They carried all they could bear, and then some, including a silent awe for the terrible power of the things they carried." -Tim O'Brien, The Things They Carried
"How much does your life weigh? . . . You start with the little things. The things on shelves and in drawers, the knick-knacks, the collectibles. Feel the weight as that adds up." -Ryan Bingham (George Clooney), Up in the Air
At home we're largely defined by the physical baggage to which we're tied. This is ten times truer when we hit the road. As when climbing mountains, the right gear doesn't ensure success, but the wrong gear - and the wrong amount - virtually guarantees failure.
As I write, Jules and I are in the air to Dubai, en route to India. With our 6-month-old and my law firm in tow, proper packing was make-or-break for the trip. Packing is far, far more important than booking accommodation and onward travel, which we almost never do in advance.
Comfort isn't what you think.
We tend to associate comfort with having more of the right stuff. Cruise ship types pack for comfort when they board with three steamer chests. For most traveling however, precisely the opposite is true: the less you have, the more comfortable you are.
This is best illustrated by ultra-light distance hiking. Historically a lot of backpackers have basically packed for camp, trying to make their campsite as house-like as possible. But what do you spend most of your time doing on a hike? That would be hiking. So you maximize your comfort by bringing the absolute minimum needed to stay healthy and safe for your trip, because what you really want is to enjoy the hiking part of hiking. 25 pounds for 3-5 days in the back country is absolutely doable, and makes 25 miles/day a pleasure rather than a crucible.
So, too when you're on the road. Nothing feels quite as liberating as casually swinging your 30-liter bag into the back of a rickshaw while some poor guy is pulling a 40-pound behemoth off the train. One might be inclined to draw parallels to professional life - what dead weight merely bogs us down? But this isn't a post about work life, it's a post about packing.
Packing for two.
Despite the foregoing, my bag for this trip looks more National Geographic expedition than ultra-light backpacking. To be clear, babies involve a lot of gear. I managed to get gear for myself, the law firm and the baby into a 65-liter trekking pack, and count that as success for Baby Trip #1.
Topping the list of space-hoggers: diapers. This despite the fact that Jules - a psychologist-PhD who taught our cat to poop in our toilet - already has baby Kai working on potty training. For those without kids: having a 6-month-old using a toilet is like knowing a 25-year-old running a $1-million startup... who also occasionally craps his pants.
But I digress.
The basic setup is me with the 65-liter back containing all my personal gear, the baby's gear, and law firm tech. Jules has a funkier arrangement, with a light 25-liter pack nestled in the baby's Osprey baby backpack. We decided it was a priority to have the baby backpack, as opposed to just a front carrier, for long walks and hiking. We also brought a front-carrier so it would be easier to monitor the baby in the close quarters of a city.
So here's what the packing list looks like. Thought it might be a helpful starting point for other parents on a similar trip.
- Chaco flip-flops (an experiment in replacing Reefs, which I love, but have bad traction on slick surfaces).
- Keen ultra-light hiking shoes (did 200 miles on the PCT in these - they are awesome).
- 3x underwear.
- 3x under shirts.
- 2x running socks.
- Black t-shirt.
- Long-sleeve "nicer" red shirt.
- Marmot button-up travel shirt.
- Poly fiber gym shirt for hiking.
- Thermal undergarment top.
- Shorts (decent-looking for walking about).
- Shorts (indecent-looking gym shorts for hiking).
- Travel pants.
- Arcteryx Beta AR hard-shell (this bomb-proof shell is the best piece of mountain gear I ever purchased; bringing this only because we're heading into the high mountains)
- Marmot lightweight puffy.
- Marathon Maniacs cap.
- Lightweight ski cap.
- Lightweight gloves ($12 at Costco)
- Black diamond headlamp + extra batteries.
- SteriPen water purifier (ultraviolet rays purify a liter in 1 min).
- Folding compass (really helpful for quick orientation in new city).
- Glacier goggles (since I lost my sunglasses and we'll be up at elevation).
- 4x ballpoint pens (surprising how often they're needed).
- Business cards (come on, I am an attorney...).
- Gerber Dime multi-tool w/ knife (not for carry on)
- Deodorant (important - its hard to get good stuff in India).
- Disposable razor.
- Asus UL30A notebook (a hand-me-down that does the job on the road; worst track pad I've ever dealt with).
- GEYES GK108,Folding keyboard.
- Verbatim Optical Mini Travel Mouse (see above regarding track pad).
- iPhone 5.
- Bluetooth earbuds for working; crappy plug-in phones for plane.
- Power cables and USB adapters for everyone.
- Single trekking pole (only due to carrying baby).
- Bluetooth-enabled selfie stick for family photos.
- Baby benadryl.
- Benzocaine rub for teething.
- Vitamin D drops for baby.
- 30x Bandaids (mostly for blisters).
- 12X Ibuprofen.
- 10x diphenhydramine.
- 1x surgical dressing.
- 12x alcohol wipes.
- 2x individual neosporin packets.
- 20x Sudafed.
- 8x Pedialyte hydration salts (for baby; adult version is readily available and cheaper in India).
- 4x Steri-Strip (for closing larger wounds).
- Non-invasive thermometer (bulky, but a baby safety item).
For baby Kai (6-months):
- Binky, a/k/a amuse-bouche + "belay device" to hook to shirt.
- 2x backup amuse-bouche + belay.
- Chewy neckless.
- 12x onepieces.
- Warm pants.
- Warm "bear" suit.
- Sun hat.
- Baby sunglasses (not pictured).
- ~80 diapers (by far the bulkiest item).
- 1/2 pack of baby wipes.
- Baby Bjorn lightweight font carrying pack.
- Blow-up nursing pillow.
- Silicon eating bib.
- Binky Fresh binky-cleaner.
- Clean wipes for binky.
- Bose Bluetooth noise-canceling headphones.
- Rain cover for baby backpack.
- Nose suction tube.
- Sippy cup.
- 3oz Neutrogena baby sunblock (spf 60).
- 2x 2oz non-alcohol hand-sanitizer.
- 3oz baby soap.
- Nail clippers.
- Baby nail scissors.
- 3x travel packs Arm & Hammer "safely cleans" wipes (for baby hands).
And here's what it looks like as we head out the door. All the stuff above is in the pack on the left.