travel

So you’ve decided to take a break from your career and travel around the world.  You’re looking at a pro/con matchup and realize that the pro team is looking a lot stronger this season.  If you are like us, the risk of looking back and regretting the missed experiences in life is too great not to take this path.  Now you are working through the pre-trip timeline and need to start putting together a packing list.  Favorite high heels: check.  Hoodie footie pajamas: check.  Selfie stick…  Hold on, you’re gonna need to check out our list before you start.

This is a tough one.  Most of us have the luxury of having anything we need available for most situations that arise in some closet nearby.  Clothes for any possible weather, shoes for any occasion.  That spare screw from your Ikea bookshelf and extra matching buttons for each of your pants.  Now you need to pack things that will get you all the way around the world, in every imaginable weather and condition, and fit in a backpack.

Mt Fitz Roy backpacking with heels
What not to pack

We were fortunate enough to have done a few backpacking trips previously so this wasn’t our first time packing a bag, but that didn’t make the selection process easy.  This post will share our initial packing list prior to departure for our year trip.  Packing for this trip will evolve over time and we’ll update you as we make adjustments.

With a few exceptions, our round the world itinerary involves mostly temperate or warm climates, so the packing list below was built accordingly.  Trekking through the Himalayas in Nepal is likely to be the coldest section of our travels, but we are not packing all items for this leg of the journey upfront.  The intention is to purchase or rent some of the essential items which would take up lots of room and only be necessary for these areas, such as heavy coats, sleeping bags and other cold gear.

When putting together your list, try to include things which could have multiple uses or purposes.  For instance, men’s running shorts can double as a swimsuit.   Whenever possible, opt for items which are not weighty and built for travel or backpacking as these tend to use lighter materials.  Clothes layering is an old backpackers trick which allows easier storage and adjustment to many climate conditions.  Also ensure that most of your gear is quick dry which will help keep items in your bag from staying damp after washing or usage, as it is unlikely that full laundry facilities will be available in most places.  Hand washing clothes in a sink is always an option.  Keep in mind that most items which you will need are available for purchase in most places in the world, so packing enough to last the entire trip is not necessary.  The good news is that you’re safe to leave your spare selfie stick at home.

We built the list below for our own use and have added the items we felt were important to pack, along with our reasoning when appropriate.  Clothing is listed in items per person unless otherwise noted.

Clothing – Outerwear

  • Packable Raincoat – Choose something lightweight which can pack down small, typically into its own pocket.  This jacket would be used for water protection but also as a wind layer.  If you’re prone to getting sweaty or clammy, look for waterproof breathable jackets.  Cheaper versions will have a coating called polyurethane.  The laminate style will tend to be much more breathable, but also more expensive.

    Round the World backpack contents
    Grant’s RTW backpack contents – expanded
  • Lightweight Packable Jacket – Again, look for a jacket that is light and packable, but has a good warmth to weight ratio.  You don’t want to take up too much room in your pack but also don’t want to compromise on the warmest layer you bring.  Choose according to your itinerary, with greater consideration for warmth if you will be in colder locations.  We both have REI Revelcloud jackets after the Patagonia Nano Puffs kept unraveling.  We will be renting or purchasing a heavy coat specifically for our Himalaya trekking portion so we don’t have to use the extra space for the other 11 months.
  • Warm Hat – One beanie or similar for colder areas or evenings outside.  Sent home after completion of colder countries.
  • Gloves – One thin and windproof pair which won’t take up much space.

Clothing – Main Layer

  • Long Sleeve Travel Shirts* – These are used both for mosquito protection and skin cover in regions or sites with cultural or religious restrictions.  We are bringing two very comfortable ExOfficio shirts which are lightweight, moisture wicking, have secure pockets and built-in bug repellency.  Bonus: you get to look flashy on special occasions.  Just match with your least dirty pair of cargo shorts, spray a little bug repellent as cologne and you’re good to go.
  • Convertible Travel Pants* – Two to three pairs each of quick dry zip off short conversion, with zip side pockets.
  • Short Sleeve T-Shirts – Four athletic style quick dry.
  • Tank Tops – Megan is bringing one.
  • Running Shorts – Two pairs.
  • Skort – Megan has one quick dry with secure pockets.
  • Brimmed Hat*
  • Swimsuit – One bikini.  No men’s suit due to double use of running shorts.
  • Belt

Clothing – Innerwear

  • Hiking Socks – Two pairs of medium to heavy-duty wool blend boot socks.
  • Running Socks – Four pairs of athletic socks, either quick dry or cotton/poly blend.
  • Thermal Tops – One long sleeve layer for extra warmth.  Sent home after completion of colder countries.
  • Thermal Bottoms – One pair for warmth as needed.  Sent home after completion of colder countries.
  • Underwear – Five pairs, quick dry.  Didn’t want to skimp here.
  • Bras – Three comfortable, quick dry, dual uses with a t-shirt or when active.

