12 Things I Pack No Matter Where I'm Going

I enjoy doing quite a few different activities. I go hiking in the Linville Gorge about hour away from any reception. I volunteer on farms all over the world (my favorite way to travel). I housesit for a handful of people, and I visit friends for days to weeks at a time. Even though these destination and activities are different, I have a handful I items I’ve learned to always carry with me. No matter where I’m going, there are twelve things I always pack.

Walking to the store to buy Justins Nut Butter packets from my couchsurfing hosts house in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Walking to the store to buy Justins Nut Butter packets from my couchsurfing hosts house in Las Vegas, Nevada.

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I like to be prepared.

I like to know that I can be self-sufficient in my daily life. When I go anywhere, I enjoy the peace of knowing I have entertainment, warmth, and comfort. Every single one of the items on this list falls under one of those categories. Whoever you are, ask yourself what items that add entertainment, warmth, and comfort to you life that could be added to your must pack list.

When packing, shopping, traveling, and living life in general, it pays to surround yourself with high-quality possessions that add value to life. Long before we start packing, when you’re about to buy something, ask yourself, “Will this add value to my life?” If we surround ourselves with valuable possessions, packing will be so much easier. When you pack, ask yourself, “Will this add value to my overall travel experience?” I’ve done that with everything listed below, and I can say confidently that each of these items does add value to my life at home and abroad.

I’ve created this packing list over years of travel, and, truthfully, living in a place that doesn’t feel like home. With the following twelve items, I feel like I have everything I need and can be at home anywhere.

Note: This is not a one size fits all packing list. Why? We are all different humans experiencing life and travel uniquely. A one size fits all packing list doesn’t exist. I’ve written this to inspire you to create your own must pack list and possibly even encourage you to decide you want to add one of my favorite things to your own unique list. I’ve given my reasons below for everything I’ve chosen to include in my must pack list to show my own personal intentions behind each one. If you want to have a perfectly packed bag, be intentional about the items you bring. It’s that simple!

1. Darn Tough Socks

I first learned about Darn Tough when I became a part of the hiking community. In almost every backpacking packing list, Darn Tough Socks were listed. I asked for a pair for Christmas one year, and I was hooked. I believe in spending money on quality items that last and add value to life.

These socks add so much value to my life.

First, they are sturdy, comfortable, and warm. I typically bring one regular ankle height sock for walking around peoples houses, hiking, or wearing with any kind of shoe while traveling. I also bring one of their padded cushion socks. I have the mid-calf sock, and even though I would personally prefer the full-calf, the mid-calf is more versatile. They can be worn with boots and jeans, and I ALWAYS wear these at night while camping or in cold rooms.

They keep my feet incredibly warm. There is nothing as amazing as waking up cozy in a cold room, wrapping my sleeping bag around me, and then stepping onto a hardwood floor without my feet getting cold. I really love these socks.

adventure dog ava sleeping on a sleeping bag in a text in norway

Why do I pack always pack these?

Weather is unpredictable, and in general life is unpredictable. When I have these packed, I know that I can go and do just about anything. I can hike, be comfortable housesitting, and stay warm volunteering. They are very convenient to have, because they can be hand washed and air dried quickly. I’ve washed my socks in rivers and sinks all around the world before bed and woken up to dry socks.

2.Book(s)

I try to read a book every week. I don’t always accomplish this goal, but having a book around is a good way to entertain myself in a healthy way. Watching TV and scrolling through Instagram aren’t pastimes that add value to my life. I feel my best when I don’t watch TV or spend hours on my phone.

Another reason I bring a book everywhere is to encourage myself to be a continual learner. It’s easy to read a super inspirational book and ride that emotional high for a little while, but it’s also easy to fall back into old habits and ways of thinking. To combat this, I read often. For me, continually absorbing new information reminds me to be intentional about how I think and behave.

The journal and the book I brought to Denmark.

The journal and the book I brought to Denmark.

Why do I always pack a book?

When I have a book around, I’m setting myself up to create healthy habits. It’s easy to turn to TV or my phone when I didn’t bring a book. If I do bring one, I have no excuse. Sometimes, I sit in my car to collect myself or get out of an uncomfortable situation. I could sit and stare at my phone, or I could use that time to properly decompress with a book.

