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Packing Light for Long-term Travel

Packing Light for Long-term Travel

Packing Details
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Bags Per Person

  • 1 carry on + 1 personal item

Weight of Carry On

  • 15 lbs / 7 kg
What We Packed

Key: BN = Bought New; AO = Already Owned

Ryan

  • Packs
  • Boreas Sapa Trek – my primary pack, more about our packs in the main post (BN)
  • Exped Cloudburst Daypack – my “personal” item pack (BN)
  •  
  • Clothing
  • Isaora pullover anorak – this jacket does an excellent job of blocking the wind and is water proof for up to 2 hours in heavy rain, as tested in Vancouver (AO)
  • 1 pair Levi’s Commuter jeans – look nice and are great for being active (AO)
  • 1 pair Levi’s Commuter trousers – just another version of the above (AO)
  • 4 casual button down shirts – most of these can be dressed up or down, making them good for hiking or going out to a nice restaurant (AO)
  • 1 polo shirt – thin light weight black polo which is nice for everyday wear or for going out at night (AO)
  • 1 American Apparel long sleeve thermal (AO)
  • 1 Uniqlo Heat-Tech long sleeve shirt – thin, warm and moisture wicking (BN)
  • 1 button down light weight cardigan – good for warmth and dressing up button down shirts (AO)
  • 2 basic t-shirts (AO)
  • 2 undershirts (AO)
  • 1 pair of soccer shorts – these double as my swimsuit and can be worn for working out as well (AO)
  • 1 pair pajama pants (AO)
  • 7 pairs of underwear – synthetic fabric so they dry faster if they need to be hand washed (BN)
  • 10 pairs of socks – 2 hiking, 2 dress, 6 everyday active (AO)
  • 1 pair of fabric gloves (AO)
  • 1 scarf – a very light weight fabric scarf for warmth and blocking the wind (AO)
  • 1 ski hat (AO)
  • 1 black belt (AO)
  •  
  • Toiletries
  • The usual – deodorant, toothbrush, toothpaste etc. (AO)
  •  
  • Additional Items
  • Clae Desmond shoes – very lightweight, comfortable, simple and able to be dressed up or down (BN)
  • Soloman XA pro trail running shoes – lightweight, 100% waterproof and able to be worn as workout shoes or for rugged hiking (AO)
  • Sunglasses with durable case (AO)
  • Elago Universal Adapter – we can’t live without these (BN)
  • 2 Pack IT Compression bags – waterproof, light and excellent at compressing all of your clothes (BN)
  • 1 Pack Towel – super compact and absorbent, we opted for the large (BN)
  • Muji foldable umbrella (AO)
  • Travel documents and document holder – we just used small plastic receipt/coupon organizers we had lying around to hold copies of important documents, such as international drivers licenses, passport photos and copies of our immunizations card (AO)
  • Cables – the minimum amount of cables need to keep everything charged (AO)
  • Bag lock (BN)
  • LED flashlight – we got compact and durable ultra bright versions, excellent for night hikes or just finding your keys at night (AO)
  • Travel Clothesline – stretch it out and you have a clothesline, no clothes pins required (BN)
  • Platypus Water Bottle – incredibly lightweight and collapses when empty(BN)
  • Medications – prescriptions and over the counter varieties, but only what was absolutely needed (BN)
  • Ear plugs (AO)
  • Earbuds (AO)

