Every once and a while you have to make a calculated risk. In this case that risk is consuming dozens of land mollusks (snails) that have been slowly simmering in a greenish brown opaque sludge for an unknown amount of time. For around $.30 a bowl, this isn’t a monetary gamble. This, my friends, is a game of diarrhea roulette. This is not a game for the light-hearted or weak-stomached. Luckily we had professional food gamblers on hand. We throw caution to the wind, and sometimes that caution is joined with bodily fluids as well. This time we are lucky and our boldness pays off with tasty food at an almost unfair price.
Six months in one bag. What to bring and what to leave behind? Might sound tedious to some, but this was actually a fun exercise. You look at all the stuff you own and realize you don’t need half of the crap, and when you’re faced with having to carry it all on your back, your priorities quickly change.
While the contents of your pack will almost certainly change (ours already has), it was important for us to get as close to right as possible from the start. We didn’t want to spend a fortune sending our things back to the States and we didn’t want to leave anything behind that we really needed. Here is a list (with some tips) of what we started with.
First, the bag.
Venessa’s previous bag was a Walmart special that wasn’t durable or large enough. Lesson 1: This is not the time to be cheap. We purchased the Osprey Farpoint 55 — great brand with a great guarantee. At $187 at REI, this is proving to be well worth the money. It fits Venessa’s small frame and the bag opens like a suitcase, so it’s easy to access the contents inside and easy to repack when it’s time to find a new home. Also, extremely important to note, this bag can be checked (even on the totalitarian airlines like RyanAir). It also came with a detachable day pack which has been a complete life saver. Paul had a bag from our 2008 trip to Peru. It’s heavy and isn’t perfect for backpacking (it’s more of a hiking bag). But, spending another $200 on a bag didn’t seem like an efficient use of money given our budget at the time. It isn’t perfect but it’s working. In hindsight, we should have forked up the money back when. C’est la vi.
On Venessa’s back:
– 1 pair of jeans
– 1 pair of black pants
– 1 pair of cargo pants
– 3 pairs of shorts
– 2 rompers (you may call it a playsuit)
– 2 dresses
– 1 maxi dress
– 1 sarong
– 1 pair of leggings
– 4 tank tops
– 4 shirts
– 1 beach cover up
– 1 light sweater
– 1 windbreaker/rain jacket
– 1 cargo jacket
– 1 fleece
– 1 exercise outfit
– 1 sleep set
– 2 bathing suits
– 3 pairs of socks (+1 comfy travel pair)
– 7 pairs of underwear
– 3 bras (+1 sports bra and bandana bra)
– 1 scarf
– sandals (can be worn when “dressing up” because heels are a no-go)
– converse sneaks
– flip flops (moonlighting as shower shoes)
– hiking boots (since we plan to do some organic farming via Helpx)
– passports and emergency documents (copies of passports/bank cards/marriage certificate/birth certificates)
– microfiber sleep sack
– cross-body leather purse
– journal and 2 pens
– kindle paperwhite
– leather belt
– microfiber towel
– wash cloth
– straw hat
– nail kit and nail filler polish
– sewing kit
– cork screw (very very handy)
– camera (an alternate to the one Paul is carrying)
– money belt
– small head lamp
– small umbrella
– eye mask
– ear plugs
– ear buds
– shoe bags
– compact mirror
– bobby pins
– medications (aspirin, Neosporin, Imodium)
We went to the doc prior to our trip and received the following shots/pills: Hepatitis B, Typhoid (since we’re going to Morocco, Turkey, and India), Tetanus, Malaria, antibiotics
– hand sanitizer
– laundry soap sheets
– metal water bottle
Makeup and Toiletries:
– minted rose lip balm
– pink and red lipsticks (a girl’s gotta get fancy sometimes)
– mascara and eyeliner
– toothbrush and cover
– anti-puff eye roller (magic wand)
– eye drops
– body lotion
– shampoo/conditioner/body wash/face wash/shaving cream (all travel sizes fitting in one pouch)
– makeup remover wipes
– face lotion
– toner (ok, could have done without this)
– mini hairspray and texture mist
– travel perfume
Total weight: 12 kilos exactly
Lessons learned: Bring less clothes (one less pair of pants/tank top/shirt/bathing suit). Everything else (minus the face toner and the extra camera) are used regularly by Venessa (so she says). But hey, she’s carrying it.
