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Travel Packing to Make Homes

Maximalist Travel Packing, or a strategy to carry almost everything you need with you while traveling This is a strategy for travel packing in which the traveler seeks to lessen their dependence on outside infrastructures, lessen the hassle of not having what they need, lessen trips to the store, and, ultimately, lessen the cost of [...]

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Maximalist Travel Packing, or a strategy to carry almost everything you need with you while traveling

This is a strategy for travel packing in which the traveler seeks to lessen their dependence on outside infrastructures, lessen the hassle of not having what they need, lessen trips to the store, and, ultimately, lessen the cost of travel itself by carrying all of the gear that they think they could need at all times. I call this maximalist travel packing, the idea behind it is to carry and be able to unpack a complete home at each stop. This is now how I travel with my family — we carry a complete set of living, not travel, gear.

It is true that the only gear a person really needs to travel is a toothbrush, all else can be handled on the move.

Read Minimalist Travel Packing

But who wants to have to go to the store and buy something each time the need arises? Who wants to buy something ten times when they could just buy it once and carry it with them? I don’t. I also know that some of the worst personal interactions of travel occur when doing commerce with people, there is a sickly feeling that arises when the traveler realizes that they are just traveling the world buying things all day long. I want to limit the amount of times I am a consumer throughout the day — I say this idealistically, I really just want to save money and have everything that my family wants with us.

I want to carry my home with me.

Traveling jewelry seller

Traveling jewelry seller

The girl in the above photo travels and sells jewelry in the street. She carries all of her travel, living, and working gear with her in bags and backpacks bungee corded to a dolly. As I talked with her and took an inventory of her travel gear, it seemed as if she carry with her everything she needs to live and work. She does not travel light, but she seems to have what she needs to live well — truly a maximalist travel packer.

There is an underlying rule in travel:

The less gear I carry the more I have to rely on other people, infrastructures, commerce systems to get what I need and want. If I travel with nothing, then I need to buy everything. I hear of people talking about the simplicity and freedom of traveling light, and I only hear of the complications of needing to go to stores and restaurants all the time. I was once a minimalist travel packer, I once graded a traveler by how little stuff they carried with them. I walked a lot in those days, I needed my load to be light — I had no intention of making homes, no thought of creating hubs, I was simply moving through the world. But now my criteria is a little different, I grade travelers by if their gear meets their needs. Some people traveling in some places can tactfully carry everything they need in a small package, they truly know the art of minimalist travel packing, and I look through their stuff and I realize that they have managed to pack all essentials within a small volume of space. Good on them.

But, as I travel with a family, as I rent rooms out by the month and make homes, I want more things with me. I make true transitional homes now, we travel more like Gypsies or Tinkers than backpackers. My baby likes to have a blow up bathtub, my wife likes to have a few changes of clothes, I like to carry cooking supplies. We carry this stuff with us so that we do not have to buy it all again at each stop, so we can have what we need to make a home. I do not want to go without just because I am traveling. No, I want it all, I want to be able to stroll into a town, and empty a home out of my bags.

What I now carry with me

  • Cooking gear- I like to be able to cook at least one meal a day for myself. I do not like having to rely on restaurants every time I get hungry. It takes up a massive amount of time each day if I eat in restaurants three times, it also makes me feel like a lazy oaf. Petra also does not like sitting around restaurants, she wants to break things, throw silver wear, smash plates after being cooped up in an eating house for more than a few minutes. Cooking my own food also saves a lot of money — upwards of $5 a day in most parts of the world — and I can be sure that my food is prepared properly. I will write more about turning a hotel room into a kitchen and how to make an alcohol stove in upcoming entries.
  • Water filter pump- I do not want to have to go to the store each time I want to drink water. I carry a hiking style water filter pump with me.
  • Multi-climate clothing- I travel “the world,” I go between vastly different climates, so I want to carry clothing to accommodate these changes in weather. I carry more clothes with me now than I ever did. I once would just discard my warm clothes when going into a hot climate, and then buy new warm clothes when the weather gets cold again. This was an alright strategy, clothes often sell cheap, but then I realized that I do not need to keep going shopping if I just kept a well rounded set of clothing with me.
  • Baby supplies- We want Petra to have what she needs as she travels. This means lots of toys, a blowup bath tub, tons of clothes (babies have the tendency to get themselves real dirty all the time, and the more clothes we carry for Petra the less we need to wash them), big bags of diapers, extra packages of wipes, blankets, a portable toilet, other supplies. Petra’s gear takes up at least 75% of Chaya’s large backpack, and she has another tote bag full of her travel gear.
  • Electronics- I work on the internet, this website is my job, I have an entire bag that is just about dedicated to electronic gear.
  • Footwear- Both Chaya and I carry two sets of footwear: boots and sandals.
  • Additional clothing- When you stay somewhere for an extended amount of time (one to three months) it is often a social necessity to have additional sets of clothing. If we want to work, we need more than one set of clothes. Chaya also likes to look pretty. I have been told that clothes chosen for travel are often not the most attractive clothes for most women. Part of the maximalist travel philosophy is to not only carry what you need, but also a little of what you want.
  • Recreational gear- This means balls, books, tobacco pipes, the additional recreation gear that makes life a little more enjoyable which we can now carry because we are not consumed with traveling light.

