One of my favorite aspects of planning an around the world trip was figuring out how to pack for long-term travel.
Regardless if your trip lasts 6 months or a year, the general rule of thumb is to always pack for a week’s worth of travel. That means limiting yourself to seven or so days worth of clothing and doing lots of laundry along the way.
Now, if this seems like an impossible task, I’m here to help! I also never thought I’d be able to travel with no more than a few outfits for such a long time, especially when I was used to bringing a mini-wardrobe of clothing options on regular trips back home.
But one of the lessons I learned from traveling around the world is that sometimes, less is more.
Soon after leaving most of my belongings behind, I realized I didn’t need several pairs of the same shoes or dress to be happy. In fact, by the time I hit one month abroad, I couldn’t even remember what filled the dozens of boxes in my storage unit back home. The few outfits I had in my backpack were more than enough to live with—and truthfully, the trivial “what do I wear today” was quickly masked by “which waterfall should we hike to today?”
In this around the world packing guide, I’ll go over everything you need to know before packing for your own trip, including my personal RTW packing list detailing everything I brought on my 10-month journey around the world.
How To Pack For A RTW Trip
The first thing you’ll want to do when packing for an around the world trip is figure out if you’re bringing a rolling carry-on bag or a backpack.
There are pros and cons to traveling with a rolling bag or a backpack. A backpack is certainly easier to carry across dirt roads and onto boats, trains and other modes of transportation. But a backpack can also be more difficult to pack, and carrying it on your back 24/7 can become tiring.
A rolling carryon, on the other hand, literally takes that weight off your back. But throwing that bag onto a long tail boat in Thailand or rolling it uphill in a tiny Italian town whose roads are too small for cars to pass can be particularly difficult, too.
Keep in mind that whatever bag you choose, it’ll be put to the test. Traveling in places like South America and Southeast Asia means your bag will be thrown in and out of cars, buses, trains, boats, tuk-tuks and airplanes. It’s also likely that you’ll encounter dirt roads and a wide range of weather conditions—which is why I personally chose to travel with a backpack.
PACKING TIP: I personally wouldn’t recommend bringing a checked bag. Traveling around the world requires quite a bit of plane travel, and checked bag fees quickly add up.
Choosing Your Backpack
There are several factors to consider when choosing the right backpack to travel with.
The first is size. Most travel backpacks fall between 40 and 70 liters. Overall, your backpack should be proportional to your body. Also keep in mind that the larger it is, the more stuff you’ll find to put in it. Keeping your backpack as lightweight as possible is key.
Next thing you’ll want to consider is whether the bag opens from the top, side, bottom or a combination of each. Top-loaded bags with only one opening on the top can be a pain to pack and unpack—and forget accessing anything quickly, especially if it’s at the bottom of your bag. A front-loading bag, on the other hand, allows you to zip open the side of the bag to access anything you need easily and quickly. Some have openings on the top and bottom, which also makes it easier to access your belongings since there’s two holes to pull stuff from.
Compartments are the next factor. Do you care to have pockets to store extra stuff (shoes, water bottles, a hair brush, etc.) on the outside of your bag or not? I personally like having the option to store certain items outside of my bag for easy access—or simply because they no longer fit inside of it.
Finally, you’ll want to ensure you’re buying a backpack from a reputable brand. Osprey, North Face, Patagonia and REI are a few of the more popular options. Although they may be pricier, these brands offer high-quality, durable backpacks made to last. You certainly don’t want your bag to rupture in the back of a bus in South America!
MY BACKPACK: I personally traveled with a 40-liter Terra backpack from North Face, which is generally a lot smaller than what most women travel with. I knew that if I had more space, I’d end up making the bag way too heavy to carry. I also found that this size bag fit my body comfortably, while larger ones felt off. I did however always travel with an extra day pack, where I carried my laptop, camera and other items.
What Clothes To Pack For An Around-The-World Trip
Now that you’ve chosen your bag, it’s time to figure out what the heck to put in it. Everything you bring on a long-term backpacking trip will ultimately be carried on your back. Trust me when I say this, you will regret bringing that extra pair of shoes by Day 10 of your trip.
Again, you want to aim for about a week’s worth of clothing. That means adopting a minimalist style. My recommendation is to pack solid-colored T-shirts, pants, dresses and shorts that could be thrown together to make several different outfits.
Below, see exactly what I packed on my around the world trip.
SHOP MY PACKING LIST
- 1 pair of jeans
- 1 pair of pants
- 2 leggings
- 1 pair of workout shorts
- 2 pairs of regular shorts (made from a comfortable material; not jeans)
- 5 T-shirts (basic plain-colored shirts from H&M)
- 2 tank tops
- 1 light long-sleeve sweatshirt
- 1 warmer long-sleeve sweater (for buses and planes)
- 1 dress for nicer outings
- 2 lightweight rompers/playsuits
- 2 bikinis
- 1 rain jacket (this Columbia rain jacket packs into its hand pocket, making it super compact!)
