I lived off my laptop for a couple of years, but not so anymore. I’m kind-of settled in Northern Europe, with a “normal life”, but still travel a lot – at least 60-90 days a year.
However, I’m never away from home for more than three weeks straight. This (somehow) impacts my packing list. I don’t think it makes a huge difference, but just to let you know – this is not a long-term travel packing list.
I travel mostly for fun and a lot of the time on my own. The list below is based on my fun, or “adventure” pack list. When I travel for business, the list is slightly different.
I’ve three guiding principles for packing: a) I take few things, b) those things I take need to be of the best quality, and c) those things need to look good too.
Less is more. I take the minimum indispensable. Everything I take needs to fit in my 35L backpack.
I’ve not always been like this. Back in 2008, I took four bags – more than 40-50kgs in total, snowboard and golf clubs included – all the way from Argentina to Austria. It was extreme. It was a drag through my seven months in Europe and I don’t want to repeat the experience again. Now I travel light regardless if I travel for fun or for business.
This has worked for me as:
– I never need to check in luggage, which saves me time and money
– I am highly mobile – I can literally go the full day with my backpack on and be fine with it
– I can concentrate my budget into the few best items money can buy
Also, as I’ve traveled so much I learned what I should take and what not to. I’ll get into the details below, but as a rule of thumb if I take something on a trip and then don’t use it, it’s a red flag.
Regardless, there are still some drawbacks with being a minimalist. For example, if someone steals your backpack it sucks big time. You might also need to hand wash stuff sometimes. In my experience, these are risks worth taking – but I understand that it’s not a philosophy that will appeal to everyone.
b- Best Quality
If you travel light, it becomes a kind-of obligation to make sure your items are the best quality possible. It’s much easier to travel with, for example, only two t-shirts (instead of six) if the two t-shirts are odor-proof and fast-drying merino wool instead of cotton. Thing is, quality comes at a price – a merino t-shirt can cost up to ten times a generic t-shirt, so you need to be willing to pay up.
I aim to buy the really good stuff – the best I can. But if something is out of my budget I don’t go for the third or fourth-best option. Instead, I go for a generic and cheap pieces. I don’t like to pay up for “medium” quality – in most cases it’s not worth it.
There are good reasons why people pay up for an iPhone (vs. an Android phone). There’s, naturally, the branding part of it, but many people still buy an iPhone as it looks better, works better and is of overall higher quality than the competition. I aim to find the iPhone of every other category – be it a backpack, or a t-shirt, or a pair of shoes. It’s well worth it.
c- Fashion Consciousness
It’s nice to look good on the road. I’m not Mr. Fashion in any way and scorn metrosexuals and the “effeminate” men roaming round the world these days, but I trust I can look nice without being like a girl.
If you’re going to meet ladies in Lithuania or take photos in front of the Colosseo, why not look your best? Here’s some travel fashion tips:
– Don’t buy “travel” clothes – in most cases, they look horrible. Loose or cargo pants are a no-go.
– Good colors include: black (best), dark blue and white. They’re classy and match with almost everything. On the flip side, white does get dirty easily, but it’s not as bad as people say. If you avoid slipping food on yourself, you’ll be fine.
– In terms of shirts (not t-shirts) avoid at all costs to wear a) checkered shirts and b) short-sleeved shirts. If I’m hot, roll up your sleeves – looks 100x better. I rather die than wear a checkered shirt with cargo pants.
I also prefer slim-fit shirts, pants, etc. They just look good if you’re in shape. But, as with many things, what will look good on you will in many cases be subjective. Know thyself.
The Pack List
This list is a mix of what I’ve taken for my ten-days Central Asia get-away in spring and a two-week Tanzania plus Sri Lanka trip in the “cool” season. I don’t always take the same – especially if I’m traveling to winter or to hot summers. However, over all I’ll take this or a slight variation of it:
1) Bag – The Minaal Carry On
The Minaal is a strong, light, fashionable 35L backpack, and the lucky protagonist in the photo above (if you’re curious, that’s in Dougga, an Ancient Roman site in Tunisia). Created by a few nomads looking to create the “perfect” backpack, Minaal is not perfect, but is a fair shot. Here’s the good things about it:
– It’s a minimalistic, quality and fashionable bag – it doesn’t just tick off but also excel in my three packing criteria.
