Few things are more indicative of an individual’s personality than their long-term travel packing list. Trying to plan a long trip that will span multiple destinations, cultures and weather systems while hoping to fit everything in a single backpack or suitcase will leave you with some agonizing decisions to make. Here are just a few of the big dilemmas you will face:
- Where do you draw the line when considering things that won’t be used often (maybe not at all) but could be very important if the situation arises?
- How much do you value having everything you need vs. saving space and weight?
- Style or function? Style or keeping your bag a manageable size? Style or versatility? Really, if you are comfortable throwing style concerns to the wind, packing gets a whole lot easier.
- Carry something the whole time or buy/rent it only in the place where it’s needed? An obvious example of this is scuba diving gear, which almost no one takes with them unless they are going on a dedicated diving trip. Other examples aren’t quite so clear, however. Let’s say that just 3 weeks of your 4-month trip will involve mountain hiking in Nepal and the rest of the time you’ll be in hotels and apartments. Do you carry your sleeping bag the whole time or rent one there? Or say you are going to be in colder climates right up until the end when you’ve got a couple beach weeks planned. Do you carry a bathing suit or buy one later? Flip flops – same question.
These are the kind of decisions you need to take seriously if you want to avoid packing regrets. Over the years, we’ve gotten pretty good at finding a balance between putting everything on our travel packing list that we would like to have and sticking with only what we absolutely need. And one thing I can tell you; unless you are only going to one or two places, packing light should be your number one priority. Every time you check-in at the airport, or take a bus, or a taxi, or get stuck wandering around for hours between checkout and your next form of transportation, or find yourself lost in an unfamiliar city trying to decipher some bizarrely eccentric AirBnB directions, you will discover new levels of hatred for your 20kg wheeled suitcase. Whereas that guy with the comfortable 7kg backpack is barely phased by delays or misdirection, sauntering around with the equivalent of a daypack. So, while there will always be a certain list of essential items that you need to pack, anything you can do to keep the weight down will greatly influence your day-to-day enjoyment.
Weight aside, there are all types of luggage that can work perfectly fine, from backpacks to wheeled suitcases to casual duffels, among others. It all depends where you’re going and what you’ll be doing. We still stick with backpacks since we tend to end up walking with ours on a lot, but if you anticipate mostly going from airport to taxi to hotel a duffel or wheeled suitcase might work better. You also need to consider what you want to take as a daypack, carry-on or laptop bag. Try to pick something that you won’t mind taking on the plane, that can be comfortably carried at the same time as your main pack or suitcase, and is small enough to be packed away when not needed but sturdy enough to protect your valuables and electronics. Sound impossible? Well, it sort of is, which is probably why we have one closet basically dedicated to an infinite variety of packs to fit any conceivable circumstance. And still none of them are ever the perfect choice for a single trip. These ones come pretty close, though.
Unfortunately, even once you’ve chosen a pair of great backpacks, deciding what to fill them with can be just as aggravatingly variable. We have a giant plastic bin full of all of our “trip stuff” that we sift through before every trip to see what we have, what we still need to buy, and what ridiculous items we never use but refuse to throw out for some reason. Extra-large mosquito net, anyone? How about an old spare Camelbak hose with just a hint of mildew? Generally, however, the system works quite well, giving us a ready stockpile of trip essentials on hand at any given time. But I have to admit, I’m not sure I ever hate life quite as much as when I am forced to go trip bin diving in search of some specific item. Why don’t we at least pretend to organize that chaos? My only answer is that we all have our irrational procrastinations. Like vacuuming.
All right, now that I have harped at length about how unique and different every long-term travel packing list should be, I’m going to pretend I never said that and am going to provide a “universal” packing list to follow for your next adventure. Sounds reasonable, right? Well, it’s happening either way, so whatever. The main point is that these are merely suggestions based on things we’ve learned and what has worked for us in the past. The best plan would be to use this list as a guideline to be customized to fit your trip and personality. These are affiliate links, which means that if you make a purchase through one we get a small commission. However, rest assured, these are all actual products we use, or have used in the past, and can wholeheartedly recommend.
When thinking about what I want to pack I always start from the ground up, but feel free to go top down if you’re more of a hat person than a shoe lover.
