10 Things You Should Know When Packing for a World Trip

Packing for a year-long world trip has felt overwhelming at times. Even being about a year away, we are starting to prepare for this. We’ve planned international trips before, but this is a completely different beast. With so many different places and climates it can be tough to figure out what to bring with us. Luckily we have a local community of travelers whom we can get some advice from. Here are some questions we asked or researched on our own.

Various Travel Bags

Photo by Ubi Desperare Nescio Creative Commons

Questions regarding packing

1. How much should we bring?

Try to get down to just a carry-on and a small day bag.  How can we possibly do this for a year trip? Maybe for a weekend trip, but for a year! We must be crazy right? That may be true, but we are going to do this for several reasons.

  • Prevent us from over-packing – The more space you have the more you want to fill it. We have all been there when packing. If you see an extra pocket and you suddenly need something to fill it.
  • Mobility – While we are traveling we don’t want to always be guarding multiple bags on buses, or having to lug them around everywhere we go. We want to be flexible by keeping it light and down to the bare essentials.
  • Baggage Fees – We do not want to pay baggage fees on every flight we take around the world. Those can add up quickly, especially for two people.
  • Security – The bag is with you at all times instead of potentially being stolen at a baggage claim area.
Travel Backpack

Photo by kaizan 2702 Creative Commons

2. How do we organize our bags?

There are these wonderful things called packing cubes where you can put different types of items in each and compress them into a smaller size. This doesn’t mean over-stuff the cubes as much as possible or have too many, they are purely for organization purposes.

For example you could have one for items such as toiletries, another for underwear and socks, and one for your medical supplies. You can also use zip-lock bags for smaller items within the cubes. Label them so you can easily find what you are looking for and not have to dig deep into your bag.

3. What’s the best type of bag for this sort of trip?

For us, we will likely have travel backpacks with lockable zippers. Preferably one that you can open up all the way so you do not have to dig anywhere to get to all of your stuff in the pack.

One example we researched is the Osprey Farpoint 40 or Osprey Farpoint 55.  The 40 might be a little too small for us, but the 55 exceeds many carry-on restrictions. However, the 55 includes a detachable day-pack which is a very nice feature for a trip like ours. Many people have traveled on several airlines without problems with this bag, but it doesn’t do so well with European airlines. We will further research carry-on in Europe or just check our bags.


4. If we get there and realize we forgot something, what do we do?

Guess what? They have stores in other countries and you can usually find what you need. Unless it is something that can only be found in your home country, it should be available. Personal items such as deodorant and soap are available just about anywhere. Clothing shouldn’t be difficult to find and can make a nice memento from your trip.

Japanese Market

Photo by IQ Remix Creative Commons

5. Should we wear our wedding rings?

This one is difficult for us. We want to wear them but having them will make us targets for robbery. It might be best to store them with family while we are gone on our trip or a safe deposit box. Some people will wear a small string or cheap band in its place for their travels. Better to be safe than to lose something you can’t replace.

Wedding Rings

Photo by Mark Johnson Creative Commons

6. What types of clothes should we bring?

This obviously depends on the destination, but we have found that merino wool clothing is the best. It is very lightweight, soft to the touch, helps regulate temperature, and it stays drier than most other materials. The best part: you can wear it over and over without washing it, because it does not easily retain odors.

When you do need to wash it, it can be washed in the sink and will hang-dry very quickly. Imagine how long it would take to dry a pair of jeans after washing them in the sink. Probably around 2-3 days. With these you will wake up the next morning and be ready to go.

Also with merino wool you will not have to pack as many clothes which will give you more time to explore instead of doing laundry. The downside is they are expensive to buy. Icebreaker is a brand we have already purchased and love. There are many brands that can be far cheaper, so do your research.

Icebreaker Men's Underwear

7. How do we charge our electronic devices abroad?

There are multi-adapters available that will handle most countries. However, you need to be sure that the power cables for every device you bring can handle each country’s voltage levels. The plug itself should have it’s voltage or voltage range on a label. You will want one that can do either 100-240v or 110-240v. Checking our iPad, it has the 100-220v on the cord. You do not want to fry your electronics while abroad. worldstandards.eu is a great resource that can provide voltage information and plug type by country.

USB Power Adapter Voltage

8. What travel documents do we need to carry?

Here are some of the common documents you will need to have on you while traveling.

