Packing for a two-week beach holiday is easy as pie. Packing for a six- or twelve-month trip, fitting it all into a backpack that suddenly seems too small, and factoring in possible weather changes and different activities — toughest packing you’ll ever do!
Even if you’re a packing wiz, this task will make you feel like an indecisive worm. And to top it off, you’ll most likely be packing up your home and belongings too. I guarantee that you’ll find yourself exhausted, staring desolately at a pile of clothes and wishing your mummy would come and do it for you.
So let me give you the best advice you’ll ever get for packing for long-term travel, learned and internalized the hard way.
Commandment #1: Pack Only Enough Clothes for 1 Week
That’s all you’ll need. If you really think that’s not enough, pack for ten days. But I promise, you’ll survive with one week’s worth of clothing. Just make sure they cover a range of weather and activities: warm weather, cool weather, rain, hiking, art galleries, conservative villages and hip cities.
Commandment #2: Layer + Accessorize
Pack pieces that work with each other in multiple combinations. Pack different textures and thicknesses. Think thin tees under thicker shirts, and a big warm sweater to top it off. Layering is your best friend when it’s cold because multiple layers keep you warm. Layering is also your best friend when the days are warm and sunny, because you can wear shorts and a tee and cover up with a shirt.
Dump the matching handbags and shoes, and carry travel-friendly accessories like scarves and belts and hats that can be used functionally as well as for a bit of style.
Commandment #3: Store Your Darlings
That oh-so-perfect beaded top you got on sale? Those slinky white pants that makes you look like Halle Berry? Leave them at home. You’ll lose them, shrink them in strange laundromats, drop spicy red sauces on them, or end up sleeping in them one rainy night and they’ll be damaged forever. Besides, this will help make it easier when it comes to Commandment #4 …
Commandment #4: Use, Buy, Throw, Recycle
When you travel, you’ll be tempted to buy souvenir tee-shirts saying ”˜I climbed Mount So-and-So’ or pick up a bohemian skirt in a hippie community somewhere. Buy it, if the budget allows, but make sure you know what you’re going to throw away from your bag before you pay for the new piece.
That way, your bag is not getting bigger and bigger as you travel. That’s why you can’t be too attached to anything.
Commandment #5: Prioritize Your Gear
Yes, our clothes are important and when we look pretty, we feel confident and blah blah blah … But it is your shoes and sweaters and jackets that will affect your life, health and happiness when you travel, so make sure you pack the right gear.
There is nothing worse than being in a new place, raring to go, dying to explore, but hobbling along with shoe-bite. Thermal leggings and shirts are your best friend, and you will probably live in them. Raincoats and windbreakers and jackets will be your bodyguards, so pack those babies in.
Buy the best quality you can afford (doesn’t have to be designer though), and try them out at home or break them in if you can, before the trip.
Commandment #6: Stock Up on Medical + Personal Requirements
Tampons are not always available or not easily available in many countries. If you have a prescription deodorant or asthma medication, you might not be able to restock in another country. Aspirin is not called aspirin in some other countries.
Make a list of what you need, and do your research on whether you’ll find what you need where you going. It’s best to carry necessities like this with you because you’ll need them when you’re not feeling your best, and will want the comfort of the familiar.
Commandment #7: Gadgets Are a Saving Grace
When it’s been a long day, when you just want to disappear into a different world, when you need to talk to a friend back home or see your sister’s face — you’ll need your gadgets. Some travel to detach themselves from their gadgets, but if you’re going for the long term, you’ll have more detachment than you want. Take your laptop, Kindle, iPad, whatever else. And don’t forget chargers and memory cards and hard drives.
Commandment #8: Be Selective, But Don’t Be a Martyr
If something is important to your comfort, just take it along. Exchange it for something else that is not necessary to you.
For instance, I would switch out a hair-dryer for an extra pair of jeans, because I live in ”˜em. Most long-term travellers advise against jeans, because they’re heavy and slow to dry. But they are comfortable, make you look fashionable everywhere, and you don’t have to wash them for days (or ”¦ shhh ”¦ weeks!). If you like ironing your hair, or won’t go out in the morning without your foundation, take your tools along.
Commandment #9: You Don’t Really Need the Fancy Stuff
Travel gear websites are awesome, and we’re all guilty of spending a little too long looking at the super-sporty models wearing fast-drying, sweat-wicking, convertible clothing and carrying all kinds of fancy travel devices. But you don’t need most of them.
What you do need to spend on first is a tough backpack, good quality boots or sneakers, and sturdy cases for your electronics. After that, it’s up to you, and the kind of travel you’ll be doing, and the weather you will be travelling in.
But we’ve done 11-mile cold weather hikes up mountains in jeans and sneakers and a two-year old day pack, and it’s been perfectly comfortable.
Commandment #10: Do a Trial Run for Your Packing
Pack everything into your bags, and tie and zip them up. You’ll be able to tell if you have too much, and you’ll have time to unpack and cut down further on your belongings.
You’ll also know if you can lift your bags by the end of it and that is critical. You may be spending a lot of time between the straps of your bag, but you gotta make sure you can manage without having your circulation cut off.