I’ve picked up a few books that have touched my soul, spoken to me, inspired me, and changed my life.

Recommended Reading:

You’re a Badass at Making Money: Master The Mindset of Wealth

To Shake The Sleeping Self: A Journey from Oregon to Patagonia, and a Quest for a Life with No Regret

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

Four Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich

The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology Of Love, Traditional Values, and Spiritual Growth

The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun

3. Snack food

This is an often overlooked thing to pack. Snack food has been incredibly valuable everywhere I go.

Sometimes when I travel, I’m hungrier than the food I’ve been served. The amount of food people consume is somewhat cultural. In Italy, I was served so much food that I couldn’t even eat it all. Some places in Scandinavia, I was actually still hungry after dinner.

While in Italy, I brought a bag of granola with me to eat when I was hungry. In Norway, I had a big bag of raw almonds in my backpack at all times. When I tried to hike the Appalchian Trail, I packed granola bars, but nowhere near enough of them.

I’m now a fan of the Justin’s Nut Butter Packets. They are super filling, delicious, and high in calorie content. High calorie content is important when trying to eat a small amount of food that will go a long way.

(Special K Bars and Fiber One have no place here! Leave those at home or just walk right by them on the shelf at the store and never look back!)

There are a variety of nut butters available. My favorites are the Chocolate Hazelnut, Maple Almond, and Honey Peanut. For the budget backpackers out there, the Honey Peanut costs less than 70 cents per packet! I recently was hungry at a local coffee shop and paid six dollars for a blackberry pastry. It was amazing, but I didn’t need the calories or the excessive spending. As I’m writing this I’m eating a Justin’s Maple Cashew Butter packet. It’s very on brand, I know, but it’s better for my wallet and my body.

Why do I always pack snack food?

When I’m hiking, it’s important to eat a lot, but it’s not practical to cook all day. Snack food is perfect for eating in between meals.

When I’m traveling, there’s not always time to grab a meal when trying to catch a train or a flight, and it’s also cheaper to eat something I already have with me.

If I’m a guest in someone’s house either couchsurfing, visiting a friend, or housesitting, I know I have something available to eat at all times that I like + something to eat without disturbing my hosts and eating all of their food.

Even just going to visit a coffee shop I can save a few dollars by bringing a snack instead of buying an expensive pastry or sandwhich.

4. Packable jacket

The very first time I left the United States, I brought TWO suitcases. I had a pillow, and just about my entire closet. I brought a regular off the rack department store jacket with me. First of all, it wasn’t that warm. Yes, it kept me warm, but for it’s bulk and weight, I now realize that a quality jacket of that weight would be fit for the arctic circle.

I’ve since upgraded to an awesome Featherless Marmot Jacket. It’s good for tempatures down to about 40°. Anything colder than that, and I have a down jacket good to about 15°.  The best feature of my Marmot Jacket is it’s ability to stuff inside of the front pocket down to the size of a small purse. This is incredibly convienent. Even if you’re in a place that is very warm, the nights could be cold, or you could get chilly inside of someone’s house.

Why do i always pack this jacket?

It takes up a very small amount of space, and no matter where you go, you can get cold. I brought this jacket to a long layover in Denver, Colorado on my way to Las Vegas, Nevada. It never even occured to me that it could be snowing in Colorado, but it was freezing, icy, and snowing when I arrived. This was a welcome surprise, and I was prepared with my jacket! During the same trip, I went to the Grand Canyon. Every person in my group was so cold and unprepared that they had to buy sweaters at the gift shop. I was toasty and didn’t need to!

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christina gray grayt at the grand canyon smiling woman dusk kavu bag marmot jacket

5. Sleeping bag

Not everyone travels with a sleeping bag, but I do. It’s one of my favorite things, and it makes every place I rest feel like an instant home.

The current sleeping bag I use I found at a yard sale for $2. (It’s my most amazing yard sale find to date). It’s an L.L.Bean 20°F! I love it, but the only downside is that it’s a little bit bulky. It weighs around 3lbs. Before my next trip, I’ll upgrade to an REI Igneo 17°F. 

I am very sensitive to smells, and a strong musky smell or even an overpowering laundry detergent can disrupt my sleep. When I have my sleeping bag, it smells like me.

