“How do you pack for a year around the world?” and other questions, answered

People are, naturally, curious about our travels, where we are going, what we are doing, what we are taking, and what we are leaving behind.  We have, of course, spent many hours trying to figure all of this out, which is not to say that we’ve got it right, but we have definitely learned a few things along the way.  We are always looking for travel tips, so if you see anything we’ve missed, please let us know.

Here are some of the most frequent questions we get, along with our answers:

What countries are you visiting/what is your first destination?

Our first destination is Ponta Delgada, Sao Miguel island, in the Azores, a small archipelago about a thousand miles off the coast of Portugal.  I’ve only become aware of the Azores in the past year or so and, earlier this year, it was selected as one of the New York Times 52 Places to Go in 2019.  As more airlines have begun to offer flights to Ponta Delgada, it is developing more of a profile as a tourist destination but is still relatively unspoiled. 

The Azores are an archipelago of beautiful, volcanic islands off the coast of Portugal

The Azores has gone on and off our list of places to visit more than just about anywhere else.  It went on the list for the reasons I just cited, then fell off the list because it’s a little remote and we wondered if it was worth what could be a bigger travel investment getting to and from than it would be worth as a destination.  Eventually it became our first destination because John found an Azores Airlines flight from Boston to Ponta Delgada, in business class, for $928 a person.  We are trying to limit the number of flights we take that are longer than four or five hours in duration and we are booking those longer flights in business class because John’s long legs object to being cramped in economy seats for too many hours.

An overview of our destinations

Our travels are designed to keep us in the Northern Hemisphere in spring/summer, moving closer to the equator in the fall, then to the Southern Hemisphere as the year goes on for a ‘continuous summer’ offering warmer, more comfortable climates and reducing the need to pack clothing for extreme cold.

 We will be in Europe for six months, first in the Azores, then moving on to France (the South first and Paris later), Budapest, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, Italy (Cinque Terre and Florence/Tuscany), Brussels, Scotland, England (Cambridge, Cornwall, the Cotswolds), Ireland, Austria (Vienna, Kitzbuhel, Salzburg), Ljubljana, Prague, Croatia, Montenegro, and Greece (Athens + not sure yet), then will go on to China for a month starting in Beijing, then going on a 16-day tour of Xian, Giulin, and a Yangtze cruise, culminating in   Shanghai/Hangzhou, followed by Hong Kong, then on to southeast Asia for about eight weeks, including Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Singapore, then  Australia for ~5 weeks (arrive Cairns, depart Sydney, itinerary not worked out), three or so weeks in New Zealand (arrive Christchurch, depart Auckland, itinerary not worked out), a week in Fiji, two weeks Hawaii, then home. The plans definitely become fuzzier after China.

How much of your travel is booked?

We have flights booked from home through to Cairns, Australia and we fly to Cairns on December 26.  We have the bulk of our hotel /Airbnb bookings in Europe, and many of our flights/train trips, and all bookings in China (it is necessary to have a fully-formed itinerary for China to secure a visa). After that, little is booked.

How long are you going to be in each place?

Initially we had planned to spend at least a week in each spot, but quickly realized that if we did so we would miss out on other places we really wanted to visit. In Europe, we also had to manage the U.S. passport restrictions for the Schengen states, something that we find most people aren’t aware of.  Per the Schengen states agreement, for purposes of travelling on a passport from the U.S. (and for a number of other countries as well), we are only allowed to spend a total of 90 days out of any 180 days on a rolling calendar in the whole of the Schengen countries, which includes pretty much all of Europe and Scandinavia, with the exception of the British Isles and some of the Balkans.  Since we wanted to spend a full six months travelling in Europe, we had to plan carefully so as not to overstay our visit in the Schengen countries. This means that we are cutting time in some places and skipping other countries altogether, such as Germany and Spain. We looked into getting a Schengen visa that would have provided an extended stay, but this didn’t seem worth the time, effort, and cost.  In the end, we just decided to work within the guidelines of visiting with our passports and following Schengen rules.

