If there’s one thing I learned preparing for this 12 month sojourn, it’s that the devil you know is the Internet.
It lurks within every power-charged device, always at the ready to pull you into its black hellhole. One aswirl with the souls of a thousand answers to a single question that, in all likelihood, you could answer for yourself. You know, if you actually paused your keyboard-hungry fingers long enough to remember human survival predates the advent of Google.
By several thousand years.
Having said that, there’s no shame in succumbing to its lure. We’re all guilty of it. Sometimes its losing ourselves in Riverdale subreddits reading spoilers we’ve already been exposed to a hundred times over thanks to the other 1001 trending articles spouting the exact same information. Other times it’s those “get skinny quick” headlines we digest like the cake responsible for us clicking the link in the first place – despite the fact we all know deep down the secret to weight loss is moderation, diet, and exercise – yet four hours of websurfing later, we take Buzzfeed’s expert medical advice and purchase ACV, spirulina, and a $35 jar of moon dust. All of which winds up as interior shelf decoration when we revert back to eating what we always ate before Google told us we were “doing it wrong.”
I myself was recently victimized by Google. For six months I spun uncontrollably in its packing for longterm travel vortex.
I sought answers but instead it gave me nothing but a classic case of paralysis through analysis. Before my initial approach to the innocuous search box, I had my packing list all sketched out. By the time I entered my last inquiry into the endless web the list had quadrupled in size. Did you know Steripens, a WaterproofBackpack Cover, and an all-in-one spoon/fork/knife contraption thingy even exists? Or that you can’t travel with the normal shoes you wear at home? No. You have to purchase foldable flats, hideous Chaco sandals, and hiking boots that take up half your backpack.
Looking down at my final list I felt overwhelmed.
See, I already know how to pack for longterm travel. So I took my list and crossed off about 95% of the items I’d added over the past six months. I’ve never needed these items before so why did I think I would need them now? The end result is the list below. Everything I have on my person is included down to the individual credit cards I carry.
It’s lengthy as I wanted to detail not only what I’m packing but why I’m packing it. Packing lists are different for everyone so knowing the why can better help you decide if you truly need something or not when embarking on your own adventure.
Backpacks and “Personal Items”
46L Osprey Porter Backpack: Yes the 46L is my main backpack. It may seem small for a year but I hate being bogged down by too much baggage (both the physical and emotional variety). The bigger your backpack the more tempted you’ll be to fill it which leads to over-packing. Another reason to choose a 46L pack is because it’s the largest backpack that fits within the carry-on limit on almost every airline (even cheap ones like Ryan Air and Easyjet). Do you really want to let a backpack carrying everything you own out of your sight? Besides, who doesn’t love avoiding checked baggage fees? If you’re still not convinced, the 46L can also be carried onto long distances buses in Central and South America without having to be thrown in the undercarriage where most baggage thefts occur. I chose the Osprey brand for its quality, sturdiness, strong zippers, organizational compartments, and because it opens like a suitcase, making it easier to pack and unpack. At $140 (and even cheaper if you order through Amazon), its very affordable.
Backpack Tip: I recommended trying on backpacks in person to ensure you order the right fit. I’m 5’4″ and apprx 130 lbs and the 46L Osprey Porter is perfect for my height/weight combo. If you are short with a small torso like a few of my friends, the Gregory brand may fit you better as they offer a range of sizes.
Pacsafe Venture Safe 15L Daypack: I struggled with this purchase as I’m the sentimental sort who’s too attached to her ratty, bright neon blue Marmot daypack. But I could tell she was only a few hikes away from fraying into strips rendering it more useful for emergency tourniquets than something to lug stuff in. I considered forgoing a daypack altogether and instead getting this Pacsafe messenger bag to keep my electronics in because I abhor the idea of carrying around two backpacks. However, the daypack won. I do a lot of day hiking and like working in different cafes around whichever city I’m in and a daypack makes all this much easier. I like the Pacsafe 15L size. I can strap it onto my bigger Osprey backpack, fit enough trekking necessities in it, and its anti-theft technology wards off pickpockets. Only downside is its price – it’s only $30 less expensive than my 46L Osprey.
