Packing Light for Long-Term Travel

Whether you’re traveling for a couple weeks or years there is no better piece of advice we can give than to pack light. So how do you prioritize what to bring? The quick answer is it depends, the long answer is forthcoming.

I suppose a more appropriate question to ask yourself is how comfortable do you want to be? Can you manage wearing the same shirt and shorts for a few days without washing them? How much laundry do you want to do? Do you want to bring that sleeping bag even if you might only need it once? Long term traveling is as much about testing your mettle, as it is about seeing the sights and experiencing new cultures. Part of that experience is getting out of your comfort zone and learning what you can do without. Your destination in part dictates what you need to bring, but you get to choose how much of it you need. Besides if you find there is something you absolutely can’t live without you can always buy it. Here are our top 5 travel packing tips.

1. Pack light: On most legs of our trip we only bring one carry-on size bag, a small backpack and a shoulder bag for the two of us. Choose your bag size and stick to it. If your gear doesn’t fit take it out and re-prioritize.

2. Leave the toiletries at home: Unless you just can’t live without your Axe Deodorant, toiletries are readily available in every country. Leaving them behind liberates you from having to check a bag and I would rather spend my baggage claim time negotiating the city trying to find the toiletries I need. This can sometimes be an adventure in itself. Just remember to save a little space in your bag for when you get them.

3. Use compression sacks: Compression sacks are lightweight bags that have straps allowing you to compress the soft contents. They are great space savers. Even if your soft goods are already small these will make them even smaller. I recommend the Granite Gear Round Rock Solid Compression Sack.

4. Carry a wheeled suitcase with convertible backpack harness: Despite the romance of “backpacking” around the world, cramming everything into a bag that must be carried on your back is often very impractical. There have been few times in my travels when I haven’t been able to pull a wheeled bag behind me. A convertible bag takes the weight off your back and gives you the flexibility to put it there if you need it. This one makes a great choice.

5. Strike a balance: Allow yourself those little luxuries that will help you enjoy your time more. There is no need to be ascetic, but think about which of these items can be replaced while traveling if you decide to leave them at home.

Our Packing List

Below you can see everything we brought with us when we travel around South East Asia. Because we were staying in tropical climates for we needed little clothing. Even if you are somewhere cooler it is important to remember that the bottom line is you need less than you think and there is nothing better than only having one bag to deal with.

Below each of the photos are details on the specific items.

Kyle’s clothes

Row 1: North Face Paramount Traverse Pant, Icebreaker Men’s Boxer w/Fly 150 Ultralight, Sport Science Long-Sleeve Merino Blend Shirt, Marmot Minimalist Jacket

Row 2: (inset) Ibex Ultrafine Merino Wool Boxer, Icebreaker Merino Superfine Ultralite Tee

Row 3: The North Face Agility Short, Ibex Ultrafine Merino Wool Boxer, Icebreaker Merino Superfine Ultralite Tee, floppy hat and Cotton Bandana

Row 4: North Face Horizon Peak Cargo Short, Lululemon Yoga Shorts, Icebreaker Merino Superfine Ultralite Tee, REI Packtowel

Briana’s Clothes

Row 1: Lightweight Convertible Pants, nine pairs of underwear, Smartwool Microweight V-Neck Long-Sleeve, Packable Lightweight Gore-Tex Rain Jacket

Row 2: Prana Bliss Shorts, MSR Packtowl, cotton t-shirt, regular bra

Row 3: Cotton Bandana, Merino T-Shirt, Ibex Merino Balance Bralette

Row 4: ALO Rollover Stretchy Capri Pants, Swim Suit, Merino T-Shirt, Ibex Merino Balance Sport Bra



Row 1: Cocoon Cotton TravelSheet, Small Umbrella, Petzl Headlamp, Princeton Tec Headlamp, Smith Optics Men’s Sunglasses, Smith Women’s Sunglass, Magnetic Travel Chess Set, Samsung Netbook

