Packing 101 – What do you need for a RTW trip?

Inspired by others (particularly Simon & Erin at Never Ending Voyage) we decided early to travel hand luggage only (in theory). Everyone writing a travel blog seems eventually to reach the same conclusion: less is more. And after 2+ months on the road I’d agree.

Before we left Scotland, a hardened traveler working at Tisos told us:

  • First RTW trip – extra large backpack and separate day-sack
  • Second RTW trip – large day-sack
  • Third RTW trip – plastic bag

Duly motivated, we did a lot of research onto what we might need to pack, what to avoid etc. and the process was actually fun: a little like a highly researched game of “Desert Island”. So many questions generating yet more questions. What kind of bag? Will I need to purify water? What technology should I take? How should I ration clothing? Many decisions had to be made.

The bags we ultimately chose are small enough to class as hand-luggage, but because of  airline restrictions on liquids and Swiss Army Knives, we ended up checking them anyway. And then we lost them in Mexico for a few days, which sort of proved the point (i.e. do what you can to carry luggage on board with you).

Others have podcasted on this topic and even held surveys, but without further ado, this is my (Toby’s) packing list.


  1. Osprey Meridien 60 Wheeled Backpack (includes a small detachable day-pack)
  2. Vacuum compression sacks
  3. Packing Cubes:  Medium and Small

Alison won the research game here and found what have turned out to be great bags so far: Osprey Meridien 60 Wheeled Backpack. I had ordered another similar bag, but sent it back on the grounds it was too large and the straps were broken (Caribee Skymaster 70).

There are a few prevailing views on what type of bag is best: backpack or wheeled or hybrid combination. We went for a hybrid, which is a wheeled case with a hidden set of straps allowing it to be used as a backpack. We were struck by other travellers mentioning they had rarely had to use luggage as a backpack, unless bona fide trekking, and the idea of not carrying heavy bags all the time was appealing. So the Meridian 60 fit the bill: hand-luggage size, additional day-pack and good reviews. They arrived and we tried a dummy packing. It was a tight squeeze but doable…bags sorted. To date I’ve used the back-straps once: transferring Alison’s and my luggage between hostels when she was ill.

Compression sacks are invaluable for squeezing down clothes and I use two with a couple spare in case of disaster (they’re not that robust). I would recommend these for any trip (business, vacation, RTW). You put the clothes in and simply roll them up to squeeze the air out. The space-saving is incredible.

Packing cubes are a handy way to pack down smaller items into a shape that packs well and that keeps all those random bits and bobs together in one place.

This is all of our luggage for two people for potentially 12+ months of travel…not a lot!

Worldy possessions

Worldly possessions


  • 5 pairs of underwear (quick-dry)
  • 4 pairs of socks (1 hiking, 1 short, 2 regular)
  • 4 t-shirts (recently upped to 5 with a vest top after much thought)
  • 1 long-sleeved buttoned-down shirt
  • 1 short-sleeved button-down shirt
  • 3 Trousers (2 lightweight technical, 1 heavier pair for evenings)
  • 1 microfleece
  • 1 thin hoody (acquired for <2$ in Xela where it was colder than expected)
  • 1 pair shorts
  • 1 pair swimming trunks
  • 1 pair thermal long johns
  • 1 Merino base layer top
  • 1 pair lightweight Tevas
  • 1 pair robust, but light-weight trainers
  • 1 pair flip flops (recent addition, it’s a pain undoing Teva’s all the time on the beach)
  • 1 sarong – for use as blanket, beach towel etc.

My wardrobe has expanded a little to deal with cold (hoody), heat (vest t-shirt) and  ease of use (flip flops). I aim to have enough clothes for just under 1 week. So far it all packs down very tight, although I tend to wear my trainers when travelling since they just don’t fit into the bag easily.

We’ve learnt/reinforced two things on the clothes front:

– Layers are the best way to deal with multiple climates. But everyone knows that already.

– Sometimes you just need two of something. In the last week my shorts were overused to the point they could stand up by themselves. I didn’t have another pair so once they were in the wash I had to wear trousers for a day in tropical heat and humidity. More shorts required! Same thing happened with my fleece in Xela. I guess some might argue that you wash by hand and dry overnight but we prefer availing ourselves of laundries. And in some climates, clothes will not dry overnight.


