How to travel full time: Packing Edition

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I travel 11 months of every year, and I do it with a smaller pack than almost all of the travelers I meet. Beyond making things easier to carry (which I don’t have to do as often as you’d think), it considerably simplifies my life.

In fact, the last time I was home, I went through box after box of accumulated possessions, and my prevalent emotions were horror at what I’d amassed, and relief that I didn’t have to own it anymore.

So here’s how to travel full time: travel edition.

The Philosophy:

I used to collect t-shirts. I owned hundreds and hundreds of them. When I dumped them on the floor to find something in the back (as I did a lot as a teenager), they would cover a huge section of my room. Out of all those shirts, though, there were just a few that were my favorites.

Now I travel with my favorite shirts. And I realized after my first trip that when I travel with only my favorite shirts, every day, whatever I wear is one of my favorite shirts.

And that applies to everything I carry. Even when I go home, for the most part I wear the same clothes. If I wear something different, it’s either to test out new travel clothes or to wear something ridiculous and impractical, like my purple label brown suede blazer. For a while I had an impulse to keep buying things on the road, like the amazing leather jackets you can get here for next to nothing (e.g. a friend in Nicaragua saw a massive alligator hanging in a leather shop and commissioned a bespoke alligator vest for $50). Now though, rather than buying yet another leather jacket (I have at least five at home, all more or less interchangeable), I think first about whether I want to carry it with me, and pretty much always end up happier for having less.

To follow up those several paragraphs of anti-accumulation rhetoric, there are some items that I bring with me that makes my life incredibly easy, and some that I just love. I’ll separate those here into the useful, the essential, and the ridiculous

The essential:

Laptop. Since I earn a living while on the road, I travel with a laptop, an unlocked smart phone, and various other electronics that make my life easier. Oddly enough some of the gadgets that I would have thought were marginally useful back home have turned out to be invaluable on the road.

Mophie battery pack – on my second one so far and therefore apparently not up to full time use, but better than anything else and virtually indispensable. Benefits: Acts as a case for my iphone and holds an additional 100% charge. More importantly though, it’s something you can leave plugged in at your hotel when you’re out on the town. This lets you use up all the juice on your phone, then come home for two minutes, slap on the case and walk right out again, now effectively with a full charge again, as the battery juices you back up from your pocket. This is perfect if you’re worried about theft, since people are a lot less likely to steal some random piece of electronics they don’t recognize than, say, an easily fenceable iphone. Accepts micro-usb plugs, which is huge, considering the fact that it turns your otherwise proprietarily useless iphone into something that can charge with the vast majority of chargers other people use. You can even plug it into your laptop using the usb-microusb connector that most of your other electronics come with and download photos, update the os, whatever.

Update: I have gotten tired of the Mophie brand specifically, though I still recommend a built-in case/battery pack. Here’s the next product I’m going to try:

Rechargeable Iphone Case

Unlocked smartphone. This is a must, and it baffles me why I waited so long to get mine unlocked myself. With this phone I go to any major phone store and buy a sim card for less than $5, then have cheap phone service, cheap basic internet (email, google maps, gps), and even receive calls to a local number in the US. This is huge because for the last year I was relying on skype or google voice over wifi for my business calls, but now I have a new york number where clients can call me for free on their end, and only 10 cents a minute on mine. Can get annoying when I’m paragliding and my phone starts ringing, but that’s a champagne problem if I’ve ever heard of one.

Amazon Kindle 3G with keyboard. There are a lot of reasons why I prefer this to an ipad or other tablet. The real thing though is this is the only tablet in existence that will give you free 3G in almost every country in the world, AND allow you to use it to check your email, surf your internet (albeit in black-and-white). I have used this in emergencies to find confirmation numbers, the name and address of my hotel, and all kinds of other things that suddenly become completely vital, as well as when, say, biking around paris and suddenly becoming curious to know everything about a particular statue.

Unfortunately, this item has been discontinued by Amazon. I’m pretty bummed about it.

