We spent a month preparing for our trip. Most of that time was spent on prepping our gear – reading blog posts like this one, making spreadsheets of what we needed vs. wanted, taking various trips to REI and other outdoor shops, ordering socks from dodgy online sites, packing our bags, weighing our bags, repacking our bags, etc. On October 30, 2013, we headed to the airport with the 55 pounds of gear that would keep us clothed, entertained, and healthy for the next eight months.
Of the nearly 200 items we packed, a few exceeded our expectations – these I talk about in depth in this post. If you’re the nitty-gritty-details type and would like to see the entire list of items we took, have a look at our Google Spreadsheet Packing List (feel free to download, edit, and make it your own). And if you’d like additional info on any of the products, give me a shout at email@example.com.
Osprey Meridian 22 Suitcase – Emily and I went back and forth before leaving the States: Should we strap on Winnebago-sized backpacks, so popular with long-term travelers, or go the roller-bag route? The good folks at Arty Dubs tipped us off to Osprey’s best-of-both-worlds Meridian 22 (and its wheel-and-back/waist-strap combo), and we really can’t say enough good things about it. Tough as nails, lightweight, and compact was our pre-purchase criteria, and that’s exactly what we got.
While you can use the Meridian 22 as a backpack, we never did. The wheels are so large and sturdy you can truck them over gravel, cobblestones, dirt roads, and down stairs with ease. If you’re like us, most of the time, you’ll be pulling them over smooth concrete and tiled airport floors. So, unless you plan to do a lot of overnight hiking (and you’ll be carrying a sleeping bag and a tent), bring a bag with wheels. Your back will thank you. That said, if given the chance, I’d still opt for the back/waist-straps, simply for “you never know when you’re going to need it” peace of mind. If you find yourself in a situation when you know you won’t need the straps, simply unsnap them and use the extra space for storage.
Added bonus: the Meridian 22 includes a detachable daypack (Meridian Day) that is equally comfortable in the city as it is on the trail. I’d recommend a good day pack to anyone planning a long-term trip, but I’m especially fond of this one given its size (big enough for the essentials and small enough not to be overloaded) and features (padded back, backpanel sleeve, inner computer sleeve, internal organizer).
Others have pointed this out, but just to to reiterate, the Meridian 22 will fit in overhead compartments on domestic flights within the U.S. Outside of the U.S. – especially on budget airlines – you’ll have to check the bag. We were able to carry on our Meridian 22’s on our initial flight from LA to Tokyo on Delta, but then we hit the 15-pound carry-on restrictions that plagued our every step thereafter.
Icebreaker Tech T – After eight months on the road, I can say I believe the hype behind Icebreaker Tech T’s. Made from 100% merino wool, they regulate your body temp, look fairly stylish, and are easy to wash. We can wear these shirts for four to five days in dry climates, or two to three days in a hot and sticky Singapore before they need a good wash.
I have two Tech T’s: black and green. If buying only one, I’d recommend the black – it looks a little dressier when we go out at night. Emily has three Icebreaker shirts: a Tech T (crew neck), a scoop neck, and a v-neck. She likes having all three styles, but would recommend the crew-neck Tech T if picking just one. The crew neck protects her chest in the sun and has a looser, more comfortable fit.
Before purchasing, we read that holes may start appearing in the shirts. Sure enough, Emily recently found a few small holes in the fabric. But judging by more recent buyer reviews, Icebreaker may have resolved the issue. Regardless, buy the shirts, and think of getting piece of clothing repaired in, say, Vietnam as a fun activity – it was for us.
Icebreaker Socks – Again, same merino wool, same extended usage. We prefer the thicker, Multisport Cushion Micro 4” if you’re walking all day, and the Run+ Ultralight Micro 4” if going for a run.
T-mobile Simple Choice Plan – Okay, cat’s out of the bag, we cheated. In fact, we cheated everyday of our trip (sans Myanmar). We had unlimited data, texting, and 20-cents-per-minute calls in 120+ countries and destinations (unlimited within the U.S.) through T-mobile’s Simple Choice Plan. Sure, we probably missed out on some interesting conversations in broken Japanese asking for restaurant recommendations or asking for directions to an about-to-be-missed bus, but we’re okay with that. If you like regular access to email, news, Instagram, FB, TripAdvisor, Yelp, Booking.com, etc, think of the Simple Choice Plan as a trip enhancer/stress reliever. If your plan is about to expire, do yourself a favor, sign up ($50 per month for one user, $80 for two, $90 for three, and so on). It’s one of those too-good-to-be-true situations, but we promise… it’s true!
Satechi Energy Station 10,000 – I know next to nothing about electronics, but I do know that two phones and two readers require energy and a lot of it. And recharging devices while on the move proves difficult unless you carry an external energy source. Enter the Satechi Energy Station 10,000. One charge of the Satechi equals about five iPhone charges. And with two USB outputs (1A and 2A) you can charge two devices at once. The Satechi was and remains a permanent fixture in my Meridian Daypack.
