Top Ten things to bring on a trip around the world

  • Author: Jim Toner
  • Date: Apr 29, 2014
  • Location: Indonesia

Today we want to start a new feature to this blog—the nuts and bolts of how we pulled this whole thing off. It’s a very complicated undertaking, leading a little boy and a wife and myself around the circumference of the world, but so worth it that we want to encourage you to give it a go at some point in your life.


So, to begin, we’re each going to give our Top Ten list of the best things we’ve brought on this trip. I’ll begin.


#11: Okay, I’m already breaking the rules, but I’m adding a #11 for an item that, had I brought it, would be at the top of this list. It’s my Kindle, or any type of e-book device. Time and again I’ve had the need and desire to download a book from or about the country we’re visiting. Book stores are rare. Book stores with books in English, even rarer. Yet there are great books out there about Istanbul and Jaipur and traveling the Islamic world, about the Vietnam War and Bangkok and Michael Ondaatje’s books on living in Sri Lanka. Soon into the trip I realized this need and had my Kindle shipped to Italy, only to get so delayed en route that we were in Turkey when it finally arrived.


So there you have it—my #11: an e-reader.


#10: And now for the top ten of what I actually did bring. Coming in at #10 is… money and how to get it. Out on the road you get your money through ATMs, so I made sure I had this covered. I brought my own ATM card and a copy that Dolora carried with her; plus I brought two other credit cards that could withdraw money, if needed—and yes, there was one emergency when it was needed. That’s a total of six cards—an ATM card and its copy, plus two credit cards and their copies. Again, all the copies were in Dolora’s wallet, not mine, in case I got pickpocketed.


Two important notes: 1. Be sure to notify your bank that you’ll be using your ATM and credit cards in strange places for a year; otherwise, they’ll shut them down for fear they’ve been stolen. And 2. Get a pin code for your credit cards. That’s the only way you can use them in ATM machines.


And on the subject of money, I’m glad that I saved up money for two years to ease the money strains of traveling for a year. Later I’ll create a blog that details all you need to know about money.


#9: Packing Cubes: These was Dolora’s idea, these zippered pouches that organize your clothes into compressed cells. There are many different sizes and styles out there, but we just used two apiece: one for all the tops (shirts, raincoat, fleece jacket), the other for all the bottoms (pants, shorts, underwear, swimsuit). Though it’s not a cube, let me add here that the item in which I stored all my electronic gizmos has been a miracle. I’ll find the name of it for you, but it’s something I bought off of Amazon with even the Amazon logo on it. It has hard edges, netting, different sized compartments—all perfect to store all types of cords and batteries and drives.


#8: The neon-green sheet from REI. Though we only needed this item about 10-15 times during the year, it was crucial to shield us from gross sheets or just to keep warm. It’s a sewn cocoon of a sheet that you crawl into and can pull up over your head, if you want. We didn’t buy the expensive silk one; rather, the cotton one, for about $40.


#7: Ex officio underwear. I bought four pairs of these wonders, more than enough to keep you clean and ventilated around the world. They’re quick to dry in case you want to wash them on your own; durable; keep you comfortable in all kinds of weather; and they look good. I could’ve gotten away with 3, by the way. And if I did it again, I’d get different colors instead of all black to keep track of which ones are clean, which ones dirty. Yes, there are women’s and kids’ versions.


#6: Kuhl clothes. A wonder, these pants and shirt. I brought two shorts—one dark gray and the other khaki—that have been the perfect traveling pant: durable, easy and quick to wash, functional. I also brought only one pair of long pants, this too a dark gray Kuhl. Fantastic. I also brought two nice button-down short-sleeved shirts, one by Kuhl and the other by Prana, so I wouldn’t always look like a slob. I’ve loved them both. Oh, and all these clothes fit the highest priority, and that is that they’re light, extremely light. In everything you bring on a trip like this, you have to think weight—and durability, and ability to hide stains, and ability to go with other clothes, and ability to work in all kinds of weather.


This goes to a central piece of advice: Spend a lot of money for really good clothes and equipment. In the end you’re getting a bargain, since they’ll last you a full year.


#5: Well, this really belongs as #1, and it’s the backpack itself and the thinking behind the size I chose. The brand is Osprey, and the size is the one designed for carry-ons. Great choice. For one, we’ve saved hundreds of dollars from not having to check our bags, but more importantly, it forced us to go light, to go simple, to pare down our possessions to the bare essentials. It worked. Our maximum weight is about 10 kilos, or 22 pounds, a weight that enables us to walk long distances, if needed, especially with the padding and straps that come with the Osprey.  10 kilos is also the limit for carry-ons on most airlines, though few actually do the weighing.


More than the bag is the way of thinking. Go small, go light, go simple. You don’t need all those things. Those things will weigh you down—literally and figuratively. It becomes a fun game: how little and how lightly can I travel for a long time.


This consideration of size and weight comes first. All other decisions—shoes? books? clothes?—follow from this first guideline.


Size, weight, durability, function, style. Those are your mantras, all governed by the over-arching mantra of Simple, Simple, Simple. Less is more. Less is liberating.