- 1 thermal jacket (this North Face jacket also packs into its hand pocket!)
- 1 pair of Columbia’s Omni-heat thermal pants and thermal shirt (these are excellent for unexpected cold weather)
- 1 lightweight scarf
- 7-10 pairs of underwear
- 3-5 sports bras and regular bras
- 4 pairs of regular socks
- 3 pairs of hiking socks
- Hiking boots (my travel and adventure shoe)
- Nike sneakers (my daily walking shoe)
- Waterproof sandals (for nicer outings and beach days)
- Espadrilles (for when I wanted to feel cute)
- Flip flops (for showers)
*I went a bit overboard with shoes—most people bring no more than three. I have tiny feet so I was able to fit a few shoes on the outer pockets of my bag.
- 1 casual bag (I’m obsessed with this Longchamp backpack and wore it every single day on my trip!)
- 1 small makeup bag with travel-sized products
- 1 small jewelry bag
- A large ziplock bag packed with tampons
PACKING TIP: Planning your trip around warm weather is ideal to avoid bulky winter clothes.
Essential RTW Travel Gear
Aside from clothes, there are other travel essentials you’ll want to bring on a long-term trip abroad. While there are tons of travel products out there, these are the ones that made the biggest difference on my day-to-day.
Daypack: Since my traveling backpack was on the smaller end, having a daypack helped tremendously. This is where I kept my laptop, camera and lenses, a light sweater and snacks on travel days. I also used it on hikes.
Osprey bag cover: I often used this waterproof rain cover to protect my bag while traveling.
eBags packing cubes: These packing cubes are a total life saver. I was able to fit so much more than I originally imagined by using packing cubes. These cubes also makes it easier to find specific items as you organize your clothes by category.
Scrubba wash bag: Whenever there wasn’t a laundromat around, we used this bag to wash our clothes.
SHOP MY TRAVEL ESSENTIALS
FlipBelt: I used this savvy belt invention to keep my passport, money and credit card safe when traveling on planes or long overnight bus journeys.
Pocket blanket: I love love love this pocket blanket! It’s more of a satin sheet than a blanket but it’s water resistant and perfect for laying out in a park. I would also use this as a protective layer over my seat on a bus, boat or train that didn’t feel particularly clean.
Microfiber travel towel: It’s always useful having a quick-drying towel on hand.
First-aid kit: Everything from bandaids to a thermometer came in handy at least one point during the trip.
Water bottle: To avoid buying tons of plastic water bottles, bring your own bottle that you can refill daily.
Travel adaptor: A worldwide travel adaptor is a must-have to charge any technology, including your phone.
External battery: You’ll be spending most of your day outside of your hotel room or Airbnb, so having an external battery on hand is necessary if you want to keep your phone charged.
Long-term Travel Checklist: Things To Do Before You Leave
Aside from packing your bag, there are a number of things to check off your long-travel checklist before you leave on that one-way plane ticket. Below are my top recommendations, ranging from minimal tasks like uploading your personal documents onto the cloud and more timely ones like visiting a travel clinic.
- Upload your personal documents on the cloud
- This includes documents like a photocopy of your passport, ID, and medical prescriptions. If anything were to happen to the originals, having a photocopy on hand can go a long way.
- Go to a travel clinic
- A travel clinic doctor will look at your itinerary and inform you of the appropriate vaccines to get before visiting regions that may expose you to different diseases. For example, some countries in South America require you to show proof of a yellow fever vaccine depending on where you’re traveling from.
- If you’re traveling to Southeast Asia, you’ll most likely need to take malaria pills.
- I also recommended asking for antibiotics for “traveler’s diarrhea,” an all too common occurrence when traveling to developing countries.
- Check your visas
- It’s important to check each of the destinations you’re visiting for their visa policy. Some countries require you to apply for visas ahead of time, while others allow you to buy one on the spot.
- Get a long-term supply of things like contact lenses and birth control
- I personally ordered a big supply of contact lenses before my trip. I also explain to my gynecologist and insurance provider that I was going abroad for an extended amount of time, and they allowed me to get a 6-month supply of birth control upfront.
- Get travel insurance
- Research the best plan for your trip, keeping in mind that you must also have regular insurance back in the U.S. to avoid tax penalties. There are specific expat insurances that cover you both in the U.S. and abroad, while most travel insurance companies only offer international coverage.
- An agency like Yonder can help you find out exactly what plan fits your needs.
- For an explainer on how travel insurance works, read my “What you need to know about travel insurance” post.
There you have it: My round the world packing guide and long-term travel checklist. I hope this guide helps you as you plan your own trip. As always, please don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions!
If you found this post helpful, you may also enjoy:
- How To Plan A Trip Around The World
- The True Cost of Backpacking Around The World
- The Ultimate Around The World Itinerary
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