When it comes to packing for a year of travel, the task can be daunting! As if packing for any trip wasn’t scary enough? We always fear we’re going to forget something, or lug useless things around. After 13 months on the road, we’ve learned quite a few things about packing and what to bring with you, so we wanted to share the wisdom. Sharing is caring, after all. So here is our best advice and a handy checklist for you.
Things to consider
Before you start making your personal checklist and starting to pack, there are a few things you need to keep in mind. These questions will help you figure out what you can do without and what your musts are.
What countries will you visit?
Maybe your list isn’t complete yet, or maybe you have the next year all planned out. Regardless, make sure you bring clothes that are suitable for the countries you plan on seeing. Are they conservative? Very religious? Highly liberal? Always dress respectfully and adapt to that culture.
What seasons will you be going through?
This goes hand-in-hand with the countries you’ll visit. Are you staying mainly in summer weather? Will you go through all four seasons, like us? Are you going through dry or wet seasons? Your list will greatly vary from one list to the next, so make sure you bring some essential items depending on the climate you’ll go through.
What type of activities will you do?
Are you a beach bum like Derek? Do you like to go hiking like Carine? Will you do a lot of city walking? Will you cab it most of the time?
What is your budget?
We’re more middle-budget type travellers. We don’t mind splurging once in awhile, but we usually stick to a decent budget. We won’t do dorm rooms, but private rooms in hostels are ok. We brought sleeping sheets, our pillow cases and bath towels, but if you prefer a life of luxury, you don’t need these.
What kind of bag?
Check-in of carry on? Suitcase or backpack? We were going through all four seasons, so we couldn’t fit everything into a carry-on. But that’s our next packing goal.
Depending on your style of travel, you may be able to work with a good backpack or suitcase. This choice is really personal. Regardless of your choice, make sure you pick sturdy and durable bags. There is nothing worse than having an ill-fitting backpack or having to replace your bag on your trip. It may be an extra investment at first, but it’ll be well worth it.
Extra tip for choosing a good backpack: Make sure you give it a good run before you commit. Pack it up, wear it around the house, try living out of it for a week. Return it if it doesn’t do the trick. This will be your home for the time of your trip, so make sure you love this bag!
Best advice for packing
We wanted to share some of the best advice that saved us on our trip. Again, this is really personal, so just go with what you’re comfortable with.
Pack for a 10-day trip
On a 2-week trip, you can bring an outfit for every day. When you have to lug everything around for a year, you can’t pack for 52 weeks. Some people say to pack for a week, but laundry can get expensive and things can go wrong. Our advice is to pack for 10 days, just to have some extra wiggle room.
Derek learned this the hard way. Don’t go for flashy colours or big bold prints. Make sure everything matches together. This will help with laundry and ensure you don’t pack too much. Also, prioritize colours that don’t show dirt too much, or sweat marks… yeah, those aren’t cute! And, make sure all the clothes you bring are machine-washable. It’s a no-brainer, but a life-saver!
Make sure you can layer
In many countries, tropical or not, the weather can change greatly from day to night, so make sure you can layer things. This is also helpful for religious monument visits (temples, churches and mosques), or certain countries where they are more conservative.
Have a packing system
Derek is the king of organization, so this is his tip. It’s a pretty good one! Have a system, so you know where everything is at all times. Always pack the same way to avoid scrambling to find things. And keep the daily things close-by and handy.
You don’t need to have everything on you
You can’t account for everything, and it’s not worth lugging things around for months for those “just in case” moments. You can always buy or ditch things as you travel. Things (clothing and medication) are often cheaper on the road so buy them as needed. Also, if you haven’t used something in weeks, chances are, you don’t actually need it! Donate it to someone who does.
Know what is cheaper at home
Mainly sunscreen and bug spray. You have more choices (eco-friendly and better quality) at home. We’re not saying to lug these around for a year, but if you’re going to SE Asia, know you will pay 2 or 3 times the price for these items. And if you want to stick to a budget, you may want to bring these items with you.
Buy smart toiletries
Buying toiletries for a year in insane, so just buy smart (i.e. less plastic) and travel in an eco-friendly way. We love the plastic-free shampoo bars, toothpaste pills, and concentrated detergent. They last longer and are better for you and the environment. Plus, they help you save money! Win-win-win!
