Packing for Long-Term Travel
Packing for an extended trip abroad can be stressful, especially when you are visiting multiple destinations with different climates.
It would be perfect if there were some kind of ‘ultimate packing list’ that applied to every destination and variable, but that’s not the case.
Instead, I thought I would share the ‘wisdom’ I have amassed over the last ten years on the road.
And, as I set off for three months in Tanzania, three months in Vietnam, three months in Australia, and three months in the US – I’ve been putting all of this into practice.
So, here it is, the ultimate guide to packing for long-term travel. If you’re thinking of moving permanently, your packing needs may vary. If you are thinking about moving, you can read how to pack clothes for moving here.
1 – Choosing the Right Luggage
Before you start packing for your big trip, it’s probably a good idea to have something to pack into. Airports tend to frown on you simply tossing an armload of clothing onto the baggage scale.
Ideally, you’re going to want a large suitcase or backpack for your belongings plus a smaller day-pack for when you don’t fancy lugging your entire wardrobe on your back.
So, what kind of bag do you need?
Backpack vs. Roller Bag
The debate that has been destroying relationships and ruining Christmas dinners since time immemorial: are you a backpack person or a roller bag person?
As a general rule, I prefer to use a backpack for a few reasons:
- More lightweight than a roller bag;
- Roller bags struggle to roll on beaches and uneven terrain;
- You look more like you know what you’re doing;
- Free shoulders and back work out!
While it might look like you can fit more into your roller bag, it’s worth remembering that a roller bag typically adds 2 – 5 kgs to your total. So, while you might have extra space to pack your stuff into, you’re going to run into problems when it comes time to weigh in.
With that being said, I’m currently traveling with a roller bag while I’m in the market for a new backpack. I can’t even follow my own advice!
What Size Do I Need?
This is all a matter of personal preference + understanding how long you’re going to be traveling.
For a serial over-packer like me, having a large 100L backpack might give me ample room, but it’s also going to encourage me to pack more than I need. I’ll also be more inclined to pick up random shit that I don’t need along the way.
If you’re wanting to avoid paying for checked baggage, consider getting something smaller than a 60L backpack. Anything larger is unlikely to qualify as carry-on.
The All-Important Day Pack
It might seem counter-intuitive to bring along a second bag, but a day pack is essential when you’re traveling for an extended period of time.
Few and far between are the days where you’ll want all of your belongings with you, but there will be plenty of days where you’ll want to be able to bring along a change of clothes and a few other essentials. That’s where a good daypack comes in.
If you’re not sure what daypack you need, be sure to check out the selection at Lewis N Clark. They have everything from waterproof duffels for whitewater rafting to lightweight daypacks for the average adventure.
What Do I Use?
I’ve been using the fantastic Berghaus 30L Day Pack for a few years and it’s been perfect.
Large enough to hold my 17″ Acer Predator laptop and all of my other electronics, it’s also water resistant enough that I could use it while hiking the Kumano Kodo, going orangutan trekking, and trekking for gorillas.
2 – Packing Cubes
For the longest time, I resisted the urge to be one of ‘those’ people who use packing cubes.
I’m a man, dammit! I don’t need little cubes to help me organize my suitcase.
Except, I do need that. I really do.
My girlfriend, Adventures Around Asia, is obsessed with packing cubes and finally brought me into the fold when she brought me an Eagle Creek starter pack for Christmas.
With one cube for button-down shirts, one for t-shirts, and one for underpants, my luggage has never been more organised!
3 – Packing the right amount of clothing
This is where I’ve always had my biggest weakness. How do you pack for a trip of undetermined length and without knowing exactly what destinations you’re headed to?
First things first, there are a few questions you need to ask yourself:
- What climates are you going to be in?
- Do you need any specialised attire for formal occasions, scuba diving, hiking etc?
- How often are you going to be able to do laundry?
Obviously, all of these questions are going to help you figure out what you need and how much of it you need.
For my recent trip to the United States, I knew I’d need to attend a wedding, so my suit had to have its place in my bag. I also knew I’d be doing some hiking, so hiking boots and gear had to make the cut.
Thankfully, my travels are keeping me away from colder climates, so bulky jackets and cold weather attire have been limited to a hoodie and a spray jacket.
What Do I Need to Pack?
When I pack for an extended trip, I try to limit myself to the following:
- 6 t-shirts
- 2 button-up shirts for more formal occasions
- 2-3 pairs of shorts
- 1 pair of jeans
- 1 pair of khakis or trousers
- 1 hoodie or jacket
- 7 pairs of socks
- 10 pairs of underpants
- 1 pair of board shorts or other swimming attire
- 1 pair of sneakers or comfortable shoes
- 1 pair of semi-formal shoes or boots
- 1 pair of sandals, thongs, or flip-flops
This is in addition to any specialized attire you might need. As I said, my packing list also includes a nice leather jacket and a pair of hiking boots. Thankfully, I’ve been able to leave my suit with my in-laws.
Shopping for your Big Trip
If you’re anything like me, you’re not a huge fan of crowded malls, cramped changing rooms, and trying to figure out what to buy.
While I’ve been in the US, I’ve been availing myself of curated clothing crates like Trunk Club and StitchFix to pad out my wardrobe.
You’ll answer a questionnaire, upload a couple pictures of yourself, leave your measurements, and let them do the rest!
Trunk Club tends to be more expensive, but has access to everything from designer outdoor wear to trendy everyday wear, while Stitch Fix is more affordable and has more casual attire.
