Is it possible to fit everything you need to live on for one year around the world into a backpack? To go from a 953-square-foot living space and squeezing it into a 43-liter backpack was quite the challenge for me as I quickly realized what was necessary and what was frivolous. Besides narrowing down my living essentials, it was also challenging to have enough room for various items for both warm and cold climates around the world, and not knowing what items would be easily available to buy on the road.

I put together my original packing list before I left that I thought would cover all these needs into one backpack. Now that I’ve tested it out for a year, I’m mostly pleased with what I packed on the trip with just a few things here and there I would’ve changed. By request from our readers, here’s a comprehensive review of the original packing list I took around the world including what I’m glad I packed, what items I didn’t need, what I left at home and what I wished I had brought with me.

For the Memories

Nikon Coolpix S9700 camera – This camera was perfect for the trip. My favorite features included the 30x zoom, GPS and geo-tagged photos, a rechargeable battery and the wifi option to upload photos to my iPad without having to use a cord. The camera wasn’t too big and could fit into my shorts and pants’ pockets. Although a small-sized camera, it still gave me high-quality 16 megapixel photos and HD 1080p videos. I was originally just going to pack a cheaper camera with lower megapixels and less zooming capabilities, but I’m really glad I went with the Nikon Coolpix S9700 instead.

Hard drive – I didn’t originally pack a hard drive because I didn’t want to spend the money. We were halfway through the trip and none of my photos or Mark’s were backed up anywhere. They were all just on his hard drive and if anything had happened to it, then we would’ve lost everything. So when we were in Thailand I bought a second hard drive for $90 so we were able to have a back-up for our photos.

Journal – I didn’t pack a journal with me just to save room in my pack, but I ended up buying one anyway in China as a way to journal my admission tickets and flight stubs, etc. I bought double-sided tape in China too to stick my tickets to the journal. I also kept a written journal on a Google Doc file online.

Mark Johnston – I didn’t really mention this in my original packing list, although it was implied…I did pack my husband with me to go travel around the world. It was fun to have a companion and I don’t think my experiences would have been as worthwhile without him. I highly recommend finding a travel partner for the memories.

For Staying in Touch & Entertainment

iPad mini & Logitech keyboard – The iPad mini was really handy for taking screenshots of our hotel reservations, flight info and maps to easily pull out for navigation and to show our information. I also like how it doubled as a reading device. As for writing, the keyboard is a must. To be without a keyboard for a whole year would’ve driven me crazy. That said, the iPad mini’s screen was too small to write anything substantial on it without scrolling back and forth often. It helped that Mark had packed a laptop so I had that option if I really needed it.

Cell phone – I didn’t bring a cell phone! Well, I did bring one, but didn’t use it for two months so sent it home. It’s too easy nowadays to book tickets and hostels online, and to use email and Google Hangouts to stay in touch with people. I even used Google Hangout to call my bank while overseas. It also saved us money by not having to pay for SIM cards or data plans. The biggest advantage to not having a cell phone was that I was 100 percent engaged when I was out exploring a new town or talking with other travelers. It was a great feeling to be without a phone for a year. I highly recommend leaving it at home.

iPod shuffle – I packed an iPod shuffle with headphones, which was good since Mark’s iPod eventually broke on him and deleted most of the songs.

Conair outlet adapter and converter – None of these electronics would work if I didn’t have my outlet converter. The Conair outlet adapter and converter also worked for my blow dryer to adapt the power voltage to the outlet. Because of this, the converter was pretty bulky and heavy. If I didn’t pack a blow dryer, I could’ve packed smaller outlet converters.

For Packing

Kelty Flyway 43 backpack – I loved my backpack! It’s a shame Kelty doesn’t make this specific one any more. Another similar option I’ve found and would recommend is the Kelty Redwing 44. The backpack was small enough to fit as carry-on luggage, yet was expandable enough to stuff more things in it. My favorite feature was the separate shoes/dirty clothes compartment at the bottom of the bag. I also liked the variety of pockets on the outside to further help organize and separate different items. It also was surprising comfortable throughout the whole year.

Cotopaxi day bag – I wanted a smaller bag that could be rolled up into my larger backpack when not in use. The Cotopaxi bag I received for participating in the Questival event was easy to roll up in my bag so that’s why I chose to take it. It wasn’t very stylish though. Cotopaxi later sent me a new lifestyle-type day pack, the Cotopaxi Kilimanjaro 20L Backpackthat was nice-looking and more sturdy, but too bulky to roll up into my backpack. I received it eight months into our trip, so I had it for the last four months, which by that point I wasn’t as concerned about fitting everything I owned into one backpack.

