How To Pack For Long Term Travel

As nice as it would be, there is no cut-and-dry packing list that will work for everyone for every trip.

The best way to come up a packing list for you is to pull ideas from people you trust and adjust to fit your needs depending on your travel style and where in the world you'll be going. Packing for a trek to Everest Base Camp, for instance, is going to look quite a bit different than an Italian vacation.

There are a lot of things to consider when making a packing list:

  1. In what type of climates will you be traveling?
  2. How long are you traveling?
  3. Will you be staying and eating at fancy places?
  4. How many outdoor activities do you plan to do on your travels?

Before setting off on a year-long, round-the-world trip, we answered these questions and started freaking out a bit.

  1. Climate? Many climates; both tropical and wintery.
  2. Length of travel? The better part of a year.
  3. Fancy? Not too many fancy places on our list, but we wanted to be prepared to fit in on the occasional fancy-shmancy splurge.
  4. Outdoor activity? We usually base a lot of our travels around outdoor activities. 

So how exactly do you pack for a year of travel through all types of climates? How do you pack to ensure you're prepared for a fancy dinner as well as a 2-week trek?

Glad you asked.

We're going to walk you through exactly what we packed for a year-long trip around the world. 

We hope this is a starting point and gives you the information and inspiration to create your perfect packing list for long term travel.


The Backpack

  • Large backpack, 40L-60L is the ideal size carry on, and for this we love the Deuter brand
  • Day pack 20-30L for valuables
  • Packable backpack for day hikes and roaming cities (1 per person)

Let's start with the vessel that will carry all of your gear: a backpack. 

Backpack vs. Roller Suitcase

We strongly prefer carrying a backpack to anything with wheels. We feel like it gives us the most freedom when we're traveling and prevents us from overpacking. That said, everyone is different. If you have a bad back, or tend to pack on the heavy side, maybe a traditional roller suitcase would be better for you.

What about those hybrid backpacks that convert to a roller duffel? We're not typically fans of this style. We've found these don't have as good of back support as a traditional backpack, and people end up wheeling them around most of the time. The models of these are getting better an better, so we wouldn't be opposed to trying one in the future.

What size backpack should I get?

We're believers in less is more, and smaller is better. The more space you have, the more stuff you'll collect to fill that space. You'll also want to decide if you will carry your bag with on flight, or if you'll typically check your baggage. For most airlines, a carry on bag should be no greater than 22 inches long, 14 inches wide, and 9 inches tall. Anything bigger than 60 liters typically must be checked. We think a good size is between 50-60 liters.

What brand backpack is best?

There are so many great brands out there, and it certainly pays to do your research.

We really like Osprey brand because they're made with quality materials, contain many side pockets and have an anti-gravity suspension system for extra comfort. 

Do I need a smaller daypack too?

Traveling with a day pack is a personal choice, but we both have one to keep all our valuables on us during long bus/train rides. If you plan on going on a multi-day trek, like Machu Picchu, having a small day pack is a great size. Whether or not you choose to have a day pack, we highly recommend bringing a packable day pack. It's perfect for touring a city or for short day hikes, and folds up small when stored.  


Women's Clothes

Tops: (layering is key)

Athletic Tops

  • 1-2 athletic tank tops
  • 1 long sleeve athletic shirt or zip-up

Bottoms:

Athletic Bottoms

  • 1 pair athletic leggings
  • 1 pair athletic shorts

Tip: Stick to lightweight, loose-fitting fabrics and pack layers. That way you'll be comfortable in all climates and weather. 

Undergarments:

  • 8 pairs of underwear
  • 3 lightweight socks
  • 1 pair wool socks
  • 1 sports bra
  • 2 bralettes
  • 1 - 2 swim suits (depending on how much you'll be using them)

Shoes:

Hiking boots: Really think about how many times you'll use hiking boots, and consider if it is worth the weight. On many treks, you'll be fine with a good pair of sneakers. If trekking is a big part of your trip, it might be a good idea to find a good pair of lightweight hiking boots to replace your sneakers.

