My Fantastic Packing Mistake

Perugia, Italy - Traveling Boots

I had a comfortable late-morning flight to Rome.  The route to Copenhagen airport is an easy one.  Hop a reliable bus for a 5 minute ride, switch to the metro for a 35 minute trip and boom. Next thing you know you’re at Copenhagen airport ready to move quickly through their efficient security lines and on to your destination of choice.  The whole process is an easy one and something that I’ve gotten the hang of.  But, what’s the old saying? Complacency is dangerous? That sounds about right.

Perugia, Italy - Traveling Boots

Many of you probably found your way to VirtualWayfarer because of one of my packing videos or blog posts.  Both are an area I specialize in and consider myself a bit of an expert in.  So, when it came time to pack for my 5 day visit to Italy I didn’t stress out about getting things pre-packed.  Oh, sure, I  did the basics and made sure that the laundry was done. I even spent some time the night before fretting over what formal clothing to pack.  You see, I was heading to Perugia as a finalist in the Perugia International Journalism Festival’s ‘Stories on Umbria’ contest but there in lurked my pitfall.

The Colosseum - Rome - Traveling Boots

As I fretted over which suit to pack … to go formal or casual … which tie to take … and how to get it to Italy without turning it into a wrinkled mess in my backpack I neglected actually packing the essentials.  When morning came and it was time to leave I launched into a flurry of motion tossing clothing, electronics, and the usual assortment of items on the bed.  I was confident – and dare I say a bit cocky – chatting on Facebook and chuckling when friends asked if I’d packed yet.  After all, I’m an expert – I only need 30 minutes.

Rome - Traveling Boots

Sidetracked repeatedly by conversations and general distractions I eventually realized that I was running a bit behind.  I made the last minute decision to wear a sports jacket, dress shirt, jeans and a pair of leather dress oxfords for the flight. I’d only have about 30 minutes between when I was scheduled to arrive in Perugia and the welcome reception/dinner so I ruled out changing upon arrival.  I also packed a full suit and dress shirt which I took in a hanging bag as a carry on for the following day’s official ceremony.  This meant I needed to pack my normal walking shoes in my backpack.  Which I did. Quickly.  Grabbing a pair of my signature Keen Targhee IIs, tossing them in an old supermarket bag, and burying it deep inside my bag all took about 45 seconds. Then in went the rest of my clothing, camera chargers, spare batteries, dopp kit and the like. I paused, and with a flourish tossed the bag over my shoulder, snagged my camera bag, my suit and was out the door.

The Vatican - Traveling Boots - Rome

I made my flight to Italy with oodles of time.  The trip from Rome to Perugia was uneventful. I applauded myself for my efficiency.  The dinner was delicious and provided an incredible opportunity to socialize with veteran journalists from the likes of the AP, New York Times, and Telegraph.  The following day’s award ceremony was equally enjoyable. Though I didn’t win the prize, being in the final three was an incredible honor.  Particularly because I was the only blogger in attendance.   I spent the remainder of the day walking around Perugia in my black dress oxfords.  It was only the following morning as I transformed from semi-formal journalist to relaxed travel blogger that I realized I’d made the worst packing mistake in my personal history.

Last Minute Packing

As I sat in my dimly lit hotel room, still a bit groggy from the night before, I pulled on my jeans, tossed a black v-neck t-shirt over my head and then dug around in my bag for my walking shoes.  Unceremoniously I yanked them out and dumped the yellow Netto bag out onto the floor.  With one hand pulling my t-shirt down over the rest of my body I slipped my left foot into my shoe and then kicked the right shoe into position.  Then, as I went to slide my foot into the right shoe I realized it felt odd.  I re-positioned, still not focusing on it, and tried again.  That’s when I looked down and paid closer attention.  That’s also when I realized that in my haste I had made an impressive error.  I had packed two Keen Targhee IIs, true.  Unfortunately the two were also two left shoes in similar, but slightly different colors.