Small purse & wallet – I chose to take a very small purse that fit my wallet, camera, and a few small items or maps. This made for easy movement in crowded spaces and easy to keep an eye on it while we were out. My wallet fit my passport along with my cards and cash, which was convenient to have them all together in one place.

Eagle Creek packing cubes – These packing cubes were great at keeping all my clothes and toiletries organized in my backpack.

For Fashion

Shirts & bottoms – I had packed four T-shirts, two tank tops, 3 shorts including jean shorts, one Columbia hiking pants and one yoga capris. I wore all these clothes during the trip. I would’ve added one or two dressier shirts to the mix if I had the room. The biggest lesson I learned was to pack clothes that I’d usually wear at home and not try to force “travel adventurer” tech wear if that wasn’t my style. I had also packed a skirt, but I really didn’t wear skirts before I left. So I don’t know why I thought I would once I started traveling. Looking back, I would’ve left it at home. I did buy a sarong in Thailand, which I love and still wear today. Also, I bought two cheap swimsuits and a few tank tops while in Thailand. When we were in Nepal, I bought a fleece top, gloves and a warm hat for our trek. I already had Columbia top base layer and Columbia bottom layer packed with me, which I highly recommend for staying warm. After our trekking, I left my extra warm clothes that I had bought in Nepal to the hostel owner who gave them away to his hostel workers. (In addition to clothes, I had also bought a sleeping bag, trekking poles and water bottles in Nepal that I sold to another shop after I was finished with them.)

Skinny jeans – My number one regret was not packing skinny jeans. I wore them all the time at home, and I left them there because I had read other travelers saying to not pack jeans because they were heavy and took too long to dry. I was fine without them the first two months since we were in super hot, humid climates, but by the time we entered Europe it started to cool down and I felt unstylish in my hiking pants. So I bought some cheap skinny jeans in England and felt more comfortable wearing those around. They were the light synthetic jeans so it didn’t take too long to wash them and wait for them to dry.

Jackets – I packed a North Face rain shell that wasn’t very stylish, but it worked at keeping me dry. I intended to pack my stylish REI travel/rain jacket instead, but it was just too bulky to pack with me. I also packed my Patagonia Nano Puff Jacket that helped keep me warm in the Himalayas and Patagonia. I also packed a regular cotton jacket for casual wear. Later on I had a Cotopaxi Sambaya Stretch Fleece sent to me by Cotopaxi. It was super comfy and great for cold weather, but I wasn’t a fan of the color orange, especially since Mark had an orange jacket too. We stuck out a little too much with our two orange jackets.

Footwear – I only packed three pairs of footwear and I loved them all. I had my Teva Kayenta sandals, Nike Flex Experience shoes and Old Navy flip flops for showering.

Asic Socks & Under Armor underwear – I brought 5 underwear and 3 socks and one pair of warm socks, which was the right amount for the trip. I was often washing them quickly in the sink so I never went out. I brought one sports bra and one regular bra, but I could’ve done with one extra bra to wear during laundry days. I ended up buying a second regular bra in Finland two months into the trip.

Wristwatch – I didn’t take a phone with me so it was vital to have a wristwatch to know the time especially when we were on a tight schedule to catch a train or show up for a tour. It also helped having an alarm for when we had to wake up early for the so-called things I mentioned. I noticed several travelers hadn’t thought of this. At times I was in an all-female dormitory without Mark and I’d have my roommates ask me to set my alarm for them because they forgot to pack one.

Headwear – I packed a hat and summer headbands to wear during the greasy hair days, and also a warm headband for the cold. Also, packed a headlamp that was useful during our dark early mornings while trekking.

For Washing Up

Conair travel hair dryer & travel straightener – I’m on the fence about these items. I only used them a few times because my hair just doesn’t do well in the humidity so it would be pointless to blowdry or straighten it. My hair was up in a ponytail for most of the trip. But the few times I was able to blowdry and straighten my hair made me feel more like my normal self. So I could go either way on this.

REI XL travel towel – I was glad to have packed a travel towel since most places we stayed at didn’t offer towels. I brought the extra large towel, but really a medium travel towel would’ve worked just as fine and would’ve have taken less room.

Sink stopper & laundry detergent – This is a definite yes! Almost every bathroom sink we had did not have its own sink stopper, which would’ve made it impossible for us to wash clothes in the sink. We would do small loads such as our underwear and socks in the sink, and whenever we felt like we were in need of a complete wash of all our clothes we would pay for laundry service through the hostel. Most hostels offer cheap laundry service. It was nice to have the option of washing a few pieces of clothing for free on our own. The sink stopper I bought came with small packets of Woolite detergent. I also bought a bottle of all-purpose soap. These were both great and lasted for a while as I did laundry in the sink. When I eventually ran out, we were in Southeast Asia by that point and it was easy to find convenience shops that sold cheap bags of laundry detergent.

