What’s in my bag? Packing for a long trip


WHAT"S in my pack?

WHAT”S in my pack?

I’ve downsized to a backpack, and it’s both liberating and confining.

When I traveled with a trailer I could bring little tchotchkes that made the place feel homey. I could bring stuff “just in case.” I packed an entire box of books. But a trailer, even the teeny one I towed, is always with you in all its thousands of pounds and touchy little systems that work wonderfully–until they don’t.

A backpack pares things down to essentials. There’s no room for “just in case.” And not much leeway for comfort measures. But done right, you are incredibly mobile and unfettered. Hard-core travelers go for years with a carry-on. Honestly, that kind of blows my mind.

Trailers and backpacks do share one mighty important consideration, however, and that is weight. Whether the weight is on your hitch and axles or on your back, it is a force to be reckoned with. After my first year of trailer travel, I was able to lighten up considerably. I’m sure that I’ll do the same with the backpack, and since the weight is on MY back this time, it’ll probably happen quickly.

I thought a lot about what to take, and I consulted my favorite source–other bloggers. Then I did what made sense to me. This includes a couple of items that aren’t on anyone’s list, but that I decided were worth it to me.

My backpack is a top-of-the-line Osprey Meridian–a gift from my kids. I’ve had it for about 10 years now, and I’m consistently impressed with its durability and attention to detail. This puppy is made for serious travel. At 75 liters, including a detachable daypack, it’s bigger than I need, and at over 6 pounds, it packs some heft of its own. But it also has heavy-duty nylon wheels along with a stout and fully functional harness for backpacking, so this beast gives me a lot of flexibility. I hope to mostly roll it along the bumpy Mexican terrain, but if push comes to shove, I could carry it on my back. I tried to keep it light enough to lift. This isn’t a bag made for trekking, but it’s perfectly adapted to what I’m doing.

Osprey backpackOsprey backpack-side








Heavy-duty nylon wheels--not puny roller-luggage stuff

Heavy-duty nylon wheels–not puny roller-luggage stuff









I expect the top of the Copper Canyon to be nippy in December, and the Yucatan to be steamy in April, so of course I brought layers, although, since it’s winter in Michigan, I think I erred more on the side of staying warm rather than keeping cool.

In all, I brought:
2 pairs of pants (one zips to shorts)
1 pair capris
1 pair stretch pants/thermal layer
1 long-sleeved white shirt impregnated with sunblock
1 light long-sleeved pullover thingie
3 very light, short-sleeved shirts
Patagonia fleece hoodie
Patagonia jacket
3 pr socks
3 pr undies
bathing suit (I needed a new one and buying them is painful, so I’m somewhat embarrassed, but also delighted, to admit that I borrowed my daughter’s preggers suit–and it fits!)
rain poncho
quick-dry towel-large
couple headscarves

I’ve outgrown fashion, or it has outgrown me–either way, that’s a beautiful thing. So you’ll notice that I have no nice jeans, which are heavy and don’t sink wash. I have no cute shoes. I should have gotten a skirt, but ran out of time to shop.

This is it, folks. Not a sexy fashion statement in the lot.

This is it, folks. Not a sexy fashion statement in the lot.

Same with shoes. I only brought two pairs–neither of which are remotely fashionable, although my Chaco sandals apparently have some kitsch within the activewear crowd. I also couldn’t find a pair of more sturdy-ish boots to replace the shoes I’ve worn over hill and dale for the past two years. They are so comfortable, I couldn’t stand the thought of settling for something more untested, so I never really looked. I’m just hoping my old Goretex Adidas will hold up until I get back.

Brand-spanking-new Chacos and worn-out Adidas

Brand-spanking-new Chacos and worn-out Adidas

The dubious stuff I decided to take include my trusty walking stick. I probably won’t do hard-core trekking, but I will do some stiff hikes, and even one stick makes a big difference, especially on pebbly scree, on inclines, and on high, narrow passes.

Geeky hat, walking stick, fahncy water bottle

Geeky hat, walking stick, fahncy water bottle

Instead of opting for a light, easy steripen that uses UV light to kill all the little critters in water, I opted for a high-end pump-style filter, which takes care of critters and also strains almost everything else out of water. (I strained the blue dye out of a test sample.) Presumably, then, you aren’t drinking any of the other crap that lurks in water lines. This bugger is durable and simple to use. It doesn’t need batteries and gets high grades for durability. BUT it weighs one bulky pound. If I were short on space, that’d be a problem.