1 x Crossbody Purse: For when I don’t want to carry around my backpack. I have a small, nondescript brown Fossil brand crossbody purse.
1 x Nice Clutch: Is this a necessity? Probably not but I always travel with one. Just because I live on the road doesn’t mean business meetings and conferences don’t crop up. I like to be prepared with at least one dress/bag combo that’s considered “professional.” This clutch is also great for cosmopolitan cities with a hip nightlife and really doesn’t take up much room in my backpack. Also – make sure you get one with a wrist strap to make it harder for someone to grab and run off with.
Travelambo RFID Blocking Wallet: I use this as my daily wallet as its RFID blocking technology stops savvy criminals from remotely reading my credit cards and stealing my information. I also like it because its slim and durable. I keep my driver license, debit card, two credit cards, local currency, and a few business cards in here at all times. It holds up well.
Fake Wallet: In this case a “fake” wallet is still a real, physical wallet. I have a cheap one I don’t care about that I stuffed with a $5 dollar bill and two expired credit cards. Unfortunately theft isn’t uncommon in many Latin American countries so I carry this around in case I get robbed. The hope is they are satisfied and run off with the fake wallet. This trick has worked for a few travelers I know but of course I hope I won’t be in a position where I have to utilize it. This is also why it’s best to always keep your money, debit, and credit cards separate. I go into more detail on what cash and credit cards I travel with later on in the post.
Packing Cubes and Organizational Items
You’ve probably seen these items on most long-term travelers’ packing lists – and for good reason. These are a godsend for the organizationally challenged (will the real slim shady please stand up?). I don’t think I can begin to describe how handy it is to have your life’s possessions filtered and cataloged so you can quickly find what you need – especially if you’re staying in multi-dorm hostels. Fumbling around in the dark for your underwear has never been simpler.
3 x eBag Packing Cubes: I’ve been using these eBags for a couple years now and have tested every size and packing combination imaginable. I recommend foregoing the large size in deference to a combo of the medium and slim tubes. Digging around and trying to find an item in the large bag can get annoying (especially if you’re doing this in a dark hostel room). I find it much simpler to categorize my clothing in the smaller sized packing cubes.
1 x Eagle Creek Slim Tube Cube: There’s not much of a difference between these and the slim eBag cubes. The fabric on the Eagle Creek packing cubes are sturdier but I’m happy with both brands. I needed another slim tube and these were gifted to me at my going away party which is why I own both brands.
2 x eBag Shoe Bags: I’ve had these for awhile now and love them. I don’t relish the idea of having my shoes floating around my bag with their grimy bottoms. I keep two pairs of shoes in each bag, though one can fit 3 pairs of sandals or flats.
Eagle Creek Wallaby Toiletry Bag: This is a recent purchase and I’m happy I made the switch from my previous toiletry bag as it was too bulky and didn’t pack easily. The Wallaby bag doesn’t have this problem. It holds all my toiletry items, is equipped with a hanging hook, and has a clear removable pouch for liquids making getting through TSA a breeze (well, as breezy as getting past TSA can be). Bonus: It has a shatter proof mirror.
SealLine Vinyl Dry Bag Size 10: Confession – I was totally suckered into buying this item by other longterm travelers. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a seasoned traveler and have never ever needed anything like this. However, I will have my entire life with me including my work life (i.e. iPhone and Laptop). Losing, breaking, or getting these items soaking wet scares the hell out of me. The final straw that had me hitting purchase came after realizing both a multi-day sailing trip in the Caribbean and a 4 day white-water rafting sojourn in the Balkans were towards the top of my wish list for this trip. If I don’t use this in the first 3 months, I’ll ditch it.
Believe me: the struggle was real when it came to what shoes to pack.
