Around-the-World MVPs (a Julie/Dan collab)

No matter how carefully you plan, it’s pretty impossible to pack perfectly for a multi-month trip away from home. That said, we got pretty darn close (especially given how light we packed). And as we traveled, there were several items that, again and again, we found ourselves feeling incredibly grateful made the cut. Here’s our list of the trip’s Most Valuable Possessions:

Packing Cubes: When Dan’s mom recommended we use these little zip-up bags on our trip, I was skeptical. We’d traveled plenty and never used them before, so I was pretty sure we didn’t need them. But ultimately, we decided to pick up a few cheapie sets from Target, split them up among the three of us and give it a go. And boy was I happy to be proven wrong. They don’t especially condense your stuff, but they sure do keep it well sorted. And whether we were digging the cubes out of our suitcases in a teeny guest room, shoving them into overhead compartments in the infamous camper van or sliding them neatly into drawers or onto shelves in one of a gajillion hotel rooms or rental houses, they sure were a handy way to pack and unpack and repack dozens of times over and still always know exactly where to find your bathing suit or long-sleeved hiking layer. (JE)

Julie’s Joggers: Before we left on this trip, I finally treated myself to a pair of really nice sweats. Fine, technically they’re “performance joggers,” but you and I both know that’s just a fancy way of saying “super-comfy stretchy pants.” The Vuori version in basic black worked out really, really well for me—soft but lightweight enough for warm climates, comfy enough for long travel days but polished-looking enough for cruising around cities and equally indispensable for both hiking and sitting around. Plus, they’ve kept their shape like a champ despite near-constant wear (which has continued into post-travel life). Two enthusiastic thumbs up. (JE)

Julie’s Dress(es): If we’d been planning a purely tropical vacation, my sundress strategy would have been totally different. As it was, I was on the hunt for one dress that could do ALL THE THINGS, from tropical beachy lounging to dinners out in cities. I settled on the Presidio Dress from Athleta, which is sooper lightweight, so comfy, crazy easy to pack, can dress up or down and has pockets to boot! This not-very-dressy item was the fanciest thing I brought (high tea in London? Sure!) and I was happy to have it. At the last minute, I also threw in a years-old shirt dress from H&M that ended up being equally versatile (if a little more wrinkly). They both saw a lot of wear, especially in warm climates. (JE)

Fiona’s dresses: There’s a reason H&M jersey dresses are ubiquitous among the 2-10 year-old-set the world over: they’re comfy, available in all the cute patterns, wear/layer/wash like a dream and are cheap enough to pick up by the dozen. We started the trip with two and then, when it became apparent that they were the only thing Fi wanted to wear, picked up two more in Porto (along with PJ pants for Dan). There’s a reason she’s wearing them in 90% of our trip photos. (JE)

Fiona’s sun hat: I almost didn’t replace Fiona’s ratty old hand-me-down sunhat for this trip, but ended up being so glad I did. After tons of research (and a few vetos from Fi), we landed on this one from Flap Happy. With a wide brim and SPF for our pale-skinned kid, stretchy material (that even stretched to fit my big head in a pinch), a velcro strap and swim fabric material that worked beautifully in the pool, it was such a great choice. Plus it was SO easy to pack, both in Fi’s suitcase and in our daypacks. And the pattern options even met Fi’s high standards. Highly recommend. (JE)

Dan’s T-shirts: Three of ’em – two short-sleeved and one long-sleeved, all from Icebreaker. They’re soft merino wool (one also had a bit of Tencel bamboo fabric), wick moisture well, and don’t look so insanely sporty that you feel weird when you’re at lunch. I wore the blue one so much it sun-bleached to purple. One note: they are still wool, so they’ll itch the crap out of bug bites. (DJ)

Dan’s hiking socks: Darn Tough Socks rule. I had one older pair and bought two ones, and wore no other hiking/day-to-day socks on the whole trip. They’re the best socks I have ever owned, and I’ve owned a lot of socks in my time. (DJ)

Dan’s shorts:I got these Prana Brion Shorts with the hope that they would really be my only pair of shorts for the trip. At the last minute I threw in some cotton ones as backup, but they were pretty unnecessary – the Pranas are pretty much the perfect crossover hiking/hanging out shorts. (DJ)

An Excellent Portable Speaker: I bought a Wonderboom a little bit ago for an outdoor block party, and threw it into my suitcase at the last minute. It was a fantastic decision. We love listening to music whenever we’re doing things at home – making dinner, cleaning up from dinner, having breakfast, stoop sitting, throwing an impromptu dance party… the list goes on. When traveling, having simple access to your tunes can make a huge difference in your mood. And by having our own, we avoided tons of frustration by not having to attempt to connect to a new system every time we got to a new house or hotel room. Plus the speaker sounds good! Not tinny or over-bass-y. (DJ)

Packable solar/USB lantern: The GoalZero Crush Light was another late addition to our kit. Originally the idea was to have an emergency source of light for places like Bali that were prone to power failures. But it’s also a fantastic night light for a kid who likes to sleep with one and a great addition to dim rooms. It takes up essentially zero space. And, unlike most ostensibly portable night lights, the Crush Light is basically unbreakable. We liked it so much that when I inadvertently left ours at a hotel in Scotland, we ordered another (at twice the price we paid in the US) to our hotel in London so we would have it for the last few months. (DJ)

Inflatable Car Seat: The Bubble Bum is an inflatable car booster seat that we carried everywhere. Taxis, shuttles, rental cars… it’s easy to use, folds up really small, is somehow entirely safe and legal and saved us hundreds of dollars on rental car seats. (DJ)

Sarongs: We bought two cheap sarongs in Thailand years ago, and I threw them into my carry-on bag a few minutes before we left home. Over the course of our trip, they were:

  • Blankets for buses/trains/planes
  • Beach towels
  • Picnic blankets
  • Sun shades
  • All-purpose cleaning/drying cloths
  • Other stuff I’ve forgotten (DJ)

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