As of this writing, this page is not really
“What we Packed” but rather “What we’re planning to pack.” We still have a little over a month to fine tune our choices and consider the rationale behind them. We’ll plan to edit this page retrospectively and attempt to identify our packing sins of both commission and omission. Also, this is by no means a complete list, just some highlights of items that we ended up spending time deciding between multiple options as well as items not necessarily on “packing lists” we came across that seemed like good ideas for us.
***Post-trip updates: Italicized entries have been added after the completion of the trip***
To begin, I want to credit a couple of sites that have been very helpful in our planning:
OneBag.com This site is very thorough and was our starting point for a lot of decisions. The annotated packing list on the onebag site is excellent and pretty comprehensive.
Packinglight.net This site is a travel store, but they have a very exhaustive video series that goes over clothes folding techniques that we thought were better than anywhere else.
“Carry on” bags:
We’re only taking one primary bag on our trip. After much research, we elected to go with the MEI “Voyageur”. We also considered bags by Red Oxx and Tom Bihn, but this classic model seemed the best choice: locking YKK zippers, no divided compartments (allowing for packing cubes), no extraneous pockets, standard carry-on size of 14x9x22″, and it can be used as a backpack with hip belt or as a shoulder bag. The Voyageur doesn’t include a shoulder strap, and we decided to go with the Tom Bihn “Absolute” strap pictured below.
Ideally, we would like to go through the whole trip without checking a bag. However, several of the airlines we are flying on in Asia have strict carry-on weight restrictions in addition to the standard US rules for carry-on bag size. The lowest weight restriction is a 5kg per person limit, so if that is actually inspected, we’ll most likely be checking even these small bags.
We absolutely LOVE these bags. They held up perfectly through the entire trip without any problems whatsoever. No zipper issues, no fraying fabric, broken clasps…. nothing. Several friends have the same bags and they all love them the same, no issues to report at all. Granted, we managed this entire trip without ever having to check them, so I can’t report on how they’d hold up beyond the abyss of the checked bag carousel. That’s kind of the point though, right? You’re bringing this bag to NOT check any bags. Another point to note, we never saw anyone else on our trip with this type of bag, so if that matters to you, you’ll be carrying something a bit less common. Most “backpackers” carry enormous packs, carrying…. who the hell knows inside (sleeping bags, sacks of rice, old newspapers?) This bag is just the right size though. It’s comfortable as a backpack for trekking across town, and (with the right strap) is very unassuming as a shoulder bag while in the airport.
The bag can also be used as a backpack and has moldable metal frame inserts:
Our main day pack is the Pacsafe “Slingsafe 300”. It has a number of security features that we thought were pretty cool, namely: zippers that clip together and tuck way, a strap can be disconnected and locked to a fixed object, and slash-proof material throughout. The company has a pretty slick video for the pack and it definitely sold us on it! Who knows though, maybe their little turtle logo will actually attract the thieves.
She left this bag after the visit to Mexico and replaced it with the Pacsafe “Slingsafe 200”, a shoulder bag version of this bag. A few notes on this bag: 1. It’s really small, and it looks odd for a man to carry. It’s a backpack for women and children. 2. The zippers are really, really crappy. They strain, and groan, with regular use. The way the zipper curves around the main compartment puts it under tension opening and closing, even if the bag isn’t very full. It didn’t inspire confidence at all. For the price, they should have had better quality zippers (YKK???) That being said, when we were in downtown Mexico City, a couple of women attempted to “pickpocket” into the thing. We always had the “zipper lock” on when walking around, and the effort to try and get into the bag got her attention and she turned around, catching them in the act. They gave a sheepish look and scampered off before we could really make a scene about it. They didn’t even get the zipper unlocked. In general, I would say this line of bags works as advertised. They zipper locks are great, and they’re slash-proof on top of that. Two factors that made us go with the Slingsafe 200 instead were: 1. The zipper goes in a straight line, and even though it’s the same quality zipper, it seems to be more durable the way it’s set on the 200. 2: We noticed that visiting certain places (museums, etc.), security would confiscate “bags” (backpacks) at the front desk, but they didn’t care about “purses”. Now, this is a TINY backpack, much smaller than many “purses” that are carried. The Slingsafe 200 is almost the same size as the 300, just a different form factor. Since she would be carrying it, it made more sense to carry a “purse” than a “backpack”. This approach worked well. The 200 model had ample room for our small camera, a couple lenses, a water bottle or two, and our “packable daypack.” It worked great for the whole trip without issues.