This section changed at least 50 times in the past 6 months as I tested every combination of shoes I could on my short trips. I turned to other travelers for advice but I’m sorry I refuse to wear ugly shoes that scream I’m a backpacker. You know, those hideous Chacos, Tevas, and Birkenstocks. I’m sure they’re comfortable and I know seasoned travelers swear by them but NO! RESIST!
That’s my instinct yelling in all caps.
Anyway, after a lot of wardrobe edits, I landed on the below and am happy with my shoe selection. Yours may differ depending on what activities you’re drawn to and what seasons you’re traveling through. Personally, I’m following the mild summer season for 12 months so I don’t need anything for snowy winters. I am active and adventurous when cute boys are involved so the below should get my through treks, white-water rafting, paragliding, and more.
1 x Wildhorse 4 Trail Running Nikes: This was the single hardest decision I made on my entire packing sojourn. I have a pair of hiking boots I ADORE and wanted to bring. The only problem is they’re bulky, heavy, and I’d look like an idiot wearing them anywhere but on a trail. So I gave them my condolences and shipped them to my mom for safe keeping and purchased these Nikes instead. These are made for trail running so make a nice hiking companion while losing the trekker look. I can wear them sans embarrassment in an airport or on the street and if I ever feel like pretending I enjoy conventional exercise, I can use them in a gym or on a flat surface. Win/win. I purchased them in all black, making them look even less conspicuous.
1 x Chuck Taylor Shoreline Slip-On Day Shoe: I love my converse and these slip-ons hold up well when traveling. They’re my everyday shoe.
1 x Pair Black Flats: These dress up most of my outfits. I’ve never been much of a heels-girl so I use these to get into slightly nicer bars and lounges as well as for conferences and any business meetings that crop up while on the road. I currently have this pair of Lucky brand flats though I’ve had them for 3 months and they’re already wearing out. I would recommend trying out a different brand.
1 x Pair Aerosole Nude Sandals: I’ve had these exact sandals for over a year and I love them. They’re cute, comfortable, and match everything. They’ve stood the test of time, offer good support, and are the only pair of sandals that don’t rub me raw between the toes.
1 x Pair Havianas Luna Sandal: These double as shower shoes in hostels/campsites and are great for trips to the beach. Havianas are both comfortable and durable. I use the Luna design because I love the ankle strap as it keeps the sandals more secure on my feet when playing in the sand and on rocky shores. Regular Haviana flip flops also work well as shower shoes but the slap slap noise they make drives me nuts and is another reason I favor the Luna design.
Tees and Tops
Insider’s Tip: When it comes to packing clothes for longterm travel, it’s best to bring clothing items you’re not super attached to. You will get sick of wearing the same clothes day in and day out and wind up trading clothes with other travelers or replacing them with new items bought along the way. I’ve done both and have also had clothes rip or tear that I then had to throw out. This mainly happens with tops, tees, and dresses.
6 x Cute Tops: I already know I brought too many tops in total. But I hate doing laundry. Also, I’m not a backpacker per se. I just live a vagrant existence and find a backpack is the easiest mode of transport for all my worldly possessions. Forging a life on the road doesn’t give me an excuse to look like a bum. Word of advice on packing cute tops: make sure you can mix and match them with your shorts/skirts/pants/etc.
4 x Casual Tanks: I throw these on during long writing days, hiking treks, or on bus and plane journeys. I made sure they were all cute and made of comfortable, durable materials for the outdoor excursions. I love love love the Dani Tank from Free People. I brought along 3 – each in a different color. They’re comfy, can be dressed up easily, never wrinkle, and are soft enough to sleep in.
1 x Black Undershirt: Probably frivolous but I was taught never to go without one. If anything it’s good for wearing over my bathing suit on swimming days as it dries easy. It also makes a good sleep shirt.
1 x Men’s T-Shirt: So no doubt about it – this is 100% frivolous. I’m a sucker for a good, soft tee and this is one of my faves. Plus, I’m sentimental and stole it from an old lover-turned-close-friend. It makes me happy and reminds me of one of the best times of my life. So thanks for the loaner McNug.