Bralettes v. regular bras: I prefer bralettes over regular bras (with underwire) because they pack up small, they're comfy, and they look cute even if they peek out of a tank! This is totally a personal preference though. Ladies with larger chests may find regular bras work better for them.

*Sandals: I prefer to pack one pair of versatile and comfortable sandals that strap behind my heel and can be worn for long days of walking as well as to the beach or in the shower if necessary.

Accessories:

Note: Depending on location or season, you might want to bring a warmer jacket. We loved our Columbia Omniheat Shell Jackets in South America. We had no use for it in Southeast Asia so we left it at home for that trip.

Another item every traveler should not leave home without is a sarong. It's the Swiss Army knife of accessories: it can be a beach towel, a makeshift shade, bus pillow, table cloth, or light blanket. 

Toiletries:

  • Tweezers
  • Nail clippers
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Cotton swabs
  • Small mirror
  • Spiral Hair ties and bobby pins
  • Collapsible travel hair brush
  • Small solid perfume
  • Makeup items: mascara & lip balm
  • Small tightly-sealed container of coconut oil to remove mascara

Packing clothes can be difficult, but it seems packing toiletries is the thing that stresses me out more for some reasoning. This is my go-to list that I always fall back on. 


Men's Clothes

Shirts:

Pants/Shorts:

For shirts, pants and shorts, it all depends on where in the world you plan to travel and when. If you're headed to Southeast Asia, the above is what Ben packed. If you're touring Europe, you might want less tank tops and more t-shirts, or a even polo. If you're going somewhere tropical, leave the jeans at home, because it'll be dead weight in your bag. 

Undergarments:

Shoes:

Note on hiking boots: Some travelers love to bring their hiking boots along, but for us it’s just not worth the weight. We brought them with on our 3-month trip in South America and only used them 4 times, so for future trips we leave them at home. 

Manly Accessories

Every traveler should own a buff. It has so many uses: a sun blocker for the back of the neck, dusk mask, sweatband and even an eye cover for night buses. We always choose to buy inexpensive sunglasses because if we break or lose them along the way and they're easy to buy anywhere.

Another item every traveler should not leave home without is a sarong. It's the Swiss Army knife of accessories: it can be a beach towel, a makeshift shade, bus pillow, table cloth, or light blanket. 

Depending on location or season, you might want to bring a warmer jacket. We loved our Columbia Omniheat Shell Jackets in South America. We had no use for it in Southeast Asia so we left it at home for that trip.

Toiletries:

  • Solid shampoo and tin container
  • Eco-friendly, biodegradable bar of soap
  • Soap container
  • Deodorant
  • Lip balm
  • Face wipes
  • Toothbrush & toothpaste & brush cover
  • Dental floss
  • SPF 50 Sunscreen
  • Badger Balm Anti-Bug Balm Stick
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Nail clippers
  • Solid lotion
  • Cotton swabs
  • Trimmer or razor and solid shaving cream
  • Sample bottle of cologne (just a little something extra for the lady(ies) in your life)

Don't worry about running out of toiletries during your trip. You can always pick up some more along the way. Think about it, people around the world have to keep clean too! It might not be the exact brand you like, but part of traveling is being flexible. For months Ben only used little shampoo bottles from hotels. 

One of our best tips when it comes to toiletries is to go solid whenever possible. 1. It's lighter (less weight the better), 2. you can get through airport security quicker and 3. it's a lot less messy (I can't tell you how many times I've cleaned up spilt shampoo in my bag). There's a solid for almost everything: soap bars, shampoo, conditioner, lotion, and even shaving cream.


Travel Gear

I could talk your ears off about how great all these travel items are, but I'll try to keep is short. Packing cubes are a necessity when traveling longterm to keep your bag organized. Using the Steripen has allowed us to drink water from the tap all around the globe even in places where we were told not to. It's quick, safe and has saved us hundreds of dollars that we would have spent on bottled water. We always look for items at have multiple uses and we used our collapsible cups as wine glasses on a long hike, guacamole dip holder, or even cereal bowls. 


