Packing for an extended trip? Packing for long term travel? Don’t know where to start?
Got an extended trip coming up but not sure how to pack? Finding yourself standing in front of your closet, staring at your belongings, not knowing where to start? Trying to rack your brain to see if you’ve forgotten anything?
I’m here to help. Welcome to the only extended travel packing guide you’ll need. I’ve recently come home from a 3-month trip abroad and have gained so many learnings about how to pack to max efficiency. Read on to see exactly what you need to bring with you and pack like a pro!
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THE ULTIMATE PACKING CHECKLIST FOR 3+ MONTHS OF TRAVEL
Before you pack anything for your extended trip, it’s important to start with the skin and bones of packing. Having the right gear to put your belongings in is extremely important. The last thing you want is to toss everything for your trip into a bag with no method of organization.
Why? Because you’ll find yourself spending a lot of extra time later on packing and repacking once you’re actually on your trip. Trust me, your life will be so much easier when you actually apply strategy to how you pack.
ESSENTIAL PACKING GEAR
First, let’s tackle the question of what you’re going to be carrying all your belongings in. You’ve got two options here. Do you want to go with a wheeled suitcase or a travel backpack?
Wheeled suitcases are great because they are pretty much weightless for your body, you just roll and go. They’re also great because once you open them up, you can see exactly what’s inside without very much digging. However, if you’re going to places like Europe or Asia where cobblestoned streets, uneven pavement, and stairs are abundant, they might not be the best option.
If you’re opting for the wheeled suitcase, you’ll also need to consider whether you’re going to be checking your bag each time you fly or taking it along with you as a carry-on. This boils down to cost/potential savings.
- If you don’t mind paying the checked luggage fees, you can opt for a larger bag.
- If you want to save on luggage fees, a carry-on size makes a ton more sense.
Your other option is a travel backpack. They can get heavy since they’ll be holding all the gear for your long-term trip, but with adequate hip belts attached, they really aren’t bad at all. Travel backpacks are really convenient when it comes to hands-free, hassle-free commuting. It’s easier to go up and down flights of stairs with them, it’s easier to transport them along uneven streets, and it’s easier to maneuver when you’re walking through crowds.
Once you decide which one you plan on traveling with, continue down the list for more extended travel packing essentials:
Wheeled suitcase | I use my Samsonite Omni hard shell luggage whenever I want something sturdier. It’s roomy and super sleek-looking. The built-in TSA locks help to deter theft, ensuring that only you or a TSA agent have easy access to your belongings when traveling.
Travel backpack | Personally, I’m all for the travel backpack. I love my Osprey Aura 65 so much. It’s extremely comfortable because of its super secure hip belt (if you get it, you’ll see what I mean) and perfect for those warm travel days due to the ventilation technology built into the back. I actually went backpacking with this pack and can attest to its greatness. It’s totally worth the investment. If you’re looking for a new travel bag or backpacking bag, GET THIS BAG! You won’t regret it.
Packing cubes | You need to get these, they are game-changers for packing, and every travel packing pro has one. However you choose to organize your clothes— by day, by outfit, by type—these will be the most useful thing you have in your packing artillery. You’ll no longer need to go through the entire suitcase for that one thing you’re looking for, because you’ll know exactly where it’s at.
Everyday bag | A mini backpack that can fit your water bottle, sunglasses, keys, phone, and a mini travel kit is a great option to tote around. Another good option for days where you’re not feeling the backpack look is a medium-sized, crossbody bag. A hands-free bag is the way to go.
Tops | If you’re trying to pack light, you really don’t need that many shirts. Choosing simple colors allows them to be multifunctional. I’d go with 5-7 shirts. I had a few plain workout tops that weren’t branded, so I was able to wear them out as regular shirts as well. You can go with a mix of sleeveless and sleeved, as there will be instances where you need to cover up your shoulders.
Pants | Bring 2-3 pairs at most, depending on the season. In the spring, fall, or winter, you can bring 2 pairs of jeans (a blue and black one). Wool leggings or baselayers will keep you warm and comfortable when sightseeing outdoors. For summers, in the face of humidity, go with something loose and light and a pair of shorts. Jeans will likely be way too hot for summer travel. When I went to Europe last summer, my legs would almost immediately start sweating once I began walking. It’s pretty uncomfortable, to say the least.
Shorts | I’ve seen a lot of blogs out there mentioning the taboo of shorts abroad. To be frank, I think that’s pretty outdated, namely with regards to Europe. I’ve asked a lot of locals in many countries about this shorts controversy and they see no problem with it—I went to Europe with zero shorts and a few long dresses because of this notion. Once I got there, I saw SO many locals rocking shorts. So I bought some. Because it was REALLY hot. Just don’t wear booty shorts and you won’t have a problem.
