How to pack?

As several friends were surprised by the size of my backpack and wanted to know what’s the secret, here it goes:

It doesn’t matter if you are going to travel for one weekend or for two years when it comes to packing. The basics are always the same. Of course I’m talking about adventurous independent traveling, if you are going to a concert at the Musikverein, you might want to take a tuxedo). That being said, my basics are:

  • Weather protection (a.k.a. Clothes)
  • Hygiene kit
  • Medical kit
  • Electronics
  • Essentials
  • Documents
  • Water & food

And all this must fit inside a backpack not bigger than 55x35x20cm and not heavier than 10Kg  (average hand luggage specifications for most airlines), which, depending on it’s frame, means approximately a 35-40 litres backpack, just like this one:

My “home” resting on a Turkish couch

The big question is how to fit everything inside such a small bag? The answer is simple, take only the essential and organise it wisely! I won’t bother to explain all the reasons why I took one item and left others, but I suggest you take a good look at the amazing Travel Independent website.

This is what I brought with me to backpack through the Silk Road for one year:

Final inspection

Let’s go over it group by group. Firstly the clothes, everything should match, be made of fast drying fabrics and respect the layers principle (and of course you should feel comfortable with it), so:

  • 2 underwear
  • 2 socks
  • 1 casual trousers
  • 1 tactical (full of pockets and with the possibility of transforming into shorts) trousers
  • 1 swimming suit
  • 1 fast-drying towel
  • 2 t-shirt
  • 1 long sleeve casual shirt
  • 1 fleece (front zip)
  • 1 lightweight (feather) down jacket (just because I’m planning to go above 2000 metres)
  • 1 water/wind resistant outer jacket
  • 1 bandana (I use it as hat, scarf, hood or even as dust protection)
  • 1 hiking shoes (just because I’m​ planning to hike a lot, otherwise the flip-flops would suffice)
  • 1 flip-flops

The clothes should be rolled (not fold) and organised by purpose (I use laundry bags), after which they should be squeezed inside a compression bag (these might be hard to find; Eagle Creek has some good options).

Second​, the Hygiene kit, which comprises personal hygiene items and cloth washing items. The personal items, each one knows his/her own needs, just bare in mind to keep it in small sizes (like 50ml, you can always buy more on the way) and the liquids apart (ready for airport security inspection). To do laundry I packed:

  • 1 soap bar
  • 1 universal sink plug
  • 3m of elastic cord (to use as clothes line)
  • 4 clamps

Pertaining the Medical kit, I brought just one blister pack of each of the following:

  • Anti diarrhea
  • Rehydration salt
  • Analgesic
  • Anti inflammatory
  • Anti allergic
  • Insect repellent
  • Betadine
  • Bandages
  • Sun screen

Regarding Electronics, I brought:

  • 1 smartphone
  • 1 headphones
  • 1 power bank
  • 1 usb cable
  • 1 universal plug adaptor
  • 1 car plug adaptor
  • 1 usb memory stick
  • 1 micro SD adaptor
  • 1 cheap wrist watch
  • 1 small calculator (you don’t want to use your 700€ smartphone to calculate prices in the middle of the local market)

Concerning Essentials, I usually carry with me:

  • 1 day bag (the chitiest the better)
  • 1 micro swiss-knife
  • 1 head light (led technology)
  • 1 compass
  • 1 whistle
  • 1 eye mask
  • 1 pair of ear plugs
  • 1 inflatable pillow
  • 1 sleeping bag liner (just in case the place is too dirty)
  • 1 small notebook
  • 1 pencil
  • 1 sewing kit
  • 1 duct tape
  • 1 small box of matches
  • 1 Tupperware (you can use it to eat cereals in the morning, to take a tuna salad with you for lunch, to eat soup for dinner and to use as waterproof box if needed)
  • 1 set of plastic cutlery
  • 1 small combination lock
  • 1 bicycle combination lock (to lock your backpack while you are sleeping in the train)

To organise all these small items I use freezer bags (with zipper). Afterwards I group them together in pouches. The final outlook is something like this:

Hygiene and Medical kit, Essentials pouch and Clothes in compression bag

About the documents: passport, credit cards, insurance certificates, driving license, vaccination certificate, etc. The important is to keep them together in some inner pocket of your backpack, as well as, to keep hard and soft copies of them (smartphone and email). The money should be distributed by several secret locations, on you, in the day bag and in the backpack (I also use a money belt, not the ones to put under your clothes, a real belt with a secret compartment).
When it comes to water & food I always carry enough for 24h (just in case the bus breaks down in the middle of the desert).

Travel Tip: If even with all the advices you get to the airport to realise that your backpack doesn’t fit the airline specs, take your outer jacket out and put as much weight as you can on its pockets; you are allowed to carry it on your hands 😉

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