As a backup, we’ve got the Eagle Creek “Packable Daypack” which folds inside itself making a VERY small and light backpack. For such a small size, the pack seems surprisingly well made.
Worked great for the whole trip. Love it! (Make sure you wash the thing, at least, umm, once a month =)
The “How” of packing clothes probably made the biggest single impact on space in our bags (reference the videos above). Most of our clothes are from Ex Officio, with a couple selections from EMS, REI, and North Face. Socks are from SmartWool. The specific number of shirts/pants/shorts/etc that we’ll be going with is being fine tuned. Needless to say, we have more than enough candidate pieces and we’re gonna decide on the optimum numbers as we get closer to departure.
Here’s a sequence showing the packing technique that packs down a wardrobe into a 14x11x5″ packing cube. Total of: 5 button shirts, 4 undershirts, 2 pants, 1 shorts.
Ex-Officio gear was great, and this packing approach was maintained for the whole trip. Worked very well.
This is an item that we really procrastinated on. A lot of footwear suggestions on line for similar itineraries were for larger, rugged hiking boots and shoes. This was not something we were keen to go with and it seems that those suggestions are more for “backpacker” type travelers, as opposed to the “flashpacker” approach we’re going for. Other suggestions were just to bring any old comfortable (and broken in) pair of shoes, which was definitely a consideration. Along those lines, we would have most likely went with some comfortable trail runners. In the end, we decided that “amphibious” shoes (as long as they don’t look too amphibious) would be the best bet. The main deciding factor was that these will definitely be dry the next day if they get wet in a rainstorm. This happened to us in Kyoto years ago and it took almost two days for our shoes to dry, and (in Japan at least) you’ll have quite a hard time finding a pair of size 13 shoes. Another feature we were after was quick tie type laces, to allow for easy on/off in Asia. Our only concerns with “amphibious” shoes are their durability. These shoes seem to be fairly well made, and they’re very comfortable. We’ll see how they fare in the coming months.
The shoes we went with are the Olukai Kia’I Trainer and the Teva Churn.
Both pairs held up great. The “amphibious” shoes are the way to go for a trip like this. Also, the cinch type laces were great for security checkpoints and places where shoes weren’t permitted.
Not a lot of time spent on sandal selection. I love the Olukai all-leather sandals, so I grabbed a pair of their ‘Ohana water resistant sandals. She got a pair of basic Reef sandals, and we broke them in on a trip to Mexico.
These were used enough to warrant having brought them, but they weren’t used A LOT. Very little usage in India and urban China, where all sorts of filth is tread through on the “sidewalks.” For SE Asia though, they’re essential. Love Olukai!
Multiple TSA friendly luggage locks are essential on any packing list. We also picked up some locks that included a metal cable to occasionally secure gear to something non-movable. I doubt anything you bring will prevent theft, but there’s something to be said for at least mildly inconveniencing would-be thieves.
Multiple locks, and the metal cables, were used constantly. Essential items.
Another item we picked up is the Veritas “Travelers Doorstop.” This is a solid aluminum doorstop that can tighten down to the subflooring with a threaded spike and will really make it difficult for someone to force entry into your room. Not sure exactly how shady some of our lodging will be in Russia, India, and SE Asia, but if this thing finds any use I think I’ll sleep better with it. Official pre-departure predictions include that: a) It will most likely be confiscated at the first airport security checkpoint, and b) If it isn’t confiscated, it won’t be used. We’ll see…
This thing went home in the first care package from India. It never got any attention at airport security, but it also didn’t get used. Granted, at the end of our trip, in North Korea, there was an incident where a Chinese tourist barged into our room (with a key) fairly late in the evening. I admit, I kinda wished we had used it then. However, I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t have been paranoid to use it consistently during our trip, so that’s why it got sent home. If you’re more paranoid than us, it’s a great item and can at least theoretically go through airport security.
What do you think:
Travel/Security Wallets: Lots of different options in this department. Pacsafe as a rule seems to make really good quality stuff. I’ve used their Walletsafe for a few trips and really like it. It has a zippered area for bills and separations for different currencies. Also a zippered change pocket. The whole thing secures together nicely with velcro. We also have the Pacsafe Coversafe 125 and Coversafe 75.
The wallet is fantastic, absolutely love it. The beltsafe (125) really didn’t get used, but the neck wallet (75) held our passports and worked great. We did keep backup cards, copies of stuff in the 125, it’s just kind of uncomfortable to carry and it got left, locked in our bags.
