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My husband and I just got back from a two-week stay in Russia to attend the FIFA World Cup – the first international trip for both of us.
Let me be more specific.
We just got back from 44 hours of sitting in six planes and four airports across nine time zones, 68 hours in six overnight trains, 15 minutes on a bus, five nights in hotels, one Airbnb, countless hours of walking, riding up and down escalators in Metro stations, holding onto rails, and sitting in train stations. (To see our travel itinerary for the trip, click here.)
And I took just one bag to get me through it all – the Osprey Porter 46, a 46 liter bag that can be carried as a duffel or a backpack, while allowing the straps to be put away when being checked or stowed. It has straightjacket compression straps on the front, padded sidewalls and a zippered laptop/tablet pocket. The handles and straps are padded, and the sternum strap has a whistle.
I was nervous about this. I’m a high maintenance packer and have always taken a full size suitcase when I travel, even for three-day-weekend getaways. I mean, a girl needs options! But I had to be realistic. We would be doing a lot of walking, of course, but more importantly, we would be spending long days in a row between overnight train rides with no home base.
My husband chose the same bag in black, and we knew that we would need to be organized and deliberate to fit everything necessary to get us through two weeks in a country that, in the summertime, is hot during the day and cold in the evening.
I wanted to share what I packed, hoping it will help someone about to go on their first international trip. Keep an eye out for a post from Ron that will explain what he carried in his Porter 46, as well as the day bag he carried that housed our electronics.
We chose this set after looking in several stores and reading several Amazon reviews. Our decision really just came down to price, as most of the sets we looked at were extremely expensive, and we thought that the pouches would work great for our dirty clothes. We laughed reading some of the reviews since it is very obvious an Asian person who doesn’t know much English chose the phrases printed on them. The pink set I received was printed upside down with the words “SunTribe Travel.” I didn’t end up using the medium pouch. The largest cube was far too large for my bag, so I just folded the material before packing it. Overall, they worked out okay for what I needed.
2. Shower Roll
I chose this bag because in addition to its three sections – a mesh pouch with a zipper that I used for my contacts, deodorant, dry shampoo, mousse, hair spray, makeup remover wipes, toothpaste, and both of our toothbrushes, a long, narrow pouch that I used for my makeup brushes, and a clear, removable pouch that I used for my makeup – it has a decent size mirror at the very top when unrolled. I hung it on towel racks in hotels and tightened it as tight as possible when packing it back up. This bag and mirror came especially in handy one morning when putting on makeup on a park bench in Saransk after waking up on the train just minutes before arriving at the station, but unfortunately, we had to check our bags when leaving Moscow, and I found when we got home that the mirror was broken.
3. TSA Lock
Seeing as our plans included sleeping next to a total of 12 complete strangers, TSA locks were very obviously necessary. We looped our locks through the four zipper pulls on the front of our bags. We never met anyone shady and were fortunate enough to share compartments with really great people, but as always, better safe than sorry.
We wanted to be prepared in case we got caught out in the rain for hours with our backpacks. We only got caught in the rain in St. Petersburg where we had a hotel, so we didn’t have our bags with us, so we never had to use them, but again – better safe than sorry.
Yes, they give you a small, flat pillow on the plane, but the airport doesn’t. This one came with an eye mask that I used on our flights and overnight train rides, as well as ear plugs that I didn’t use. I’m weird about stuff in my ears.
6. Folder with Itinerary & Tickets
We had so many planes and trains lined up in different cities that we would have been lost without an organized, color-coded itinerary and obviously, our train tickets. We kept this in the flat compartment behind the one that houses the backpack straps when not being used.
I have been resistant to the idea of the Kindle since I was in high school. I am a book lover, and what I mean by this is not only do I love to read, I love books themselves. I love how they feel in my hands, how they smell, the crinkly sound of a page as it’s being turned. I just flat out didn’t like the idea of reading on a backlit screen. I have always taken a couple paperbacks with me when I travel, but this obviously wouldn’t have been very practical on this trip due to the unnecessary weight and amount of precious space they would take up. I succumbed and purchased the white Kindle Paperwhite, and I have been absolutely obsessed with it ever since. I also signed up for Kindle Unlimited, an Amazon service that provides access to over a million titles, thousands of audiobooks and magazines for three months for a total of $9.99.
2. Kindle Case
I originally tried a waterproof case, but the air bubbles between the screen and screen cover, as well as the resulting popping sound when tapping the screen, drove me crazy. I chose a slim, book-style cover that sleeps when closed and wakes when opened, and I absolutely love it. The cover is slim enough that I was even able to carry my Kindle with me in the small, cross-body purse I had on me almost at all times while in Russia.
This trip was a once in a lifetime opportunity and experience, so I wanted to journal the whole way. I searched Etsy for a travel journal and found one from SlowArtStudio that seemed to have been made just for my trip. With six overnight train ride rides planned, I figured I would have ample time to log my experiences. In actuality, by the time we got settled in on the trains, I was so exhausted that I went straight to sleep, so I’m still catching up on it now that we’re home.
