I am not a packing expert. I don't own zip-off convertible pants or Tevas or carry my own towel when I travel.
I backpacked through Europe in college and will never again hoist a heavy pack onto my delicate trunk. Which is why, HOW THE HELL DID YOU PACK?? is the question my husband and I get asked most often about our year-long, round-the-world trip, right after What is your favorite place? (admit to me which child is your favorite and I'll tell you which stop I like best) and How have you two not killed each other? (we have, multiple times).
We've chased summer across six continents, never staying in the same place for more than four weeks, averaging four or five nights in most, and have done so much: trekked in Patagonia, slept in the Sahara, WWOOF'd in Mallorca, taken the Trans-Siberian train across Russia, lived on the beach in southern Thailand, and found the edge of the world in Tonga.
We've stayed in yurts, hostels, beach huts, high-end hotels and shared a mattress with three strangers in the middle of the desert. It has been quite a ride. My vehicle of choice is a seemingly indestructible carry-on suitcase by Tumi with the occasional help of an Everlane twill tote that I also use during the day (the zip-top is key) and easily packs away into my suitcase when I don't need it.
The Husband carries a black Tumi duffel and a Swiss Gear backpack with laptop pocket to hold all of our cameras, laptop and electronic gear. Six months into our trip we picked up a guitar in Paris, bringing us up to five bags.
There are a few things without which I will never again roam and that I think every traveler should have, whether going around the world or away for a week-long vacation. The winners are:
1. GoPro Silver Hero 4. The pictures, video and sound are incredible, both in and out of water (the time-lapse feature is my favorite). Plus the camera is so small, it fits inside your pocket so you don't scream tourist, unless you really want to. Get the SBONY Monopod/Tripod combo to go with it. You can use it as a selfie stick, to get video out the car window or as a tripod. Also, the Floatpro Floating Wrist Strap is great because the only thing sadder than your vacation ending is watching all of your pictures sink away from you into the deep blue sea after you've fumbled the camera off the side of the boat. Don't be that guy.
2. Packing cubes. These changed my life. Roll your clothes to keep them wrinkle-free and then pack them into the cubes. Your items stay neat inside the bag and you're not undoing all of your hard work every time you grab a T-shirt.
3. Suitcase bungee. We throw my husband's heavy bag onto the top of my suitcase, strap this bungee cord contraption around the whole thing (I know this sounds like a typical Friday night for some of you) and away we go, without worrying that the bag will fall to the side mid-roll and topple the whole operation.
4. Silk sleeping bag liner. This light little 4-ounce bundle comes in a carrying pouch the size of my hand. Sleeping on a train in Vietnam? You want this. Staying in a 2-star hotel (I don't know why some places even bother with the stars) whose sheets or blankets are generally unappealing? Pull the offending linen right on up over your silk-encased body and say good night. Silk is lighter and easier to sleep in than the cotton versions. It's also long enough to cover the pillow.
5. Hand luggage scale. Never again scramble at the airport to transfer items from one bag to another, or worse, throw them away completely. Get extra batteries, as you will inevitably forget to remove the existing ones, the scale will turn on in your bag and you'll be stressed out the next time you try to use it and realize the battery is worn down. As you're already late for the airport.
6. 64GB thumb drive. A perfect place to store movies, music and TV shows, from your own collection or shared by others you meet on the road. You can also store photos here if your laptop gets too full.
7. Headlamp. To read or go to the bathroom in a hotel in which the lights go off after 10 p.m., for late-night walks on the beach or to find your way home even later-night from the bar. It's also useful when packing your bag in the early morning hours while your friend/significant other/person you've never met before is still sleeping. You will use it. And if nothing else, you can wear it when you're manning the grill for dinner.
8. Ultra-light down jacket. If you're somewhere warm but think you may need cool weather coverage at some point -- hikes in Patagonia, cool nights in San Francisco, spring days in Paris that haven't warmed up to summer just yet -- then this is for you. It weighs nothing and comes in a tiny pouch, is waterproof and looks nicer than a fleece, so you can wear it out at night without feeling like you just got off a hiking trail.
9. Kikkerland Universal Travel Adaptor. The flattest, most compact adaptor I've seen, and it converts to fit any outlet in any country.
10. iPad mini. A compact way to watch movies and TV shows, listen to music, look at photos or read books, without ever having to take the more cumbersome laptop out of the bag or worry about the battery on my phone.
11. A deck of cards. The first thing my husband and I go for when waiting anywhere, for anything. Because sometimes when traveling, you run out of power, the movie ends or your book gets boring. And often, it's just nice to go back to the basics.