Breaking the Myth of Packing for a Year of Travel


There is an oft-quoted saying that many people use when talking about packing lists: "You can travel comfortable, light or cheap; Pick two." Rule of thumb says that super light packing for world travel tends to be more expensive, due to higher quality materials or other strategies. I hope to disprove that myth and help you pack for your round the world trip in a way that is comfortable, light, and cheap!


How to Pack light for a long trip


I always laugh when I read travel articles for traveling cheap and light where the first tip is "Travel light, don't pack things that you can buy when you get there!" Sure, this is a great tip if money is no issue, but if you are serious about packing light for your year long trip, or even a shorter adventure, you are going to need to get creative. Of course, if you do have a little bit more money there are some great upgrades you can make, but these are by no means necessary.  We will assuming you don't want to spend to much on equipment, but I will mention where your packing list for year long travel could be upgraded.



It's the Backpack, Stupid!


Travel light with a good backpack]
Credit: Unlisted Sightings [flickr]


When you are on a round the world trip (or packing for any trip for that matter) your luggage should be the first consideration. All of the super-light packing tips that follow will not help you if you are carrying them in some duffel bag. For the serious year long traveler a backpack is a must. Whatever you take will be what you live out of for a year, and using a backpack gives you a degree of mobility that you cannot get from luggage you might be used to using. You never know when you might get invited to a local family's home a mile away. Being burdened down with hard to carry luggage will prevent you taking advantage of the amazing experiences long term travel has to offer. I personally use an Eagle Creek Osprey travel pack, which has treated me well!

Squeeze out a Little More Space!
One of the best tips for packing light on your year long trip is to use compression sacks. These lightweight bags have straps that allow you to squeeze the air out of clothes. You will be amazed at how a pile of clothes will disappear into a tiny little round ball; suddenly packing small and light is much easier. Another added benefit is when you use different colored bags you can easily organize the packing for a round the world trip into different types of clothes, leading to an efficient and dare I say aesthetically pleasing pack. I personally use and love Alps compression sacks, but there are other great options out there too! While you can buy compression sacks for relatively little money, a super cheep packing tip is to use garbage bags and squeezing the air out that way. While these have the disadvantage of making strange shapes and occasionally tearing (make sure you use heavy duty bags), they cost next to nothing, particularly if you just ask a friend or a Couchsurfing host! For smaller items, Ziplock bags are great and waterproof!



(You Don't Need This Many!)

Packing List of clothes for a year of travel
Credit: alanwoo {flickr]


OK, so here is my packing list for comfortable, cheap and light year long travel:
6 T-shirts: These should be comfortable, without words or common images on them.  I like to travel as much as possible like a local and oohing says tourist like a I <3 NY shirt in Thailand. (Of course being a 6' 3'' blond man doesn't help much either, but I can't help that!)
1 long sleeve shirt: Helps with cold, sun, bugs, you name it
1 pair zip-off pants in a (neutral color): If you spend a bit more money you can get a pair that is quick-dry, anti-odor, and even bug repellent!
1 pair either shorts or long pants: This depend on my primary climate. These allows you to have something a little "nicer" to wear. I usually opt for the long pants when I need to pack for a long trip.
2 pairs Exofficio underwear: This underwear is odor-repellant, anti-bacterial, and quick-dry, along with being comfortable and weighing next to nothing. Wash the extra pair in a sink and it will dry overnight (or in just a few hours!)
2 pairs socks: (If I'm bringing close toed shoes, see Packing List For a Year of Travel:
Part II: Shoes, Electronics and Gear)
1 medium sweatshirt or fleece jacket
1 lightweight, windbreaker-style rain jacket: Layered with the sweatshirt this will keep you warm almost all the time. If the climate in the countries on your year-long trip are colder, this is one place where it makes sense to buy an extra jacket for winter. Find a cheap one and layer, layer, layer!
1 pair polarized sunglasses: You will be glad you brought them, whether it be in the Gobi Desert of Mongolia or Kayaking in the Whitsunday Islands of Australia!


Packing list for traveling. How to pack for a year of travel


A micro-fiber travel towel can be handy, but I almost never pack a towel on long trips. Use free ones at hostels or with CouchSurfers.
A hat can be great, particularly in sunny spots, but again, I usually do without.
A bathing suit is useful, but if your shorts are quick dry or you are comfortable going au natural, skip it!
For women a sarong can serve as a towel, skirt, pillowcase, sunshade, or privacy barrier and weighs almost nothing!
Now Make it Your Own:
Obviously, this packing list can be modified to fit your specific itinerary. In certain climates you are going to need certain specific clothes. Let this be the base of your packing list and don't add too much; you can get away with just this most places! Laundry can be done anywhere with a bottle of Dr. Bronner's Soap and a bucket or sink. If you bring more clothes you will do laundry less often, but have to carry more. Consider the tradeoff and pack light according to your traveling needs. Clothes are also a place that you can save weight with cash for high-tech upgrades. Don't spend too much though, you will save more weight for your dollar getting a decent backpack.
Ok, you are over halfway there! Hope you are getting excited for your trip!