Rome - Traveling Boots

That’s right.  I packed two left shoes. Two left shoes that were also different colors.  Sure, it would have been bad if I ended up with one left shoe and one right shoe from different pairs – that I could have passed off as being creative, or gritty, or…hell, I don’t know.  Instead I was left with one simple conclusion.  I was an idiot. Not only was I an idiot sitting in a dark hotel room, 2 days into his trip laughing at himself, I was an idiot that had three days of hardcore walking around Rome scheduled.  Not something you typically want to do in a pair of black dress oxfords with minimal support, smooth souls, and stiff leather. As far as just wearing the two left shoes?  Fat chance.

The Pantheon - Rome - Traveling Boots

Too stubborn (and perhaps cheap) to buy a replacement pair of shoes for a mere 3 days I pressed on and wandered Rome alternating between my shower flip flops and my Oxfords.  To make matters worse the Oxfords were relatively new, which meant that the leather was still quite hard and hadn’t formed to my feet. So, my penance for rushing out the door and not packing properly?  Blisters, sore feet, and a bit of blood.

Monument of Vittorio Emanuele II - Traveling Boots

Oh, and for those of you that might wonder why I have two pairs of near-identical Keens – it’s because I picked up a replacement pair right before my 50 day Africa/Europe trip this past summer.  The old pair were still good, but not quite good enough to risk the trip.  The end result: two near-identical pairs of keens which sit like old dogs at the foot of my bed. The latest in a long line of shoes which have been featured repeatedly in the 320+ photos that comprise my traveling boots album. So, if you noticed that the shoes in my recent Italy Boot Shots were a bit out of place…now you know why.

Moral of the story?  Even if you think you’re an expert, it’s still a good idea to pay attention.  After all, no one is perfect.

Do I Really Need Flip Flops for Hostels – Ask Alex – Travel Question Wednesdays

Ask Alex - Travel Question Wednesdays

This post is part of the Ask Alex, Travel Question Wednesdays weekly series. To see previous questions click here. To submit your own; tweet it to @AlexBerger, ask it in a comment on this post or send it in by e-mail.

This week’s travel question is from Jane who asks,

Q. “Alex, I have a big hostel trip coming up and am trying to pack light. Do I really need to pack an extra set of sandals for the showers? Why?”

A. – Yep! Further, I suggest you stick to a cheap pair of plastic sandals/flip flops/thongs. I’ve seen a lot of people opt for a pair of leather sandals which they use as general shoes and also use for the hostel showers as well. I’d advise against this as it is both disgusting (the leather gets wet and soaks up nastiness) and rude (you’re tracking street germs into communal showers). If you opt for sandals instead of shoes on a day-to-day basis it is still worth packing a second pairs of sandals. One thing every hostel/backpacker should have is a set pair of dedicated hostel/shower sandals.

But why? Well simply put hostel showers are semi-communal in nature. They seldom see sunlight (which can kill a lot of bacteria) and are not always the cleanest in the world. Your average hostel dorm bathroom services at least 4 people and sometimes 10-20 times that. These are people from a variety of backgrounds traveling in a wide assortment of ways and with vastly different hygienic standards. While the average hostel goes out of their way to keep their showers clean, and all showers are cleaned on a daily basis, they still got a lot of use. You also never know if the person who just finished showering before you is freshly arrived from an undeveloped nation where they decided to walk around barefoot. So, while your chances of actually catching some sort of bacteria or nastiness from a hostel shower is relatively small…it is still a healthy enough risk that it’s well worth avoiding.

Also, at the risk of being overly graphic keep in mind the wide assortment of things that people do in the shower and consider that hostel bathrooms and showers are often one of the few areas in the hostel which A) have a lock on the door and B) are not under video surveillance. Ask yourself, is that really a place where you want to walk around barefoot?

-Alex

Have a question of your own? ASK IT! Want to see previous questions? click here.

Packing For Long Term Travel – Ask Alex – Travel Question Wednesdays

Ask Alex - Travel Question Q and A every Wednesday

This post is part of the Ask Alex, Travel Question Wednesdays weekly series. To see previous questions click here. To submit your own; tweet it to @AlexBerger, ask it in a comment on this post or send it in by e-mail.

