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On the day that we left for our ‘Round the World trip, I was less than confident about what was packed to travel the world. I had researched, made a concise long-term travel packing list and had been collecting items for almost six months. My downfall, however, was that I waited until just three days before leaving to actually put it all together inside my bag.
It wasn’t easy (and it certainly wasn’t pretty!), but I somehow made almost everything fit. I anticipated ditching items as we traveled, but my backpack left little room for anything additional that I picked up along the way.
And, it wasn’t until we were standing at the gate at the airport that I realized I was still wearing my thin zip up hoodie that was not on my original packing list for long-term travel. I vowed I would ditch it as soon as we arrived in Uruguay.
Long-Term Travel Packing
Any traveler who is creating a long trip packing list should spend ample time reviewing items and packing their bag. I thought I had an excellent long term travel packing list…until I tried to pack it all. Long-term and full-time travelers must strike a balance between minimalist travel and being prepared for multiple seasons and scenarios. It is not an easy feat – but, we are here to tell you, that it is possible!
After spending one year on a ‘Round the World trip, we made a short month-long trip back to the United States. On our travel break, I analyzed the contents on my long term packing list. Now I am sharing what I loved and what I would have done differently.
Pro Tip: Looking for a detailed packing list? I share my the entire contents of my backpack in our blog post, The Ultimate Travel Packing List.
Long Term Travel Bag
When we first started our long term travel planning, I was unsure about carrying my 15-year-old Lowe Alpine Walkabout 45 backpack, but I came to love it. The canvas bag itself weighs more than the newer models, but its comfortable – well, at least as comfortable as carrying 30 pounds on my back can be. As a top-loading pack, it lacks the sleek design of Kris’ Osprey Farpoint, but has ample pockets and is durable. In Italy, when I realized my waist belt clip had disappeared, Lowe Alpine was quick to help me out with a free replacement via mail.
When choosing a travel bag for long-term travel, I think one of the most important considerations is using a bag made by a quality company – and Lowe Alpine and Osprey are two trusted brands.
For our long trip, we both opted to use backpacks. Read more about the pros and cons of Backpack vs Suitcase!
Packing with Packing Cubes
Without a doubt, the absolute best pre-trip purchase we made was packing cubes by Eagle Creek. The ultra-thin, lightweight bags are like drawers inside my pack, keeping my clothes organized. I use one for pants and dresses, one for shirts and a smaller one for undergarments. Insider Tip: Packing Cubes also make excellent pillows in a pinch.
The one-way valve compression bags work fabulously to shrink my bulkier jackets and scarves, gloves and hats. The entire collection was a bit pricey, but worth every penny.
Read more about How Packing Cubes Make Travel Easier!
Minimalist Travel Packing List
I was extremely focused on creating a Light Travel Packing List. I was very cognizant of the fact that I would be lugging my backpack onto planes, trains and buses every couple of weeks. A minimal travel packing list was practically required.
I apparently heeded the advice about not over-packing clothes and created an Ultralight Travel Packing List that was a little too light.
As it turned out, I had actually under-packed. In Cambodia, I didn’t have enough summer clothes to rotate through the humid days, so I bought two new tank tops and a dress. When we arrived in Spain in the winter, I needed more long-sleeve shirts. Our visiting friend so kindly let me ‘borrow’ two of hers for the remainder of our trip (but I’m not so sure she’ll want them back now). By some miracle, I was able to squeeze these additional items into my pack.
Toiletries: Long Term Travel Packing
As we traveled, the contents of my toiletry bag dwindled. I was able to find replacements at local pharmacies, but realized that there are some things I can live without – like facial cleansing cloths; instead, I can use plain ol’ soap to wash my face. A lathery soap also saves the day when I run out of shaving cream and it works for sink laundry, too!
Finding travel size toothpaste, on the other hand, wasn’t so easy. Instead, we would purchase a larger tube (Colgate was available every single place we traveled!) and refill our travel tubes by tightly holding the open ends together and squeezing paste from the larger tube into our travel sized ones.
Long Term Travel Checklist: First Aid Kit
We were fortunate in our first year of travels that neither of us got sick to the point we needed to see a doctor, but I was glad to have brought along the medications that we did bring for colds and stomach aches.
