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How to pack for a RTW trip
Packing tips for a trip around the world
There is something so thrilling about packing up a backpack or suitcase and setting off for an adventure around the world. And if you’re like me, the prospect of carting around your worldly possessions in a backpack from country to country also is incredibly daunting. On our last whirlwind trip across the globe, I found myself altering how I had packed my bags in the past. In the olden days, I would leave behind items of clothing and guidebooks as I went further into my journey, tired of being weighed down by their uselessness and bulk. This time, I knew I needed to conserve as much space as possible to make it home with the same possessions I took when I left. (The only exception to this strategy was Gone Girl, which I finished and left in my Athens hotel room to terrify someone else).
Despite this new approach, one of the biggest challenges for me when it comes to packing for a RTW journey is preparing for multiple climates. One week I might be lounging on the beaches of Bali in a bathing suit and sarong; the next week might find me traversing the arctic tundras of Siberia. How does one pack adequate clothing for both scenarios in one measly suitcase? How do you know what to bring anyway? I’ve put together this trusty tip guide to answer all of your questions.
It might seem simple, but layering, as a strategy, can be a life-saver. I’m always sure to pack a few light tank tops, t-shirts, and sweaters I can wear together to help with insulation. Ladies, I highly recommend a nice big scarf that can be used in an assortment of ways. While in India, my scarf was turned into a blanket, sarong, sheet, towel, curtain (to block all of the peeping toms on the sketchy night train), a face mask, and a shoulder covering (when we visited temples). I swear by packing a scarf and I won’t leave home without one. I also always pack a swimsuit or two (they’re tiny so it’s OK to have more than one) and a nice waterproof jacket.
When it comes to footwear, only pack what you’ll really need. You really can’t go wrong with a sturdy pair of walking shoes, flip-flops (essential for those hostel showers), and some cold weather boots.
For the men, my husband has taken to layering as well. One of his key items is a vest. You only need one and it’s an easy way to dress up an outfit should the occasion arise. For the colder climates, it’s always nice to have a pair of long underwear that can be slipped on underneath jeans or whatever other pants you pack.
The hubby carrying all of our possessions in Venice, Italy
Tuck and roll
This is a technique that I wish I had known when I first started traveling. Instead of folding all of my clothes and then attempting Tetris-like moves to make sure that everything fits into its perfect spot, the best way to pack your clothes is to roll them. This works for a variety of reasons. First, the clothes are smaller and more manageable when they’re rolled. Second, they don’t get nearly as wrinkled. Everyone wins.
I also highly recommend investing in packing cubes. These bad-boys come in handy by making it easier to unpack and repack your bag. They also save you from having to rifle through your entire backpack in order to find that one pair of clean underwear. Simply put undergarments in one cube, shirts in another, and so on. Also, those boots I mentioned? Stuff them with your socks. Be sure to make use of all the space you have.
When traveling the world for an extended period of time, it’s often hard to decipher what toiletries you’ll need to take with you and what you can find on the road. When it comes to bath products, take travel sizes bottles of shampoo, conditioner, and soap. These things are relatively easy to find all over, but it’s always good to have some on you just in case you find yourself in a bind.
For other necessities such as medication and prescription contacts, it’s always good to make sure you have enough to last you the length of your trip. Pack these in a separate toiletry bag so that they’re easy to find. Be sure to pack the liquids in plastic bags just in case they explode on the plane. There’s nothing worse than arriving to your hotel after a long travel day and finding all of your clothes soaked in Pantene Pro-V.
Bag it up
Speaking of bags, it’s always a good idea to carry a few plastic Ziploc bags in multiple sizes. These are great for sorting toiletries and waterproofing items such as your phone or hard drives. We also pack a nice cloth tote that serves as a place to store our dirty clothes. That way, when we come upon a laundromat, all we have to do is grab our bag of dirty laundry and head out.
The night we camped in the Indian Thar desert
Keeping it safe
One of the biggest challenges of traveling the world with only what you can carry is safety. Not only for you, but for all of the items in your possession. For this reason, there are a few items we always carry with us to help prevent loss or theft. A steel cable bike lock is a great device to take on your travels. It can easily be fastened to the outside of your backpack or suitcase and is a great way to lock up said bags when on a long train ride or when leaving the bags in your hostel.
Speaking of hostel stays, we usually pack a doorstop with us. That way, we can prevent any unwanted guests (read: drunken backpackers) from entering our room in the middle of the night. We’ve even upgraded to a doorstop alarm. It not only stops an intruder from entering, but also signals a loud alarm when pressure from the door is put on it. It’s a life-saver. Literally.
Another safety item that we pack on long trips: Clothing Arts pickpocket-proof pants. These stylish digs are a marriage between travel pant and money belt. Reminiscent of something Inspector Gadget would sport, the pants have buttons, zippers, and hidden pockets galore. Your money, passport, and cell phone all can be tucked away discreetly as you wander around your new destination.
Viewfinder Tip: Buy travel insurance for all international travel. It’s always nice to know that if anything should happen, you’re covered medically.
Keeping it clean
Lastly, we always pack a few items to help with sanitation on the road. Travel-sized bottles of hand sanitizer are always great to have on you.
We also swear by a packet or two of baby wipes. These can be used in the traditional sense, but they also are incredible to help freshen up on long journeys during which you might not encounter a shower (read: a 36-hour train ride on which we accidentally found ourselves). I used baby wipes as a method of showering for the seven days it took me to climb Kilimanjaro. I shutter to think what that journey would have been like without them.
So, there you have it. A few tips and tricks on packing for a journey around the world. I’ll leave you with one of my favorite pieces of packing advice: Lay out everything you’re going to be taking on your journey and then reduce it by half. It really does make a difference. And it helps you keep your load small.
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Chris and Tawny have had articles and videos published on USA TODAY TRAVEL, BBC Travel, Matador Network, as well as appeared as guest stars on TLC Asia's Fun Taiwan television series. When not on the road, you can find Chris and Tawny nestled in their home in Tacoma, Washington fueling up on coffee and cat cuddles while planning their future adventures. You can follow their travels on their blog, Instagram, and YouTube