What I need to complete my travel gear set

Dolly with backpack for travel

This is what we truly need, a dolly so that we can have all of our gear on wheels

Long term travel gear

Long term travel gear on a dolly for easy transport

  • Two dollies- As my wife and I carry a nearly complete home in our bags, they are now uncomfortable to carry. We can still cart them on long walks between hotels or bus stations, but it is not very enjoyable. We each need to purchase cheap, light weight, metal dollies — which are just little carts with wheels — to bungee cord our bags onto. Our bags and gear can be attached to a dolly in a secure enough way that we would could just load them on buses, trains, etc as solid units — there is no need to remove anything from a dolly when going on public transport. Once we have these dollies weight will no longer be much of an issue, and we could further expand our gear set.
  • An electric burner- I sometimes travel with electric burners for cooking, they are a good idea if you are able to bear their size and weight. I do not have one now, but we have not needed one in the past 8 months of travel, as we have found hubs that had stoves and other cooking facilities. Carrying an electric burner — which can be purchased incredibly cheaply almost everywhere in the world — would complete our gear set a little further, and allow for easy cooking on the road.
  • Cooking essentials- As of now, we cook out of one pan when we don’t have rights to a kitchen. We also only have two bowels, a spoon, and a fork. We would like to add a stainless steel soup pot, more bowels and a few cups and a towel or two to complete our mobile kitchen.
  • Two heavy duty plastic storage boxes- I would like to get two medium sized plastic storage boxes to be able to keep cooking gear, toys etc, separate from the backpacks. These can be connected easily and securely to a dolly, and could be done in such a way that they could be positioned flush beneath the backpacks.

The more pertinent travel gear I carry the less I need to rely on outside sources to obtain and procure what I need. I no longer want to reprovision myself at each stop, I want my home with me — a home that I can pack and unpack in the matter of an hour. The main premise of maximalist travel packing is to travel with virtually everything you need to create a functional home at every stop. It means having what you need to be able to show up anywhere in the world and not need to buy anything other than food.

It costs money to buy things, it is free to carry things.

Maximalist travel packing to make temporary homes

Related articles: Minimalist travel packing | Mix fast travel with slow | Long Term Travelers Make Homes | How to enjoy long term travel | Water Filters Good for Travel Tip |


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Filed under: Travel Gear, Travel Preparation, Travel Tips

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3722 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

7 comments… add one

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  • Andy Graham HoboTraveler.com September 16, 2010, 5:16 am

    I am happy you have taken this new path of packing, I believe you now will have a better quality of life. Backpackers are sort of silly and stupid, they copy trekker and hikers, this is not what long-term travel is about, it is about living in other locations.

    I carried two full size backpacks for the first 10 years of my perpetual travel and truly like this. The airline have started to punish me for carrying two bags. I could only carry one bag on the SpiritAir.com flight to Haiti.

    My present system is to carry along with me two rice bags or grain bags and rope them to my bag. When I arrive to a new continent, I start buying gear that is continenent specific.

    Here is a photo of the pack…. Note, I am also getting even better at hiring porters or bag carrying people.

    This baby and marriage has helped you to focus on real people and real life.

    Andy Graham of HoboTraveler.com in the Grand Bassam, Ivory Coast, West Africa.

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com September 16, 2010, 9:35 pm

      Thank you Andy,

      I suppose the object now is to live well over anything else. Each travel discomfort seems magnified 10 fold with a wife and baby. Having more “things” and all that I want and need makes life a little better. I don’t want my family to go without just because we are traveling, I want it all haha.

      Your rice sack strategy is good, there are a lot of things to travel with that don’t necessarily belong in a backpack — having a temporary utility bag is a great idea. I may take that tip once we change locations again in around a month.

      You are correct, having a family has refined my vision as to what constitutes good living a little more, and has brought a lot of the essentials of life a little closer to the surface.

      Thank you, Andy.

      Link Reply
  • Midknight July 13, 2011, 6:29 pm

    Thanks for the tip on the water filter pump. I’m sure it turned out to be a life saving piece of equipment for some.

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  • Claudette November 3, 2011, 12:17 am

    /how do you go about carrying a dolly traveling by plane? that would actually make things easier… i always carry two or three hand bags which is a purse, a makeup case and another bag. Not cool…

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    • Wade Shepard November 3, 2011, 12:35 am

      I usually go for long stretches of overland travel between flights, so by the time I’m ready to jump on a plane my dollies are about ready to kick the bucket anyway so I just dispose of them and get another after landing in a new destination. But it is my impression you could put the entire apparatus — the dolly with a backpack inside of it — inside a large burlap or plastic bag (like those used by people selling goods in markets or farmers) and then checked in as though it was any other type of luggage.

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  • jack February 14, 2012, 5:06 am

    This is something I can really relate with. I have hated every time I have traveled with way too much stuff and enjoyed every time I traveled with minimal stuff. The hard part for us is actually taking only stuff we need and/or want. Want is so subjective. Our next plan to is find a middle ground and take just higher quality stuff that lasts. Our big negative seems to be too many clothes. We were really realized the stupidity of that arriving in China. Another thing was too many books when we can read everything we want on our Kindle.

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    • Wade Shepard February 14, 2012, 12:21 pm

      Right on, man. Family travel = stuff. I want my daughter to be able to have toys and things like any other kid, but, man, it is hard moving all that stuff all around the world! But once we’re set up in a base, all is well. The problem comes when we get ready to move and we find that we can’t fit everything into our backpacks. Finding that balance is difficult.

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