How to Pack for a Long-Haul Trip

January 3, 2019

So, you’ve packed for vacations before, but those were mere week-long trips to only 1-2 countries or climates. You had a set itinerary, knew what outfits you’d need for which activities, what the weather was going to be like for each day you were there, and exactly how long you’d be gone for. However, long-term travelers don’t exactly get the luxury that comes with these confidences. When every day is unpredictable, and your one-way ticket has you set to meander for an indefinite period of time, packing becomes a whole new ball game. Here is a nomad-approved list of tips, tricks, and hacks for fitting the next few months/years of your life into a single backpack.

Fabric is Important

Odds are, if you’re anticipating a long-haul trip, you’ve already (wisely) made the decision to stick with locations that have somewhat moderate climates. Certain fabrics are going to be far more suitable than others when you consider their functionality in a variety of conditions. Consider humidity… synthetic fibers like polyester are going to make you just about sweat to death in humidity (not to mention, they contribute heavily to global ocean pollution). This can make for some unbearably sticky conditions that can even result in skin rashes.

Natural fibers like cotton or linen are far more breathable. They’ll remain comfortable and cool in moderate/hot temperatures, and won’t cause you discomfort in dry heat or tropical humidity. Yet, tight-fitting moisture-wicking materials are also recommended for active travelers who may have to worry about chafing. Humidity will only amplify this problem, so come prepared. Also, consider how quickly your fabrics might dry. Linen will soak up sweat and take far longer to dry than cotton, so if you plan on visiting any rainforests, prepare for your linens to mold in your luggage.

When it comes down to it, the versatility of your fabric is going to be the most important thing to keep in mind — in general, cotton (along with some other natural fibers) is usually going to be your safest bet.

Versatility is KEY

Your fabrics aren’t the only thing that should be versatile; you’re only going to have so much space in your luggage, and will only be able to do laundry every so often, so your style of clothing and shoes should also be suitable for multiple occasions. This tends to be especially difficult for women, as fashion often demands so many different styles of the same thing in order to obtain the desired look. However, instead of bringing a pair of comfortable jeans, a pair of “going-out” jeans, a pair of “boyfriend” jeans, and so on, find yourself ONE pair of jeans that you would feel confident wearing for multiple or all of these occasions. Instead of having a pajama T-Shirt, a more formal T-shirt, and a comfy day-time T-Shirt, again, condense down to just one versatile shirt that will be suitable for a variety of situations.

When choosing your clothes, consider: could I sleep in this, work out in this, walk around all day in this, and go out to dinner in this without feeling uncomfortably over/under-dressed? If the answer is no, you’d be better off putting it back on the rack and looking elsewhere.

As far as shoes go, ask yourself these questions: are they comfortable? Are they climate/terrain-appropriate? Are they stylish? I’m a bit more lenient than some in this department, but I would say that three pairs of shoes is an acceptable amount to bring, IF you are conscious of their size and flexibility for packing purposes. A good pair of sneakers that have a great grip, are breathable, and possibly even waterproof is essential if you plan on spending lots of time in the great outdoors. You may even want to substitute these in for a solid pair of hiking boots if you’re willing to wear them on every “travel day” in order to save room packing.

Your second pair should be a comfortable, casual pair of sneakers that you can confidently wear around town. This pair should be suitable to wear stylishly with a pair of jeans, and something you would be able to wear out to dinner, while not being too fancy to wear with joggers and a T-Shirt. Lastly, sandals are essential. A good pair of outdoor sandals will typically do the trick.

Pro tip: Chaco is an excellent brand for these, as they are high quality, offer lots of support, and come with a warranty. Get yourself a pair you can wear to the beach, on a hike, or around the city.

Pick a Color Scheme

Again, you’re only going to be able to pack so much in your luggage. What happens when your only clean clothes are a blue plaid shirt with pink polka-dot shorts?! You’re stuck walking around in a foreign city attracting all kinds of unwanted attention, and possibly not even feeling confident enough to pose for a photo in front of your destination’s main landmark. Here’s an excellent way to avert this crisis: only pack clothes that all go together. If any article of clothing absolutely cannot be worn with any other article of clothing, you’re setting yourself up for an unavoidable bad outfit. However, if everything you have with you can be combined in any way with any other article, there’s no way you can go wrong!

Here’s the key to making this happen: only pack solids, and pick a color scheme. Solids always will work with other solids, so this one is pretty easy to understand. But also, if you pack only blacks & whites, only pastels, only mutes, or some other color scheme, again, your clothes will always go together. Instead of needing ten articles of clothing for only a few outfits, you can make six versatile articles of clothing and make a dozen outfit combinations.

Durability

Your clothes for long-haul trips should be an investment. You’ve downsized like a maniac, so you need be able to rely on your select few packed items. What happens when you only have one pair of outdoor shoes and the soles completely fall out? What happens when you’re on a beautiful island somewhere, and your only pair of sandals break? You’re stuck in a sticky situation, wearing hiking boots to the beach. Yikes.

Here’s a tip: Invest in durability! Cheap clothing may seem like a bargain, but if it’s something you’re going to have to replace multiple times yearly, you’d be doing yourself a favor to invest in something that will actually last. Can your shirts all handle a washing machine? Can your shoes get wet without damage? Can you sit on a rock in your pants without them tearing? If not, ditch it before leaving.

Pro tip: always go for items that come with a warranty. Otherwise, you’ll learn it the importance of them the hard way when you spend hundreds on a “quality” item only to have it break as soon as you get off the plane on another continent.