Cost of Travelling the World for 1 Year, Part 2: Packing

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FIRECracker is Canada's youngest retiree. She used to live in one of the most expensive cities in Canada, but instead of drowning in debt, she rejected home ownership. What resulted was a 7-figure portfolio, which has allowed her and her husband to retire at 31 and travel the world. Their story has been featured on CBC, the Huffington Post, CNBC, BNN, Business Insider, and Yahoo Finance. To date, it is the most shared story in CBC history and their viral video on CBC's On the Money has garnered 4.5 Million views.
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This is Part 2 of the post: Cost of Travelling the World for 1 Year. Click here for Part 1.

Wanderer grunted as he emerged from the basement lugging 2 large empty suitcases. “Okay, I got them. Let’s start packing!”

“Nope.” I shook my head. “Too easy. Instead, we’re going to fit everything into these,” I said, pulling out 2 small backpacks from the closet.

backpacks

“WHAT?!” Wanderer yelled, throwing up his hands. “WHY DO YOU KEEP DOING THIS?”

I ignored him.

“WHY?” Wanderer demanded again.

“Because I don’t like waiting in line and paying for check-in luggage,” I said, crossing my arms.

Long intense glare, followed by a loud sigh. “Fine. I guess that makes sense.”

Back when we packed for 2-week vacations, we always brought 2 giant luggages overflowing with crap—80% of which never got used.

What we didn’t realize at the time is this:

The more space you have, the more useless stuff you’ll end up bringing.

So this time, instead of figuring out what we think we need, we only brought what we could fit into 2 carry-on bags:

A 32L Marmot Helm
and
A 32L M.E.C

By keeping it at 32L, we made sure that we’d be under 7kg and 56cm x 36cm x 23cm, which is within the carry-on limit for most airlines, including RyanAir and EasyJet.

Full Disclosure: The links in this post are affiliate links so I will get a small commission if you buy the items. But if you find a better deal in an outlet or buy used, feel free to do that instead.

Luggage:

Here’s what we ended up bringing:

Gadgets

The power bar and power bank were lifesavers. Our smartphone ran out of battery A LOT. And when you’re trying to navigate your way around Asia, you’re pretty screwed without GPS (we also used the offline Maps.Me app when we didn’t have data and it worked like a charm). The power bar has a voltage converter and surge protector, which kept our Macbooks from getting fried.

gadgets

Clothing

  • 7 pairs of underwear/person (enough to last 1 week without doing laundry)
  • 7 pairs of socks/person
  • 2 bathing suits each (Wanderer’s swim trunks also doubles as board shorts)
  • 4 T-shirts, 3 shorts, 1 dress shirt, 1 long pants, 1 light jacket for Wanderer
  •  4 T-shirts, 1 shorts, 1 dress, 6 tank tops, 3 skirts, 1 long sleeve shirt, 1 long pants (also doubles as workout pants), 1 light jacket for me
  •  2 hats (Wanderer’s baseball cap also happens to be a bottle opener!)

clothes

Since we ditched Europe and flew to Southeast Asia the second the first wind chill hit our jackets (early November), we didn’t need to pack any winter clothes at all. One pair of long pants, a long sleeve shirt, a windbreaker, and a scarf was just right for slightly chilly days/rainy days.

To save space, I tried to only bring clothes that serve more than one purpose. Like Wanderer’s shorts/swim trunk, baseball cap/bottle opener, and my scarf/shawl/beach wrap/picnic towel/back cushion. Who knew a shawl could have so many purposes? I also discovered that men’s clothes take up SO much more space than women’s clothes. Apparently I was able to stuff in 3 tank tops in the same space as 1 of Wanderer’s T-shirts. Why is it that my girlfriends need so much more luggage space than their hubbies? I just don’t get it.

Shoes:

  • 4 pair of shoes
    • 1 pair of sandals/person
    • 1 pair of running shoes/person

shoes

I thought about bringing hiking boots, but in the end decided “nah”. As it turns out, exactly 2 pairs of shoes each were all we needed. I even wore my running shoes to a mossy forest hike in Cameron Highlands, Malaysia and all I had to do was rinse off the mud. No biggy.

A lot of female travellers say to bring a pair of flip-flops. But I decided to buy a pair of Teva Verra sandals instead, which are comfortable enough to walk long distances in (unlike flip-flops which shred the skin between your toes) AND doesn’t look too butch with a dress. Luckily these sandals ended being super durable because I was using them as shower shoes, walking shoes, AND beach sandals. 3 purposes in 1! Triple-win!

