How do you pack for a ten-month trip around the world?  Are you supposed to stuff 287 pairs of socks into one suitcase?  What about clothes for cities, mountains, beaches, and deserts?  Here's how we tackled the challenge of packing for a trip through so many different climates, seasons, and cultures.


Our nice clean bags before leaving for the airport to begin our journey

As important as what you pack is what you pack it in.  We did a lot of research and found what we think were the perfect bags for our trip – the Eagle Creek Switchback Max 25.  The Switchback Max is the most versatile bag out there – kind of like a suitcase and backpack in one.  Like a regular suitcase, it has a handle and wheels for rolling the bag down sidewalks and through airports.  Unlike a regular suitcase, it also has comfortable backpack straps (including hip straps) for going off-road.  Best of all, Eagle Creek makes some of the toughest bags out there.  The bag comes with a no-questions-asked lifetime warranty.  They will repair or replace a damaged bag no matter what the cause.  We put the warranty to the test when a zipper broke on Sara’s bag along the way.  One phone call later, a new bag was in the mail.

The Switchback Max also comes with a detachable day pack.  The day pack is good but not great.  It certainly was more than adequate to serve our needs.  It is comfortable, has a nice laptop compartment, and was (barely) large enough to hold our stuff for a couple of three-day hikes.  But if we were doing things all over again, we would have looked into getting different day packs with better water bottle compartments and elastic straps for stuffing wet clothes and flip flops on the outside of the bag.  All in all though, we were happy with the day packs, and overall we were really happy with our luggage for the trip.

Now, what did we put in those bags?

David’s Stuff

Packing for a trip around the world is actually pretty similar to packing for a two-week trip.  You’re going to have to do laundry every week or so along the way.  The biggest challenge is planning for just about every type of weather and situation that the world can throw at you.  How are you supposed to fit appropriate clothes for a beach in Thailand, the Khumbu Glacier, and a meeting with a U.S. ambassador into one bag?  It’s not possible to be prepared perfectly for every situation.  Instead, I tried to pack a flexible wardrobe that would work for most places.

David's stuff laid out

The biggest mistake that I made in packing was focusing too much on the outdoorsy activities and not enough on cities and “nice places.”  The only shirt with a collar that I brought from Atlanta was a Marmot hiking shirt – the blue plaid one that shows up in about 30% of our photos.  I didn’t bring a single pair of pants that would qualify as anything approaching “nice.”

Luckily on a long journey you’re able to buy things you need along the way!  My sister brought a white polo shirt to me in Australia, but it quickly started showing too much wear and tear.  Instead I ended up buying a couple of cheap polos at an H&M that served me well.  I also had a nice dress shirt made in Hoi An, Vietnam that I decided to keep with me rather than sending home.  As for pants, I found a great pair of dark, wrinkle-free trousers at a late night stop by the Mustafa Centre, a ridiculous 24-hour mall in Singapore’s Little India.  They served me well through the trip.

I made a couple of other non-souvenir clothes purchases along the way.  I picked up a $2 blue cotton t-shirt (my “elephant shirt”) in a market in Phnom Penh to replace a green cotton “Reeds Around the World” shirt that I sent home with Sara’s parents from Southeast Asia.  I also lost a pair of underwear in the laundry in China and bought a couple of replacements.  Otherwise I was really happy with what I brought and wouldn’t change a thing were I doing it all over again.  Here’s my bag all packed up.  Rolling is the way to go, and the only way that I could cram it all in.

David's stuff in David's bag

And here's a list of everything in the bag:

·      3 short sleeve and 1 long sleeve REI Sahara t-shirts – made of polyester but feel like cotton and dry in no time!
·      1 blue cotton “elephant” t-shirt that I bought in a market in Cambodia to sleep in.  I originally had a green cotton “Reeds Around the World” shirt, but I sent it home with Sara’s parents from Southeast Asia.
·      1 short sleeve workout shirt that I ended up sending home because I could exercise fine in the REI t-shirts
·      2 polo shirts
·      Marmot hiking shirt – yep, the blue plaid one that shows up in about 30% of our pictures.  I wish I had brought along three of them.
·      Dress shirt tailor made in Hoi An, Vietnam
·      North Face quarter-zip fleece
·      1 pair of gym shorts
·      2 pairs of khaki shorts, one casual pair from REI and one nicer pair that I bought in Hong Kong after losing a pair of Vineyard Vines shorts in the laundry in Thailand
·      1 pair of casual khaki pants
·      1 pair of zip-off hiking pants
·      1 pair of dark, wrinkle-free dressy pants that I found in Singapore
·      1 brown belt
·      Swimsuit
·      Quick dry camp towel
·      6 pairs of underwear by the end after losing one pair and buying two.  The original five pairs were from Ex Officio made of a synthetic material that dries in no time.  This let me wash in the sink when laundry wasn’t convenient.
·      4 pairs of low-cut socks
·      3 pairs of hiking socks
·      North Face waterproof shell rain jacket
·      Waterproof rain pants – these were unbelievably handy on really rainy days!
·      Georgia Tech baseball cap – lost at Victoria Falls
·      Collapsible wide-brim hat to fend off the sun – you definitely saw this hat in some pictures!
·      Merrill hiking shoes – my go-to shoes for the trip and I wore through the Vibram outsoles
·      Slip on loafers – really comfortable, casual enough to wear with shorts, and nice enough to wear on a fancier occasion
·      1 pair of sandals – great for water activities and giving my Merrills a break
·      1 pair of flip-flops (I brought a pair of leather flip flops that I sent home because they didn’t do well in the water.  I went through a couple of pairs of cheap flip flops along the way)
·      Binoculars
·      Headlamp
·      Money belt – I only wore it once and it was so awkward that I never wore it again
·      Bandana – handy for driving along dusty roads!
·      Smartwool winter hat for when it got really cold
·      Fleece gloves
·      “Waterproof” gloves that I bought in Thamel, Kathmandu.
·      Cocoon Mummy Liner – sleeping bag liner that worked in or out of a sleeping bag
·      Sleeping bags – we should have brought along nice ones with us but instead we ended up buying cheap sleeping bags for New Zealand and Africa and rented sleeping bags in Nepal
·      Flimsy nylon backpack to carry around on days that we didn’t want to carry our bigger day packs
·      A plastic bag for laundry

