Sandy reviews our packing strategy and provides an update, six months into our journey.
We have passed the six month point of our trip and this is a good time to check in on our packing strategy, now that we have been on the road for over 185 days. As we were planning this expedition, the variety of activities that we wanted to undertake necessitated some major packing logistics to ensure that we would have everything we needed at various points in the trip. Our packing strategy was one of the most important considerations of our entire journey. In fact, we made a video a few months before we left as we were actively trying things out.
Think about it: we are traveling for 14 months and have already encountered temperatures of over 100 F / 38 C and as low as freezing (while camping outdoors!). So we need the right clothes for that. We are spending time on cruise ships, taking us between continents, and also want to go out to a nice restaurant once in a while so we need the right clothes for that. Finally, because we are trekking and camping we need gear for that too. And all of these items need to fit into one main bag and that has to weigh less than 20 kilograms for those times we fly; otherwise we would pay extra fees.
As we understood these scenarios it became clear that we needed to plan and pack for four different types of traveling:
- Everyday Travel which is any time we are not trekking or on a ship (this comprises about 60% of our journey).
- Self-Supported Trekking in which we are on our own and must carry everything ourselves.
- Guided Trekking in which most of our luggage is carried by porters / animals and we carry a few things ourselves (the two types of trekking total about 65 days or 15% of the entire journey).
- Sea Voyages that we are taking between continents (this totals 96 days or about 25% of the expedition).
How did we plan and pack for these differing types of travel requirements and how has it worked out so far on our journey? Let’s look at each scenario one by one:
We are spending most of our trip traveling on our own. In the process we use trains, buses, ferries (and the occasional flight) to get around. During this time we spend an average of three days in a given place. So we need luggage that is mobile, is easy to move and accessible. A rolling duffel bag, along with a day pack that holds our laptops and related items, makes up our main luggage configuration. Our main rolling duffel bag has held up well. We can walk easily up to two miles / three kilometers with this bag. It is a good size and is easy to pull in conditions ranging from dirt trails, to cobblestone streets, to paved roads, in all types of weather. We love our daypacks too. They are designed to carry electronics so have many pockets to hold plugs and adapters. Sandy’s daypack had a strap break in Tibet so it is being held together with safety pins. It still going strong.
As you watch our videos and view our pictures, it may seem like that we are wearing just a few things over and over again. We do not have very many clothes for everyday travel. One of our biggest challenges has been keeping the weight down to stay under the 20 kilogram threshold for flights. With a few things we have bought on the trip thus far, we are both close to the 20 kilogram mark on weight. At this point we know exactly what we need to take out and wear on our flights so that we do not go over. Even so, both our bags have weighed in at 19.9 kilograms at different times, so it is a continual struggle.
On those treks where we are self-supported we are responsible for carrying all of our gear during the hike, which can last up to a week. The Overland Track hike in Australia and our recent Kungsleden trek in Sweden are self-supported examples. For these hikes, we each have 50-liter backpacks that can fit (relatively flat) into the bottom of our rolling duffels when not used. The rest of our luggage (rolling duffels with day packs locked inside) stay at the hotel while we are trekking. We email the hotel beforehand to arrange this.
For self-supported trekking when we need a tent, stove, water filter, dishes and food, the 50-liter bag is really too small. So we rely on stuffing items into some of the outside pockets to make it work. On both self-supported treks the backpacks have performed well, even as we have pushed them to the limit with holding all the gear. After the Overland Track in Australia we evaluated whether we needed all the trekking items that we had brought. As a result, we sent home a few things. Our tent was also shipped to our hotel in Sweden because we would not need it between the Overland Track and Kungsleden trek. The shipping cost (about $50) outweighed having lighter duffel bags and extra space for four months.
For guided trekking we need to carry only a few items while the remainder is transported by porters or animals. Examples of this are the 12-day Nepal trek and the series of Kyrgyzstan day hikes that we completed in Asia. For a guided trekking scenario, we need to be able to take a small soft-sided bag and leave our rolling duffels and daypacks behind. After researching the options, we purchased collapsible bags (the size of small gym bags) to put in items to be carried by porters.
We were able to fit in our sleeping bag, mattress pad and warm clothes for our 12-day Nepal trek (rather snugly) in the collapsible bag. While we are on guided treks, our duffel bags (with daypacks locked inside) stay behind at a hotel or tour guide office. We use our 50-liter backpacks to carry our own gear (water, snacks, camera, extra jacket, sunscreen) while trekking, and it works out nicely. When not using the collapsible bag, it folds to the size of a paperback book into our rolling duffels.
We need an entirely different wardrobe for those days at sea. Most of these items we do not need any other time during our journey. So we decided to take an extra ‘cruise bag’ each with us at the beginning of our trip when we were cruising about 50 out of the first 75 days. While we were in Australia between cruises, we left the cruise bags at a hotel in Sydney for two weeks. We arranged this by writing the hotel an email, explaining our situation, and they graciously kept our bags for free. Since we stayed there right after we arrived from the first cruise and again right before the second cruise, this minimized having to carry these bags very far.
When we arrived in Singapore after our second cruise we shipped our sea voyage wardrobe home. This was not cheap. We paid about $150 and it took 2 ½ months to get back to the U.S. However, there was no way that we could continue to carry these items around for eight months before we need them again in December.
Our plan is to get our sea voyage items brought back to us in August when we meet our family in Germany. Then we plan to ship them directly to our hotel in Rome where we are staying right before we embark on our next sea voyage to South America in December. Once we are in South America we hope to send the clothes to Santiago, Chile, where we will leave from to take our final voyage home. We have not worked out these details yet but will do so soon.
Overall, our strategy has worked well to accommodate the four different types of travel that we are undertaking during this journey. One disadvantage to this plan is moving back and forth between luggage configurations (i.e. from everyday travel to self-supported trekking and back). It is time consuming and can be frustrating. It takes the better part of an entire day to pack and unpack when we are taking self-supported treks. As we continue along we will look for any improvements that can be made to be more efficient.