Meds

  •  Allergy meds, Tylenol, nausea meds (all packaged into 1 medium-sized pencil case)

I’m glad I didn’t over-pack on meds. As it turns out most off the shelf meds were easy to find and pretty inexpensive in most countries.

Toiletries

  • Contact lens solution + contact lenses (1 year supply)
  • Moisturizer
  • Mosquito spray
  • Sunscreen
  • Aloe Vera
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Deva Cup (DO NOT click on this if you’re a guy. I’m serious. If you end up going “ew ew ew why did I click that”, don’t blame me)
    • GIRLS, this is seriously the BEST thing ever for travel. You will save SO much space (AND money, AND the environment!!!) by not having to bringing all that monthly “you-know-what” crap. I was originally worried about the Deva Cup being hard to use. I got used to it pretty quickly. Now I can’t leave home without it.
  • Toothbrushes
  • Travel-sized shampoo, conditioner, and toothpaste

toiletries

Misc

  • 3 books (we mailed them back after we read them to save space)
  • makeup (1 eyeliner, 2 eye-shadows, 1 eye-shadow brush, 1 lip gloss)
  • 1 pair of glasses
  • 1 pair of sunglasses
  • 2 mouth guards (to prevent teeth grinding at night)
  • 1 electric shaver
  • 1 hair brush
  • 1 umbrella
  • 2 sets of earplugs
  • 1 sewing kit
  • 1 travel-sized first-aid kit
  • 1 nail clipper
  • 1 money belt
  • 2 swimming goggles
  • 2 Packtowl travel towels 
    • One of the most useful things we brought. Takes up little space, absorbs 4 times its weight, and dries fast.
  • 1 small notebook + pen

After stupidly bringing 2 suitcases on vacations, let me tell you, living out of 2 backpacks is life changing! No waiting in line to check in luggages, no need to pay extra (we saved at least $750 on carry-on fees in total), and absolutely no need to worry about having your stuff stolen on bus rides. Carry-on rocks. Seriously.

I also found out that I have an obsession with travel squares . Not only do they help you save space, they also help you organize your stuff into categories, making things SO much easier to find. And if you don’t want to bother buying travel squares, you can also use cloth bags and pencil cases. As long as you compartmentalize your stuff it makes life SO much easier when packing/unpacking.

So here is everything we brought for 1 year all in 1 photo.

everything

Packing everything we needed for 1 year into 2 backpacks was actually a really good exercise because it proved that we needed WAY less stuff than we thought. And not only that, we ended up saving at least $750CAD and countless hours awaiting in line by not having to check-in our luggage.

So here’s my challenge of the week for you guys. Can you pack everything you need for 1 year into 1 backpack? Try it. It does wonders for de-cluttering your life.

Click here for  Part 3 of Cost of Traveling the World for 1 Year for tips on how to save money on flights, accommodations, and transportation!

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33 thoughts on “Cost of Travelling the World for 1 Year, Part 2: Packing”

  1. Fully agree. In fact, we use the same MEC bag. My spouse doesn’t always agree about the external minibag, but it is useful for compartmentalizing stuff, which is better than having it all in the main bag. Keeping sub-containers helps a lot too, but it’s still a lot of stuff in one pocket, and hard to get stuff out for quick access.

    We’re down to one computer and maybe a tablet between the two of us. Better phones help with that. But I couldn’t actually travel without a computer, since sometimes I need to write papers or code, so I do need the screen.

    Lightweight mountaineers also try to make things serve multiple purposes. Helps a lot in reducing weight. Speaking of which, any water bottles? I tried the foldable ones but they seem to leak once in a while.

    Checklists are super useful.

    Usually the issue when I travel is that I’m bringing along some sort of gear for some sort of activity. Basically you can’t rent a rope, for instance. Specialized skiing gear that you need for going up the mountain is also pretty pricey. If no gear, then carry-on works great, and you can get to the airport really at the last minute, too.

    1. Sweet! Backpack twins 🙂 Go MEC!

      We used to bring an aluminum water bottle but it added bulk and was a bit of a hassle, so we ditched it and stuck to buying water bottles and refiling them instead.

      As for the gear, if you’re going on a short trip, then it makes sense to spend a bit extra to check it in, but for our long term travel, the amount we save in check-in bags over the year is WAY more than equipment rental so we don’t bother.

      1. Is definitely a good bag.

        The metal bottles are too heavy and you’re stuck with the amount of volume that they contain, so they’re a minus that way. You can, however, attach reusable bottles to other things more easily using carabiners. Having said that, I don’t usually actually use them.

