Essential Travel Gear for a Year Abroad

Aaron and I love to travel (clearly).  With so many trips to places near and far, we’re no strangers to packing bags.  However, packing for a one- or two-week vacation is vastly different than preparing for a year or more overseas.  With long-term travel, we can no longer think in terms of packing enough to get us through every day of the trip; we have to focus instead on travel gear we really need and what we’re willing to carry on our backs indefinitely.

Having successfully packed a sustainable wardrobe, we are intimately familiar with what works and what doesn’t. Want the inside scoop? Let’s dive in!

Aaron wheeling a suitcase through an airport lobby | BIG tiny World Travel

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Travel Gear Areas to Consider

There are five main categories to what travel gear we need to pack: clothing, toiletries, camera gear, living essentials, and travel essentials.  Our camera gear is probably the only thing that isn’t much different from a shorter trip (with maybe a few minor cutbacks), but there are certainly variances on the others.


Aaron climbing a ladder up a green hillside in Washington's Olympic National Park | BIG tiny World Travel

Just behind camera gear, clothing is forefront on our minds.  Instead of packing 10 unique outfits and doing a massive load of laundry upon our return, our mindset has shifted to the minimum articles of clothing absolutely necessary to get us to the next sink for hand-washing.  We also want each item to be durable and useful in multiple situations – mix and match are ideal!  And bonus if they don’t stink between washings, because who knows if we’d need to wear them more than once before we can do laundry?

Therefore, our go-to is merino wool.  It’s anti-microbial, so it doesn’t stink, it washes easily, and it’s super quick to dry.

When selecting clothing, we want it to be:

  • lightweight/compact
  • weather-appropriate
  • multi-purpose

The key to clothing is layers.  Start with lightweight layers for the warmer days, and add warmer layers for the colder ones.  Mix and match as necessary.

The key to #packingsmart for any trip is LAYERS. Paired with antimicrobial (anti-stink) clothing, fewer articles will get you further! #traveltip

An empty city street in Oslo, Norway | BIG tiny World Travel

Our Lineup

Our cat, Mochi, sitting on top of our suitcase | BIG tiny World Travel
For the Ladies (or those otherwise in need)
  • Casual sandals/Tevas
  • Compact slippers (for cold toes and in-the-house wandering)
  • Compact swimsuit
  • Base layer leggings (long johns) (for extra warmth)
  • Rain pants (for rainy climates; can double as slacks)
  • Floppy/collapsible sun hat
  • Mosquito net (for buggy/tropical countries)
  • Sunglasses (try to get as indestructible as you can)
  • Eyeglasses/contacts
  • Reusable masks (essential with covid, and great for Asian countries if you’re sick)


An individually wrapped toothbrush with text on the plastic that reads, "Life is full of trials and tribulations. A man of strong will delights in adversity" | BIG tiny World Travel

Now, we can’t just fill a few travel-size bottles with soap and shampoo and be set.  And since we’re on the road, we don’t want to lug around giant bottles that we buy along the way.  We also have to consider frequent flights and going through airport security.  And we care about sustainable and eco-friendly travel.  Therefore, we focus on solid toiletries and waste-free bars in the travel gear we pack.

Our Lineup

For Those who Menstruate and lack certain anatomy
  • Menstrual cups (zero waste!): small for lighter days, large for heavier, and one with a valve (this is a LIFESAVER in public toilets and other places where removing a cup is cumbersome)
  • A pStyle, particularly if you’re backpacking or spending extended time in Southeast Asia, where squat toilets are common

Camera Gear

A white Sony a6000 camera and adaptor | BIG tiny World Travel

This really wouldn’t be too different from ordinary vacations, except perhaps for the fact that we don’t have the capacity in our travel gear for large tripods or 5 prime lenses.  We strive to keep only the items that are multi-purpose so we can carry as little as possible.  Understandably, camera gear makes up the most of our weight, so we have to be careful.

Aaron and I are a videographer and photographer, respectively, so we have different needs.  Theoretically, we could share lenses, as we both shoot Canon (or at least have adaptors).  However, we’re often shooting at the same time, and we naturally have different needs from our gear. Sadly, those needs don’t overlap much.

As for me, I’m very particular about my photos, and I insist on having everything I need.  I actually wrote a full post, diving into the details of which lenses I’ve chosen, the cameras I’ll be using, etc., over on my photography blog.  Check it out here!

Aaron photographing a snowy Painted Hills from the car's driver seat in Oregon | BIG tiny World Travel

Our Lineup

A calico cat, Kedi, laying next to Brianna's camera | BIG tiny World Travel
  • Smartphones (the best camera is the one you have on you!)
  • Hard drives
  • Spare batteries and SD cards
  • Filters (polarizing, ND, UV)

Living Essentials

A flat lay of travel gear, including clothing, camera gear, shoes, and bags | BIG tiny World Travel

Aaron and I have to be able to actually live abroad.  We do laundry and cook, work and sleep.  We won’t always have sheets on our beds (or even beds for that matter) or be able to rely on having towels.  We’ll have to actually plan on downtime entertainment.  We don’t typically stay in hotels, so we have to consider the implications of occasionally sharing a room with other people. And our travel gear has to reflect and support this.

Our Lineup

Travel Essentials

Aaron and Brianna, each wearing two backpacks on a city street in Norway | BIG tiny World Travel

Venturing to new countries means there are some travel accessories we need that we haven’t before: passports and immunization records and visas and proof of marriage.  We need to consider security for our stuff and storage for our media.

Our Lineup

Packing All the Travel Gear

A small rolling bag with a playful cat pattern | BIG tiny World Travel

And then, of course, we need a way to pack it all!  We wanted to keep all our stuff to carry-on – crazy, right? – so we have travel backpacks that fit in the overhead bin.  We also need to consider daypacks and security for our gear while out and about.

Our Lineup

  • 46L travel backpack (large enough to carry everything but still small enough to qualify as carry-on on most airlines)
  • Reinforced daypack (slash- and tamper-resistant)
  • Packing cubes (get compression cubes if you can) – a must!
  • Camera bag insert (to protect the gear and turn any pack into a camera bag – without looking like one)
  • Ziplock bags of various sizes (multi-use and helpful with organization!)

If you want to travel with #cameragear, but you don’t want to advertise it with a branded camera bag, use a padded “camera cube” that can be inserted into any ordinary bag. Camera: protected – from theft and damage! #traveltip

Aaron silhouetted against the golden sunset over the Costa Rican coast | BIG tiny World Travel

We will no doubt continue to make minor changes to our pack list.  Even as we traveled, we found certain items we never used and others we wish we had brought.  Just remember that you can buy things as you need them (you will undoubtedly swing by civilization from time to time), and things you consider essential now might be rendered unimportant with enough weeks on the road.

Either way, this should get you started!

Want the exact Packlist WE use on every trip?

…that you can customize to your own needs and use over and over so you never forget anything?

  • his and hers
  • entirely carry-on and lightweight
  • eco-friendly
  • good for any destination and any duration

Download it here!

What essential item(s) do you always pack for your trips?

Psst… are you interested in reading more about long-term travel?  You might also enjoy these:

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5 thoughts on “Essential Travel Gear for a Year Abroad

  1. This is exactly how we travel. Love the idea of the fake decoy wallet. A couple of times We broke our rule and checked our bag….and both times they went missing.

      1. We lost our suitcase when we landed from the UK in Barcelona . There were tons of lost luggage tossed in a corner of the airport . That’s when we broke our rule and checked a bag.

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