Note that I didn’t bring jeans along on the trip.  I definitely missed them, but they aren’t quick drying like most of the clothes that I packed.

In my day pack I kept all of my electronics: laptop, Panasonic Lumix camera, Kindle, iPod, a couple of USB flash drives, and outlet converters.  I also kept my trip documents, travel guides, paperback books, maps, and passport.  I had an umbrella for a while but it didn't survive Hong Kong.  Finally, I had a cover for my day pack for those rainy days.

Last but not least, I often carried our big Canon DSLR camera in a separate bag over my shoulder.

Sara's Stuff

The contents of Sara's around-the-world suitcase

It was really difficult for me to get my head around what I would need for a ten-month trip around the world.  From hot to cold, mountains to oceans, cities to small towns – what to pack?  I didn't get it quite right when we left home.  By the time we were halfway into our trip I had worked out all of the kinks, mostly thanks to family and friends who brought things over for us.

While we were still in New Zealand, our first stop of the trip, I made the first additions to my suitcase
– a warm fleece and cardigan.  I hadn't realized how cold it would be in NZ!  A few weeks later in Australia, Christie brought me a pair of jeans from home, which I loved having.  When my parents met us in Thailand they brought me a few things from home and took some other things back for me.  Finally, when we made it to Hong Kong and had several weeks in the city I made a trip to H&M and picked up the last few things I needed. 

Packing my bag to fit everything was also on my mind.  L
uckily a friend showed me a video about rolling all of my clothes, which was great!  David and I both rolled all of our clothes throughout the trip, and it made a huge difference.  Before leaving home I also spent time on this One Bag website.  Although some of the suggestions were a bit extreme for me, I certainly incorporated some of the ideas into packing.

·         4 short sleeve, 1 long sleeve and 1 sleeveless t-shirt
·         Quick dry shirt for exercising
·         2 button down shirts -- one casual and one a bit nicer
·         REI hiking shirt – I loved this shirt because it had built in UVA/UVB protection and kept me either cool or warm depending on the weather.
·         Cardigan
·         Quarter-zip fleece
·         1 pair of soffe shorts -- the first pair ended up on the bottom of the ocean after they blew overboard on the Emperor's Wings, but my mom brought me a second pair when we met them in Thailand.
·         REI zip-off hiking pants
·         1 pair of jeans
·         1 pair of leggings
·         Cotton tunic purchased in Kathmandu
·         2 cotton dresses
·         2 Swimsuits (1 two-piece and 1 one-piece)
·         Underwear to get me through just over one week -- we highly recommend Ex Oficio which wash well and dry really quickly.  I kept all of my underwear in a small Eagle Creek bag, which I loved having.
·         4 pairs of low-cut socks
·         1 pair of skiing socks -- I wore these only in Nepal and sent them home afterwards.
·         1 pair of long underwear -- I wore these only in Nepal and sent them home afterwards.
·         North Face rain jacket
·         Patagonia short down jacket, which kept me really warm and was a perfect pillow when it wasn't cold out!
·         Waterproof rain pants
·         Wool winter hat
·         Cotton gloves and waterproof gloves -- I bought inexpensive waterproof gloves in Kathmandu and sent them home afterwards.
·         Bandana -- I used this only a few times, but it was awesome for our trek in Neapl keeping out dust and cold.
·         Cocoon Mummy Liner -- a sleeping bag liner that could be used on its own in warm weather.
·         Money belt --(never used this, but hung onto it until the end just in case.
·         North Face hiking shoes -- tons of hikes and they still feel great!
·         Chacos - the perfect outdoor/water shoe
·         Toms -- I picked these up in Shanghai as a great closed-toe shoe for walking around cities.
·         Havaiannas -- still in great shape after lots of wear.
·         Bronze Target sandals
·         A straw hat that folded really easily and a quick dry baseball hat
·         L. L. Bean toiletry case and a small bag for makeup
·         Hairbrush
·         Quick dry camp towel
·         Headlamp
·         Ziploc bags -- came in very handy!
·         Craft scissors
·         Playing cards
·         Unlocked worldwide cell phone
·         2 ankle braces -- purchased in Nepal after spraining my ankles at the end of our Everest Base Camp Trek.
·         Eagle Creek bag full of chargers for all of our electronics
·         Umbrella
·         Moleskine journal
·         Kindle
·         Cross-body purse that I had made in Hoi An, Vietnam.
·         Waterproof cover for our day packs, which we purchased in NZ when we realized it was supposed to snow during one of our 3-day hikes.
·         A small laundry bag

Sara's bag ready for zipping

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