How did we surviving with mere backpacks during the international phases of our travels? It's a lot easier than it sounds - as long as you don't mind wearing the same four t-shirts for months on end and doing lots of laundry in the bathroom sink.

We've listed our "must-have" items below for anyone planning such an adventure. Keep in mind that we planned to spend a winter in Central Europe and a summer in SE Asia, so our clothing needs were pretty ridiculous. We've also included things we wish we'd brought and things we came across that we totally need when we get back to Oregon (hint, hint)...

August 2013 - too much stuff

Patrick's must-have's:
  • layers: 1 hooded fleece, 2 smartwool long sleeved thermal shirts, 1 unlined rain jacket, 1 pair long johns, 1 wool scarf
  • pants: 1 pair jeans, 2 pair convertible travel pants, 1 pair running shorts, 1 pair thin lounge pants (similar to scrubs - great for when we stayed at hostels)
  • shirts: 3 short sleeved t-shirts, 1 running shirt, 2 long-sleeved t-shirts
  • socks: 6 pair running, 3 pair hiking
  • shoes: hiking boots, running shoes, flip flops
  • underwear: 5 pair washable-in-the-sink
  • pjs: lycra shorts, long-sleeved shirt
  • hats: 1 lightweight cap,1 wool hat
  • Steripen
  • first aid kit
  • beard trimmer
  • Seymour

Jen's must-have's:
  • layers: 1 thin REI hooded fleece, 1 smartwool long sleeved thermal shirt, 1 unlined rain jacket, 1 Burton hooded soft shell, 1 wool scarf
  • pants: 1 pair jeans, 1 pair convertible travel pants, 1 pair not-convertible travel pants, 1 pair denim shorts
  • shirts: 5 short sleeved t-shirts, 2 long-sleeved t-shirts
  • socks: 3 pair lightweight, 3 pair hiking, 1 pair wool
  • shoes: hiking boots, walking shoes, flip flops
  • underwear: 5 pair of washable-in-the-sink bottoms, 2 tops
  • bathing suit
  • pjs: 1 pair fleece pants, 1 pair boxers, 1 t-shirt
  • hats: 1 cap, 1 running hat, 1 wool
  • Seirus waterproof, windproof gloves
  • JOBY tripod
  • money belt
  • shoulder bag for day use
  • Clarence

  • daypacks
  • headlamps
  • international plug adapters
  • water bottles
  • reusable canvas grocery bags (we started with 2 and ended up with about 6)
  • stuff sacks (2 large, 2 small)
  • silk sleep sacks (these make excellent scarves in a pinch!)
  • microfiber quick dry towels
  • toiletries
  • books, crosswords

Shared electronics:
  • Netbook for general use
  • small hard drive for photo storage
  • iTouch, Android phone for notes and wifi
  • Sony cybershot camera and Olympus sports camera
  • and all the chargers for all of the above
  • thumb drives for music and photo sharing

What we brought that we didn't need:
  • inflatable travel pillow (never used it, ditched it in Barcelona)
  • deck of cards (left in Bangkok - we aren't really big on cards)
  • Kobo e-reader (a good idea in theory, and we definitely saw lots of travelers using these, but we ended up preferring real books to e-books... especially after Patrick sat on our Kobo in Morocco!)

May 2014 - still too much stuff

We wish we'd brought...
  • a small thermos like this one - which we finally found at a thrift store near Perth, and it was the best $8 we spent on gear during the whole trip
  • a hundred thousand gallons of peanut butter
  • and Jen sometimes regrets not buying a mid-length travel skirt which would come in handy for visiting temples or just feeling less frumpy in general

    on the left: what Jen carried in her backpack for 19 months, starting September 2013
    on the right: the clothing bonanza awaiting her at her parents' house in March 2015

    Lastly, when we get back to Portland we're going to invest in...
    • an electric tea kettle - energy efficiency schmenergy schmeficiency, with these babies you can boil water in no time for tea, instant coffee, hot chocolate, rice noodles, soup starters... they are AMAZING!
    • a dehydrator for all the veggies, berries and fruit we'll be growing or u-picking
    • a Moka pot
    • a wood carved hand to hold our hand towels (saw this at Poet's Corner in Olomouc, it was GENIUS)
    • a metal dish drain that hangs over the sink (also GENIUS)
    • numerous hammocks (thanks for the tip, Vietnam)
    • and of course some chickens, a goat and a couple kitty cats

    Just remember the golden rule: LESS IS MORE. We found it very easy to donate unneeded clothing and doubly easy to find inexpensive clothing (light- or heavy-weight) along the way. Many of our farmstays had spare clothes we could borrow while we were there. We were also really lucky that our friend Kim visited us in Vietnam and Lao and kindly took a bunch of our winter gear home with her so that we didn't have to carry it or pay to ship it home.

    There is definitely an advantage to picking one climate zone for long-term travel, though. While we were overseas we saw backpackers with tiny carry-on packs; they could do this because they didn't spend the winter months in Romania and Turkey! But really, LESS IS MORE.

    Hey, fellow long-term travelers - what's your advice?


    1. Replies
      1. We have been very good this year... but we have no chimney for the foreseeable future.

    2. What (who?) are Seymour and Clarence?

      I started out with a 44-liter pack, switched to a 32-liter pack after 6 months, and still felt it was too much. It's amazing how little one actually needs.

      My unexpected must-haves turned out to be a head lamp, good ear plugs, and bar soap with case.

      1. Thanks Peter! Totally agree, it's really shocking how little you need. Good unexpected must-haves. My iPod headphones were invaluable when the hostel dorm snorers kicked in.

        Meet Seymour and Clarence. Seymour didn't get out much the whole time, but Clarence made several appearances over the last two years. He even did a guest post when we went to Pamplona!