Choosing a Pack for Your Travels

backpacks for rtw trip

We chose rollie bags.

OK, maybe not this time around…

Your pack is one of the most important pieces of gear you can buy, but we found that the process of finding one can be a bit of a pain. Between Eric’s long torso and my OCD, we had to check out dozens of packs before we found the right pair for us. I actually bought four different packs in preparation for our trip, so I would highly recommend buying from places like REI that will take things back for any reason.

I tried out the first two (both Gregory packs – I LOVE that brand) on “test” trips to Morocco and Honduras, but then I decided that they weren’t close enough to what I needed. Those went on Craigslist. Zappos took back an Osprey that didn’t cut it, and I finally settled with yet another Gregory after agonizing over it for months. The exercise was only fun for about five minutes. So, how can you cut down on the costs and time involved with finding the perfect thing to put your stuff in? Here are the questions we think you can start with to make the process easier:

1. What Size Do You Need?

We plan to pack as little as possible, although our lust for electronics makes this challenging. We’ve had to ask ourselves over and over: Does this item need to travel the world with us? We find that too many clothes and gadgets literally and figuratively weigh us down. Since we’ll be traveling on budget airlines that nickel and dime passengers who have to check bags, our packs have to fit into even the smallest of overhead bins (we’re aiming for dimensions no larger than 22 inches tall, 18 inches wide and 10 inches deep). By choosing bags that fly for free, we already narrowed down the possibilities.

2. Does it Fit?

The next important consideration is fit. I found many enticing options that gaped here and chafed there. But when you’re running to catch a train with your pack bouncing up and hitting you in the back of the head, giving you blisters, killing your shoulders, or any number of maladies that result from improper fit, the nice color or fancy pockets won’t make you feel any less like checking in to a nice hotel instead of exploring a new city.

Due to Eric’s aforementioned torso size, there were only a few smaller packs that would fit him. After searching for weeks, we had to outsource to Visa. Did you know that if you have a Visa Signature card, they’ll do this type of research for FREE? He called them up and told them the size and specs of the bag he needed, and they found two that would work. He went with the Arc’Teryx Axios 35.

[ptcFlickr id=”8344736670″ size=”small 320″ position=”right” caption=”Eric’s pack”]

3. Is it Functional?

Thankfully, most of the major pack manufacturers use high quality materials and zippers that will last a few years or longer. The most challenging part of pack shopping often lies with pockets and accessibility. I find packs that are solely top-loading problematic. What if you need something that’s not on the top? Then you have to pull everything else out of the bag, showing everyone all of your treasures and making a gigantic mess in the process. Poor Eric didn’t have a lot of options, but this was the biggest sticking point for me. The bag I finally settled on, the Gregory Jade 38, loads from the top, front, and bottom.

[ptcFlickr id=”8344736640″ size=”small 320″ position=”left” caption=”Sam’s pack”]

The side pockets on both of our packs are pretty sad when the main compartments are fully loaded. But I’m convinced that there’s no such thing as a perfect backpack. It’s really about finding the one that fits criteria 1 and 2, and has the fewest things that make you mad when you’re trying to get at your gear. I also like having compression straps that do their job when you encounter one of those cages at the check-in counter where you have to prove that your bag will fit in the overhead bin.

4. What Else Does it Offer?

Features like travel-wardrobe-compatible-colors, built-in rain covers, breathable mesh backs, and safety whistles are a bonus, but we decided not to give much precedence to them because while they’re nice, they generally don’t make or break the bag. We’ve found that ours will hold everything we need (and probably more).

A great pack can make a huge difference when the travel gods don’t send any cabs your way, or when you end up living out of it for days. In the end, we found that it’s worth the investment to find a bag that fits well and meets your needs.

More details on travel gear to come!

Plotting Our Course: Part 3

Our (Planned) Route Around the World!

In the previous articles in this series we talked about how we decided to travel the world and how we decided where to go and what route to take. In this article we finally reveal our master plan!