– It’s small (and looks small – RyanAir proof), but it still fits a ton of stuff.
– It’s lay-flat packing style is very convenient, and the documents/computer compartment fits and protects up to a 15” laptop.
On the flip side, the Minaal is not made for full-day trekking. It doesn’t have a weight-bearing hip-belt, so if you walk 10K with the Minaal with the whole weight in your shoulder, it can eventually hurt. I learned it the hard way. It’s also pretty expensive – I guess you can find some better value deals.
Packable Day Pack
I take a small, packable “day pack” and fit it inside the Minaal. I’ve a generic “Nordic” one, and it fits a water bottle, an iPad, a notebook, documents and other stuff when opened, and packs into a minuscule punch when closed. I rather take one of these ones than another mid-size backpack that I can’t squeeze in the bigger one.
An Alternative to a Backpack
If you’re going for short, one or two-city trips, trolleys are awesome and better than a backpack. Traveling with a trolley you’ll lose mobility, but you’ll be able to take much more stuff, keep it better organized and avoid ironing and other hassles of the backpacker lifestyle. I take a trolley for when I need to take much gear (computer, big camera, mic) and business attire for a short trip. I use the Samsonite X’Blade 2.0, a big, high quality and somehow still carry-on approved trolley. It’s a two-wheeler though, and next time I think I would rather get the new four-wheeler types.
6x T-Shirts, divided into two:
4x Plain-Colored Icebreaker Merino 150 “Base Layer”. They’re technically “undershirts” but still the only slim-fit in Icebreaker’s collection. If possible, all v-necks. Merinos are lightweight, warm when it’s cold, cool when it’s hot and don’t take smell or sweat – well worth their hype and steep price tag.
2x Mario’s Own Design. I’ve designed some geeky t-shirts as a hobby – they’re black, white, or gray and have some Latin inscriptions such as “Carthago Delenda Est”. Before getting these I would take the usual random t-shirt.
Note – 6x and 4-2x is not carved into stone. I might take more or less depending on where I’m going to.
1x Fancy Shirt. I like Hugo Boss’ shirts, and I usually take a black or white one for a date or fancy event.
1-2x Cheap, Plain Shirts. I’ve white or pink light shirts – they’re great for day-to-day trekking and match with almost everything. I buy them from H&M or Zara. I’ll keep going for these cheap ones until I discover a better option.
2.2) Pants & Shorts
1x Primary Pants. These are normally Levi’s 511 Jeans, in dark blue or black. I like these ones as they fit and look good, but I’m keeping an eye on the “stylish travel pants” niche and will try some of Outlier’s famous pants in November.
1x Secondary Pants. I’ve a tendency to keep taking with me a pair of light, slim-fit white pants as well. They’re usually my secondary pants, unless I take a fancier pair of dark dress pants or jeans – that for, usually, more businessy cases.
1x Shorts. Usually light orange-reddish, or, if I don’t take the white pants, white. I’ve some generic ones but I’m also looking for a better option.
1x Sport Shorts. Light, fast-drying running shorts that can double as swim wear as well.
1x Belt. I normally take a high-quality, two-sided black-brown leather belt from Argentina. If I’m going to a more dangerous place, I instead switch to a zippered leather belt instead.
2.3) Socks & Underwear
6-8x Socks. Normally half of these medium-length and the other half are short, “sport” style. They’re all either black or white, and I’m upgrading all of them from the usual cotton socks to Icebreaker Merino, which are high quality and will not smell.
6-8x Boxer Shorts. I take normal, light cotton underwear. I’ve been experimenting with “travel” underwear as well, but found none to be worth the hype.
Note on Travel Underwear – I’ve a pair of the infamous ExOfficio boxers but I found them “baggy” as if made for fat people. They’re also sticky and uncomfortable when it’s very hot and sweaty and are not as fast-drying as they’re pitched out to be. Not worth it.
Note on Redundancy – It sucks big time to wear dirty underwear or socks. Thus, I rather take a few more than necessary just in case – I think it’s worthy use of packing space.
2.4) Outer Layer
1x Sweater or Fleece. If I’m going somewhere cold, I take a ready-for-battle cashmere sweater – very warm, yet very light. If I’m going to a warmer place I take a fleece instead. Both dark gray or black.
