Knowing what to pack for long term travel is like an art form. When you set off on a round-the-world backpacking trip, you will carry your life on your back. What do you prioritise, and what can you leave behind? After exploring the world for a year on a career break, Lisa and I have learned many lessons about this, and now we want to share them with you. This long term travel packing list covers everything you need to be prepared for any situation.
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Personalising your long term travel packing list
The first thing to know about packing for long term travel is that no two trips are the same. What to pack for your journey depends greatly on where you are going and your own personal travel style.
This means: don’t try and pack everything we recommend! There is more in this packing list than you can realistically carry in one backpack. Instead, we recommend that you tailor the packing list to your personal travel plans. And as a rule of thumb, the less you can pack, the better.
The climate in the destinations you are visiting should be your biggest consideration.
It goes without saying, but you would need very different clothing for beach-hopping in hot and tropical locations than you would for trekking in Northern Europe, Canada or Patagonia.
A micro-example: during the five months we spent in South America outside of the summer season, we mostly experienced temperate and colder climates. I had a bunch socks in my backpack and wore a pair every day. But when we reached Southeast Asia a few months later, I barely wore any socks at all, as it was usually hot enough to go with the flip-flops.
Secondly, think about the activities you will mostly be doing.
If you like hanging out on beaches, going to parties or eating in nice restaurants, then you’ll need to pack differently than you would for lots of camping and hiking.
In our case, it was difficult to get our packing list right because we planned a very mixed itinerary, including a range of climates and many different activities. If that’s the case with you too, then you will need to be versatile, savvy and a little bit ruthless.
Throughout this long term travel packing list we’ve included some tips on how you can adapt yours to suit different climates and situations.
Long term travel essentials
The first things you should buy for long term travel are a good backpack and daypack. In our article on the best backpacks and daypacks for long-term travel, we go into detail about what to look for, including size and features.
While it’s always tempting to save money, it’s not a good idea to compromise on quality with your bags. Going cheap is a false economy, as a sub-standard backpack is likely to wear quickly and you will soon have to replace it. Buying a decent one will also help ensure you don’t experience any pain in your back and shoulders.
Packing cubes are also a must-have for big trips; we never travel without them. They make it easy to organise your stuff into compartments and optimise the space in your backpack.
Clothes to pack for long term travel
One of the biggest mistakes people make when packing for long term travel is bringing too many pairs of shoes. Footwear is among the heaviest things you carry, and takes up valuable space in your backpack.
It can be tricky to cover all the different purposes of footwear with such limited space. We recommend a combination of the following:
- 1 x casual shoes / trainers – something you can wear walking around cities in the day, and going out to bars at night
- 1 x hiking boots – check out our guide to the best hiking boots for long-term travel
- 1 x sandals or flip flops – if you’re travelling to hot climates
Men’s clothes for travel
- 7 x boxers / briefs
- 5 x casual T-shirts
- 5 x light socks
- 1 x swimming shorts
- 1 x casual shorts
- 1 x convertible hiking pants (doubles up as an extra pair of shorts)
- 1 x jeans
- 1 x hoodie
Adjustments for hot climates:
- 4 x vest tops / tank tops (and take a couple fewer T shirts)
- 1 x light, airy trousers instead of jeans
- Pack fewer socks – a couple of pairs will be enough (you can always pick some up cheaply if you need)
- If you will be hiking, go for a low-cut, lightweight and breathable pair of hiking boots such as Meindl Philadelphia, or some good walking sandals
Adjustments for colder climates:
- 1 x 3-in-1 hiking jacket (I have an excellent North Face one)
- 2 x long-sleeved tops
- 1 x thermal base layer
Women’s clothes for travel
These are Lisa’s recommendations on women’s packing for long term travel. Also check out her article on a woman’s perspective on taking a travel career break.
