Packing Tips for Long-Term Travel

This article was first published on Times of Malta on 24th November 2013.


Packing Tips for Long-Term Travel

The advent of budget airlines and their astronomical checked-luggage fees has developed in the majority of us a talent for packing up to a week’s worth of necessities into a 55cm x 40cm x 22cm bag.

The crestfallen faces on those passengers who are called up to the front of the check-in queue to prove that their cabin bag doesn’t exceed the airline’s limits serve as a lesson to us all: less is more. Nothing can be truer when it comes to packing for long-term travel.

Carrying all your worldly possessions in one bag can be a daunting prospect. The good news is whether travelling for a month or a year, you will essentially need the same things. ‘Need’ being the operative word; when travelling long-term, there is no room for just-in-case items. Aim to fit all your belongings in a backpack which you can carry comfortably for more than thirty minutes.

hannah's backpack

My 40L backpack and 15L daypack ready for 6 months of travel.

The first thing on your packing list will be clothes. Whatever you choose to take will be worn and washed frequently so two important qualities are comfort and durability. Stay away from denim and other materials which are bulky and take a long time to dry. Researching climates of the countries you intend to visit will help in your choice of clothing.

Ultimately, there should be no need for more than three pairs of bottoms: long, mid-length and short. As for tops, the same applies: short and long sleeves, and a light jumper that can be worn over anything. A good idea to placate your inner style guru is to take tops and bottoms in colours which can easily be mixed and matched.

Two pairs of shoes, closed and open, ought to suit all occasions. Flip flops are easy to stash and great for use in less-than-spotless showers.

When travelling for more than a few months, buying new items along the way can be more practical than carrying them with you the entire time. Depending on where in the world you are, you may even get that new waterproof jacket or hiking boots for cheaper than you would at home.

In our digital age, the next thing on the list is electronics. It is up to you how connected you want to be, whether you are happy to seek out internet cafes or will only stay in wi-fi friendly accommodation. Perhaps you can make do with a point-and-click camera, or maybe only the best DSLR will suit your needs.

Whatever you decide to pack, don’t forget each item’s charger, as well as spare batteries for those electronics which require them. The thing to remember is that anything in your backpack can be lost, damaged or stolen; take extra security measures when carrying expensive items.

A friend of mine travelled to Rwanda and found herself being asked if she was a doctor, purely based on the size of the medical kit she had packed. While having your own on-board pharmacy is slightly excessive, it is important to carry basic first aid supplies.

In addition to the basics, you may need to pack prescribed medication, which can take up space. Before setting out on your journey, research the availability of the medication in the countries you intend to visit. Unless your travels take you to remote locations, it is quite probable that you will be able to stock up along the way. Always take your prescription with you; it can be useful if airport security wants to know what you are carrying.

Prescriptions are not the only documents you will need to carry. The most important thing you need to pack is your passport; guard it with your life! If you are entering countries where specific vaccinations are required, keep your immunisation certificate together with your passport.

Both are best kept in a hidden money-belt rather than with your other items, and can also be locked away in a safe whenever you have checked into your accommodation. It is a good idea to keep a few copies of them in different locations, including online, in case the worse should happen.

Another document worth carrying is a list of important numbers such as your bank’s Lost/Stolen Card hotline and numbers for your country’s embassy in each destination. Also pack your driving license; even if you don’t plan on getting behind the wheel, it can be used as a secondary form of ID. Some airlines may require a copy of your itinerary before allowing you to board, particularly in the case of one-way flights. Keep a copy of it to hand, as well as receipts of any pre-booked travel arrangements.

As long as you have clothes on your back, shoes on your feet and a passport, you are good to go. While liquids such as shampoo, conditioner and shower gel may seem to be essential, you are much better off buying them at your destination. However, there are a few other items which will make your travelling days so much easier that I consider them to be near essential.

Carry at least two padlocks to keep your items safe. A headlamp and sleep sheet will be blessings on more occasions than you can imagine. Also, never underestimate how helpful a ball of string, a small pair of scissors, and some ziplock bags can be. Last but not least: a quick-dry towel is useful to travellers and interstellar hitchhikers alike.

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3 Responses

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  2. December 6, 2013

    […] My best friend Hannah went travelling for 6 months, carrying everything she needed in two backpacks – one small, one less small. Here is how she did it. […]

  3. December 6, 2013

    […] My best friend Hannah went travelling for 6 months, carrying everything she needed in two backpacks – one small, one less small. Here is how she did it. […]

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