Maya

  • Packs
  • Boreas Women’s Lost Coast – my primary pack (BN)
  • Target Cross-body Purse – full zipper enclosure and is cross-body for security (BN)
  •  
  • Clothing
  • REI Rain Jacket – light, waterproof (for about 2 hours) and doesn’t look like your typical outdoor rain jacket (BN)
  • 2 sweaters – machine washable and able to be dressed up or down (AO)
  • 1 Tradlands button down shirt – Great for cooler weather and can be dressed up or down (GIFT)
  • 4 additional tops – quick to dry and comfortable (AO)
  • 2 tank tops – for warm weather and layering (AO)
  • 1 Uniqlo Heat-Tech long sleeve shirt (BN)
  • 1 Uniqlo Heat-Tech Camisol w/ built-in bra (BN)
  • 2 pair of athletic pants – 1 long and 1 calf length that are simple enough to also be day-to-day wear (BN)
  • 1 pair of black fleece tights – for colder weather (BN)
  • 1 pair of running capri pants (BN)
  • 1 pair of pj pants (BN)
  • 14 pairs of underwear – synthetic material for quick drying when needed (BN)
  • 9 pairs of socks – 2 hiking, 7 ankle (BN)
  • Alpaca scarf – purchased in Ecuador and incredibly warm and comfortable (BN)
  • 1 ski hat (AO)
  • Swimsuit (AO)
  •  
  • Toiletries
  • The basics – shampoo, conditioner, deoderant, etc. (AO)
  • Makeup – Foundation with SPF, mascara, etc. only the necessities (AO)
  • Makeup brushes and sponges – Sephora Collection brush wand is 4 brushed in 1 (BN)
  • Maybelline Baby Lips lipbalm – it gets dry out there (BN)
  • Nume Superstar flatiron – excellent compact flatiron that is dual voltage; the 50% off coupon helped too (BN)
  • Tissues (AO)
  •  
  • Additional Items
  • Camper shoes – lightweight and comfortable, good for everyday use (BN)
  • Merrell Women’s Grassbow hiking boots – I already had a pair of hiking boots but they were too bulky to travel with. I bought these because they are supportive, lightweight and waterproof (BN)
  • Sunglasses and Flipcase Collapsable Case – folds flat when I’m not using it (BN)
  • Elago Universal Adapter (BN)
  • 2 Pack IT Compression bags (BN)
  • Flight 001: F1 Go Clean Set – a set of bags to hold dirty laundry, shoes and other stuff (GIFT)
  • 1 Pack Towel (BN)
  • Small collapsable umbrella (AO)
  • Travel documents and document holder (AO)
  • Small pouch w/ zipper – for all cables, cords and SD cards (BN)
  • LED flashlight (AO)
  • SteriPen Ultra – we’ve yet to use this, but its nice to have it incase we need it (GIFT)
  • Platypus Water Bottle (BN)
  • First aid Kit – small zippered bag with bandaids, ibuprofen, cold medicine that we refill as needed (BN)
  • Medications (BN)
  • Journal (BN)
  • Headphones (AO)
Additional Resources

One of the most complex decisions Ryan and I had to make on our travels is what to pack for a year-long world trip and how to pack it. We decided early on that traveling light with one carry-on pack each would be the way to go, but it meant being extra careful about what we brought and how we carried it with us. Like with every other aspect of our trip, we did a lot of research and packed as best as we could with what we learned. We’ve been on the road for 3 months and 18 days and we’ve learned a lot in that time which has changed the contents of our packs and how we organize. This guide provides tips and advice based on our experience.

Disclaimer: Yes we are recommending many products in this post, but NO we are not being paid to do so. We have done a lot of research and tried many things. These are our honest opinions and recommendations.

  • DSC04047

    Maya’s pack contents

  • DSC04050

    Ryan’s pack contents

  • DSC04063

    All of our packs

Why Only Carry Ons?

There were a few main reasons that we chose to do carry on only: flexibility, ease of travel, and to take advantage of hidden city tickets (more on that later). Having everything with you means that once you get off the plane, there is no baggage claim to deal with, no worry that something was lost or broken into, and you can just head out of the airport. Carrying the right pack also means you aren’t rolling a bulky rectangle behind you, which can be annoying when looking for your accommodations in a new city. Being able to throw on our pack and go feels like a luxury now and has already proven to make flying much much easier.

We have saved hundreds of dollars on flights by taking advantage of hidden city tickets (learn about them here). Of course, this means that we HAVE TO have carry on bags only. Since we will be staying in our layover destination, we can’t have our luggage continuing on without us.