I not only wanted to write in my journal, I wanted to insert photos along the way. I looked at instant photo printers, but I wanted to be able to go through my phone later on and choose the photos I wanted to print. I chose the HP Sprocket, which is extremely easy for even me (not being tech-savvy at all) to use. After downloading the app on my phone, we installed the 10 sheets of paper that came with it, and I just connect to Bluetooth when I want to choose and print my pictures.
5. Photo Paper
The printer comes with a pack of 10, but I ordered a couple packs of 20 to take with us so that I could print off 3-4 pictures to represent each day of our travels.
6. Printer Case
To carry the printer and the packs of paper, I went with a rose gold, hard shell case that worked perfectly for what I needed.
1. Round Brush
Simply because I have no idea how to dry my hair without one.
I have had this brush about ten years now and am obsessed with it. I love how it fits right in my palm and how it just glides through the tangles in my hair, wet or dry, with no tugging. It is thin enough that I was able to carry it in my purse during long, windy days with no hotel stays.
I still cannot believe that something this awesome exists. This curling iron was perfect for our travels. There is no cord, meaning there is no plug, meaning there is no adapter to worry about. Instead, it uses a butane cartridge, which heats the iron almost instantly after flicking the switch. I was able to curl my hair any and everywhere, which is perfect when you’re spending nights in a row on a train with very limited bathroom time. My backpack was a carry-on, and I never had any issues with TSA over the butane.
I actually wish I had not brought my straightener. I threw it in my backpack at the last minute – simply because I had room for it – with the reasoning that it takes me much less time to straighten my hair than it does to curl it, and it would be nice to have it in case we were running short on time. I used it the first morning, but due to the sounds it made heating up and how hot the handle got, my husband wouldn’t let me use it again in fear that it would mess up the adapter we brought. It ended up just being extra weight and taking up extra space.
1. Body Wipes
The reasoning behind this one is pretty self-explanatory. All of us attending the FIFA World Cup were smelling wonderful a couple days into the trip, I’m sure.
2. Lysol Wipes
We weren’t sure how clean the trains would be, so we stuffed a pack of Lysol wipes in the thin front zippered section of my backpack. We never used them. Every single thing in Russia, at least the places and cities we visited, was spotless to the point of sterile. I mean, you could eat dinner off their sidewalks. It was weird.
3. Pain Medicine
Airports and planes lead to headaches, and once in Russia, we were aching all over after a few days. Just bring the travel size of whatever works best for you.
Time gets really weird when crossing time zones, especially on the way back. Melatonin helped me a couple times when I was too wired but needed the sleep for a long day the next day, and on the way home when I had no idea what day or time it was.
I was grateful for the many Turkish Airline meals we had, but they didn’t agree with me very well. Neither did something we ate right before the Denmark vs. France match. Even if you don’t have a sensitive stomach (I don’t either), pack it. Bathrooms weren’t common, and if we did come across one, it was either a free porta potty used by thousands of male soccer fans or we had to pay to use it.
1. Tactical Pen
We obviously couldn’t carry our guns on the planes or into another country, something that left us – especially my police officer husband – feeling vulnerable. I packed the Smith & Wesson Tactical Pen that I received as a Christmas present several years ago just to have something to defend ourselves with. We had a long walk from the metro station to our hotel in Moscow, which was in a slightly sketchy area with hardly any street lights, and my husband carried it if we were walking late at night. It’s also handy in case we ever needed to bust a window (you never know what situation you can find yourself in), and of course, it’s an ink pen.
Because it’s small, lightweight, and you never know when you’ll need it.
- Denmark tanktop
- Denmark tanktop
- Denmark t-shirt
- Denmark t-shirt
- Gray scoop neck t-shirt
- Black t-shirt
- Black flowy tank top
- White long-sleeve t-shirt
- Tan spaghetti-strap undershirt
My goal was to take very simple colors that I could mix and match while not standing out in a crowd. The weather forecast showed that it would be warm during the day and cool at night, so I took a mixture of tank tops, t-shirts and a long-sleeved shirt. I ended up wearing everything at least once except for one Denmark tank top and the long sleeved shirt. I intended to wear a different Denmark top to each game but ended up wearing the same tank top to the last two games, as the other one hung too low on my sides and showed a lot of the only bra I took.
- Basic jeggings
- Dark jeggings
- Dark shorts
- Black and white maxi skirt
- Black capri leggings
I intended on wearing the leggings while flying and to sleep in on the overnight trains, but I ended up wearing them on the three days we toured cities exhaustedly while waiting to check into hotels too. I don’t wear anything at all while sleeping usually, so I didn’t need to pack anything to sleep in during our hotel stays. I wore the dark jeggings several days in a row as a result of having to gather just a few things at the last minute in Moscow to last us the next three days. I wore the shorts most of the time and wore the basic blue jeggings to one game. I brought the maxi skirt in case I needed it to tour a church but never ended up needing it, and I actually left it in our hotel in Moscow after deciding I just didn’t like it anymore.
