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Packing for Long-Term Travel, Her Side

Packing for Long-Term Travel, Her Side

on Jan 19, 2014 in Blog, Travel Tips

Around the World Packing Tips
from a Woman’s Perspective

Packing is one of the more difficult challenges of long term travel. Kevin read multiple articles that indicated the longer you are gone, the less you should pack. And thus the quest to find exactly the right gear began. We spent months preparing, evaluating and making dry runs at packing. We made many purchases (and many returns) in the weeks and months leading up to our trip.

Sadly, when we left, I still was not convinced that the limited items I chose would suffice for everything we might do. Sure, I’ve made due with the items I selected, but if I had it to do over again I would definitely make some different choices.

Backpack or Rollerboard?

We decided to carry backpacks—a decision that, seven months into our travels, I concur was the best decision. There have been many occasions where being able to carry our luggage on our back has been critical: cobblestone streets; subway stairways; dirt pathways; and flights of stairs at apartments.

I have to admit, though, that the rollerboard was my first choice. Traveling for work, I became very skilled at packing a wheeled carry on. I know I could have squeezed much more into my rollerboard and gained a lot more variety.

Although I do miss the variety, I now realize that the more you squeeze in, the more weight you have to carry. There’s much to be said for lightweight bags when you’re on the move frequently. Plus, many airlines in Europe have weight limits on carry-on and checked luggage. So, my recommendation for long term travel is to travel as lightly as possible and use a backpack!

Helpful Packing Accessories

We both use two medium sized compression bags—you know, the ones that look like a giant zip lock bag. We use one for clean clothes and the other for dirty ones. We also purchased the light weight Eagle Creek travel cubes in various sizes. Although not a compression bag, these can compress clothes a little and help tremendously with organization. They allow us to find things more quickly as all clean items have a “home”. Likewise, it makes packing and unpacking much easier.

My Packing List for Long-Term Travel

OK, here are the details: what I packed, what I did right and what I would do differently…


What I Packed:

  • jeans
  • cotton casual pants
  • capris
  • skirt (casual, knee-length, a-line)

What I’d Leave:

Cotton Casual Pants: I bought these from Lucy. They were comfortable and could be converted to cute capris. I thought I wanted them for cooler weather and planned to wear them for activities like hiking. But 100% cotton takes forever to dry. So, it’s not a good material for in-room laundering or for activities like hiking.

What I Love:

Jeans: My jeans have been worn more than any other article of clothing. My advice is to find jeans that are a blend and not 100% cotton, as they will keep their shape and air dry much quicker than their cotton counterparts.

Knee Length A-Line Skirt: This quick dry skirt has been wonderful in warm weather and folds down to a very pack-able size.

Packing Tips for Bottoms

I would leave the cotton casual pants at home and replace them with quick-dry, outdoor pants. I hate the way they look, but there are a few brands that make a less tacky looking pant.

I read somewhere that others had packed yoga pants. I attempted to find some that fit and looked decent, but I was not successful. I can see how one might wear them, however, I am not sure how much use I would have gotten out of them. But mostly because I am not crazy about the fit.

Depending on the weather and my planned destinations, I would probably reconsider bringing capris. I have definitely worn the mine (they’re quick dry, Prana), however, as I mention in another post, capris are not widely worn. If going into warmer weather, I would most likely elect to bring a pair of shorts in lieu of the capris, or if cooler weather I would most likely choose to leave them at home.


We attempted to pick destinations where we thought the weather would be between 60–85 degrees. Of course these are only averages and, in general, our destinations have been much cooler than I anticipated.

What I Packed

  • tank tops (3)
  • short sleeve t-shirts (2)
  • dressy tank top
  • cardigan sweaters (2) – one very thin cotton and one Icebreaker merino wool
  • lightweight sleeveless knee-length summer dress

What I’d Leave

I would re-evaluate my selections and only bring items that I LOVE. In my case, I would have swapped out a couple of my tops for pieces that I liked much more. I also found that with the right pieces you can manage without a “dressier” top, which I rarely wear…plus it has higher care requirements.