- 7 x underwear
- 2 x bras (non-underwired bras are easier to pack and more comfortable for long bus journeys)
- 1 x sports bra
- 5 x light socks
- 1 x leggings
- 1 x jeans
- As an alternative to leggings and jeans, you could take a couple of pairs of jeggings
- 1 x bikini or swimsuit
- 2 x lightweight evening dresses
- 3 x vest tops / tank tops
- 3 x T shirts
- 1 x hoodie
Adjustments for hot climates:
- Take a couple more vest tops / tank tops, and a couple fewer T-shirts
- 1 x sarong or long skirt
- 1 x comfy trousers instead of jeans
- Pack fewer socks – a couple of pairs will be enough (you can always pick up some more for cheap if you need)
Adjustments for colder climates:
- 1 x 3-in-1 hiking jacket (Lisa has a Jack Wolfskin that has lasted years)
- 1 x convertible hiking pants
- 2 x long-sleeved tops
- 1 x thermal base layer
Gear for hiking and other outdoors activities
If you’re planning to get outdoors and do plenty of trekking on your travels, then you’ll need to pack accordingly. We love to hike on our travels, and so we always bring the following:
- Lightweight tent – the Big Agnes Copper Spur is an outstanding bit of gear
- 3-in-1 hiking jacket
- Some lightweight breathable hiking T-shirts – Mountain Warehouse are great value (bring a couple if you’ll just be doing day hikes, or four or five for multi-day treks)
- Sleeping bag – we use Vango Ultralite
- Sleeping mat – Thermarest Prolites are light and super comfy if you can stretch your budget
- Silk liner – this is also a great accessory for hot climates, as you can use it as an impromptu bedsheet
- Hiking poles
- Hiking socks – Bridgedales for men and women are excellent quality (again, bring a couple of pairs if you’ll just be doing day hikes, or four or five for multi-day treks)
- Hiking gloves
- Thermal beanie – merino wool does the trick perfectly
- Headtorch – an absolute essential if you plan to do any camping
With some of these items, you need to consider the space in your bag and extra weight. A sleeping mat will make it a lot easier to sleep when camping, but it can be a pain to carry around. It’s also possible to rent gear such as tents and hiking poles in most trekking destinations. You’ll need to make a call depending on how much outdoor activity you plan to do.
You can also check out our packing lists for hiking in Patagonia and the Inca Trail in Peru.
Eating and drinking on the go
While we like to eat out and try the local cuisine whenever we can on our travels, we also need to cater for ourselves a lot of the time to keep costs down. There are various gadgets you can bring to make this easier:
- Camel pack (the easiest way to carry water on the go) or a couple of eco water bottles
- Water purification tablets or a SteriPen water purifier
- Hot drinks flask
- Sweetener tablets if you like your hot drinks sweet
- On-the-go food container – this takes up space but is super handy if you make your own food (and you can pack other things inside it when not using it)
- Corkscrew and bottle opener
- Eating utensils
Sleep is so important when travelling, and can be very hard to come by at times. We’ve had our fair share of bad experiences in noisy hostels or on bumpy overnight buses.
Investing in a travel pillow, eye mask and some ear plugs will give you a lot more comfort when in shared accommodation and on long journeys. They don’t take up too much space either.
Don’t underestimate how much downtime you will have on the road. Even the busiest travellers will have plenty of time to kill on long journeys, and it’s great to have some games for when you meet new people. Here are a few ideas:
- Waterproof playing cards
- Uno cards (a great game for groups!)
- Something to read – buy a Kindle Paperwhite, or a great travel book and use book exchanges in hostels as you go
- Sketchbook / travel journal
- Pen and paper
A few more bits and bobs we always carry:
- A travel towel – essential if you will be staying in any accommodation that’s not a hotel
- A couple of locks
- Carabiner clips
- Multi-tool pocket knife
- Dry bag (especially if you will be on beaches a lot, or scuba diving)
- Luggage tags
- Buff – multifunctional headwear for a variety of situations
- Cable ties, which are incredible versatile – we have used them for everything from fixing broken sandals to pitching a tent to a wooden platform
Banking and money
Looking after your travel finances is made a lot easier with the help of a few tools and gadgets. This is what we carry to help manage our travel money:
- A prepaid travel money card such as Monzo or Revolut
- Emergency credit card for back-up (one is also often required to hold a deposit for car rentals)
- Money belt with RFID block
- Cash float in US dollars
- Disguised stash can to keep a hidden store of cash
- A travel wallet or organiser for your cards and passport (but keep backups in a difference place)
- A dummy wallet filled with expired cards / small cash float as a decoy for pickpockets and thieves
For more tips and insights on this, check out our guide to how to manage money when travelling.
Documents, ID and admin
We thought that leaving work to travel for a year would mean goodbye to life admin. Well, not quite. There’s less to deal with than the everyday stuff at home, but still things to take care of. Here’s what you can take with you to stay on top of travel admin:
- 2 x photocopies of your passport
- Extra passport photos (for visas etc)
- Flight boarding passes (if needed)
- Back-up of flight itinerary documents
- International driving license (if you will need to drive overseas)
- Vaccination documents – for example, some countries require a yellow fever certificate for entry
- Print-out of travel insurance documents – we recommend SafetyWing for long-term travel insurance
- Any discount cards you have, for example ISIC
- Print-outs of bookings for tours, accommodation, buses (if needed)
- A travel document organiser to store everything
Some travellers like to record every moment, while others like to go completely tech-free – it’s completely down to what you prefer. As writers and photographers we carry a lot of electronic gear, but that comes with its downsides too. It adds to the weight, and creates an extra layer of unease when carrying valuables in transit.
