We made a packing pact for our around-the-world trip: carry-on bags only.
With nearly a dozen flights on five carriers, lost luggage seemed as certain as a snuffling baby on a red-eye. So we packed like Snoopy.
Jabin used a Think Tank Airport International LE Classic roller bag, which meets most airlines’ overhead storage dimensions, and a Patagonia backpack.
His main priority was his camera gear, though he carved out space for some comfort items, such as an REI self-inflating travel pillow, a Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter Plus (for locales with questionable tap water) and Bose QuietComfort 20 headphones, his pick for Most Valuable Player.
“I was able to strip down [the devices] to the minimum without losing quality equipment,” he said. “I spent a lot of money at REI, mostly on clothes that were made for hiking and were quick-dry. The shorts all doubled as bathing suits.”
His clothing list borrowed a page from the Eagle Scout catalogue: three pairs each of pants and shorts, two T-shirts, four collared shirts and six pairs each of socks and underwear. For cameras, he brought a Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX100, a GoPro and a Nikon D5, plus several lenses. His kit of electronics included two iPhones, a power strip, a world outlet converter and a 13.3-inch Apple MacBook Pro Retina. In hindsight, he would have eliminated one pair of pants and upsized his backpack to fit souvenirs.
My packing strategy was less businesslike, more homey. I threw into a Re-Sails square duffel bag a two-season wardrobe (winter/summer) and a small pharmacy including malaria pills, bug spray, sunscreen and meds for every conceivable stomach ailment. For my personal item, I filled an L.L. Bean canvas tote with a mobile library, in-flight toiletries and an emergency canteen with miso packets, ramen, Wasa crackers, tea bags and a spoon. Since I am the Nesting Doll of Packing, I also tossed in a foldable backpack for hiking, a cross-body satchel for urban touring and an extra wallet for local currencies. My post-trip revelation: Scale back the reading material by 75 percent.
One of our greatest challenges was dressing for the extreme temperatures. In Iceland and Stockholm, we piled on the layers but still shivered. In Africa, India and Asia, we shed pieces to a respectable minimum but still sweated. For footwear, we brought sneakers and sandals (Chaco for him, Minnetonka for her) and wore them on sandy beaches, urban streets, rain forest floors and volcanic rock formations. Jabin suffered only one shoe mishap, when he slid into a muddy lake while trying to take a photo of a dragonfly. He waddled around in soggy sneaks for the remainder of the day.
My biggest misstep was forgetting hiking pants, which Jabin remembered. (Trekking in jeans in Madagascar will definitely get me evicted from the REI club.) Jabin was also the bearer of brilliant ideas, such as placing a bar of soap in his laundry bag to fend off evil odors and bringing packets of Tide detergent for the tub-o-mat. I kept our faces from melting off with cucumber-scented face towelettes.
So did our carry-on-only pact succeed? Sadly, no. In fact, our contract fell apart before we even left the States. At Dulles International Airport, the Icelandair agent judged our bags by weight, not size. Most of the other airlines also cared more about kilograms than centimeters.
From Madagascar onward, we started to willingly hand over our bags, which was partly an act of preservation: We didn’t want the ticket agent to snatch our equally heavy second carry-ons. We also reversed policy and began to add items to our luggage. In Mumbai, we snapped up shirts, dresses and a pair of shoes, behaving as if we were traveling with an extra steamer trunk and a valet. By the time we reached New York, my once-saggy duffel resembled an overstuffed sausage.
We returned home wiser about packing. Weigh your items in advance, for instance. Repeat wearings, even of socks, is not a fashion crime. Leave room for souvenirs that you never imagined buying. Airlines don’t always lose bags. And never skimp on the face towelettes.
Jabin packed for business; I packed for comfort. Here is a peek into the bags we carried around the world.
3 pairs of pants
3 pairs of shorts
4 collared shirts
6 pairs of socks
6 pairs of underwear
1 pair of Chacos
1 pair of tennis shoes
1 maroon hoodie
North Face rain jacket
Eddie Bauer down jacket
World outlet converter
1 AT&T wireless card
1 Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX100
1 Nikon D5 camera body
1 Nikon GP-1A GPS adapter
1 Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-120mm f/4G ED VR lens
1 Sigma 20mm f/1.4 DG HSM art lens
1 Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.4G lens
3 memory card readers
1 13.3-inch Apple MacBook Pro Retina
1-liter collapsible water bottle
Chargers for everything
2 three-pack Tide detergent travel sink packets
REI self-inflating travel pillow
Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter Plus
Bose QuietComfort 20 headphones
Western Digital My Passport Ultra 2TB external USB 3.0/2.0 portable hard drive
1 pair of jeans (left in India)
1 denim jacket
1 polka-dot raincoat
2 long-sleeved shirts
1 pair of shorts
1 tennis skirt
2 tank tops
8 pairs of socks
20 pairs of underwear
New Balance sneakers
3 packets of miso soup
6 packets of instant ramen noodle soup
1 sleeve of Wasa crackers
1 six-pack of raisins
Assorted tea bags
1 plastic container/soup bowl
5 New Yorker issues
Stack of newspapers
Toiletries, divided among two bags
Travel Smart All-in-One Adapter
Virgin Atlantic eye mask
Large scarf (doubles as blanket and eye mask)
Roll of Zip-loc bags
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