Disclaimer: This route is guaranteed to change. The majority of our research has gone into the first leg of the trip, so the later two legs are still very much up in the air. Even on the first leg it is quite likely that we won’t visit all of the countries here and there may be a few surprise places that aren’t even listed. But this is the plan for now!

This video is a little outdated, but way more fun than the table below.

The First Leg: Asia and Oceania

Country Expected Time In Country Actual Time In Country Expected Daily Budget Actual Daily Budget
1. India 60 days $40
2. China 60 days $60
3. Japan 30 days $150
4. Vietnam 30 days $60
5. Laos 30 days $40
6. Thailand 30 days $60
7. Burma 30 days $50
8. Cambodia 30 days $40
9. Indonesia 30 days $50
10. Singapore 14 days $75
11. Australia 60 days $120
12. New Zealand 30 days $150
13. Micronesia 14 days $60

The Second Leg: Eastern Europe and the Middle East

Country Expected Time In Country Actual Time In Country Expected Daily Budget Actual Daily Budget
14. Russia 30 days $100
15. Estonia* 14 days $80
16. Latvia* 14 days $80
17. Lithuania* 14 days $80
18. Poland* 14 days $80
19. Czech Republic* 14 days $80
20. Austria* 14 days $80
21. Croatia 30 days $80
22. Bosnia and Herzegovina 30 days $80
23. Bulgaria 30 days $80
24. Romania 30 days $80
25. Greece* 14 days $80
26. Turkey 30 days $80
27. Jordan 30 days $60
28. Israel/Palestine 30 days $60
29. Egypt 30 days $60

* Schengen Countries

The Third Leg: Central and South America

Country Expected Time In Country Actual Time In Country Expected Daily Budget Actual Daily Budget
30. Nicaragua 30 days $80
31. Costa Rica 30 days $80
32. Panama 30 days $80
33. Columbia 30 days $80
34. Ecuador 30 days $80
35. Peru 30 days $80
36. Bolivia 30 days $80
37. Chile 30 days $80
38. Argentina 30 days $80

Plotting Our Course: Part 2

Planning Our Route

In the first part of the Plotting our Course series, we discussed how Sam and I decided to travel the world.

In this article we will tackle the question of how we decided what route to take on our trip. There are many variables that have to be balanced to determine the ideal route. Unfortunately, there is no computer program that can take all these variables and give you a perfect route (darn NP-complete problems) so mostly the route came about through a more organic process. However, we did take a number of things into consideration…

Must-See Places

[ptcFlickr id=”8240081120″ position=”right” size=”small 320″ caption=”Holi festival, India”]

After deciding to go RTW, we had a long list of places we had to visit. This was the logical starting point for determining an itinerary. As we started researching, our list kept getting longer and longer…which is how our trip grew from one year to three. We were able to determine exactly when we wanted to visit some places based upon festivals and unique experiences that are only available at certain times of the year. For example, climbing Mt. Fuji in Japan was one of Sam’s must-do activities, but it’s only possible during the summer months. For this reason, we’ll make sure that we’re in Japan in July or August. We did try to keep hard dates like this to a minimum since they limit our flexibility.

Traveling Slowly, Overland

We are not going on vacation for three years. We intend to not only visit different countries, but to learn from our travels. With this in mind we decided that for most countries we visit we will stay at least a month. This isn’t a hard rule, we’ll allow ourselves the flexibility to leave somewhere earlier than this if we so choose, but as a guideline we’ll try not to judge a place too quickly.

[ptcFlickr id=”8240126956″ position=”right” size=”small 320″]

While much of our airfare will be sponsored by the frequent flyer miles we’ve accumulated over the years, there isn’t an unlimited supply, so we’ll be attempting to travel overland as much as we can. Overland travel has many benefits including being less expensive and far more scenic, plus it coincides with our basic travel philosophy of moving slowly.