This week’s travel question is from Stella H. she asks,

Q. “Most of your packing and financing tips seem to be for 2 week trips, which makes sense because thats generally the most time people can afford to take off. How do you find that these things change for longer trips?”

A. – Very true! While the majority of my travel has been in 16-20 day bursts the longest trip I’ve enjoyed in the last few years was a three month adventure that stretched from Scotland in September, to southern Greece in December.  As noted in your e-mail, weather across a variety of different climates on a longer trip can be a significant challenge. These difficulties can also be found on shorter trips that hop hemispheres or cover large distances over short periods of time such as my Argentina trip which went from topical jungles to glaciers over the course of 21 days.  From the experiences garnered during these trips, my discussions with ultra-long term travelers, and research into advice from veteran RTW (round-the-world) backpackers I suggest the following:

To start with map out the approximate route you will be taking while paying close attention to the time of year you’ll be visiting, altitude and latitude.  Packing for an extended duration trip which  has fairly distinct and non-repeating climate conditions is very different from a trip that will regularly alternate between hot climates and cold climates.  If your itinerary is split between warm climates and cold climates, it is probably beneficial for you to pack predominantly for the first climate you’ll be encountering, and then set aside an additional budget to purchase the items you need for the second climate when your trip reaches that phase.  Similarly, keep in mind what warm (or cold) weather items you are willing to discard or mail home when they are no longer needed.  It’s common sense, but I find often forgotten (by everyone, including me) that clothing will likely be approximately the same price, if not cheaper in the destinations you’ll be visiting.

On the other hand, if you’ve planned a long-term trip that will be bouncing between hot and cold climates you’ll need to take a different approach, as the discard/purchase route is not economical or time efficient. In these cases I suggest focusing heavily on clothing that can be layered easily.  Leave the Hawaiian shirts at home, and instead opt for clothing that is flexible and works well as a stand alone, or as a sub-layer.   For me, this meant layering a t-shirt, long sleeve shirt, north face windproof vest, large scarf, and waterproof rain jacket with gloves for my trip to Argentina with silk underwear as a backup just-in-case. In the warmer parts of Argentina I stashed the layers and opted for a pair of jeans and t-shirt/swimsuit in the more tropical climates.  Remember that a warm scarf, good gloves, and hat go a long way towards keeping you warm. I have also been told a good pair of tights is an absolute must for women.  You’ll find that by following this approach, and avoiding absolutely extreme climates (eg: Northern Norway in winter), you’ll be in good shape pretty much anywhere you go.

When preparing for your trip, I encourage you to categorize the items you’re considering purchasing/taking with you into one of two categories.  The first should be high cost items that also need to be good quality and have an expensive replacement cost.  This list should be fairly short and will likely consist of little more than your backpack, your shoes, and your jacket.  The second category should consist of more general day-in-day-out items:  things like t-shirts, socks, a cheap sweater and underwear.  Items in the first category are the types of things you typically want to purchase ahead of time and which you don’t mind hauling everywhere with you.  Items in the second category can be replaced or supplemented fairly easily on the road and tend to have a fairly low replacement cost.  For example, if you absolutely must have that Hawaiian shirt for the beach part of your trip, pick it up when you arrive at the beach and then discard it when you head on to a colder climate.  Remember, a $12 t-shirt that you use for 1/4th of your trip isn’t worth hauling all over the world with you.

Lastly, people are often tempted to ship a drop package ahead with warm/cold weather gear (as is applicable) for the second or third leg of their trip.  While this is certainly doable and a must for some travelers, I would suggest against it in most cases.  Not only is there a significant cost associated with shipping things across continents – a cost that may ultimately be more than the simple replacement cost for the items being transported – there is also a headache and convenience element as you wait for delayed packages to arrive, deal with damaged or stolen packages, or try and find a location that is willing to receive the mailed items and hold them until your arrival.

If you review the packing videos that I’ve posted you’ll note that I tend not to change the basics much regardless of the climate i’m visiting. While most of the videos are tailored towards shorter trips my list for a multi-month budget adventure would not change significantly.  For additional insights you can see the analysis of what I took for my three month trip back in 2007 here.

