9 Countries, 1 Month, 1 Small Backpack. Here’s How I Did It.

The past month I’ve been traveling in Europe, attending a number of industry conferences, and working remotely. I hit 9 countries on my journey, ranging from the warm and comfortable surrounds of Lisbon, Portugal to sketchy divided border towns of Kosovo and Serbia to frozen arctic dreamlands of Iceland in the dead of winter – all with one small backback. Here’s how I did it.

I packed light – very light, and made use of my surroundings, opportunities, and sense of adventure to get by with only what I absolutely needed. I’ve found that when traveling, having less stuff has a number of benefits. Key in my list are being able to move easily, not having crap to keep track of and maintain, and most importantly, getting the focus and mental space to focus on my work, my location, my friends, and really being present in the moment.

Here’s what I brought:

  • Backpack – Arc’Teryx Alpha FL 45. This 45 liter backpack is great, and easily the best travel backpack I’ve ever carried. It’s a very basic design – basically a waterproof drybag upgraded with a few extra straps and feature. The actual black bag portion is much smaller than 45L with a large expansion section that can pop out the top. It’s nice and compact when you have it dialed in  and not extended, and I think it looks so sleek and small that it’s able to be carried as a daypack, and blend in on public transit etc and just another commuters laptop backpack – not sticking out like a huge backpackers tourist pack. I love the stuff sack like closure at the top – easy to keep quick access stuff at the top, and the rest below. And the one outside pocket is perfect for quick access to a passport, headphones, or whatever else. The profile of this pack is slick enough that it fits easily between my legs in the front seat of a taxi, floor of a tuktuk, or under the seat of a budget airline. For this trip I used about 3/4 of the main pack volume, and left the expansion sleep tucked inside the pack the entire time. However, if I needed it, it’s nice to know that I could have easily expanded its capacity.
  • Shoes – Arc’Teryx Norvan VT. These fast trail runners feature lightweight construction, good support, and have a goretex sock in them, so they’re waterproof too. They’re burly enough for walking a city all day, long dayhikes, mucking around in the mud, and morning runs. But I think they look trendy enough to blend with with all the euro sneaker wearing dudes who wear sneakers as a fashion statement. So you get that versatility. I pack my ACR Res-q-link and a pair of sock inside them and then lash them together with a Sea to Summit strap, so they compress down on top of each other and make a compact brick. Then that goes in a plastic shopping bag to contain dirt.
  • Shoes – Cole Haan ZeroGrand Chukka – These Chukka Boots are shiny and refined enough to wear with a suit and tie out to a business meeting, fun enough to wear to the club and dance all night, and so so so so comfortable I can easily walk around all day in them. They’re my go-to everyday shoes. Since they’re boots, they offer good support and pair well with jeans and dressing down, but put a shine on them and they look at home with a business suit too.
  • Pants – Arc’Teryx A2B Commuter Pants, Grey. These pants do it all. They’re super super comfy to wear every day, and have deep pockets, and a hidden seam-zip cargo pocket that’s discreet and perfectly accessible when sitting down in a crowded chicken truck. They have a trim, modern profile and dress up nicely with a buttondown and tie, and can go with a blazer too. They feature hidden reflective bits that can be shown by dropping then down from the pockets and rolling the cuffs, to give a bit of safety when walking dark roads in foreign countries. They dry quick, repel moisture, and are comfy enough to wear like PJ pants around the house. They have a double secure waist closure and belt loops. Out of all of the travel pants I’ve tried, these are definitely the best – so good that I wear then almost every day even when I’m not traveling.
  • Shirts – 4 Buttondowns. I have 4 buttondown shirts I rotate through.  A chambray-colored Levis Sunsetter with a hidden buttondown collar I think looks good and is funky to go out to bars. A dark blue BetaBrand flannel shirt is super comfy, more casual, and is dark enough to blend into sketchier places. A white Zara buttondown is trim and modern looking, and a plain white buttondown goes with everything, can go easily to business meetings, and is often more appropriate for more religious or conservative countries and situations. Finally, a J.Crew blue/white plaid shirt is preppy and businessy, and looks businessy when tucket in, but easily goes to the beach when untucked and sleeves rolled.