Lastly, carry on only means that you have to adhere to the airlines weight limit for carry on bags. In the US this is easy because airlines are generous with a limit of approximately 40 lbs (18 kilos). Out in the real world it’s not so easy. Most airlines have a limit between 15-20 lbs (as low as 7 kilos). Thankfully, SeatGuru allows you to check most airlines limits before arriving at the airport.

Getting the Right Pack

You don’t know how long you’ll be carrying your bag sometimes, and you don’t want one that will destroy your back. We spent a solid 3-4 months researching and trying on different packs before we each bought one from Boreas. We tested it in the store with weights to make sure we could adjust the bag to carry it comfortably. Being a woman and 5’3″ made it a bit of a challenge, but Boreas thankfully has very intelligently designed packs for women. Their women’s medium Lost Coast bag has worked out great for me. Three months into our trip and we haven’t spent too much time with the packs actually on our backs, but when we do, the weight is properly distributed on our hips and the bag doesn’t pull at our shoulders.

There is an endless supply of information out there on how to find the right pack for you, but most focus on hiking or camping excursions and not travel. Here are some tips we have for finding the one for you.

Quick Access Compartments

For electronics, toiletries, and anything else that needs to be removed easily, especially at security checkpoints.

Lockable

A simple way to lock the bag with a companion lock or other mechanism to deter theft in hostels, hotels or even just in an airport café.

Waterproof Compartments and Rain Covers

Many packs aren’t fully waterproof and there is a good chance you will get caught in a downpour at some point. Packs with waterproof compartments will keep your electronics safe while you scramble to put on your rain cover.

Fits Into an Overhead Compartment

This is pretty obvious, but it’s very easy to find a pack that can fit into an overhead, but won’t when completely full. This is also a tricky item because overhead compartment sizes vary. Double check the bag’s dimensions against the size requirements of airlines.

Expandable and Collapsable

When our laundry is freshly washed and nicely folded in compression bags our packs are rather thin, but if we have laundry to do or are rushing out the door, our packs won’t be quite as slender. You will want a pack that has some give with compression straps to help tighten it all up. We’ve also found that you probably don’t want a pack that is over 60 liters. Larger sizes will give you tons of room but make it easy to overpack and be overweight.

The Right Fit for YOU

This is hands down the most important item. Try on lots of weighted packs in clothes you are likely to be wearing and walk around a bit. Don’t let anyone tell you the pack is the right fit for you. Make sure it feels very comfortable and that the weight is properly distributed. Most of the weight should sit on your hips with the shoulders helping to distribute. The pack should have a hip and chest strap with pulls to adjust everything. Trust me, you will know the right fit when you try the pack on and have it properly adjusted.

Lastly, keep in mind that many packs will come in different sizes. Do your research to get a sense of what size you should be (Small to XL in some cases) for the manufacturers you are interested in. This will save you time and frustration in the stores since they don’t always carry all sizes.

Pack Only What You’ll Need (no “maybe” items)

It took me a couple of days to whittle down the items in my pack once we were ready to fill them. There are so many “what ifs” you can account for and that is a slippery slope when trying to packing light. We laid everything out on the table (literally) and really asked ourselves if each item is necessary. Things can be purchased on the road (and will have to be as they get used up) and will possibly be cheaper abroad. We’ve surprised ourselves at how little we actually “need” with us. Shampoo, soap, and even clothing items have been easily replaced. When it came to cold medicine, mosquito repellent, and ibuprofen, we were able to find pharmacies everywhere to pick things up as we needed them.

Check out the Details section above for our exact contents.