I have worn the summer dress, just not frequently. I think I could manage without it. I would probably leave the dress behind on the next go around, or I would find a dress that I was more jazzed about. (I do not love the fit and design of this particular dress.)

What I Love

Two of the three tank tops were dry-fit shirts that could double as both active wear and as casual wear, and can be worn under the cardigans. The key is finding versatile pieces that can be dressed up or down and that are made out of durable quick dry material.

Additionally, I recommend selecting a color palette. Pick pieces that can be easily mixed and matched. This will provide you with more variability. Likewise it is important to be able to wear nearly every top with every bottom and/or top that you have.

Packing Tips for Tops

While in Europe, the weather was much cooler than I expected. We worked from north to south and thus successfully avoided the hot and humid days. I wish I would have packed a long sleeve shirt that could have been used as an extra layer. I lean towards a button up shirt that could be layered over a tank top, and sleeves could be rolled up if needed.

Additionally, I packed items based on the material and what I thought would dry quickly. I would re-evaluate and leave a couple of the shirts behind. Be sure to LOVE the clothes you pack (style, color, cut, etc) because you will find yourself wearing and re-wearing these items every few days. Of the items that I packed, I really only love one of the tank tops, one of the t-shirts and the two cardigans sweaters.

At the last minute, I added a “dressier” tank top that I thought we could wear with jeans or my skirt, if we went out. However, I think over the past seven months I have only worn the shirt two or three times. If I had to do it over again, I would advise to select base clothes that can be worn on a daily basis and/or something that could pass as a nicer or dressier piece.

We ended up ordering long sleeve shirts with Permethrin (bug repellent) while in Europe. We shipped them to a friend who then brought them to Europe for us. We heard that the bugs can be bad in China and SE Asia and we know that there are some nasty things you can catch from mosquito bites. If your plans call for travel to humid, mosquito prevalent areas, consider a layer that can help repel bugs. The brand we bought (ExOfficio BugsAway) is supposed to be effective through 70 washes.


Footwear is an important consideration, as shoes can be some of the heaviest items that you will bring. We tried to limit the number of shoes we packed but at the last minute, I had a little room and elected to toss in an extra pair that I thought would come in handy. Truth be told, I did not need the extra pair, and have not worn them enough to warrant the extra weight.

What I Packed

Four pairs of shoes, which is one too many.

  • tennis shoes
  • flip flops
  • casual slip-ons by Clarks
  • ballet flats by New Balance

What I’d Leave

The New Balance ballet flats are very similar to the Clarks slip-ons, just lighter weight and as I have discovered not nearly as comfortable for a full day of walking. They were the last minute add, and I wish I would have just left them behind.

What I Love

I would pack all three of my other shoes. Each one is versatile and has served multiple functions. We had planned to do a number of hikes and I was concerned around whether or not we had the appropriate footwear. However, good tennis shoes can double for hiking on most trails, plus they’re much lighter than boots. My flip flops have also doubled as shower shoes.

Packing Tips for Footwear

As much as I like variety, it is not worth the added weight to pack extra or specilty footwear. Each pair you pack should be versatile!

Also, each pair of shoes I brought was brand new. I lucked out and didn’t have any problems. However, I suggest wearing your shoes a few times to break them in and ensure that they’ll work for you.

Likewise, I bought new tennis shoes (not a brand I normally wear) just because they were lightweight. Even though they were light, I didn’t really love them. So, stick with what you know and like…even if your favorite brand is slightly heavier.


What I Packed

  • rain jacket
  • light weight down jacket
  • light scarf
  • fleece hat
  • gloves
  • baseball hat

What I’d Leave

I’ve used all of my outerwear during our trip and would keep my packing list essentially the same. As I outline below, there are a few items I’d considering swapping, but overall I had the right mix of gear. If the weather conditions of our planned travel were warmer, it’s possible I might leave some of these items behind.