  • Shirt – tShirt. I have a random blue tshirt i wear around the house, when I’m laundering everything else, for working out, etc. The current tshirt in my bag is a 50/50 cotton poly blend, so i dries quick. I’ve carried high end wool tshirts in the past, which are great, and also random shitty tourist shirts I’ve bought in various places – sure there are differences, but ultimately what matters most is I have 1 shirt. I think my favourite is my Icebreaker wool shirt I got at Scott Base in Antarctica.
  • Sweater – Smartwool 1/3 zip pullover – dark blue. This sweater is super thin, non-itchy, and looks nice over a buttondown. I can go to meetings with it on and it looks ok, but it’s also a technical wool sweater, so it’s a good layering piece.
  • Sweater – Patagonia R1 pullover black.  This goes on every trip, all the time. It’s warm, comfy, has a breast pocket, and makes a good pillow too. I’m wearing it right now as I type this in the Nikola Tesla Airport in Belgrade, Serbia waiting for my flight to Istanbul.
  • Midlayer jacket – Arc’Teryx Rico – Blue. This down jacket is great. It’s a poofy down jacket, so its very warm for its weight, highly compressible, and durable. Being part of Arc’Teryx’s 24 line, it’s styled for the city, and has a trip modern look – easily at home walking around Helsinki and being trendy as it is layered with other gear in the snowy mountains of rural Montenegro. (Yes, I went to both of those places on this one trip)
  • Shell Jacket – Arc’Teryx Interstate Jacket – Black. This goretex shell is equally at home on city streets as it is on vertical ice. It’s a technical waterproof mountaineering shell jacket cut like a modern city jacket – so it can be worn in both circumstances. When I got hit by a freak snowstorm in Sofia, Bulgaria last week, this was my go-to jacket to deal with the wet heavy snow. When I needed to bundle up between investor events in Helsinki in December, I also turned to this coat.
  • Long Underwear – Icebreaker 3/4 length wool long underwear bottoms – black. Easy to layer under my pants, comfy all day, and the 3/4 length doesn’t bunch up on top of boots.
  • Long Underwear – Uniqlo Heattech full length bottoms – cheap, good, and sometimes necessary to double up.
  • Shell Pants – Outdoor Research Helium Pants – Grey. These waterproof pants are super lightweight, waterproof, and durable – a great combination. They tuck into their own pocket, and are a great go to when I suddenly need to trek through snow in Ukraine. They have loops for tying under your shoes, as well as for suspenders. So when I need to trek through deep snow in a blizzard, these, plus my goretex trail shoes, plus goretex jacket and waterproof backpack make a great lightweight and waterproof mountain rig.
  • Socks – 4 pairs of wool socks – two low-cut, two boot cut – black. I rotate brands, and sometimes (often) lost them to laundry services and under beds. I usually just pick up pairs of basic wool socks as army surplus stores. Although when I have my pick, I go for DarnTough socks, which have a lifetime guarantee that they actually honor.
  • Hat – of course I have my Yankees hat, as well as a Helly Hansen winter hat.
  • Gloves – Black Diamond mid layer belay gloves – beefy goat leather palms make them super durable, and they’re light enough to pack away.

The rest I’ll simply list out – comment if you want more details on any of this:

  • Camera – Sony RX100M5
  • Camera – Apple iPhone7 (GSM+CDMA version, factory unlocked)
  • SIM – GigSky
  • Underwear – Uniqlo synthetic boxer briefs
  • Laptop – Apple Macbook Pro 13” 2017
  • Battery pack – Tronsmart USB-C battery pack (recharges my laptop  – nice)
  • PLB – ACR ResQLink+ (Packaged in a small stuff sack with an emergency space blanked bivy sack, water purification tabs, flint sparker, tinder, reflective visibility belt, whistle.)
  • + 1 pouch of other odds n ends like earplugs, a bit of parachute cord ,some duct tape, sewing kit, pen, etc.
  • + 1 pouch of cables and chargers like a few usb cables, laptop charger, extra camera battery, etc.
  • + 1 pouch of toiletries

And that’s really it.  A few carefully selected items. Nothing extra.