If you love it, leave it at home
Shit happens a lot on the road. If you love something, leave it behind, because you might lose it, have it stollen, ruined, whatever. I really miss my wedding ring, but I’m happy I can go back to it when I get back home. I’ve heard too many stories of people losing theirs on their trip. No thanks!
If you can, do a test run at home
This may sound crazy, but if you can do it, DO IT! Try wearing your packed items for a month (or 2 weeks at least). Does everything fit ok? Do your outfits make sense or do you look like a clown? Are there things you never wore? At least you’ll be able to make changes to your bag before you go!
These are things you should have on you regardless of where you go. Basically, if you don’t have these, you’re going nowhere!
- Passport: Plus bring a copy or 2, just in case.
- Travel insurance: You never know if you’ll need it, but if this trip is going to cost you more than the cost of the insurance, GET IT!
- International driver’s licence: In a lot of countries, you’ll need this to rent anything motorized. It’s not expensive, but totally worth it!
- Student card: If you’re young and lucky like that, bring it. A lot of places offer discounts to students.
- Cash money: Always have at least $200 of the local currency on you (well, maybe less if it’s a really cheap country). You don’t need to carry it with you, but you should have some cash, just in case. Cause as my dad says “Cash is king”. Wise words from a wise man, because in most countries, they don’t take cards, just cash.
- Bank cards: A debit card to pull money from ATMs, and a credit card. Make sure you get one with rewards, cause those plane tickets add up!
- Prescription medication
- Glasses or contact lenses: Bring spares if you can. Like we said, shit happens!
- Scarf / Sarong: Bring 2 of these. They can double as beach towels, as cover-ups for temples, to cover your head on hikes. They’re lifesavers!
- Flip flops: Not just for the beach, but for certain hostel showers as well.
- Day pack: You’ll need this on hikes, if you’re out for a whole day and need to lug water, a jacket and a camera around.
- Purse for everyday: A small purse is great to have. Make sure it slings around your body, both for comfort and safety.
- Compression cubes: These babies are a must. They keep everything organized and smoosh them enough to make room in your bag.
- A good book: Bus rides are always longer and English books are hard to find, so bring one and trade it in when you’re done. Better yet, get an E-Reader!
- For the ladies, Thinx: Depending on your menstrual flow, these underwear will save you and save the environment. Well worth the investment (plus that link will give you a discount. You’re welcome!).
- Laundry line: Because you will need to do your laundry in a sink at one point, and this little guy will save you!
- Carabiner: To put your bag off the floor, to hang up your laundry line, to hook things together. It’s a small investment, but well worth it!
- Concentrated detergent: These detergent sheets are awesome and so practical!
- Shampoo bars: We love the ones from Lush Cosmetics!
- Lifestraw Go: To save money, to stop buying plastic bottles, to have drinking water anytime, any place. We love this guy!
So here we go, here’s what we recommend you pack. Obviously, you can personalize this list to where you’re going, how you’re travelling, and your own style. It’s more of a good base to work with so do it your way.
- Underwear x 10: Ladies, I recommend a mix of thongs and full underwear, but it depends on your preference. Also, depending on your menstrual flow, 3-4 Thinx underwear for your period.
- Bra x 2: One sports bra and one bralette. Note: I hate bras now. I might burn the ones I have back home!
- Bathing suit / Bikini x 2: Again, depends on where you go and if you’re a beach bum.
- Socks x 3-5: These are easy items to wash, and you can bring less if you’re going around in flip flops all day. Make sure you bring at least 1 wool pair, just in case!
- Dresses x 3: Go for light ones, and bring one long one for temple days (make sure it covers your knees and shoulders). If you don’t wear dresses, pack an extra top and bottom.
- T-shirts / strappy tops x 3: Make sure they match your skirts, pants and shorts. Pack 1-2 dri-fit ones if you plan on hiking a lot. Guys, go with 5, unless you’re packing dresses.
- Longsleeve top x 3: If you’re going through fall/winter months. Bring one (like a zip-up) that you can wear over the t-shirts so you can layer. Bring just 1 if you’re staying in warm weather. It will come in handy in temples.
- Shorts x 1 for the ladies, if you have dresses. Bring 3 if you don’t like dresses or skirts. Guys, bring 3 pairs of shorts.