1x Jacket. I’ve the Fjallraven X032 in black. Minimalistic, lightweight and water resistant, yet, perhaps, a bit hyped up. If I’m going somewhere colder I take something warmer.
1x Running Jacket. I’ve the super lightweight Salomon X904b. It’s good for the occasional run, as a base jacket if it’s too hot or as a layer under the Fjallraven if it’s cold. It packs to almost nothing and it’s worth carrying around.
1x Scarf. I usually take a very light, comfy black or light-blue scarf. If it’s midly cold it helps and it also comes in handy as a “shal” if I need to get into some fancy temple, or doubles up as a bandana and even as a makeshift eye cover.
1x Shoes. Usually either black or white-ish, and almost always leather and from Ecco. Ecco’s shoes are classy, yet sturdy and ready for 10K of walking every day. I’m sure there are better shoes out there, but so far I’ve been successful enough with Ecco.
1x Havaianas. If I’m going somewhere warm and beach-type, I take these cheap, lightweight flip flops with me as well.
Note – Shoes are by far the biggest space-eater in your backpack. I occasionally will take two, but only if for business, or a wedding, or another special case. If you need to take two shoes, wear the biggest one on the plane and fill up the insides of the second one with socks, underwear, etc.
– iPhone 6. I love the iPhone 6, it’s a worthy upgrade from the 4/4S/5/5S. I use the following apps while I travel:
Google Services – Gmail, Translate, Drive, Maps, Analytics, etc. I use Google Maps’ offline function extensively
Classics: Facebook, WhatsApp, LinkedIn, Instagram, Snapchat, Skype, Shazam, Slack, Podcasts, Spotify, etc
Asana – for business to-dos, but usually have personal stuff as well
Anki – for flashcards, worth trying when in commutes, etc
Buffer – for social media posts management
Sunrise – for calendar
Kindle/iBooks – to read
Evernote – for quick lists, notes, writing posts, etc
Feedly – for the RSS feeds of the sites I regularly read
Dropbox – it’s almost like a file management system within iOS, great to keep stuff
ExpressVPN – so I can surf privately and avoid being hacked in open wifi networks
Mailchimp – to keep track of my email list (sign up here if you haven’t yet)
Noisli – I’m not a music-on-my-phone guy, and when I need some background noise to concentrate I use Noisli
Spendee – to track how much money I’m spending
XE Currency – to convert currencies, handly outside of the Eurozone
Forza – to be in the loop of all the football developments
Touchnote – to transform your photos into physical postcards
Travel Classics: Airbnb, Hotel Tonight, Booking
Airline App – If I travel with British, Airways the British app. If with Emirates, the Emirates app. I delete them after the trip.
Note – Needless to say, any smartphone these days replaces basic point-and-shoot cameras, flashlight, portable gaming devices, MP3 player, e-book reader and more. They’re a blessing.
– iPad Air. It’s small, light, and used mostly for reading and browsing the web. I didn’t jump into the Kindle bandwagon and prefer to read from the iPad.
– iPad Charger. It’s bigger than the iPhone’s, but charges both the iPad and the iPhone very fast.
– Apple Headset. I’m not a music guru so these keep me going. I’ll upgrade to in-ear noise-canceling headphones the day the prices become reasonable.
– Selfie Stick. I once found them ridiculous, but I’m now fully sold – selfie sticks help you take better photos. I’ve a small remote for it as well.
I use the Fjallraven “Gear Bag” in dark grey as my toiletry bag. It’s sturdy, has a few compartments and fits all this:
1x Toothbrush. I’ve been using GUM Classic Toothbrushes for years. They’re high quality, recommended by dentists and come with a nice “box” to keep the top kind-of sealed.
1x Match 3 Razor. I don’t take shaving gel and just shave with very hot water and soap while in the shower. It’s not the best for the long term, but fine enough for short trips. I don’t carry extra blades.
3x Go-Toobe bottles for:
– Small one for tooth paste
– Big one for shampoo
– Big one for shower gel
1x small nail clipper
1x small comb
1x pair of contact lenses
1x small bottle of contact lenses cleaning liquid and eye drops
1x small deodorant
1x small cologne, Channel’s Allure if you were curious
I also take some medicines (aspirins, ibuprofen, anti inflammatory, malaria pills if applicable, etc) and a few band-aids.