Would you like me to elaborate on an aspect of this response?  Let me know!

Have a question of your own? ASK IT! Want to see previous questions? click here.

Speeding up Pre-Boarding – Ask Alex – Travel Question Wednesdays

Ask Alex - Travel Question Q and A every Wednesday

This post is part of the Ask Alex, Travel Question Wednesdays weekly series. To see previous questions click here. To submit your own; tweet it to @AlexBerger, ask it in a comment on this post or send it in by e-mail.

A quick introductory note – When I began authoring VirtualWayfarer in July of 2007 I never expected that I’d still be blogging on travel, adventures, study abroad and everything that goes with it nearly five years later. Over the years I’ve had a lot of questions and luckily my friends, network, and more than a few random strangers have gone well out of their way to answer those questions. While I still find myself asking questions on a regular basis I’ve found that I can also pay it forward as a resource for friends, my readers, and strangers alike. In an effort to share what I’ve learned from my various adventures I’ve launched Travel Question Wednesdays. I’ll be answering one reader-submitted question every week. You are all encouraged to submit, and all past questions will be archived and available as a resource for readers of this blog. I’m going to take a very open approach to the topics I’ll cover, so feel free to ask me just about anything , just keep it somewhat travel related.

This week’s travel question is from AJ S. he asks,

Q. “How to cut your prep time down (everything pre-boarding)?”

A. – If you review the packing videos that I’ve posted you’ll note that I tend not to change the basics much.  While it may vary slightly depending on what I have on hand, a lot of the core items such as jeans, shirts, underwear, etc. are all the same from trip to trip.  I would estimate that these stable items make up about 60% of what I pack.  The remaining 40% depend on the duration of the trip and the climate/weather I’m expecting. This consistency cuts down a lot of my prep time as I generally know exactly what I need in advance. As a result, so long as I’ve remembered to do laundry, I can throw my gear together a few hours before leaving.  I also like to make sure that I pack relatively light which means I don’t have to worry about dealing with heavy/checked baggage. Remember, in most cases if you’re not sure about taking an item I suggest you leave it behind. If it turns out you need the item, you can usually purchase it while traveling without too much added cost/trouble.

If there are items you need, consider buying them online ahead of time.  While this can create an issue if the item gets delayed or you don’t order sufficiently in advance, it can save a lot of time hunting around for things like power converters and combination locks.

To aid and speed up the boarding process I tend to avoid mailed/pre-printed paper tickets. Instead I prefer e-tickets.  Many airports allow you to check in and print your tickets through automated kiosks provided you have the credit card you used to book on hand.  These are a great option that often lets you bypass long checkin lines.  I’ve noticed that many airports have expanded these kiosks beyond carry-on-only travelers, allowing you to check in at the kiosk, note the number of bags you have, and then proceed to an expedited luggage drop off window.   This can cut a lot of stress and bypass significant airport delays.

Another easily overlooked time delay is what you wear to the airport.  It always amazes me when I see people, women especially, wearing a number of bracelets, jewelry, and other metallic items.   If you are going to wear these types of items, a belt, or have a lot of coins on you make sure you put them in a jacket coat pocket or your carry on bag before getting in line for the metal detectors.  You’ll find yourself significantly less stressed if you slide through security without any major delays.

An additional airport hack is to try and schedule your flights at times that are less popular.  Think about when people prefer to fly and keep in mind that those times will often have significantly longer check in times, and long lines at security.

One of my biggest time savers tends to be how much pre-trip research I (don’t) do.  I’m pretty comfortable taking a by-the-seat-of-the-pants approach, so planning out every little detail and researching every item I’ll be visiting in advance isn’t something I spend time on.  That frees up a lot of time while preparing for the trip, and gives me a lot of added flexibility.  Instead of doing a wealth of pre-trip research I usually glance through the wikipedia page for the destinations I’m considering, then look at wikitravel. From there it’s mostly done through word of mouth, or on-the-ground research a few days in advance.  This approach won’t work for all travelers, especially those interested in traveling at a quick pace – but there’s a good balance which is just right for everyone.  I always encourage friends to remember: a key part of travel is adventure and a cornerstone to finding adventure is having enough flexibility to explore opportunities as they arise.

