Packing Tips for Long-Term Travel
Packing everything you need into a backpack for a month, three months, or a year might normally sound like an impossibility, but it’s actually fairly easy. It just requires a little forethought. This post will cover different kinds of backpacks, what clothes to wear and what not to wear, the concept of layering for warmth, packing techniques, and overall efficiency.
Your backpack is your best friend
First: you need a certain kind of backpack. No rolling suitcase backpack hybrids, no suitcases, no duffel bags, you don’t even want to be carrying anything in your hands. The idea is that you will never, ever check luggage. No one has time to wait for luggage, so you need a backpack that will maximize carry-on capacity. Those dimensions are most commonly 22x14x9. This is really and truly all of the space you need. Choose a backpack that will take advantage of that space.
Additionally, you want a backpack that opens like a suitcase, meaning that you can lay it flat and completely unzip the compartment like a clamshell. You don’t want a top-loading backpack, which is a common design with hiking bags and rucksacks. Anytime that you would need to open your bag to retrieve something, like a coat or toiletries, you’d have to empty out your whole bag. That’s not effective. Hiking bags also have a million straps and dangling things, and for a tourist that’s not necessary.
For me (Daniel), the Tortuga Travel Backpack was ideal because it was basically designed for backpacking in Europe. I wanted to make travel as smooth as possible considering how often we will be in a bus, plane, or train. I wanted a backpack that would also be comfortable if I walked around all day before arriving at our destination.
Once you’ve got the right backpack, how you choose to pack it is also important. We are using packing cubes so that objects stay rolled or folded within their defined space. Nothing should be roaming around free in the backpack. This has the secondary benefit of knowing where everything is and being able to take out sections of the pack without everything unrolling or getting wrinkled.
Google how to military roll your clothing so they can be efficiently stored inside the packing cubes.
Clothing and Color
Here it is: take two outfits. That’s it. Alternate between them. This should be easy if you’re a guy. If you’re a girl, you have some sacrifices to make.
Make sure the colors are fairly neutral. Just wear grey and black and blue. Make life easy. Don’t wear jeans. Wear something comfortable for walking around all day like chinos.
Taking two t-shirts should be just enough for base layers. Make sure they’re merino wool, it’s a very thin wool. The textile will keep you warm in the cold and cool in the heat. You can wear them for a long time before they start getting smelly because wool is anti-microbial. This purchase will be expensive, but these are shirts you should keep for a long time.
You can skimp on this expensive layer with a polypro or polyester material, but both will require frequent washing, as they accumulate odor quickly.
Overall, merino wool shirts go from $40-$70, and polypro layers will sell for about $20 – similar in price to Nike or Under Armour polyester shirts.
For layering options, consider a snug thermal layer over the wool base layer, it might be a cotton and polyester blend. Polartec is a good brand. If it’s still too cold, put a sweater over those two layers.
Down jackets also apparently pack very light and take up little space, but I live in Miami, Florida, and that kind of purchase will have to wait until I move somewhere colder. Uniqlo sells down jackets for $70 if you want to really commit to the idea of packing light.
Your final layer should be a waterproof shell. Don’t break the bank, just find these layers on clearance somewhere. Buy it in black, you can’t go wrong with black.
Take one good pair of shoes that have the versatility you need. We are both wearing boots and packing a pair of Converse. The boots will be for winter and spring, and the Converse are really for the end of the trip when summer arrives. The point, however, is that Converse pack really flat and don’t take up too much space.
Consider carefully what kind of underwear you take. Do not pack cotton underwear. Uniqlo sells some tencel boxer briefs for $6 a pair, buy 2-3 of those. Tencel is a very comfortable material and dries quickly when washed.
For socks, pack 2-3 pairs of SmartWool socks. Wool will keep your feet dry and warm, and again, remember that it is anti-microbial.
Done. That’s all you need.
Washing underwear in a sink only takes a minute. You don’t have space to carry a bunch of dirty socks and underwear all over a continent.
Daniel’s Final Packing List
- 2 Pairs of wool socks
- 2 Merino wool t-shirts
- 3 Pairs of underwear
- 2 Pairs of pants – one worn, one packed
- 1 Pair of running shorts
- 1 Long-sleeve shirt/sweater
- 1 Thermal Polartec layer
- Hardshell coat
- 1 Long underwear bottom
- 1 Cap
- Boots – worn, never packed
- 1 Pair of gloves
- 1 Beanie
- 1 Neck gaiter
- 1 Sleep mask
- Camelbak water bottle
- Baby wipes
- 2 Epipens
- Bronner’s Magic Soap – works as soap, shampoo, and detergent
- Gold Bond powder
- Electricity converter
There’s room to spare in my bag. I expected to struggle to make room for all of my stuff, but actually I’m finding that my backpack is a little too big. If we weren’t going to be in Europe for the tail end of winter, I could probably shed most of my winter clothing and make even more space.