Shoes are probably the biggest hassle when travelling. At home, most of us have pairs specifically designed for every different activity. But, spoiler alert, you aren’t going to be bringing 8 pairs with you as you traverse the globe, and probably not even that pair of fluffy slippers that is currently so important to your mental health. When it comes to travel footwear, it’s all about versatility.
Hiking shoes or boots
If you will be doing any serious hiking these are pretty essential. Personally, I prefer low-cut shoes because they are lighter and more comfortable, but many people swear by the extra support of boots. I went through 3 pairs of Patagonia’s that I loved before they stopped making shoes and now I’m on my second pair of Oboz, from a company out of Bozeman, Montana. They take longer than most to break in but are very solid and impressively waterproof.
The downside of hiking shoes/boots is that they are physically incapable of looking like anything other than hiking shoes/boots. So, either you have to carry another pair of city shoes or resign yourself to the odd looks you’ll face when your stroll into the plush Sunset Lounge in your best khakis and your permanently mud-coloured North Face hiking boots.
These will suffice for less intense hiking, and we’ve even seen them work for people on big hikes like the Camino de Santiago and Everest Base Camp. We’ve also seen feet straight out of the depths of hell on people who thought trail runners would be fine and were wrong. So just make sure you test them out under more difficult circumstances than the 5 km paved lake loop in the park near your house before committing to them as your mountain wear.
On the bright side, you can wear these around town and in many other situations without looking so much like a hiker trying to adapt to city life.
My preferred choice for casual wear. They look decent and are usually solid enough to handle long days of sightseeing and even the occasional short hike. Laynni’s feet can actually withstand all these activities in just some light, comfortable Sanuk slip-ons, so that may also work for some.
Sandals / Flip Flops
Since almost everyone I’ve ever met travelling has plans to visit at least one warm destination along the way (and often exclusively warm destinations), a pair of these is usually essential. From there, it’s mostly personal preference, though. Laynni can walk all day in her flip flops but I top out at about an hour. In general, sandals are sturdier and can sometimes be used as a replacement for sneakers, while flip flops are lighter to carry around and more comfortable on the beach.
Either hiking shoes + light sneakers + flip flops or trail runners + flip flops if we’re not planning any big hikes.
I usually take a few really small pairs of plain, low-cut black socks. They don’t fit with today’s tall tube-sock generation but they are smaller to pack and faster to dry. For hiking, it’s all about the merino wool, of course. I have also been on the toe-sock liner bandwagon since using them on our last Camino.
Other than jackets, pants will take up the most room of any of your clothes. Therefore, choosing well can make a big difference. If possible, try to stick with just 2 pairs, then something light and comfortable for lounging. Thin sweatpants or long underwear for me, leggings for Laynni. Jeans are fine for most trips but not for hiking in the rain, or any situation where you may have to do your own laundry and patiently watch it hang outside and dry for days.
Obviously, you’ll want to pick your favourite shorts, although try to keep cultural norms in mind when considering particularly small/tight/revealing/white ones. Cultural norms, and the fact that most of us would strongly prefer we not have to see your ass cheeks peeking out the bottom.
Highly recommended, although not everyone feels as attached as they probably should. On treks we just carry 2 pairs of super-light, quick-drying underwear and wash one in the shower every night. But that’s a fairly specific situation and, admittedly, a bit gross. Most of the time 6-7 pairs will suffice if you can find laundry every week or so, and 3-4 could work if you don’t mind washing your own more often.
I don’t know, sure, whatever. Actually, this trip I specifically chose pants and shorts that don’t require a belt so I wouldn’t need to carry one. But, realistically, this will never be your biggest regret either way.
Also known as shirts, not sure why I used such a “JC Penny section” term, but you get the point. I normally find that 5 shirts is the magic number for a long-term travel packing list but, as always, I’ve seen people carry far more, and one gregariously pungent Irishman who made it all the way around the world with just one graphic tee and “had no problems at all”. Debatable. Either way, for me, those 5 are usually split 4/1 t-shirts/long-sleeve or 3/2 depending on destination weather. Also, it took me years to catch on to this, but it is also useful to pick shirts and pants that are all completely interchangeable, colour-wise. It sucks having just one shirt that only goes with one of your 2 pairs of pants. Taking a pink polo and purple capris to Egypt remains one of my greatest regrets. Just kidding, I’m a modern man, “I don’t see colour”.
