How I #Achievemore on my travels

Sarah Duff Machu Picchu-1

I’ve been on the road for over a year now. Exactly 420 days ago I said goodbye to Cape Town and headed off on the biggest trip of my life with my boyfriend, Joe.

Fifteen countries and tens of thousands of kilometres later, I feel like we’ve had a lifetime of amazing experiences that have changed my perspective on pretty much everything. I still can’t quite believe that we road tripped across the USA twice, danced on top of a Celtic castle at Burning Man, trekked over a glacier in Patagonia, hiked in the driest place in the world, did yoga in the world’s biggest salt flat, fished for piranhas in the Amazon, saw Machu Picchu, swam with sea lions in the Galapagos Islands, learnt to scuba dive in Colombia, survived dengue fever, learnt to surf in Costa Rica, dived a cenote in Mexico, watched the sun rise over the rainforest from the top of a Mayan temple in Guatemala and dived between the continental plates in Iceland. 

I’ve learnt so much along the way – enough to fill reams of blog posts – but the very first thing I had to learn was how to be mobile. That meant giving a lot of my stuff away in Cape Town, packing the remainder up into boxes to store in my parents’ basement, and deciding what few things to fit into a suitcase to travel with me for over a year.

I’ve had to learn the hard way that travelling with a lot of stuff is not easy, and so right from the start of this trip I knew I had to pack light. I decided to go with a suitcase/backpack hybrid, so that I can wheel it around airports but also put it on my back when trekking across a beach to reach a remote backpackers.

My packing list was small and ultra-practical, with clothes that had to work for a number of different environments – from going out in New York, trekking in snowy Patagonia and surfing in Costa Rica to hiking in the humid jungles of Colombia.

This is what I call my #AchieveMore packing list:

Packing bag

– Uniqlo down jacket (which rolls up into a tiny pocket – doubles as a travel pillow)
– Black leggings (for yoga, exercise, wearing under a dress and as pants)
– Skinny jeans (essential)
– Denim shorts
– Black hoodie
– Black short dress
– Denim long sleeved shirt (remarkably versatile)
– Scarf and beanie
– Long sleeved thermal vest
– Hiking pants
– Comfortable shorts (for exercise, hiking, pyjamas)
– Trainers, hiking shoes, sandals
– Two bikinis
– Sarong (doubles as a towel, scarf, Burning Man head protector)
– A couple of t-shirts and sleeveless tops
– Yoga mat (this is bulky but I can’t travel without it!)

Add to that a bag of toiletries and that’s about it! Having less stuff means that catching lots of taxis/buses/trains/boats/flights isn’t a mission. It’s painful having to move around a lot when you are laden down with heavy bags.

Being mobile has also meant taking my office with me on the road, because I’ve been working right the way through this trip. Luckily as a travel writer and photographer, I don’t have too much equipment – just my Macbook, three portable rugged hard drives, my camera and a few lenses, my Kindle and an iPod for all those long flights and bus rides.

One of the most important things I have with my (other than my passport) is my smartphone. When I’m on the move, my phone – which recently has been a Lumia Device – is a camera, a notebook and a computer. While I shoot photos for magazine stories on my SLR camera, I take photos of little things to help me remember details for stories on my smartphone – anything from the writing on adverts on a noticeboard to the kind of sweets for sale in a market. I often don’t know what stories I’m going to end up writing about a place, so I have to be sure that I take down as many details as I can.

My phone is full of useful apps downloaded from the Windows Phone Store to help me #AchieveMore in while I’m on the road working.

One of my favourites is Evernote, an incredibly useful app that functions like a notebook. Evernote allows you to create notebooks filled with typed notes, photos and audio notes – perfect for a travel writer like me. I create a notebook for each place I travel to, and save things like photos of menus, audio notes describing a place I’m in and quick ideas or things I observe – the kind of things I would forget otherwise.

