Here’s a stock photo of my backpack. I carry everything I own in here. It’s an Osprey Porter 46, I got it last year for maybe $150. The 46 stands for 46 liters, the capacity of the bag.
Inside my bag, I carry the following items. This list isn’t 100% exhaustive, there’s a few other little things, but this is 90% of it. This list was actually mostly made before I ever left, but I’ve barely picked anything up along the way. I did pick up some souvenirs here and there but sent them home in a package.
(1) Drawstring backpack: for use during the day to carry water bottles, coats, umbrellas, etc. I also use it in hostels to bring my shower stuff down to the shower. It used to say “Cardinal Health” on it because I got it for free when I applied to work at Cardinal Health when I was in college probably 7 years ago. But during the trip the Cardinal Health lettering has worn off (you can still see the remnants). This thing, more than anything else I’ve carried with me, has been through war. It’s been on countless public benches, the ground, and hung on hooks in hostel bathrooms all over Europe. It probably belongs in the trash as soon as I get home, but I don’t know, I might save it for nostalgic reasons.
(1) Pair of jeans
(1) Pair underarmor pants for if it’s cold
(1) Pair of gym shorts
(1) Waterproof rain coat which folds into a pocket
(1) Underarmor shirt for if it’s warm
(1) Pair of khaki shorts
(1) Plain, thin black sweater for any potential fancy nights
(5) Pairs of cotton underwear
(2) Pairs of ExOfficio nylon underwear
(2) Pairs of cotton socks
(4) Pairs SmartWool socks
(1) Zip up hoodie
Dirty laundry goes it yet another drawstring bag. I do laundry about once every week to 10 days. T-shirts usually get worn for two days unless I do something that makes me sweat a lot.
Shoes (kept in another drawstring bag inside the backpack):
(1) Pair of cheap flip flops (used as shower sandals as well)
(1) Pair of dressier-ish brown shows
(1) Pair of New Balance trail running shoes for walking and hiking. These were brand new and I have practically worn them out completely.
(1) Large fast dry microfiber travel towel (Very good purchase)
(1) Blow up neck pillow (I never ever used this once)
(1) Eyemask (I sleep with it all the time in hostels. Sometimes people might turn on the lights or the sun might come up early, this keeps it dark always.
(1) box of earplugs (ESSENTIAL for hostels)
(3) Padlocks of various sizes for the backpack and for hostel lockers
(1) Bike lock to lock backpack to bedposts
(1) Headlamp for reading or packing in the dark
(1) All-in-one power plug adapter
(1) UK power plug adapter
(1) Continental Europe power plug adapter
(1) Amazon Kindle
(1) Laptop w/ cord.
(1) Charger for Kindle, Nexus 5
(1) Headphones w/microphone for Skype
(1) Box contact lenses
(1) Pack small bungee cords for hanging wet clothes
(1) Soft water bottle (can fold it up when it’s empty)
(1) Black zip-up toiletry bag with all the usual stuff
(1) Plastic folder with the following:
Travel Insurance Policy, copies of passports, International Driving Permit for car rentals (Available from AAA), a copy of my eyeglasses prescription, copy of birth certificate, copies of immunizations, extra passport photos for visas
(1) Small notepad and pen
I’ve gotten way better at packing over the past three months and have developed a method to my madness. The key to my packing method is to roll clothes and put them in every little tiny nook and cranny left by the bulkier items. So I start by putting the contact lenses, shoes, toiletries, etc in the bag first. The bag of shoes always goes in the bottom followed by the toiletries.
Then, there’s a bunch of space between the shoe bag and the actual bottom of the pack, so I roll up socks and underwear and shove them in there. T-Shirts get rolled up as well and put on the sides or on top to take up space. The hoodie and my jeans take a lot of space, so I actually like to wear them on days I’m moving to a new place, but sometimes it’s too hot.
There’s a small secondary pocket where the laptop and folder with papers go. Here’s a poorly lit photo of the nearly-final product. The shoe bag is the pink one on the right, and the toiletry bag is the black one next to it. You can see the rolled up shirts on the sides and wherever they fit. They don’t get wrinkled too badly if you put them that way. And you can see I’m wearing my jeans if you look at my knee, in the bottom of the photo. It saves space.
After getting to this point, I put in everything I might want while in transit – namely phone chargers, my kindle, my coat, etc. It took me a while to figure out that it’s smart to pack with the stuff you want the most often on top.
Now here’s the stock photo again. Do you see those two straps that come across the bag? It’s basically a game for me each time I pack to get the bag as small and compact as I can, and be able to tighten those straps as much as I can. When I first started I could barely tighten them, but now I can tighten them a lot more. Basically, I learned how to fit my things to the contour of the backpack without leaving empty spaces all over the place.
You can’t replicate this method – it’s specific to my stuff and my backpack. Before I started I read a bunch of articles and watched a few YouTube videos about packing efficiently. They definitely gave me good ideas but in the end, practice made perfect.
When I fly I make extra sure to get the bag really compact. Sometimes airlines can try to say your bag is too big to carry on if it doesn’t fit in their little testing-box-thing. This bag could go either way so I always make sure to pack it really well. This means doing laundry the day before flying, because too much dirty laundry throws off the whole system.
When I get to a hostel, I prefer to unpack as much as possible, and then re-pack before I leave. Trying to fish things out of there isn’t fun. All hostels have lockers, but sometimes the lockers are big enough for your whole bag and sometimes not. If they aren’t, I just take the valuables out and leave clothes in the bag. But when I leave that hostel for the next city, I always take everything out and start over.
Overall, I have never felt like I’ve needed more clothes or more of anything that I keep in this backpack, and I haven’t missed any of my stuff back home.