1 x Northface Workout Tank: For hiking, biking, and any other exercise I decide to embark on. It’s quick drying and was massively on sale. I love it.
Pants and Shorts
1 x Pair Lightweight Pants: The pair I have are light, airy and perfect for when it’s hot out and I’m too lazy to shave. I’ve worn these pants in the UAE and Oman so know how they stand up in the Middle Eastern heat. I plan on revisiting this region later on during this trip. Having a pair of long pants is also good for anyone traveling to Europe and Latin America who wish to embark on holy pilgrimages. Many religious sites (including popular churches and other houses of worship) require you be properly covered.
1 x Pair Black Pants: These are easy to dress up and perfect for more cosmopolitan cities (esp in Europe). As I mentioned earlier, just because I’m living out of a backpack doesn’t mean I want to look like I’m living out of a backpack. I have these from Uniqlo. They’re stretchy and comfortable but give the appearance of work pants. They look nicer in person than on the website!
1 x Pair Black Leggings: A wardrobe staple no matter your preferred lifestyle.
1 x Pair of Jeans: BECAUSE THEY MAKE ME FEEL HUMAN.
3 x Pair Cute Shorts: These are an easy go to – especially for Southeast Asia and Central America. I have one khaki pair that matches all my tops, one pair of jean shorts, and I have another fun, patterned pair I bought in Bali.
2 x Pair Gym Shorts: I could probably get away with just one pair of gym shorts but I love wearing one for hiking and running errands in and the other pair is what I sleep in. These roll up into tiny balls so the space they take up in my pack in minimal.
1 x Flannel PJ pants: Don’t laugh because I’m only on Day 3 of the current journey and I already sported these. The hostel I’m in blasts the AC at night and it’s colder than the arctic in my room.
2 x Maxi Dresses: I love love love my cotton maxi dresses. They’re super comfortable, fashionable, and great for those days when I’ve eaten too many tapas. Throw on a cardigan and it transforms into the perfect outfit for traveling through more conservative countries. I consider this item a must have although you can definitely get away with only bringing one.
2 x Short Dresses: I live in simple sundresses and these don’t take up as much room as you would think (remember this is all in a carry-on size 46L pack that isn’t overstuffed). My best advice is to test any dresses/tops you bring beforehand. You won’t to make sure they don’t wrinkle too easily unless you have constant access to a steamer or iron. Considering this is the post you decided to read, I’m assuming you aren’t a luxury traveler!
Jackets and Sleeves
1 x Black Cardigan: I’m always cold and this matches everything in my backpack. It’s cute, not too thin or too thick, and I’ve carted it around Central America, Europe, and Southeast Asia before so I know it’s perfect for multiple environs. I have this merino wool cardi from Uniqlo.
1 x Northface Fleece: While I may be chasing summer, many South American cities have a high elevation which means chilly nights (especially on multi-day, outdoor hikes). European weather can also be hit or miss in the shoulder seasons (which is when I’m planning on traveling the region) and the US is known for blasting their A/C on hot days, often forcing me to choose between heat stroke and frostbite. This fleece jacket helps with that.
1 x Thermal Long Sleeve Shirt: I wear this on overnight hikes and to sleep in in cooler climates.
1 x Swimsuit: Because I’m chasing summer. Aloha beaches.
2 x Sports Bras: Most people only need one. I brought two because I’m doing several multi-day adventure treks and I also enjoy working/lounging around in a sports bra and tank top.
1 x Bra and 1 x Lace Bralet: A bra is self-explanatory. I also brought along my Free People lace bralet because a few of my tops are thin-strapped or cut low at the sides. It also makes my Dani Tanks look a bit more dressed up!
1 x Pair Smart Wool Socks: I love hiking and these are always my go-to socks when trekking. They protect from blisters and keep you warm in cooler climates. I almost brought two pairs but am hoping I can get away with just the one.
2 x Pair Thin Ankle Socks: So I don’t stink up my day walking shoes.
