Planning for long-term travel is a whole different beast than packing for a weekend getaway or a trip to your favorite all-inclusive resort. The saying “expect the unexpected” is absolutely true for long-term travel, but you certainly don’t want to be weighed down by a ton of unnecessary luggage. Pack light and pack smart – you’ll thank yourself later!
Instead of re-inventing the long-term travel packing list (there are many good ones out there), we’ve opted to offer the best tips we could find to help you plan for your unique situation. The question of what to actually pack should begin with the following:
Questions to Ask
What’s Your Style?
Long-term travel packing lists you find online are great guides, but if they don’t fit your clothing style, they may steer you the wrong direction. Instead of thinking jeans verses khakis, think in terms of bottoms you will actually wear, will work in the environment, and fit your planned activities. You don’t have to wear hiking gear all the time either – pack a few attractive, versatile pieces that make you feel good as well. Generally speaking, you’ll need clothes that cross between your style and practical function. When it comes to packing for long-term travel, layering is essential. To fit a range of situations, lean towards mix and match – clothes suitable enough for warm weather but able to be layered for warmth in cold weather (always pack a base layer). Ask yourself “what works for this particular trip with the activities we want to do” and pack accordingly.
Where Are You Going?
Consider the climate. Will it be hot, cold, humid, rainy, snowy, windy? Although it’s impossible to predict every situation, packing to match the climate will keep you from dealing with damp jeans in 100% humidity or thin socks in the snow-capped mountains.
Consider the culture. What is appropriate? Will you be spending time in some European cities where the culture tends to be nicer casual dress, hiking in a rainforest where you may need water-wicking fabric, or helping to save baby turtles on a muddy beach? Also, be aware and sensitive to certain cultural expectations of modesty and work to honor local customs.
Are you planning for lots of outdoor exploration, hopping on and off a long-term cruise, heading for hostels or lounging in hotels? Will you be hiking the wilderness, crawling cafes in the city, climbing a mountain or hitting the beach? Answers to these questions will help you narrow down the types of clothing to pack and what kind of bags to put them in.
How Long Are You Traveling?
The length of your travel doesn’t need to dictate how much you bring, only what kind of luggage you want to drag around with you and staying within those parameters. Are you traveling for a month, 6 months, a year? Are you backpacking? Are you only taking a carry-on or planning to check luggage? Most long-term travelers make do with a carry-on or backpack to eliminate the risk of lost luggage – especially if you’re getting on and off numerous planes. Either way, packing light with the least amount of luggage is best if you plan on being mobile.
Some Practical Advice
- Make a pre-packing list in advance. This will help you think through the details early on.
- When packing, focus on what is essential to your trip, your health and well-being.
- Lay out all items you think you’ll need the week before. This gives you space to cut back over days instead of succumbing to last-minute over-packing temptations.
- If you take medications, know what to do if you run out while traveling.
- Test out your bags at home. Will they be too heavy? Are they comfortable to carry? Do they have the pockets and other features you’ll need? Will wheels be a hindrance or a help?
- Put luggage tags on all bags in advance – even backpacks and a personal bag.
- Plan to wash while on the road. Pack a laundry bag to keep dirty from clean. Wrap your shoes in plastic bags or shower caps to keep clothing protected.
- Check the weather a week or a few days before you leave. It may give you an idea what the first few weeks may look like so you can modify if needed.
- Limit the number of shoes you pack. Aim for comfort in a variety of environments.
- Don’t forget to have a security plan for IDs, passports, cash and credit cards.
- Downsize your toiletries in one leak-proof bag. Simplify skincare products and go with mini make-up. If possible, replace liquids with a solid equivalent like toothpaste tabs and bar shampoo.
- Pack a full-sized travel towel and skip the teeny tiny ones.
- Pack essential tech items and organize in a zippered bag designed for travel.
- Pack a mini-wellness kit. Know what to do if you feel sick while traveling. Consider purchasing a travel protection plan with travel assistance and concierge services to help make sure you have access to appropriate medical care during your lengthy trip.
Now that you’re asking yourself the right questions (and have noted our tips), it’s time to get on with preparing for your big adventure. Remember: pack smart, pack light and bring home lots of memories!
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