We put together our laundry kit using suggestions from onebag.com. We used this approach on a trip last year to Mexico and were able to find a fairly workable system. A couple of points from our experience so far: 1) Washing clothes in the sink is a major pain, takes too much time, and can make quite a mess 2) Inflatable hangers are worthless for air drying (2/2 of ours deflated). Our approach was just to wash the day’s clothing during a shower, wring out thoroughly, and hang dry afterwards. This system worked well for us. Plenty of options are out there for laundry bar soap. “Zote,” (a Mexican brand) has a very light clean scent and it worked well for us.
This system works great for hand washing. However, a fair question is whether you’re actually going to be hand washing your stuff. In SE Asia, it’s way easier (and cheap!) to just get your clothes washed by the people at your hotel/hostel. If that’s your destination, then don’t worry about it. However, we did do a fair amount of hand washing on the trip. In India, almost everything was hand washed. It seemed likely we’d be getting the clothes back dirtier than when we gave them, so we just washed by hand, with the exception of at our hostel in Jaipur. In China, we were jaded enough by scammers that with a few exceptions we just took care of it ourselves. I recommend getting a couple of the “flex-o-line” hangers for the trip.
Also, small REI brand quick dry travel towels.
Rarely used, but when they were, it was pretty damn essential. They take up very little space.
Sleep sacks… plenty of reasons to take it or leave it on these. If the concern is bedbugs or other nasties, well, obviously you would just be packing that stuff right back up on the outside of them. They are, however, a well documented and effective placebo for cooties prophylaxis. Our main reason for bringing them will be hostels that don’t supply sheets or where those supplied are, let’s say, not as clean as we’d like them to be.
These were only used once, in Agra. Is Agra the filthiest place on earth? No, I doubt it. Does it feel like the filthiest place on earth? Yes, definitely. Having your bare skin only touching clean silk…. totally worth it. The sacks take up a small amount of space, but they’re very light. I’d skip on them if you’re just traveling in Asia (except maybe Laos or Myanmar) and staying at decent places.
Raincoats/Ponchos were considered, but most suggestions we came across indicated they would be a bad idea in SE Asia. We brought raincoats for our first trip to Japan, and we only used them once, while we got soaked on other occasions because we didn’t want to put them in our daypacks. Really portable umbrellas seem like a better option. We decided to go with these Samsonite “Ultra Mini” umbrellas (9×1.5×1.5″):
These held up great for the trip, through many heavy rainstorms. Lost the cover for the black one in Vietnam, otherwise, perfect.
As far as drinking water throughout the trip, Plan #1, by a large margin will always be hermetically sealed, bottled water/soda/beer/etc. No fresh juices, dairy drinks, none of that. That being said, a nice backup plan, particularly for water for brushing teeth, is a water purifier that uses UV light called the “Steripen.” It sounds good on paper, and multiple reviews suggest it works well (albeit a few bad reviews here and there regarding reliability). It’s very light, and fairly small, so for such an essential “make or break” factor like water, $90 for this thing sounds fair. Hopefully we can avoid a case of “Delhi Belly.”
This was used multiple times, and for what it’s worth. We never got sick. Granted, we almost exclusively drank bottled water, but there were a few exceptions. I drank some water with this in Mexico, India, and North Korea without issues. We used this for brushing our teeth in all of the countries. It was durable, and we never had to change the batteries (although we did bring a spare set). If you’re at all worried about the water quality, bring one of these. Very small, and very light.
She can snooze for a whole flight using any old U-shaped “neck pillow.” Personally, I hate them. HATE them. A better solution? ….well, I don’t have one yet. I’m willing to try something new though for this trip though, and I picked up the “Cabin Comfort” pillow from Travelon. Our first travel leg to Mexico has us returning to Florida for a day before flying out to Moscow, so it’ll get a test run on the Mexico flights. Completely deflated and compressed in a “Space Bag” it is pretty reasonable in size, but this thing better work if it’s gonna occupy that kind of real estate in my pack.
This thing is stupid. There’s a good reason you don’t see them used…. they’re stupid. I tried it on our flights to Mexico, and it was quite awkward and uncomfortable. I recommend heavy sedation instead. If you have trouble sleeping on a plane, get a prescription for some sleeping pills, they’re much lighter in your backpack. For me, it was 15 mg Temazepam for a 6-8 hour flight, or 30 mg Temazepam for an 8+ hour flight. Worked great!
