After three months of traveling through Mexico and Guatemala, I planned a break in the U.S. to celebrate my birthday, wash off, see some people I love and also reassess this initial packing situation.
To recap: in July, I set off with a 40-liter bag, smaller than I could even imagine, filled with everything I thought I needed for an indefinite journey abroad.
I didn’t know what I was doing.
And let’s be clear — it’s very possible I still don’t. But after a quarter of a year, I certainly have some better idea of what I need, what I absolutely don’t, and what I can live without.
Hauling one’s life around on their back over some 4,000 miles has a way of doing that.
I gave away my gorgeous pair of Red Wing boots in the very first airport I stepped foot in. I abandoned plenty more along the route. And I grunted over cobblestone streets, into busses and vans and airports and through crushing back pain at times with what I did retain.
I learned a valid lesson: every centimeter, every ounce, matters.
But more importantly, I learned that I actually don’t need that much.
Since I’ve been back in the states, I expected to dive into the two large boxes of clothes and shoes I didn’t sell in my mad dash into the wild, eager for new options and more fashion diversity. Instead, while in my homeland, I’ve mostly operated as I did abroad, using basic toiletries that have abided me and wearing, almost exclusively, what was already in my suitcase.
Now that I have some understanding of what I really need, I think I have the chance to actually slim down while being more efficient. It excites me.
Here’s my new packing list, for indefinitely:
Bigfoot: I love you, man, but you’re taking up space and it turns out I’m not nearly lonely enough to talk to a plastic figurine. You’re out.
Seven shirts: I had just about the right amount of shirts, I think, but they weren’t all *right.* I had a couple shirts that were nicer and kind of dumb when paired with sneaker or just weren’t very realistic for weekly wear. When you have a tiny wardrobe, you can only have a single *vibe,* and everything needs to match it. Anything that doesn’t is out.
Gauze: I brought way too much. Wayyy too much. What am I doing that I need that much gauze *before* I can get to a doctor? Was I expecting to live in the jungle? This is ridiculous.
Some of the sterile wipes: Same. I mean soap and water is pretty good.
Gimbal: This is a great example of me being far too optimistic about what I could do and when. As it is, I’m maintaining an active website, a host of Patreon subscribtion promises (including newsletters and videos and live chats and postcards) and a substantial freelance agenda. I’m barely hanging on over here. The idea of LEARNING HOW TO USE A GIMBAL and subsequently CREATING ON-THE-GROUND VIDEOS was insane, at least for round one. I hated the moment on each move where I had to find a place to stuff this huge contraption I wasn’t using. I do hope to incorporate it back in at some point, but right now, it is OUT.
Big wallet: Hahahahaha, I’m so cute, I brought like my normal city wallet on the road like that was sustainable. Two weeks in, I bought a tiny woven pouch instead and have been using that since.
PackTowl and wash cloth: To be clear, I love my PackTowl gear. It’s super effective. But I’m not camping, and in every Airbnb I’ve stayed, I’ve been provided with a towel. The wash cloth has been replaced by my new reliance on baby wipes.
Dry case for phone: Plastic bags mostly do the trick, and they’re beneficial to bring along for other reasons.
Adapters: Most of Central and South America use the same outlets as we do here in the United States. Eventually, I will get a perfect travel adapter (with pop-outs for most outlets you’ll encounter), but right now I don’t feel the need, and the space is welcomed.
Tampons: As it turns out, the Nexplanon birth control implant in my arm that I got before traveling stops periods for a huge percentage of women. I’m one of them. Hooooooooray, no more tampons/periods/unnecessary pain.
Pro-sip straws: These are not realistic for everyday drinking because it takes like 2 minutes to suck an ounce of water into your mouth. I still have my SteriPEN Aqua Water Purifier and it works great.
Iodine tablets: Same deal. I don’t have the space for a three-part water purification system.
Benadryl: I’ve gotten plenty of bug bites since I’ve been traveling, but I’ve found I can deal with them —worst case scenario, I burn them off with a lighter. If I ever need it, I’ll buy it.
Magazines: Originally, I was carrying along a lot of magazines for freelance purposes; when pitching a story, it’s important to know the specific sections of a publications and how they play on print, which is not easily obvious online. But …they were so heavy. They had to go.
Old jeans and old shorts: I was carrying along two pairs of pant-wear that just didn’t fit me right. I have a small closet. Goodbye.
Keychain alarm: Well, this wasn’t really a choice. It *fell off* my keychain within a week and a half on the road. But in all honesty, it always felt like more of a security blanket than an actual useful tool. Would I have it in my hand and be able to pull the rip cord if I really needed to? Maybe. Maybe not. In general, I think there is no replacement for simply staying alert and informed and doing a lot of pushups.
