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Against most travelers' advice, we decided to go with carry-on suitcases instead of backpacks. The size that you couldn’t even get fined for on the strictest budget airlines. I mean, Andy’s suitcase was laughably small. I don’t think most people could handle it for a weekend getaway, much less a year-long voyage. Yet somehow it always felt like he had more clothing than I did. He’s like the Mary Poppins of international travel. It’s infuriating. I was waiting for him to pull a floor lamp out of there.
We actually started out with backpacks, but we shipped them back to the manufacturer for a full refund after our first week in Paris because they were just not working for us. That might sound crazy, but for a trip like this, your bag is the most important thing. First of all, mine was clearly too large or too heavy for me — something I didn’t fully discover until I was out in the world with it. I guess walking around your kitchen with the bag on for a little bit is different than walking aimlessly around a city for six hours waiting to check into your hotel. We found ourselves bashing into people with the packs on the metro and nearly crawling up the steeply inclined streets of Montmartre on our hands and knees.
Rolling a little bag behind you is much easier, as long as it’s light and has shoulder strap so you can pick it up and carry it when the terrain gets tough. We figured that if we were ever going out for a hike or excursion we could just leave the suitcases wherever we were based and bring day packs. That’s exactly what we did throughout all 25 countries, and it worked out beautifully.
I put up a good fight with the day pack. I was trying so hard to be a stylish world traveler, but function definitely beat form. I originally brought a leather tote bag as the general have-it-with-you-at-all-times bag for my personal items and electronics. Hey, it was functional! It had a lot of pockets and a padded shoulder strap! But in the end, it didn’t cut it. I was constantly fumbling with it. I couldn’t get my laptop out easily, and it was just too heavy on my one shoulder. I ended up ordering a Pacsafe bag and shipping it to my mom. I swapped the leather tote for the backpack when we met my parents in France. Here is the bag in action in Lake Wanaka, New Zealand.
This backpack is advertised as anti-theft, and I can now report that it absolutely is — it saved me from getting robbed in the streets of Marrakesh. Andy and I had just gotten back to the city after a three-day excursion out to the Sahara Desert (more on that later), and we were headed to a new hotel, carrying all of our bags through the shoulder-to-shoulder crowded streets of The Old Medina at night. I had this strange feeling that someone was watching me. And after plenty of pushing and shoving through the congested streets I suddenly felt my bag tug backward.
This backpack has a simple, wonderful feature where the end of the zipper hooks into a clip, so it’s essentially locked closed. This man tried to pull on that zipper and open the back pocket, but its resistance pulled me backwards. I whipped around and nearly karate chopped him, screaming obscenities, and chasing him away. I hadn’t showered in a few days, had been thrown off of a camel and nearly stomped to death, and slept on a mattress in the middle of the desert. He chose the wrong time to try and rob me.
So yeah, I really loved this bag.
After bags, the second most important items in our arsenal were packing cubes. Every time I mention these, people confuse them with those airtight, vacuum sealed packs that they used to sell on infomercials. But these are simply zippered, mesh cubes that come in a variety of sizes and keep your goods organized and slightly compressed. Even if you're not traveling for a year, you'll never go back to your old ways after using them. They’re a godsend for type A personalities…like Andy and me. With all of the navigating, quick thinking, and chaos that can come out of a day’s worth of travel, it’s really nice to know where your underpants are in your suitcase at the end of the day.
I had one full cube for bulkier items like sweaters and sweatshirts, two half-sized cubes — one for tops and one for pants — and one half-sized wet/dry cube, which is mesh on one side and waterproof on another. This was great for swimsuits, towels, and any clothing that was long overdue for a washing. And two tube-shaped cubes, one for socks and underwear and one for miscellaneous items. The key is to roll your clothes into little tubes and line them up in these cubes.
The final piece in ultimate suitcase organization was the shower kit. I really liked this one from REI because you can fit full sized bottles of product within its interior pockets, and it comes with a little makeup pouch that nests inside. Once fully unzipped, that top flap folds down and is lined with more zippered pockets. There’s a hook on the top that lets you hang the whole thing. It was super convenient to have all of my toiletries compressed into one bag, like when I was showering on moving trains.
I originally set out with all of these refillable travel-sized tubes for products. I don’t know what I was thinking. Once I filled those up, what was I going to do with the full-sized bottle of shampoo I just bought? I ended up just carrying normal-sized bottles of products in large Ziplock bags that lasted months if I gave them a good rinse every once in awhile. I also set out with a travel hairdryer and straightener. The dryer ended up going back with my mom. I embraced air drying and my slightly unruly waves, and gave my hair a much-needed break from styling tools. I eventually got my makeup routine down to mascara and chapstick. After a while, not putting that much effort into my beauty routine felt more like an indulgence than some kind of sacrifice of products.