What I Love

I have been happy many times that I packed a fleece hat and gloves. Since I tend to get cold and the temps have dipped in some places, these have received enough wear to warrant packing…not that they’re all that bulky in the first place.

Although I do not wear it frequently, I have been happy to have a ball cap too. I have used it hiking, running, enjoying beaches/pools, and while watching tennis at the Australian Open. A hat that provides shade from the sun is a must have.

Packing Tips for Outerwear

I really missed having a light weight fleece or sweatshirt. Thus I had my brother bring one when he visited us in Europe. I also bought a light fleece in New Zealand. I do not need both, but wish that I would have originally brought a light-weight fleece that packs tightly and provides a little additional warmth and comfort.

We purchased light weight rain jackets for our trip. Overall the jackets have met our needs. However, evaluate the waterproof rating and determine what is right for you. We didn’t think we would spend prolonged periods in the rain, so we went with a lower rating that was and a bit more breathable. However, we got caught in heavy rain on a couple occasions and our jackets didn’t keep us dry in those extreme conditions.

I purchased a new light weight scarf prior to our departure. I would not leave home without a scarf. It’s one of my most useful and versatile accessories. However, if I had it to do over again, I would bring a heavier and bigger pashmina scarf instead.

Active Wear

What I Packed

  • swimsuit
  • board shorts
  • sun shirt
  • dry-fit t-shirt (short sleeve)
  • sports bra
  • running capri tights

What I’d Leave

I have rarely worn my sun shirt and have never used it in the water like I thought I would. However, I did use it a couple times as an added layer for warmth. We are not big water sports people, so it hasn’t been a very useful for me.

What I Love

With the exception of the sun shirt, each item would definitely be on my packing list again as I have had a use for each item. One item that I have found multiple uses for are the running tights. I have used them as work out gear, pajamas and as a base layer under my other pants for added warmth. They take up practically no room and are very light weight.

Packing Tips for Active Wear

Personally, I would leave out the sun shirt. Since we do not participate in a lot of active water sports (surfing, etc), I would forego this on the next go around. It’s too specialized.

I might also consider swapping out the board shorts for a pair of light weight workout shorts instead. The board shorts are great, but something a bit more versatile would work even better.


What I Packed

  • bras (3)
  • underwear (8)
  • smart wool running socks (2)
  • wool hiking socks
  • casual ankle socks
  • foot liners (thin, low cust socks made for slip on shoes)

What I’d Leave

I would probably leave the foot liners behind. I can’t ever keep them on my feet at home…not sure why I thought it would be different while we were traveling! I ended up losing them at a Thai laundry service and haven’t really missed them.

What I Love

I like having at least a week’s supply of underwear. I somehow lost a couple along the way so it’s been nice having enough on hand. Plus, they take up very little room so there’s no real downside to having 7-10 in your luggage. I also like the comfort and washability of the wool and smart wool socks.

Packing Tips for Unmentionables

Some of my undergarments have begun to wear out. Be sure to evaluate the quality and durability of the items you select. I would also suggest packing newer items, as you do not want them to wear out.

At times I wish I had another pair of running socks, especially since I have already worn holes in one pair and put a hole my casual ankle socks.

Socks and underwear are easy to wash and they dry quickly. So, you don’t really need more than a week’s supply of either.