That said, for the places in which we have a firm itinerary (Europe and China) we are in most places for at least 3 or 4 nights, most places for longer.

How are you getting around?

Trains, planes, automobiles, and boats! We have looked at options for getting from one destination to the next and also for getting around once we are there.  Some places lend themselves better to renting a car to get around, for others, train or bus travel works, likewise for getting from one destination to the next, sometimes flights are preferable, other times it’s trains.  We are also taking a Danube cruise from Budapest to Bucharest starting in mid-April, early in our travels.

Our favorite websites for finding transit options are ITA Matrix for flights, The Man in Seat 61 for train travel in Europe, and Kayak for general needs.

 Where are you staying?

We are primarily booking Airbnb apartments (always the entire place, never a room in someone’s home) and have a preference for ones with an equipped kitchen and laundry equipment.  For shorter stays, we are using Booking.com, and in a few places, we have booked a room in a hostel using HostelWorld. For our time in Australia, we are considering renting a campervan.

What about insurance?

 We are fortunate that John and I both have health insurance through my employer of 28 years that will cover medical expenses anywhere in the world.  In addition to this, we have bought policies for two multi-day tours on our itinerary (a Danube cruise and a 16-day small group tour in China).  We have also bought medical evacuation and repatriation insurance for parts of the trip in more remote areas.   We thought about buying trip cancellation insurance but decided that we would instead book refundable and cancellable lodging and transport and, if we have to leave at any time, we will just cancel as needed.

John used a website called SquareMouth.com to find deals on travel insurance and we found that the best options are often not the most expensive.

What will you do about your mail?

We have signed up for the mail service with Escapees RV Club in Livingston, TX.  Cost is about $375 for the year, plus any postage costs for forwarding mail or sending scanned mail.  The service notifies us anytime we have mail and we can go to their website to find scanned envelopes.  For each item, we can choose to destroy, forward with regular mail (we determine place and frequency), or ask them to open
the mail and scan it for us.

How about vaccinations and visas?

We only needed two vaccinations for the destinations on our itinerary:  Hepatitis A and Typhoid.  Many/most cities have a place where these are provided. We got our vaccinations at a clinic in Atlanta when we were visiting in January.    

Regarding the visas, the only countries we are visiting requiring visas are China, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Australia.  China was by far the hardest and most expensive to obtain, and the only one we procured through an agency (we used Visahq).  To get a tourist visa for China, it’s necessary to have a complete itinerary, including lodging arrangements and flights in and out of the home country.  The Vietnam visa was easy to get and the Australian Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) was even easier. For Cambodia, we are advised to get our visas on arrival in the country.

 What about phone service and computers?

John has done a lot of work on this one.  We will use sim cards overseas and will primarily use What’s App for communicating with friends and family at home. Also, John has set us up on a VPN which is important since I will be doing some writing on the road.  We were pleasantly surprised to find out that, for $10 a month we can put my AT&T phone account on hold, meaning that I can reactivate my phone number when we return.

What are you going to do when you get back to the U.S.?

We are going to spend an additional year travelling in the U.S. and Canada.  We may revisit the purchase of a tow vehicle and small trailer but haven’t figured that out yet.  Nor do we have an itinerary, beyond knowing that we will definitely be at the Glacier National Park employee reunion in August 2020.

How will you pack?

This has been one of the hardest parts of the planning. We have limited ourselves to one rollerboard suitcase that can fit in an overhead bin, and one day pack. This luggage plan means that it will be easier for us to get around and also will provide more flexibility for catching standby flights when we travel by air.  We have focused on taking clothes that wash and wear easily, don’t need ironing, are suitable for everything from the hiking trail to the opera, and will keep us warm, cool, or dry, as the situation requires. I have included my packing list at the end of this post.

Yep, this is all we are taking for an entire year!

Do you have packing tips?