Ex-Officio Underwear. I’m not even going to argue for these, travel or not, if you don’t have these, you’re missing out. Absurdly comfortable, very light, fast-drying, and don’t smell. I have family friends to thank for six pairs of these, but I could probably travel just fine with three of them. I wear these no matter where I am, they are that comfortable. And for girls they aren’t exactly lingerie, but they have thongs and that kind of thing.

Ex-Officio Underwear

Lulu Lemon shorts. These are extremely comfortable, dry fast enough to double as a bathing suit, and have a zipper pocket for when you and your new friends want to take a spur of the moment trip to the ocean and you want to keep your cash and waterproof camera from floating away. Warning: Pocket not effective when skinnydipping.

Medical Tape. I started carrying this after one of the festivals I went to in Costa Rica that involved dancing barefoot well past dawn every night in a jungle clearing, wading across a pond to get to a legendary beach, using a waterfall like a waterslide, and a number of other things that were hard on my feet. If you cut yourself, you can tape yourself back together, allowing you to continue walking across wet rocks, stomping around on jungle plants, or whatever it is that got you into trouble in the first place. Also fantastic for taping things (cue american psycho clip).

Medical Tape

Guitar Pick. While you’ll come across a lot of guitars, for some reason nobody ever has a pick. Now YOU do!

One dead-tree paperback. For use when the airline tries to convince you that your kindle will cause the cockpit to burst into flames and you just can’t be alone with your own thoughts. Alternately you could just buy a magazine in the local language every time you fly, but that can get old. Plus, you can take it to the beach and not worry about it getting stolen, unlike your kindle.

The Useful:

Head Lamp. This has come in incredibly handy, whether walking home through the jungle from a fertility festival at 3 in the morning, or fumbling for my keys in the hallway outside my Bogota apartment, closer to 7 in the morning. Also great for reading when you don’t want to bother other people and a good hundred other things. It lets you see in the dark.

Petzl Headlamp

Eye mask and earplugs. Allows you to sleep pretty much anywhere, it’s amazing. The Hear-Os I use are so effective that it wasn’t until they fell out one night that I realized there were insects here in Bucaramanga. Listening to them now, those suckers are loud.

Hearos Earplugs

Awesome headphones. I use the klipsch s4i, a gift from my stepdad. Fantastic sound, decent noise dampening (I used these before I had earplugs), and simply the best customer service I have ever experienced. They come with a one year no-questions-asked warranty. Klipsch will replace these, mailing you a new pair without requiring you to mail anything to them whatsoever. I just email a photo of the receipt to myself when I buy them, before i even leave the store, and I’m set. Klipsch even mailed me replacement pairs in Colombia, where it is normally incredibly hard to have electronics mailed from the states. 10 out of 5 stars for klipsch. Oh, these also come with great cases that will store all the extra little ear rubber things, as well as your backup pair. I carry two backup cases with me, each held securely closed with a tiny bit of medical tape. Seriously, buy a couple pairs of these, even though the replacement plan is amazing, you’ll be so spoiled after listening to these that you’ll be going crazy until you get another pair. Besides, you might be in the jungle or something.

Klipsch s4i Headphones

Toiletries. Shockingly, you still need soap to act as a surfactant in South America. Happily, it turns out that people use toiletries and cosmetics all over the world, so pretty much everything you want will be readily available in any city. This means  you can bring much, much, less than you think you’re going to need. And besides, the super-magical conditioner probably isn’t as important to you as you think it is. But whatever, bring what you want. A lot of people travel with Dr. Bronners, but while I enjoy having something to read in the shower, I haven’t seen the benefit of carrying it with me.

Credit Cards, (credit card edition?) specifically any without foreign transaction fees, and with a chip. There’s about two with chips in the states, my preference is the Marriott Visa. Also, keep an amex for online purchases, it makes things a hell of a lot easier and just simplifies your life.

