How to Do a Travel Inventory Post-Mortem: My Transparent Travel Inventory

A long time ago, in an internet far, far away, I was a travel blogger.

Yes, it’s true!

Back then, one of my popular articles was called “How to Design Your Own Travel Inventory,” and in light of my recent travels, I’d like to give you an update on what I’ve learned since I wrote that article, over seven years ago.

Aspirational vs. Real

Honest Packing ListIf there’s one thing the last 7 years have taught me, it’s that the old adage is true: the more things you own, the more things own you, and this is an order of magnitude more intense when you’re travelling.

Now, there are packing lists, and there are Packing Lists.

Half of the packing lists I see are merely aspirational. Some travellers make such ambitious lists, aspiring to only take 20 things with them… but end up bringing six sweaters.

Lists like that are useless because they aren’t a true reflection of life. They aren’t something you can look at and say, “Oh I see, I hadn’t even realized I wouldn’t need that.” Honestly, aspirations are NOT what make a good trip, positive action is.

So in light of this, I’m doing something I haven’t done before. While in Wisconsin, I wrote down everything I had with me (pictured here). And for the first time, I’m sharing, with utter transparency, exactly what I brought on my month-long journey. I’m pulling no punches here, in the hope that seeing what I actually brought would give you some ideas. I believe this speaks louder than any advice I could give you.

And even after all these years of practice, I still felt like I brought too much. But I’ll let you be the judge:

My Honest Packing List

48L Osprey Kestrel Pack
— Over 7 years old & still seems new
— Inside of it was a small daypack, highly compressed to fit against my laptop case


— Most of this fit into one ziplock bag

two granola bars (if camping, you may want to bring salt)
water bottle
hand towel
travel bowl (silicone)
contact lenses & solution
glasses case & cleaner
extra nosepads
nail clippers
sewing kit (tiny)
antibiotic cream
anti-itch cream
band-aids (held in a paperclip)
shampoo (tiny 1oz)
toothpaste (tiny 1oz bag)
hand sanitizer (tiny 1oz)
lip balm
tiny comb


— While this may seem like a lot, 90% of it fit into one single-quart ziplock. (My only regret here is that I brought the shaver.)

MacBook Air (inside neoprene case)
1TB backup hard drive
electric shaver
cell phone & charger (both tiny)
iPod USB charger (& headphones)
Fujifilm S6000FD camera
AA battery charger (for camera)
Kindle (& usb cable)
Portable USB battery
2 short usb cables
tiny bundle of twine
USB thumb drive
2 sharpies


— Happy with the balance I got here. Even though I only used the sleeping sheet once, it was nearly weightless — a notable bonus of getting a silk one. (Also, since this was winter, I needed to bring more clothes than if it were another season.)

6 T-shirts
2 pants (ALWAYS bring when camping)
1 winter cap/hat (preferably with a brim)
5 briefs
5 pairs of socks
1 fleece
1 thin pajama shorts
1 silk sleeping sheet

NOTE: ALWAYS consider bringing a rain jacket.

How to Do an Inventory Post-Mortem

Brutal honesty with yourself is the only way to come to a travel packing list you feel good about. And returning home from a trip is the perfect time to do it.

Sit down and go through what you’ve packed. Did you use everything? Is there anything you wanted to use but didn’t? Why not? Is there (and this is a big one) anything that you repeatedly bring and aspire to use, but never end up using?

By asking yourself these questions, you can save yourself time (and weight!) during your travels. Is there anything that broke (like my scissors on Maui) that you need to replace? Is it necessary to get it now or is it optional? (Odds are, you aren’t going to the Sahara, and scissors are available for purchase at your destination.)

In the past seven years, I’ve done this process dozens of times, shedding a lot from my list, such as a paper journal (now I do everything on the iPod), a flashlight (the iPod’s LED is blinding), and even duct tape! (Crazy, I know, but it’s situational.)

Constant reflection and striving toward less and less is an ideal I’ve held for many years, and only through this process of Optimus Minimus can I reach the happy medium I desire. (Think of it as Kaizen for minimalism.)