What do you think:
A telescoping poster tube, the Alvin TS1. If this proves to be a dumb idea, well, no big loss. Our thoughts are that souvenirs of any appreciable size and weight will need to be mailed home. We’re not planning on getting much, but we have encountered the problem of getting a poster or print that you really like and not having a way to transport without bending it all up. Any reasonably priced Soviet-era prints or DPRK socialist-realist prints will be finding their way home in this little guy. It fits nicely into a carry on and can expand larger if needed.
This was used a few times to transport things temporarily until they were shipped. It turned out to be a good idea. When it wasn’t used for this purpose, it held our travel tripod, the Tamrac “Zipshot”, which fit perfectly inside.
A great deal of consideration has gone into this area of our packing. As far as the inclusion of a laptop/netbook/tablet, we first considered both the required and optional tasks we expect it to perform:
-Backup/transfer photo files from SDHC card to other medium and/or cloud storage
-Access to email, website dev, social media
-Adequate storage/power for video playback during long flights/train rides
Our choice essentially was what device can do all of this efficiently in the lightest form factor. Another consideration is how attractive said device would be to thieves. Obviously, a fresh new iPad 2 would tend to attract some sticky fingers. What ultimately led us to decide against the iPad though was the lack of an SD card slot and the lack of an ability to easily transfer files from an SD card to a portable hard drive. Yes, I know that they make specialized iPad-specific hard drives and they have an SD adapter, but these will quickly add $500+ to the purchase price and mitigate any weight savings from the iPad itself. We decided to go with a netbook, and one thing weighing heavily in favor of this for us was the fact that we already have one that is mostly not being used. Have at it thieves! Seriously though, the Japanese “Supercats” are a strong theft deterrent.
Included are country-specific plug adapters from magellans.com, a 500gb HD, and neoprene case. This is the Asus EEE PC1000 with upgraded 2gb RAM, and two upgraded 32gb internal SSDs. It has a built in SD card slot. It weighs 2.9 lbs vs the ipad 2 at 1.3 lbs.
This thing was stupid. I hated using it so much on the Mexico leg of our trip that I went and bought an 11″ Macbook Air when we got back to Florida for the one day before departing to Russia. The Macbook Air is the way to go. It’s perfect for travel. Loved it.
Country specific electrical outlet adapters bought as a set from Magellan’s, stored connected together with only the relevant countries for our trip:
Worked great. No Issues.
Photography rig: I’m a fan of mirrorless system cameras and specifically the Micro Four Thirds system. I’ll be bringing an Olympus EP-2 body and three Panasonic Lenses: 20/1.7 (prime), 7-14 (wide), and 14-140 (tele). My experience has been that, overall for micro four thirds, Olympus makes superior bodies (the smaller form factor ones at least, GF vs PEN) and Panasonic makes superior lenses. This setup has a little over a year of fairly frequent and sometimes heavy use/abuse. It’s pretty compact, certainly not as small as a point-and-shoot, but definitely way more portable than a similar SLR rig. One addition before travel will likely be some gray duct tape over the hand grip as a weak attempt at making the camera possibly less inviting to thieves by making it look a little “junky” without actually damaging it too much. Photographers will sometimes have expensive DSLR bodies painted obnoxious neon colors to make it more difficult for a thief to sell. I really liked that idea, but I couldn’t bring myself to paint the thing neon orange. As far as accessories, I’ll be bringing the Olympus VF-2 viewfinder, Olympus FL-14 flash, and two small Zing lens pouches (all pictured). I’ll be bringing one extra battery as well as the charger of course. I don’t plan on bringing any dedicated camera bag. As far as a strap, I’ll be using one by Black Rapid. One final accessory that takes up surprisingly little space is a really cool little ultralight, somewhat full-size tripod by Tamrac called the Zipshot. I really love that thing and have used it on plenty of hikes and trips. It collapses down to easily fit in a daypack and is very lightweight. The only problem with it, of course, are the completely asinine rules some locales have forbidding use of tripods.
I thought our setup worked pretty well. Check out the pictures though and decide for yourself.
Extra SD cards of course and USB flash drives organized in a small wallet.
Decent headphones/earbuds are a must. Size constraints make earbuds the better choice… I was never able to get a satisfactory fit with ANY earbuds until I got custom molds done. These are Bose IE2 earbuds with molds from Earsound Customs. I really love them, and if they get stolen, not only will they be mostly useless to anyone else, but Earsound already has a scan of my molds on file so a new set can easily be reordered.