To pack or what not to pack, a long term travellers guide to packing
There really is no easy answer to what you will need or should bring for long term travel, because it depends on who you are, where you intend to travel and at what time of year you intend to be there. BUT if like us you plan to follow the sun and explore South East Asia on a modest but not backpackers budget and have checked not just carry on bags then this may well be of some assistance.
Being a natural born worrier and having never done any long term travel before I read travel sites voraciously, anything anyone said we might need was noted and added to a growing list of must haves. I wanted something for every eventuality and my first packing list certainly covered that. Except even with three cases I wouldn’t have been able to fit all these must haves in and of the things I did take quite a lot of it stayed in my bag.
Only bring clothes you love, that are lightweight, easily washable and quick to dry. If you’re anything like me you will want to buy things you see so bringing the bare minimum is also a good idea, you can cheaply fill out your wardrobe in most places.
- 4-7 pair of underpants, depending how frequently you want to be washing
- 2 bras
- 2 swimwear, I have 1 bikini and 1 swimsuit
- 2 pair of shorts, 1 short, 1 long
- 1 pair of lightweight long trousers
- 3 vests/t-shirts
- 1 long sleeve top
- · 2 dresses, if you’re not into dresses fantastic, you’ve got less to carry, or room to bring more shorts. I have a lovely long lightweight dress that I’ve sewn buttons and loops into so I can transform it into a short dress in a matter of seconds
- 1 beach cover up, mine doubles as a nightie
- 1 scarf, even the thinnest one is useful to cover heads and shoulders when visiting religious sites and also as a blanket on buses, trains and planes
- 1 sarong, which can double as a beach towel if needed and for men and women can be wrapped around as a longyi in religious sites where knees need to be covered
- 1 long sleeved top/hoodie for cool nights and plane travel
- 1 warm woolly hat, I know you think I’m crazy but you’ll thank me on overnight bus or train journeys when your head is toasty warm
- 1 pair of socks, for the same reason as a woolly hat
- 1 rain jacket, absolutely essential for travel in tropical climbs!
It depends how much room you have but 3 pairs is plenty.
- 1 pair of flip flops
- 1 pair of slightly nicer sandals/shoes, in case you go anywhere fancy and if you don’t plan on going anywhere fancy, great! You only need 2 pairs
- Something for activities, sneakers can be pretty hot so something like keens is probably better for trekking, cycling, any motorbike or other outdoor activities.
Unless you’re hyper sensitive you’ll be able to buy whatever you need most places so just take one of the essentials. We’ve gone plastic free for most of these.
- Toothbrush, bamboo so you don’t pollute when disposing of it
- Shampoo and conditioner
- Face moisturiser
- Body moisturiser
- Minimal makeup, concealer, mascara and lip balm, lots and lots of lip balm
- Clothes washing liquid, we’re trying soapnuts so I’ll let you know how those go.
- Earth friendly suncream is not available everywhere and so we always have a tin each and replace it before it runs out
- Sanitary products, I couldn’t find tampons for most of our time in Malaysia prompting me to switch to the mooncup which is way better for the environment and much easier to manage when travelling around. If you’re not ready to make the switch make sure you stock up if travelling at all off the beaten track.
I like to keep in contact with the world so I have quite a lot of it, how much you take will obviously depend on what sort of traveller you are but I have:
- An ancient Laptop
- And an even older smartphone
- My much loved and trusty kindle
- Go pro
- All the relevant chargers and cables.
On the stuff front, the sky is the limit as to what you could bring, but ask yourself do you want to bring it enough to carry it around for however many months? The most useful stuff we brought with us, each of which we wholeheartedly recommend are:
- Your own water bottle and reusable shopping bag! In 2050 there will be more plastic in the world’s oceans than fish, just because you are travelling doesn’t mean you can’t look after the environment as well, especially in Asia where they are plastic bag crazy.