Electronics

Because work online while on the road, we bring our electronics everywhere we go. Although we have different taste in operating systems (Katie's more of an Apple lover and Ben is a PC guy), we love our computers because they have lots of storage, fast processors, and are a great size for travel. And to protect our beloved computers, we keep them in a water-resistant computer case whenever on the road. 

Katie's baby is her Nikon DSLR camera and would never leave home without it. Ben records most videos on the GoPro Hero which is great for everyday films or extreme activities like snorkeling with reef sharks. You probably already own a smartphone, but make sure to travel with one that has a good camera.

Our Kindle Paperwhites are not only used for fun reading, but we use them everyday when traveling because we download guide books (see below) to get tips on where to go next. You can even rent Kindle books online from your home library and never have to pay for a guide book again. Everyone has had their device die on them at the exact wrong time. That's why we carry our external battery pack that can fully charge an iPhone seven times before needing to replug. Whether your at the beach or on a day hike, a portable Bluetooth speaker is a great addition to keep the jams going. 

Cord Management Tip: Carry all your extra charger cords and plugs in a packing cube or zipper pouch bag. We also use small strips of Velcro to wrap the cords up and keep them organized. Or you could use these permanent twist ties in fun colors.


Health/Medical Backpacking Supplies

  • Multi-day Backpacker First Aid Kit (including moleskin for blisters, athletic tape & gauze)
  • Arnica pills (natural alternative to Ibuprofen)
  • Anti-diarrheals and laxatives (a.k.a. stoppers and goers), sometimes a good idea when traveling to far and unfamiliar places

You never want to use these items, but it's always good to have them handy. Extra small toiletry bags are great for keeping pill bottles in one location. Pick some up at the dollar store or you could use a small packing cube.  


Boring, but necessary (Administrative things)

  • Passport
  • Passport photos (at least 10 extras for visas or even when signing up for SIM cards in some countries)
  • Vaccination Documentation (if needed for countries you’re visiting, like certain South American countries)
  • Paper copies of passport photo page (at least 2)
  • Copy of travel insurance policy and emergency numbers
  • Copy of all documents saved online to the cloud (any cloud storage will do, but Amazon Cloud Drive has worked well for us)

Expert Travel Tip: Never leave home without travel insurance! Your mama would be pissed! Seriously, bad things can happen anywhere and it's good to be covered. To find out what we look for in a policy and which companies we recommend, check out our detailed Travel Insurance article.


Useful Travel Apps

Google Maps

Google Maps

Know exactly where you are at any time without using data or WiFi. Just load the area of the map where you're going to go and your phone will track where you are via GPS. 

Trail Wallet

Created by backpackers for backpackers. Track all your expenses while on the road so you can easily stick to your budget. We swear by this app and use it every day. 

Duolingo

Fun way to learn a new language for free on your phone. It's like playing a game where you can complete with your friends.

Convert

Find the up-to-date exchange rate for any currency so you know exactly how much things cost. It even converts metric to imperial for lengths and speeds, so you really know how fast your taxi driver is cruising.

1 Second Everyday

Document your travels with one-second videos everyday. The only hard thing is picking the best one second when you've had an awesome day traveling. 

Sphere

Ask real experts real questions and get instant answers. Travel is one of their main focuses so they have experts waiting with their keyboards ready. 

Find our other online travel tips we've shared on your Money-Saving Travel Resources article. You'll thank us later!


Favorite E-Books for Great Reads

Guide Books

Without fail, Lonely Planet guide books have led us to the most incredible places around the globe. We especially enjoy the "On a shoestring" series which are geared toward travelers on a tighter budget. Get them on the Kindle version for a lighter load in your backpack. 

Fun Travel Books

Great books to get you in the wanderlust mood whether you're at home or on a long bus ride. Don't forget to get them in the Kindle version. 


 
 

*Disclaimer: There are some affiliate links on this page, which means when you click we might get a small percentage of the purchase, at no extra cost to you! This allows us to keep sharing great travel tips, so feel free to click away!


What do you think about our list? What would you add? Do you have any other packing tips? Let us know in the comments below!