Packing can be a daunting task and figuring out ahead of time what you may or may not need for several months of travel can rack your brains. Though I assure you that once you research, see what other people are doing and just simply relax and realize that you are not going to die without the comforts of home, you will do just fine. I will tell you what has worked for me in the past and what I am doing this time to prepare for my next trip. I’m lucky that I come to this kind of travel after years of experience with wilderness backpacking. I’m used to having everything I need carried on my back. It is very freeing to know that all I really need to survive and thrive is right there. But even so… I can tend to pack the kitchen sink if I’m not careful.
Here is how I start (with the kitchen sink). I put everything I think I will need together in a big clear area. Mind you, what I “think” I need and what I actually need are two separate things all together. My tendency to be fearful about being without something important has me adding all sorts of “what if” items. But that is okay at this point and it makes me feel better so I add it.
For example, this time I really felt like I needed to bring my new Nemo blow-up pillow. I am very particular about my pillows so I thought if I bring my pillow, I will always have a pillow that I like. It didn’t make the final cut because even in it’s packable state it was too big and if while I’m traveling I don’t like the pillow I am given, I can always be a big girl and ask for another. But in the beginning…. the pillow went in the pile because it made me feel better and that was important too.
Then after I compile this huge assortment of goodies I double check my mind to see if there is anything else my ego or inner child feel desperately attached to and want or need. If so, I add it to the pile. I consider where I am planning on going. Will it be tropical? Could it be winter and snowy? Rainey or dry and dusty? Bugs? Dirty water? Then I add more to the pile and if I don’t already own it, I make a list of things to buy. Then I go to bed. Yep, that’s right. I go to bed because there is no way my mind can cope with removing any items at this point. I need to sleep with the comfort of knowing I have all my “things” lined up. It’s only in the morning after I have had a good nights sleep that I can look at the pile with fresh eyes and start taking things out.
With some items it is just automatic. I wake up and look at the pile and go, oh goodness, no. I do not need to bring that! Other items require further reflection. Do I need such a large quantity of bandages? Can I reduce the amount of clothes I am bringing? I will inevitable buy some new clothes along the way so bringing less clothes will make more room for new purchases. Can it be restocked and resupplied where I am going items such as toothpaste and conditioner? Most probably yes. Will it be my favorite brand? Probably not but it will be an adventure! Is it necessary? I have traveled with books in the past and I have just about put a stop to that. Here is the reason why. I have a smart phone and I can load books to read or listen to. Also, book exchanges are easy to find in various hostels. If I absolutely need a book in my hand, I can pick one up along the way. My phone is the ultimate multi-tool for travel. It can be my camera, my book, my internet connection, actually a phone, my map and so so much more.
Once I have made this initial “down-sizing” I then pack my backpacks. I try to anticipate my first day of travel which usually involves a plane, to determine just where in my packs I want to put things.
In my daypack that will stay with me in my airplane seat I usually include:
- small travel purse with passport, money, cards, itineraries and such
- pen and paper
- snacks and/or a healthy meal for the plane if I have remembered
- water bottle – empty until I get passed security
- phone with earbuds and charger
- jacket and hat – planes can be cold!
- computer (if bringing with me)
- yarn and knitting needles – great plane entertainment and lightweight
- possibly rain gear if I suspect rain when I land
Then I load everything else up in my bigger travel pack. My travel pack is nothing more than an approach pack for rock climbers made by Gregory. It’s called the Ekko. They don’t even make it anymore but it’s perfect for travel. It meets the dimension guidelines for carry-ons and it is slim lined without a bunch of pockets. Just two external bottle holders (one for my bottle and one for my umbrella). It opens from the top or straight down the front. It’s perfect for me.
If everything does not fit in my pack well and comfortable – it’s time to dig deep and leave something else at home. It can be hard to do. I have become accustom and somewhat dependent on my modern conveniences, my favorite brands and my own ideas around comfort. It’s hard to give up, to let go and go with the flow. I grasp on to my attachments like a life vest to civility. But once I see this attachment, the grasping onto possessions, I become free of the hold. Just seeing the clinging in my mind allows for the space to let go. If it is truly an item that is needed then I will be able to find it along the way. I tell myself, “Lets have an adventure and find out what is needed along the way”.
With that said though, there are some essential items that I take with me no matter where I go. I’ve already discovered their essential need. I loosely follow the ten essentials created for backpacking. It is a list of essential items to carry with you in case your “plans” do not work out. You should ideally be able to survive with these items in you pack. Check them out here: Ten Essentials – REI.
Exceptions to the ten essentials for travel are a fire starter and knife/multi-tool. They are not “air-travel” friendly items and I don’t check my bags. So I go without. If I really need these items I can pick them up when I get to my destination.