- Pegless clothes drying line, an absolute must and something we use almost every day
- Lightweight fold up day bag, great for the daily essentials of water, tissues, camera and money
- Ecosusi Travel Bag Luggage Organisers Packing Cubes, ooh how we love a packing cube and these ones are strong, lightweight and a great size and although I still don’t understand why, rolled clothes do actually take up less room than folded flat ones so you’ll have room for more should you want it
- Travel document organiser, a one stop shop in my bag for everything important, passport, money etc
- Sewing kit, we have used ours countless times, sewing on a button, taking in shorts, sewing up a ripped seam etc
- Swim socks, little neoprene lifesavers on rocky beaches!
Other useful things, as well as chopsticks, basic cutlery, a paper thin cutting board, teatowel and stainless steel Tupperware we took:
- Folding silicone funnel, great for decanting water from larger reusable gallon jugs.
- Lightweight travel umbrella, which can be used in the rain but also commonly used as a sunshade in Asia
- Quick drying travel towel, great as a beach or pool towel
- Lifesystem Pocket First Aid Kit, we’ve supplemented this basic one with a few other bits and bobs along the way
- Wind up torch, we most often use the torch on our phones but this is so small it makes sense to keep it around, especially on islands prone to power outages
- Exped Fold Drybag Ultralite bags, we brought a selection with us however unless you’re planning being somewhere pretty wet, 1 is enough
- Enough locks for all of the accessible parts of your bag, we use combination ones to avoid the problem of lost keys
- Mugs, we love tea, absolutely love it and most often the mugs in hotel rooms are small so we bought large mugs in Bangkok in 2015 and have been having glorious cups of tea ever since.
Of the must haves we read about and fell for, here are a few that we have either never used or used less than a handful of times and most probably only used then because we had them.
- Lifeventure EX3 Silk Travel Sleeper– I used it once on a particularly grubby train, other than that we stay in places within a £20 a night budget that have always been clean and ant, flea, bedbug free and we intend on keeping it that way, if you plan to stay in dubious places this is a must have
- Trekmates Global Mosquito Net – 2 person mosquito net, we’ve never used it, I’m not even sure what I was thinking, we certainly weren’t planning any really basic stays and even with my being super tasty to mosquitos we have not had to set this up once, if you’re planning to rough it this may be essential
- Waterproof bag cover, I’ve only used this once on a rough boat crossing but it’s small enough to have a permanent place in my bag as had I not used it when I did everything would have been soaked
- Easy Lock for added security, we used this handy little door lock every day for a few months but haven’t used it for about six months, although it’s so handy I will probably keep this around and for a lone traveller I would say it’s a must
- Super duper 55% Deet bug spray, most countries sell more effective and cheaper bug spray and the few times I’ve used this I’ve been scared to be around naked flames in case I combusted.
My bag has undergone several transformations, it’s been heavier and lighter and I am continually leaving things places to accommodate something new I have fallen in love with. On the souvenir front our photos and memories are the main ones, the one thing we do buy is art that is light and can fit in our bags and we usually only buy that when someone is due to visit and can take it home in the near future. I find it both liberating and confining living from a bag but mostly I still feel like I have too much stuff and could do away with half of it if I had to.
Due to the amount of diving gear we now have 130L Osprey Sojourns. The bags are rugged and spacious and have lifetime guarantees. J also has an Osprey Porter 46L backpack for carry on and I have an American Tourister I picked up at the airport after my previous carry on passed away, which I think is 26L and is a great size for me, small enough that when it is full I can still easily manage it with my Osprey.
As I said at the beginning, there is no easy answer to what you should pack, you’ll want to take things that no one else does because they are important to you, you’ll make mistakes; take the wrong things, too much or too little, none of which is the end of the world even for a worrier. You’ll be able to send stuff home and you’ll be able to buy anything that you forgot, all the while enjoying the wonderful adventure you’ve just embarked upon Xx
Photo: JHubz on the SE8 Nha Trang to Da Nang, March 9 2016
Outstanding article! I would like to thank you for the endeavors that you have made in writing this article.
TBH, traveling is fun but how to pack my luggage is a nightmare for me. I’ll bookmark this helpful post for my next trip.
Thank you 🙏 I positively hate packing but oh the joy of travelling ☺️🥰