        The mountaineering wisdom I referred to above is actually in a book, where the author suggests that Gatorade bottles are good in a weight vs capacity sense and also come prefilled with sugar water.

        Even for a long trip, if you want a rope, you basically need to bring it with you. People just are not willing to rent a rope to you.

  2. Holy crap that’s some efficient packing! I’m not sure how big our travel bookbags are but probably about 32L (they fit in most carryons, though it might be pushing it with Ryanair’s most narrow dimension of 20 cm or 8 inches – have to pull out a few items maybe). I weighed mine and it was 18 lb with my 15″ laptop (should be 16 lbs now that I upgraded to a 13″ laptop). But we only had 4 days worth of clothes last time around.

    Fun stuff!

    1. 16 lbs should be fine. And when you’re in Europe and staying in Airbnbs, 4 days of clothes should be enough. In Asia, I like to have at least 7 days because we mostly stay in hotels and some cities do not like laundromat for some reason (mostly in Vietnam) so we have to get them washed by weight. Also it’s hot and sticky so we end up going through clothes faster.

      1. What was your experience with laundromat availability in Europe (southern and central Europe mainly)?

        I’m debating between 3 days of clothes and 4. 4 worked perfectly well in Mexico but we were in airbnbs 90% of the time with full washer and dryer (and ended up in a hotel with free washer and dryer – Aloft Cancun if you’re ever down that way!). I don’t particularly like the idea of sink-washing and air drying clothes (x5) but understand that can work in a pinch. Or turn those stinky T’s inside out and rock em again (ew gross we’re not *that* kind of backpackers). I’m thinking 3 days of clothes could work if laundry service was widely available (and especially if wash/dry/fold was dirt cheap!).

        1. Only had to use a laundromat in Belgium (it was pretty easy to find, just down the street). The rest of the time, AirBnBs had laundry. Oh and the Ios island in Greece, we had a hard time finding a laundromat, but luckily we had a balcony, so I just washed stuff by hand every 2 days or so.

          You actually found a hotel with free washer and dryer? Never seen one in my life 😛 They always charge ridiculous amounts for dry cleaning by item or weight.

          I’d say for Europe, 3 days of clothes is fine. As long as you pick the AirBnBs that check off “laundry” in the amenities, you’re good to go! Just a heads up that, unlike North America, most places will NOT have dryers (due to lack of space). They generally provide a drying rack or balcony to dry your stuff.

          In Japan, they have the same space restrictions as Europe but their bathrooms also double as dryers! You hang your clothes over the bathtub and there’s a giant heater/vent in the ceiling that dryers everything. It’s also so high-tech that you can also set the bath water to be exactly the temperature you want every time and most bathrooms have mini-TV screens. Man, I’m so IMPRESSED but also TERRIFIED of the ruthless efficiency of the Japanese. They rock but I’m glad they don’t have an army anymore.

          1. We randomly stumbled upon that hotel in Cancun with the free washer and dryer. I just wish I knew about it before I cleaned two pairs of the little guy’s poop pants (bad tacos??) by hand (actually by foot, in the shower) and hung them up to dry from the AC vent.

            As for Japan, yes, very glad they don’t have a standing army any more. 75 years ago they bombed the crap out of the US. Didn’t end well for either side but it was certainly a lot better for us than them.

  3. Having a power bank is super key when traveling. Snagged on on a Cyber Monday deal last year and it’s been a lifesaver every time I’m walking around or at the airport. Admittedly, I probably use up more power compared to a lot of people, but I still think it’s something that everyone should get. Just makes things so much easier.

    1. Nice! Yeah, we would be lost without the power bank. One time I forgot it at the hotel, our phone ran out of power, and it was a pain trying to find our way around with a map. I have no idea how people travelled before smartphones 😛

  4. So cool! We also pack about a week’s worth of stuff when traveling, with laundry just assumed to be needed. We rock larger backpacks, but can still sneak them on as carryons sometimes. 🙂

    And packing cubes are lifesavers. Makes pulling things out of the backpack way more civilized. 🙂

  5. Backpacks are a great way to go…I’m actually surprised you managed to fit all that stuff in two backpacks!

    When you have kids, there’s additional ‘secret’ options that open up when it comes to luggage. Like the free stroller/car seat gate check…those things often have storage compartments!

