OK, so here’s the thing. When we first started travelling, our philosophy was “far better to buy the cheapest cheapest clothing and replace it frequently, than buy absurdly expensive gear and run the risk of it getting ruined somehow” (or stained with soy sauce, as my clothes are wont to do).
Then Hong Kong happened – where we were living in a 24-square-metre apartment with the humidity of a tropical rainforest and the window-opening capabilities of a prison. We’d wash our clothes, hang them to dry, and wait four days to find them still wet but also stinky.
After Hong Kong came our obsession with minimalism. We wanted to be able to carry around as little stuff as possible – purely because it feels so amazing.
Add to this the fact that our clothes would literally be in tatters before we’d do anything about it (we hate shopping – even online shopping) and we realised we should just bite the bullet and buy some fabulous lightweight technical gear with the intention of never ever needing to buy clothes again.
Last year we began the process of purchasing a few quick-dry t-shirts, but we used our recent trip to NYC as an excuse to go all out and replace practically everything we own with “proper” stuff. A lot of it cost a bomb, but like I said: we’re never buying clothes ever again after this.
Here’s my packing list (Rob’s will follow soon):
(I have the all-black version.)
When, at the age of 31, my biggest mission in life is “to be comfortable – is that too much to ask?”, I need to worry about what I’ll be like at 60. I’m talking PJs comfortable. Leggings comfortable. Naked comfortable.
And as much as I loved my American Eagle skinny jeans – which were incredibly lightweight and stretchy as jeans go – I still found myself tearing them off as soon as I got home. They’d itch my back when I sat down, and – because I have no hips and refuse to wear a belt – they’d start sliding down when I walked (giving me that awful “saggy crotch” look unless I hoisted them up every five seconds). They were always giving me wedgies, and I’d have to undo a button whenever I ate a big meal. You could argue that I should eat smaller meals, but… oh, shut up.
So my two pairs of jeans have been replaced by other pants that really are “naked comfortable” – although hopefully they’re marginally more acceptable in public.
The first is these Lululemon Skinny Groove Pants. Apparently they have “four-way stretch” and are “sweat-wicking”. They wash well, dry quickly, and are the comfiest things I’ve ever owned.
I actually bought these in-store rather than online, because we lived down the street from a Lululemon at the time. And I’ll tell you… if every store were more like Lululemon stores, I’d start shopping as a hobby like normal people. The staff are the happiest, most helpful people I’ve ever come across. They explain the product I’m about to buy and why it’s so awesome, they tell me all about tomorrow’s free in-store “candlelit yoga and wine evening”, and they come by my fitting room every few minutes to say “Hey Mish! How’s it going in there? Is there anything I can do for you?” It can be a bit much – and apparently the way they hire staff is quite culty and weird – but it sucked me right in.
I’m nearly 600 words in and I’ve only described one product. Time to move on…
(I have the grey version.)
Warning: don’t let anyone at Athleta get their hands on your email address…
If you’re willing to overlook that major annoyance, Athleta’s products are fab. They’ve pretty much copied everything Lululemon does – from the cute little logo that you find on the clothing all the way through to the ridiculously friendly staff and in-store events.
This is the first time I’ve worn high-waisted since I was about five, and I’m loving it: there isn’t a muffin top in sight.
The great thing about these leggings is that the pockets on the back make sure they don’t look too “leggingy”:
They’re intended as “workout-to-work” wear, but I can only imagine them as workout wear in the Arctic: they’re very thick and warm.
(I have the grey version.)
I have close to 100% cuddleability when I wear this. It looks much better in real life: knitted rather than sweatshirty. And there are small zips down the sides that I play with when I’m feeling antsy.
(By the way, it cost me $89.99. By the time I found it online, I was so fed up with trying to find a sweater I liked that I didn’t even notice the price. When it arrived and I saw how much it cost, I had such a lengthy laughing fit that Rob genuinely feared for my sanity. I wear it the whole time but jeez, when did I become the person who thought it was OK to spend $90 on a sweater?)
(I have one in black, although it doesn’t seem to be available at the moment.)
You know what I was saying about Athleta and emails? After seeing this screenshot, it’ll come as no surprise to you that Athleta is owned by Gap:
There’s nothing really special about the cardigan: it’s thin and black, and it’s useful for shoving in my bag in summer.
(I have one in grey and one in blue.)