Leggings | I love leggings and can’t take any trip without them. If you plan on working out, bring an extra pair so you can use the other for lounging. Can’t ever go wrong with Lululemon leggings. Investing in one high-quality pair of leggings means you won’t have to replace them as much. I’ve had mine for at least 5 years now and they’re still holding strong.
Dresses | 2 long dresses for the summer season. Long or flowy dresses/skirts are really good for days when you plan on visiting places like cathedrals (no bare shoulders or exposed knees, so be prepared). If your knees are showing slightly, it’s usually not as big of a deal as those bare shoulders. Aim for one of the dresses to be appropriate for both daytime and evening looks.
Underwear and socks | Bring five sets and just find a washing machine whenever you can. Or save water and wash them while you’re showering. The Scrubba Portable Wash Bag also works wonders if you don’t want to head to the laundromat every time.
Bras | Depending on your activity level, 2-3 will do. The same thing goes for these, wash them often. Since I’m pretty active, I typically bring 1 regular bra and 2 sports bras.
Shoes | Bring one or two pairs of comfortable walking shoes with good support and traction. I usually go with one pair of sneakers (gives you the ability to go for a run in the morning and then walk all day in them) and another pair of cuter shoes when I want to dress up a bit more. For your second pair, consider sandals in summer. Birkenstock Mayari’s are my go-to because they allow you to walk miles and miles without any pain. Yes, they may seem expensive, but considering they’ll last you at least a decade and provide you with the best foot support out there, they’re so worth every penny. When I was in Europe this summer, I was averaging 8-9 miles in both of these with zero pain or blistering! You only have one set of feet, so please take care of them and give them the support they need. A pair of flip flops are also handy to have if you’ll be using communal bathrooms.
Sweater or lightweight fleece | Preferably a dark-colored one so it can be worn on multiple occasions. More if you’re traveling in the fall/winter. I love, love, love my trusty North Face Thermoball puffy. Not only is it super warm, but it’s also extremely light and folds up into virtually nothing when you pack it away! For something more affordable, I’d go with this one by Columbia.
Jacket | Ideally, this jacket will be a packable, lightweight, water-resistant windbreaker. You’ll be walking around a lot, the last thing you want is to be lugging around a jacket that you may or may not wear. The North Face Venture 2 Rain Jacket does it all–keeps you dry, warm, and doesn’t weigh a thing. Traveling light is key!
Shawl / scarf | One of my travel must-haves! I’ll always have a medium-sized thin scarf in my bag. Not only can you use them for warmth or style, but you can also use them as a coverup in churches, as a towel, as a mat on grass/sand/dirt, as a quick rain shield, or as an emergency skirt if your bottoms get stained or soaked somehow.
Swimsuit | Usually only useful in the summer. As I knew I was going to be beaching a lot, I brought 2 pairs.
Sleepwear / loungewear | Yoga pants and a t-shirt or workout clothes are all you need here. Save luggage space; these items can be used as pajamas, loungewear, and airplane/road trip outfits.
Sunglasses | Because it can get really bright during sunny European afternoons.
Jewelry | Very optional. I tend to skip jewelry on most days (even if I’ve packed some) because either it’s too hot/humid to want to deal with something sticking all over my neck, or I just forget to wear it. If you have fancy jewelry, it’s better to leave it at home. I’ve heard that many pick-pocketers abroad will either go for the wallet or yank chains off of people’s necks on public transportation.
Wearable technology / activity trackers | We always travel with our Apple Watches because we love data, technology, and convenience. Not to mention, tracking all those steps you get while exploring feels good!
Squeeze bottles | GoToob travel bottles are my favorite thing ever. Made of high quality silicone, they are extremely durable, have never leaked on me, and are super easy to squeeze. They have different TSA-approved sizes, but I found the large GoToobs to be the best for the duration of my trip. I put face wash in one of the large ones and it lasted me all 3.5 months without a need for a refill!
Hand Sanitizer | Hand sanitizer gel or wipes are a must any time you’re going to be in contact with surfaces many other people have touched. Never leave your hotel room without it! And if you do happen to forget it, remember to wash your hands often, especially before eating or touching your face.
Body Wipes / Feminine Wipes | Feeling a bit gross after a hike but don’t have the time to shower right in that instant? Just whip out one of these body wipes for a quick refresher. The feminine wipes I like are infused with cucumber and aloe. Trust me, you will feel and smell so much better. Always good to have a few handy in your travel bag.
Hand cream, body lotion, face masks | Highly recommended, learn from my mistake. I didn’t bring any with me because I didn’t want to carry ‘luxury’ items and I ended up being pretty annoyingly dry. Halfway through the trip, I just had to buy some. If you get dry while traveling, bring something to combat dry skin.
