I know most of you have been asking how the heck we travel with just our backpacks. So here’s our ultimate packing tips and list for long term travel and round the world trips.
Starting this trip I was really stressed with packing and it took me awhile to actually figure out and narrow down what I wanted to bring versus what I needed to bring. I did a lot of research on different blogs and people that were traveling for long periods of time and was able to figure out the necessary things to pack without feeling and looking like a backpacker the entire time.
Here’s an in depth post on how we managed to fit everything that we needed for different seasons in just two bags, nearly small enough to bring as your carry on. Let’s get things straight, I don’t think I’m the best packer in the world but I am definitely an organized freak. I like things in order and so when I pack I want to be able to access the things that I need and want within a quick grab.
Things to remember
Know where you’re going
We packed for this year long trip knowing that we’re going to hit opposite climates. From hot humid African safari to Mountain hikes (including Mt Kilimanjaro) to beaches in Central America and the Andes in South America. We had to be prepared for both so we made sure we were able to pack without the hassle of shipping some stuff back home or having to buy a ton on the road.
Are you into surfing, yoga, snorkeling or maybe camping? If you’re an enthusiast of any of these things and if you plan to use a particular gear for more than once then pack your gear with you and invest in having a good one. But let’s be realistic, most of these things you can rent wherever you go; ski gears, snorkels, yoga mats, surf boards and other things that you might think about. If you wont be using it 80% of your trip then don’t bring it. If your in a place for a few weeks and will be doing a specific activity look at the cost of renting versus buying. You can always sell the item or barter it for something else.
Now this issue mostly applies to women. I know how we feel about traveling on long periods of time and having to live with pretty much just what’s inside your backpack. Here’s a fact: nobody really cares about what you look like except yourself. When your traveling, somehow vanity fades away and you’ll realize that you dress and make yourself look better not for other people but for yourself. Now that we’ve gotten that straighten out let’s go with a more practical tip.
When packing clothes make sure to stick with quality basics. I like to always think of shirts and pants that I can easily layer up when we go from the beach to cooler mountainous areas. Cotton or dry fit t-shirts and tank tops are awesome to bring because they are small and they don’t cringe as much compared to other types of fabric. I also like to bring a long sleeves shirt to layer up for colder climate. You can easily choose between a button up shirt or a cardigan that can also be used as a sophisticated top. Make sure to stop yourself from bringing your favorite set of clothes unless you want them to be ruined. Other people will suggest you to even bring old clothes instead because you’ll be running around with them anyway. I would suggest to bring nice enough clothes and a few peices that would make you feel and look good. Remember you’ll be wearing all these clothes for an entire year so find at least one that can make you feel good about yourself. I like to bring two sets of dresses one long and one short. If you can find a reversible dress, that’s even better. Dresses makes me feel pretty even if I’m 20 times darker and have a million scars on my legs. -C
With pants I like to bring a set of hiking pants that can zip off as shorts. Then a couple of leggings and shorts are really handy. Leggings are pretty much my favorite item to bring because you can easily layer them up with another pants or shorts. Pajama pants can always be bought anywhere but bringing one is not a bad thing. Make sure you bring something that can also be versatile enough to use for going out. We brought our low crotch hanging pants from our trip in Thailand and Cambodia a year ago. They’re super comfortable and hardly takes up space when packing. I always include a pair of jeans just because they are super practical when going out and it makes you look like a normal person.
I like to bring a week set of panties and 5 bras because this gives me more flexibility in any case I can’t wash for an entire week. I suggest 2 sets of bathing suit so you can easily mix and match and even use them as an optional underwear.
Make sure you invest in a good one. If I’m going to bring something that costs a lot, that would be an all-weather jacket. Northface has a few nice ones that has two separate layers, one rain jacket and a fleece or a thin winter puff layer underneath. These are great because you can easily use it separately or both when it gets really chilly on top of the mountains.
A microfiber towel would probably the most annoying thing you can bring on your trip because they don’t really feel like real towels but they dry really fast and folds to almost nothing. You’ll be surprised on how excited you’ll be when finding real towels in hostels. We have yet to find a good towel that actually makes more sense than a microfiber travel towel.
Scarves are the most versatile accessory that you can bring on your trip. Not only that you can use it for cold climate, you can also use it as a sarong when in the beach and a cover-up to temple or church visits as well as dust protection for your face. Just limit bringing more than two accessories because you end up buying some in places you go anyway.
TIP: Indigenous market are the best place to buy beautiful things for a very cheap price. Make sure you haggle.
Hats and sunglasses are two most reliable items that you’ll be glad to bring for sun protection. The sun and heat everywhere can be pretty harsh, whether it’s doing a walking tour in the city or hiking up the mountains, you’ll need it. Trust me sunscreen won’t be enough to combat the UVA and UVB rays wherever you go.
Swiss knife, First Aid Kit, power strips, and Sewing Kit are optional to bring but would help you a lot for minor accidents on the road. Travel diaries are really awesome to have since nothing beats a hand written memory that you can always look back to.