What would you change?

Experience has been the best teacher here, and I’m happy to say that I used everything I brought except the tiny comb, tiny bundle of twine, my USB stick, and the sharpies. Considering that they’re all small and light, I’d say that’s a win.

In the future, I’m going to leave the comb, one of the sharpies, and probably one of the t-shirts at home. But alas, it’s hard living with only 5 shirts sometimes. (And when you’ve been cultivating a weird T-shirt collection for as long as I have, you grow to miss it.) Honestly, the only thing I really missed in 3+ weeks of travel was my own hairbrush. (My hair was getting long at the time.)

In retrospect, what I’d love is a single charging solution for my iPod, Kindle, and camera. The camera is probably a lost cause since it runs on AA batteries, but I’d love to find a good solution to provide the correct amperage to my iPod, Kindle, and shaver in a single, all-purpose plug. Is that possible?

If anyone has a clue, please let me know under “Leave a Reply” below.
I’d really appreciate it!

Good luck on pairing down your packing list, and until next time, keep exploring. 🙂

The Most Valuable Lesson I learned on Hawaii: Are you truly safe here?

Why do we often attach our sense of well-being to stuff?

It’s an old question. And whenever I ask myself that, I always come back to the same thought: no matter how much material success I may have in this life, everything I see is temporary.

That certainly doesn’t stop us from attaching our sense of security to what we have attained, especially if it has taken us a significant amount of time and/or effort to achieve. Indeed, attaching our sense of safety to possessions or status is the epidemic of the modern age when, frankly, materialism is the status quo.

But when I think back on my time living on the Big Island of Hawaii, I must admit that even though I was, on paper, under the poverty line, I nonetheless felt quite secure and safe there.

Actually, it began even before Hawaii, when I’d exposed myself to the unpredictabilities, risks, and rewards of solo travel. If you’ve been reading this site for a few years, you’ve already read about many of my adventures. Thankfully, such experiences were overall quite enjoyable, not to mention provided me with plenty of growth-inducing stories that I share with you!

The Most Valuable Lesson

The point is, Hawaii taught me many valuable lessons, but as my time away from it grows, I’ve realized that perhaps the most valuable lesson of all was realizing the answer to another age-old question: “Are you really safe here?”

Well, are you?

Kids playing in Mahana Bay green sand

Kids playing in Mahana Bay (The Famous Green-sand Beach)

I’ve seen so many people try to create a sense of security through outward possessions and attainments. But does it really work? Does it work in the long-term? What happens when rot sets in? What happens when the stock market takes a dip?

Circumstances can change rapidly in life, especially on a volcanic island, and living on Hawaii proved to be a crash-course in the non-permanence of all things. These days, possessions seem more like grains of sand on a beach to me than real objects: they flow in and out of my life at the perfect time.

I moved three times from 2013-2014. And yes, each time I changed spots on Hawaii was a little scary. Moving is never without stress. But I wasn’t alone.

Maybe it was because I’d cultivated good relationships, or maybe it was because the Universe itself was looking out for me, but something always worked out. Even when I decided to move on relatively short notice, a friend of mine was available in the right place at the right time to help me move the few possessions I had with her car. (To her, I am forever grateful.)

What does all this mean?

Well, if I can experience as much (or more) joy and security than someone in a more traditional situation, then is the feeling of well-being and security truly connected to money at all? Many people turn money into their sole power-source, but is that really true at the deepest level? Does the power come from the number or from the energy and set of beliefs that you bring to it? How many people do you know that are outwardly successful but are also worried about losing what they have gained? This is clinging, and it brings suffering.

Where does the true happiness lie?

The truth is, when you align with love, you know that you are safe.

Are you really safe here?

How you answer the question defines your attitude in every area of your life: all of your beliefs, thoughts, and actions.

As for me, I’ve experienced enough to know that I am safe here. What about you? How could your life change if you decided that you were at all times, safe, secure, and centered? There is a lot to consider here, and perhaps I’ll return to this topic at a later date.

Until then, just remember: possessions pass away, but sharing love and bringing light are eternal.