Packing for an unforeseeably long trip

Even I find the thought perplexing–how exactly does one pack for a trip with no planned ending? How on Earth will I possibly stuff my single carry-on sized backpack with all the clothing, gear and everyday essentials to outfit me as I travel through a plenitude of climates–from Amazonian jungle to arid dessert; from to the cool Andean highlands to the sunny beach; to scorching hot/dry volcanos to cool/damp cloud forests–for upwards to a year.

I figured out pretty early in the process that I’d adapt the old Rick Steve’s/Rolf Potts approach– pack half the crap I think I’ll need and plan for twice the budget–i.e. there are stores in Latin America.

So here’s the lowdown…


All of my possessions for the next….?

The process of choosing a pack was similar to that of choosing an apartment. I will be living from it. It will contain all my possessions. That thought alone makes me giddy.

With some research and deliberation behind me, I headed to REI to get my hands on a few packs. I didn’t necessarily need something to trudge through the wilderness or “backpack camp” with, but I wanted something more comfortable & portable then a roller duffle. It needed to be tough and light, practical and carry-on compatible.

Considering that criteria I settled on the Osprey Porter 46, which features a panel-loading opening, lockable zippers & stowaway straps, outer compression straps; weighs in at just 3.5 Ibs, with just the right dimensions for carry-on. A Christmas present REI gift card from my grandparents helped take care of the reasonable $99 price tag.

Osprey Porter 46

My new friend–The Osprey Porter 46

To keep all of my stuff organized:
Packing cubes, for keeping clothing, undies in order & easy to find.
Plastic “envelopes,” for keeping electronics & importants docs safe & dry.


-Kindle 3G–loaded with fun stuff (I can hardly wait for my first long day of trains, plains & automobiles)
-Bluetooth Keyboard for iPod touch–an incredibly thoughtful gift from my former coworkers at The Colony. Now I can blog from ANYWHERE.
-Camera & iPod chargers & surge protecter
Cocoon Organizer– to keep cords, chargers, extra batteries & memory cards, USB card reader, earbuds, jump drive, back up ion batteries. Pretty darn cool; not sure how I managed to live without this thing for so long?
-iPod Touch–bought it refurbished; for Wifi; keeping up with emails, skype/facetime with the fam.


toothpaste & brush, floss, shampoo & conditioner bars, in foldable shower bag with hook

Neosporin, Allergy meds, probiotics, malaria meds, bandaids, ginger gum,anti diarrheal, pain killers, antibacterial wipes,  motion sickness meds, etc.

Bugspray, earplugs, sunscreen, lotion, kleenex (good as TP too), headbands, contact lens stuff & eyedrops, tweezers, face wash, Chapstick, Downey wrinkle release spray.


Undergarments –3 bras, 4 pairs underwear, 4 pairs socks (not including the ones I’ll wear), 1 bikini .

1 pair quick-dry grey hiking/everyday pants, 2 leggings, 1 jeans, 1 pair athletic shorts, 1 icebreaker base layer long-sleeved  t-shirt, Wind/Rain jacket (not pictured– khaki cargo pants, wearing on plane). I’ll be on the lookout for a few clothing items, when on the road.

3 tanks, 2 tees, 1 quick-dry reversible Golite dress (not pictured: 1 tank, 1 icebreaker t-shirt, 1 merino pullover, 1 Columbia fleece; wearing on plane)


Flip Flops, Keen waterproof low hikers, Keen strappy sandals.


Small crossbody bag, small backpack (which I’ll use as my “one personal item” on the plane), money belt.

For a little luxury; and to use in extra dingy hostels…a cocoon sheet.

Travel Towel–in XL; call me spoiled, but I wanted to be able to actually wrap the thing around my body.

Plastic envelope containing important paperwork, photocopies of passport, vaccinations, prescriptions, itineraries, etc.

Moon Cup -Hassle free & environmentally friendly (not to overshare or anything).
-Doorstop (for when I want to lock myself in my room, and feel safe).
-Safety whistle (read this).
-Journal & mini moleskin, pens.
– Head lamp.
-Plastic Eddie Bauer spork/knife.
-Universal drain stopper & laundry soap.
-Small waterproof wallet with clip (good ‘ol Bass Proshop).
– Sea Bands (for bus/boat induced nausea).
– 2 pairs eyeglasses, 1 pair sunglasses, lots of contacts.
-Rain cover for pack.
-Eye mask & REI travel neck pillow (along with ear plugs–”luxury” items; sleep aids).
-Reusable water bottle.
-Reusable shopping bag.
-Spanish Phrase book & fun size “Food in Latin America dictionary & guide” (I take my food seriously).
-Business/or “contact” cards.
-Wet Ones.
– 3 random TSA locks for luggage/hostels/etc.
-Point & shoot camera, with super tough case.

And somehow, it all fits just right. Weighs in at 22 lbs…

Missed items that came to mind while writing this article:

-Thank you notes for couch surfing hosts, etc.
– Comb & deodorant (looks like my subconscious wants me to go “dirty-hippie?”)

Am I missing anything? Anything I should cut?

See Also:
The Details: One Year
The Reality of Coming Home
Six Months on the Road: A Serious Reflection


  1. Go with God…I’ll be praying for your safe and exciting travels. Looking forward to following you along your way.


  2. This is such a great outline for how to pack! How many packing cubes fit into this backpack. I ordered the same backpack and I’m not sure how many (and which) packing cubes to buy. Any information would be great!!


    • Glad I could help! I used 2 packing cubes (one small and one medium) plus an REI compression pack for underwear/bathing suits etc, plus a plastic toiletries bag and some large Zippable plastic envelopes for storing documents or small electronics


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