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!
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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.
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:
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! #traveltipTweet
- Wool shirts: lightweight, mid-weight, and thick
- Outer wool sweaters/vests (mix and match possibilities)
- Pants: ultralight convertible (and pickpocket-proof!) and sweatpants (can double as PJs!)
- Lightweight, buckle-less belt
- Compact down jacket and waterproof shell
- Durable, multi-purpose shoes
- Beanie cap (with a built-in headlamp!)
- Lightweight gloves
For the Ladies (or those otherwise in need)
- Sarong/wrap-around skirt (can also be used as a summer dress in warmer climates or as a headscarf in muslim countries)
- Thin-profile sports bras
- Period-proof undies (waste-free!)
- 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)
- Reusable masks (essential with covid, and great for Asian countries if you’re sick)
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.
- Solid shampoo, bar soap, and shave bar (we can share)
- Breathable, waterproof soap pouches for our bars (these are fantastic because they let the soap dry between uses without making a mess inside your bag!)
- Toothbrush, toothpaste tabs (refillable!), and mouthwash tabs (optional, if you aren’t fond of mouthwash)
- Refillable floss and loadable flosser (optional, but it requires less floss per use than your fingers)
- Compostable deodorant
- Razor and spare blades
- Nail clippers
- Handkerchiefs (no need for tissues!)
- Large toiletry bag (we can share)
- Small first-aid kit
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
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!
- Lightweight mirrorless camera
- All-purpose zoom lens
- Smartphone Moment lenses
- Gimbals (for the phone and camera)
- DJI Pocket 2
- Mirrorless full-frame camera
- Mid-range zoom all-purpose lens
- Telephoto lens
- Fast prime lens (for low light)
- Smartphones (the best camera is the one you have on you!)
- Hard drives
- Spare batteries and SD cards
- Filters (polarizing, ND, UV)
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.
- Sleeping bag liner (serves as portable sheets and an extra warm layer where needed)
- Lightweight clothesline (for drying clothes anywhere)
- Sink plug (for washing clothes, etc.)
- Lightweight microfiber bath towel
- Inflatable pillow (for planes and hostels)
- Pair of reusable earplugs
- Blackout eye mask
- Universal power adaptor and mini power strip (vital with limited outlets!)
- Computer and accessories
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.
Want to streamline your trip planning?
- Travel locks of various sizes
- Money belt
- Fake/decoy wallet (optional, but not a bad idea)
- Copies of our passports
- Copy of our marriage license (needed in some countries)
- Travel rewards credit cards
- Motion sickness wristbands
- Microfiber hand towel (for public bathrooms, etc.)
- Collapsable water bottle
- GPS (for when we don’t have cell coverage)
- Important local phone numbers (embassy, 911-equivalent, etc., printed)
- Emergency contacts
- Small notebook and writing utensil
- Luggage scale
Packing All the Travel Gear
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.
- 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! #traveltipTweet
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
- good for any destination and any duration
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:
- Where to Start a Trip Around the World: Cape Town
- 10 Things You Should Know When Packing for a World Trip
- How Long-term Travel Can Be More Valuable
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5 thoughts on “Essential Travel Gear for a Year Abroad”
This is such a helpful post! I’ll have to bookmark this for my next adventure! Thanks for sharing.
Thanks Mackenzie. The list is continuously evolving but this was a good start for us. I’m glad you find it to be useful.
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.
The fake decoy wallet will definitely come in handy on the trip. Just curious, what airlines or airports did you lose your bag in?
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.