What's Inside My Backpack for Europe, and Beyond
Miami Beach, United States
Cataloging the current set of gear inside my pack and sharing it publicly is actually something I enjoy quite a bit. It's my perception that not enough travelers share the innards of their mobile homes, or talk specifics in any great quantity to spark ideas, or satisfy the curiosity of others.
The United States is my refueling depot. It's so amazingly easy for me to get new things or replace worn-out regulars here that it makes for a great opportunity to assess what I've got, what works, what doesn't, and make adjustments—and while I'm at it, take a few snapshots.
My bag is quite organized, with similar items (other than clothing) grouped into ditty bags (aka stuff sacks). Sloppy packing takes up a lot of additional space, and having lived out of a backpack since 2005, I've gotten very, very good at creating an organizational hierarchy in my pack that works for me.
Note: Some items are placed together in the images below for the purposes of presentation (to keep the number of pictures on the page in check).
A lot has and hasn't changed from the write-up in did in 2007 (Latin America Backpack Equipment Essentials), and I've either accumulated a lot more crap since then, or intentionally omitted a portion of my gear from the photos last year. But if you've got a specific question about an item that I didn't address in enough detail here, please give that page a quick check, as I likely wrote about it there.
Now, let's open up my backpack and see what's inside…
A Lonely Planet guidebook for Eastern Europe, and a freebie laminated foldout (double-sided) pictograph communication tool—you point at objects, or combine them, to ask questions when the verbal and physical communication barrier is too great.
I always cover my guidebooks (to keep people from confirming what they probably already know I'm glancing through).
Water and Bug Protection
A rain-fly for my backpack; a light, water resistant jacket (designed for cyclists); a slim, compact umbrella; a mosquito net; and a non-DEET-based mosquito repellant.
Wearing a poncho in the tropics will get you as wet as the rain (from all your sweat). I use an umbrella 99% of the time, and the jacket as a backup or an extra layer for cold weather.
Locks and (a Sense of) Backpack Security
A sturdy bag that holds all of my locks and the such; seven padlocks that use keys; three padlocks that use a combination; a keychain compass; two keychain mini-lights; a homemade security cable for securing my backpack; and a Kensington slot cable lock for securing my laptop.
I carry such a wide variety of locks because there are such a wide variety of mechanisms that need to be locked. I'd love to carry only one universal lock around, but sometimes I need to lock a closet (which that big guy is great for), or the cubbyhole at a hostel. They're all used with enough regularity that I keep 'em handy.
Health and Hygiene
My blue bag is my medical bag. It looks like a lot, but it packs down small enough. Inside are the general items for dental, eye, ear, and nail care. I've got hair now, so I'm carrying a little brush—though have keenly broken the plastic handle off to save space.
I'm practically a mobile pharmacy these days, though I don't get ill often. Usually when I need to buy something from a pharmacy I get another regiment of pills (or whatever) after I've overcome the problem, and keep it in my pack for next time—if there's a next time. I usually forget what the various medications and their long, cryptic medical names (some written in Spanish and Thai) actually do when the time comes to look for the solution to an ailment in my blue bag, so I've started writing down their purpose on a sheet of paper that I keep in there.
Tiger balm is flat out one of the best things you can keep in your pack. It's topical pain relief that I've used to treat a range of issues—from ankle sprains to insect bites. Chewable Pepto-Bismol is awesome, and can be tucked away and stored wherever—like the earplugs I've decided to add to the pouch (enough for the entire family!).
I'm going to be eating like crap many days in Eastern to save on money, so I'm bringing along some vitamins. And yes, you'll need a drain stopper for washing clothes and other things—get one.
Clothespins, nylon cord for a clothesline, and powered laundry detergent. You might have access to a washing machine, but a dryer is almost certainly out of the question. Locals use the sun, and so shall you.
Current taps are extremely useful in budget rooms that have no outlets. Using one gives me a pair out outlets by screwing it between a light bulb and the socket. A second one with a funky design was picked up last year for use with the matching funky sockets found throughout SE Asia.
Outlet multipliers (110-240v), plug adapters, and rechargeable batteries (AAA and AA) with recharger are all common travel gear, but the immersion heater is a great piece of kit that allows me to bring water to a boil in less than a minute.
Nine 512MB SD cards (though I'd now strongly recommend getting extra thumb drives over extra SD cards); flexible tripod; digital camera (Nikon P5000); extra battery; charger; and wide-angle lens (that's actually for a video camcorder, but I just hold with one hand in front of the camera).
