5 Light Packing Tips for Long-Term Travelers

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The thought of traveling for several weeks, several months, or even longer with just one small bag can be intimidating. After all, you’re trying to pack for weeks in a suitcase or backpack that you would normally use for a weekend trip away. However, when you’re on the road, the convenience of traveling with a light bag can’t be overstated. They are easier to carry, to store, and to manage in crowded places.

When I first bought a backpack and started to get my things together, I tried to bring way too much. However, after having completed two major trips with just a backpack, I’ve learned a few things about packing light.

Here are my top five light packing tips.

Take Quick Dry Clothes

Most travelers embarking on a long-term trip have spent so much time and money preparing for the trip, that the thought of buying special clothes doesn’t even cross their mind. And, if you don’t plan on doing any laundry on the trip, then there really isn’t an issue with taking whatever clothes you’re most comfortable in.

However, when traveling long-term, getting quick-drying clothes is very important. Unlike many western countries, clothes dryers aren’t very common in Asia or many developing nations. If you take a pair of blue jeans or a few cotton shirts and you’re forced to air dry them, they’ll take a long time to dry.

On the other hand, quick-drying shirts made of material like nylon often will dry overnight, even in super humid destinations like Southeast Asia. Not only will this save you money on dryers, but it will also keep you from having to wear super wet clothes. You’ll also be able to more easily wash your clothes in a sink to save even more money while you travel.

While many hostels offer laundry for just several dollars a load, some nicer hotels can charge $5-10 (or even more) per item.

My two favorite travel shirts are the ExOfficio Air Strip Light and The North Face Velocitee Crew Shirt. Both dry quickly, pack small, and look nice.

Have Room in Your Bag When You Leave Home

All your attempts at light packing can be jeopardized if you leave home with a bag that’s completely stuffed.

Even if you don’t buy any souvenirs during your trip, odds are you’re going to pick up something while traveling. Maybe you are buying something you forgot or didn’t bring from home, maybe you picked up snacks for your train ride, or maybe you just didn’t pack your bag quite as well when trying to leave your hotel quickly.

No matter what though, if you leave home with a bag packed to the gills, you’ll likely end up having to carry around some extra plastic bags to hold your things.

In my opinion, it’s always a good idea to have a minimum of 10-20% of your bag empty when you leave home to account for these issues and keep you packing light.

Pack Convertible Pants

Some might think that convertible, or zip-off, pants (pants that have zip-off legs and turn into shorts) look dorky; however, they can be a godsend when traveling.

Not only are they typically made of durable, quick-drying material, but they help cut down on how much you have to pack. Instead of taking both shorts and pants, you can take them both in one.

It can also be great when you plan on visiting a site during the day that requires long pants (churches, temples, palaces, etc.), but don’t want to wear pants all day. They also come in handy on cool mornings or evenings, and for the occasional time that you might want to dress up a bit.

As I said, they certainly aren’t the most stylish pants out there, but the huge benefits they bring outweighs any minor fashion faux pax that you might be making.

My favorites are the ones from North Face. While they aren’t the cheapest, they are certainly the most durable and comfortable.

Don’t Take Things “Just in Case”

Many of us are used to packing extra things just in case we need them. Even I’m guilty of it, especially on short trips. Am I packing for a weekend away? Let me throw in an extra pair of socks and underwear, just in case. However, I never, ever have to use them.

When planning a long-term trip, the list of things you’ll need “just in case” can be really, really long.

While it is probably prudent to throw in a small medical kit, a needle and thread, and maybe even some duct tape and a pocketknife, it’s probably unnecessary to pack anything else “just in case”.

For a simple rule of thumb, only put in a “just in case” item if it will potentially save your life or avoid a major mishap.

Don’t Take Everything You Need

While this may sound a bit odd, I have two very good reasons for saying this.

First, if you’ve never traveled long-term, it’s unlikely that you need half of what you think you need.

During my 6-month trip through Asia, I only took two pairs of convertible pants and four shirts. I would occasionally pick up a souvenir shirt and wear it a few times before shipping it back, but I really didn’t have an issue with having so few clothes.

Think I only was able to do that because I’m a guy?

My wife took two bottoms and five tops for the same trip. While traveling, she decided she needed another bottom, so she just picked up something in a local shop.

That gets to the second point: you can buy what you need while traveling.

Unless you’re going to a rural destination in a third-world country, you should have no problem finding the things you need. After all, locals still need shampoo, they still need umbrellas, and if you find yourself in a cold country, they still need gloves and winter hats.

Taking 6 months of shampoo and a pair of gloves for month number five is just plain silly.

Do you have any other light packing tips? Let us know in the comments section below.

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14 thoughts on “5 Light Packing Tips for Long-Term Travelers”

  1. We tried carry on luggage only on a trip 3 years ago and have never looked back. 100 ml containers of shampoo etc last for two of us for a 3 week trip and you cam just top up shampoo from hotels bottles as you go for longer periods hotel soaps also last for a few days so take tjem with you.