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Honestly, not everyone is a great host. We’re all just doing our best, and I’m grateful for being welcomed into others homes. Sometimes the bedding I’ve been provided isn’t so great. I once had a close friend give me a sheet to sleep with. I’ve also slept in some places that were somewhat dirty. When I have my sleeping bag, I know I can feel clean no matter where I am.

It’s easier to crash on someone’s couch when you have everything you need and your host doesn’t have to make an extra effort to wait on you. Having a sleeping bag is part of that for me.

When hiking, some people use a quilt, but I prefer to have a traditional sleeping bag. It’s also fun to have for laying out in the grass or bundling up around a fire.

Why do I always pack my sleeping bag?

Given the scenarios above, the main thing my sleeping bag brings for me is a sense of security and comfort. Knowing I can go anywhere and sleep well brings me an overwhelming sense of peace.

Click here for my current sleeping bag.

Click here for the sleeping bag I’m upgrading to.

6. Sanuk sandals

Footwear is one of the hardest things to choose when traveling for any period of time. Ideally, you’d want just one pair of shoes that are appropriate for every activity. The Swiss Army knife of shoes. When I was in Norway, I volunteered on farms, lived out of a tent, went hiking, went of a date, went to a music festival, and I stayed in Oslo with strangers. I chose to bring a pair of boots, and Sanuk Sandals. By far the most worn shoe I went with was the Sanuks. I mostly wore the boots when it was really cold, raining, or if I was using sharp tools while farming.

Why do I always pack Sanuks?

I’m all about packing light, but a lightweight comfortable pair of flip flops is worth the extra weight. My go-to overall trail sandal is a pair of Sanuk’s. Not only are they light and comfortable, they’re made of recycled yoga mats. Sandals can be made (and are usually made) from cheap plastic, and that isn’t good for your feet or the environment.

I enjoy hiking at home and abroad. There is no feeling sweeter than taking off your hiking shoes after a long day of walking uphill both ways. However, it’s not always a good idea to walk around barefoot. Unfortunately, Leave No Trace guidelines aren’t always followed, and it’s possible to step on glass or metal. Even in very remote areas, it’s not worth stepping on a very sharp rock or stick and making hiking out difficult.

When it comes to non-hiking travel, comfortable shoes suitable for miles of town walking are a must.


7. Journal

In my daily life and especially when I travel, I have the intention of journaling every day. I’ve started to do brain dumps as a way to process my thoughts and get into a flow state. What I use my journal for way more often is a place to plan and keep track of my life. In the picture below you can see my to-do list for my trip I took to Norway and my packing list. I’ve had this journal for almost five years now. It’s held together by clear packing tape and super glue. The cover is an avocado recipe. It’s filled with lists, quotes I love, small poems, and a hilarious drawing of Scandinavia that I used to help plan out which farms I wanted to visit.

I used this journal in Italy when I was looking to go to another farm, and I was in a place without wifi. I had to write down over 100 email addresses, and then use my phone to email each farm and plan out the next leg of my trip. It worked!

book journal picture on a bed

Why do i always pack a journal?

The mighty pen and paper are never going out of style. I use this journal every time I travel and at home. I have all of my notes in one place, and it makes planning much easier.

We often overlook where our everyday products come from, and it’s usually these smaller items that are made in unethical and irresponsible ways.

This journal (below) from Rifle Paper Co. is entirely crafted in America. This means there’s no slave labor involved, and this reduces the amount of resources used involving transportation. No wasted resources shipping something from country to country in search of the lowest manufacturing prices.

This journal (below) is made from recycled plastic bottles, natural grasses, and straw. The company, Truegrasses, donates 1% to For The Planet. It also has a cool bear on it.


8. Small bag

When I first went to Denmark, I was lucky enough to have a mother that insisted I buy and bring a small purse. I didn’t think I would really need it or use it, but it made my travels so much easier. I had a packable jacket that fit into it perfectly. It has 5 different pockets to make pickpocketing harder, and it’s small enough to go anywhere without a security guard not allowing me to bring it inside. It’s a little bit smaller than a book. I’ve since taken it with me every time I travel.