That said, travel insurance was an absolute must for our trip. The insurance we purchased covered typical travel inconveniences – like cancelled flights and lost luggage. However, the real reason we ponied up the money for travel insurance is that our policy – with World Nomads – also covered emergency care if we got sick or injured while abroad.
Read more about How to Stay Healthy While Traveling!
Packing for Long Term Travel: Carry On and Day Pack
My classic Timbuk2 messenger bag might not have been designed specifically for traveling, but I can’t think of another bag that would have worked better for me. On travel days, it is my carry-on, containing my laptop, DSLR camera, external hard drive, notebook, travel documents and other ‘travel day’ odds and ends (deck of cards, Sudoku book and compression socks for the plane, to name a few).
On non-travel days, I carry my messenger bag when we explored. With the plethora of zippered compartments, I have specific places for everything I want to carry with me: lotion, lip balm, hand sanitizer, tissues, toilet paper, keys, etc. After losing my Jansport backpack (that I had owned since high school!) in a war with the washing machine in Australia, my Timbuk2 bag was the only day pack I carried.
Read more about the Best Day Packs for Traveling – Coming Soon!
Sharing a Long Term Travel Checklist
Because Kris and I travel as a couple, we don’t need to carry duplicate products. In fact, any couples or friends traveling together should definitely discuss what items can be shared.
In addition to what I packed, Kris carried a few items in his long term travel backpack that are not on my list – and deserve a mention. Our travel umbrella fit nicely into his bag and it was good to have…but, more often than not, it was in our apartment when we needed it most. To ensure we would have clean drinking water around the world, we purchased a SteriPEN Freedom UV water purification system that Kris also carried. We used it throughout South America, but it conked out before we got to Vietnam – and, quite frankly, buying inexpensive bottled water was the better way to go for our style trip.
Miscellaneous Long Travel Packing List Items
By the time we got to Thailand, I desperately needed a haircut, but wasn’t willing to pay the tourist price at a salon. Instead, I purchased a pair of small scissors for 70 cents and cut my hair myself. It may be the single best purchase we made abroad on our ‘round the world trip. I was unaware that scissors were permitted in carry-on luggage, but, apparently, they are – and I’ve become quite skilled at
cutting chopping my own hair, as well as Kris’.
Honing our Long-Term Travel Packing Skills
In the past year, I’ve unpacked and packed more times than I can count. I can completely empty my bag, hang up clothes and unload my toiletries into the bathroom in about 12 minutes. When it’s time to go, I need 45 minutes flat to take a shower and pack before I’m ready to walk out the door. The task of packing during a long-term trip isn’t as daunting as many people think it would be. There are no decisions to be made and, like a puzzle, everything fits right in its place. There is no guesswork and I’ve never left an item behind.
Replacing Items on our World Travel Packing List
Even if we had left something behind, we’ve learned that everything is replaceable. I lost very few things along the way, but it was never totally devastating. My sunglasses case went missing almost immediately, my Mini Maglite disappeared in Vietnam (but Kris had a duplicate that I swiped), my forgotten gloves fell off my lap when we disembarked a bus in Croatia and my sunglasses vanished somewhere along the shore in Howth, Ireland (OK, that was a little devastating. I loved my Maui Jim sunglasses!).
In the end, there wasn’t a single item I brought that I didn’t use and there wasn’t anything I wanted that I couldn’t get locally. That being said, there were a few things that I was really glad I had packed. Binder clips – I kid you not – came in handy more than we thought they would. We used them to hang laundry, secure open food items and clasp curtains together to keep the sun out.
Read more tips on Everyday Items for Traveling!
Long Term Travel Essentials
More than anything, I’m glad I packed comfortable clothes. I ditched the advice of packing ‘travel’ clothes and instead packed jeans, old tees, slip on Skechers and my favorite Reef flip flops. And, I never tossed the zip up hoodie I was wearing the day we departed; it’s the comfiest thing I own!
CLICK HERE FOR MY ULTIMATE TRAVEL PACKING LIST THAT INCLUDES EVERY ITEM I PACK!
We want to know: What is on your long-term packing list? What is your best tip for an RTW travel packing list? Tell us in the comments!
Required Reading: Packing Hacks: The Best Travel Hacks for Packing – Coming Soon!
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