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What Should I Pack? – 7 Unexpected Essentials

by Meg · 40 comments

Considering that Tony and I are travelling with 32 liter backpacks for our year-long trip around the world, I would say that we did a pretty AWESOME job packing.

Our uber-tiny 32L Deuter packs!

However, there were several things that I didn’t think I would need for our travels… Until I got on the road.  These items below have been my lifesavers multiple times during our RTW trip and should be packed IMMEDIATELY in your bag as well!

Note: Some of this list applies specifically to female travelers, but I will make sure Tony follows up with an article on what the fellas need to pack for a RTW trip!

Here are the 7 Essential Thing To Pack On Your RTW Journey:


Photo courtesy of Omiru

It is light, easy to pack (you can even wear it en-route to save space in your bag), keeps you warm, and can dress up any outfit.  All of my travel clothes are solid colors (versatility is key with a travel wardrobe!) and a scarf gives my outfit a little pop when combined with a plain black shirt.


Relaxing in my sundress on a hot day in Buenos Aires with Tony and our pooch friend!

I only packed one dress at the beginning of our journey, but shortly into our stay in Santiago, Chile where it was 80 degrees everyday, I was DYING for another dress.  They barely take up any room in your suitcase, are super light, comfy, and cute… Plus, they are incredibly suitable for strolls through a foreign city on a hot day.


Acting like a tourist… But at least I don’t look like one!

When I originally began packing for my trip, I thought bringing jeans was a horrible idea… Boy was I wrong!  Even though they may take up a little more room in your backpack, they are comfy (especially jeggings for the ladies!), can be worn for days/weeks without washing, and class up any outfit.  Trust me, you do not want to roll up to a bar in Buenos Aires in your “practical” convertible hiking pants.

If there is anything I learned from other backpackers, it is to NOT dress like a tourist when traveling.  To avoid being targeted in a foreign city, you should dress like you would back home. Jeans will definitely help you blend into the crowd!

Hot sauce

Photo courtesy of The Perfect Pantry

You can buy this stuff at almost any grocery store on the road, but this little jar of awesomesauce is a lifesaver!  It gives a little kick to any meal you whip in your apartment rental or hostel kitchen.  And if a dish at a restaurant is a little bland, you can sneak some on that sucker when the waiter isn’t looking!

Peanut Butter

Photo courtesy of epicurean.com

This was my staple back home and on the rare occasions I spot PB at a grocery store overseas, I go nuts… Pun intended!  It spruces up stale bread at your hostel’s breakfast, can be spread on apples or crackers, or just taken directly to the face for a nutritious protein boost during your travels.

Just be warned when travelling on an airline, Peanut Butter is considered a LIQUID… This oversight almost got me involved in a bitchslapping brawl with a TSA agent in Houston who spitefully confiscated my jar at security. #majorRTWsetback

The Foodie Survival Kit

I mentioned this little tube of excellence in one of my older posts, but this kit rocks.  It packs easily and has 13 different spices to choose from when cooking on the road.

Baby Wipes

Photo courtesy of The Nappy Shop

Without getting into the TMI zone, baby wipes are great to freshen up with on long overnight bus rides in South America, multi-day hikes on the Inca Trail, or whenevs you are feeling ultra-gross – And trust me: It happens a lot on the road!

Your turn: What’s are the essentials on YOUR packing list?

About Meg
Exhausted from traveling every week as a Business Management Consultant early in my career, I took a year off in 2012 to travel at my own pace. I am a high-energy girl that loves being active, eating food, drinking wine, and exploring the world with my partner-in-crime (and husband), Tony! I now reside in Portland, Oregon and continue to write about travel, food, wine, and the awesome adventures we have in the Pacific NW!

Emily in Chile May 9, 2012 at 7:08 pm

I love that almost half your list is food. I’d expect nothing less from you two!

Meg May 10, 2012 at 4:06 am

haha you know it. That peanut butter saved my life in Bolivia!

Bethany ~ twoOregonians May 9, 2012 at 8:16 pm

I need a foodie survival kit! Totally with you on the scarf, too. And the jeans.
Still keeping an eye out for the right sundress…
Ted and I are so ridiculously envious of your 32 liter packs. You have no idea… 😉

Meg May 10, 2012 at 4:08 am

The Foodie Survival kit is genius. We got it as a birthday gift for Tony from Leanne and Leah back in BA… It is a godsend. And I finally caved and bought a scarf in Croatia… Love!

Rebecca May 9, 2012 at 8:23 pm

So agree with you regarding peanut butter! Can be a meal or a snack and doesn’t need refrigeration. THE BEST!

(Yep, my sister and her ex got “caught” with a jar going through security and had to throw it away. WTF, because if it was in sandwich form it would have been fine. Seriously, the dumbest thing EVER!)