I always try to learn some phrases of a local language when I travel, and language apps are great for helping you master the basics. My two favourite apps are Duolingo, which helps you learn words quickly, and Babbel, which teaches you the basics, starting with easy sentences and grammar. Then there’s Translator, which is really handy if you’re completely stuck with deciphering a sign or a menu – the app allows you to take a photo of the words you don’t understand and then it translates them for you.

My phone is also my link to friends and family at home. I often get asked if I’ve been homesick on this trip and the honest answer is that I haven’t once missed home, because I’ve never grown tired or bored of any place I’ve found myself in – the constant novelty of new countries is endlessly stimulating and exciting. I do, however, miss the people I love – a lot. The only way around this is to keep in touch, which I do as much as possible. It’s obvious then, that an app I can’t live without is Skype. I really don’t know what I’d do without video conversations!

Deciding to go on this extended trip around the world was all part of a plan to #AchieveMore with my life – more adventures, more experiences, more learnings, more fun. I’ve made travelling longterm work by fitting my freelance work in around travel – luckily being a travel writer, the more I travel, the more I can work! Having a Lumia smartphone has enabled me to do just that – to seamlessly blend work and travel so that I can fit it all in. Working on the road like this has not always been easy – there have definitely been some down points – but being equipped to deal with the challenges that arise is all about the #AchieveMore plan.

Tell me in the comments how you #AchieveMore when you travel and you could win a Lumia device!


35 Responses to How I #Achievemore on my travels

  1. Lupe August 5, 2015 at 1:26 pm #

    Thanks for the great packing tips, always a mission for me! I guess a way I try to get more out of my travel is making sure I get a holistic experience of a place. For me this means learning about perhaps the history, geography, or wildlife of a place before I visit it, so that when I’m there I have a much richer context for everything. I notice things that would otherwise have been missed, and make connections that I never would have without the prior reading and learning. Enjoy whatever travels you are up to next ☺

    • Sarah August 12, 2015 at 1:46 pm #

      That is a great way to travel – I also try and do that (often because I have to, as I’ll be writing stories from each trip) and it really helps to form a whole picture of a place, rather than a snapshot that you usually get as a short term tourist.

  2. Jim August 5, 2015 at 2:20 pm #

    I like to #achievemore in my travels by staying in one place for a long time, well as long as money and work breaks will allow. But I think staying in a place for some time allows you to reduce the pressure of seeing as much as you can as quickly as you can. Instead you can tap into the local pace of life.

    • Sarah Duff August 13, 2015 at 5:07 am #

      Definitely! That’s one thing I love about Airbnb – you get the chance to live in a local neighbourhood and shop for groceries at the local supermarket/food market – such a great way of getting a taste of the normal life of a place.

  3. Tat August 5, 2015 at 2:21 pm #

    Yoh! I’m so impressed with the little list of travel items. I love seeing a place from an insider’s perspective so my idea of achieving more has to do with tracking down a friend of a friend’s (or cousin, aunt, or uncle) who lives in or near the area I’m traveling to. This requires a fair amount of social media hunting and following up on those “you should speak to…” conversations before departing on the adventure. I love seeing a place from a local’s perspective.

    Thanks for the insights! Your adventures are inspiring.

    • Sarah August 12, 2015 at 1:48 pm #

      I’ve also started doing that along this trip – with some great results! I’ve met some amazing people through friends (and friends of friends) who’ve shown me the real locals’ places in their cities. Meeting up with a local is definitely the best way to go.

  4. Chris August 5, 2015 at 6:09 pm #

    Having followed your blog for a while now it’s difficult to image how I could possibly #achievemore in terms of travel. It’s tough sitting desk bound and reading of your escapades sometimes, but your adventures are inspiring and I’m adding to my #bucketlist with each post!!

