My Travel Pack
What I Travel With and What I Never Take
Travel packing is usually a stressful subject for people. Most people I know travel with at least a piece of checked luggage, enough clothes for two weeks and most of everything from their bathroom it seems. I’ve always tended to travel much lighter than most people, and there is an art to traveling lightly. And theres no reason to drop $300 on a new ultra-lightweight REI travel bag, a bag you already have will work. I almost always try to keep my travels to one bag. Obviously there are some caveats with traveling with only bag. If I’m flying with a lot of sensitive camera equipment then I use my Pelican 1510 roller case, which is often too heavy for carry on restrictions so I have to check it. But if you’re not traveling with specialized tools or sensitive equipment, you can totally get away with a single backpack. And for the sake of clarity, I’m going to talk about how I usually pack to fly for less than two weeks. Overland travel is a whole different story. So let’s get into it.
I usually fly with one of two backpacks.
My go-to backpack is usually my Herschel Pop Quiz. I bought it for school a couple of years ago before I started my undergraduate degree. This backpack has flown with me to Poland, the Netherlands, France, Romania, Belgium and Canada and its traveled overland with me across 27 different states from Virginia to California. The best part about this backpack is that there is quite truly nothing overly special about it. It’s a school backpack with a 13” laptop sleeve. It has a main zipper, a sub-pocket and two small pockets for odds and ends. But because it’s simple it makes it easy to pack it. I’m not interested in specialized compartments and padded sections, like its a bag full of clothes. Directly countering the sentence I just wrote, padded laptop sleeves are absolutely essential for a travel backpack, especially if own an ever so fragile MacBook.
My second choice travel pack, usually for trips that are longer than two weeks, is the REI Co-Op Signal 40. I got it from a family member for Christmas a couple of years ago and I use it on occasion but not as much as the Herschel bag. I’ve flown to NYC with it and would often take it to Chicago by train. I like this backpack quite a bit because it’s very light when its empty. It has three layers inside the pack, a main layer that I usually use for clothing, a second smaller pocket inside the opening flap, and an outer pocket that’s half the length of the pack. On top of that it has a laptop pocket, and an insert to put in back inserts or a water bladder if you plan on doing more hiking with it. But it was also for this reason that I didn't like the backpack as much as my school bag. It has too much potential. You can fit too much of your stuff in there. It’s nice to have a pack that can do longer term travel, but for light jet setting or weekend trips its totally unreasonable.
So What Do I Take With Me?
Here’s a quick list of what you can usually find in my back.
1 long sleeve cotton or linen button up shirt
1 Medium weight coat (winter months only)
2 pairs of pants
3 pairs of socks
3 pairs of underwear
Toothbrush + travel size toothpaste
A roll of dental floss
Passport + Visa (if needed)
COVID-19 Vaccination Card
Printed Health Insurance Card
Epi-Pen + Benadryl
Travel sized deodorant
Cash in local currency
MacBook Pro 13” 2019 + charger
iPhone XR + charging cable
G-Tech Armor ATD 1TB Hard drive
Nikon Z5 Mirrorless Camera
Nikon 24-200mm f/4-6.3 lens
SD Card to USB-C dongle
Nikon F2 35mm film camera
Either Nikon AI 35mm f/2 lens or 50mm f/1.8 lens, just one or the other, rarely both
Approx. 5-10 rolls of film
Adidas Gazelle tennis shoes
What I Never Travel With
You will certainly never find body soap, shampoo, conditioner or anything similar in my bag besides deodorant. These items can all be purchased locally if their not provided by your host or hotel. If you have some skin condition that warrants special soap then yes of course pack that. Travel size reusable bottles are easy enough to pick up. You will almost certainly never find a phrasebook for the local language in my bag. Honestly just go on Google Translate and download the language of where you're going onto you phone. I downloaded Romanian onto my phone to travel to Romania and I’ve already used it a couple of times. A phrasebook might be a good idea if you’re going to somewhere like Mongolia or rural parts of South America where technology might be more prohibitive than efficient. Unless I’m going hiking or doing some sort of strenuous activity, I never pack a second pair of shoes. A second pair of shoes can take up a lot of weight in your pack and space as well. I understand that you can pack stuff into your shoes, but the volume of stuff you can pack into your shoes compared to the volume of stuff without shoes is quite astonishing. So I usually just wear my leather Adidas Gazelle tennis shoes. If the Soviet Army could fight the Mujahideen in Adidas Gazelle tennis shoes, you can deal with them for a week. Besides, I often find myself never wearing the second pair of shoes anyways.
Roll Your Clothes
This extremely simple trick I learned years ago when I used to do a lot of through hiking with the Boy Scouts. Roll your clothes into a neat little burrito and it will save so much space in your bag. So once all of your clothes are rolled, push them to the bottom of the backpack and put whatever else you want on top. I have soft padded sleeves for my camera bodies so I can put my cameras on top of the clothes in their sleeves and still have some space left on the top. Folding your clothes makes it a nice stack, and might be a good idea if your traveling with business attire and not looking to get it to wrinkled.
I hope this article helps you out with your own travel packing for more short term adventures. Sometime soon I will write about what I take with me when I travel overland with a car. There always seems to be a bit of contention about what to pack and build into your van build while traveling in your car long term. But just like my short term travels, my overland packing is pretty light too.