Row 2: (inset) two mp3 players, Headphone Splitter, deck of cards, Folding Headphones, Canon Battery Charger

Row 3: AC adapter for mp3 players, usb cord, unlocked cell phone, Folding Headphones, Two 4 GB SD Memory Cards, Canon Wireless Remote Control for Camera, USB wireless dongle modem, SD card case, two AC adapters for netbooks, GSI Travel French Press

Row 4: Folder for documents, sunglasses case, Combination Padlock, Point it Picture Dictionary, 8GB USB 2.0 Jump Drive, Highgear Alti Tech Altimeter Watch, Samsung Netbook

Row 5: Moleskine Notebook Pocket Size, two adjustable compression straps, Victorinox Climber II Knife , non weight-bearing carabiner, Knifey Spoony

Clothes in Compression sacks

Packed bags

Prior to this leg of our trip we had spent two months living on the beach and rock climbing in Ton Sai, Thailand. Because we were more stationary we had a few extra items with us. We had two travel board games (Scrabble and Settlers of Catan), two travel pillows, two beach towels and a camping pot set and a small alcohol burning stove.

We left these items, along with our rock climbing gear, at a hotel in Bangkok while we took the two month leg of our trip to Cambodia, Bali and Java. We knew we were flying through Bangkok on our way to Europe so we strategized only the bare minimum for this leg in Asia.

When possible it is a great idea to think about temporarily shedding some of your belongings. For us, traveling with a huge pack full of climbing gear made this strategy all the more important. While we climbed a lot on our trip, there were times when we wouldn’t climb for a month. Many times guest houses will store luggage for you safely for a small fee.

A few other tips of honorable mention

Books are heavy and big. There are many used book stores with a decent selection in many languages in ever country we’ve been to. Not to mention most guest houses have a selection of books you can swap out while staying there. Unless you are set on which books to read on your trip, limiting yourself to just one to get you started will make it easier to travel and pack a smaller bag.

Doing laundry can be a chore and require some downtime during your trip but for a nominal fee it can be done for you depending on where you are. Depending on what you value more, your money or your time, will help you decide how much to pack. We have not paid for laundry once this trip, preferring to give one or two items a quick wash as needed.

Shoes are bulky. Carrying more than one pair of good walking shoes is going to be unpleasant. Limiting yourself to just one pair of shoes and sandals will make your life much easier. Wear the bulky shoes on the plane and pack the sandals.

Bringing a laptop can be convenient and save you some money by avoiding the internet cafes in lieu of restaurants with free wifi. But unless you’re planning on doing work I don’t recommend bringing a computer. It will be heavy and distract you from the adventure unfolding around you.

Lastly, if you have any doubts on whether to bring a specific item think about whether it will be available where you are going. In much of the world things are cheaper than at home and if you pack one less shirt you just may find yourself with a local replacement you can keep as a souvenir.

Happy Packing!

4 Responses to “Packing Light for Long-Term Travel”

  1. Barruch said:

    Thats actually quite impressive… I suppose thats the benefit of it not mattering if your stuff gets totally wrinkled…

    February 23rd, 2012 at 10:28 am

  2. Paul Raftery said:

    Cool! Great article guys… I’m impressed with how small those backpacks are! Those compression sacks are a great idea – I’ll definitely have to reassess my packing for the next trip :)

    Also, here’s something that’s ridiculously handy – a travel adapter for plugging any plug into any socket, including a USB charging port. Very handy space & weight saver if you have a load of different devices with US/EU/UK plugs and you travel a lot – it’ll cut 4 other chargers out of our packs on the next trip.

    February 24th, 2012 at 4:25 am

  3. David said:

    Inspired! I’ll be writing a similar piece soon, as it just feels so good to see what we take on our light travels through life and the world.

    April 11th, 2012 at 6:46 am

  4. Nomadic Samuel said:

    Great advice! I’ve always found that less is more when it comes to packing for travel :)

    July 9th, 2012 at 11:36 pm

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