What’s Inside A Full-Time Traveler’s Suitcase

Wandering Earl

Full-time traveler

It turns out that a full-time traveler doesn’t really need much stuff.

One pair of ripped socks. Boxer shorts with a tear in the back (oh my, these are old). A yellow t-shirt with all kinds of Vietnamese soup stains on the front. Two small tin boxes I bought for no reason at an antique shop in India earlier this year. And a blue belt that I hadn’t seen in about 14 months.

That’s a quick glimpse of some of the stuff I just found when I gutted my suitcase this morning in preparation for this post.

In fact, I think it’s the first time I’ve taken absolutely everything out in about two years.

Did I say suitcase? Yes I did.

After spending my first 16 years or so as a full-time traveler using my trusty Kelty Redwing 44 liter backpack, I’ve now spent a good portion of the past 2 years traveling around with my Eagle Creek Load Warrior 42 liter rolling suitcase.

Have I gone mad? Perhaps.

All I know is that this little sturdy suitcase, which is indeed smaller than my Kelty backpack, helps me keep things more organized, it’s super easy to pull along wherever I go and it’s still compact enough to take as a carry-on. And as I get older, that all seems slightly more appealing than carrying my stuff on my back.

I still love my backpack but for the travel I do now, a 42-liter rolling suitcase suits my needs.

What I Pack as a Full-Time Traveler

After 18 years of travel, one might think that my possessions have gone through a series of transformations based on my travel style or needs. Well, apart from some more advanced technology that I carry today, things really aren’t too different now than from 1999 or 2003 and so on.

I’m not sure if I should be happy, embarrassed or sad about that.

Anyway, here is the complete list

Full-time traveler - all my stuff

The Main Bag

  • 3 pairs of shorts (one gray, one blue, one orange as I spend significant amounts of time in hot weather)
  • 1 swimsuit (if there’s a beach nearby, I’m goingI actually had 2 swimsuits but some coconut oil leaked through my daypack last month and caused the red material of the bag to stain the swimsuit, so that one had to go)
  • 2 pairs of jeans (1 blue, 1 blackI’ve tried wearing actual pants but always prefer my jeans in the end)
  • 9 t-shirts (might sound like more than I need, but this full-time traveler spills a lot of soup on his t-shirts so I always need backups)
  • 1 button down short sleeve shirt (I love this shirt but only really wear it when I need to look a tad more dressed up, which isn’t too often actually)
  • 1 button down long sleeve shirt (I’ve been carrying this one around for the past 1.5 years and haven’t worn it once)
  • 1 sweater (a recent purchase from when I was in Sweden last month and it was quite cold outsidehaven’t used it since)
  • 1 navy zipper hoodie (I wear this ALL the timein fact, I probably should wash it soon)

Full-time traveler - jumper and travel towel

  • Travel towel (I don’t knowabout twice per year I find myself dripping with water and without a proper towel aroundthat’s when this thin travel towel comes to the rescue)
  • 7 pairs of socks (you can’t wear flip-flops in European cities during the summer, you’ve got to put on some socks and shoes!)
  • 8 underwear (yup, I do wear underwear and only one has a hole in it, I think)
  • 1 pair of sandals (after spending many years only wearing Crocs Modi Flips or Hurley Phantom Free flip-flops, I recently purchased a pair of Sole sandalsoops, big mistake and when I get back to the US in a couple of weeks, I’ll be going back to one of my favorites)
  • 1 pair of New Balance shoes (I’m a New Balance person they’re comfortable, durable and they have an N for nomad on the side)
  • Sarong (the one thing I know I’ve carried with me from day 1 as a full-time travelerit plays so many roles sheet, beach blanket, bag, sweat rag, clothing, etc)
  • Amazon basics laundry bag (super sturdy, rolls up into nothing and well, pretty much does what you’d expect)
  • Shoe brush (with only 1 pair of shoes, they can get dirty, so from time to time I give them a scrub downunfortunately, it doesn’t help remove the car oil stains that I somehow got on my shoes)
  • Bar of soap (some guesthouses/hotels/hostels/apartments don’t provide soap and I’ve realized this way too many times after getting under the water in the showerso, I carry my own just in case)
  • Ohuhu toiletry bag (the best one I’ve found by farfits everything, remains compact and is super easy to cleanwhy I need to carry around 3 things of deodorant is a different story)