It’s an awesome little bag, but I will most likely upgrade to using my Kavu bag next trip, because it is a little bit bigger.

I was gifted a Kavu bag from a friend that was getting rid of it. It’s perfect for travel and bigger than my little yellow purse. It is big enough to hold my small laptop, a book, and a few other small items. It also stays on my body easier. The fit of it is made for wearing it around all day long comfortably.

19 Year-old Christina sight seeing in Italy.

19 Year-old Christina sight seeing in Italy.

Pickpockets are for the birds.

Pickpockets are for the birds.

Why do I always bring a small bag?

During my very first solo trip abroad to Denmark, I brought a big red backpack, and a small yellow purse. I brought the purse with me everywhere, and I often left my backpack and belongings wherever I was staying.

I found that I needed something slightly bigger at times, and my host family gifted me a small school backpack. I’ve been using that basic backpack for four years now, and it has split at all the seams.

I now carry a Kavu bag with me just about everywhere. During my last trip to Colorado, Nevada, and Arizona, I packed a small day pack and my Kavu bag as well as my little yellow purse. My travel packing list is constantly being tested and tweaked. In the future, I will probably just take my Kavu bag!

9. Big t-shirt

I sleep naked at home, but it’s not the best idea to sleep naked in strangers homes. Sometimes you’re sharing a bedroom, or sometimes you’re on a couch. I like to designate one shirt just to sleep and lounging. This way it won’t get sweaty or dirty, and I know I’m always sleeping in something clean. The shirt I sleep in is just a t shirt. If I really needed to wear this out in public, it wouldn’t be a big deal, because I doesn’t have something cliche on it like prancing lambs or frilly lace.

Living in hotel rooms with my mom in Italy. (She wasn’t too fond of her big green suitcase after learning Italy is one big cobblestone street. I was the one rolling it the whole time).

Living in hotel rooms with my mom in Italy. (She wasn’t too fond of her big green suitcase after learning Italy is one big cobblestone street. I was the one rolling it the whole time).

I consistently take a big blue t-shirt with me everywhere I go. I am long-term borrowing it from my Uncle. I’m getting much more use out of it than he was, and it’s super soft. Some travelers sleep in their regular day clothes, but having a shirt just for sleeping has been ideal.

Why do i always bring a sleep shirt?

When hiking, my hiking clothes get gross. Camping at the end of the day and sleeping in a clean shirt is a small simple pleasure. I camp while traveling, and sleeping in clean clothes is often something people don’t plan for. One of the best tips I received for camping is to have a set of sleeping only clothes, and I brought this advice over into my traveling world as well. I highly recommend this.

10. Nalgene water bottle

I’ve told the story before on this blog of how I brought a knock-off nalgene water bottle to Italy and it shattered on the floor like glass. My current Nalgene would never shatter. I don’t think I could break it if I tried.

It’s easy to forget to drink water and get dehydrated in daily life and especially easy while traveling. I try to drink 4 liters of water every day. That’s four of my water bottles. I don’t recommended buying a water bottle any smaller than a liter, and Nalgene makes a water bottle that’s a liter and a half if you want to go even bigger. I’m sure you know water is good for you and that you should drink more of it.

For me, having a water bottle that I make a habit of drinking out of contributes to my overall health.  It’s important to establish a baseline health routine that you follow no matter where you are. I drink 4 liters/a gallon of water a day, I try to read a book every week, and I make an effort to move my body every day. This is so simple, but doing these things adds incredible value to my life.

When I was living on an island in Norway, there was no running water, so I was happy to have my own water bottle.

When I was living on an island in Norway, there was no running water, so I was happy to have my own water bottle.

Can you spot my water bottle?

Can you spot my water bottle?

Why do I always pack my nalgene?

Having a water bottle allows me to go places without worrying about water. I can camp, hike, take an entire day to slowly get where I’m going, and politely walk away when someone tries to sell me a $7 dollar bottle of water.

I use my water bottle while hiking as well as traveling. I always buy a clear Nalgene, because I want to be sure what the color of my water is. I sometimes use my water bottle to filter water, and I can see clearly if there is anything swimming around. (Yes, really).

I haven’t ever traveled to a country where the water is known to be a problem, but why assume? I do take a look at the water quality everywhere I go. If you get a Nalgene, I definitely recommend one that is easy to see through.

