I know it’s been a while as my posting schedule was essentially shut down this summer. I hope to get back to a twice a month publishing schedule.
A week ago I returned to work after taking the last 8 weeks off as part of my Microsoft sabbatical and traveling for most of it with my family. We visited 12 countries and 17 cities and planning for this trip was an 18 month project which included a lot of detailed planning on what to bring!
I learned a lot about how to optimize for travel packing and below are some of the details about what products I found useful.
The basics here are a suitcase that can store enough close for this trip without exceeding weight limits along with a carry-on bag and 2 other bags for more versatile uses. My packed suitcase weighed 19 kg.
I used a Rimowa 68L Black Aluminum Suitcase - any bigger and this will not make it under the 20 kg limit for most European flights. This suitcase isn’t produced any more since LVMH purchased Rimowa. I found 65-70L to be the perfect size bag. Lora and I share the same bag and the kids each have polycarbonate versions. Sarah’s bag suffered this unfortunate incident on Ryan Air and I was able to quickly fix it.
I used a Peak Design 45L Travel Backpack - outfitted with the 2 “slot” camera cube. This took two camera bodies and 3 lenses along with my iPad, headphones and travel charger and cables.
I also took a Peak Design 5L Sling - packed inside the 45L bag for flights and used as my daily carry.
I carried one packable tote for airline “stuff” and as a beach bag. I used a SDR Traveler T1 Tote. I seriously love this bag. I never realized how versatile a tote can be on a trip but this frequently was used as an airplane bag (so I could put the Peak Design 45L in the overhead bin) and daily to the beach. My travel routine is before boarding the plane I put all my stuff such as iPad, headphones, toiletries into this bag for the flight and stow my backpack.
Items in my suitcase were organized using Peak Design Medium Cube, Small Cube and Shoe Pouch. I also really like the Eagle Creek Specter bags. They are impossibly thin and light. I have only found two cube sizes useful 1) full or medium and 2) half or small. Just stick to those sizes. I like the white ones as they are translucent and stay away from all the colors. They come in many different types such as compression and clean / dirty. I find that complicated.
To stay organized on this trip I used the following items.
SDR Traveller - Double Passport Pouch is where I kept the 4 passports for airline and hotel checkin. I kept this around my neck at all times and also placed boarding passes and luggage tags in there.,
SDR Traveller - Money Pouch is where I kept all our currency and envelopes to use for tips for our tour guides. On this trip I employed the following tipping guidelines for guides and drivers: $10 / hour for guides and if there was a driver with the guide $5 / hour. For Airport rides a flat $20 tip. For drivers that drove us between cities $10 / hour of driving.
Dyneema Small Bags - I really love Dyneema. It weighs nearly nothing and is transparent as heck. This is the material all the SDR products are made of. You can get comparable Dyneema products from Etsy. Ultralitesacks and dyborg make great products.
Ultralight Stuff Sacks - I used these for laundry and flip flops.
Dyneema Wallet Minimalist - I used this for backup credit cards and our Global Entry Cards in white and black.
Dyneema Medium Zippered Pouch - I used this for camera chargers and batteries.
Magpul Daka pouches for each person to pack their nightstand charger setup.
Dyneema Zip Ditty Bag in Regular for my Go Pro
Dyneema EYL Coin Purse - for storing coins in multiple currencies.
I survived off my iPad 12.9 inch with pencil and smart keyboard. This was my first trip for this long without a laptop. The good news is that it was a success. The iPad is clearly capable of doing nearly everything and with iOS 13 around the corner it will get even better.
I imported all the photos off my cameras into the iPad and Lightroom. The iPad was a capable digital darkroom.
The iPad stayed in the hotel / room the whole time and rarely came out. My iPhone did the heavy lifting everywhere else.
Headphones - Surface Noise Cancelling Headphones and AirPods. I lost a pair of AirPods and Lora’s AirPods broke on this trip. We were thankful that AirPods can be purchased nearly everywhere in Europe. Thinking that in the future we will travel with a backup pair as it sucks for AirPods to go missing given how many audio books and podcasts we listen to these days.
I have replaced the Surface Headphones with the new Bose NC 700 which were not available when we left. I’ll review these soon but the short version is they are better.
I really like this case for the AirPods which I now have on them so I know which ones are mine.