4 – Accessories
In addition to the all-important clothing, you’re also going to want to pack a few additional accessories. I never leave home without the below:
- The Joey travel jacket
- A baseball cap
- A good passport wallet
- A good anti-theft wallet
- A comfortable sleep mask
In preparing for my new trip, I used VisionDirect to find a pair of sunglasses that would suit me best. They shipped direct to the US and now I get to go on safari with a spiffy pair of Ray Bans on my head. Custom lanyards are also essential for me, allowing me to hold all of my cards, keys, cellphone, and any other fun ornaments. GS-JJ.com provides a variety of materials, processes, sizes, and accessories options for full customization.
Then there are the other essentials that don’t necessarily need day to day use, but might be handy to have in a pinch. I never travel with a first aid kit, but probably should given my track record with broken arms and giardia…
- Self-filtering water bottle
- Pocket survival tool
- Microfiber towel
- Travel first aid kit
- AeroPress Coffee Maker
- Cold & flu medication
- Pack of disposable face masks
With these tucked away in your suitcase, you’re covered for all but the most grisly of eventualities.
When it comes to medical stuff, it’s always best to chat with your doctor about what vaccinations you might need for the year to come.
5 – Condensing your toiletries
As a guy, I tend to travel with considerably fewer toiletries than my fiancee, but that doesn’t mean I’m traveling light.
Once you factor in the toiletry essentials such as toothpaste, deodorant, toothbrush, floss, mouthwash, sunscreen, a razor, and some cologne, my toiletry kit is already a hefty addition to my luggage.
- Sunscreen (SPF 50+)
- Nail clippers
- Travel soap/shaving cream
- Insect repellent (DEET 40% if you’re headed to the tropics)
Being a beardy git who shaves his head, I also have to bring along the various accouterments that help to make me the handsome creature that I am.
I use gentSac to keep me supplied with beard oils, facial moisturizers, and beard wax. While it’s a subscription service that obviously won’t do me much good while I’m on the road, the products themselves are lightweight enough that I can take one of each along with me and they’ll last for a good 4-6 months.
I also travel with a lightweight electric razor, as I need to shave my head every week or so to hide the fact I’m bald (by making myself balder).
6 – Travel electronics
I’ve written before about how I’m an unabashed addict when it comes to travel gadgets. My day pack doubles as a veritable high tech lab when it comes to the number of cameras, computers, and various other electronics I cram into it.
For this upcoming trip, I’ve even got needless extras like a laptop cooling pad, Razer Naga, and vintage Nintendo 64 packed. A boy has got to stay entertained while living on a farm in Tanzania, guys!
For more practical purposes, I try to limit my travel electronics to the following:
- Laptop (preferably something slim like a Macbook Air or Chromebook)
- Seagate WiFi external hard drive
- Canon SX60 HS
- GoPro Hero 6
- Sennheiser Noise Cancelling Headphones
- Lynktec Portable Power Source
- Kindle Paperwhite
- Headphone splitter
- Universal adaptor
- RoamingMan pocket WiFi
- Charging Pad
- SD cards
- Cable organiser or cord tacos
As you can see, it’s a pretty extensive list, but I’m a content creator and somebody who can’t stand to be bored.
If you aren’t necessarily creating content for a blog or needing to be permanently connected, you could quite easily cut this list back to a few essentials such as the smartphone, universal adaptor, and a camera.
7 – Travel apps and guidebooks
In days gone by, it wasn’t uncommon to leave home with a Lonely Planet guidebook or ten crammed into your carry on.
Thankfully, with the advent of smartphones and pocket-sized eReaders, it’s never been easier to have all of the information you need right at your fingertips.
Loading a few relevant travel guidebooks on to your Kindle is always handy, as you might not have WiFi or 4G to access Google from your phone.
In addition, I always download a few travel apps ahead of a big trip such as:
That’s in addition to the obvious ones like Facebook, WhatsApp, Snapchat etc.
If you’re looking to edit your photos on the run, I can’t speak highly enough of Enlight. I also use Swarm to keep track of everywhere I go while I’m on the road. You never know when you’re going to want to remember the name of that Thai place you ate at in Queenstown.
8 – Travel documents
These probably go without saying, but you probably shouldn’t leave home without:
- Your passport
- Copy of your travel insurance policy
- A printed copy of your itinerary
- Any vaccination cards you might need
- Passport photos
Depending on where you are from, it might also be worth registering with an online database like Smart Traveller so that your government can help you out if anything goes wrong.
Of course, some of us like to travel to get off the grid, so it’s not for everyone.
9 – Travel insurance
Take it from me: you’d be an idiot to travel without insurance.
Before you head out, it makes sense to do your research and choose the right travel insurance for you.
If you’re looking to rent a car through a site like Holiday Autos, make sure that your insurance is going to cover your rental car.
I personally use World Nomads whenever I am traveling, and have recently started paying a little extra to insure my higher value items such as my Canon SX60 and my Acer Predator.
10 – Additional Travel Stuff
Once you’ve packed all of your essentials: your clothes, medications, and electronics, you’ll have a better idea of whether or not you have room for a few fun extras.
For me, that’s usually a lightweight card game like Fluxx or Superfight or a big boy toy like a Nintendo Switch, but you know what you like better than I do.
Other fun little travel additions could include:
As I say, you know your tastes better than I do, so you’ll know best what little extras will make your trip a more enjoyable one.
What are your expert travel tips?
What can’t you leave home without?
Have I missed anything or made a glaring rookie error that needs to be remedied?
Don’t hesitate to leave your questions and feedback below! I’m always checking my comments, so you’ll hear back from me!