For additional tips head on over to the more-in-depth resource list I’ve created at The Ultimate Packing List.

Have a question of your own? ASK IT! Want to see previous questions? click here.

Best Bag For a Two Week Trip – Ask Alex – Travel Question Wednesdays

Ask Alex - Travel Question Q and A every Wednesday

This post is part of the Ask Alex, Travel Question Wednesdays weekly series. To see previous questions click here.  To submit your own; tweet it to @AlexBerger, ask it in a comment on this post or send it in by e-mail.

A quick introductory note – When I began authoring VirtualWayfarer in July of 2007 I never expected that I’d still be blogging on travel, adventures, study abroad and everything that goes with it nearly five years later.  Over the years I’ve had a lot of questions and luckily my friends, network, and more than a few random strangers have gone well out of their way to answer those questions. While I still find myself asking questions on a regular basis I’ve found that I can also pay it forward as a resource for friends, my readers, and strangers alike.  In an effort to share what I’ve learned from my various adventures I’ve launched Travel Question Wednesdays. I’ll be answering one reader-submitted question every week.  You are all encouraged to submit, and all past questions will be archved and available as a resource for readers of this blog. I’m going to take a very open approach to the topics I’ll cover, so feel free to ask me just about anything , just keep it somewhat travel related.

This week’s travel question is from Galen E. he asks,

Q. “What is the best bag for a two week trip? Why?”

A. – The easiest and shortest answer to this question is to take a small and medium-sized backpack combo.  For a more in-depth break down of different baggage types check out my Lugging Luggage, The Quandary post.  Ultimately, the answer depends on what type of trip you have planned and how valuable mobility will be to you.  With ever increasingly restrictive luggage policies I prefer to fly with only carry-on luggage, especially for shorter trips in the 1-2 week neighborhood.  The added flexibility and convenience of a backpack is hard to beat, and if you’re moving around a fair bit, facing cobblestone streets, or taking public transit between the airport and your hotel/hostel it can be wonderful to have the mobility a backpack offers.  On the other hand, if your trip will consist largely of an all inclusive resort, taxi rides to and from the airport and a bucket of beer on the beach, then what luggage you take is largely irrelevant.  I’ve assembled a number of user generated and personal packing videos on my Ultimate Packing List site which should give you a better frame of reference for how some of my readers typically pack. View the packing videos here.

At the end of the day keep in mind that most year-long, round the world travelers opt for a mid-to-large sized backpack with a small daypack as their preferred form of luggage.  While packing for a two week trip, it’s often easy to pack about the same amount as those traveling for 10-20 times that.  Even the most experienced traveler falls victim to this easy overpacking. Consider what you need, what you want, and what you’re comfortable going without and then choose an appropriate bag for your trip.

Enjoy!

Lugging Luggage, The Quandary: Backpacks, Suitcases, Duffle Bags and Broken Wheels

Broken Luggage Wheel

While the question of what and how to pack comes up quite often, there’s another question that is equally significant: what to use to transport what you finally decide upon. My recent move to Copenhagen offered several fresh reminders and new insights into how to pick luggage and the risk of heavy inconvenience if you choose poorly.

While diehard backpackers are inclined to advocate vocally for (unsurprisingly) backpacks, others will only travel with duffel bags (some of which now come with built in wheels), or more conventional suitcases.  Advocates of backpacks like myself focus on their portability and their flexibility.  In a similar camp die-hard duffel-baggers swear by their wheeled or “rolling” duffel bags, often arguing that they offer the flexibility of a backpack with less weight and without the requirement that the bag always be carried.While not nearly as comfortable as a backpack, in a pinch the rolling duffel can usually be used like a make-shift backpack despite their unpadded straps.  The third class of luggage is the traditional suitcase with built in wheels.  These offer easier access to your clothing, a firmer outer shell, and of course wheels that make transporting your luggage across flat surfaces significantly less labor intensive.