Meg May 10, 2012 at 4:10 am

I know! It was my go-to snack in Bolivia… And very expensive there too, but I looked at it as an investment.

Yeah I mean common, it’s a spread – not a liquid! Tony got a lot of amusement out of how mad I got though at security. I think the TSA agent just confiscated it for her own use. I haven’t found a jar in Europe since that whole fiasco… so sad!

Alexandra May 10, 2012 at 4:16 am

Sounds likes someone finally bought a scarf! Essential, can be used as a headband, dust filter on motorcyle rides through Vietnam, blanket on long bus rides, decency panel while peeing on the side of the road during those same bus rides, picnic table, curtain in a hostel, towel, leash for Tony….

I could go on and on

Meg May 10, 2012 at 4:22 am

I know! I am loving it – Best purchase ever (minus the occasional peanut butter jar). I have just been using mine recently for the chilly nights in Croatia but it sounds like you have found MANY uses for it… a decency panel or dust filter on motorcycle rides in Vietnam??!! You are quite the wild woman! haha and I love the leash suggestion 😉

Shearings Holidays May 10, 2012 at 10:54 am

This is really useful. A scarf is the most useful thing you can have as you can wear it as a sarong for the beach, headscarf if it’s too hot, face cover if it’s dusty and if you’re in the bottom bunk of a shared dorm then it can make a very handy privacy screen for your bed!

Meg May 10, 2012 at 11:01 am

Glad you liked it! I have heard so much feedback from people on the various uses for scarfs… Who knew there were so many possibilities?! It makes me very happy about my recent purchase of one!

Caroline @ Traveling 9 to 5 May 10, 2012 at 9:05 pm

Peanut Butter is our staple! We pick it up in almost every location just in case

Great list – I’ve been considering piking up some jeans/jeggings… I need to just do it!

Meg May 11, 2012 at 9:43 am

I haven’t had my PB fix in over a month – so sad! You should definitely take the plunge and buy some jeans. Although, mine got a little tight after our recent trip to France/Italy… Whoops!

Morgan May 11, 2012 at 3:41 pm

Love the list – and definitely agree on jeans and dresses even though it’s so tempting to not include them when you’re traveling with a backpack! What shoes did you bring with you to avoid the ‘tourist look’ but to still travel around town on long walks?

Meg May 12, 2012 at 4:46 am

Morgan! Thanks so much for checking out our blog – It has been forever and I hope all is well with you and the family! For shoes, I actually wear Puma ballerinas. They are very comfy and even roll up in my backpack!


Morgan May 14, 2012 at 2:21 pm

Awesome! Thanks :). An you find you can walk long distances or do you switch out for tennies?

Morgan May 14, 2012 at 2:21 pm

PS I hope you guys are having such a wonderful time! It has been too long since we’ve seen each other!

Meg May 15, 2012 at 4:53 am

Thanks so much Morgan! I just saw pics on FB of Liv and she is such a doll… I hope to meet her someday! Oh and tell Kevin Tony and I say hello!! We may just have to swing by San Diego on our way back home from our RTW trip!

As far as the ballerinas go, I actually wear inserts in mine… With those puppies on, I can walk for miles – Even on European cobblestone streets!

Ciao :-)

Morgan May 16, 2012 at 4:58 pm

Yes, you must come visit! What inserts did you find that fit?

Meg May 17, 2012 at 8:11 am

Yay! I use SOLEs… Podiatrist recommended them and I love them! https://secure.yoursole.com/us/footbeds/signature-viesturs/

Molly May 14, 2012 at 12:50 pm

LOVE the spice kit, cannot tell you how many folks we’ve met, and cooked with, who would drool over that on the road! And the sundress is a MUST… plus I would add a couple of Old Navy or whatever cheap very thin (next to nothing in a pack) T-shirts… as when things get lost, stolen when being washed, etc. it is impossible to find simple clothes like that – IMPOSSIBLE… at least in South America where it’s all stupid slogan T-shirts for 13 year olds :)

Meg May 15, 2012 at 4:57 am

The spice kit and sundress sure do make life much easier on the road. We are hitting summertime in Europe now so I may just need to buy another dress!

I LOVE Old Navy shirts but I actually packed mostly Icebreaker shirts, since they are quick dry and odor resistant… But they are quite pricey! Cheap is the way to go on the road – I cannot tell you the amount of times we have had our clothing go missing at the laundry places in South America! Thanks for the tip :-)

ashley May 15, 2012 at 4:07 pm

Peanut butter! I love that you included this because it is my first packed item as well! and some exofficio underwear/ I mean who can beat a slogan that says “16 countries, one pair of underwear.”