First Need elite water filter. Overkill? Perhaps.

First Need elite water filter. Overkill? Perhaps.

This could be one of the choices I regret, except that I’ll never run out of good-tasting, abso-freaking-pure water. Is that priceless? The jury is still out.

Compared with many blogger dudes who run around with Apple Airbooks (hint: Apple is so ubiquitous it’s lost its cachet.), big DSLR cameras and lenses, Kindles, and smart phones, I am a Luddite. Simply by admitting to myself that I can’t take good photos, I dropped a ton of weight and expense.  And so far, I’ve been too cheap to do the smartphone thing, although that may change.

The technology in my pack is limited to one Android tablet and keyboard (Asus Transformer T300) and my little point-and-shoot camera–an older Canon. I bought the tablet to be my workhorse, although I know it’s more a sidekick than the main honch. More the cherry than the sundae. But it runs forever without a charge. Works well with You Tube and Netflix (although, whoops, the Asus doesn’t support Adobe Flash. Didn’t see that one coming.)

Yeah, that's it. Ridiculous, I know.

Yeah, that’s it. Ridiculous, I know.

I use it as my ereader, for Internet and email, and for Skype. (I may buy a cheap phone and SIM card in Mexico.) So far it’s worked well for most things except, um, blogging. It’s a little shaky there. Did the curses make their way into this blog?

After investing my cute Android tool and spending a lot of time getting acquainted (i.e. swearing and pounding on it), I could do my own review. In fact, I think I will. After reading innumerable reviews by all the tech geeks, I’ve now come to realize that they don’t do much but open the box and swipe things around a bit. Nary a word did I read about file management on an Android device. Or tring to copy and paste gracefully.

The spa and first aid kit.

The spa and first aid kit.

And a peek inside

And a peek inside










Right now, as I sit in a dreary Econolodge in Phoenix, I’m doing all sorts of second-guessing about these gear choices. Tomorrow early, I catch a bus to the border, get my Visitor’s Permit, and find a bus to Nuevo Casas Grandes. I think my stuff will look a lot brighter under a Latin sun.

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5 Responses to What’s in my bag? Packing for a long trip

  1. Shawn 18 December, 2013 at 4:58 am #

    Seeing the baby in Nana’s backpack, and then all your gear splayed out for public perusal, was just so poignant. Kudos for being the intrepid risk-taker. As a wise woman once told me, (and I cling to this thought/prayer as you wander) “the world is not a scary place”. Keep on blogging!!!

  2. Your Son 10 December, 2013 at 8:39 am #

    You’re so unbelievably adorable mother.. happy trails and safe ones too! i’m so proud that you made it and are enjoying your first leg of the journey!

    • Kate Convissor 10 December, 2013 at 1:39 pm #

      Thanks, Baby. I”d say I”m more abuela loca than adorable, but I’m glad you don’t think I’m nuts. And yeah, I made it. No problema.

      Love you!

  3. Ainlay Dixon 6 December, 2013 at 9:32 am #

    That is a very good packing list – may copy it for Alaska. I am impressed you did not mention makeup – I absolutely know I will not bother with it once on the road but I just can’t keep myself from throwing in a little pouch and then it just annoys me being there ….

    I have the Osprey Meridian also and let me tell you – not ONCE in 15 months of continuous travel did I ever use the backpacking straps! It is always easier to hoist it up the stairs or down the dock or wherever for the five minutes you can’t roll it. Don’t think Mexico will be that different from Nepal or Laos!

    Anyways, so excited to follow your travels – keep us posted!

    P.S. Adorable photo!

    • Kate Convissor 9 December, 2013 at 12:35 pm #

      Actually, I kept thinking, “What will Ainlay think of this?” because I haven’t really done the long-term backpack thing. I totally agree with you about the Osprey harness–don’t ever think I’ll use it (and I’m about to hoist that pack up three flights of stairs in a few minutes.) Too bad, because those straps aren’t an afterthought–they’re really well made.

      I”m excited about your trip to Alaska. Just rent a comfy and durable RVs. (Really–don’t try to camp in tents.) We drove there in an outfitted van with little kids about 20-odd years ago, and it was one of those unforgettable lifetime experiences. It’ll really make you a camping family. (Honestly, I can’t believe the stuff you’ve done with your family. I’m constantly amazed.)