Howto: Packing Like a Pro for Long Term Travel

Howto: Packing Like a Pro for Long Term Travel

It is perhaps the most stressful part of preparation for new travelers: what to bring? And with good reason—efficient, thoughtful packing can make or break your trip and feeling well equipped is vital to keeping your stress level low throughout your travels.

I can't count the number of people I've watched struggle, sweat, and stress over over-sized bags, overloaded with unnecessary, bulky, redundant, and rarely used items, all while lacking simple yet essential items that would significantly improve their safety, comfort and ease of travel.

It's all so unnecessary, if only people would just adhere to the following simple rule: pack light. This can not be repeated often enough.

Pack Lightly. Pack Deliberately. Pack Frugally.

It is the single truism in travel, the holy grail of experienced travelers, and the most often repeated yet ignored piece of travel advice: less is more when packing. It is critical that you are thorough and deliberate in how you pack and that above all frugal with allocating space in your bag.

Every piece of clothing, every piece of equipment, every sock should have a purpose. If you aren't going to use it on a daily basis or in case of a serious emergency, leave it home. It's awesome being home and having seven different style scarves to choose from, but no one will notice while traveling, no one will care, and ultimately you will feel foolish when you realize the you've been carrying something around for months that you've only worn once.

Don't underestimate the magnified difficulty in keeping track, finding and cleaning things while on the road and living out of a bag. I have tried to be as thorough as possible with the following list, but it is only a guide. Build on it and tailor it to your specific needs and itinerary. And once you have your final bag packed and ready to go, dump everything out and cut it in half. Seriously.

Remember, literally anything you forget or later realize you need can be later purchased overseas, generally at a significant discount. There is no point is bogging yourself down with an item that you are unsure if you'll need, or that you will only use once during an extended trip. Bargain, trade or purchase it once needed, and then sell, donate or toss it once no longer needed—otherwise it's just dead weight, volume, and stress.

Note: In certain cases I have made recommendations of specific products that have proved themselves to me as best-of-class options and invaluable to my travel comfort. In all cases, these are brands that I have personally tested, used and abused and am willing to put my name behind. If you  have particular recommendations I've missed or disagreements with my suggestions, please add your opinion in the comments below.

What do I carry?

Bag

  • 35L Pack
  • Fitted Waterproof Rain Cover

Your bag is your life when traveling. You are living out of it and it is your only constant. It is your home. You don't want to be fighting it, or angry at it, or resentful. You need to love it and protect it. And this all boils down to one thing: the smaller the better.\n

What's in my pack?

Clothing

  • 2 x Moisture Wicking T-shirts
  • 1 x Long Sleeve Shirt
  • 1 x Cargo Shorts
  • 1 x Board Shorts
  • 1 x Trekking Pants
  • 3 x ExOfficio Give-N-Go Boxer Briefs
  • 1 x Thermal Long Johns\n
  • 1 x Wind Resistant Fleece\n\n

It never fails—no matter how little clothes you pack, you will always wear less than half of what you brought. The key to packing clothing is versatility, comfort, and layers.

Footwear

  • Vibram Five Fingers
  • Flip flops
  • 1 x Pair of Socks
  • Carabiner

Shoes will single-handed be your bulkiest and most awkward item to pack and therefore require great consideration. Finding the right combination between comfort, durability, versatility, and packability is difficult and the cause of great debate among travelers. Everyone's feet are different, and it's difficult to give universal advice in this category—you need to find what works for you.

There has, however, recently been a new option introduced by the company Vibram that has, in my mind, completely changed the game. They are called Five Fingers, and they are, in a word, wonderful. Extremely compact, extremely lightweight, extremely versatile, and most importantly, extremely comfortable.

They are perfect for nearly any situation from city walking to mountain hiking to the beach. They are designed to give the feeling of barefoot walking, but with the protection of a thick rubber sole. The barefoot feeling puts you more in tune with your step and greatly improves your traction when hiking in rough terrain.

While they are not inexpensive, you are on your feet constantly while traveling, and spending a little extra money on a high quality travel shoe can save you lots of hassle and comfort later. It took me about a week to adjust to utilizing the muscles in my feet that long ago went dormant due to the design of modern shoes, but from then on I've never looked back.

There are no laces to break, they won't blister your feet, they are easily washable, compress way down for packing, and the unique look will get you into even the toughest Bangkok night club. Further more, you'll be able to avoid packing socks which are bulky and require constant washing. They literally incorporate every single desirable feature in a travel shoe.

In summary, these shoes are the bomb. Highly recommended. To complement your main shoe and complete your foot needs, include a decent pair of flip flops for showering, boating and short strolls. They are also convenient for navigating airport security that requires the removal of shoes (currently limited to the United States at the time of writing).

I prefer a higher quality eco-friendly pair (such as Chaco) that includes foot support sufficient for prolonged walking, but picking up a cheap pair upon arrival is always an option and will reduce annoyance when (not if) they mysteriously disappear while at the beach or hostel. One pair of socks can be included for comfort and warmth at night.

The only time to consider an alternative shoe is if the main focus of the trip is overnight trekking, in which case a high quality hiking boot can be considered. Boots are bulky, smelly, and heavy and serious thought should be considered before they are brought. If you do decide this is a necessity, a pair with a stiff sole, good ankle support, and excellent waterproofing will make your hiking immensely easier and more comfortable.

Most importantly make sure they are well worn before hand to avoid painful blisters half way through your hike. A few pairs of thick, high quality, moisture wicking, socks is preferable to numerous throw away pairs. Lastly, a carabiner is useful for easily clipping boots to your bag when in transit.

Gear

  • Compass
  • Headlamp
  • 2 x Padlocks
  • Silk Sleep Sack
  • PacSafe PouchSafe 100 Neck Pouch

Electronics

  • Universal Electrical Adapter
  • Camera and charger (with extra battery)
  • iPhone and charger

Toiletries

  • Synthetic Travel Towel
  • Deodorant
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Floss
  • Razor
  • Nail Clipper

Medicine & Emergency Kit

  • Bismuth Tablets
  • Hydrocortisone Cream
  • Ibuprofen
  • Moleskin

Guidebooks

  • 1 x Lonely Planet Guidebook

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