Full-time traveler - toiletry bag

  • Philips electric toothbrush (last year I made the switch to an electric toothbrush and naturally, it was a great decision here’s a tip for travelers thoughI went with Philips because it can be charged anywhere overseasthe ones from Braun require a voltage converter)
  • Contact lenses and contact lens solution (kind of a necessity)
  • Bag of money (not as exciting as that soundsjust a pile of currency from countries I think I might visit again soonor just a pile of money that is getting dirtier and smellier as time goes on)

Full-time traveler - bag of money

  • Small medicine pack (ibuprofen, Claritin, paracetamolactually, I can’t find this thing right now so I might have lost it)
  • 2 tiny tin boxes (no idea what I’m going to do with these things, probably just carry them around for a few years)

The Small Bag

In terms of a small bag, a couple of years ago I made the switch to a Timbuk2 messenger bag. For me, it’s more comfortable and holds everything I need in a more organized manner. And it’s red, which apparently nobody wants, because it was on sale for about 50% off the regular price.

Here’s what’s inside:

Full-time traveler - messenger bag

  • MacBook Pro laptop (can’t travel/work without it, and after 5 years, it’s still going strong)
  • Kindle (lately I haven’t been reading as much as I wish but do you have any book recommendations?)
  • Samsung Galaxy S7 (it’s my phone and my camera these days)
  • Credit card holders (I don’t use a walletI stuff money and the cards I need each day into my pocketwhat I don’t need, I keep in these two thingsno idea why I don’t use a different systemany good travel wallet recommendations?)

Full-time traveler - credit card holders

  • Pouch for SIM cards (when I saw this felt pouch in a tiny store in Karakol, Kyrgyzstan a few years ago, I thought to myself, That would be a perfect SIM card holderwell, not quite like that but I liked the pouch and that’s what it has become)
  • Symphonized NRG 3.0 earbuds (My Symphonized earbuds are one of my best ever gear purchasesfor $25, the sound quality is simply awesome and as a bonus, I actually just used them last night as ear plugs due to the barking dogs and naying horses outside the window don’t ask)

Full-time traveler - earbuds

  • Business cards (Ah yesI’ve been carrying around a couple of hundred business cards since 2012 and have probably handed out a grand total of 9)
  • ButterFox electronic gear case (it all fits inside chargers, wireless mouse, small HDMI cable, plug adapters, laptop screen cleaner and these colorful little rubber twisty tie things that I thought would be useful but which I’ve never used)

And finally, I also carry around

  • Passport (completely worn out, partly torn and with three extra sets of pages inside, two of which are sewn in and one which is taped intalk about suspicious)
  • Yellow Fever certificate (only needed to use this once but good to have)
  • Sunglasses (for the first 35 years of my life, I never wore sunglasses but the last 5 years, I’ve worn them almost every day)
  • Pen (high-quality little pen I bought at a random pen shop in Singapore about 4 years ago)
  • USB stick (no idea what’s on this thing)

Full-time traveler - passport and stuff

That’s everything!

Total weight:

Suitcase 11 kg / 24 lbs

Daypack 5 kg / 13 lbs

And while all of the above might sound like a significant amount of stuff, here’s what it all looks like when nicely packed up:

Full-time traveler - all packed up

Final Notes on Packing

Carry on or checked luggage?

My current setup, whether with the backpack or suitcase, can always be taken as a carry-on. I usually take it as a carry-on if I am flying direct. If I have a layover somewhere, I check my backpack or suitcase simply because I don’t like to lug it around the airport. But I’ve never had any issues with size or weight when taking it as a carry-on, including on many budget airlines in Europe, Asia and Africa.

The good and the bad of packing light

Pros: My life fits into one small bag. It’s pretty simple, everything I need as a full-time traveler is right there and I can pack up and go in minutes if I’m being chased by local authorities um, or I just suddenly decide to head to a new destination. There is also a sense of freedom involved with having such few possessions and having that ability to move around the globe so easily without having to think of what to do with excess stuff.

Cons: On the other hand, sometimes I wouldn’t mind some extra stuff. Another shirt or another pair of shoes, for example. I don’t need them but when you’re on the road for this long, some added variety wouldn’t hurt. Also, whenever I see something that I’d like to purchase, something that would look great in my home, I have to remind myself that I’m a full-time traveler that lives out of my suitcase and that there is no room in there for cool Moroccan lamps or a hand-woven Pakistani carpet.

