Going away for a significant length of time raises the stakes when it comes to packing. Long-term travel and the idea of cramming a backpack full of everything you could possibly need can seem a bit daunting at first.
If you are going for longer than three months and planning to travel in a number of different areas then it is likely that you will experience different seasons, altitudes, and regions which all factor into what you need to bring on your long-term excursion. And once you have considered the basics of staying cool in the heat and super warm in the cold, you must then try to figure out what activities you will be doing. Do you plan to hike up into snow-capped mountain regions or into the depths of the rainforest (or both)? Will you be spending a lot of time on the beach or will you be sticking more inland?
Going travelling for longer than three months will put you in the inevitable scenario that you will be in very different climates at very different points of the year. If you are anything like me, it is so easy to assume that all countries in Asia or Latin America are warm and sunny 99% of the time and this is pure fiction.
Having travelled for an entire year across South America and Central America, I can safely say that these vast regions experience up to four seasons in a day. You can find yourself in blistering heat and travel one hour down the road to find yourself in a storm. Individual countries, no matter how small they are, often have totally different climates varying across coastal regions to more inland areas.
Seasons go totally out the window when you add in the very common variance of altitude. Climates and weather change dramatically depending on how high they are located above sea level, just to add to the confusion.
And this is when the packing scenario becomes very real. Trying to pack lightly but effectively for all of these potential scenarios is tricky business. And so here are some handy tips for keeping your backpack full with all the necessary items you could possibly need for travelling long-distance long-term.
The most important part of starting a travel checklist for packing is to make some sort of a plan. I know that it is unlikely that you would have a fully realised itinerary for a trip spanning a few months or more so this can seem difficult at first.
The key is to consider the area and region you are going to. If you are going on a backpacking trip through any part of the world you will more than likely be doing a number of hikes, treks, or nature activities. If you are a digital nomad who will be stopping and working in different locations as you travel, you may require a totally different wardrobe from your typical backpacker.
However, you will need significantly more layers and warmth in South America than in Asia but you will more than likely need just as much rain gear. If you are sticking around Europe, you will need heavier and more layered clothes. A trip out to the Pacific region (New Zealand, Australia) for an extended period will require both light wear and warm clothes.
If you are planning to spend a lot of time settled in cities, you may need more casual and day-to-day clothes like workout gear, jeans, and a number of tops. If you plan to live it up by the beach you will need fewer clothes in general. This is why having a general sense of the type of trip you are expecting to have is beneficial when you are packing.
Making connections and understanding the climate of the areas you are visiting will also help you to prepare what you need to make the most of what you pack. I had no idea that weather varied so much in South America and a simple Google search would have really helped me out.
Something else to consider when travelling is culture. If you are in a region that is used to tourists then you can get away with wearing pretty much anything. However, you must always consider dressing more conservatively when visiting places that are deemed sacred or religious. And of course, in regions less used to ‘gringas' as we are known in Latin America, wearing fewer clothes can attract unwanted attention.
Also, I have noticed that in most cities throughout Central America, locals pretty much always wear jeans and leggings even during the warmer parts of the year. Therefore is you only have shorts and tanks, you will stand out. Having long and light pants are useful for these parts of your trip.
Your own personality type also plays a part in what you choose to wear when travelling. If you are a sporty person you may be completely comfortable in sports and leisurewear for any activity. If you are someone who likes to put effort into how you look, you may have more fashion items than someone who is more interested in hiking all the time.
It's important to learn what types of clothes you enjoy wearing and how you can combine this with practicality and your travel plans.
I advise three items of footwear for a long-term travel trip but many people cope with just two. In many cases, people will prioritise a good pair of hiking shoes and a simple but sturdy pair of flip flops or sandals.
Hiking shoes or boots are the obvious go-to for backpackers as they are comfortable, durable, and can get you through pretty much any activity you might do abroad. There are a couple of things to take into account when choosing your perfect pair of hiking shoes.
Hiking boots are the sturdiest option and definitely advisable for those who intend to do a lot of outdoor and adventure activities in difficult climates. Just be aware that hiking boots can be heavy and cumbersome so not the easiest to transport around if they are not on your feet. This is why many people opt for hiking shoes, especially in hotter climates. Hiking shoes are lighter, smaller, and more breathable in the heat. However, hiking shoes are not as sturdy or water-proof as the boot version.
Make sure to invest in a great pair of hiking boots or shoes from a well-known brand. I mean if all you intend to do is activities then it is worth investing in some good equipment and this starts at your feet.