Packing

  • Backpack – We are bringing an Osprey Kyte 46 and an Osprey Kestrel 38 for our main packs.  These are lightweight, very comfortable for extended use, and have integrated rain covers to keep our gear dry.  Additionally, they have side access zippers which allows loading and unloading from more than just the top and bottom openings.  These are also both airplane carry on size.

    IMG_6163
    Megan’s backpack contents – expanded
  • Daypack – We are only bringing one which we expect will hold enough for both of us on day trips.  We decided on the Osprey Daylite Plus after much consideration.  We originally looked into bringing a stuffable backpack which took up very little room, but wanted to add a little bit of comfort for long day hikes.  This one has a removable backing so it can roll up pretty small, is lightweight, and also has water bottle holders and a laptop sleeve.  We felt that the extra features were worth taking up a little extra room in our main pack when stowed.
  • Packing Cubes – We each have five total.  Since we are using backpacks, the intention is for the cubes to allow compartmentalization of our contents without having to rearrange or repack every item each time you need to open the bag.  Rolling clothes allows you to see every item in the cubes and they can go straight from your pack into a drawer without unpacking.
  • Travel Purse – For day trips around town, trains, etc.  This will allow easy access to important items and keep them in view and safe.  Megan has a Travelon which works cross body, has locking zippers, wire mesh lining, RFID pockets, and a cable in the strap to make picking, slashing or snatching more difficult.
  • Money Belt

Shoes

  • Hiking Boots – Sturdy waterproof mid-ankle boots for multi purpose use. They are primarily for hiking, trekking, and wet weather and will be worn while traveling between locations to save room in our backpacks.
  • Walking / Running Shoes – For everyday use and running.  Lightweight with durable soles and compressible upper portions.  You can get very packable shoes but these typically have very soft soles and would not last long with much running and rough conditions.  These will hopefully last the year.
  • Flip Flops / Sandals

Sleeping

  • Inflatable/Packable Travel Pillow – We are both bringing a Cocoon Sleeping Bag Hood Pillow which is ultralight, inflatable and packable with a removable pillow case.  It has a fleece side and is large enough to be sort of comfortable.
  • Sleeping Bag Liner/Travel Liner* – This is essential for using as a layer between questionable sheets at accommodations, or to add a little extra warmth.  We have Sea To Summit silk liners which are quick drying, light, soft, and packable.  Can also be used as a huge stuff sack for all of your souvenirs.
  • Ear Plugs – For sleeping on planes, trains, or in noisy accommodations.
  • Eye Mask – For sleeping while traveling or in hostels.  Bonus use: works as an eye cover when you are sunbathing and run out of cucumber slices.
  • Sleeping Bag – This is optional depending on where you go and how you travel.  We purchased one for our Africa Camping Safari and saved it for our next stop in Nepal for trekking.  Donated after completion of colder countries.

Toiletries

  • Toothbrush and Cover
  • Toothpaste
  • Floss – To make your dentist happy.
  • Soap / Shampoo – Doubles as shaving cream.
  • Deodorant – I want the trip to end like it started, with a wife.
  • Q-Tips
  • Bug Spray – Containing deet which is recommended for malaria zones.
  • Sunscreen
  • Lip Balm – With SPF protection.