Extra jewelry and jewelry case: HAHAHAHA that’s funny, like I was going to change my jewelry.
Some makeup: I greatly condensed what I brought before. A tan really does a lot for no-makeup confidence.
New jeans: See above
New shorts: See above.
New tanks: I had a couple too many “nice” shirts and not enough “layer” shirts. What are even “nice” shirts anymore? I amended the problem.
Tide stick: Stains happen. And since my cycle is short and laundry is unreliable, I believe a moment-by-moment spot check will be invaluable.
Bobby pins: In my new life, I don’t do my hair. The least I can do is have a little help holding it up when it’s supposed to be up.
Second pair of sneakers: I actually added a pair of leisure sneakers since posting this last guide, and even thought they’ve since gained a hole in the toe, I can’t imagine what I would have done without them. I wear my athletic sneakers for hiking and such, but most days, I wear the others. Well worth the carry.
Books: Given the time spent without WiFi and the limited access to English-language books — when you can find them, you have the choice of maybe 20 books, none of which may appeal to you — I’ve decided to place a premium on toting books from the States and then giving them away as I finish them.
Plastic bags: I acquired about 15 gallon-sized plastic bags from an American coffeeshop owner in Guatemala who told me I needed them — to hide my passport in toilet tanks, among other reasons. I haven’t heeded his advice yet, but they have come in handy — at airports, when transporting liquid goods on busses, and in stowing my essentials on boats.
Lavender and tea tree oils: The lavender oil is great for sleep and mental health, and the tea tree oil calms mosquito bites naturally and I kind of use it in place of perfume.
A travel candle: I’m excited to use this on the road. I know others that have traveled with candles and they say that having a familiar scent in every new location is very calming.
A canvas bag: I’m always needing a bag — toting around my laundry, hauling things from the market, shopping for toiletries — and I’m excited about this addition.
THE FULL LIST:
- 10 Tank tops
- 5 T-shirts
- 2 Long-sleeved shirts
- 2 pairs of jeans
- 3 pairs of shorts
- 1 pair sleep pants
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sweater
- 12 pairs of socks
- 10 pairs of underwear
- 2 regular bras
- 1 sports bra
- 1 leather jacket (OK, it’s still pleather)
- 1 rain jacket
- Vans UltraRange mesh sneakers
- Vans Authentic sneakers
- Cheap black slides
- iPhone 8+
- Cheap burner phone (in case my iPhone is lost or stolen)
- MacBook Air, 12 inches
- 2 iPhone charging cords
- MacBook charging cord
- Portable battery pack for iPhone or burner phone
- Noisemaker and bluetooth speaker
- 1 alt charging cord (for burner phone, noisemaker/speaker/battery pack)
- Joby mini tri-pod (for photos and videos)
- 2 pairs of ear buds (one to fit into phone, one to fit into computer)
- MacBook Air converter for USBs and memory cards
- Nikon DX
- Nikon battery charger
- 2 Nikon memory cards
- Get Clean screen cleaner spray
(I never travel with shampoo/soap/conditioner/lotion/baby wipes because it’s too bulky; I buy that stuff at every location.)
- Face moisturizer
- Makeup basics
- Mini toothpaste
- Eye drops
- Tiny emory board
- Nail clippers
- Hair bands
- Bobby pins
- Teeth whitening strips
- Lavender oil
- Tea tree oil
- Hand sanitizer
- Copies of birth certificate
- Copies of driver’s license
- Copies of passport
- Extra passport pictures
- Vaccinations document (some countries ask to see them when you enter)
First aid and safety
- SteriPEN Aqua Water Purifier (UV purifier that works in seconds)
- Gauze (just a couple pads)
- Malaria pills
- High-strength ibuprofen
- Diarrhea pills
- Muscle relaxers (a life-saver on long travel days)
- Zinc tablets
- Date-rape detector strips (put one in your drink and it changes colors if you’ve been roofied)
- Mini scissors (these have been incredibly helpful for a number of reasons)
- Sterile wipes (again, just a few)
- Hydration powder packets
- 1 pair eye glasses
- 1 pair sunglasses
- 1 wrist watch
- 1 pair earrings, two necklaces, two rings (always worn)
- Ear plugs
- Eye mask
- Takeya 1.5 liter water bottle (this doubles as a muscle roller and also a weapon)
- Lacrosse ball (a muscle roller)
- Silk pillowcase (to help negate bad pillows)
- Plastic bags (for airport travel, water transport, etc.)
- Travel candle
- Tide stick