Meg May 16, 2012 at 6:09 am

I ran out and now I can’t find my PB anywhere in Europe… Gah! I also have 4 pairs of exofficio skivvies – I love them but that slogan must have been tested a guy!

Linda May 31, 2012 at 9:54 pm

For traveling, try taking PB2 instead of peanut butter. It is powdered peanut butter (no more liquid argument) and you just add some water to it to make peanut butter — an amazing thing! My coworker eats it at work every day. She likes to add extra water (makes it more like a sauce than a spread) and then eat it with cut fruit. http://bellplantation.com/

Meg June 4, 2012 at 10:20 am

oh man that sounds amazing! Where do they sell PB2? I have friends coming to visit in Europe next month so I may have to have them pick me up a batch before the trip. I am a fan of the chunky PB myself, so perhaps I could add some chopped peanuts in the mix!? Thanks so much for sharing this incredibly valuable tip… You are a lifesaver! :-)

Vicky June 5, 2012 at 3:19 pm

Our trip starts in September so we are just now starting to think of what to pack/buy. Definitely think I’ll bring my jeans – I practically live in them in the US so I think I would be lost without them abroad!

Meg June 7, 2012 at 9:22 am

I highly recommend them – You want to like the clothes you travel in, so travel with what you like to wear at home… as long as its practical of course! I found the New York to Nomad packing list extremely helpful when planning for what I was going to pack. Here is the link:


Vicky August 21, 2012 at 10:13 am

Ah can’t believe I commented on this post back in June and now it’s 2.5 months later and we only have 3.5 weeks left before our trip eeeek – where did the time go?!?! Now I REALLY need to start figuring out my packing needs! Thanks for providing the link – I’m heading over there now to check it out! Seriously LOVE your blog and am sorry to bombard your posts with tons of comments today!

Meg August 21, 2012 at 9:57 pm

Vicky, don’t apologize – I love all the comments! Crazy how time flies. We waited until a couple weeks before our trip to buy stuff and pack our bags… And just remember, you can buy stuff on the road too – often for much cheaper than back in the states!

Vicky September 5, 2012 at 10:46 am

With only 10 days to go before our trip I am seriously starting to feel like we are no where near prepared at all! But yes I definitely need to remember that whatever I want/need I will probably be able to find on the road!

Katherine | Kapcha The World July 9, 2012 at 6:52 pm

I love the list. A scarf is also great for times when you need to cover up – especially in Asia for example. I am so in love with the Foodie Survival Kit – am definitely getting one of those for the next trip! Great list thanks.

Meg July 10, 2012 at 4:55 am

Thanks Katherine! We head to Asia in August so I am glad I have a scarf for the journey. Would you recommend I bring anything else for the Asia trip – What are the must-haves? I am so sad but we ran out of our Foodie Survival Kit- It was just THAT good. Now I need to find another to replace it!

Katherine | Kapcha The World July 10, 2012 at 5:15 pm

I know in some of the temples, we (girls) had to have scarves tied around our waists to cover our wombs (why i don’t know – no one ever explained this – we also weren’t allowed in if we were on our periods in Bali – how would they know??!!) – at the same time we had to have our shoulders covered too (so t-shirt handy for this). Some places you have to take your shoes off. I usually stuffed mine in my backpack but by the end they were so old I didn’t care if they got stolen (and I had a pair of jandals/flip flops in my bag anyway just in case). Most places you are good with a scarf and t-shirt though so you should be fine.

nedcro May 13, 2013 at 9:31 am

Buy, make, wear, take a T-shirt with some hilarious text in the language of the country you’re visiting printed on it.
Even better: one on the front (the answer) and one on the back (the question).
Communication Creates Contact.
(Oof, this took me half an hour to create).
Cheers, Pim.

Meg May 13, 2013 at 5:36 pm

OoO that’s a great idea Pim! I know you’re retired, but you should look into starting your own t-shirt company – I would definitely be a customer! 😉

lochs and Glens October 2, 2013 at 6:31 am

I have one more…. Nail Glue.

I learned this from an ex but carrying nail glue is always handy, she used it one time to fix a pair of my loafers that were beginning to talk at the front. I have also seen her sort out broken jewellery and even glue a button back onto a shirt!

Meg October 2, 2013 at 1:57 pm

I never would have thought about nail glue – great one and thanks for commenting and sharing your tips!

Melissa P December 19, 2013 at 1:22 pm

This is fantastic! I was thinking to let go of all my scarves prior to my overseas travel. Now I’ll give then another look =]

Meg December 19, 2013 at 2:17 pm

Definitely! Bring sturdy ones that are not too heavy but also not too light (like chiffon). One of my cotton scarves was used almost daily on the road as an accessory, pillow, curtain, etc.

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