    • Sarah August 12, 2015 at 1:56 pm #

      Having followed your blog for awhile now, I am equally jealous of your amazing travels! 🙂

  5. amy August 5, 2015 at 7:00 pm #

    For me the ultimate luxury in packing and traveling is to have extra space in my bag before I leave so I can buy some local goodies, this is an essential part of exploring a new place.

    I am well impressed by your well thought out versatile crossover wardrobe!

    • Sarah August 12, 2015 at 1:53 pm #

      I wish I’d had space for local goodies on this trip! I usually love buying a special souvenir from each country I visit (so that one day my house will be filled with beautiful things that remind me of all the places I’ve been to) but on this year there really hasn’t been space in my bag.

  6. Amy August 5, 2015 at 7:56 pm #

    I think that defining the things that you can live without is an ongoing and hugely valuable life practice. Thank you for sharing yours! As a girl, having less options can initially feel limiting but the freedom you feel from only having what you need is so worthwhile.
    One of the things I committed to doing on my last trip was leaving my fancy digital camera and old film camera at home. It was a tough decision but I feel that we can get lost in trying to snap everything that we see, or feel pressurized to capture everything on a digital device that we miss out on the moment -and that is where the magic lies. So after a month in some of the most beautiful places I have some average pictures on my mobile phone that I can look at to remember how things looked, but most importantly I can think back to those times and remember how it felt to really BE THERE. I guess you could say that this is how I chose to #achievemore out of each moment while on my travels.
    Looking forward to reading about your next adventure!

    • Sarah Duff August 13, 2015 at 5:09 am #

      I love this. I’m taking fewer and fewer photos these days and it’s added a lot more memories. Leaving your cameras at home must have been hard but memories are so much more valuable than photos.

  7. Nicole August 5, 2015 at 10:43 pm #

    I love your packing list, and will definitely be using that in the future. I #achievemore by taking out everything I want to pack and then ruthlessly cutting items. I never need as much as I think I do, and extra luggage is a hassle on the road. I’ve also abandoned the idea of a travel bucket list, where my goal is ticking off items, and am focusing on travelling slower and really getting to know places, rather than rushing from attraction to attraction.

    • Sarah August 12, 2015 at 1:33 pm #

      Hi Nicole, I’ve also abandoned the travel bucket list idea – I’ve actually just written a column about why I think bucket lists should be done away with. I think sightseeing travel – the kind where you tick places off – is the least rewarding, least transformative kind of travel you can do. And if you’re not changing in some way when you travel, what’s the point? I also prefer to spend longer in places, getting to make new friends, learn a bit of the language and really get into the history and stories of a place, rather than just see the sights listed in a guidebook. My favourite times of this past year of travel have been the weeks and months spent in a region or city. Slow travel is best!

  8. Paul August 6, 2015 at 5:31 am #

    One thing that can be useful if you want to #achievemore in travelling is to be quite selective in time spent taking photographs. It’s great to take lots and these days they’re virtually free. But every second you’re taking a picture or thinking about the next picture is a second when you’re not just taking it in and being there.

    • Sarah August 12, 2015 at 1:36 pm #

      Agreed! Just wrote a column about this actually 🙂 I used to take literally thousands of photos on each trip, and now I take less and observe more – and I end up absorbing more and remembering more.

  9. Garth August 6, 2015 at 8:48 am #

    There are so many aspects of travel that are valuable, but the moments I remember most fondly are the ones where, whether by design or accident, I was completely present with no distracting thoughts of either past or future. Still the mind, open your heart, #AchieveMore

    • Sarah August 12, 2015 at 1:38 pm #

      Very zen! Those moments are pure bliss – they seem to happen to me most when I’m in a really beautiful natural place, with a soundtrack of birds and insects, and nothing but trees/desert/ocean/mountains to look at. I’m heading to Japan next month to go on a Buddhist retreat and hoping to learn how to become more present – even in the busiest places.

