Written by: Sara
I got this question pretty often before we left, and it's something I asked (and still ask) myself often as well. Colin and I read several blogs about what to pack, and I even have an entire Pinterest board dedicated to packing for travel (never used Pinterest for travel suggestions? Rethink your whole life!)
When I backpacked in college, I didn't have any nice gear or special hiking clothes. I got my first travel backpack for my trip to Tanzania in 2010 on eBay for $30, and I continued to use it for the next 7 years. It was great, but definitely a $30 eBay backpack. Since this trip was for much longer, I wanted to do more research and spend a little more money on gear in the beginning to (hopefully) be more comfortable in the long run.
To me, packing is a personal decision. The big question is what can you live without? It's different for everyone, so I can really only give you suggestions and tell you what we did. Hopefully it will help :) Also remember though that we are traveling for 21 months on this trip, and we need clothes and gear for both warm weather and cold weather. You can pack way less if you only need items for one or the other.
The two most important things when choosing what to pack:
Sometimes when I meet other backpackers, it seems as though it's a competition -- who can travel with the least amount of stuff? Sometimes I catch myself getting drawn into the competition too. The truth is, in the "real" world when I'm not traveling, I'm a little high maintenance. I loved getting my nails done every 2 weeks. I loved buying new Lululemon. I loved expensive coffee after my barre or spin workout at my gym. But when I'm traveling, simplicity is key. I'm trying to find a balance between cost, comfort, and cuteness. Sometimes I have the least amount of stuff in a group, and sometimes I have the most. I'm learning to live and let live :)
Ok, so let's jump into the details! Sections below are: 1) Sara's Stuff, 2) Colin's Stuff, 3) Gear & Electronics, and 4) Stuff we use to pack it all up (backpacks, packing cubes, etc.).
1) Sara's Stuff:
The blue and white toiletry bag is for all of my shower supplies:
The big black Sephora toiletry bag is for all of my personal toiletries:
2) Colin's Stuff:
3) Gear & Electronics:
4) Stuff we use to pack it all up:
On a travel day, I have 3 bags: My big backpack, my little backpack, and my purse. Colin has his big backpack, his little backpack, and his hat (since he doesn't want it to get crushed). It's a lot to carry, but it's doable. Here's what we look like walking around the airport:
Big Backpack - Hers: Osprey Farpoint 70L
Big Backpack - His: Mystery Ranch Ravine 50L
Organizing Your Stuff
Let's talk in general about organizers. They are life changing! I have never traveled with them before, but they are amazing. What do you need and why?
Below are some links and info on everything we use.
Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter™ Compression Cube Set (S/M)
Eagle Creek Pack-It™ Compression Sac Set S/M/L
6 Piece Tresutopia Waterproof Luggage Organizer Set
YAMIU Travel Shoe Bags
Here's what my clothes look like when they are all packed up:
I've said it before, but these are all merely suggestions. You do you when it comes to packing :)
Comment below with any questions or other suggestions!
Written by: Colin
I spent 3 full days shopping around for travel insurance ruining my recent lasik by pouring through countless pages of fine print. I had at least 50 tabs open to try to compare information but ultimately turned to good ol’ fashioned paper and pencil and cold calling the companies. In this post, I’ll cover how we chose our insurance, what level of coverage we chose, and pitfalls that I’d love for you to avoid. A strong word of advice is to become extremely familiar with the fine print of the plan you end up choosing because if you do not follow their terms and conditions perfectly, you will be left with the fat bill.
We ended up purchasing 2 different plans. For travel medical insurance, we chose IMG’s Patriot International plan with a $500k limit, $0 deductible, and the Adventure Sports package add on. For personal property insurance, we chose USAA’s tailored renter’s insurance.
A brief case for purchasing travel insurance
I’ll be a bit harsh and say you are dumb not to purchase travel insurance. With all the time, effort, and money you’ve poured into orchestrating an extensive trip, an injury, sickness, or the loss of your gear can easily kill everything. For about $125 per month, we’re both fully covered for any big problems on our trip. Bottom line, this should be considered a required cost for extended travel.
Determining the type of coverage you need
There is a sea of companies offering a dizzying number of insurance types. The devil is certainly in the detail and unfortunately, I did not find any comparison site that adequately compared options or offered unbiased critiques. Here are some factors to decide to help narrow down the field.