We are also dedicated members of the merino wool cult. You just can’t beat it – light, warm, comfortable, quick-drying, and somehow doesn’t smell even under extreme duress (by which I mean hiking in Hawaii). Ah, there is the price, though. That’s normally not ideal. But, in our case, we have generally gotten our money’s worth and more out of every merino investment we’ve made. Actually, Laynni just recently ventured into the “merino wool bra” market and is quite excited to see what life is like there.
Very, very destination and season dependent. But, once again, versatility is key. A light, quality fleece is probably more useful than your favourite bulky hoodie. I have a paper-thin windbreaker that weighs less than a Snickers bar and comes in handy in almost any climate. A rain jacket needs to be considered on a case by case basis. Island-hopping in Scotland, you should probably throw it in along with a good umbrella. Camping in Chile’s Atacama Desert, you probably don’t even need a tent. You get the idea.
And if you’re going someplace cold, such as fall/winter in Europe, or any mountains at any time of year, you need a warm jacket. As much as you may love your giant, fuzzy-hooded Canada Goose parka that weighs in roughly the same as a pair of scuba tanks, however, you would be better served to pick up lightweight down jacket with a good warmth to weight ratio and cool feathers sneaking out of the seams from time to time.
I love hats. They are my shopping weakness, the item I can’t help stopping to fondle whenever I pass them in a store. Baseball cap style, of course, I am North American after all. Stylish, good for keeping the rain off my head and sun off my face, eminently replaceable. For sheer practicality, though, a solid Tilley or something similar actually makes more sense, especially for outdoor pursuits, since they cover your ears as well. I almost always carry a toque also (that’s “beanie” or “wool cap” for you non-Canadians) because it doesn’t take up much room and if you actually end up needing it you’ll be thrilled to have it.
Once again, climate dependent. But, in general, they are nice to have at much warmer temperatures than you may originally think, especially if you’ll be spending long stretches outside. Even if it’s 7-8 Celsius with a bit of wind (i.e. London summer) a pair of gloves will save you spending the whole day tugging your sleeves down over your hands.
For trekking, in particular, you probably need more than just a good rain jacket. Light rain pants (with heavy ones the amount of sweat can cancel out the benefits of keeping the rain off) and a poncho that goes right over top my backpack are non-negotiable for me these days. I know some people still prefer jacket, pants and backpack cover but I find that method lets water pool in imperfect places on my pack. For most hikes I also opt for waterproof hikers, small gaiters and light rain mitts that slip over regular gloves. I used to really hate hiking in the rain but I’ve learned that once you’re fully geared up, it really isn’t a big deal. If you aren’t doing any long hikes, though, you can probably pass on all this stuff.
Water bottles (regular / collapsible)
Obviously, avoiding buying bottled water saves both money and the environment. If you use a water purifier like we do in some places (i.e. hiking in Nepal) you want to make sure you have a wide-mouth bottle. We have also started carrying a collapsible bottle for when we need to carry a little extra water. For some trips (strictly camping / hiking) we take a bladder/hose setup but for most trips that only adds complication (harder to fill / less convenient to pack empty).
Water bottle holster
Most larger backpacks have bottle holders but we just bought one of these to use on our 12L daypack. It slips over the hip-belt and saves having to stop and dig your bottle out every time you’re thirsty.
We’ve sworn by this ever since we bought one for travelling around Europe last time around. It only takes a minute or two (for 500ml or 1L) and won’t affect the taste of the water the way tablets sometimes do. Make sure you have a wide-mouth bottle.
Water purification tablets
Not quite as easy as a SteriPEN but much smaller and lighter. We make do with these on hikes where we are concerned with saving every ounce.
We normally hike without poles but will use them when hiking particularly steep trails. On most trips we don’t find that the benefits outweigh the annoyance of carrying them around when they aren’t needed. If you have had knee, back or ankle problems, however, or simply prefer hiking with poles (as many do) they can be a big help, especially on steep slopes.
Hip belt pockets
Once you get used to having these it is hard to go without. But just because that new backpack you’ve got your eye on doesn’t come with hip-belt pockets doesn’t mean you have to cross it off the list. These detachable pockets allow you to customize any backpack for extra convenience.
