Revisited: How to pack for an independent traveler with no set return date


omskhitchAs I am starting a trip that will take me from China to (hopefully) Eastern Europe over the next several months, I thought I might go through what I am packing for this trip. There have been a few changes since my last trip's packing list (link for original packing post), mostly in terms of electronics, but for the most part it is very similar. Overall, my goal is maximum mobility and minimum weight, but not bare-bones, super lightweight (for that, see No-baggage challenge). My backpack is right around 25-28 pounds (11-13 kg), so it's light enough to handle on packed buses and trains yet still has camping gear if I'm hiking or standed.



highpeakBackpack: High Peak Kathmandu 70 + 10 Internal Frame Pack ($95, it was actually cheaper when I bought it)

Still in great shape since my last trip and taken some beatings on few trips between then and now. I would buy this again in a second. It's rating is 4.7/5 on Overstock, and I would absolutely corroborate that. It's the perfect size for the trips that I take, and easily expandable/shrinkable.


asusComputer: Asus EEE PC 1015PN Netbook ($360 new, got it for $300 with 2GB RAM upgrade off Craigslist)

Dual core processor, 2.8 pounds, long battery life (>5 hrs, advertised more but not really), wireless. I just wanted a fast (dual core processor), light computer at a good price, and this fit the bill. It has an SD card slot which I great for pictures, and is fast enough to handle editing video. It is so much easier to keep my site updated with easy access to a personal computer and worth the extra weight. Lockers in hostels. So far it's been great, but we'll see if it stands the test of time.

To keep files backed up, use Dropbox, Google Drive, Box, or any of the other cloud storage options. In terms of getting around the firewall in China, I got a year's subscription to WiTopia, which allows me to essentially create a digital tunnel around the Chinese "Great Firewall" and appear as if I am connected to the internet in the United States or any number of other servers throughout the world.

I am not using a flash drive and public internet cafes as on my last trip mainly because I ran into issues with this where an executable virus infected the drive and wiped some pictures and documents and froze up the drive. There was lots of wasted time with troubleshooting, it was easy to lose, and I was at the mercy of the speeds of internet cafes. The cost of internet cafes also accumulated, and I'm sure it was more than 100 dollars for the whole trip. Considering my netbook is 300 dollars, I think it's worth the premium and the tiny weight. If you want to blog/have a website, just bring a comp. I still have a flash drive with Keypass (to store my passwords) and Portable Firefox as a backup in case my computer blows up or is stolen.

iPod Touch (8 GB)

I had a serious internal debate as to whether to bring this or not, but a friend had an extra one that he sold me for cheap (thanks Adnan!) and I am extremely glad I brought it. I found some incredible travel apps that alone makes it worth bringing, but also lets me get a dose of my music collection at will and keeps me up-to-date with my beloved podcasts. I can also pull up public transport maps on Google maps and it stays open offline. Here is a list of apps that I use:

  • iTravel ($1.99) - Allows a bulk download of Wikitravel (about 500 MB), my favorite travel site, accessible without internet connection, which elimates the need for guidebooks and almost single handedly makes bring the iPod worth it. It's also really easy to cut and paste specific parts of Wikitravel articles into the Notes feature of the iPod for quick reference (I've done this for bus routes and restaurant locations).
  • Phrasebooks (varies in price)- Again no need for paper books, and allows quick searching and cool features like speaking translations.
  • nciku ($4.99)- A good, but overpriced Mandarin dictionary app. I only bought it because I use their site almost exclusively for looking up Mandarin translations.
  • MetrO (free) - Downloads subway/metro maps for whatever city I am in (accessible offline) and plans routes based on tourist locations or nearby stations.
  • Currency (free) - For currency conversion, but lacking some smaller currencies (like Monoglian tenge).
  • My Chinese Phrasebook ($1.99) - Not a bad phrasebook for travel in China.
  • CityMaps2Go ($1.99) - You can download any number of maps of tons of cities throughout the world, not the best maps but additional maps don't cost anything. I haven't looked hard enough for an alternative.
  • Skype
  • Google Translate (free) - Has some cool features, like speaking translation and save-able phrases so you can access them offline
  • Wikipedia, New York Times, NPR News (free) - Just to check in to what's happening back home and in the world on the infrequent occasions that I want to know.
  • Chase (free) - To check my bank account.
  • Please let me know in the comments about any other cool apps that would be useful while traveling!


cameraCamera: Canon SX130IS ($180) along with Sanyo Eneloop Batteries ($18)

12.1 MP, 12x zoom, Optical Image Stabilization, 720p HD video. So far I'm loving it, and the good quality of the photos over a compact point-and-shoot is well worth the extra bulk. I found that I really enjoyed taking photos on my last trip, and I wanted a camera that was still compact but allowed a bit more freedom in customizing photo settings. The Eneloops provide incredible battery life (for me, hundreds of shots), far beyond what you would get with a typical rechargeable alkaline battery. Their reputation is well-known, and it certainly lives up to it.


Jacket: ScotteVest Men's Essential Travel Jacket ($120 new, on sale for $72 now [Feb 2011], got it off Ebay for $60)

The more I use it, the more I like it. It has about 34534 pockets, and one even big enough for my netbook. It has zip-off sleeves for versatility, but it isn't the warmest, however I bought it mostly for it's pockets and not much else. Two outside pockets even have magnets that keep the pockets closed if they are unzipped. From the outside it looks like a normal jacket, but the inside is tricked out.


tentTent: Sierra Designs Lightyear 1 ($140)

This is a really popular tent for a great price, it has held up really well for me in the wind and rain. Not to mention it's damn light. This tent is simple to set up and has adequate space. It is unfailingly dry minus the occasional condensation. Really only the front and back stakes are required, which speeds things up considerably on set up.