The AirPods were also key for working out which we did every day (first time in my life). We got to know the hotel gyms all very well. I started to use an app called Streaks Workout which I still use today.
iPhone Xs Max was a champ. This phone is so remarkable and takes incredible photos. I found myself wondering a lot WHY DID I CARRY 15 pounds of camera gear with me?
The dual SIM iPhone meant that I could have my AT&T connection for phone and text and the Google SIM card for data.
Google Fi kept everyone in the family connected. We consumed about 30 GB of LTE data in Europe and paid about $200 for that (for 7 weeks of data). I have a single Google Fi account with 5 additional SIM cards (data only) that go into each device. You pay $25 per month and $10 per GB of data on all those devices. There is a cap at 6GB where you stop paying and at 15GB they throttle you to a slower speed but you can pay $10 per GB again to resume normal speed. I only had to do this for one month. I am not aware of anyone that has a system like this where each device just shares the same primary plan and data pool.
To compare - AT&T Roaming would have cost $10 / day and that’s only for a single device. So $500 just to have my iPhone connected.
I took my Sony A7RIII with 24-70mm f2.8 and 70-300mm. I used the 24-70mm a lot but carrying the 70-300 was a mistake. I used it 4 times. I do love those photos I took but my back didn’t like it.
I also took my Leica M10-P and used that quite a lot. Far more compact and fun to use.
Finally I took a GoPro Hero 7 which I used quite a lot in Greece.
I used these travel adapters which are awesome. Green for Europe and most of world and Red for UK. Each has 2 outlets so you can maximize and get two plugs in there.
Bedside Charging Kit in the Daka for Apple Watch, iPhone and iPad.
Anker 30W USB-C + USB-A - 18W for the iPhone / iPad and 12W for the Watch in a compact package. Coupled with the International adapter above these don’t “dangle” or “fall out” of the wall. Nothing like waking up to a dead phone cause your charger fell out.
Backpack Charging and Cable Kit in the Peak Design Pouch
PeakDesign Tech Pouch - Everything below goes in here
Mu One USB-C Charger - great international charger
Mophie Powerstation PD - this is a super batter and can charge an iPhone very fast
Anker Powerline II 3-in-1 Cable (Micro, USB-C, Lightning)
Thorfire Flashlight - single AA battery
Avoid Cotton. That’s what I did.
My goal for this trip was to have a few versatile pieces of mostly technical fabrics and merino wool. Most of my clothing was sourced from a New York company called Outlier - which I would describe as a material science company that makes clothing for men.
The reason I went with mostly merino was that I could easily hand wash and dry, and wear comfy clothing for days. In addition I could avoid wrinkles from repeated packing and unpacking.
The reason I went with their technical clothing (pants and shorts) as well as some specialized shirts was that I could avoid washing and wear light, stretch and stain resistant products.
Nearly everything I took with me was made of merino wool (or a merino wool / synthetic blend), ramie (more on that later), or synthetic materials.
The first thing I did when I returned was look for suitable wool underwear since I hand washed all my clothing the whole trip and my cotton underwear was the laggard when it came to drying. I have since switched to Ice Breaker wool underwear which dries in about 2 hours.
Favorite Items for Dressing Up
Outlier AMB Button up in Black, Outlier AMB Shortsleeve in Navy and Outlier AMB Hidden Placket In Charcoal. These are merino wool dress shirts. I have never owned merino dress shirts before this and they are so amazing. They come out of the bag slightly wrinkled but those disappear. They wash and dry very fast and hand washing and hand drying once on the trip was all that was needed.
Outlier Ramielight Breezy Pivot in Navy and Outlier Ramielight Mojave Shortsleeve in Navy. These are ramie based shirts and excel in hot and humid weather. They have linen like qualities but are more versatile.
Outlier Futureworks in Khaki - these were great to wear to dinners in the evening. At one point in a restaurant a waiter spilled a coffee drink and I got splatter. I just wiped with a wet napkin and it came right off! I own these pants in flat black and light khaki - review here.
Favorite Items for Daily Wear
Nike Epic React Flyknit 2 - I wore these every day and walked > 500 miles as well as worked out in them. They are so comfy. Love!
S.M.N The Finn Tapered Slim in Matteo - I really dig these jeans.
