Deciding what to pack when you plan to travel indefinitely can be a daunting task.
We are light travelers; we both travel with just one carry-on size backpack, but in these packs, we pack everything we need and even after six months of travel, have found there is nothing we feel we’re missing.
Our first question regarding each item we considered packing when we were preparing for our indefinite adventure was: how much weight will it add to our backpacks? The second: will this item pay for its weight in usefulness or the pleasure it will give us on the road?
Everyone will give different answers to the second question, and how much importance the answer has will also depend on your travel style. Will you be moving from place to place every few days, or rocking up in a city and renting an apartment or housesitting for two months before moving to another city and doing the same?
In the former case, having a light backpack is ideal to be able to hop on and off buses quickly, avoid luggage fees and not put out your back carrying it. In the latter case, the size and weight of your bag will be less important, though I would still recommend packing light and owning less stuff as a general philosophy!
Given that philosophy, here are our top tips for light and efficient packing for long term travelers.
Sam suggests: packing only 2 pairs of footwear
This golden rule of lightweight packing can seem limiting for long term travelers, but since shoes are likely to be the largest thing you pack inside your backpack (especially if you have large feet), taking only two pairs will dramatically increase the space and weight you have for other things (since you’ll only have to pack one pair, as you’ll be wearing the other!)
I recommend one pair of all-purpose shoes and a pair of sandals as I find this the most flexible combination, but obviously it depends on the weather and environments of the places you’ll be traveling in. Only consider taking hiking boots if you’re going to be doing a serious amount of hiking. If you’re an occasional fair-weather hiker, like me, consider renting hiking boots in your chosen location, or just use your all-purpose shoes as long as they have enough grip and you’re walking on paths, not across ice fields!
Flip-flops may be permissible as a third footwear item, if they are lightweight and compact enough to slip in to your pack once it’s otherwise fully packed.
Zab suggests: using packing cubes
If you’re packing and unpacking your bag every couple of days, keeping the things inside organized can save you a lot of time. I love packing cubes because having, for example, all of my t-shirts in one cube means I don’t have to spend time digging around inside my backpack to find a clean t-shirt: just pull it out and voila! I’d recommend having one for underwear and another for tops, though you could also have a third for trousers and shorts.
Sam suggests: buying a backpack of no more than 40 liters
You know the saying that tasks expand to fill the time allotted to them? Well, the same applies to stuff. If you buy yourself a 70 liter backpack, you’ll probably find things to fill it, then not use half of that stuff and curse yourself every time you pick up your impossibly heavy bag.
I have a 32 liter backpack and Zab has a 40 liter one, and we both manage to fit everything we need in them, including electronics. But what about my 10 favorite t-shirts? you may be asking. Personally I find that limiting my clothing options by limiting the space I have to carry them in is actually quite liberating: no longer do I have to spend really any time considering what to wear each day. OK, that t-shirt’s clean, so that’s what I’m wearing!
Zab suggests: packing a day bag that fits inside your main bag when empty
Personally, I would find my 40 liter backpack too large to use as a day bag when walking around a new city, or even for a day hike. So, we travel with a 10 liter day bag that can easily be squashed down to fit inside my backpack when it’s empty and not being used on travel days.
Having a third bag is really useful for when you’re stationary, but carrying a third bag (between us) on days in transit would just increase the risk of loosing something (either by theft or carelessness), so we always try to pack it away when we’re on the move.
Sam suggests: packing a pair of fast-drying, zip-off walking trousers
Now, I know this can be a controversial topic among travelers. Some swear by them, and others wouldn’t be seen dead in them. I fall in to the former camp because I love how versatile they are. The pair I have keep me cool when it’s hot and warm when it’s cold.
Furthermore, they can be zipped off and turned into shorts, essentially doubling your bottom-wear options immediately. Obviously the fast-drying component is ideal for wet weather, and makes them easy to wash by hand and leave to dry rather than paying for them to be washed.
Zab suggests: investing in lightweight electronics
If you’re traveling long term and hoping to make it as a digital nomad (like we are), having a reliable laptop or device is key. But lugging a 15″, 4kg laptop around isn’t going to be the most comfortable option if you don’t have a personal porter!
We travel with a MacBook Air and an iPad, and while Apple’s products are more expensive than other options, these two particular devices are both strong and lightweight, making them ideal for people traveling long term.
If you’ve been traveling long term for a while already, what packing tips would you give those wanting to start out as long term travelers?