This lightweight top dries in super-quick time. It’s also long enough to cover my arse – which I feel is necessary because I’m now wearing more legging-like pants rather than pants-pants, and I don’t want to be featured in any of those “Don’t Wear It Like…” magazine articles.
When they say “low-arm tank”, what they mean is that the holes for your arms are very large. So you’ll need to wear a nice sporty bra underneath.
(I have one in aqua and one in pale pink.)
These are slightly bulkier than my Athleta tops, but for any regular person they’re still lightweight as anything. They’re quite low at the back, so I’ve experienced some good ol’ comedy sunburn wearing them.
Tip: no size is too small. I’ve got the XS and I still look like I’ve raided my obese grandfather’s closet. (I know that’s the style, but this seems a bit extreme.)
(I have the blue one.)
I’ve had this t-shirt for a couple of years and it’s holding up well. Rohan is UK-based, but they do international shipping.
(I have a pair in black.)
This is a purchase I’m still unsure about. I wanted something really lightweight that would take up hardly any room when rolled up in my packing cube, and these shorts definitely fulfil those requirements. They also have “grommet holes” and gauze pocket linings so that I can wear them in the water – something I’ve never wanted to do with any other shorts I’ve owned, but thought “OMG AMAZING! That’ll be SO useful!” anyway.
I think the problem is that they’re just too big for me. There’s nothing wrong with the shorts themselves – and the black ones could probably look quite classy (not so sure about the orange or blue ones that are currently available). So maybe I’ll love them if I put on a few pounds.
ASOS Roll Hem Beach Short – Grey Marl
(No longer available.)
I bought these so long ago from ASOS, and I can’t imagine a time when I’ll want to throw them out. It’s questionable as to whether they should be worn at social occasions, but I’m prepared to use the “Love me, love my shorts” line if anyone questions their suitability.
ASOS Thin Black Leggings
(No longer available.)
I’ve had these for about four years and they’re still doing well. I wear them under my grey marl shorts if it’s a bit cold outside but not nippy enough for pants.
Underwear and socks
In a desperate attempt to be a “glass half full” (or “cup half full”) kind of person, my, errr, lack of, you know, means I can get away with fun little sports bras rather than mammoth underwired contraptions that go out of shape quickly.
The cost of this bra (and its cousin – the “Free To Be” bra below) caused another laughing fit – this time in the store. But I really had no choice: I needed something pretty because it shows under my tops (see above), but I also have a long back – and lots of the cheaper sports bras I tried were too short. Plus, of course, those culty Lululemon employees did a great job of making me feel good about myself and the money I was investing in my health, wellbeing and self-love. Or something.
As above, but the name of this one makes me feel like even more of a moron for buying it. It’s jolly nice though, and very comfortable.
Seam-Free Underwear x5
An assortment of lacy, silky things that look quite pretty but don’t show up under my clothes.
I’ve decided I hate my bikini, so I’m on the lookout for another one.
These are 70% merino wool, which means they provide “good insulation even when wet”, and are “durable, odour resistant, comfortable and warm”.
I bought them partly because they keep me cool in hot weather/warm in cold weather, partly because they’re lightweight, and partly because they’re durable: I walk a lot, and regular socks get holey quickly.
These Icebreakers haven’t passed the “durability” test with flying colours: I’m on the verge of getting holes in the toes, so Icebreaker is sending me replacements. Hopefully the first pair were just unfortunate duds.
(Oh, and I bought men’s because I have massive feet.)
As above. These ones are slightly cheaper than Icebreaker, and I wanted to compare the two. So far, Wigwam is winning on durability.
I think I bought them from Kmart.
This is exactly the same as the one above, but in a different colour that I don’t like so much. I got it on sale because presumably no one else liked the colour much either.
Generic running shorts
I bought these from one of those massive sporting outlets where nothing ever costs the “original price” on the sticker. Still, $5 for a pair of shorts that’s lasted me three years isn’t bad.
These are for exercising outdoors in the morning. Like my socks, they’re made with merino wool – which means they’re exceptionally lightweight but still keep me warm in cold weather. I’ve worn them in minus-six temperatures (celsius!), and felt fine.
I’ve had my current pair for two years and they’re only just starting to wear a bit (bear in mind I wear them practically every morning). Next time I’m going to get men’s, because the women’s version are a bit short on me.