Bring Clothes You’ll Actually Wear

The best advice we’ve got is to pack clothing you normally wear and are comfortable in. If you wear jeans every day, bring jeans. There is a ton of “travel-friendly” clothing and gear out there. Wool underwear that you don’t have to change every day (gross), moisture-wicking khaki pants with many pockets (floral shirt not included), or chunky Jungle mock shoes. No one is going to be wearing khaki shorts except other American tourists. If it turns out something isn’t working out, don’t be afraid to get rid of it. It turns out I don’t feel like hand washing anything ever so I got rid of clothes that require hand washing. We’ve learned that material items aren’t precious and there’s nothing we would be devastated to lose (I’m talking non-tech items here. Can you imagine if we lost our camera?). Along with “normal” clothes, we kept weather in mind since we are traveling around during cooler seasons. We made sure to have a couple of thermal layers, but we won’t be carrying any winter coats until we have to buy one in Europe.

If you adhere to this advice you probably won’t need to go out and buy a bunch of new stuff either. You probably already have most of what you will need.

Check out the details section above for the clothes we packed. We’ve also noted what we bought new for the trip and what we already owned.

No Right Way to Pack

It seems like there are a ton of YouTube videos telling you how to pack your clothes into a backpack. From experience, rolling clothes up doesn’t work well. Just accept that your clothes will be wrinkled. This is your life now. Compression bags are your friend. Ryan and I have 2 compression bags each and they hold all the clothes we need. We just squeeze the air out to compress them down to a pretty flat pack. At first I tried to use some sort of logic by packing tops in one and bottoms in another. Now it’s “clothing I don’t want to get rid of” and “clothing I can toss if I need to make my pack lighter.” In case we are over an airline’s weight limit and we absolutely can’t check our packs, we can lose one of the compression bags and just replace our socks and underwear.

Ultimately, the best way to pack the bag is the way that is most comfortable and convenient for you. I personally put my extra pair of shoes in the very bottom of the bag with my compression packs on top which helps to distribute the weight keeping the heaviest items just above my hips. Once you get your pack, do some dry runs at home where you can try things out. That’s what we did and we’ve had no problems.

Some Products That Have Made Our Lives Easier

These are products we spent lots of time researching. Each has been invaluable on our trip so far.

Boreas Packs – Excellent construction with minimal design. They distribute weight incredibly well and are fully adjustable. Check out the details section to see our specific packs.
Exped Cloudburst Daypack – Completely waterproof, holds a lot, is easy to carry (has shoulder straps or can be carried as a handbag), completely collapsable, and acts as a secondary small carry-on item.
Pack IT Compression Bags – easiest way to keep our clothes flat and waterproof (the large is too large, but the medium works quite well).
Pack Towel – it dries fast and doesn’t take up much room at all. We don’t use them everyday, but they are great for hiking or swimming or both. We have the large sized ones.
Elago Universal Adapter – One adapter to rule them all. Doesn’t have a bunch of pieces to keep track of. This one can charge two phones/tablets at time and includes surge protection. We each have one which keeps everything fully charged.
Platypus Water Bottle – Excellent water bottle that completely flattens out when empty and can be shoved anywhere in the pack.

 

Got any other tips from your travels? Let us know in the comments below.

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  1. Jay
    April 25, 2017

    I know this post is forever old, BUT I am planning a trip to europe this summer and have the same Lost Coast 60 pack.. my question is can it be used as a carry-on? All my logic tells me otherwise haha

    Any info would be greatly appreciated.
    Thanks, Jay

    Reply
    • Ryan
      April 25, 2017

      There two different issues to consider: weight and size. The pack can easily exceed the weight requirements. On US flights you’re allowed up to 35-40lbs I believe. However, almost everywhere else, that’s limited to below 20lbs. We often packed items in 2 different compression bags (the thin plastic ones that look like ziplocks). One bag had items we’d be ok with throwing out incase of weight issues. Regarding size, smaller domestic or short route planes often have small overheads where the bag has to go sideways. Sometimes it fits and other times you will run into issues. If you are planning on using hidden cities or some other travel method where you can’t check bags, I’d recommend another pack. It’s a great bag, but there was a lot of added anxiety.

      Hope that helps! Have a great summer trip!

      Reply