  10. Chanel Rossouw August 6, 2015 at 10:51 am #

    I can totally identify with the desire to travel light; that’s an idea I’ve taken from my travels and continuously work at applying to my life. Thanks for the heads up on the Lumia – I recently had my smartphone stolen and will look into that device, it sounds great. Happy adventuring!

    • Sarah August 12, 2015 at 1:58 pm #

      After this trip I’d like to apply the travelling light idea to everything in my life – planning to get rid of even more stuff when I head home. When you live out of a small bag you soon realise that you really really don’t need much stuff, and that having less makes you more free.

  11. Sarah Laurence August 7, 2015 at 11:00 am #

    Love the packing list – definitely going to use it next year when Craig and I set off! (yes, you guys inspired us 🙂

    To #AchieveMore when I travel I use OneNote, the note-taking app that syncs with all my devices to write and take note, my Kindle app so that I can read on the go, exercise every day and take photos with my phone for future reference!

    • Sarah August 12, 2015 at 2:00 pm #

      Amazing! Where are you guys planning to travel to and when exactly are you heading off? PS. Best life decision 🙂

  12. Maurice Schutgens August 12, 2015 at 6:57 am #

    Fantastic Blog Sarah – you have seen some incredible places and done some exciting stuff!! Really enjoyin your writing – keep it up!

    To #achievemore on my travels I live by a simple rule – dont hesitate, dont allow regrets of what could have been – you only live once and you go for it. I recently returned from an 8 month trip across the entire south & central american continent and sure I didnt have all the money, experience etc but did I let that stop me from living…I dont think so.

    I think its important to remember that we, the travellers, are the lucky ones – we see, experience, create memories and so much more – I live in the moment and hope everyone does too!

    Happy travels Sarah.


    • Sarah Duff August 13, 2015 at 5:10 am #

      Thanks Maurice! I loved your comment and your travel attitude – I think so many people come up with excuses for not travelling, when it’s all about just going and working things out (work, money etc) when you get there. You’ve won yourself a Lumia phone – hope you use it to document your travels in the future! Lumia will be in touch to find out your details to send you the phone. Congrats 🙂

      • Maurice Schutgens August 13, 2015 at 11:53 am #

        Wow Sarah – Thanks so much!

        I’m really delighted – I will put it too good use for sure 😉

        I expect to bump into you sometime – somewhere around the globe!

        • Sarah Duff August 14, 2015 at 11:40 am #

          Pleasure! Hope you enjoy it 🙂

          Would definitely like to meet up if we’re in Cape Town at the same time (I’m back in October). I had a look at your website and it seems like we have a lot in common!

          • Maurice Schutgens August 14, 2015 at 3:15 pm #

            Yeah – we certainly do!

            I’m up in Kenya at the moment working for an elephant conservation charity ( – but there is not a day that goes by when I dont think of Cape Town!

  13. Di Brown August 12, 2015 at 8:12 am #

    Great post, impressive packing, and I am going to check out those apps now. My #AchieveMore list will include one item of clothing with loads of pockets so I can been fairly hands free but have easy access to portable phone charger, glasses, sunglasses (when taking photos I have to keep switching. One of the annoying sides of getting older) Instalenses for my phone and an old fashioned note book and pencil. Keen to check out Evernote so I can dump that.

    Thanks for a great post, have loved your travels.

    • Sarah August 12, 2015 at 2:04 pm #

      Thanks Di! I too am a big fan of pockets – as well as deeply unfashionable but utterly practical moonbags. Enjoy Evernote – it really is a super useful app. I used to love taking notes in notebooks but they take up unnecessary space and they can also get lost!

  14. Travis August 12, 2015 at 9:39 am #

    Unfortunately I have not yet had the pleasure to travel overseas and experience different countries or cultures.
    It is definitely something both me and my wife would love to do in the not too distant future. For us #achievemore means living in the country as a resident and not a tourist to fully immerse ourselves into the culture, environment and daily living of the place we are visiting and the Lumia will definitely come in handy with all aspects of life and travel.