I bought men’s because the sleeves on the women’s version aren’t long enough for me. Just like the Icebreaker leggings, this sweater is super lightweight but so incredibly warm. I wear it in temperatures ranging between about 3 degrees and 15 degrees. Any colder and I take my jacket too; any warmer and I just wear a t-shirt.
Like all merino wool products, it dries very quickly too.
Old M&S Sports Bra
I bought it years ago, and it’s ugly as anything.
I bought this two years ago and it’s probably still my best-ever purchase. It’s ultra-lightweight, can be washed in the machine, and it keeps me extremely warm in cold weather.
If I know you and I’ve met you, I’m sorry for the hours I spent talking to you about the wonders of this jacket.
I do a lot of walking: about 5.5. miles of brisk walking every single morning, and then a few more miles of getting around town with Rob. On average, I guess I walk about eight miles a day – and when I had running shoes, they’d die after about three months.
These hiking shoes replace my running shoes, and they’ve been with me since December 2014 (which means we’re about to celebrate our eight-month anniversary together). And they’re still going strong. They have it all: they’re lightweight, waterproof and breathable, not too expensive, and exceptionally comfortable.
The one thing Merrell hasn’t aced is the laces – which are slippery and slidey little buggers that come apart even after double-knotting. So I bought these No-Tie Shoelaces from The Friendly Swede, and now I officially have the best shoes on earth.
Merrell shoes tend to come small, so you’ll need to go up a size if you get them.
If I had my way, I’d wear the Merrell shoes all day every day. Sometimes, though, it’s important to give the impression that I’m not about to set off on a six-month mountain-climbing trip – and in those situations I wear these sneakers. They’re fairly lightweight and small enough to go in the outer pocket of my Aeronaut backpack.
Bags and packing cubes
So, the Tom Bin Aeronaut. It’s a 45-litre backpack that fits the dimension requirements of most airlines. It has really useful side pockets, lots of nifty little hooks and key straps to attach items to, and it doesn’t look like a traditional “backpacker” backpack. Instead it’s sleek, smart and sophisticated, and – perhaps most importantly – it looks smaller than it actually is, which means we’ve never been asked to weigh it or check its dimensions at the airport.
Another huge benefit is that it’s front-loading – like a regular roller suitcase – making it easy to pack and a dream to find what you need (no more digging blindly down to the bottom to find the M&Ms that you’re now desperately craving at the airport).
The most we’ve ever walked in one stretch with the bag has been about two miles, and it’s been fine: no achey shoulders or feeling like we’re going to fall backwards. We don’t know when we’d ever be in a situation where we’d have to walk further than two miles (we’d just take public transportation or a cab), but it’s worth bearing in mind that this isn’t a hiking backpack, and it’s not intended to be worn all day long.
The Aeronaut costs a gasp-worthy $280 and it can only be bought from the Tom Bihn website (or in their Seattle factory showroom). If you don’t live in the US, shipping and handling costs about $30 extra.
When I showed this to Rob, he said, “You think a lot of things are ‘AMAZING’ and ‘THE CLEVEREST THING I’VE EVER SEEN’, and usually they’re just ‘meh’, but this one really is quite clever.” Endorsement indeed.
I use this as a waistpack when out exercising in the morning (for my purse, keys, etc.). It converts easily into a shoulder bag, but IT DOESN’T END THERE!
You can also unzip the lower half of the bag, and suddenly, magically, it’s bigger!
The whole thing stuffs into its own tiny stuff sack!
Struggling to understand all this brilliance? Here’s a video:
I use this as my regular shoulder bag. It usually comes with me on the plane as my “extra item of hand luggage”, although I can easily squish it into my Aeronaut backpack if necessary.
This doubles up as a laptop bag and a grocery bag. Which means that whenever we go grocery shopping and I have my laptop on me, we get plastic carrier bags and do our own small bit to ruin the planet. OK the flights probably don’t help either.
This sling bag packs into its own small stuff sack and – when opened out – turns into a large shoulder bag that can bear weight of up to 280lb (130kg). It really is minuscule when all scrunched up inside its stuff sack – the length of my thumb.
It has no padding of course, but that’s fine: my laptop is always protected inside a neoprene laptop sleeve.
Packing cubes are extremely lightweight zippered fabric containers for your clothes that come in a range of dimensions, and you can use them in multiple configurations inside your backpack or suitcase.
I have just one medium packing cube, and all my clothes and underwear (everything except my jacket) fit into it.