    RTW backpack contents - condensed
    Grant’s backpack contents – condensed
  • Hand Sanitizer
  • Wet Wipes – Easy cleanup when there is no water available.  Only necessary if doing safaris or other remote activities.  Readily available for purchase in most countries.
  • Nail Clippers / File
  • Hanging Toiletry Case
  • Travel Size Squeeze Tubes – Leak proof, for carry on quantities of shampoo or soap to have when there is none otherwise available.
  • Razor

Medicine

  • Malaria Prophylaxis – Doxycycline.  Antibiotic to prevent malaria infection.  Some countries sell this for cheap and without a prescription.
  • Ciprofloxacin or Azithromycin – Antibiotic for travelers diarrhea.
  • Pepto-bismol tablets – Travelers diarrhea prevention.
  • Ibuprofen / Acetaminophen
  • Other Prescriptions
  • Various OTC
  • Blister Care Kit

Documents

  • Passport
  • Passport Photos – 20 spare photos to use for Visa and trekking applications (e.g. China, parts of SE Asia, and several African countries).
  • Driver’s License
  • International Drivers Permit – Translates your license into several languages.
  • Copies of Passport, Travel Insurance, Driver’s License, Important Contacts
  • Yellow Card / Immunization Records

Finance

  • Credit Cards – Get one without international transaction or conversion fees.
  • Debit Cards – Get one without international transaction, conversion, or withdrawal fee.
  • Cash – For some visas which require US dollars.
  • Dummy Wallet – A wallet with a few dollars and cancelled credit cards to hand over in case you are robbed.  Also works well as a decoy when your kids want money.
  • Security Access Token – Third level of protection to access online banking accounts offered by some companies.

Electronics

  • Cell Phone

    IMG_6161
    Megan’s backpack contents – condensed
  • Laptop and Sleeve Cover
  • Camera – With spare batteries and memory card.
  • E-reader – To look busy when your neighbor on the plane won’t leave you alone.
  • Battery Backup Charger
  • Charge Cords – For each of the items listed above.
  • Headphones
  • Cheap Watch – Waterproof, durable.  To keep from needing to pull out a cell phone to check the time.
  • International Electricity Converter

Vision

  • Glasses
  • Contacts – Including case and solution
  • Sunglasses

Other

  • Water Filtration – Just in case there is no safe water source or bottled water.  We will be in several countries where drinking tap water is not advisable and this may also come in handy for trekking.  We have a Sawyer Mini.
  • Collapsible Water Bottle – We each have a 1 liter Platypus bottle.
  • Silicone Wedding Ring – So no one cares if it gets lost or stolen, and has no hint of value.
  • Ziploc Bags – Various Sizes for various purposes.
  • Pack Towel – Quick dry, packs small.
  • Headlamp – To help avoid stepping on a tiger at night.
  • Padlock – To secure items in lockers.
  • Travel Size Detergent
  • Universal Sink Plug – We didn’t originally bring this and had a tough time locating one.  This is essential for doing laundry by hand in various sinks.
  • Toilet Paper – For the many places that may not have this available or charge for use.
  • Clothes Line – For hanging washed or wet clothes to dry.  We got a Sea to Summit version which takes up almost no space and has synch cords to hold clothes without having to drape over the line.  Also good to use as a fishing line if you get hungry.
  • Safety Pins – These have come in handy.
  • Phone Lanyard – Definitely don’t want to drop it over a cliff while taking pictures.
  • Hand Fan – Japanese style foldable fan.  They take up little room and weigh almost nothing.  This was an addition after several foreign train experiences without A/C.
  • Coffee Filter – This was another addition to the original list.  No two lodgings are the same and few have normal coffee pots of presses, but almost all have boiling water.  There are several single cup pour over options available for lightweight backpacking such as the Primula Coffee Brew Buddy.

    Round the World backpacks - packed
    Megan and Grant’s backpacks for RTW trip

*We had InsectShield spray permanent insect repellent on our Travel/Sleeping Bag Liners, Convertible Pants, Brimmed Hat, and Travel Shirts.  We also tried to have our backpacks treated but they were too water resistant to absorb the treatment.  This product will help repel mosquitos (which can transmit malaria, dengue fever, Japanese encephalitis, etc.), and other pests.  We chose these items as they would be used for body cover in mosquito prone areas, along with our direct contact bedding.  Some travel and hiking clothing is sold pretreated.  For the convertible pants, we each only treated the two thinnest fabrics as the thicker one would likely not be worn in the heat in mosquito areas.

Make sure to check out our post on the planning process for your career break!

Other packing lists which we have found helpful with some different recommendations:
HalftheClothes
OneWorldOneYear
BootsnAll

 

26 thoughts on “Round the World Packing: Backpack Contents for Career Break Travel

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