11. Kava kava root

Kava has been consumed for centuries. There is some medical evidence that consuming it often for months at a time is unhealthy, however, I find that it is the most important supplement I use in my life. Kava is used to overall create calm in the person using it. It’s not magic, and it’s not a prescription drug. For me, if my upset level is at a 10, Kava can bring it down to a manageable 6. This is HUGE. I personally do not take antidepressants even though I struggle with depression. I am able to use Kava Kava Root very sparingly on a day or a few days when I need a little bit of help.

I checked myself into a hotel room in Norway, because I was having a really rough time. I had been saving my last four capsules for an emergency, and how I felt in that hotel room was absolutely an emergency. I took the last four capsules I had, and it was enough to bring my mood back to a manageable place. While I was in that manageable place, I was able to work on the deeper problems that were contributing to my bad couple of days and get through them instead getting stuck in my own head and emotions.

I’m not a doctor, but if you have similar struggles I can’t recommend enough that you do your own research and try this. It really works.

Why do i always pack kava kava root?

It’s my own personal choice to not take any kind of medication for my mental health struggles. At this point, I am still getting to know myself and learn about how this plays a role in my life.

Tim Ferriss talks about learning what your baseline is. This is important for every single person to take note of. Basically, how do you feel when you wake up in the morning on a normal day? How does that change throughout the day?

I’ve learned that much of my mental health struggles are from external experiences that I have internalized. It really sucks to work through these things, but it’s necessary. By allowing myself to feel whatever comes up, I can work through my internalized problems. When I have Kava Kava Root, I know that I am not putting myself in a situation I can’t handle, and I’m also not putting myself in a place that would be debilitating and take time to recover from.


12. Valerian root

I travel everywhere with two supplements. The first was Kava Kava Root. The second is Valerian Root. I wrote an entire article about how to prevent Jetlag using Valerian Root, and that is exactly why I travel with it. It’s also really easy to get so excited and so overstimulated in new environments that sleep becomes impossible. I once had a terrible sleepless night in Norway after realizing I would not be sleeping that night and ugly cried into the bed. It sounds like an exaggeration, but Jetlag will make you do crazy things. Or, at least, it makes me do crazy things. With Valerian Root, I fall right asleep and wake up refreshed. I’ve experienced no side effects. It’s non-habit forming, and you’d have to take a hell of a lot of it to experience adverse effects.

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For me, not getting enough sleep for just one night will mess me up for the days that follow. It’s hard to catch up on sleep after staying up all night.

Also, travel can be stressful. We all have dreamy ideas of jet-setting off to romantic places, but have you ever had to go through customs? That’s not a sexy place. Valerian Root in small doses is a chill pill. Yep. That’s right. This amazing stuff can be used to lower stress and anxiety levels. Send me an email or leave a comment if you have any questions about the amazing ways Valerian Root has improved my life.

Poison.org has listed it as “generally safe.” It was used during both WWI and WWII to relieve Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and it has been used and written about as far back as the 2nd century. It has stood the test of time, and, unfortunately, it has become less mainstream in favor of more commercial and addictive substances. I feel safe consuming this herbal remedy.

Jetlag is rough, and not getting enough sleep overall is not fun. You can read about how to use Valerian Root to ease Jetlag here.

Why do i always pack valerian root?

There are a few things beyond our control when we travel and in the world in general. I sometimes stay awake for days unable to sleep, and that’s not the best. Even one sleepless night can wreck the next day. I’m not a huge fan of harsh sleeping pills or prescription drugs, and Valerian Root is literally just the root of a plant. (I had the privilege of foraging for Valerian Root in Sweden and making tea). When I travel with this, I know that I can control how much sleep I’m getting.

Packing is an art.

I’ve packed a bag for living in the outdoors and living in the unknown. It’s not that easy, and I’ve made many packing mistakes.

My packing necessities are uniquely mine, but I have crafted this list over five years of getting amongst it and out of my comfort zone. There’s valuable information to take away from my packing list, and perhaps you’ll even adopt one of my must pack items as your own. Is there anyone else out there that always travels with a sleeping bag? Good luck on your next adventure. I wish you a perfectly packed bag and happy travels.

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