Sleeping bag: Sierra Designs Tocho 45 degree-rated

Nowadays you can probably get a better sleeping bag for cheaper, I just didn't really bother. I might be regretting not getting a warmer bag considering I will likely be facing some tough weather in Mongolia and Siberia. I'll figure something out.


Passport/cash concealment: Eagle Creek Nylon Hidden Pocket ($10)


This clips inside by waistband and hangs about 8 in down my thigh. It's comfortable, flexible, and easy to access, but takes a little getting used to.

This has been with me since I started traveling independently, and I wouldn´t go on a trip without it.

For my Asia trip I have added the Airport-Friendly Concealed Money Belt, at the recommendation of my friend (thanks Jose!) which looks like a normal belt but with a hidden pocket along the inside which zips and can hold a bunch of folded cash. It's like secret agent shit, and a safe way to hold back-up cash since theives don't expect there to be money in the actual belt (as opposed to a money belt that goes under your pants/shirt, which is a well-known stash). It is also all plastic, so doesn't set off alarms in airports.


Daypack: Under Armour Sackpack ($20)

I started traveling with a school-sized backpack as a day pack, but eventually switched to a sack pack because I rarely filled up the whole backpack and sack packs are a lot lighter and easier to stuff into my larger backpack. This is obviously personal preference.



Multiuse tool: Victorinox Swisscard ($20)

Multiuse tool, basically a swiss army knife in a credit card size. It has saved the day in a few situations when I randomly needed scissors, a quick light, small knife, and a screwdriver (flathead). Granted I'm sure I could have found those things otherwise, it was nice to have this around.


Headlamp: Petzl Tikkina ($20)

Long battery life and adjustable beam angle and strength makes it really nice.


Footwear: Vasque boots (models vary in price) and Crocs ($30)

Crocs are light, durable, and breathable, if not particularly aestheitically appealing. Crocs can be handy for just casual wear, light hiking, and swimming in rocky areas, but show significant wear for how "durable" they claim to be. I don't find them particularly comfortable, but they are damn light. Maybe some hiking-style sandals would be better, but these are so light and easy to clean I'm traveling with them again. They do hold smells, so I may pitch them and get some sandals soon though.


Notebook: Moleskine ($15)

The quintessential traveler's notebook, or the quintessential notebook period. It can take some serious punishment.


Mess kit: Stainless steel silverware

So not really a full kit, just a stainless knife, fork, and spoon. I use these pretty frequently, super useful for canned meals when camping and just random meals while hiking around and on long train rides.


Pack towel: Aqua Sphere Aqua Dry Towel ($12)

Dries quickly and picks up a ton of water, and then I ring it out and set to dry. In a few hours it´s dry, rolls up nicely, and resists microbial growth to keep smells away.


Underwear: Exofficio Give-n-Go boxer briefs ($25 retail, easy to find on sale)

Their slogan is something like "6 weeks and two pairs of underwear". I´m usually not a softie for marketing gimmicks, but this one got me and I still have the original 3 pairs that I bought. These are incredibly easy to wash in a sink quickly, and you can quickly rub them with soap and wring to have clean, dry underwear in the morning. So convenient and light, I have gulped down the Exofficio Kool Aid. 3 pairs is enough to cycle through.


Other clothes: A few pairs of nylon pants, a fleece jacket, Levi's jeans, light weight synthetic shirts, a few cotton T-shirts, Smartwool/wool socks, long underwear, gym shorts. This obviously is dependent on your specific circumstances, but in general you only need half of what you think you need, and you can always buy clothes if you need them. I also find that mixed polyester/cotton collared shirts are ideal for looking good yet easy to wash and uber quick to dry.


Rain Coat: Marmot PreCip Rain Coat ($75)

A friend of mine actually didn´t want this anymore since it was a bit worn out, so I gladly scooped it up since I didn´t have a good rain coat. This thing was in bad shape when I got it, and is leaky, but for being free I can't complain.


Laundry: Universal sink stopper, travel detergent ($5), latex clothesline ($10)

Instead of paying for laundry services, I tried to get as many synthetics in my travel wardrobe that are quick drying and easily washable and just do it by hand. If things are still a bit moist when I have to put them on, it´s not a big deal since it can air dry. The sink stop is the most useful, the clothesline slightly less so, and small bags of detergent are easily found in supermarkets. I did this write-up on washing your clothes by hand while traveling, check it out if you want a quick tutorial.


waterfilterWater purification: Iodine tablets ($7), Frontier Pro Ultralight Water Filter ($20)

This was a less bulky and expensive option than a filter pump, and should suffice for my purposes. Note: the filter will not filter all bacteria and no viruses, so I treat the water for about half an hour with iodine and then suck it up through the filter.


Other useful things: Compass, nylon string (~5 meters) mini first aid kit (+ a roll of medical tape), basic toiletries (body wash, shampoo, toothpaste), a few carabiners, sewing kit. A note on toiletries: the liquids are basically the heaviest things in my pack density-wise, but also the easiest to resupply with while traveling. That said, I minimize how much of the shampoo/body wash/contact fluid I carry.

Passport with copies, makes it easier to get a replacement, ATM card with emergency numbers stored online. These aren't really optional.


I would also love to hear about what anyone else packs, or any suggestions for changes! Leave a comment.

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0 #1 Colleen 2011-07-06 13:47
Tyler, I attend church with your mom and she has been telling everyone to check your website out. It has taken me a while because I kept forgetting the website, but today I actually remembered. I only have a few minutes this morning but already I love your packing suggestions and will use some of them. I and a friend are planning our first backpacking trip to the Grand Canyon in August/ September so I really appreciated all your info it will be very helpful. I will read more when I have time. Your mom is great! And boy does she love her children :)

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