Vapur Water Anti-Bottle – This was an impulse buy, which we don’t typically do. But considering the features (folds away into near nothing, stands upright when full, attaches to bags via a built in carabineer, and BPA-free), and the cost ($10), the Vapurs were a no brainer. And sparing a few issues, we’re super glad we brought them along. Word of the wise, I’d stay away from the Eclipse model. The matte finish wore off and, worse, a strong smell and taste of soap persisted weeks after washing with dish soap. Thankfully Vapur came through with excellent customer service offering advice on how to rid the bottles of the taste/smell (vinegar unfortunately didn’t work) and then offering to replace the Eclipse bottles with two Element bottles, that continue to perform well.
Exofficio Give-N-Go Underwear – Stinking sucks, in fact, writing those words makes me want to vom. But when you’re switching hotels every three days on average, spending countless hours traveling to your next destination by boat, train, car, and plane, or scouting for exotic beaches and restaurants, washing clothes isn’t always the first priority (old me, meet new me). So, it goes without saying that you’ll need underwear that can stand the test of, well…time. I’ve been wearing Give-N-Go Boxers for years (light, durable, long lasting), so of course I brought them along on the ZINK Year. For the ladies out there, Emily loved Exofficio’s Give-N-Go Lacy Bikini.
Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard and Chase Sapphire Preferred – It’s a good idea to have at least two credit cards while traveling, so you might as well get the ones with the best rewards. I mean, who doesn’t need an extra $900? Here’s a quick breakdown of each card.
Barclay Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard – Zero foreign transaction fees, 40,000 bonus miles when you spend $3,000 or more in the first 120 days from opening account (the equivalent of $400 in travel statement credit), 2X miles on all purchases, chip and signature card with PIN capability, annual fees waived the first year – $89 each year thereafter.
Chase Sapphire Preferred – Zero foreign transaction fees, 40,000 bonus miles when you spend $3,000 or more in the first 90 days from opening account (the equivalent of $500 towards airfare or hotels when redeemed through Chase Ultimate Rewards **redeeming points is super easy**), 2X miles on travel and dining at restaurants (1 point per $1 on other purchases), chip and signature card with PIN capability, annual fees waived the first year – $95 each year thereafter.
Canon G Series Camera – I love photography, always have, but I don’t like the idea of traveling around the world with a five pound, $5,000 camera. It’s always seemed silly, that is, unless you’re a pro or budding pro on your way to making money. That’s why in 2008, I opted for the much lighter (about a pound), much cheaper ($450) Canon G10. Six years later, it still takes super crisp photos. Canon’s worked their way up to the G16 now, surprisingly the same price today as I paid years ago and no doubt better.
Leatherman Style PS – Space in our bags is sacred, so in lieu of carrying multiple tools, we opted for the all-in-one, yet still bare bones, light-as-can-be Leatherman Style PS, which includes spring-action pliers, file, scissors, tweezers, mini-screwdriver, and my favorite, the bottle opener. I used every tool at least once a week and one tool specifically a little too often. Note for the wise: On two occasions in Japan and Turkey, I nearly had the Style PS confiscated by over-anxious security guards simply because it looked like a pocket knife, despite having pointed out repeatedly that it didn’t have anything close to a knife inside. (A fair bit of pleading won out in both cases and we were able to keep the tool). If you’re checking a bag anyway, avoid the possible hassle and store it in your checked luggage.
Eagle Creek Pack-It Garment Folder and Packing Cube
I remember days not too terribly long ago when it was completely normal to carefully fold shirts and pants and place them into a suitcase, along with shoes and toiletries, without any sort of inner containment. By the time you opened the luggage after the flight, you had a big rat’s nest on your hands. Eagle Creek’s Pack-It Garment Folder and Packing Cubes solved all that, and I’m forever grateful.
Lewis N. Clark TSA Cable Luggage Lock – Close your eyes, imagine that everything you own fits into two small roller suitcases. A bit overwhelming already, right? Now, imagine all of your stuff being stolen because you didn’t lock your bags. There are tons of luggage lock options out there that minimize the chance of this happening, but we prefer the Lewis N. Clark TSA Cable Luggage Locks. The sturdy, flexible cable swivels so it doesn’t get bound up like locks with fixed shackles and bends minimizing the chance of breakage on airport conveyor belts. I recommend one lock for each bag and an extra one in case you lose one. If you’re the extra careful type, pair the Lewis N. Clark TSA Cable Luggage Locks with a Pacsafe Retractasafe 250 Retractable Cable Lock. We used the latter at a train station (and on a train!) and in a few sketchy hotel rooms.
Pacsafe Walletsafe 50 Compact Wallet – Pickpockets exist because people don’t take the proper measures to protect their stuff. Simple as that. The Walletsafe 50 keeps shifty hands at bay with a safety chain that attaches to a belt loop. It’s small enough to wear in a front pocket and features a convenient inner cash/credit card divider and external coin pocket. An added benefit of the chain is that it prevents you from misplacing the wallet along the way.