#4: Macbook Air. I spent a lot of time and anguish figuring out the best gizmo to bring. At first I considered my old Mac laptop, but it was nearly 3 pounds and big and clunky. Then I considered iPads of both sizes, even buying them to try out for two weeks. In the end, this Macbook Air was the answer. It’s barely a pound (more weight comes from this great black and cushioned case, made by CaseCrown); it’s durable; it recharges in a blink; and it does everything fast and reliable. In short, it’s a miracle machine for what I’ve needed it for—photos, movies, internet, word processing. The keyboard works for my fingers; the 11-inch screen works for my eyes. A piece of advice: get the maximum memory. I went half-way and been forced to use external hard drives.


#3: My two pairs of shoes. Again a reminder that weight and durability and multiple functionality are primary concerns on a trip like this. Two shoes do all of that, and more. The first are my flip flops, black “Mush” brand made by Tevas. They’re incredible—for comfort, for durability, for price. I think they were $25, and for that price I’ve worn them for thousands of hours in every type of terrain, and with a little black duct tape, they’re still going strong. Get them. And obviously, they’re super light.


Ok, but the real treasure are my Keens. I’ve been a fan of Keens ever since they came out about 10 years ago, and now even more so. It’s the only shoe you need on this trip. They have traction for the trails of the Himalayas; they grip in wetness when we crossed boulders in a stream in Laos; the toes are rubber tipped to protect against the uneven pavement of the world; and they’re breathable for all those days in the tropics. An amazing shoe. Some of its stitching came undone, but the world outside of America is full of street cobblers ready to fix such things for a dollar.


Keens and Tevas. That’s all you need. Believe me.


Oh, the Osprey pack has pouches on the outside to fit either brand snugly.


#2: The miracle of miracles, the iPhone. Mine is 4s, which worked just fine, and I encased it in a rugged Otter case that’s been put to the test on many hard surfaces. This amazing machine that fits into my left pocket has been our only camera—and a really good camera at that—which interfaces easily with iPhoto on my laptop. That alone would justify its use—but of course it’s so much more. In every country I’ve inserted a SIM card, and away I go for all phone calls and all web use. In other words, through the iPhone I’ve figured out where to stay every night, how to get there, who would pick us up, what the weather is like, who’s getting a hold of me via email or texting, and on and on. Plus, I’ve used it for GPS when I rented a car in Greece and Turkey—yes! it knows all the tiny roads in those countries—and I’ve used the compass and GPS when I’ve gotten lost walking the streets of Hanoi and Istanbul. Need I go on? I’ve used it to record Tibetan monks in Katmandu and my friend Noel in Sri Lanka. Last night I used it with Liam to identify the stars and planets of the night sky. What a miracle—and a tiny miracle, so it’s with me at all times for a quick photo, a quick recording, a quick email.


I can’t emphasize it enough: the iPhone has made this trip a thousand times more possible. I’m old enough to recall traveling with thick and heavy guide books, then making clumsy phone calls with coins that were a struggle to find, and having little idea how to get from here to there. I have zero nostalgia for those days.


So spring for a good smart phone. The world is ready for you. The world is wired. And apart from America, the world’s internet is cheap, reliable, and ubiquitous.


#1: Drum roll please…. The most crucial thing to bring along with you on a year-long trip around the world… are the right people.


I’m stealing this idea from Liam. He mentioned it casually the other day, and immediately the truth resonated in me. Yes, who cares about your Osprey pack and your Keen shoes and your iPhone if you’re traveling mates are whiners, are fearful, are boring, are reclusive.


We’ve been a mighty trio. We’re quick to meet the world, to chat with strangers and to strike up friendships. We’re alert to the scams out there without getting paranoid or withdrawn.


You need a me. You need a master organizer, someone willing and able to surf the net for hotels and trains and visas, someone on top of all those concrete nuts-and-bolts while also having a firm hand on the budget.


You need a Dolora, someone who is generally optimistic and delightful, someone eager to meet others and to explore new foods and customs. Plus, she’s funny, she’s smart, she’s playful, she’s eloquent, she’s savvy, she’s pretty, she’s flexible, she’s able to sigh at the occasional disappointment and make do with it. She’s a good friend, and you need a good friend on a trip like this.


You need a Liam. He’s 11, the perfect age for traveling. He’s sociable, seldom whines, is seldom sick in any way, is quick to converse with all nationalities and with all ages, is sturdy enough to climb the Himalayas, is a kid who loves and enjoys his parents, is optimistic even in dingy circumstances.


And it’s been nice to travel with the number 3. With three you can sometimes be alone,  can sometimes pair up with whomever you want, can most often be a jolly group. More than 3 and it gets cumbersome to move the whole train.


Mainly, though, whether it’s 2 or 3 or more, it’s the people themselves who must have the right disposition and flexibility and intelligence, and the right respect for a unpleasant thing like a budget.


All in all, I couldn’t create better companions than Dolora and Liam.




So that’s it for my first Top Ten. Let’s hope that my other duo chimes in with their list, too. And let me know if this kind of list is useful, and whether there are other topics you’d like us to address.






  1. Stacey Finch

    I am curious as well about what you might have regrets in bringing or found that in fact you did not need.
    Great list, thank you for adding these tips and the wisdom that goes with them.

  2. Joe Garcia

    We went to Vegas one year and forgot to notify our bank…Bad Mistake. When we went to check out, the card was declined.

  3. Adam Robertson

    I was mentally comparing your top-ten list to a similar list I made six years ago. Although a light-weight sleeping bag and good socks were at the top of my list, I did have the same idea that the quality of the people you bring along was one of the most important considerations.

    Ironically, my list had no electronics.

    I would be curious to hear about things you DID bring but later found to be unnecessary.

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