“When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money.” –Susan Heller
So you’re getting ready to travel the world! What should you bring? Everyone has packing tips. Hundreds of posts have been written on the topic. Everyone has ideas, and most of them are right. When it comes to packing, determining wants versus needs is personal. There will always be some things we can’t do with out that others may find silly, and vice versa. That being said, this write-up is more a general philosophy of packing for extended travel. We do not presume to be correct in theory or in detail, but this has been our experience. Hopefully these packing tips will at least serve as food for thought for your planning.
Backpack or Rolling Bag
First, you have to choose the right bag for you and your style of travel. Some people prefer a rolling bag while others lean toward a backpack. On my first extended trip I used a Kelty backpack that was designed for hiking and camping. While it was comfortable to wear, the top-loading main compartment became cumbersome. It also had tons of exterior straps to adjust the fit, which can become a nuisance. On our most recent trip I decided to change to an Eagle Creek Truist (I had a 55L; the new, linked version is 65L). This backpack was designed specifically for travel rather than for hiking, so the exterior pockets are minimal, nice for security. There is a pocket at the bottom of the bag for dirty items and/or shoes. The other feature I really like is the large front loader pocket. It makes it so much easier than digging through a top-loader bag. I know a backpack isn’t for everyone but it is for sure my luggage of choice. T is still traveling with the Eagle Creek Maiden Voyage, which she’s had since 2008. They no longer make that model, but the Eagle Creek Rincon Vita 75L is similar. It has a detachable daypack, which we usually leave detached. Another thing to consider if you go with a backpack is those pesky straps when checking the bag with the airlines. Backpack straps are notorious for getting caught up in the luggage belts and creating a big mess. T’s pack has a zippered flap, into which you can insert the straps when checking the bag…super handy. Others opt for a large cover or duffel and insert the whole backpack into it when traveling by air. Yet another option is to try and use an included rain cover backwards to try and rig something. In my opinion a rolling bag is only a good choice if you are heading from your home to a destination for a week holiday and will never need to actually roll if for longer than the baggage claim to a taxi at your destination.
Packing Cubes, Stuff Sacks and Compression Bags
These are another very handy packing accessory. T uses Packing Cubes to keep different types of clothing items organized and they seem to save a bit of space. We both use Travel Compression Bags (think zip-lock on steroids) and a Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Compression Sack to save space and stash things that you may not want immediately. I often put my beach items in one while we are visiting a destination away from the ocean. A stuff-sack works nicely to store these items for the “long term” and makes these items less bulky in your pack. Also, depending on your length of trip and locations, you may have a fleece jacket or something similar.
I think most would agree that less is more when you have to carry your wardrobe on your back. Why stuff your backpack to the brim before you leave home? Of course they have t-shirts and such where you will be visiting. Heck, you may even buy one as a souvenir!
On our recent trip this is the list of items I packed for one year:
- 1 fleece jacket
- 1 rain jacket (We both currently use the Marmot Precip Jacket)
- 1 long sleeve button up shirt
- 1 long sleeve base layer shirt
- 4 t-shirts
- 1 pair of jeans
- 1 convertible pants
- 1 pair of shorts
- 3 pair of UnderArmour boxer brief
- 5 pair of socks
- 1 pair of board shorts
- 2 hats (one warm and one for the sun).
The never-ending JEANS debate
Dress like you would at home. If you love jeans and feel comfortable in them, by all means pack them! Personally, we both like to have a pair of jeans. In hot climates you may not wear them all the time, but we feel much better heading out to a bar or meeting up with friends in a decent pair of jeans than those “practical” yet dorky travel pants. A note on those convertible pants: Do they make you a target? Do they mark you as a traveler? Of course, but there are times you can’t deny their functionality.
Another thing to remember is that most likely you won’t ever see the people who may have noticed you wearing the same shirt three days in a row. Furthermore, most people have more important things to think about than your outfit. Oh, but for the ladies a skirt or sundress is a must.
Another major decision is footwear. Boots, shoes, sandals, flip flops? Your destination and planned activities obviously have to be factored in. That being said, for me the best choice is low-cut hiking shoes (like the Merrell Moab Ventilator) and a pair of flip flops that are basically all plastic. The flip flops come in extremely handy for those questionable showers and being all plastic you can give them a shake and they can be packed away. If you are planning on mostly warm climates, like SE Asia, you will notice that most people wear some form of flip flops daily. I actually went for about 4 months without taking my shoes out of my backpack!
Accessories and Gadgets
From high-tech to low-tech this section can make your life much easier during your travels. Of course everyone will be bringing a camera to capture images along the way. Another debate, compact or DSLR? We have been a fan of the compact point and shoot that fits nicely into your pocket. Sure, when we were on our overland trip in Africa we were jealous of others’ super zoom lenses, but overall I stand by smaller is better. Who wants to have thousands of dollars hanging around your neck anyway? One must-have is a universal power outlet adapter, this will help you power all of your other gadgets. Also a small power strip is great when your room only has one power outlet. We have yet to travel with any sort of laptop or notebook, though we have been talking about it for our next journey. We do however use a portable hard drive to back up photos and other files. Now that T has a Kindle, that has become a necessity as well.
A few low-tech items:
- I’ve always carried a small paring knife for cutting fruit and also making repairs to gear or clothing.
- A sewing kit is also essential for small gear or clothing repairs.
- Ten to fifteen feet of thin cord makes a very nice clothes-line in your room in a pinch.
- A drain plug: mine is a flat plastic disc that works well when you need to do wash in the sink.
- Water bottle
- Ziplock bags keep your passport or other valuables dry.
- A flashlight, or better yet a headlamp.
- We each carry a Cocoon Cotton Sleep Sheet that can be zipped together when the hostel/hotel bed looks questionable.
- MSR pack towel
- Sarong-useful in SO many ways
We are both very minimalist when it comes to “products.” We carry the following:
- Toothpaste (though when it runs low we improvise with some of the below)
- Coconut oil (available in many places, moisturizing, natural sunscreen, used to make our deodorant)
- Baking soda (small container for hair washing and making deodorant)
- Apple Cider Vinegar (hair rinse, toner, cleaning, sunburn relief)
- Essential Oil (peppermint, rosemary, lavender about covers it)
- Badger Balm Sunscreen and Bug Balm
- Minimal make-up (T) including organic tinted moisturizer with Sunscreen, mascara, an eye-shadow and a compressed powder. That’s it.
Packing Tips and Lists from the Pros
Before we left on our first long trip in 2008, here’s what we thought we needed (minus clothing). Our list has been altered and fine-tuned since then, so look for an updated list in a future post! Here are some great lists and packing tips from other travelers:
Breakaway Backpacker: What I’m Packing for My Trip Around the World
We came across this extensive annotated list from One Bag before we left on our first trip. It’s well-thought out, very specific, and covers topics you may not think of. As with any list, you have to take from it what related to you and your trip, but it’s definitely food for thought.
Never Ending Voyage has a great list explaining how they travel with carry-on luggage only. Their list is very similar to our own, and though we haven’t quite made it all fit in a carry-on size yet ourselves, they are a great inspiration. They’ve got a post on packing tips that’s very useful as well!
Boots-n-All has a good, general article on RTW packing.
Legal Nomads has a great section called World Travel Resources. It’s very thorough, and if for some crazy reason you’re not familiar with the site, start reading! You’ve been missing out.
Finally, 60 Travel Packing Tips from the Experts is a collection of advice from travel bloggers and others on Travel Fashion Girl’s site.