Note – I never unpack my toiletries. I literally have a special travel toothbrush, travel razor, travel nail clipper, etc. I only unpack if I need to re-fill the go-toobe bottles. With a small investment I avoid many headaches – it’s very easy to forget one of the small things above and most people do.
Note – If I’m going somewhere fancy, I might even avoid taking the shower gel and shampoo all together. Most hotels will give you some.
2.7) Other Items
– Generic Waist Wallet / Passport Holder. I almost never actually wear it, but it’s still good to have it for the passport, some cards and other important papers (if any).
– Mini “Wallet”. Basically a leather card-holder for the basic few things that are worth taking and having with you at all times: one card, one ID, and insurance. The rest can be in the waist wallet or stay home.
– Padlock. A small, TSA-approved, steel-band padlock to lock my bag, a locker in the hostel, etc.
– Ray Ban Sunglasses. I’ve a pair or Ray Ban’s classic sunglasses. They’re classy, match with everything and are insanely high quality – mine were dropped or crashed dozens of time and yet still stand. I take their box as well.
– Ray Ban Reading Glasses. I’ve another pair of Ray Ban’s for reading or for when I don’t want to use contacts. Just as the sunglasses, they’re also classy and insanely high quality and come with a box.
– Victorinox Swiss Army Watch. Classy, high quality watch – I got it for ~200 USD, way less than it normally costs. The day smartwatches prove useful, I’ll upgrade.
– Wrist Band. I’ve one of those nice beads bands. I use it as the “complaint control” band I wrote about in my book.
– Nuts & Raw Bites. If I’m backpacking I’ll take a bag of nuts and 4-6 raw protein bars. They’ve come in handy more than once.
2.8) Once a While…
– Universal Travel Adapter. Useful in case I’m not in Europe or South America. I’ve a generic one, looking forward to buy the Kikkeland one which is apparently smaller than all others.
– Canon EOS 70D DSRL Camera with 18-135mm lens. I’ve this monster DSRL, famous for its video prowess. I normally take it if I’m shooting a video course or want to step it up with the photos. It’s an amazing camera but, as it’s quite big and heavy, it stays home unless absolutely necessary. If possible, I’ll upgrade to a light, mirrorless camera within the next few years.
– Macbook Pro 13′. I’ve a Macbook from 2010 – an amazing machine, but slow, heavy and bulky for the standards of 2015. I don’t really take it unless I’m planning to work considerably. If all I need to do is to write some short articles and a few dozen emails I can do that in the iPad. I’ll upgrade within a few years.
– Tie. A black, silk tie in case I need to be fancy.
– Business Jacket. I’ve a generic, rough-for-travel black one that works fine if I need to carry it.
The Not-to-Pack List
Here’s a trick: what you don’t pack is as important as what you do pack. Nassim Taleb calls this via negativa – what you remove as important as what you add. I’ve so far traveled to 80 countries without ever taking with me any of the following:
– Fancy Water Bottle. It doesn’t matter if your fancy water bottle has magic capabilities – generic, plastic water bottles are common place anywhere in the world and you can use and reuse them as much as you need. If for whatever reason you lose or have to give up your bottle (which happens often), you’ll feel sad and angry you needed to part with your fancy one. Avoid the hassle, it’s really not worth it.
– Travel Towel. Why travel with a bulky, wet towel in your backpack when almost every place you’ll stay for the night will offer you one? I’ve yet to go to a hotel or hostel that won’t give you or rent you a towel. Even today’s famed “travel towels” will still take space and get wet. Not necessary.
– External Battery. I’ve never been out of battery and in limbo, thus so far I’ve avoided buying an external battery. If you’ve modern tech and won’t be in the wild it’s not necessary.
– Packing Cubes. If you don’t take so much stuff, you don’t need this extra layer of organization. In my case, it would add considerable weight and won’t have many benefits.
– Physical Books, including guidebooks. I love books (I even wrote one!) but they’re heavy, take space and, if you read as much as I do, you need a lot of them to keep entertained. I’ve switched to reading in the iPad and I’m not looking back. The only exception is when I take copies of my own book to give away.
– Wallet. I’ve not traveled (and, for that matter, even used) a wallet since mine was stolen in Ukraine in 2008. It’s unnecessarily risky and, after all, when you’re on the road you don’t need more than some credit cards, your ID, your driving license and your insurance card. Everything else is clutter.