Shampoo & makeup – I brought small bottles of shampoo, conditioner and sunscreen, and was able to buy more along the way. I packed some makeup with me to last for the year including two eyeliner pencils, two bottles of foundation, one mascara, and one eye shadow. I didn’t always wear makeup, but it was nice to have the option if I wanted to look less of a travel bum some days. I used a lot of chapstick that I packed for the dry climates. I also packed one deodorant that lasted me the whole time.

Tampons – I didn’t mention this in my original post, but I had packed two months worth of tampons with me, which was good because I didn’t see them at all in China or for most of Russia. I resupplied in Europe and as I went along the way. The only other place I didn’t see them was in Vietnam.

For Sleeping

Insect repellent travel sheets – I’d leave these at home because I’m not a germaphobe. The only time I was happy to have them was when there were dirty sheets on a Chinese sleeper train. I swapped them out and used mine instead. Other than that, I would’ve left them at home and it would’ve freed up a lot more space in my pack. I did end up leaving them behind after eight months into the trip.

Sleeping mask & ear plugs – Another definite yes! We stayed in several dorm rooms and sleeper trains, which meant we never knew when our roommates would be coming or going and turning the lights on. It was nice to have a sleeping mask and ear plugs to block out those distractions.

Neck pillowMark and I waited until our tenth month of traveling before buying a neck pillow when we were in Australia. We had a long flight ahead of us crossing the Pacific Ocean so it was just too tempting to not get one. In reality, we probably could’ve used a neck pillow for our entire trip. I had packed thread and a needle for the trip, which I only used once to stitch up my neck pillow, which was spilling out beads after my first use.

For Sickness

Nasonex allergy medicine – I have severe hay fever in the spring time and I was worried how my allergies would act with different pollen around the world. Surprisingly, I had no allergic reactions the whole year for the first time in my life. I guess out of all places, it’s just Utah trying to kill me.

Other medicine – I brought Advil Cold & Sinus, Immodium, Benadryl and Pepto Bismol. I think the only one I used was Advil Cold & Sinus. The only time I was really sick on the trip was in Nepal with a bad cough while on the Annapurna Circuit and giardia when we were in the city of Pokhara. What’s great about getting sick in Nepal is that there is a plethora of pharmacies and you don’t need a doctor’s note to get medicine or antibiotics. I was able to buy cough syrup from a shop in Manang, the main village in the middle of the Annapurna Circuit. I was also able to buy antibiotics for only a few dollars in Pokhara for the giardia. We also bought high-altitude medicine for a few dollars in Kathmandu before we headed up to the Himalayas. So if you’re going to Nepal, you can buy all the medicine you need there for very cheap. I also packed bug repellent, but didn’t use it that often. We didn’t even pack any malaria pills. We were planning on it once we got to Thailand, but realized at that point that we weren’t going into any places that was at high risk of Malaria, so we skipped it. I had brought eye drops with me that I used a few times. 

For Eating

Collapsible bowl spork – It was a really good idea to pack these since we could use them for eating cereal in our room or any other food during meal time whenever we wanted. Sometimes we’d be in a busy hostel kitchen and all the bowls and silverware would be used, so we could just grab ours and not have to wait for them.

Conclusion

I felt pretty good with my original packing list and was most impressed with my Nikon Coolpix S9700 camera, Kelty Flyway 43 backpack, Teva sandals, and the sink stopper . The things I would’ve left home would’ve been the insect repellent travel sheets, my skirt and possibly the Conair travel hair dryer and travel straightener. I learned that I could find most anything I needed along the way. So if I were to do it again, I wouldn’t stress too much about what I packed. I’d just make sure to have the essentials and take off!

About The Author

Britnee traveled around the world with her husband on a shoestring budget for a year. A few of her favorite destinations include Scotland's Isle of Skye, Chile's Torres del Paine, Bolivia's Salt Flats and Nepal's Annapurna Circuit.

4 Responses

  1. Svenja

    Thanks for reviewing your packing list, Britnee! I love reading other people’s packing lists and reviews – gives me ideas for my own traveling as well as feeding the travel bug 😉
    Svenja recently posted…Kurztrips 2015: AmsterdamMy Profile

  2. Christina

    Great detailed list and review! I’m about to head out for my year abroad so this was really helpful in finalizing my packing list. Thanks!