  • Passport (w/ extra copies)
  • Credit Cards
  • Insurance Card
  • Passport photos for visas
  • Drivers License (plus international drivers permit if needed)
  • Important contact information in case you are injured in an accident

9. How do we keep our cash and credit cards secure?

This one is complicated but the general rule is not to leave all of your eggs in one basket. You should keep cash and different credit cards in at least a couple of places. If you get robbed and have to give something up, you will still have what you need to get back to safety. There are many creative ways to hide your stuff while traveling including money belts and other under-clothing options. If you have a bolted down safe in your accommodation, you can keep some cash or credit cards there.

10. What is the best way to pack camera equipment and keep it safe?

If you are packing camera equipment, it is best to not carry it in a camera bag, as this looks like a pile of gold to a thief. Use a normal day-bag or your travel backpack instead. With expensive gear you will also want to make sure it is insured if the worst should happen and you lose your camera. We will likely keep our gear to a minimum for not only weight considerations but also risk management. These things are true for any other valuables you may bring. Every country is different and some have higher risk than others so make sure you do your own research.

Your photos an videos are irreplaceable.  When not in use, keep SD cards on your person. You will also want to have ways to back up media on the road. Some of our methods are in our post on editing media around the world.

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Final Thoughts

There are many factors we need to think about when packing and keeping our belongings secure. This post is just scratching the surface but when we actually pack, you can look forward to seeing our packing lists and security methods. Until then, let us know if you have any tips for packing for long-term travel in the comments.

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6 thoughts on “10 Things You Should Know When Packing for a World Trip

  1. After some recommendations about Merino wool, I got a couple shirts (Merino 365 and Woolly). I do not like them at all. Obviously tastes differ. I’ve been very happy with my Columbia Silver Ridge convertible pants, which seem pretty sturdy, lightweight, and pack up wonderfully (much tighter than any traditional pants I own). The matching shirt or the similar product from Eddie Bauer (Exploration long sleeve) are my choice. Both are good for hot weather — the wool would be better for colder weather. I like that the pants have extra pockets — one zippered and one large with a velcro flap. The EB shirt has an extra zippered pocket which is kind of nice.

    Hanes cool-dri t-shirts are also very cheap and pack up tight. Good for hotter weather.

    For power adapters, I liked the LKY All-in-one on my last trip ($13). Cheap, compact, and has two built-in USB ports so one less item to bring. Something that was surprisingly handy on a couple European trips was an adapter (also with USB ports) with an attached cord. That extra ~4 feet was darn useful sometimes. Really thin cord though, fine for laptops and such which is what I use, but totally wrong for curling irons etc.

    For my last trip I opened a text document and typed in chronological info: flight info including confirmation number, exact flight info and gates if known. Dates and lodging info for each place I’d be. Return flight info. I can email that to family, and print at a reduced size so it fits perfectly in my travel wallet. It was great having that one sheet of paper with the critical travel info that I’m always being asked — hanging around my neck, rather than having to search backpacks or phone for whatever thing is suddenly needed. This might be less useful for a round-the world trip, but it worked well for my 21 day 5-stop trip.

    I got in the habit on my trips of, when I go out, carrying nothing but cash and a single credit card (and not even the card if you’re in a place like Thailand that is almost all cash-based). No wallet to carry around. When I did bring my wallet I’d empty it of everything non-essential (e.g. that rewards card for my local bakery). Some places might want you to carry a photocopy of your passport. I never carried it, but maybe I should have. At minimum, take photos of your US ID, passport, and visa page (if appropriate) on your phone so they’re accessible if you need it. I sure hope I never lose my phone….

    For bags, I had a good experience with a carry on (Amazon basics carry-on — worked for extended travel albeit stuffed, and fit on international budget airlines) and a day pack (super light one that folds into a pouch). I don’t carry a purse — the day pack is my personal bag and no airline even blinked at this. The carry on went in the bin, the day pack under my seat. It just held laptop, kindle, headphones, travel documents if not carried on me. I also put the CPAP unit in there, so I didn’t have to open the carry-on for security (except on one connection in China where they basically dumped everyone’s bags out to root through the contents — even through we were just passing through).

    Unfortunately my next trip is long enough I need to bring some liquid-form medicine that will have to get checked in. Sigh, I love not having a checked bag.

    1. Haha, wow! Thanks for all the feedback. We’re always interested to hear what works for others. I know Aaron simply loves his Merino. I still need to buy mine. But I naturally run cold, so the extra layer of warmth will be welcome.

      The text document is a good idea. We did carry photocopies of our passports in Costa Rica. Fortunately, we didn’t need them. And I hate carrying more than I need to (I’d rather forego the purse for a camera :D).

      Our real challenge will be getting our luggage to something compact and lightweight. Breaking away from packing up our entire home and the kitchen sink will be a challenging mind shift.

      Thanks for commenting 🙂

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