Packing cubes

A friend and I have been going back and forth recently about the benefits of packing cubes. He sees a ton of benefits. I see zero benefits. I know they’re a popular thing but when a bag is all packed up with packing cubes, to me it just looks like my suitcase when it is all packed up, except that there are these cubes that now need to be opened in order for me to reach my stuff. Why have that extra step?

Is the above really all I own?

Pretty much, yes. I do have one box in a closet at my mom’s place that is filled with some extra clothes and a few gifts I’ve purchased for myself while traveling but I haven’t looked at it in a long time. It’s probably full of bugs. Apart from that, all of my possessions are literally in my suitcase and messenger bag.

So, the question is, could you live out of a suitcase? How do you pack, or think you’d pack, for your travels?


How I’ve Traveled the World for 18 Years

Wandering Earl

Traveled the World - India

It might sound unbelievable but I’ve actually traveled the world for 18 years without doing anything special.

When I started my travels in 1999, I was about as much of an ultra-budget backpacker as one could possibly be. All of my simple belongings easily fit into my original 44 liter durable Kelty Redwing backpack, to begin with. Combine that with a travel style that involved nothing more than constant on the go planning, hostel dorm rooms and trying to do everything without spending any money at all, and that pretty much sums up my first couple of years on the road.

It was a glorious period of my travels.

With nothing to worry about and nothing to look up online before I moved on to the next destination, I was free to simply be present every minute of every day, wherever I happened to find myself and without being locked in to anything.

All I did during those initial years of travel was rely on conversations with other travelers and with locals. That was all it took to find accommodation, places to eat, the local bus station, things to do and so on. I also had very few, if any, responsibilities. So I was happily able to accept whatever happened to me each day and wherever I ended up without any worries at all.

Of course, I had very little money to spend too as I was earning almost nothing most of the time.

Traveled the World - Bagan

But that was a time before the internet boom, a time when we weren’t constantly bombarded with Top 10 Things to Do in Guatemala or Where You MUST Travel Next posts popping up everywhere. There were no checklists or bucket lists. It didn’t matter what you saw or what you ate as you traveled the world. Just ‘being’ there was enough. The rewards came on their own.

SUMMARY 1999 2002

Travel Style: Ultra-budget backpacker

Income: Teaching English, volunteering (no income but no expenses), short stint in the US as a substitute teacher

The Cruise Ship Years

About 2 years into my travels, life took an unexpected path.

I ended up working on board cruise ships as a Tour Manager. It all happened out of nowhere after a friend recommended I work on ships and I was put in touch with a contact at the head office of Carnival Cruise Lines.

Suddenly, I was earning and saving good money while working 4-6 month contracts, seeing dozens of new places, gaining some excellent managerial work experience, meeting tons of new people and then enjoying long vacations in between contracts where I was able to travel to lands far and wide. It seemed too good to be true saving money while catching a glimpse of Caribbean islands, Hawaii, Norwegian fjords and Iceland, Italy, Spain and Greece, Central America, Canada and ports as far off as Auckland, New Zealand, American Samoa and Cochin, India.

Traveled the world - cruise ship

It was an ideal set up. In fact, I ended up working on ships for about 4.5 years over an 8 year period. Eventually, I resigned from ‘ship life’ in 2008 simply because the set up was too good. If I didn’t get out then, I was going to be stuck on ships forever. And while I loved the lifestyle and the benefits, I also had other things I wanted to achieve in life that required me to be on land.

SUMMARY 2002 2008

Travel Style: Cruise ship crew member / budget backpacker during vacations

Income: Monthly salary during my contracts / able to save 90% of what I earned

The Online Years

After I finally decided to end my cruise ship career in 2008, it was right around the time when the initial whispers about ‘working online’ began to surface. So, I finished my last ship contract and took off for a 6-month visit to Melbourne, Australia, where I decided to rent a room in a shared house and give this working online thing a try.

I hunkered down and spent several months writing an eBook designed to help cruise ship passengers enhance their cruise vacations, using all of the knowledge I gained working in the industry.

A couple of hours after publishing the finished product online, I sold my first copy. I couldn’t believe it.

So, I sat down to write a second eBook with a friend. We completed it in two months but this one didn’t work. It never sold.

I then chose to experiment with the world of affiliate marketing after coming across Affilorama’s detailed course, and I soon found some success. There certainly wasn’t much competition back then so it was easier to make progress more quickly with this kind of work.

Traveled the world - working in Tanzania

With these two (small) successes under my belt, I decided to travel around Thailand, India and Central America for a few months and then spend eight weeks living in Sayulita, Mexico to figure out the next step. This was in 2010.