2 x Pair Athletic Socks: For wearing with my Nikes while on treks, in airports, or just for general comfort.
8 x Pairs of Regular Underwear: You’ve no doubt seen a spate of travelers touting special travel underwear. While I’m sure they dry quick and are good quality, I didn’t feel the need to buy them as underwear in general is just a small swath of fabric and doesn’t take all that long to dry anyway. Plus I’m single and still a women so wanted my cute-sometimes-borderline-sexy Victoria’s Secret underwear. And yes – I did pack one black lacy thong.
Toiletries and Such
Sea to Summit Silk Liner: I was on the fence about whether or not this was a necessity. I’m no stranger to backpacking and have stayed in my fair share of nasty hostels. I’ve always been fine not owning a silk sheet liner but in the end I packed it because:
a.) bed bugs come in a close second behind cockroaches on my irrational list of things that might kill me. The silk liner combats this problem.
b.) I’m planning some multi-day treks and overnight camping and this will be great to have. Plus, it’s really compact so doesn’t take up much room in my backpack.
c.) I’m always moaning about how cold it is and am one of those strange breed of humans who’d rather be hot than cold. I figure if anything I can use it as an extra blanket on buses, planes, trains, and at the movies (it’s a comfort thing okay?).
Youphoria Sport and Travel Towel: This super absorbent microfiber towel is a must. Many hostels are hip these days and provide towels for free or for a small charge but it is still handy to have this around just in case. I once had a hostel run out of towels and had to dry myself off with a bed sheet. It. Sucked. The Youphoria towel takes up little space and can be used for the beach, working out, or for camping. I have the 28″ x 56″ size and it covers me well.
Coghlan’s Bungee Clothesline: Ok so yeah this is totally frivolous. I highly doubt I’ll use it but I received it as a gift two years ago and feel it deserves a chance to do its job. If I don’t use it within my first two months, I’ll throw it out or pawn it off on someone else (sorry mom!).
Lush Solid Shampoo and Tin: This is a godsend. Not only can you carry it on a plane but there’s also no chance of liquid spillage since it’s, well…not liquid. The solid shampoo can also be used as laundry detergent so two birds and all that.
Bocco Squeezable Refill Bottles: I’ll admit, I try to keep these empty as much as possible because I hate carrying around liquids. I’m the type of person that attracts accidents and my own items are the first to turn against me. The main reason I keep these in my backpack is so I never have to check a bag. My entire life is in my backpack so I don’t fancy leaving its fate in the hands of baggage handlers. I also hate wasting money so am loathe to throw out my nearly full bottle of conditioner. I tend to buy full bottles when I know I’m traveling overland for a long period of time, then I squeeze whatever is left into my Bocco Bottles before heading to the airport. A few hostels have showers equipped with shampoo and conditioner dispensers and I take full advantage and fill up my empty bottles. I prefer the Bocco brand because they’re airtight and also squeezable which means barely any liquid is wasted or leftover.
First Aid Kit and Basic Meds: I always carry these items when I travel because apparently I did something to offend gravity and it abuses me every chance it gets. Currently I have the first aid kit linked here and pictured above. It contains 3 different size band-aids, tweezers, mini-scissors, burn gel, tape, first-aid booklet, antiseptic wipes, safety pins, and cotton pads. It sounds like a lot but it’s really lightweight and barely takes up space. I threw in some basic, over-the-counter meds (Imodium, Tylenol Cold and Flu daytime and nighttime pills, and Advil). What you bring is up to you as you know your basic needs better than I do. For example, I’ve never suffered from even the most basic of allergies so I didn’t bring any meds of that nature along. I also did not bring full boxes of the meds listed above. I brought a couple individual packs of each as it should be enough to carry me through until I can purchase basic meds locally or get to a hospital need be. You should also bring all your prescription medication as scripts are hard to fulfill on the road.