What I Packed

Since we elected not to check our bag on our outbound flight, we attempted to minimize our liquids and gels to the carry on allowance. Here is the list of items I packed:

  • comb
  • bobby pins
  • hair ties (10)
  • hair clips (2)
  • necklaces (2)
  • q-tips
  • nail file
  • nail clippers
  • nail polish
  • tweezers
  • disposable razors (5)
  • sewing kit (needle/thread)
  • safety pins
  • tooth brushes (2)
  • tooth paste
  • floss
  • bar of soap
  • plastic soap holder
  • shampoo (small bottle)
  • conditioner (small bottle)
  • hair gel (small bottle)
  • feminine products
  • moisturizer
  • foundation make-up
  • mascara
  • eyeliner
  • eye shadow
  • face cleanser
  • deodorant
  • sunscreen

What I’d Leave

I do not wear jewelry, ever. Thus I have yet to wear either necklace that I packed. I was thinking I could use the jewelry to dress items up, however, if you do not wear it at home, you will most definitely not pick it up on the road!

I brought multiples of a number of things, like toothbrushes, razors, etc. It is the planner in me. However, most things you can pick up on the road, so I would probably not pack the extras and instead pick them up on the road.

I have yet to use the shampoo or conditioner that I packed. It is nice to have as a backup. However, based on your routing and initial set of accommodations, I would leave these behind and pick up the free ones at your first accommodation. (See our “have we become hoarders” post. We have picked up shampoo, conditioner, bars of soap, razors, and even toothbrushes at some of our accommodations.

What I Love

I was glad to have a bar of soap. There have been a handful of occasions where we have needed it. Although, we could always pick it up at the store.

Packing Tips for Toiletries

Remember that we are not traveling to the ends of the Earth. Most items can be purchased at any grocery or drug store. Thus you do not have to pack enough of everything to last you through the duration of your trip. Also remember to use your resources. If staying at an upscale location, don’t feel guilty picking up the amenities provided.

If you do not use something at home (like wearing jewelry), leave it at home, as you are not likely to pick up the habit on the road.


What I Packed

  • iPad mini (with a Belkin keyboard)
  • Blackberry (unlocked)
  • iPhone
  • Nike FuelBand
  • headphones
  • power converters
  • various power cords
  • camera, extra batteries and memory cards

We packed some additional electronics, but I’ll let Kevin outline those in his packing tips.

What I’d Leave

I’d leave behind…gasp…my iPhone! Since we do not have an international phone plan, my iPhone was not very useful. I thought I might use it for music, however, during an upgrade of software on the day we left my phone crashed and I had to start from scratch. Thus I lost all my music and applications. As a result, I ended up sending my iPhone home with my brother when he visited in Europe.

What I Love

I’m not in love with any of my electronics. My iPad allows me to get online but it doesn’t do a lot of things I want it to (like Excel). Perhpas my favorite gadget is the Nike Fuel Band. I wouldn’t call it a must have, but I do like that it gives me an idea of how many steps I took in a day. That’s a good benchmark when siteseeing and traveling…plus it doubles as a watch.

Packing Tips for Electronics

Tablets are lightweight and very packable. Be careful though! Although convenient, I would now consider taking my small ultrabook PC over the iPad. There are many things that are much more difficult on an iPad. If you’re just getting online for facebook and email, tablets are great options. To do more complex things, more efficiently, I’d rather have my PC.

I would pack a small musical device, like an iPod shuffle. I miss having music capabilities, and find myself borrowing Kevin’s iPhone periodically.

I would also recommend evaluating what cords you truly need. We have found that some cords double for multiple devices.

It has been nice to have an unlocked phone which allows us to purchase SIM cards in our destinations. However, we have had challenges being able to get the data service to work on the Blackberry. The iPhone seems to work more seamlessly.

My FuelBand was a great multi-purpose tool, as it provided a clock, tracked number of steps, and let us gage how active we were. Unfortunately, it did not hold up to the challenge and broke while we were in China. I was able to send it back with our friends from New Zealand, however, I would probably re-think my gadgets.

Other Useful Stuff

We brought a whole host of “other” stuff. Some items we have found to be extremely useful, whereas there are a few other items we could definitely have done without. Here is the long list of the “other” items that I packed, that did not fit squarely into any of the previous categories.