The dimensions of the cube work really well for me: the length takes up almost the entire width of my Tom Bihn Aeronaut, but there’s still a lot of space left over along the length of the Aeronaut for other items. (The packing cube doesn’t take up the entire depth of my backpack either, so I can easily fit my laptop and Kindle on top.)
The key to saving space and saving on creases is to roll your clothes rather than fold them, and then pack them inside the cube.
Because I’m very protective over my Aeronaut, and I don’t want the mucky soles of my shoes touching it.
Tech and gadgets
For years I refused to buy a Mac because I didn’t want to be like everyone else. Then Rob accidentally chucked a bottle of water over my Asus, and I realised that a MacBook Air was the only viable option as a replacement: it had the exact specs I wanted, came at a sensible price (especially when buying refurbished), and wasn’t installed with Windows 8.
I’ve had the Mac for nearly a year, and I can now admit that I wasted my a significant portion of my twenties on Windows Updates, frozen screens and egg timers; my MacBook-filled thirties are going to be so much more enjoyable.
I don’t think I’ve become one of those people who’s Apple-obsessed (and I still don’t own an iPhone or iPod), but I’m deeply, deeply grateful for working with a piece of hardware that simply works and doesn’t ever cause me any bother.
It’s cheap and tiny, and it plays radio and MP3s.
European/continental plug adapters
In 2013 we bought a fancy worldwide plug adapter, and it blew up the first time we used it. Ever since, we’ve used cheapo European or continental adapters. They’re less bulky, and we don’t care if we leave one behind accidentally.
Samsung Galaxy S4 phone and charger
I spent an entire month on instant message with O2, persuading them to give me this phone for free as part of the contract I was on at the time. That was nearly two years ago, and I still think this is the most magnificent phone on earth – most likely because it was so hard-won.
I’ll use it until it stops working, and then I’ll have to get one of those old Nokia 3310s because there’s no effing way I’m spending $600 on a goddamn phone.
It had a good run, but my Kindle Keyboard (the Kindle equivalent of a flip phone) finally kerplunked this year.
I bought the cheapest, lightest replacement I could find: the $79 Kindle that “includes special offers”. It does the job – and there’s no reason why I’d need anything more snazzy.
It has a heap of manual functions and operates almost like a DSLR if you want it to, but it’s far smaller and lighter. Plus, you can use it like a point-and-shoot if you’d prefer.
Please don’t let our own photos be any indication of the quality of this camera: we are notoriously shitty photographers.
Good for weighing people and backpacks (if you weigh yourself first, then weigh yourself wearing the backpack, then get the calculator out).
Rob the coffee snob uses this to weight out his coffee; we also use it for weighing ingredients for meals and baking. It’s so small, cute and surprising that it could almost double as a party trick.
Those people who make my shoelaces also do carabiners. Rob bought a set of two (he uses it to attach his keys to a belt loop), so I nicked the other one to use as a handy way to find my keys inside my bag:
I first bought a pair of these ear warmers back in 2005, and I haven’t switched brand since. They fit around the back of your neck rather than over your head – which means if you have long hair, it’s possible to give the impression that you’re not even wearing them. Not that there’s anything wrong with wearing ear warmers, of course.
- Plastic measuring cups (because I’m obsessed with oatmeal, and I need to get the ratios just right)
- Ziplock of jumbo oats (for the first few days – until I can track them down in the city)
- Debit card readers
- Plastic lightweight folding cup (for my big mugs of coffee – doesn’t seem to be available online anymore)
- Cheapo plastic sunglasses
- Small stretchy gloves
- At least two months’ worth of daily disposable contact lenses, in small Ziplock bags.
The toiletries go into three tiny little bags. Rob has the “liquids” Ziplock, and I carry the other two bags:
- Nail clippers
- Bar of soap
- Lip balm
- Stick deodorant
- Concealer stick
- Dental floss
- Hayfever tablets
- Kirby grips
- Hair ties
That’s everything I own: 8.6kg of stuff, excluding the clothes and shoes I wear to travel in. There are definitely some non-essentials in there: I don’t need kitchen scales or measuring cups or separate exercise clothes, for example. But I want them and they fit into my carry-on, so I’m not bothered.
Now tell me: what am I doing wrong? What do you pack that you couldn’t live without? Do you travel with anything nearly as insane as jumbo oats and measuring cups? Let me know in the comments!