Duration of coverage is a key factor and can be broken into short term (<1 month), mid length (<6 months), and long term (6+ months). Some plans are geared towards the big spending short term traveler and the plan’s benefits are sweeter and best for a strict schedule traveler with a lot of prepaid, upfront expenses. The mid length traveler plans scale back some benefits and assume the traveler has a bit more flexibility in their schedule. Long term plans assume even greater flexibility in a traveler’s schedule and offer plans that can be purchased to cover 12 months at a time. Many companies target certain segments only so for a long term trip like ours, their plans were either astronomically expensive or only available for 2 to 3 months at a time. I certainly did not want to have to buy new coverage every 2 months.
The second major factor to consider is whether you need trip cancellation coverage. This means that if you have paid for a good chunk of the trip before going and some unforeseen problem arises that causes you to cancel the trip, those prepaid, non-refundable expenses will be reimbursed. This coverage is quite expensive and significantly drives up the overall cost. For Sara and me, we want to be flexible and aren’t in a rush, so we do not book much in advance and if we had to cancel something, we wouldn’t lose much. Top of the line Cadillac insurance plans typically include trip cancellation insurance but your overall cost can double and even triple.
The next factor to consider is the total coverage and deductible. Emergency evacuation, long term hospitalization, or extended illnesses can get extremely costly. I read many articles on the topic and the consensus is that travelers should have a minimum of $100k total coverage out of their travel insurance. In the plan we ultimately chose, the most advantageous price point was to increase our cost by $8 per month to increase our total coverage to $500k each. Deductibles also have a dramatic effect on overall cost and typically range from $0 to $2,500. Plans with $0 deductibles were about twice the total cost of plans with $2,500 deductibles but filing one claim would be almost 4 times the cost of the insurance itself. Unfortunately, few companies give you the ability to choose different coverage levels and deductibles, therefore requiring you to shop around a lot between companies.
Lastly, I wanted insurance that would cover Sara and me in adventure sports like diving, mountain biking, spelunking, parasailing, skiing, etc. These sports come with more risk so many companies do not want to get into this market. This requirement significantly narrowed down our list of options.
Comparing companies and plans
There is no easy way to compare insurance companies and their plans. In addition, the water is muddied by biased reviews and guerrilla marketing. One company in particular, World Nomads, appears to sponsor many travel bloggers to write glowing reviews of their service. Oddly, the only positive reviews were in syrupy sweet posts on travel blogs that also had blatant advertising banners for World Nomads. Outside of these high profile blogs, every other public review source had nightmarish reviews of the company’s poor performance and service.
However, reviews must be taken with a grain of salt because there’s not much impetus to write positive reviews online and the insurance industry operates on the slim chances that the insurance will ever be needed. As a result, most customers pay for the insurance but never use it. The small percentage of folks who do use it have bigger concerns than posting a review of the service online. Generally, the reason you’d post a review is if you had a poor experience and the worse the experience, the more likely you are to post a review. Positive reviews are rare but to me, hold more weight.
World Nomads has a slick website and easy interface, is endorsed by Lonely Planet and National Geographic, and underwritten by Nationwide Insurance. I thought they’d be the easy choice until I started to dig through online reviews. The horror stories in these forums scared me. As a result, I entered this pattern where I’d read terrible reviews about World Nomads then turn to the headache inducing task of trolling other insurance companies’ websites, give up after making no progress, return to World Nomads and find a new forum of even worse reviews, then troll through more confusing websites and fine print to compare other companies. I completed this cycle 5 or 6 times until I finally picked up the phone to go over coverage options line by line. Note that there are plans and great addons that aren’t listed online.
By this time, I’d tossed out World Nomads as a brilliant advertising company but terrible insurance company. After calling a few, IMG came out on top by meeting all our essential criteria and allowing customers to choose coverage limits and deductible amounts. However, the hang up was that their plan didn’t cover any personal property from theft and had far too low of reimbursements for lost luggage. Our life is in our packs so losing these puts a big dent in our travel plans.
At this point, I began researching personal property insurance. Many companies shy away from insuring electronics since they are prime targets for theft and easily damaged. It was easy to find companies willing to insure our stinky clothes and dirty packs but insurance for electronics was rare and expensive. Luckily, we’d already bought accidental damage insurance for our major electronic items so renter’s insurance was a great option since it covers theft but not accidental damage for all items we’re traveling with. My easiest option for renter’s insurance was to stick with USAA which I’ve been happy with for the past 6 years.