What I Packed

  • belts (2)
  • money belts (3)
  • sleeping bag liner
  • umbrella
  • watch
  • laundry detergent (liquid)
  • clothes line
  • small towel
  • sunglasses
  • sun screen
  • plastic bags
  • sandwich bags
  • chip clips
  • a reusable cloth bag
  • a purse
  • kleenex
  • hand santitizer
  • chap stick
  • a first aid kit / medicines
  • insect repellant
  • flashlight
  • notebook
  • pens/pencils
  • international drivers licenses
  • copies of our passports
  • flip belt (accessory for carrying keys/electronics while running)
  • left-over currency (Euros)

What I’d Leave

Of the two belts that I packed, I have only worn one. If possible (based on your color selections) just bring one belt that can be used in all scenarios.

What I Love

Most of these items have been useful, but here are a few of the items that we use most frequently:

      • Sleeping Bag Liner — Although I have not used it frequently, due to my germaphobias there have been a few occasions where I have been thankful to have this added layer for peace of mind. I would definitely choose to pack it if I had to do it all over again.
      • Watch — Many places do not have clocks, thus I have been thankful for a watch. However, make sure that you have a fresh battery before you leave. My battery died while we were in China. I am sure you can find replacements, it just required a special tool that we don’t have. So I bought a new cheap watch instead!
      • Clothes Line — Takes little to no room in your bag, but has definitely come in handy on more than a few occasions.
      • Reusable Bag — I purchased a reusable bag prior to our departure and it has been one of the items we have used the most. In many countries they charge you for plastic bags at the market. We have used this to carry food from the store, as a beach bag, to carry our food for car trips, etc. I found one at REI that folds town into a small pouch and weighs just ounces.
      • Purse — I also found a purse at REI made by the same company as the reusable bag. Again it compresses down into the inside pocket and weighs ounces. I have found the lighter the better, especially when you have to carry for long periods of time.
      • Resealable Bags / Plastic Bags  — We also packed in a handful of resealable bags and plastic bags, which we have found lots of uses for along the way!
      • Medicines / First Aid Kit — It is always good to be prepared in case of an emergency. Thankfully we have not had to use many items. Outside of a couple bandaids, the only other items we have used along the way have been Advil/Ibuprofin and Pepto.

Packing Tips for Misc Items

In general, I packed knowing that we would be gone for an extended period of time. In most places around the world you can pick up items, so you do not need to pack large volumes of each. Thus I would probably reduce the redundant items we brought, like multiple tubes of sunscreen, multiple packs of Kleenex, and multiple money belts!

Instead of packing an umbrella, I would throw in one of the lightweight cheap ponchos that fold up very small. We have used the small umbrella, but it is not that durable and not large enough to protect two people effectively.

A couple of items that I would consider adding for future trips would be a rain cover for our backpack. There have been a few instances where this would have come in handy, like when hiking and being caught in a down pour. Our passports ended up quite wet in that instance! Also, a small dry bag might be useful for cameras and electronics, especially if you will be doing any water activities.

Although always useful and good to have, we have yet to need our international drivers license. Good thing they are light weight!

Packing is based largely on personal preferences. I don’t mean this list to work for everyone, only to share what has and hasn’t worked for me. Hopefully it helps you decide what’s important for you. I’ll leave you with three final thoughts that I believe are the best tips for packing for long term travel:

    • Everything should have multiple uses. Avoid over-specialized gear (like snorkel equipment).
    • Less is more. Really. I can’t stress this enough. The lighter your bag, the happier you’ll be. Second guess everything.
    • You can buy almost anything on the road. It may cost more, but if you realize you’re missing something, you can always buy it.


  1. I’ve been eagerly awaiting “His Side” for packing! Have started my practice packing.

    • Am so excited for you. I will give Kevin a nudge to see if we can’t bump it up in priority…especially since we know you are waiting to read!

  2. What backpack do you use?

    • Lauren – we’re big fans of our Eagle Creek Digi Hauler and Cargo Hauler bags.

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