Just one – a black, floral print long-sleeved dress. I would have loved to have taken more, but it just wasn’t very practical for this type of trip. I only wore this dress one evening and looking back, it was just dead weight in my bag.
- Adjustable strap tan bra
- 14 pairs of panties
- 7 pairs of white no-show socks
- 7 pairs of black no-show socks
Yes, one bra. It sounds gross, and I guess it is, but I just didn’t think it made sense to take up precious space for bras.
The gray jacket matched all the clothes I packed without adding much weight. After the first couple days of being out from morning until night with no home base, I found that as long as I had it wrapped around my waist, I was okay. It was warm for the most part of the day until the sun ducked behind a cloud or set as much as the sun does set in Russia, so I ended up wearing it up a couple times throughout some of the cooler days and almost every night we were there. If I wasn’t wearing it, I strapped it down with the straightjacket straps on the front of the bag instead of packing it so that it was easily accessible. I only needed the rain jacket one day, and the rain was so cold in St. Petersburg that I wore it over my gray jacket. I wish the hood of the rain jacket had drawstrings, as I had to walk quickly down the streets with my head down and either hand holding the hood up, but it got me through that one day nonetheless. At all other times, it was folded into one of its own pockets and tucked away into an easily accessible compartment.
I have to be really conscious about shoes. I have fallen arches, so I can’t walk all day wearing cute sandals or in the case of the girls in Russia, six-inch heels. I wore my new black Under Armour trainers the majority of the time. The red Converses were worn for two of the three games, and the black flats were worn one evening in St. Petersburg when I was finally able to dress up. All three pairs are deep enough for me to wear my arch supports. The flip-flops were worn in the hotels, on the trains and in the Airbnb. Looking back, I wish I would have just taken the tennis shoes and flip-flops. Shoes get heavy fast when you’re walking around for hours with everything you have on your back!
- Denmark scarf
- Shoe inserts
- Simple silver hoop earrings
- Simple silver ring
- Silver bracelet
- Rubber wedding band
- Downy Wrinkle Release
I took extra shoe inserts just in case all of our walking wore down the ones I had in my shoes, but I didn’t end up needing them. I tried to keep the jewelry simple – one, in case I lost anything and two, so that I wouldn’t stand out. I left my wedding ring and engagement with the jeweler to be rhodium plated before we left. I didn’t want to take a chance on anything happening to them in Russia, and they were nice, white and shiny when we returned. The wrinkle release spray came in handy a lot, not just to get the wrinkles out of our rolled up clothes, but to keep them smelling fresh.
That’s it! Now that it’s all said and done, I am so glad not only that we chose the Osprey Porter 46, but that we chose to only take backpacks period. I can’t tell you how many fans we saw with suitcases rolling behind or beside them, struggling to get them up and down steps to the Metro and trying to push them under tables at bars and restaurants.
Again, keep an eye out for a post from Ron with details of what was in his Porter 46, as well as the day bag he carried that contained our electronics.
If you’re a high maintenance packer about to take the plunge into minimal packing for the very first time, the tips I have to offer you are below:
- Think light! Don’t just try to fit all you can in your bag. Those shoes I packed fit, but they added a lot of weight, and my back, hips, knees and feet felt it every time I pulled that bag on (usually with my husband’s help).
- Start making a list about a month prior to the trip, and start packing a week before it. Revisit each day and take something out. If you think you might need it, you probably don’t (unless it’s raingear, medicine or something that makes you feel safe).
- Ask a friend or family member who travels often about what you should and shouldn’t take. My brother in law travels to Europe frequently and told me I really didn’t need the small can of bug spray or the heels, but we did need Imodium AD. He was right.
- Roll your clothes – tightly.
- Organize the backpack according to weight. Try a few different ways and see what feels best. I had all of my shoes on the top of the bag and right at the top of the compartment the first time I packed, making me feel like I had to brace myself to not fall backward. I rearranged and put my shoes at the bottom of the bag and underneath other things in the compartment, making it much easier on me.
- Take compression socks. Don’t turn down that advice like I did. I definitely regretted it when I could barely see my ankles after getting off the plane that took us from Toronto to Istanbul and having to run to catch the next flight. Add miles and miles of walking over the next two weeks, and I still have small marks on the top of my feet from where they stayed swollen against my socks and shoes for days.
- Don’t put important documents or IDs in your bag! We had to check our bags at the gate from Nashville to Toronto, and mine contained our six very expensive, irreplaceable and highly desireable FIFA World Cup tickets. We were anxious on the flight, knowing realistically that our bag would be waiting for us when we got off the plane, but hating not having something that important directly on us. We put them in my husband’s money belt immediately afterward.
If you’re a frequent traveler, I’d love to hear your tips! Comment below.