How To Pack Minimally On A Round-The-World Trip

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How efficiently can you pack for a trip around the world?

I'm going through seven different countries on five different continents in 40 days...will I run out of underwear?

If you’ve ever found yourself on a common backpacker circuit, you’ll know what I’m talking about: the sweaty 22-year old gap year kid, clad in North Face and Merrells, with 100 pounds of dead weight strapped all over them.

I don’t really understand the need for so much stuff. It looks like they weren’t quite fast enough leaving home, and mom ran after them shoving half the contents of their childhood bedroom into the 75-liter pack on their back, the contents of the kitchen into the 30-liter strapped to their chest, and the contents of the garage into their cargo pants.

In a couple weeks, I’m leaving on a round-the-world trip. I’ll be hitting Iceland, Morocco, Dubai, Cambodia, Bali, and New Zealand in a matter of six weeks (I wrote an intro to my trip here).

I picked these countries for a few reasons. Some were on my bucket list, and others were great destinations for certain airline stopovers, and New Zealand…well, it’s just my most favorite country on the earth, so it’s hard to pass it up. And all of them are photogenic, and that’s my mission: to photograph, film, and record some of the most beautiful and inspiring backpacker destinations on earth.

The potential problem for a backpacker is that these are wildly different countries with wildly different climates. Switch hemispheres, and you also switch seasons. I’ll be expecting a cool summer in the North Atlantic, a sweltering August in the Sahara and the Middle East, a steamy monsoon season in the jungle, a moderately sunny week on South Pacific beaches, and then winter down under.

So how to pack minimally? I need clothes for every season, camera gear, and a laptop for work. Add to that the fact that I’m a dedicated minimalist traveler. I don’t check bags and I prefer to keep my gear with me at all times, so it needs to be light enough to carry all day. For several years, I worked on projects in developing countries where I didn’t like my gear being out of sight, so I was forced into becoming a lightweight traveler. Some take it even further (like Rolf Potts’ no-baggage challenge where he circled the world with no baggage) but hopefully I can tread a careful medium.

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I’ve been on the search for the perfect bag for years. The first backpacking trip I took (three weeks through 13 European countries) was with a 45-liter Osprey. It’s a great bag, but far too big and far too heavy. I took way more than anyone should ever need. With each consecutive trip, I slimmed down my baggage.

I found a cool knapsack with a laptop sleeve. I bought a padded lens liner and, armed with super glue and industrial Velcro, made it into a camera bag.  (I also got some of the super glue into my eyeball, and for about an hour I was freaking out about never seeing out of my left eye again). Then I sprayed the bag down with several layers of Scotchguard for waterproofing (try it…works better than you’d think!) It’s small, light, and most importantly super fashionable. I’ll be in Dubai, after all. I’ve heard they wear Prada like the Russians wear Adidas.

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CAMERA GEAR

  • Nikon D7100 body
  • 2x batteries
  • Sigma 30mm f/1.4 lens
  • Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8 lens
  • AEE Rugged HD action cam
  • Audio-Technica lapel mic
  • Zoom H4n audio recorder
  • 5x SD cards
  • SLIK II Mini tripod

WORK GEAR

  • iPhone 6
  • international AC adapter
  • 15″ MacBook Pro Retina
  • moleskine notebook/pen

CLOTHES

It helps that I only wear a single outfit, year-round. My jeans and button-up are a universal uniform that works in the summer or winter, so all I really need is to roll up my sleeves in Bali and throw on a light jacket in Iceland.

I don’t really swim that often, but I always pack a pair of swim trunks because of hostel bathrooms. I value my privacy. I won’t let the Europeans see me in the nude. So besides the underwear, shirt, pants, and shoes that I’m wearing currently, I’ll pack:

  • 3x button-up shirts
  • 3x socks (wool)
  • 3x underwear
  • 3x t-shirts
  • 1x pants
  • 1x swim trunks

MISC

I take a little travel kit with a few ounces of pack soap, aspirin, deodorant, and toothpaste. I don’t need shaving supplies (I lost my shaving kit in Wanaka a few years ago, and discovered I could finally grow a beard).

  • hygiene bag
  • passport + documents
  • hard drive

Grand total: 18.74 lbs. Put it all together, and add a few miscellaneous items, and I shouldn’t be carrying more than 25 pounds. While that’s more weight than I’d prefer, half of it is dedicated to the bulky camera and laptop that I have to lug around.

I’m always tempted to take something more, but I’ve found that I’ve never actually needed additional items. I’m actually always wanting to discard something along the way.

Got any ideas? Have I missed anything?

– Gil Gildner

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