As a result, with IMG covering our travel medical needs, and USAA covering our items, I sincerely hope our bases are covered. I also hope to never have to use either plan but if we do, I’ll update everyone on how each company performs and post a review online...
Written by: Colin
Be free. Go minimalist. Whatever your mantra, parting with your home goods can be invigorating and frustrating. Our goal was to avoid needing to rent a storage unit for two years while we travelled and it was a good opportunity to simplify and reset furniture and wardrobe-wise. We used Craigslist, Ebay, and our friend network to sell most of our furniture and electronics. The rest we gave away or donated.
Craigslist for Furniture
Surprisingly, the IKEA furniture was the quickest to sell. Within 2 days of posting on Craigslist, nearly all the IKEA was gone. Big ticket items were slower to move, and Craigslist was not an effective platform for higher end items. $200 was the inflection point for furniture on Craigslist. Furniture under $200 sold within a few days but we had to field a lot of silly questions for information already listed in the posting and persevere through a lot of spam and scam attempts. Our advice for Craigslist posts is to list out all applicable information about the item in bullet format. Avoid hollow superlatives like awesome, perfect, gorgeous and do not overuse capitalization or punctuation. Convey the information clearly and concisely but include a little personalization so your post doesn’t seem computer generated.
Regarding scams, by adhering to cash or Venmo only and in person transactions, you’ll avoid the common ones. If a story or request seems fishy or too good to be true, it is, and don’t waste your time or expose any information. You’ll get some odd stories and requests to mail items or be paid with certified checks. These are scams and the typos make them even more sketchy. If the person isn’t willing to meet in person, it’s not worth your time. Also, though it’s not common, watch for counterfeit cash. We didn’t have a problem with this, but there are fake bills floating around.
Overall, Craigslist is really not as sketchy as the internet hypes it up to be. We sold the bulk of our items on Craigslist and met a lot of interesting people who genuinely just wanted decent used furniture. It’s an effective platform but requires some maintenance and patience for communication. In the end, if you still have things to get rid of but can’t donate, listing these for free on Craigslist will make your phone melt with texts and calls. This is a good option over hiring someone for junk removal.
Build a website
Selling through friend networks was the better option for higher end furniture. We built a website for free through Weebly and posted links to Facebook so that it was easy to browse through what we had left. This generated consistent and reliable interest on higher end pieces of furniture and we kept some of our favorite pieces within friend networks so we know they went to good homes! Out of consideration for folks, keep this updated with what’s already sold so that you don’t waste folks’ time asking about items that were no longer available.
Donating and giving away
Habitat for Humanity is a great option for furniture while Goodwill will take your extra clothing and assorted home wares. Make sure to get receipts from these folks to back up the donations on your taxes if you itemize. It’s a good feeling to donate these items and a lot easier than haggling with individual buyers but be wary of the financial tradeoff as well. For tax purposes, items are generally valued on a generic scale so if you haven’t been able to sell an item for at least the value you’d get on your tax return, you’re better off financially to donate the item.
We had a lot of fun parting with our clothes and knick-knacks we’d collected over the years by throwing a “house-cooling” party. On our last day, we set out everything we’d planned to donate in flea market style and invited friends over to take whatever they wanted. We handed out shopping bags and koozies at the door and anything in sight was up for grabs. We loved seeing how excited folks got finding some of our treasures and were glad to pass along the enjoyment to our friends.
Craigslist for Cars
We successfully sold a car on Craigslist! This type of transaction is much more serious than cash transactions for furniture and should be treated accordingly. Do your research online for methods, procedures, paperwork, and potential buyers. Kelley Blue Book (KBB) is a great place to start to give you a ballpark value for your vehicle if selling to a dealer or private party. We got a quote from a Mazda dealer and they did a terrible job. They had the wrong engine size and specs and gave a silly low quote as a result. KBB got us closer since we entered the specs ourselves. The caveat though was the after-market improvements to the vehicle aren’t handled well by KBB. By comparing to other similar cars, we were able to get a solid price estimate building off the KBB quote.