These are the electronics in our bag:
- The most important piece of electronic gear for travel – a universal plug adaptor!
- Slim lightweight laptop – a MacBook Air is ideal
- A protective sleeve case for your laptop
- Cloud storage package – we use Amazon Drive
- Camera – we use a Nikon D5600 and the more compact Sony CyberShot
- Camera accessories such as a lightweight portable tripod (but only if you’re a really avid photographer – this is a space-taker)
- GoPro Hero, with accessories such as a frame case and floating hand grip
- SD cards to store your images
- Mobile phone with an international data roaming plan
- Portable charger / battery pack
- Smartwatch – the Fitbit Charge 5 is a good option
- Spare batteries
When it comes to packing toiletries for travel, it’s about balancing what you need with what is convenient to carry. It’s best to carry small quantities of liquids; large bottles add weight, and there is a 100ml maximum for liquid containers in flight carry-on luggage. This means you will probably need to replenish things like deodorant and shower gel on a regular basis.
There are a couple of things you can buy to help manage your travel toiletries efficiently. A hanging toiletry bag is great for organising them, and a gem to use in cramped hostel shower cubicles with wet floors and no shelves.
You could buy a set of travel bottles and decant what you need into them. This is also useful for when you stay in one place for a while, as you can buy bigger bottles while you’re there and then decant again when you move on.
Travel toiletries for men and women
This list covers the basics you’ll need:
- Travel toothbrush
- Dental floss
- Shower gel or soap
- Deodorant (roll-on is best for travel)
- Shampoo and conditioner
- Nail clippers
- Whatever you need for grooming and shaving
- Cotton buds
- Feminine hygiene products
- Face wash or make-up remover
Medical and self care
Last, but certainly not least, it’s more important than ever to look after yourself when you travel. Consider packing the following self-care items:
- First aid kit – check out this great first aid kit checklist for packing for a gap year abroad
- Bug spray with deet
- Bite cream
- Malaria tablets (if needed in the destinations you are visiting)
- Baby wipes
- Hand sanitiser
- Spare glasses / contact lenses (if you need them)
- Prescription meds
- Sunscreen and after sun
What not to pack for long-term travel
Knowing what not to pack will save you a lot of frustration and inconvenience on your travels. We’ve learnt from our mistakes over the years on this, from the various times we’ve had to throw things away that have become a burden or surplus to requirements.
Here are a few things you should try to avoid:
- Jewellery and valuables. If you have anything of sentimental value that you would be devastated to lose, don’t take it travelling. Having jewellery on show also makes you more of a target for thieves.
- Guidebooks. They add unnecessary weight, and become outdated quickly. You can do all your travel planning on the go using apps, blogs and other online resources. Apps can be used offline too once downloaded.
- Too many beauty products. Lisa doesn’t use make-up at all when we travel. It’s so much easier to just stick to the basics! If you’re staying in hostels, bathroom time is limited anyway.
- Hairdryer and straighteners. Compact hair styling gadgets are expensive and take up space.
- Travel iron.
- Too much cotton or denim. They are slow to dry, heavy and bulky.
- Too many shoes. They’re one of the heaviest things in your bag and take up space. Prioritise the footwear you will get the most use from.
- Pyjamas. They’re just not needed – a worn t-shirt or thermals work fine for nightwear.
- Mosquito nets. We brought some for our big trip, but didn’t use them once – they were always provided in the places we stayed where mosquitos were an issue.
Quick tips on packing for long term travel
Finally, when it comes to actually getting everything into your backpack, these quick tips will help you ace it:
- Don’t leave packing until the day before you leave. Practice packing it and carrying it around to make sure you’re comfortable with the weight. Put it on and walk across your home town or city, to a station and back – you’ll be doing that a lot once you’re on your way.
- Think about quick access. What will you need to use regularly? Keep these things in top or side compartments, or at the top of your backpack. Things like towels, chargers and toiletries that you will need every day.
- Roll clothes up rather than folding them. They fit better into packing cubes this way, and pack down smaller.
- Pack the heavy and bulky stuff into the bottom of your backpack. Shoes, sleeping bags, jackets, that kind of thing.
- Keep your chargers, wires and cables in one place. We have a ‘wires bag’ that we usually keep in our daypack so we can access anything from it quickly at any time.
For more practical help on preparing for a big trip, see our ultimate guide to planning a travel career break and our travel planning 101 guide.
Do you have any tips of your own on what to pack for long term travel? Let us know in the comments below.
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