After living out of a backpack for almost two years I felt it was about time I wrote a detailed post about how to pack for long-term travel. This long-term travel packing list has been tried and tested by me, I’ve painstakingly considered every item, packed, unpacked, and most importantly: I’ve carried everything on my back for months!
So rest assured, this isn’t just a run of the mill standard packing list. It’s the list I have used personally, and still use, when packing for a long term trip.
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Long-term travel packing list
Before going on my five-month trip to New Zealand and Southeast Asia in 2015, I spent a lot of time planning what to take with me and what to leave at home. Browsing through packing list after packing list, one theme kept coming back:
DON’T PACK TOO MUCH!
I took that advice to heart and after much consideration came to my final packing list. With all the items I mention below packed into my bags, my backpack weight around 10kg and my day-pack approximately 4kg.
Since that trip I’ve fine-tuned my list and packing skills, especially after my trips to Japan and Ireland. For example, on Hokkaido (the northernmost island of Japan) I almost froze during the first night in our little tent. Most important takeaway: bring enough cold-weather clothes!
My trip to Ireland, on the other hand, was the opposite: I fully expected wind, rain and cold but instead we got 5 days of sunshine. Great news of course, but I forgot to pack a t-shirt and thin lightweight jacket.
Bottom line: bring versatile items and lots of layers.
For our yearlong trip around the world in 2017 versatility was the main theme. I left the Netherlands in January and traveled through very different climates.
From the tropical heat of Sri Lanka to the freezing temperatures of Nepal, the dry heat of Oman to monsoon season in Taiwan, and from the humidity of Malaysia to the (cold) summer evenings in Canada and the United States. And I’m proud to say I’ve managed perfectly with the items I carried in my backpack(s)!
The ultimate packing list for a long term trip
Bags and stuff
I tried out several backpacks in an outdoor store, stuffing it with heavy shop inventory and carrying it around the store. My Deuter ACT Lite 50 + 10 Backpack definitely was the most comfortable, it neatly follows the arch of my back and the straps fit snugly around my hips, making sure I carry most weight there and not on my shoulders.
I have been traveling with this bag for four years and hiked the Everest Base Camp track with it so trust me, it’s thoroughly tested!
I totally recommend using a flight bag because it helps to prevent damage to your backpack. All the loose straps of your backpack can easily get caught on a luggage belt, the rail of a jeepney, etc.
Zipping your backpack in a flight bag streamlines and protects your bag and keeps it clean when it’s shoved on the roof of yet another local bus. Or prevents loose hanging (a.k.a. dangerous) straps when you try to move all your stuff simultaneously while driving a scooter…
I use my Nomad Topaz 20liter bag every day because I LOVE IT. I used this bag for the three-day hike through the Banaue rice terraces and for many weekend trips, like my trips to Sardinia and the Azores.
It’s big enough to fit clothes for a long weekend and has convenient elastic pockets on both sides. For me it is the perfect bag! It is a Dutch brand so I am not sure if they sell it on Amazon. Make sure you also have a waterproof cover for your daypack, essential for hiking!
I like being organized which means packing cubes are a must-have for me. I use one cube for tops, one for bottoms and another one for underwear, socks and miscellaneous clothing items. These packing cubes are very similar to the ones I have (I bought mine at Decathlon in the Netherlands).
These packing cubes are very similar to the ones I have (I bought mine at Decathlon in the Netherlands).
TSA travel lock
I put a lock through the zippers of my flight bag. I know this won’t stop people from slashing through my flight bag and backpack with a knife if they really want to, but at least it puts up a bit of a barrier.
The most important thing about the clothes I bring on a long-term trip? It doesn’t matter in which combination I wear them, they all more or less match. I only carry a small selection of clothes, as you can tell from the pictures on the blog (I’m always wearing the same thing).
I always take a lightweight and windproof jacket with me on my travels. Combined with a hoodie or a fleece sweater it’s perfect for countries like Japan, New Zealand and European countries where evenings can be quite cold, even in summer. It also protects against light rain but for heavy downpours, you really need a proper raincoat.
In Nepal, I bought a great down jacket which has been my new favorite item ever since. In really cold weather it’s still nice to have a thin windproof jacket to wear over the down jacket and in warmer climates, you don’t need the down jacket, but it might still be nice to have a thin jacket for the evenings.
This is an item you hope to use as little as possible, but that doesn’t mean it’s an item to skimp on… Because there is nothing worse than a raincoat that’s not quite waterproof when you need it the most.
Zipper hoodie or fleece sweater
With pain in my heart I threw out my favorite hoodie a couple of weeks ago, it was completely worn out. I bought a fleece sweater in Nepal and one warm vest/sweater is enough…
A merino long sleeve is perfect as an extra layer, against mosquitoes or to cover up in more conservative areas!
Merino clothes are not cheap but in my opinion, they are worth every penny. I wear my merino shirt all the time when we go hiking, it keeps me warm and dry even when I am sweating my %^&* off.
2 short-sleeved t-shirts
Make sure the shirts you bring are made from breathable fabric and dry quick. Also, don’t take shirts that damage easily! You just never know what your shirts will look like after a wash in an old and battered machine in Asia…
3 vest tops and 1 strap top
Keep in mind these are not suitable for all countries, modesty is key in many Asian countries. I personally only use my strap top as a base layer in colder climates.
I made my extremely versatile infinity dress myself, check this site for instructions.
2 pairs of shorts
For warm climates, plus, I also like to wear shorts when I am hiking.
I carry one long skirt (ankle-length) and one shorter skirt (knee-length)
1 pair of hippie pants or other loose-fitting pants
Thin, quick to dry and comfortable for long (bus) journeys. Not too fashionable though…
1 pair of good quality hiking pants
I’ve had my hiking pants for years and they are in perfect condition. I personally don’t like the zip-off versions because the zippers tend to irritate my skin.