The beauty of Craigslist is that it opens up a much larger market for the sale of your vehicle. It ended up that there was a buyer a state away looking for the exact color, model, engine, and after-market improvements that we had to offer. As a result, the transaction was swift and clean. Check your specific state’s requirements for private vehicle sales. You may have to take a trip to the title and tag office to get a lien-free title and close your vehicle registration. Plan ahead and allow ample time for the government so that this isn’t the bottleneck for the transaction. Also, do your research on the buyer. It’s very easy to dig up folks on Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. By the time the guy came to buy the car, we already knew what school he went to and who his parents were in case something didn’t work out the way it should’ve. Our last word of advice is to complete the transaction during bank business hours so that you can call the person’s bank to verify that the certified check is valid and there are sufficient funds to complete the transaction.
Written by: Colin
Visas were by far the most challenging piece of planning for travel. We wish we’d started collecting these a year sooner instead of wasting time with Pokemon Go. Visas take a lot of precise planning, paperwork, and can get very expensive. We learned a lot of lessons in planning and tricks to help others out in the future. Another challenge is that countries are constantly changing their requirements. Reciprocity is the standard where if the US charges another country’s citizens to enter the US or has a lot of paperwork requirements, that country will do the same for American citizens. The era of Trump made visas even less predictable as countries mirror the travel limitations Trump enacts.
We collected visa requirement information for every country that’s reasonably safe to visit from the US State Department website and each country’s US embassy website. Be prepared for frustration and unclear requirements and translations. To acquire visas for these 160 countries, it would’ve costed us about $6,000 each for just the fees on the visas, not including any additional expedite fees, photos, and mailing costs. Many countries give you the option of acquiring a visa at the border or online. In this post though, we’ll focus on the countries that require you to get a visa in advance by mailing your passport to embassies or consulates. At the time of this post, about 40 countries require visas in advance with varied requirements for application time frames, paperwork, and itineraries. For those visas, you must send off your visa to an embassy or have someone personally walk in the passport. Those 40 countries account for $4,100 of the visa costs and most were in Central Asia and Africa. We rearranged our macro travel plans to give us more time to acquire visas and scaled back our expectations for what’s feasible or within the budget.
Get a Second US Passport
If you need more than 5 visas or are in a rush, get a second US passport as soon as possible. It’s not advertised or common but the US allows folks to get a second passport to help with visas and to strategically use certain passports in certain countries to avoid being blocked in the Middle East after visiting Israel. The second passport is only good for 2 years and costs the same as a standard passport renewal ($110 each). There are accurate instructions for the steps online. Google these and follow them precisely.
With a second passport, you can travel with one passport while the other is sent around to collect visas for your next continent. The tricky part is shipping around the world and making sure you use the right passport in the right order at border crossings to not freak out border patrol personnel. There are also clear guides on Google for how to do this.
Since it takes so long to collect visas for western African countries, we mapped out our plan to travel with our primary 10 year passport while the secondary passport collects visas for a year straight. We’ll coordinate shipping the passports internationally to family friends in Israel and then travel with the 2 passports thereafter. The additional benefit here is that even with passports with additional pages, we’re concerned about running out of space since many countries require 2 open pages for visas and additional space for stamps. Two passports with extra pages assuages this concern.
Itineraries for Visa Applications
Many countries require an itinerary with plane flights and some even require hotel information. If you are planning a long trip with multiple countries, you shouldn’t have flights booked and dates set in stone yet in order to give yourself some flexibility. This presents a big paperwork challenge for getting visas. You have a couple options for satisfying this paperwork requirement. First, I’ve read that it’s not necessary to actually book a flight and you can use screen shots of potential itineraries from Google Flights for instance but have not tried this because we don’t have the time to risk a visa rejection. Second, you can actually book the flight and get a real itinerary and ticket number and then cancel the flight for a refund. It’s now an FAA requirement that air travel passengers have the ability to cancel a flight within 24 hours of booking for a full refund. I’ve heard of friends using this rule to purchase a flight, use the real itinerary for paperwork, then cancel the flight within 24 hours for a full refund. This tactic requires a credit card with a large enough cap to float multiple expensive plane flights. If you don’t have the credit flexibility, there’s an industry that’s popped up to help. There are a few companies who take on the credit risk for a fee to the traveler. They book the flight and/or hotel so that you have a real ticket number and you pay them $5 to $10 for the service.
