10 Months With My Backpack: A Look Inside

I’ll be honest. While I’ve definitely enjoyed meeting other travelers in South America, sometimes I’m more interested in the contents of their backpack than I am in hearing about the guy who snored too loudly in their hostel the night before.

When you’re on the road, your backpack is your life. It’s your home on-your-back, turtle style. It’s the one go-to place where you keep all your things. The contents of your pack say a lot about what you value and how much you need on a very basic level. I read a lot of travel blogs, and I always find myself checking out the author’s “Items In My Pack” page. It’s interesting to me what others deem as necessary. What might be a luxury item for some is a must-have for others. Also, as a very organized and systematic person, I’m intrigued how other people function within the confines of their packs.

Harry and I have pretty small backpacks. It was our goal to travel light and we’ve done just that. I have had a lot of people ask how our stuff is holding out (pretty good for the most part) and whether or not we’re totally sick of wearing the same clothes over and over (yes!). And, hey — I’ll also add that I’m totally sick of seeing Harry wear the same clothes over and over again, too. Ten months will do that to you. Harry, of course, could care less.

Both of our backpacks weigh less than 24 pounds on any given day.

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Last week we were on a bus trip with our NZ friends Liz and Alex. Before too long the conversation turned to the contents of our backpacks. Alex asked Harry what was inside his pack, so Harry listed off the items without too much thought. Liz and I had already extensively compared notes so it was interesting listening to the guys share their travel secrets with each other. This “how well do you know the contents of your pack” game prompted me to create a summary of my own to share with anyone who might be interested.

Backpack

I purchased a Gregory 42 liter pack for this trip. Gregory makes backpacks especially designed for the female body and I’m all about supporting a business that values making excellent equipment just for women. It’s a small pack and for the most part it’s been great. However, with that said, I do plan on sending them a meaty review along with my thoughts on how they can make it even better. Who knows, maybe they’ll offer me a job. Ha! However, it’s literally filled to capacity so I really have to be systematic and somewhat forceful when I pack up or things just won’t fit.

Here’s the #1 reason why I love this backpack: it’s got a full-body zipper so you can access the inside like a suitcase in addition to accessing it from the top like a normal backpack. There’s nothing worse, in my opinion, than having to reach waaaaay down into your pack to dig something out. I think this full-body zipper is a brilliant feature.
Clothes and Shoes
Not knowing what our exact travel plans were made packing pretty tricky. We knew we’d be spending time in the mountains, in cities and on the beach, so we did our best to choose what we thought we’d need on a very basic level. We did a pretty good job for the most part although at this point I’m ready for some different clothes!
  • 1 pair of quick-dry REI travel pants
  • 1 pair of zip-to-shorts pants (purchased in Argentina)
  • 1 pair of jeans (purchased in Peru)
  • 1 pair of leggings
  • 1 belt
  • 1 pair of shorts
  • 3 skirts (probably 1 too many)
  • 2 dresses
  • 3 nicer tank tops
  • 2 sporty tank tops
  • 1 cardigan
  • 1 long-sleeve Nike quick-dry shirt (I wish I also had a long-sleeve cotton shirt)
  • 5 tee shirts (I threw 2 away when they got holes and purchased 3 cheap ones in Peru that aren’t coming home with me. I also wish I had packed some cuter tees)
  • 1 fleece jacket
  • 1 lightweight down jacket (this baby is worth its weight in gold! I literally wore it everyday for months on end)
  • 1 sweater, scarf and hat (purchased in Bolivia)
  • 1 rain coat
  • 2 sports bras
  • 2 bras
  • 6 pairs of underwear (I started with 8 but lost 2 along the way)
  • 3 pairs of socks (I started with 4 but lost 1 along the way. 4/6 have holes in them)
  • 2 pairs of hiking socks
  • 1 scarf/pashmina
  • 1 bikini
  • 1 baseball hat for sun protection (purchased in Colombia)
  • 1 pair tennis shoes
  • 1 pair hiking shoes
  • 1 pair Birkenstocks
  • 1 pair flip flops
Technology and Gadgets
  • Camera: Canon PowerShot. It fits right into my pocket, it takes pretty great pics, it holds up well when I drop it and it’s got some fun settings to play with. I think bigger cameras draw unwanted attention and make you a target.
  • Camera charger, cable, case, small tripod and spare battery
  • 1 extra memory card
  • 2 thumb drives to store photos
  • iPhone 4  (This was a last minute addition given to us by Harry’s dad, and we’re so glad we have it. Harry carries the laptop with him)
  • iPhone charger
  • Watch with alarm function
  • Sunglasses and case
  • Head lamp and extra batteries
  • 1st aid kit (small with just a few basics)
  • Money belt
  • Sink plug to use when washing clothes
  • Packing cubes to organize clothes and stuff
  • 3 reusable nylon bags that fold up tiny when not in use (for laundry and groceries, etc)
  • 1 quick-dry towel
  • 1 sleeping bag liner
  • 1 spork
  • 1 knife (“acquired” in Patagonia)
  • 1 vegetable peeler (purchased in Buenos Aires)

Toiletries

  • Shampoo and conditioner
  • Soap
  • Toothbrush, toothpaste, dental floss
  • Comb
  • Lotion
  • Sun screen
  • Q-tips
  • Eye drops
  • Nail clippers and file
  • Razor and blades (shared with Harry)
  • Scissors
  • Toilet paper
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Queeze-free wrist bands (for motion sickness)
  • 10 Burt’s Bees lip balm (don’t laugh, we’re almost out!)
  • Meds, pills
  • 2 pairs of earrings
  • 2 necklaces (one purchased in Ecuador)

Toiletries before:

Packing Up

Toiletries after:

Packing Up.2

My Top 5 Highly Recommended Things To Make Travel Life Fun And Easy: 

  1. Backpack with a full-body zipper (as mentioned above) so you can access the inside like a suitcase in addition to accessing it from the top like a normal backpack. There’s nothing worse, in my opinion, than having to reach waaaaay down into your pack to dig something out. I think this full-body zipper is a brilliant feature.
  2. Packing cubes in different colors. When you pack, everything has its special place, and when you take something out, put it right back where you got it. When you want your leggings you’ll know to find them in the green packing cube. Need socks? Look in the purple cube. No more digging around. Be organized, people! Impress your friends. I love the Eagle Creek packing cubes. They are super lightweight and very durable and they come in fun colors.
  3. Head Lamp. Being a courteous roommate means using this instead of turning on the overhead light. It’s good for reading in bed, finding the bathroom in the middle of the night, exploring caves and hiking up to Machu Picchu in the dark.
  4. Spork. We each have one and we use them all the time. They’re really lightweight and durable with a built-in fork, spoon and knife. Plus, they’re super cute with a fun name.
  5. Sink PlugWe’ve used this many times to wash clothes in hostel sinks. It’s super lightweight and inexpensive. I use shampoo or soap for doing laundry instead of detergent to keep things simple.

What Else? 

Harry also carries a small red backpack with him where ever he goes, and I carry a messenger bag. We also have a small black duffle bag that we schlep around as well; it’s used as our carry-on bag for buses and planes. We use it for food, water, Harry’s Crocs, my fleece, a book and other miscellaneous things. It’s falling apart at the seams (literally! I’ve had to stitch it up in three different places) but it works. I thought about replacing it, but I don’t want anything too flashy because it could attract unwanted attention. Nothing screams “tourist” more than a brightly colored bag from Bolivia.

So there you go. My advice to you? Pack light!

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