I finally took the plunge and invested in a laptop. With it, I'm finally able to better manage Travelvice, and watch pirated movies. If Tatiana hadn't picked up a laptop of her own, I'd still be carrying around the (excellent) PDA/keyboard setup as a backup. Note the nifty surge protector.
A mini-optical mouse; earbud headphone and microphone for use with Skype calls (always carry your own headset); thumb drives for use with Internet cafés (load your own portable apps onto it); iRiver T60 MP3 player; USB cable; 160GB external drive (encrypted); and a retractable Ethernet cable with crossover adapter. The Ethernet cable is perfect for connecting directly to a hub or modem, or sharing the Internet connection from Tatiana's laptop, which has superior Wi-Fi range (almost like using her laptop as an external antenna).
I figured out the hard way that it's better to carry a little extra weight in your pack with a replacement, than it is to do without, or have it purchased back home and shipped to you (very expensive). Keeping that in mind, I've got some general electronics sitting towards the bottom of my pack that I don't use very often, but are there in the event that I need them.
A Canon PowerShot A530 (that runs off of two AA batteries); fisheye lens (one of these days I'm going to drop and crack the other); a USB memory card reader that also includes a 3-port USB hub; male-male audio cable; thumb drive; extra headphones with a Y splitter (to share music); and a replacement battery charger for my Nikon digicam.
Bangkok mood lighting; corkscrew; spoon; pocket watch; cases for holding prescription glasses, sunglasses; laminated photos of my mom (who passed away from cancer in '97), son, and Arizona/Oregon; pocket knives; flashlight; compass; various pens and highlighters; pipe with tobacco; quick currency converter calculator (convenient until you adjust to the new mental math); and my passport and Aidric's passport with a mini-calendar (excellent when debating or calculating time in country with a border official).
Repair, Cords, and Miscellaneous Items
A roll of male and female Velcro tape (because I can never find the kind with adhesive); quick-dry glue; electrical, scotch, and duct tape (without the cardboard centers); zip-ties of various sizes; cords for lashing things up/together; eyelet screws for creating an impromptu lock on a door or hanging a clothesline; and Ziploc bags with clothing repair things (thread, needles, buttons), twist ties; picture frame wire; safety pins; rubber bands; paperclips; and lots of other little things.
I'm not going to bother talking about the clothes in my pack, as every person will pack what they feel is best for them. I've been wearing the same single pair of ink-stained shorts for over two years, but others might feel the need to pack several pair. I have excess where others don't, and vice versa.
What I am going to mention is the need for a good pair of sandals. I'm in love with my Reef Phantoms because they're light, great for wet conditions (dry quick, the rubber doesn't smell after they've gotten damp), and have the best arch support I've seen in a sandal. That being said, they're not designed for full-time wear, and because of this (and the fact that I honestly wear them roughly 360 days out of the year), I have to replace them about every five months. This will be my fifth pair, because I love them so.
So, if you haven't noticed, I'm a topics boy who hates wearing things on my feet, but if I have to, it should be sandals. I really only put on shoes about five or six times a year, but knowing full well that I'll be in Eastern Europe as late summer turns to winter, I've decided to get a new pair (at a 50% discount, thanks my friend's shoe designer boyfriend).
Bags and Towels
I can't imagine traveling without my small Dakine backpack. Purchased at a skateboard shop in San Diego in 2005, this sturdy little bag functions as the enclosure for all my valued possession when I get on a bus and can't take my main pack onboard because of space constraints. I lock the zippers with a padlock and use the skateboard straps on the front of the pack to secure a jacket (or other items) to keep my hands free. It's slated to become Aidric's around town day bag (carrying his food, change of clothes, and diapers)—yay.
A padded laptop sleeve keeps my machine from getting pounded too badly as I move about from place to place, and the waterproof Sea to Summit sacks are great for keeping electronics dry. I believe I'll donate the red one to Tatiana, as it's the correct size for her laptop.
Things I Forgot to Photograph
In the rush to get things photographed, I forgot to scoop up a few of the various items around the hotel room that are in use, or waiting to be washed. Those things include:
An orange day/beach bag; yellow shawl/sarong; bandanas; home-made extension cord; can opener; padded camera case; coiled cable lock; alarm clock; micro-fiber shower towel; quick conversions paper; and an occasionally handy pair of yarn scissors.
The Next Installment
I've got a good feeling that once we get a grip on how to backpack with Aidric (sometimes it take a few weeks to get the gear you bring sorted properly), I'll be doing a regular update on what we're carrying along with us to support a life on the road with a growing infant. Keep an eye out.