Passport. Ok, this is pretty obvious.

Driver’s license or other official-looking but relatively unimportant ID. This will fit in your pocket, will get you into clubs, will let you use your credit cards to buy groceries, and won’t make you cry if you lose them.

Money Clip: I now use a binder clip. Has the added bonus of reminding you that other people are in the office.

Rubber Bands. I thought I might have a use for these, so tossed a few into the pocket with my goggles. I now use them to keep all the foreign currency I have organized. I got mad stacks, yo.

Tiny Portable Speakers

These things are cheap and amazing. When screwed together they’re about as compact as you can get, and you can plug them right into any audio jack for some surprisingly loud and clear sound. Glad they’re so cheap because people constantly ask me to borrow them.

iHome Speakers

The ridiculous:

Cowboy Boots. I travel with a beautiful pair of lizard-skin cowboy boots, a gift from my dad that have become by far the most comfortable shoes I’ve ever owned.

Paragliding Gear. When I started flying, I was so taken with it that I was desperate to find a way that I could do paraglide as much as possible without giving up the mobility I’ve become addicted to. Here in Colombia I was lucky enough to find a lightweight wing and a harness that doubles as a backpack. So I now have the unique challenge of traveling full time with everything I need, in addition to full paragliding gear.

Shakti Mat. Man I carry some weird stuff. This is a portable bed of nails. I’m not even kidding. It’s a soft foam matt with one side covered in spiked discs. I counted one time and there are over 3000 spikes on them. Once you get used to it, these feel incredible on your muscles, and seriously help you sleep. Better than sleeping pills. Plus it’s a great conversation starter, and it’s fun to see customs officers puzzling over it.

Acupressure Therapy Mat

Kaiman Swim Goggles. I for some reason carry two pairs of these, one pair that is tinted like sunglasses, and one that isn’t. I don’t really know why, but these goggles are incredible, have been very easy for me to stash in the “seldom-used” pocket of my bag, and are awesome for impromptu freediving or, my personal favorite, seeing where the rocks are before cliff diving.

Kaiman Swim Goggles

Prior Carries:

Vibram five-fingers. Extremely comfortable, great for anything involving rocks or water, hiking, whatever. Stopped carrying them because they were hard to clean, and anyway a huge slug took up residence in my pair when I left them on a friend’s balcony one time (in Manhattan), and I didn’t feel like wearing them so much after that.

Vibram Five-Fingers

Portable Hard Drive. Used to use one for backup, but dropped it from about twelve inches and it broke. Now I use software for cloud-based backup and don’t worry about it anymore. May buy a new one though, simply to hold movies and tv shows. Though there’s almost always something better to do than watch television, every once in a while you need some down time. In fact right now we’re watching Demolition Man, a movie I saw easily 100 times as a kid, off a hard drive plugged into the paragliding lodge television.

Haven’t purchased this model myself, but have used other people’s and have been very impressed. It’s what I would buy today.

LaCie Portable Hard Drive

Waterproof camera. Though I was in love with my waterproof camera, it turns out it was not in fact waterproof. Customer service was appalling – among other things, when I told them their camera was not waterproof, their suggestion was for me to wash it. Not kidding. This debacle has led me to use amex for all future online purchases. Still, I liked this camera so much that I’m considering buying a new one, even though the first one broke. The key thing is that it’s so small and slides so easily into your pocket that you forget it’s there until you need it, which means you’re always carrying a decent camera with you. Have been missing it badly, as it took better photos than my dSLR and was incredibly convenient.

Sony Waterproof Camera

Random stuff, like a computer mouse, way too many pairs of shoes, too many books, food. I actually carried two cans of beans back and forth across the nicaraguan and costa rican border at least three times, and never even ate them. Turns out they have food on both sides.


Posted on by Brandon Green in Best Of, How to, Recommendations

About Brandon Green

Brandon is a former investment banker who now travels the world full time. Brandon is on twitter @brandonbrucegreen and on Google +.