Through all the years and innovations, a good, light money belt is still an essential item on any long-term packing list and the best combination of safety and comfort when it comes to carrying your money, cards and passport.
Sometimes we seem to use these all the time, sometimes they never make it out of the bag. Put some thought into your plans and if you think you may use a lock, I would suggest a flexible combination lock. A) the loop is more likely to fit in a variety of locations, and B) you don’t have to keep track of a key. The only downside is that a thin cable will be easier to cut through, although, in my opinion, if someone is that intent on getting inside a little padlock probably won’t stop them either.
Collapsible grocery bags
These have rapidly made it to the very top of our packing list. They fold up to the size of a small orange and weigh almost nothing, yet are large and strong enough to hold anything from a bunch of groceries to your extra clothes for the plane/train/bus. Plus, you won’t be contributing to global plastic crisis.
You never know exactly when this will come in handy, you just know that it will. Late-night reading, dark outhouses, power outages, that tiny sliver in your foot that you can feel but just can’t pinpoint.
I have rambled on about the importance of ear plugs repeatedly over the years. So, what’s one more time? A lot of people see ear plugs as a last resort but I really don’t know why. Once you get used to them they are hardly noticeable except for, you know, the lack of sound. When travelling you are already subjecting yourself to a huge number of unfamiliar sleeping situations, why make it even harder on yourself by trying to ignore strange sounds, too? People snore, dogs bark and garbage trucks pass by at 5 am – which is why the ear plug market isn’t going away any time soon. The wax ones Laynni uses block out pretty much everything but I find them too hard for my non-bendy ears so I go with the slightly less effective sponge ones.
Personally, I hate pack towels. I hate the feel of them, I hate how they smell when it’s been too long between washings, and I assume people around me hate how they only cover about ¾ of my mid-section when I try to wrap up on the way from the shower. But big, fluffy towels from home simply aren’t practical to carry around. If you are staying in nicer hotels and AirBnB’s you may not need to carry your own towel but if you do, it may as well be a small one.
If you are packing light you won’t have a lot of extra clothes so it’s important to be able to do your own laundry every now and then. I don’t have a single pair of pants that haven’t become intimately acquainted with an unsightly blob of ketchup from time to time.
Not that there is any reason you will get sick or injured while you travel, but on the off-chance… If nothing else, those ibuprofen always come in handy after those pub afternoons that got away from you.
Optional depending on the type of trip. Camping, obviously. Other trips, maybe not, although one way or another we always seem to find a use for one (cutting buns, tightening sunglasses, sawing off an arm to escape a remote canyon).
Handy if you ever need to deal with unfortunate rips or seams and straps that give way at the least opportune time. And, yes, movie heroes often stitch up their latest flesh wounds so they can continue with the more important business of saving the world, but that seems like a selfish use of time to me, considering the stakes.
If you aren’t already familiar with the astonishing versatility of duct tape then I daresay you’ve led a very sheltered, very emergency repair-free existence, my friend.
Most modern electronics are fully equipped to deal with varying voltages around the world. That won’t help square pins fit in round holes, however, or whatever those abominations are you people use in the UK.
If you don’t have your own private electrical outlet in your room or, worse yet, don’t have your own private room, there is a pretty good chance you’re going to find yourself waiting in line for the shared socket or power bar. Portable chargers, like almost every other electronic device, are smaller and more powerful than ever. We’ve been using this one for a couple years now and it can charge an iPhone 5-6 times and only weighs a few ounces. Terrific as a backup.
Like many of the other items on this list, whether this is necessary or not will depend on where you plan to travel. If we’re sticking pretty close to civilization we don’t normally bother, but it comes in pretty handy on hikes to remote locations, or on any given day dealing with power outages in Guatemala.
If music is important to you, and you expect to have enough privacy to feel comfortable playing your own music (don’t immediately assume that blasting Slipknot in the common room will increase your popularity), then a small Bluetooth speaker is great to have along.
Long-Term Travel Packing List Conclusion
Clearly there are many more items that should be considered for your next trip, depending on destination, weather, trip length, etc. However, this long-term travel packing list should cover the bulk of the necessities and provide some useful recommendations since we have actually used all these items while on the road. Feel free to contact us directly if you have any specific questions regarding our packing advice. Bon voyage!
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