Ultimately which type of bag you choose will depend on your age, your physical condition, the type of travel you prefer, and where you’re going.  A trip to New York? You’ll probably find a suitcase to be the best and easiest form of luggage.  Heading to Europe and expecting to have to walk with your luggage a bit?  A destination with a lot of sand or dirt streets? I’d suggest going with a backpack or duffel.

Broken Wheel

I was recently reminded just how important selecting the right type of luggage was.  When I moved from Scottsdale, Arizona to Copenhagen Denmark I had a lot of clothing and gear to re-locate.  I fit it into four bags.  Three were large suitcases, each with different types of wheels and the fourth was my standard travel backpack. While able to take the heavier weight, traveling with the suitcases quickly reminded me just how much I love my backpack and hate having to use conventional suitcases.

You’ll notice that this post has a series of photos of a broken suitcase wheel.  The main lesson learned was that when picking a suitcase, one of the most important things isn’t color, handle, or size. It’s actually the type of wheels it has. As strange as it is, this is something I’ve never heard discussed before.

My three suitcases had three different types of wheels.  One had 4 small spinning wheels located on the bottom of the suitcase horizontally.  The other had 4 larger spinning wheels located vertically on the bottom of the suitcase while the last had two large fixed wheels built into the bottom of the suitcase as it stood vertically.  Of these three suitcases the wheels on two of the three were partially or completely destroyed by the cobblestone streets I was pulling them across.  The combination of the small-medium size wheels and their ability to swivel actually made them less resilient and quickly led to them being bent and eventually broken as the uneven stones combined with the weight of the fully laden bags to slowly tear them apart.  In total I covered less than a mile with the bags in tow. Despite that limited distance it was enough to turn the wheels from helpful-aid, to obnoxious nightmare.

Good Luggage Wheels

The surprising winner? The large fixed wheels built into the base of the suitcase. While seemingly less mobile/versatile and resilient, by being fixed they were able to better traverse the cobblestones and survived relatively intact. They also tended to roll better (which was partially also a matter of size).

So, the takeaway?  Not all luggage is ideal for all situations.  I think it’s easy for us to slip into a set category.  I’m a “backpacker” or “suitcaser” etc. the reality is that there are ideal types of luggage for different travel styles and destinations.  In gearing up for a trip and preparing to pack our gear one question we should all ask ourselves is, “what’s the right bag for where I’m going?” and the following five questions:

  1. How much will I be walking with my luggage?
  2. What type of ground will I be covering with my luggage in tow (sand, pavement, cobblestones)?
  3. What are my luggage weight requirements?
  4. How many different destinations am I visiting (keep in mind more destinations = more flexible luggage is needed)?
  5. What type of luggage best fits my physical/health needs?

What’s your take?  Any bags you really strongly suggest? Have a luggage nightmare?  I’d love to hear your thoughts via a comment.

This post was made possibly in part due to the support of our partner – Travel Republic who are offering cheap holidays in October

Backpacking Packing Tips & Basic Hostel Information

Today was a special day. It was the first day in over 2 1/2 months that I used a number of the heaviest items in my pack. Initially I was going to wait to make this post until I got home, but – there’s no time like the present. It’s no secret that people always over pack. Even the best travelers do it, it’s just human nature. That said, I also feel like I need to preface this post with a disclaimer. Those of you who know me well know that I can be a bit of a clean freak. At home it’s not unusual for me to take two showers a day and to only wear clothing once before I wash it.

When I left, the combined weight of my two bags was around 30 pounds. Not bad for 3 months right? Well, the truth is I over packed. Majorly. There may be a few things I’ve forgotten about but off the top of my head I packed the following:

  • 1 frying pan with portable handle.
  • 1 Lightweight cooking pan, with salt, small tin can top and gas burner head inside.
  • 1 fork, 2 spoons, 1 cup.
  • 2 Pairs of jeans. Both in the modern style with slight damage/darker coloration.
  • 1 Casual button-up dress shirt.
  • 2 $13 Polo shirts. One black, one Maroon.
  • 1 Pair black dress slacks with wrinkle resistant fibers.
  • 1 Pair special thick hiking socks, 3 pair normal black socks.
  • 2 Pairs of ExOfficio boxer briefs. These are lightweight, hygienic artificial material and dry in under 2 hours.
  • 1 Northface windscreen fleece vest.
  • 1 Marmot waterproof jacket w/ hood.
  • 1 Black wool sweater.
  • 1 Longsleeve silk underwear top.
  • 1 Canon G6 Digital Camera with 1 2gb memory stick and 1 512mb memory stick.
  • 2 Pairs of shoes. 1 pair of worn Sketchers leather shoes for nightclubs, 1 pair of Keen walking shoes for everything else.
  • 2 Books to start me out. One fantasy, one business reading.
  • 1 Dopkit with toothbrush/toothpaste, razors, nail clippers & two small vitamin containers filled with a mixture of centrum multivitamin, crushed ginger root capsules, equinacia capsules and a bunch of super B/C vitamins (200-2,000% the normal recommended value depending on which vitamin).
  • 1 Country Gentleman old style hat. A great alternative to a baseball cap for going abroad and something that packs easily w/ a tiny bill on it.
  • 1 Pair of cheap plastic flipflops for the shower.
  • 1 MSR microfiber travel towel ($11 online).
  • 1 Inflatable neck pillow and eye mask.
  • 1 Portable extending umbrella.
  • 1 Plastic airtight soap container w/ bar of soap.
  • 1 Pair of sports/gym shorts.
  • 1 Under-your-shirt money/passport carrier.
  • 1 Pair of board shorts (swimsuit).
  • 1 Large duffel like bag (for air travel to protect the backpack & it\’s straps)

There may have been one or two other items, but to be honest I can’t remember them right now. I shouldn’t have packed them either. My gear was divided into my main Osprey pack and a smaller school-esque day pack. When backpacking I simply strap the small pack over the large pack and carry it on my chest. Not the sexiest looking combo ever, but super effective. During my time on the road I’ve picked up the following items:

  • 1 Pair of black gloves.
  • 1 U.S. Airways plane blanket (I was flying Delta, the blanket they gave me had a US Airways tag & their service sucked and though I don\’t condone lifting it, the small, blue 100% polyester blanket has been my scarf for the last 2.5 months).
  • 2 Pair of cheap socks.
  • 2 Oktoberfest souvenir shirts.
  • 1 Bag of replacement razors.
  • 1 Tube of toothpaste.
  • 1 Combination lock.

Of all of the original things I packed, the following were unnecessary (with explanations as to why):

  • 1 frying pan with portable handle.
  • 1 Lightweight cooking pan, with salt, small tin can top and gas burner head inside.
  • 1 fork, 2 spoons, 1 cup.

I spent the bulk of my time hosteling. In most hostels you are either provided with the kitchen (less common) or placed in a room with 8 other people in which case there is no private space where you can secretly spirit off to cook your dinner. It’s possible in some locations you could cook outside, but it would still be iffy at best. If you are doing hotels however, these are a viable option.

  • 1 Casual button-up dress shirt.

I would have worn this more often if the shirt had been better. The shirt I packed wasn’t the best choice and I managed to get blood on it the one time I wore it. I stuck mostly to casual clubs, bar crawls and pubs. If your intent is to be a bit more flashy and or hit up higher ends nightclubs you might need a dress shirt. As it turns out, despite non-stop partying all trip I only wore mine once.

  • 1 Pair black dress slacks with wrinkle resistant fibers.

I packed these thinking i’d wear them while traveling and or might need them for the opera, ballet, major shows or big events. As it turned out I wore them once – in Venice for Halloween. I attended major musical performances and Opera in London, Prague and Vienna without any problem. I may not have looked incredible, but the jean-polo combo worked.

  • 1 Black wool sweater.

Between my vest, custom scarf and jacket I was almost never cold. While not a major American fashion item having a scarf makes a huge difference. Keep in mind however, that I also followed fall down. As I’m writing this, sitting in a computer cafe in Crete, Greece on the 29th of November I’m wearing the same basic outfit I wore in the Isle of Skye, Scotland September 15th.

  • 1 Long sleeve silk underwear top.