Toothbrush and Co.: This includes toothpaste, steripods (caps for you toothbrush to keep it clean), deodorant, shaving razor and razor blades (I find men’s razors last much longer than women’s razors. I personally use the Gillette Fushion 5 Pro Guide). If I need to explain to you why packing these items is important than I’m not sure you’re self sufficient enough to backpack the world on your own.
Toenail Clippers: This one gets its own mention because OMG YOU NEED TOENAIL CLIPPERS. Besides the fact that long toenails are almost cockroach-level gross, if you plan on wearing closed-toed shoes or hiking at all, having short toenails is essential for your comfort. Trust me. I forgot to clip my toenails before climbing the Acatenango Volcano in Guatemala and the extra pain of my own toenail slicing the skin of my adjacent toe didn’t help me out on the already difficult climb.
Glasses and Co.: Hopefully most of you guys won’t need to bring this kind of kit because frankly, it’s a pain to carry around. I thought about ditching it all a few times but then remembered I kinda need to be able to see in order to keep The Travel Dispatch going. So I’m carting around a year’s supply of contacts, my hipster glasses, and a mini bottle of contact solution.
Brush, Hair Ties, and Make-up: Because my relationship status is still single and have you seen how sexy other travelers are? Make-up packing tip – you do not need to bring more than one of anything. It’s just too much to carry. I brought one thing of blush, tinted moisturizer, eye-liner, mascara, and one 4-color eye shadow palate.
Electronics and Tech Gear
MacBook Air: I’ve had this comp for 2 years now and love it. It’s lightweight, does everything I need it to, and supposedly will last forever (jury’s still out on this one). I plan on finding work on the road as well as sending out the dispatches so yes, lugging around a computer is a must. If you aren’t working on the road, most hostels have a few computers and printing capabilities so this not a necessity for everyone.
SIM-Free Unlocked iPhone 7: I’m going to write a full post on unlocked smartphones, data plans, and using local SIM cards at some point in the next couple months. For longterm travel it’s way cheaper to use WiFi and local prepaid SIM cards rather than to keep a full data plan in your home country. To do this, I had to purchase an unlocked phone. I’m an Apple junkie so I went with the iPhone and bought a SIM-free one from the Apple Store.
All-in-One Travel Adapter: It beats carrying around several different converters for my electronics. Plus the USB ports really come in handy.
Belkin Mini-Surge Protector: The winning weapon in the battle of hostelmates vs. only-one-outlet. It’s small and perfect for charging all my electronic devices. I love the additional two USB ports as well.
Anker Astro Portable Charger: So I can charge on the go, particularly on multi-day treks in the wilderness. I do try and stay unplugged when hiking but want to insure my phone and GoPro are powered up for the peak of the hike. It can also be a lifesaver on long bus journeys.
GoPro Hero Session 5: This was a gift I bought myself right before the start of my trip. I have no clue how to use it but I thought it would be fun to have for my more adventurous excursions. Especially since I’m not bringing a real camera (I’m not big into photography and much prefer words instead). I also brought along the handler stick, head strap, and floatation accessories.
Fixr Multi-Tool: This was a gift I never knew I needed. It’s genius and so small. It weighs basically nothing and you can bring it in your carry-on. There are 20 tools on the aptly named Fixr including various size wrenches, a pry bar, cutting blade, an eyeglass screwdriver, and a bottle opener.
2 x Combination Locks: Most hostels are equipped with lockers but it’s BYOL – bring your own lock. I recommend purchasing one with a flexible steel cable so it fits through any loop. I used to travel with a non-flex cable lock and it couldn’t thread through the locker in my hostel in Scotland. It made for a very uneasy 10 days hoping no on dared crawl in my bed where I *hid* my stuff. The flexible cables are also good to thread through my backpack’s zippers to deter pickpockets. This is particularly important when undergoing long bus journeys. I have a friend who was pick-pocketed while he slept on a bus in Central America.