What I always take with me:
- Bottoms: two pants, two shorts, five undies and socks
- Tops: four bras and five shirts – any kind you like – make sure they match well no matter what pants/shorts you wear)
- Sundress – maybe a light cardigan
- Rain gear: jacket, pants, umbrella, maybe a backpack cover
- Fleece: hat, gloves and jacket
- Shoes – comfortable low hiking shoes (waterproof) and sandals – sturdy enough to walk distance in and nice enough to wear with a sundress
- Sun protection: visor/hat, sunscreen, lip sunscreen, sunglasses
- Toiletries: shampoo, conditioner, soap, lotion, toothpaste, toothbrush, brush, etc. Remember the TSA rules for liquids!
- A few various sized baggies, some 3oz travel containers and a couple stuff sacks.
- First aid kit: bandages (of all kinds), medications, supplements, sewing needle and thread, gloves, etc.
- Backpacks – one to carry it all in and a collapsable/stuffable day pack
- Snacks – maybe 5-10 bars
- -Smart phone
For your specific travel plans, you will need to decide on what clothes work best for you. If you are going places that are cold you make take more long sleeve shirts and more pants and less or no shorts. Are there cultural norms you need to consider for your travel? A general rule would be to bring clothes that cover from your shoulders to your knees. Also, remember that you will have plenty of time to do a load of laundry every 3-4 days and if you bring quick drying clothes you can often times wash them on your body in the shower then hang them to dry.
Space is a consideration for sure. If I don’t have enough space I will have to take less and I recommend leaving for your own trip with extra space because you will pick things up along the way. You can ship them home but that can be an experience in it’s self. Due to restrictions in carry-on size (and I do recommend only taking what you can carry) you will not be able to bring a bigger pack. So really look at those items to determine if they can be left behind. I know what your mind is thinking about now, “But what if I get bored or uncomfortable”? You won’t get bored and if you do, get of your ass and do something about it. If you are uncomfortable, I offer the same advice, do something about it. Ask for assistance, change locations or learn to deal with it and be thankful that you know of better comforts.
Weight considerations – will you be using economy flights to jump around Europe or Southeast Asia or even within a country such as New Zealand? There are often times more strict weight limits for carry-ons. Our flight from Singapore to Cambodia only allows for our biggest pack to weigh 15.5lbs. This will greatly determine what I am able to bring along. I will probably have to put more items in my day pack and carry my jacket to make this work.
On this trip I am traveling to the Marshal Islands (I’m already here), Singapore, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, India and possible some more countries in that area. It will mostly be hot, humid and rainy. In most places the water quality can be bad, hygiene is an issue and the risk of mosquito born illness is real. So I am taking along a few items specific to the location of travel for this trip.
Area specific items:
- Bug netting/spray
- Water filters
- Hand sanitizer
- Kleenex packets – can use for toilet paper which can be unavailable
- Down jacket and long underwear – these ones are still a maybe for this trip. We may be going into northern India in winter. If I can’t get my weight down or I am limited with space in my pack, one or both items will be left behind and I will buy some cheap alternatives when I get there then donate them to someone when I leave.
Then when all is said and done and I am packed for my trip with room to spare, I can consider any luxury items that I may want to bring along. The idea would be to still have some space left in my pack for items I pick up along the way. Luxury meaning that I don’t need these items to enjoy myself but they may be nice to have along. A quick drying pack towel is great for when you find yourself in the pouring rain or find no towels to use the shower. A camera is nice if you want to get some really great shots of amazing places beyond what your iPhone can do. A book reader lets you choose what you want to read on a good sized screen. This time for me, my computer is coming along because I would like to continue with my blog posts as I go along as well as work on my business idea. Also, I like using a full keypad. I know there are smaller and lighter options available to me. It’s just not a financially viable solution right now especially when that option equals another month or two on the road.
For my current trip that I am on, I also packed for living and working on Kwajalein. This included bringing much more than I usually do. I actually checked my luggage (a heavy burden of a nightmare). I brought a lot more food because good food is hard to come by here and I don’t have a kitchen. More clothes so I don’t have to do laundry as often. I have my dive gear because diving is what is done for fun. I am working as a vet tech so I have my scrubs and some work shoes. I brought lots of toiletries only really because I could, so I did. Lots of supplements because I knew I wouldn’t be eating as well and a few extras. As of being on the island for two weeks and living in three different places I can tell you that I wished I had packed much simpler and I will still need to find a way to get all this “stuff” home in the end as well.
No wonder I needed so much extra luggage! I do not recommend this but these are special circumstances (or at least that is what I keep telling myself).
I hope this has been helpful for people starting out on their adventures or just anyone who is interested in lightweight long-term travel. I first heard about how to pack light for travel from Rick Steves. He is the original pack light guy. There are lots of sites to help but in the end do what works for you and revise as you go along. Don’t over think it. Research the area you are going to and be reasonable. That is the only way you will get your weight down and enjoy moving from place to place seeing and being in our big beautiful world. Cheers!