The answer: I aspire to be a packing ninja but I’m not there yet! Nevertheless, I have a few tips:

  1. Find your bulkiest stuff that you can comfortably wear and make it your ‘travel day uniform.’  For me, my hiking shoes, travel pants, and running jacket will be my travel day uniform
  2. Do at least one ‘rehearsal pack’ in which you wear your travel day uniform and pack the rest.  Then see where you stand.  Can you close your suitcase?  If not, maybe you need to remove a few items
  3. I am a recent convert to packing in Ziploc bags. Why? They keep things folded even if you have to shuffle through your stuff to find something, the packing will squish out the air making them flatter (only if you don’t seal them entirely), and the slick nature of the bags allows things to shift around the suitcase without friction.  Also, I recommend using a Sharpie to label the bags especially if you are like me and have tons of black stuff packed

This is still hard.  Once we got to Atlanta, I realized how much overpacking I had done and decided to ditch a bunch of stuff and leave it at my daughter’s apartment. I was immediately glad I did this — it will make getting around so much easier.

Stuff I ditched in Atlanta – skirt, jeans, running pants, 2 pair of socks, tank top, scarf and sports bra

Sallie’s Packing list: (I have put an asterisk next to new purchases for this travel)

Clothing

Pants/shorts: 3 pairs of long pants, including Eddie Bauer travel pants* with a special inside anti-theft pocket I had sewn in), stretch running/biking pants, lightweight summer pants, all in black), 2 pairs of shorts (Banana Republic black-and-white shorts, hiking style shorts in olive green*)

Tops: 2 Smartwool lightweight base layer sweaters, blue/gray and mauve*, 4 Chico’s colored tanks for dressy or casual (can also be worn under most clothes for layering/warmth), 2 long-sleeve Ex Officio technical fabric shirts (aqua and plum)*,2 button-down long-sleeve shirts, one blue denim, one white, tunic-style with belt, 2 Banana Republic short-sleeve tee shirts (raspberry and dark green)

Smartwool base layer is the bomb!

Outerwear: 2 rainproof jackets, one lightweight, one heavier, 1 lightweight running jacket (I wear this almost every day), 1 black Patagonia quilted vest (stuffs into its own pocket)*

Sleepwear:
Yoga top, pants, short-sleeved technical tee (doubles for yoga)

Footwear: 3 pairs shoes, all black:  Merrill hiking shoes* worn with custom orthotics, Clark’s patent-leather loafers for dressy occasions, Clark’s sandals, 4 pairs of socks* (Smartwool and Darn Tough)

Merrill hiking shoes for everyday wear

Undergarments: 5 pairs of panties (one pair is Ex Officio*), one sports bra, 2 regular bras (nude and black)

Other: 2 scarves, swimsuit, hat for sun, warm cap for cold, headband for keeping ears warm, neck warmer, gloves

Non-clothing

Camera and battery charger

Travel purse and wallet, including passport, credit cards, ATM/debit card, driver’s license, international driving permit

Prescription sunglasses and 2 pair of eyeglasses (one for back-up)

Makeup and toiletries (toothbrush, toothpaste, dental floss, nail clippers, lip balm, Vaseline, eye wetting drops, sunscreen, hair ties)

Travel clothesline, tiny laundry bag, small sewing kit, and travel-size packets of Woolite

Medications (prescriptions for possible bugs in SE Asia, pain reliever, anti-diarrheal, antacid, Benedryl, fiber tablets) Note:  we are fortunate that the only regular prescription med either one of us takes is John’s antihistamine

Laptop, phone, iPad (for reading), Bose ear buds, Travel adapters, electronics chargers, battery back-up phone charger, Portable speakers for listening to music wherever we are – the two of them stacked one on top of the other are about the size of a Coke can

Travel pillow

Expandable tote for going to markets, etc.

Money belt (I know they are dorky, but in some places may provide some needed extra security), Platypus collapsible water bottle, sports watch and back-up sports watch

Yoga paws for practicing in our travel lodging, sans yoga mat

Eye mask for sleeping in places with too much light

Folding umbrella

10 thoughts on ““How do you pack for a year around the world?” and other questions, answered

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