    • Sarah Duff August 13, 2015 at 1:22 am #

      Hi Travis, I agree – I think people don’t realise that you can get a lot of travelling in your own backyard – there are so many amazing things to do and see around us but we often overlook them in favour of going somewhere new.

  15. Anisa August 12, 2015 at 10:19 am #

    Firstly, I would like to applaud you on going on this journey of self discovery that so many of us ever dream of. Wow! what an accolade and what an life changing adventure it is! I love to travel but I hate the prospect of packing etc. I leant my first lesson about travelling blunders when I first travelled to London with a suitcase that weighed so much. It was one of those bulky plastic mould types filled to the brim with utter nonsense I might add. Well, upon arriving in the airport I had to literally haul this heavy bag up flights of stairs and forget about male chivalry as no one batted an eyelid when beckoned for help. Ok there was another time when I packaged copies amounts of clothing on a trip to India. My luggage had to be strapped on top of the taxi. Within minutes whilst driving through the streets of Mumbai came Monsoon like rain. Lets just say my clothes stank of mould. I swore after those nasty experiences that I will travel light at all costs or whatever that means. I am not talking about resembling those unstylish tourists with safari suits and a waist bag attached to them. I am referring to travelling like a diva but with a clever twist. Here are my tips:

    1. Do some research regarding your holiday destination.If you are travelling to a hot city like Dubai, please don’t bother carrying onesies. And Dubai is known as the shopping capital of the world, save some much needed space in your bag to store your stash:)
    2. You only need two pairs of shoes. Really. Black stilettos( being a tourist gives you every reason to be glamorous) and a pair of foldable pumps(a really space saver and so comfortable. Don’t forget a pair of tights and a cardigan if it gets chilly. Simple.
    3. Invest in the power of lycra. Yep. This handy fabric is prone to creasing and is so easy to ‘roll up’ and stow away in your luggage.
    4. Believe in the power of disposable. Yes, disposable razors,cameras etc. Throw them in the trash when you are done. Less luggage to carry.
    5. In the name of beauty theres no need to skimp. Just be clever. Ask for beauty samples at the store. Those samples are there for you. Try to get perfume vials as well. That way, you can truly look beautiful when you travel and you can travel light. Yay!
    6. And please try to buy a suitcase or bag thats made out of lightweight materials. A good bag really goes a long way and ensures light travel.

    So there it is folks, my #AchieveMore tips should keep you traveling in style and should lessen the load when travelling. Bon voyage!

    • Sarah Duff August 13, 2015 at 1:23 am #

      Thanks Anisa for sharing your great packing list! It sounds like you’re a much more stylish traveller than I am!

  16. Jenny August 28, 2015 at 8:00 am #

    Hey Sarah! This is @otherworlds__ from Insta and i’ve just thoroughly stalked your website/blog and ah man, you inspire me so much to keep going! Your photography is just beautiful and I’m having a great time reading your blog posts. After living out of a suitcase for a good while now, I struggle most with the change of climate from country to country. A question: do you use packing cubes?

    • Sarah Duff September 7, 2015 at 4:19 am #

      Hi Jenny! Nice to hear from you 🙂 Yes, change of climate is the hardest thing about long-term suitcase living. I’ve found that having a down Uniqlo jacket that fits into a tiny pocket, a beanie, scarf and a thermal vest has seen me through cold weather (even snow in Patagonia!). When it’s really cold I just wear all my layers at once. I also bought a cheap (child’s) jacket at a second-hand shop in Reykjavik (where all the other outdoor gear cost hundreds of dollars) to see me through a freezing two weeks there. I’ve also met up with friends and family along the way so I’ve been able to ask them to bring me a few things and sent things home with them, so I have been lucky enough to do some changeovers of clothes. Warm weather countries are easier of course – shorts and vests and flip flops don’t take up too much space. No, I don’t use packing cubes – what are they? I use the cigar rolling method for packing.

Leave a Reply