On Paul’s back:
– 6 pairs of underwear
– 6 pairs of socks
– 7 shirts (2 white undershirts, 2 colored v-neck t-shirts, 1 awesome Ninja Turtles Shirt, 2 long sleeve shirts)
– 2 button down shirts
– 1 pair of jeans
– 1 pair of kakis
– 2 pairs of shorts
– 1 pair of swimming shorts
– 1 long sleeve light sweater (think long sleeve shirt with hood)
– 1 fleece jacket (with shitty broken zipper already)
– 1 rain shell jacket
– 1 scarf
– 1 pair of boots
– 1 pair of sneakers
– Flip flops
– 1 pair of ultra-light running shoes (guilty pleasure, haven’t used)
– 2 belts
– 1 micro fiber sleep sack
– 1 microfiber towel
– 1 microfiber washcloth
– First aid kit
– Universal sink stopper
– Coffee press mug
– Metal Water bottle
– Various toiletries
o Various Advil in a plastic bag
– Flask of Buffalo Trace whisky
– Small tablet pc (Asus t-100)
– Camera (Sony a6000) with zoom kit lens
– Three lenses (28mm, 50mm, 120mm)
– Audio recorder (zoom h1)
– Battery back (LIFE SAVER)
– Foldable solar panels
– Universal power adapter
Total weight: 13.2 kilos
Impressions and lessons: As expected, I brought way too much. I think I will divest myself of a couple of shirts and some toiletries. I don’t think I need to lug around travel size mouthwash, for example. The problem is that while I may not need some of this stuff now, I may need it in the future. The gear is by far the heaviest. I haven’t used the solar panels but I’ve been in Europe exclusively. For example, when we get to India or Morocco, there may be a need to use it to charge our cameras. The only thing I would like to have that I don’t is a travel hard drive with a large capacity.
The wind has reached critical levels in Tarifa. This is great news for the pilgrims flocking to the wind and kite surfing mecca. Terrible news if you wanted to take a ferry to Morocco. All ferries from Tarifa have been cancelled for the next few days. With Africa in sight we are eager to make the crossing. There are worse places to be stranded.
Once we told all our family and friends that we were taking off on this trip, we got the same questions: how are we pulling this off? Are we rich? Are we crazy? And just about everyone said they wish they could do the same thing. Well, you can. And no, we aren't rich.
Our plan of attack
- Stop spending money on superficial shit. Cancel gym, premium cable, our NYT and New Yorker subscriptions. No more mani and pedis and $250 haircuts for Venessa. Cut down on restaurant/bar outings, and by far, we saved the most money by taking our lunch to work every day
- Put aside at least $1,000/month toward what we already had saved (more budget info below)
- Sold everything in our apartment that wasn't of emotional value
- Found someone to take over our apartment lease
- Packed up all our personal items (books, clothes, mementos, more books) and drove from Brooklyn to West Palm Beach to store this stuff in our parents' garage. A cheap storage unit works too.
And now, for the budget...
Of course it's much easier to live with $100/couple/day than it is $50/person/day because you can share things like beds, taxis, toiletries, bottles of wine. What we overspend in Paris, we'll make up in Morocco. It also helps that we have some income coming in at various stages (Paul had a freelance law job in NOLA right before our trip and Venessa is leaving for a week in the middle of our adventure to freelance for Penguin Random House at the American Library Association conference).
Keeping it cheap
We highly recommend Couchsurfing (google it). Before we left NYC, we hosted a girl from Paris. Meaning she stayed on our couch for four days, experiencing NYC with us as her tour guide. Couchsurfing is free, and you don't have to sleep on a couch (many people offer up their spare bedrooms). It's a way to see a city through a local's eye and to experience what it's like for them on a day to day basis. You can meet friends of friends, and it allows you to do/see things you wouldn't otherwise experience if you were staying on your own in a hostel (examples from us to come!).
We're also using Helpx (google it), similar to Workaway or WWOOF. You work a few hours a day in exchange for a place to stay and food to eat. We haven't tried this yet, but stay tuned.
There are also hostels which are great for your first night in a city. They are usually cheap and have 24-hour check in. Airbnb is another great option. It is usually the same price of a hostel (if traveling with 2 or more people) and offers more privacy, quiet and cleaner conditions. The downside of Airbnb is that it isn't as easy (but still pretty easy) to get a last-minute booking.
Other quick tips:
- Carry a water bottle and fill up wherever you go
- Time bathroom breaks and hit up wifi when you stop for meals or coffee
- Picnics! Buy a baguette, some local cheese and meat, and a bottle of wine and head to a park. It's awesome and a fraction of the price
But don't be too cheap and pass up a great experience in order to save a few euros. The point is to enjoy your trip not endure it.