- Skirts x 2: One long, one short.
- Pants x 1: Go for linen, cause they’re light and pack nicely. If you hike a lot, bring some hiking pants (maybe those that convert into shorts).
- Leggings x 1: Men, bring light chilling pants.
- Hoodie x 1
- Rain jacket x 1
- Packable warm jacket: This little guy will save you in winter months, and you can layer with other clothes to make it warmer!
- Sneakers or hiking shoes: Or both, depending on your type of trip.
- Comfy walking shoes: Especially if you plan to hike a lot in the previous pair.
- Sarong X 2: You can use them as a scarf, a beach cover-up, a towel. So many good uses.
- Shampoo / conditioner bars
- Deodorant: Or not. We actually stopped wearing it. It’s better for you and the environment.
- Soap bar: Avoid heavy liquids than come in plastic bottles.
- Dental kit: Toothbrush (bamboo ones, preferably), toothbrush cover, toothpaste (in tubes or pills), floss
- Lip balm: With SPF, obvi!
- Nail clippers & nail file
- Hair bands
- Razor with razor blades
- Sunscreen: SPF 30 is a minimum. We used 50 because the sun is lethal! And make sure it’s coral-friendly.
- Aloe Vera / moisturizer: Perfect after long beach days
- Makeup: Only if you really need it. I packed some, and never used it… and I used to wear makeup every day back home! This is personal, so bring what you are comfy with. I had a blush cream (that i used as eyeshadow and lipstick too), mascara, an eye-liner, and lipstick.
- Contraception: Condoms and/or pills. Just be safe!
- Sanitary towels / tampons / menstrual cup / Thinx. Whatever works for you.
- Sink plug: To do your laundry in the sink. Or get a washing bag!
- Safety pins: Bring a few, we always lose them and they’re so handy!
- A needle: Blisters happen! And can be vicious in some countries. Ask Carine about her bug bites that turned into blisters in Vietnam!
- Antiseptic wipes
- Antiseptic cream: Polysporin is our favourite!
- Plasters / Bandaids
- Antihistamines: Especially if you have allergies. They seem more severe when you travel
- Oral rehydration sachets (Hello Hydralyte)
- Antidiarrhoeal (Imodium): We hate taking meds, but sometimes, you need it!
- Antacid: For indigestion or heartburn
- Hand sanitizer
- Tiger balm: This puppy is the best! For when you have a cold or sore muscles, as a repellant against mosquitoes, or as Afterbite, it’s so so good!
- Baby wipes: If you must, make sure they’re biodegradable and without scent
- Insect repellent (DEET 50%)
- After bite
- Mobile phone: Well obviously!
- Camera and gear: Camera, batteries, 32GB memory card, cables, tripod
- Laptop: Go for something light and compact. We love our 13-inch Macbook Pro
- Plug adapter: Get a good one, because this puppy will be your best friend. Bring 2 even!
- Power pack: This guy will save your life. On long travel days, especially!
- External HD: Because wifi isn’t always great and your laptop and phone will run out of space. Just get one, you’ll thank us!
- USB stick
- Flashlight or head lamp: Always good to have! We prefer a USB charging headlamp
- Spare batteries: Rechargeable is better!
- Travel towel: If it’s a 2-pack, even better!
- Sleeping sheet & pillow case
- Travel pillow: The ones you can blow up with air. Perfect for flights, bus rides and long waits
- Eye mask: especially if you’re a light sleeper
- Ear plugs: because of birds, loud snorers, and noisy streets in big cities
- Book / E-Reader: We highly recommend an E-Reader. English books are hard to come by in a lot of countries, especially that book you really want to read!
- Safety pin / sewing kit
- Swiss army knife
- Waterproof cover for bag
- Laundry line: This little guy will save you!
- Concentrated detergent: These detergent sheets are great for laundry days
So there you have it! Our this is what we had for a year of travel. It may not seem like much, but sometimes, we feel like it’s too much. If you have friends or family meeting you somewhere, like ours did, they can bring and take some items with them too. Or if you really love some pieces, you can have them shipped back to your home. Either way, don’t get too attached to things, and don’t stress too much about this. You’re out living your dream, and you can alway buy or ditch along the way!
Let us know what kind of packer you are in the comments. Were you able to travel long-term with just a carry-on?
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