And while in this small, quiet Mexican town, right in between surfing sessions that involved 94% painful crashes and 6% actual wave riding, that’s when I started WanderingEarl.com.

Over the next 1.5 years, I would then work nonstop on the blog, unsure of where it would lead but truly enjoying every minute I spent on the site and associated social media. My motivation grew to the point where, after receiving so many questions from readers of the blog interested in working on cruise ships as well, I sat down and wrote another eBook, naturally called, How to Work on Cruise Ships.

At the beginning of 2012, I completed my third eBook, How to Live a Life of Travel, which I released on the blog soon after.

And so my online work began to grow.

SUMMARY 2008 2012

Travel Style: Medium-budget backpacker

Income: Sales of three eBooks, affiliate marketing, blogging

The Recent Years

At the end of 2012, I offered my first Wandering Earl Tour. This tour to India sold out in less than 2 days. Then in 2013, I offered 3 trips, one to Mexico and two to India.

After seeing the interest in and success of these first few tours, I decided to put more energy into this aspect of my work. And now over the past couple of years I’ve been offering anywhere from 6-10 trips per year, to over a dozen destinations. I’ve also organized many private tours to various countries for families and groups of friends.

Given the continued positive feedback of all these trips, as well as the number of repeat customers I’ve had, I’ve decided to offer 15 small group trips in total for 2018. (More about these trips in a post next week!)

Traveled the World - Wandering Earl Tours

In addition to the tours, I still have some affiliate links on my blog as a way to earn some extra income. An example of this is my Travel Gear page. On occasion, I also work with various travel-related companies in a partnership format where I earn a certain amount of money in exchange for promoting their product or service. I don’t do this often though as I’m quite picky about what I promote. My goal is to promote something that is truly valuable and useful for those who follow the blog and social media, not to simply earn as much money as I can by promoting anything that comes my way. I actually turn down 95% of the offers that appear in my inbox.

The last way I earn some money right now is through consulting.

I’ve worked with over a dozen travel bloggers as well as a few dozen tourism-related businesses and organizations (guesthouses, tour operators, tourism boards, etc.) by providing them with a detailed strategy to help them achieve their goals based on my extensive knowledge of the industry. It’s a fun side gig as I really enjoy working with such diverse people and constantly learning what’s happening all over the world in terms of travel trends, blog ideas, business ideas and tourism campaigns.

SUMMARY 2012 2017

Travel Style: Medium-budget local travel / Mix of semi-organized travels, spontaneous trips and the tours I lead

Income: eBook sales, affiliate marketing, partnerships, Wandering Earl Tours, consulting

My Travels Today

These days, I no longer backpack around in the same way I used to when I first traveled the world 18 years ago. I could blame it on all the information online that makes me feel as if I need to be more informed or makes me feel that I need to book everything in advance and so on, but that would be silly since I play a role in that myself. Things just change, and I’m totally cool with that. I don’t mind doing some research now, looking for the best deals and booking various aspects of my travels ahead of time.

Actually, I think the change has more to do with the responsibilities I have at this point in life work, bills, a wonderful relationship, etc. I need to be a little more organized and I need to make sure I am able to stay as focused as possible with my current life situation and work. So if I can have some things in order before I arrive somewhere, it certainly helps me adjust more quickly and to maintain the balance I need.

Traveled the world - Seychelles

Don’t get me wrong. My girlfriend and I still do show up in certain destinations without much of a plan at all, such as with our recent visits to Albania, Montenegro, Croatia and Hungary. That won’t ever change as we do love that style of travel!

But overall, we do tend to have more of a plan, or at least some bookings made. We’re still medium-budget travelers, just in a different way.

Everything evolves, including one’s needs and goals and one’s travel style. If you stay true to yourself though, there’s no reason why this should be a negative thing.

And finally, here’s the real beauty of all the above

Not a day goes by where I don’t feel fortunate to have somehow ended up in this crazy lifestyle that involves more travel than I know what to do with. At the same time, not a day goes by where I don’t realize that my story, such as the summary above, is nothing special at all. It’s a story that anyone could live.

Determination, a willingness to constantly learn and an inability to accept anything less than the achievement of my goals is really all that was required.

Are those not things that we can all summon from within? I hear more examples of it every single day so I know it’s fully possible!

How have you made travel possible? For those starting out, any questions or ideas to share?