Headlamp: Honestly, you probably don’t need a headlamp. I bought my in Guatemala for a multi-day hike up a volcano so decided to bring it along since I’m planning more overnight wilderness trips. If you don’t plan on spending a lot of time outdoors, a mini-flashlight or your cell phone should do. I do also use my headlamp for reading at night, on long bus journeys, and for help finding my stuff in dark hostel rooms.
Sonik Blast Safety Whistle: Luckily I have never had to use this but it gives me incredible peace of mind to carry it around. As I started hiking and traveling alone in obscure, off-the-beaten-path locales, I purchased a cheap one. I have since upgraded to the Sonik Blast whistle (a gift from a good friend) as the sound carries farther. If you need more convincing, read this post by Jodi at Legal Nomads. She has used hers on 3 separate occasions.
Rubber Doorstop: This is more for my peace of mind as a solo traveler than anything else. I slip the doorstop under my hotel/hostel room door as a cautionary deterrent if anyone tries to enter while I’m sleeping. It may not completely stop someone from getting in but at least it gives me the element of surprise and some precious seconds to wake up and realize what’s happening.
Mini Duct Tape Rolls: Not all superheroes come in pretty packaging. Duct tape is a cure-all genius and is always good to have around for unforeseen emergencies.
2oz Ultrathon Insect Repellent: There’s a good chance most people won’t need to pack this as insect repellent is easy to buy on the road. I’ve actually never used repellent in the last 3 years; however, I’m planning on doing Colombia’s Lost City Trek fairly early on in my trip so know this will come in handy. The only reason you should bring repellent along is if you’re traveling to a mosquito-prone area, are worried about Zika, or plan on chilling out in jungles.
1 x Carabiner: Right now I’m using this to hold all my hair ties in one place. However, carabiners come in handy for protection against pickpockets. I’ve used these for securing my wallet to my purse, my purse to a chair, and also for attaching various items to my backpack when hiking.
The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal by David McCullough: I love reading and am never without a book or two. I often read books set in the region I’m visiting and thought this would be a great companion read for my Panamanian journey. Especially as I’ll be visiting the Panama Canal.
My Journal: Because I’m a writer and have a bit of a nostalgic personality. If I could fit it into my carry-on I’d also bring a typewriter.
Money and Credit Cards
Why I’m Including Credit Cards: Choosing which credit and debit cards to bring is a personal choice and while I’m not an expert on the subject of banking, I want this guide to be as helpful as possible. There is a very specific reason I’m carrying the type of cards listed and I believe sharing the “why” of it with you could prove useful when planning your own longterm travels.
You may be wondering why I have so many credit and bank cards. Its simple – getting a replacement card when traveling is not a quick process. While it’s simple to make an online claim for a lost or stolen card, your credit card company has to mail your replacement to the permanent address associated with your card. Then your parents/friend/lover or whomever is collecting your mail has to track down your locale and forward it along. If you’re in a third world country with an unreliable postal service, this could take weeks.
That’s why I keep two wallets separated at all times (one on me and one locked away at the hostel) and have 2 Visa credit cards along with 2 Visa debit cards (I find Visa is accepted most anywhere).
Capital One VentureOne Visa Rewards Card: I’ve had this card for years. Highlights: no annual fee, no foreign transaction fees, earn 1.25 travel reward points for every dollar you spend (points never expire), offers bonus sign-up points and any points earned are super easy to redeem.
Travel Rewards Bank of Americard: This is my second Visa credit card that I keep separate from the one mentioned above. Highlights: no annual fee, no foreign transaction fees, earn 1.5 travel rewards points for every dollar you spend (points never expire), offers bonus sign-up points and all points are easy to use for travel purchases. Current Bank of America costumers also get a 10% points bonus.
Discover It Cashback Card: Not a great travel card as it’s not accepted everywhere. I only brought this along as back-up since I already owned the card. I found this was a good card to have pre-trip as you can earn cashback and you can redeem it straight into your bank account. I currently have $500 in bonuses and will use this for any travel emergencies. NOTE – the APR is high on this card so if you are the type to carry over a balance, I would not recommend it. I always have (and still do) pay my credit card balances in full each month on every card I own. Highlights: no annual fee, earn 5% cash back in rotating categories each quarter (think gas stations, restaurants, amazon, wholesale clubs, etc.) plus 1 % cashback on all other purchases., and points never expire.