Another thing that you need to invest on is a pretty sturdy hiking boots (Mark wears Merrell’s, these were literally the only shoes he brought on the trip). If not everyday sturdy sandals would do. Teva’s are pretty comfortable and comes in different colors but we just recently discovered a local brand in the Philippines that sells something similar for a fraction of the price. Inquire on the comment below and will gladly give out their info. Flipflops are a must for hostel and shared showers for general hygiene purposes- you’ll never know what gunk there is on the shower floor. Lastly, a more dressy and comfortable sandals (for all the women reading this). These are really cool and nice during the summer. You can easily replace this with flats or espadrilles depending on your style. Maximum of 3 pairs.
We only bring two main bags per person for this trip. A 50-60L backpacks and our day packs. The backpack that I used for this trip was made in China and was bought in an online store there. It was really cheap and was only a fraction of the price compared to regular backpacks in the market. I didn’t really expect much from it but it held up for over 3 years since I’ve used it during our pre-trial trip as well. Backpacks at Decathlon and REI are pretty awesome too because of the warranties, that’s where Mark got his bag and it survived for almost the same time as mine. But if you want a pretty good suggestion Osprey bags are really nice because they come with sizes that are more configured to your body type. Another big factor is their lifetime warranty for buckles and straps. Isn’t that amazing or what?
What goes on the backpack and on the day pack? The main backpack carries most of our clothes, shoes and toiletries. As for the daypack, it contains most of our electronics, money, passports and personal things we want to keep close. We also bring a waterbag for when we go to the beach. This keeps our stuff in one bag and safe from getting wet, some boat rides can be rough. The last compartment would be the toiletries bag, make sure to get one that is fold-able and can hold up liquids and spills.
Some people would swear by compression bags and packing cubes, I won’t. Here’s the thing, compression bags only makes you pack more. Since you can shove practically everything in, you’ll try to fit as much stuff as you want coz you see there’s still more space but HELLO WEIGHT! You’ll eventually end up carrying your entire closet in your bag. Packing cubes are not so bad since they don’t compress as much so these are nice for organize freaks like me but make sure to buy something that’s waterproof. Anything waterproof will save your life. Most of these compression bags and cubes are fairly expensive, anyone whose looking for a much cheaper alternatives, the ultimate cheat of them all are Ziplock bags. Yes you heard me right, these are what I use and I honestly would recommend it for anyone. First of all they are only half the price of a regular packing cube but comes with 10 bags. I use the jumbo size which is 15″ x 13″ and since they are plastic, they are waterproof and transparent. Since its transparent you can easily pick which bag you need to take out. No more pile of clothes bursting out of your bags.
I would suggest to bring less electronics as possible because these items are usually the ones that are likely to get stolen or lost. A laptop would help a lot if you do work while you travel, this applies best to bloggers and freelance workers. A tablet or a phone can substitute for the laptop for general internet browsing or simple research about your next destination. We carry a phone solely for internet. We didn’t sign up for any postpaid plans because its not necessary plus you can always buy a sim wherever you go.
We recommend buying a Kindle for convenience purposes. I know it’s not the same as a book but it can definitely give you lots of books to carry without having to think about the weight or space to put it. Real books are heavy.
Now if you’re a photography enthusiast we recommend bringing a mirror less camera like Sony A5000, which is the one were using or Nikon AW1. These are comparable to the DSLR cameras in terms of general function. It is also way smaller and lighter to carry and have changeable lenses.
International adapters are also a must, especially if you’re going to multiple countries. . But generally speaking you can always buy these wherever you go for very cheap but to save all the hassle with time, space and a collection of multiple adapters, we suggest you to get one.
I would suggest not buying big bottles of toiletries because this would take up a lot of space and might be a problem for carry-on items because plane only allows at most 100 ml for international flights. Most shampoo, soap and lotions are available in most cities anyway so no need to worry about running out. You’ll realize that being on the road, cleanliness is one of the most important aspect that you need to think about so regardless of what brand you buy as long as it makes you clean then it will work. Make sure to stock-up things that are hard to find in other countries. Bug sprays and sunscreen are also a must. The only two items I swear by are Olay face cream and Cetaphil Facewash.
General Check list
- 1 backpack
- 1 daypack
- 1 waterbag
- 1 toiletries bag
- 1 first-aid kit
- 1 all-weather jacket (2 layers)
- 5 shirts (mix it up: Sleeveles tops, shirts, long sleeves)
- 5 pants (mix it up: hiking pants, leggings, pajama pants, shorts)
- 2 dresses (short and long dresses – convertible)
- 2 swimsuits ( mix and match)
- 10 panties
- 5 bras (3 plain and 2 sports)
- 3 pairs socks
- 1 hiking boots
- 1 flipflops
- 1 dressy sandals/ flats
- 1 Microfiber towel
- Pen and Travel Diary
- Small sewing kit
- First-Aid Kit
- Chargers and international adaptor
- Bug spray
Last thing to remember, less is definitely more when it comes to packing. No matter how meticulous you are, know that forgetting something isn’t a big deal. The possessions in your bag are less important than the beauty of the places you find yourselves. It’s never about what you pack or don’t pack because in the end it will only be about the journeys you take in this life. Long-term travel is a move towards minimalism (to whatever extent you take it). You’ll realize how little you actually need to survive in this world- a shift in this lifestyle towards less. In the end when you focus more on what surrounds you in this world rather than the amount of stuff you have, you get to appreciate a lot and are grateful about life more than ever.