A few more miscellaneous tips:
Written by: Colin
Make money off your spending! Be deliberate about the credit cards you bring with you on your travels. Make sure you don’t have a card that charges international fees. Balance the card types so that you get 2% to 3% returns from your spending. There are countless blogs and entire companies dedicated to smart use of credit card points and benefits. My simple guidance here is to work the numbers. Apply your budget and gauge how much you realistically think you’ll be able to put on a credit card in far off places. Don’t be fooled by big perks and sign on bonuses but monster annual fees for a card you aren’t able to use as much. There’s a sweet spot for spending and perks and your spending patterns on a long term trip won’t be like the folks who can bounce through credit cards and earn free first class flights and hotel stays in 5 star resorts. My advice is to build up points in advance and keep it simple while on the road so that you can focus on bigger things.
After a lot of research, we ended up pairing the Chase Sapphire Reserve for all travel and dining expenses with USAA’s 1.5-2.5% cash back rewards card for everything else. This lets us both keep some credit history while getting better returns on all types of spending without too much headache of watching categories. At the time of this post, the Chase Sapphire was offering 100k points with a number of other outstanding travel benefits coupled with a hefty $450 annual fee. On the other hand, the USAA cash card had no fee and simple cash back returns with no foreign transaction fees which are less common for cash back cards.
Written by: Colin
To keep your backpack locked up, there’s not many options out there. The one reasonable hit on Google is Pacsafe’s security web. After some research, we chose not to use these. Though it gives you a sense of security, it won’t keep out anyone with determination. Simple tools can snip the wires and the gaps between the webbing are large enough to fit your hand through. Even with this nifty contraption, if someone wants what you have in your backpack, they’re going to get it. The sense of security is valuable though if it allows you to enjoy yourself away from your bag. My concern is that having the large, noticeable, lock system draws more attention and let’s folks know that you have things that are worth locking up therefore making you a target. Using some caution, keeping a low profile, and keeping your bag dirty may be a better method. I’ll follow up though after we’ve put some miles into the book.
Sara used Furkot to map out the USA road trip, but we didn't find it very user-friendly. However, it gave a picture of what our trip will look like (Google Maps only allows 10 stops at a time):
Our loose plan is for this to take 2 months with a few days spent in each city and a bit longer in the parks out west.
Written by: Colin
Lonely Planet's Where to go When
Intended Audience week-long warriors in need of inspiration with money to spend and clear travel plans
Writing Style succinct, illustrative, tour brochure with helpful pro tips for each location
Pros great for figuring out what to do and where to go in a particular month with inspiring pictures and exciting adventures
Cons very challenging and downright tedious to use to collect information to inform you what regions of the world you want to go to and when
Travel the World Without Worries
Intended Audience dreamers on the beach or in the bathroom who need some inspiration and friendly recommendations
Writing Style a common style for travel books that strings together blog posts into a book for easy reading and easing into the idea of travel
Pros great nuggets of travel information and logistics embedded within the book and if you need the final push to pull the trigger on a trip, this book will do it
Cons this book's 260 pages can be condensed into 20 pages of content and infographics. The content is a bunch of ctrl+c, ctrl+v from the author's blog but the anecdotes offer some fun color to the content
Intended Audience academics and folks with a travel bug who want to up their trivia and coffee table and game
Writing Style this is an atlas, an encyclopedia with deep information about many obscure places in the world
Pros engaging content that successfully portrays the complexity and oddities of people and places around the world - great for finding an off the wall adventure around the globe
Cons we added a handful of places to go and events to see but this book is more intended for ongoing learners and high end, targeted travelers
Atlas of Improbable Places: A Journey to the World's Most Unusual Corners
Intended Audience deep learners, explorers, and those who seek out truly rare, exclusive, and unique experiences
Writing Style robust content with detailed images and maps to augment the text
Pros fascinating places that show the ingenuity and devious side of mankind in a format that's easy to consume and pick up and put down
Cons many places in this book are simply out of reach for plebs like us requiring either key connections or some money to grease the wheels - best of luck to everyone!
Sara & Colin
We are figuring out our travel as we go along, and we'd love to help you out with yours! If you want to read more of our travel thoughts, check out each of our personal blogs by clicking the images below.