Birkenstock, Havianas flip flops, a pair of sports brand sliders, or a nice pair of sandals seem to be the go-to option for casual wear for backpackers. These are well known for being easy to wear and able to survive a lot of wear and tear. While most people tend to get by on just these two pairs of shoes, I also like to have a pair of breathable canvas shoes or runners for travelling in hot cities when it is too warm for hiking boots. These are also easier to style.
If you intend to spend a lot of time in cities, do a lot of walking tours or want to work out while travelling, having a pair of trainers will be indispensable to you. However, those who have a pair of hiking shoes might actually find that they are perfect to wear as trainers if they are light and breathable. As these are sturdier versions of runners, they should survive your treks but also be casual enough for day to day wear.
A good travel pack is key for a long-term trip. A bag of this style should leave you with infinite amounts of space and enough room for every scenario.
A travel pack is a style of a backpack that usually consists of one main area of 50-70ml that allows for the bulk of your clothes and gear. They then also have an extra pack at the front that allows for about 20ml and this pack also doubles as a small backpack that can be detached from your pack as a day bag for overnight stays or day trips.
Anyone travelling with a lot of tech equipment, maybe someone who is a blogger, freelancer, photographer or digital nomad, might consider a kit bag that they can easily transport and keep all of their gear and equipment together. I personally do not know where I would be without my kit bag. It has a special compartment for my laptop and all of my cameras and cables.
I also think having a foldable canvas bag is a great idea for travellers. When you are travelling you never know what you might pick up. If you are settling in one place for a few weeks, you will probably want to go shopping, buy food or just pick up some souvenirs. Having a canvas bag with you will come in handy more times than you could ever imagine.
Outerwear and Trekking Gear
Your main go-to piece of outerwear should be a light, think but insulating rain jacket with a hood. This jacket should transition from a hike or trek right through to exploring in a city or going out at night. Having two light jumpers always comes in handy as well as a long-sleeved work-out top or thermal.
It is best to consider packing hiking gear that will double into other parts of your wardrobe while you are travelling. For example, lightweight thermals that you could use as a workout top or extra layer in a cooler climate. Fleeces that you can throw over anything and hiking trousers that can be zipped into shorts you would happily wear in a hot city.
Workout leggings and a pair of workout shorts are great for treks in the heat though leggings are advised in areas where mosquitos are rampant so consider keeping the leggings light. You could keep a pair of thermal undergarments handy to put under the leggings if you plan to do a colder trek.
The key is to make everything multi-purpose so you don't end up with the gear you feel you can only wear when doing one thing. Having hiking gear that can double as workout gear or casual wear you are happy to wear out in a city will definitely put you on the right track.
While travelling, you are going to have significant downtime. Having really comfy loungewear that you are also happy to go out for dinner in is key.
A nice knit that is warm enough to bring on a hike but that you can also throw over anything from a pair of jeans or workout leggings and look great is essential. A number of light t-shirts or string tops are easy to throw over anything. When you are travelling, you just want clothes to be easy and not a source of stress. You will want to wear more light and comfortable items rather than an elaborate two-piece or romper.
Even if you are worried about maintaining your style while travelling, still consider that you will want everything wants to be comfortable. Create a wardrobe of comfy basics that can be easily styled or mix and matched. Having some inexpensive accessories such as a basic belt and long-chain is enough to keep you looking trendy while travelling.
The casual basics that every traveller should have in their backpack is a pair of high-waisted denim shorts, a white t-shirt, and a simple summer dress. A culotte jumpsuit is also super trendy and easy to wear and comfortable. You can throw a t-shirt under it to make it more acceptable in cooler climates.
One Nice Item
Okay, some people will say that this is superfluous, but it is my opinion that you cannot go wrong with a couple of nice pieces in your backpack. True they may not be ideal for every day but one nice dress or a smart shirt will actually come in handy at some point on your trip, I guarantee you!
You may find yourself heading on a night out or even on a date. You may find yourself heading to a job interview or a family event so it's always good to have that one go-to piece. Basically, you never know what kind of scenario you may find yourself in when travelling the world so why not be prepared?
But most importantly, don't let this item of clothing be impractical. If you bring a ballgown, you will never wear it. If you bring a smart sundress or a nice striped shirt, this is an item of clothing that can extend itself into lots of different occasions.
The key to packing accurately for a long-term trip is that if you go prepared with good-quality clothes you will not only discard fewer clothes as you travel (and create excess waste) but you will save money because you will not need to go out and buy new items for scenarios you were not prepared for.