I’ve had one or two nights where I could have put it on, as well as a day or two where I almost wore it but I’ve yet to use it. I also typically sleep shirtless and pant less and wearing only my boxers. In short – most places I’ve been are not freezing.

  • 2 Pairs of shoes. 1 pair of worn Sketchers leather shoes for nightclubs, 1 pair of Keen walking shoes for everything else.

While not necessarily unneeded, I’ve only worn the pair of Sketchers 4 or 5 times. Of those 3 were for night clubs where the ugly Keens wouldn’t fly, the other two were simply because I felt like airing out the Keens. A pair of waterproof hiking/walking shoes are a MUST. If i had to do it again, I’d probably leave the Sketchers at home just to dodge the weight. That said, I was only turned away from one club during the trip because of dress code and typically have an easier time than some people gaining access to nightclubs (possibly because of my height?)

  • 1 Under-your-shirt money/passport carrier.

I’ve worn the vest almost every day that I’ve been over here because of the weather. The vest has a Napoleanesque zipper pocket on the chest in which I store my mini calculator and passport. The only time I’ve actually used the carrier was in the airport.

  • 1 Pair of board shorts (swimsuit).

Never wore them. If you end up at a Jacuzzi wear your boxers. If you end up in that rare hostel with group showers skip the shower or tuck your stuff & shower naked. Also, I was traveling during the Sept-Dec period in Europe, not exactly swimming weather.

You may have noticed I only started with 2 shirts, no shorts and 2 pairs of boxers. In regards to the shirts – I made it to Oktoberfest before picking up two Souvenir t-shirts which I have used to supplement my two polos, giving me a grand total of 4 t-shirts. I run the smell test on the shirts and make sure to wash them whenever I’ll be at a place long enough for them to dry. The two pairs of boxers are easy in that the artificial nature of the material makes them easy to wash and their fast drying qualities means I can wash them the night before and be in a clean pair the next morning. They also don’t hold scents or dirt so they do not need to be washed as often as normal boxer-briefs. For the 3 month period I’ve been traveling, shorts don’t make sense. Jeans are not much hotter in the sun (I’ll wear jeans in 115 Degree heat in the Valley and honestly believe they are not much hotter than shorts as they keep your legs shaded) and it’s simpler not to pack extra crap.

As far as pants – they are the hardest item to wash. This is the slightly nasty part. I’ve washed my jeans a whopping 2 times and worn 1 of the two pair a good 80% of the time. Jeans are a difficult thing to wash, because they take so long to dry. The good news is, a darker colored pair of “vintage” looking jeans is designed to look dirty. So, unless they smell, you have an unfortunate spill or you decide to go sit in a mud puddle you don’t need to wash them nearly as often as other clothing (just for the love of God, change your boxers often). The pair of Levi jeans I purchased before leaving now have a hole worn through them after nearly 2 months of constant wear. I made it 1 month the first time before washing them and switching to the second pair (I found I didn’t like to travel in the second pair as they had a looser fit which gave me less contact with my wallet in my front pocket — they were a bit too large) and despite what you might think, to look (or smell) me most people would have thought that the pants had only been worn 2 or 4 times max.

Worried about clothing diversity or people seeing you wearing the same thing over and over? Don’t be. 1) You’re traveling. 2) They’re traveling. 3) No one really cares, and if they do you probably have stayed in the same place too long or they don’t belong in a hostel.

General Hostel Notes:

  • All of the hostels I stayed at in Eastern and Western Europe provided sheets – on the rare occasion it was a few Euros extra.
  • I never camped. There was no need and it would have dirtied my stuff.
  • I had my own towel – the micro towel is incredible – but most also offer towels for rent/free.
  • I never had any need for a sleeping bag. Additionally, many of the better hostels forbid their use as it’s one of the main ways that bedbugs are spread.
  • If you are a light sleeper, get earplugs. Hostels are like college dorms.
  • In cases where the hostel provided a kitchen area, they also had an assortment of banged up pots and pans and usually offered some form of refrigeration/storage compartments.

Questions, curious about something? Ask it in a comment and I’ll let you know!