Charles Schwab Visa Debit Card: This is hands down the best travel debit and checking account for Americans. Not only does Charles Schwab not charge foreign transaction fees, but they will actually reimburse you for any ATM fees anywhere in the world. This means you do not need to pay high fees to withdraw local currency. Other highlights: no monthly service fee, no account minimum, and their online app makes it easy to cash checks on the go (important for a freelancer!).
Hancock Bank Visa Card: This is a joint checking account I opened with my dad. Any income earned will go into this bank account. I have a few clients who only pay in checks so I am having them sent to my dad so he can deposit them for me. A second reason I opened this account is for emergencies. I am keeping this debit card separate from my Charles Schwab debit card in case I lose one or get one stolen. Access to cash is a must when traveling to most places.
$100 USD: Panama was my first entry point and they trade in US Dollars so I took $50 with me. The other $50 is distributed in small bills and will be used for emergencies (think border crossing bribery or if I lose both wallets and all ATM cards).
The single most important item every traveler should pack is travel insurance. It doesn’t matter if you’re gone for one week or one year. Anything can happen on the road and having insurance will give you peace of mind and protect you should the worst case scenario happen.
I currently have a 12-month policy with World Nomads who I like because they are one of the few companies who allow you to obtain and renew your policy while out of the country. Many insurance companies in the US do not offer this. World Nomads is available to people from 140 countries and it covers overseas medical emergencies, evacuation services, baggage issues, and a range of adventure sports and activities.
You don’t have to be a longterm traveler to use them, they provide coverage for shorter journeys as well. You can generate a super quick quote below to get an idea on how much travel insurance will cost you.
Things I’m Not Taking But Others Swear By
Vaccination Card: I know what you’re thinking – this seems like a pretty important thing not to pack. I’m getting vaccinated in Panama so will get mine there.
Divacup: This reusable menstrual cup is touted as a godsend for woman traveling through countries where tampons might not be easy to find. I have this on my maybe I’ll buy someday list. My periods haven’t been too much of an inconvenience yet on my longterm travels so until they do, I’ll save the space in my backpack. Lunette is another popular brand if you’re in the market.
Kindle or Nook: I’m old fashioned and love physical books. I plan on playing the novel swap game with hostel bookshelves and other travelers. Plus I’m lazy and forgetful so the chances of me ever having a fully charged Nook are slim to none. Having said that, a Kindle or Nook is a great thing to have if you’re an avid reader who likes the ease of purchasing and downloading any book at anytime (well, assuming you have WiFi).
Earplugs: Longterm travelers always have this on their must have lists but I’ve never worn these in my life so why start now? Plus, how many would you have to pack? Don’t you have to throw them out often? Seems like something you wouldn’t want to reuse over and over again. But hey, you do you.
Sunglasses: I don’t own sunglasses. After going through 9 pairs in one year, I gave up pretending I’m capable of not losing them.
Sarong and/or Scarf: This often fashionable piece doubles as a bathing suit cover, blanket, and a shoulder cover-up for entrance to spiritual sites. For me personally it’s not much of a necessity. Markets throughout the world sell beautiful scarves and if I find one I love, then maybe I’ll purchase it.
Specialty Cards: Think student ids, hotel/hostel-loyalty cards, triple AAA, etc. I don’t have any of these types of discount cards.
Anything I missed that you swear by? Let me know in the comments below!
Why Suffer From FOMO When You Don’t Have To?
The current Travel Dispatch journey kicked off in Panama on Nov 15 and is showcasing a classic “round the world” loop as I weave my way from Latin America to The Balkans, Eastern Europe to the Middle East, and Southeast Asia back to the US over a period of 12 months and with a budget of $25,000. Finally along live by subscribing below!