• 1 pair of skinny jeans
For my trip to Japan I packed these B grade hiking shoes as I did multiple long hikes over demanding terrain and I absolutely love them. From the moment I put my Lowa Lady Light GTX on they felt really comfortable but sturdy enough for heavier hikes.
I wear these all the time, they may not be very fashionable but they are so comfy and give proper foot support. After an unsuccessful attempt of a local shoemaker in Sri Lanka to revive my first pair of Teva’s (after 3 years of intensive use, they were falling apart), I’ve bought a fresh pair. In a different color, just to mix it up a little;-).
For the beach, dodgy showers and casual strolls.
Other clothing items
• 2 bras ⇒ I have a black one with adjustable straps and a skin-colored one.
• 3 pair of hiking socks ⇒ not just for hiking, great protection against mosquitoes and sand-flies
• Underwear ⇒ I have enough for a week.
• Sunglasses ⇒ get a durable pair and make sure they are polarized!
• Hat ⇒ more protection from the sun!
• Scarf ⇒ I cannot recommend taking a scarf enough, I used mine every day! To cover up in temples, to keep me warm in an air-conditioned van or shopping mall, to put over my head in a night train where the lights stayed on all night and plenty other occasions.
Clean and Care
Don’t worry about bringing everything from home, there are shops in foreign countries too!
• Monthly/daily contacts ⇒ despite what I just said above, this is an item you may want to consider to bring from home, at least a couple months worth. Not available everywhere, plus, it can be challenging having anything delivered without a fixed address. This is why I sometimes stay at an Airbnb and ask if it’s okay to get a new pack of contacts delivered.
• Glasses ⇒ I don’t know about you, but I prefer to wear glasses in the evening and on long travels days. Especially during flights my eyes get so dry when I’m wearing contacts, I much rather wear my glasses!
• Dental care items ⇒ toothbrush, toothpaste, floss
• Lush solid shampoo bar ⇒ takes up less space than a bottle of shampoo, plus mine usually last about 4 months!
• Large and small microfiber towel ⇒ get quality ones, I bought a cheap one at first but that one took forever to dry. I use the large towel for showers and the beach, the small one is for my long hair that takes forever to dry.
• Make-up remover
• Nail clipper
• Hair ties
• Body lotion
• Anti-malaria tablets ⇒ I don’t take these pills as prevention, but do carry 12 pills to use as a cure in case I need them.
• DEET (40%)
• Sunscreen lotion
• Hand sanitizer
• Motion sickness pills
• Re-hydration sachets
• Plasters/Band-Aids (including a couple for treating burns)
• Betadine antiseptic
I carry quite a lot of electronic devices with me, the consequence of having a travel blog I suppose.
This is a crucial item, especially if you travel with many electronic devices! Carry your travel adapter in your hand luggage so you can use it on airports etc.
I currently own an iPhone XS and I absolutely love the quality of the pictures! I especially love the portrait mode, for making beautiful closeups of my son.
I love to read! This e-reader is perfect for me, because of the extremely long battery life. Also, I like the screen, it almost makes me feel like I am reading a regular book.
For years I carried this small and light netbook, perfect for keeping a travel journal and watching movies.
I recently upgraded to a new laptop because I want to keep the blog running smoothly during our long-term trip in 2017. Writing post and editing photos is a lot easier on a bigger screen and faster laptop.
I love these guides! Usually the first thing I do when I decide to visit a country is buy a Lonely Planet… I find their sample itineraries perfect for inspiration and love the detailed information about things to see and do.
• Passport ⇒ made sure to checked the expiration date of your passport! Many countries require you passport is valid for at least another six months.
• Debit card ⇒ look into which bank is best for you, overseas transaction fees add up if you are on the road for a long time!
• Credit card ⇒ essential for booking flights.
• Yellow book ⇒ medical passport. So far, I only needed this when I crossed the land border between Vietnam to Cambodia.
• Emergency contact details and copies of insurance documents ⇒ these are the things you hope never to use, but MUST have.
• Printed tickets/hotel reservations/etc. ⇒ nowadays most companies accept reservations on your phone, but some (old fashioned) ones may still require a printed version.
• Passport photos ⇒ for many visa (on arrival) you need passport photos, so make sure you have a couple with you!
I love my travel pillow because I can mold it into any shape I like. I always make sure to carry this in my hand-luggage and use it on planes, buses, trains, etc.
This wasn’t a cheap item but I am very happy we invested in these mattresses. The mattress weighs just 540 grams and packs up into a 22 x 12 x 12 cm roll. Most important: it’s comfortable! I used it in Japan, Oman and even in an Airbnb in Taiwan with the worst bed ever.
A travel sheet is like a lightweight cotton sleeping bag and perfect for dodgy hostels/night bus/night train/night boat/etc. It’s tiny and weighs next to nothing.
These help me sleep in all sorts of night transportation. Though nowadays it’s mostly my son keeping me awake so I barely get to use there anymore…
• Small wallet and bra wallet ⇒ I did not have a money belt but split my cards and cash between a small wallet and a tiny wallet attached to my bra.
• Sewing set ⇒ to repair my clothes. Though maybe I should just buy new ones every once in a while…
• Ziplock bags
• Small piece of rope and duct tape
How to pack for a long-term trip: in conclusion
So that’s everything I bring on my trip and I can safely say I used every item on the list! It seems like a very long list and a lot of stuff, but when I pack everything it fits easily in my bags…
The two most important things? Bring versatile items and invest in proper travel gear.
Yes, that may cost a little more but good-quality items last longer. Also, there is nothing more annoying than stuff that breaks (always on the wrong moment) or items that just aren’t good enough (like my first travel towel or a not so waterproof raincoat).