  • Samsung 13″ Ultrabook  – I just can’t do Macs and this machine is beautiful and fast
  • Google Asus Nexus 7 tablet  – small and powerful, I am now an Android convert. This is used for music, news, videos, books and mosquito swat.
  • HTC One Smartphone and Otterbox cover – for staying in touch and as quite a decent camera
  • Canon EOS 350 DSLR with 70-200mm F2.8 Sigma lens – for wildlife photography
  • Charger and spare batteries for camera
  • Skross Travel Adapter with USB  – these are great, work for sockets and plugs everywhere and have USB charger so you don’t need t carry all your phone, tablet chargers with you
  • USB cables  – various for phones, tablets, steri-pen etc.
  • 1TB  USB drive – One each for photo backups, movies etc. I loaded mine up with films for quiet periods, then I lost it or left it at home. No major issue since we are backing up to the cloud (we’ll post on that at a later date), but frustrating to have lost all our films/TV shows.

 Note: Alison has an iPad mini, Canon IXUS 100 and Samsung Galaxy Mini II with her.

So far so good with these items with one exception: the DSLR is big and takes up too much space. We brought it along for wildlife photography but have used it perhaps three times. It is too bulky to carry all the time and too big and conspicuous to pull out elsewhere. I’m now seriously considering sending it home and going mirror-less for the wildlife. Cameras have moved on in six years and the available ISO range has become much much better.

Personal Hygiene

  • Wash-bag with hanging attachment
  • Decent scissors, tweezers, nail clippers
  • Travel towel – quick drying
  • Usual everyday items: razors, soap, deodorant

Note: At the start of the trip, I tried moving back to shaving oil to save space but it just clogs the razor, so for now it’s simple soap lather.

First Aid & Medicines

  • Life systems travel first aid kit  – plasters, bandages, sterile wipes etc.
  • Anti-Malarials (Doxicycline) – still haven’t met anyone taking any
  • Antibiotics (Ciprofloxacin) – been through a few courses of these and it’s now a must have, useful for travellers diarhea, Typhoid  etc. Obviously try not to use too much to avoid resistance issues.
  • Anti-diarrheal (Loperamide) – good for urgent situations but general advice from doctors seems to be to try to avoid them unless the situation continues for 3+days; otherwise you’re just keeping the nasty bugs inside you.
  • Tiger Balm – seems to work for a lot of scrapes, bites, aches and pains
  • Corticool (1% Hydrocortisone) – anti-itch gel for bites or other skin irritants.
  • Burn Gel (Lidocaine & Benzalkonium Chloride) – gel for pain relief and anti-septic
  • Neosporin cream – Antibiotic and pain relief cream
  • Anti-histamine tablets – for food and other allergies
  • Bonine – anti nausea tablets
  • Paracetamol
  • Ibuprofen
  • Aspirin
  • Acetaminophen – for relief of cold symptoms
  • Nytol – to aid sleep as needed

This seems like a lot but doesn’t take up too much space when you remove the pill packets from the cardboard packaging.

We also learnt the hard way that while it’s good to have anti-diarrheals, sometimes the problem is reversed and you need the opposite (a laxative)…we can attest that mango smoothies and prune soup work well. 🙂


  • Money belt – essential in some cities and when in transit. I went for comfort and so far not disappointed.
  • Silk sleeping bag liner – for beds that aren’t appealing, additional warmth or for travelling on buses etc.
  • Alarmed door wedge – never used yet but it did go off in my bag once prompting much searching for the annoying sound.
  • Swiss Army Knife – fabulously useful, had since I was seven. Cut myself the day I was given it.
  • Travel Washing Linee – used once or twice.
  • Universal Travel Plug – why don’t places have plugs in sinks, does somebody steal them all? Mind you, I’ve used it once.
  • Cable travel lock – for securing bags together or to furniture, building, bus seat, I always have this handy.
  • 2 combination padlocks – essential for luggage security
  • Steripen for water purification – yet to use but may be a life saver one day
  • Water Filter – see above
  • Small face towel/duster for keeping things clean
  • Water pouch (2L) – unused as yet, I tend to use a simple water bottle. They fit easier into side pockets of a day-pack.
  • Gaffa tape – everyone needs gaffa tape for fixing anything from a bag to a plane


2013-12-31 11.12.36-1

Voila… that’s it, how I travel. As we go along there is a constant maintenance process: items added and removed to restore valuable space. Travelers talk of the regular purge of items. So far I think we’re managing about right, except perhaps the camera and a colorful-but-as-yet-unused door wedge.  Stay tuned to this topic, perhaps Alison will reveal how many socks she carries!

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