    1. The key is to a) roll your clothes instead of fold them–keeps them from getting wrinkled and takes up less space b) use packing cubes to compress the clothes c) in addition to the 2 backpacks, we’re also allowed 1 purse and 1 laptop bag. We used the laptop bag to carry the jackets and books

      I didn’t realize that with kids you get these extra “secret” options. Good to know!

  6. After two weeks AirBNB’ing around Europe in July, I’ll agree with everyone else that a powerbank is KEY. A fun side benefit is that when our train from Amsterdam to Brussels got cancelled (due to closed tracks) and we were all hanging out on a platform for an hour waiting for another train to Leuven to circumvent, I could help a stranger charge up his dead phone so he could let his pregnant wife back home in Mexico know he’d be a half day late returning. Nothing like doing my part to negate the Ugly American Tourist stereotype and make new friends!

  7. I was planning to ask you how y’all packed so efficiently and then I see this post in my inbox. Mind reading! This is amazing. I thought I was a light packer, but you put me to shame. Thanks so much for the detail. I’m going to see if I can pack everything for 2 weeks of winter holiday in my small backpack.

  8. Thanks for the traveling tips. I and my son are flying to Mexico next week and I have been thinking about what items I need to take on my trip. This is text is a lifesaver! I am happy that I don’t have to buy anything major! I might get small things like the shaving cream, bottle of sanitizer, razors, lotion, etc. Thanks for the help!

    1. Glad it was helpful! Yeah, we realized very quickly that you can buy toiletries, meds, clothes…basically anything you forgot…cheaply and easily. So no need to lug around too much stuff.

      Enjoy Mexico!

  9. The best packing exercise I ever did was for a seven week cyclo-touring trip through France. I realized while I was training for the trip just how critical each ounce was, particularly when climbing hills. With only four small panniers and a handlebar bag, I packed 12lbs of stuff plus some tools and bike lube – the experience transformed me forever. This was in the pre-smartphone era so I didn’t take any electronics other than a small digital camera.

    My rule for laundry was packing three of everything: one dirty, one to be worn and one clean. There was much doing-of-the-laundry-in-the-bidet, I confess!

  10. Hmm. I’m going to look into an external powerbank that works for a MacBook.

    Potentially stupid question: so when you come home and it’s snowing, you buy a jacket? Or you ask your family to meet you at the airport with a jacket? Enquiring minds want to know!

    1. So generally, if they’re not busy, a family member meets us at the airport with our coats. If not, we can go on public transit or take an Uber. Even if we have to be outside with our spring jackets, it’s just a 1 day, so no biggy 🙂

    1. I know right? I have impeccable taste when it comes to books 😉

      Btw, your book is the only book we didn’t ship back because we need to flip through it every now and then as as reference for our posts!

  11. Wholeheartedly agree! We spent a month this summer traveling around the UK visiting family, with a quick vacation by public transport over to Paris and Amsterdam – so not a trip that’s easy to do with suitcases! One week of stuff, recycled, is plenty.

    Clothes had two packing cubes, a green one full at the start, a same-sized black one empty. As we wore them, they moved down into the bottom packing cube – so the overall cubic space remained the same, it kept clean/ dirty separate, and for washing, all we had to do was pull out the black cubes and know it was all there. We were wrangling 12 and 16 year olds, but this system kept everything straight.

  12. Holy moly!! That’s efficient!! I thought I was efficient. My husband and I went on a 2 week European trip with one suitcase and 2 backpacks between the 2 of us, and our friends were shocked that we packed so little!! But 2 backpacks for a year?? That’s something else!

    That’s amazing. Now I gotta to add power banks to my Christmas list. And packing cubes. Never tried them before since we’ve never traveled more than 2 weeks.

  13. I love this post!! And all your posts, actually. Just found you yesterday thanks to MadFIentist podcast. I’m ready to quit everything and go travel the world. Sadly, my husband, 3 children, and military commitment say otherwise. In the meantime, I’ll keep living vicariously through you.

    Love your writing style and content. Keep up the good work and living the dream 🙂

  14. I love these kinds of posts.

    I brought an Osperey Daylite pack (13L) through Europe and West Asia only to find I didn’t need a pair of jeans and slacks, just slacks, or 2 dress shirts. I overpacked.

    Looking back, was there anything you packed that you didn’t need?

    Also, I’m surprised 1 light jacket was enough for Europe. You guys are tough.

    *ps-I think it’s Diva not Deva cup.

  15. I love the shrawl too! Another 2 uses for it – head scarf when visiting mosques and makeshift curtins on public mini buses to block out the sun.

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