As we’ll discuss in an upcoming article, we intend to travel very lightly, with one carry-on sized backpack each. With that in mind, we quickly realized there was no way we could take clothes for all weather conditions. Our solution for this is to chase summer around the globe.

Money Matters

Unfortunately we haven’t won the lottery quite yet, so our funds will be limited. We will be on a relatively tight budget, so in order to travel for 3 years we had to look at what traveling in different countries costs. For example, India is an inexpensive country for which we are budgeting $40 a day including food, lodging, sightseeing, and local transportation, but a realistic budget in Australia is closer to $150 a day. Obviously, if we spend all our time in places like Australia our bank accounts will quickly run dry, but we also didn’t want to only visit countries that happen to be more affordable. The key to this is to either spend less time in places like Australia, or to find ways to make those places much less expensive. Much more on how we plan to accomplish this in upcoming posts.

Where to Begin?

There is a hotly contested debate on the best place to start a RTW trip. Many people suggest starting in more familiar western countries where there are fewer language barriers and frustration can be kept to a minimum. We decided to completely ignore this advice and start off with probably the most difficult to travel country: India. No itinerary is perfect!

Stay tuned! In part 3 we’ll finally reveal our planned itinerary!

Plotting Our Course: Part 1

us and a world atlas

How we Decided to Travel RTW

[ptcFlickr id=”8226243150″ size=”medium 500″ width=”400″ position=”right”]

We meet a ton of people who say they want to travel the world, and we believe that just about anyone can. Most of us who take gap years or head out indefinitely aren’t trustafarians. There’s just some glitch in our personalities that always makes us crave something new, and we go out of our way to find it.

World travel was first date material for us. We had both traveled (he’s been more West, I more East) and long-term travel was already on the table. What’s more, we had both considered joining the Peace Corps. What were the odds that we’d met another person who was just as passionate about these things? The planning began right away.

So some people have these dreams all on their own and are perfectly happy going solo. We had both been holding out for a travel partner. I think we motivate each other to stay on track with planning and saving money. Eric’s been great with the website, and I’ve researched most of our route. He chose all of our electronics, and I picked out all the travel clothes. Teamwork rocks.

Anyways, getting back to the point of this post: We are not rich or fearless. We’ve had many reservations about quitting our jobs and leaving behind all of the great people in our lives. And I have to leave my cat! But our relationships won’t unravel just because we’re outside the U.S. (especially if you guys visit us, hinthint). Career-wise, there will always be another cubicle, and the world will always need software engineers and accountants if we do go back into those fields. A major goal in traveling the world is to find ourselves and what really makes us happy – both individually and in our marriage. There will certainly be sacrifices, but as the (cliché) saying goes, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

In sum, for us traveling RTW is one part passion and eight parts determination. Curiosity doesn’t hurt either. Nor does love.

12 Weeks Out: Checking In

Mayan Calendar

Hi. Hey there. Happy Holidays. Do you like the new website design? Eric’s been working on it nonstop! He’s been busy with that, and I FINALLY finished school. So here we are, 12 weeks out, with a freshly minted site and a whole lot of writing to do.

After so many months of planning, all of the major pieces (budget, route, logistics) are in place. Well, as much as they can be. We’re trudging through the last ten weeks of work like children who have to eat all their green beans before going out to play.

In an effort to break up some of the longest months EVER, we’re going to Chicago for Christmas and New Orleans over the MLK holiday in January. It will be great to get some quality time in with our family and friends, who must be completely tired of hearing about our upcoming trip. Thanks, you guys, for lending a perpetual ear to our musings. I promise our travel posts will be more interesting than our planning.

We were fortunate to find a colleague to adopt Dolce, our cat child. Now he’ll have two dogs to keep him company, and hopefully he’ll get more exercise in the new back yard. Thank you, Justin, for offering him a great new home!

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Other than that, we started packing and the purging continues. Stay tuned for budget and planning articles, which should start going up soon. Hope you and yours are having a great holiday season!