  2. Thanks for sharing your packing light tips! I love the photo of the massive backpack… I have certainly seen others who probably felt like they were carrying a pack that big!

  3. Very helpful! Although I am a kind of traveler who likes to pack lots of stuff, I still find it useful. You never know if in future I might need to travel light. 🙂

  4. Great advice! We are traveling in Mexico right now & super light clothes are critical. Not only for the sweltering heat, but because they are light, take up less room in our packs, easy to wash/dry in the sink. In fact, just washed a ton of items yesterday and they were fresh & dry this morning when we checked out of that hotel & moved onto the nest destination. I must admit, I gave my husband Josh a hard time about his “shants” (convertible pants) but he swears by them.

    I would also add a small towel to you list. We have great ones from REI -they are super absorbent & pack into a small pouch. Useful if you are staying in hostels without towels, or if you are traveling & stop for a quick swim (as we have many times). They don’t take up much room an really come in handy.

    Happy travels!


    • Small quick dry towels are a great travel item as well. Definitely something I always pack.

      As for your husband, he sounds like a pretty cool guy who knows how to dress when he travels.

  5. The oversized backpack was quite amusing! I’m planning a RTW trip myself, and have recently decided to take carry-on baggage only. Makes so much sense! My philosophy: wear one set of clothes, and pack one change of clothes. Still leaves plenty of room for laptop, camera, and a few other odds and ends!

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Wow, only 2 sets of clothes is impressive! While I only had 2 pairs of pants, I don’t mind wearing those multiple days in a row. If you don’t want to wear clothes 2 days in a row though, it might be worth noting that even quick dry clothes often will still be damp in the morning. Good luck on your trip!

  6. Hmmmm guess I should listen to some of these tips. Turns out I have 14 toothbrushes with me. Just got into a twitter conversation about this a couple days ago. But in my justification, I started with only an unopened 5-pack of toothbrushes six months ago. Of course countless hotel stays have given me more additional toothbrushes then I could ever possibly use, even when ditching them every few days. So many I’ve had to stop taking the complimentary ones from the hotels. I know, crazy huh? I’m a freakin’ bad backpacker…miss my luxurious style before money mattered.

    Over the last five months I’ve been leaving bags in various cities all across in Indonesia and am always swapping things out when I pass back through town. It’s far too much for me to carry all at once, especially since I’m traveling by motorcycle. However, now that I’m doing the housesit I have been (oops…instead of housesitting) traveling all over Java again, collecting my scattered belongings and assembling them there. It’s enough to fill a small room, let alone me carry all at once.

    For the record a lot of things have been gifted to me: massive silver sculpture of the Siak bridge, wood carvings, clothing and yeah speaking of the that there is also the new wardrobe provided for the film. Now my clothes alone, when clean and folded and placed one atop another on the bottom bunk at a hostel, pile up high enough to touch the bunk bed above it. Literally.

    Some things are going to be mailed to a friend for safe-keeping during my 4-year RTW journey but that will only lighten my load about 15%. I need to remove 50% more. Need anything for the house bro? It’s also time to start giving away some clothes. Hmmm, never tried to give those to beggars. I bet they’d take ’em tho!

    • 14, huh? At a new one every 3 months that would last you 3.5 years! I’m sure you’ll come across a store with toothbrushes before then.

      I know it must be hard when everything you own is with you, but paring down will really make you happy. Like you said, give some stuff away, throw away pants with holes (not that you have any of those), and send some stuff back for someone to store in their basement. Maybe you could even do some giveaways on your blog or put some of the stuff on ebay (the souvenirs, not the holey pants).

      I guarantee you would feel so much freer with just 1 bag.

      • Giveaways aren’t a bad idea. The real question is ‘is any of this sh*t worthy of giving away in contest form?’ Nothing worse than winning a contest with a crappy prize :/

        And hey now, I love my holey pants! They’re air-conditioned and perfect for life in Southeast Asia 😉

  7. Pingback: NEW! Wrap Up: Best Packing Light Tips for Travellers via @JoKarnaghan1 @Tripologist @Ecotraveller - Pretraveller : Pretraveller
  8. Great tips! I find I always over-pack initially and I’m usually throwing things out of my bag the morning of my trip. Great pic of the backpack. I can say I’m not that bad. 🙂

  9. Thanks for sharing your tips for traveling light. This summer we traveled light to Ireland for 8 days. With only our backpacks as carry-on we never worried about our baggage getting lost. We didn’t run out of space but I did mail back my bulky wool sweaters that I purchased and some other souvenirs. In the past we would have over stuffed a suitcase and since we were on foot in Ireland it was easy to get around with everything on our backs. Now to plan another trip!


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