Outlier Runweight Merino in Navy and Black - these are hybrid merino and synthetic and are very light weight and dry in under an hour. Sadly they are now discontinued but you’ll find other companies that make hybrid shirts.
Outlier Ramielust T-shirt’s in Purple and Navy - for hot and or hot and humid and wore most days. Takes minutes to wash and dry them. Performance is amazing.
Darn Tough Running - great sock for sneakers
Darn Tough Crew - fantastic dress / casual merino sock.
Outerwear and Protection
My setup was
Light to Medium weight wind breaker
Knee length rain shell that can be packed up small
Lightweight high loft down jacket
Black baseball cap - Reigning Champ Trail Cap
Umbrella - Fulton Open and Close Superslim Umbrella - a few years ago I picked these up in London and we use them all the time on trips when it’s crazy hot and sunny or when it rains. I keep one in my glove compartment for emergencies too. They make a non-automatic one as well.
Most of the items above were sourced from Arc’teryx Veilance which is a small sub brand of Arc’teryx. They make some of the best outerwear on the planet.
We purchased our sunscreen in Europe (and brought some home) since it’s light years ahead of the crap we get in the US.
Washing and Bath
Peak Design Wash Pouch is where nearly everything was stored.
Sea to Summit clear bag for small bottles - works well for security screening.
Quip toothbrush - we lost 2 of these on the trip but otherwise I always travel with them
Klhip Ultimate Clipper - never in stock but if you can get one this is the best nail clipper
Puracy Natural Enzyme Stain Remover - this stuff is incredible. My new go to stain remover. It’s very gentle on products like wool.
Laundry Detergent - these Tide Travel packs are great
GSI Microlite Water Bottle - I really like this bottle as it’s so light and thin. I take this on trips with me.
Selection of apps that I found useful on this trip.
Google Maps - nothing comes close to being this useful when traveling.
Google Translate - this app is bananas
Guides from Lonley Planet - nice app to read some curated city info
Allergic Traveler - translates your allergies into dozens of languages.
Blacklane - good app for booking car services in many cities
Ship Finder - cool app for figuring out what that boat is or where your ferry is
DayOne - we kept our journal in here
Flighty - new app, expensive but pretty great for frequent traveler. Bonus is it connects to TripIt
TripIt - necessary to stay organized
Elk - currency conversion
Carrot - great weather options for international travel and pretty accurate on trip
Streaks Workout - for working out anywhere
Gemini - for cleaning and decluttering your camera roll photos
OneDrive - where all our travel documentation, PDFs, passports were all stored. This came in so handy to provide links to documents or scan receipts and tickets.
V for Wikipedia - for looking up instructing information “around us” on wikipedia
Withlocals - neat app for finding great local tour guides
Tunnerlbear VPN - when you have a European Internet address but live in the US a lot of things break. Use a VPN app to fix this. That includes downloading or streaming content from video services (sadly Netflix has figured out how to block this though).
We had an incredible time. Here are some parting thoughts.
Get professional help when planning for this long. Abercrombie & Kent provided a lot of the logistics and plans for a big chunk of our trip. They are world class.
When buying airline tickets on European carriers we found paying extra for tickets that came with seat assignments, early boarding, faster checkin, fast pass security and lounge access invaluable in making things run smooth.
You need to let all your credit cards know where you will be as well as your bank if you plan to purchase things. Only change currency by putting your ATM card in a machine and withdrawing cash. Every ATM had language choices so you can read in English.
When purchasing using a credit card or ATM always say “NO” to paying or converting to US dollars. This is a scam. Your best exchange rate will be in local currency through your credit card. You cannot beat this anywhere under any circumstances.
Ensure you have a credit card with no foreign transaction fees and take multiple cards in case your cc number is compromised. Use Apple Pay as much as possible as this works nearly everywhere. The Chase Sapphire Reserve or Prefered is one of the best cards for traveling internationally. It has great flight, rental and travel protection.
It’s very useful to have cash when traveling. I was in a number of situations where I needed it including cash only merchants or for tips and taxis where it was faster and easier.
If you have extra local currency that you don't need, when checking out from your hotel just give it to them and apply it to your balance.
Be smart about your belongings. Assume things will get lost or go missing and have a plan for if that happens. In our case it did not but with carry on bags we had our key items and backups.
Don’t fly Ryan Air.