Moisturizer with SPF | You’ll be out in the sun all day. Save yourself face from premature aging and sunburns.
Sunscreen | Sunscreen is absolutely necessary if you’re going to be spending time outdoors. Even if it’s overcast or cloudy, the UV index can be very high, so be sure to apply it whenever you’re outdoors. No matter where I go, I always opt for a coral reef-safe brand, as traditional sunscreens contain chemicals that damage our environment. For the face, I am absolutely obsessed with Supergoop! Unseen Sunscreen. It goes on completely matte and doesn’t add any extra sheen or white film on your face.
Shower supplies | Buy in your destination country and only as you need them. Don’t stock up or else you’ll end up carrying too much extra weight.
Dental supplies | Same as above.
Deodorant | If necessary. I don’t really have odor in my armpits so I didn’t need this– less weight to carry!
Makeup | Some girls have a huge collection of makeup. Bring only what you need. You probably won’t be needing that green eyeshadow or glitter eyeliner.
Dry shampoo | I tried not to wash my hair everyday, but at the same time, Europe was really hot and muggy. Dry shampoo came in handy very frequently.
DIY survival kit | Make a little bag of the following: ibuprofen, allergy pills, Immodium, ciprofloxacin (or whatever your doctor prescribes for traveler’s diarrhea), bandaids, floss, hand sanitizer, eye drops, lip balm, a sharpie, tape, and extra contact lenses (if applicable). Think about the ailments you typically suffer from and have to deal with on a regular basis and adjust the contents of the bag as needed.
Extra plastic baggies | Because you never know, but they always come in handy.
Tissue | Sometimes, your hands get dirty. Sometimes, there’s no toilet paper in the public bathrooms.
Laundry soap | Bring a super-concentrated laundry soap so you can do your own laundry. A travel clothesline may also come in handy if you want to air-dry your clothes. If you’d rather do laundry at a nearby laundromat, bring small amounts of laundry detergent with you, or buy some at your destination.
Travel towel | Some hostels don’t provide towels, or they’ll have them available for rent. Travel towels are not only light and quick-drying, but they’re also very packable and take up little space. They’re also useful if you plan on having beach days but don’t have access to a beach towel. I highly recommend this one.
Travel Clothesline | A travel clothesline is a small and portable clothesline that allows you to hang up your wet clothes almost anywhere. I’ve found that it’s really handy whenever I have wet bathing suits or towels that need to be air-dried. I love it for its multi-purpose functionality!
Ear plugs | Very much necessary. Bring multiple pairs with you, because it’s so easy to lose these bad boys in your sleep.
Eye mask | Amazing for airplane rides or shared rooms where the beds aren’t separated by curtains, or if you’re sharing your hotel room with an early riser. People being able to see your sleepy little eyes? A bit awkward. But with this, the awkwardness is gone! I find eye masks to be awesome for plane or train travel too.
Phone | Make sure you have everything right with your phone before you go. Get the battery changed, free up some memory space. My phone was operating on 79% battery efficiency so it wasn’t really holding a charge. I pretty much had to go through Europe with an external battery by my side always. Not the most convenient.
Camera | You’re going on a huge trip, some higher quality pictures wouldn’t hurt. I brought my Nikon D5500, which I found to be a bit too heavy but produced great photos that I’ll cherish forever. You could go with a more convenient point and shoot or a GoPro as well.
Portable Power Bank | Crucial, especially if you’re going to be out all day exploring and using your phone for Google Maps and such. A portable power bank is a must-have, and Anker’s ultra-light, ultra-portable power bank is tried and true by so many travelers! I never embark on a day of exploration without it.
Smartphone UV Sanitizer and Charger | Our phones gather all the grime and bacteria we touch throughout the day, and then they are stored in warm, dark places like purses and pockets, which make for great breeding grounds for bacteria to grow. They are the third hand we never wash, but should! Using a UV sanitizer such as PhoneSoap on a regular basis will help keep germs and illness at bay.
Noise-canceling headphones | Always good to be able to get into the zone and tune people out. Not to mention, you can use them to watch Netflix all night in your hostel room without disturbing anyone!
Travel adapter | Necessary for many countries. This one here is tried and trusted. It allows for a normal plug and has two additional USB ports.
Chargers | Bring multiple phone cords since they are light (and easy to misplace).
Laptop | (Optional) Depending on what you plan to do on your trip, because it is a heavier item to carry around. Regardless the MacBook Pro is such a great investment. For longer trips, I’ll definitely bring my computer. There are just some things I’d rather do on a full screen rather than my teensy phone screen. (I’m old school in that sense.) Not to mention, having an actual keyboard and multiple tabs visible allows me to be so much more efficient in responding to emails, having meaningful conversations with my friends/family, and keeping up with news/social media. The iPad mini is a much lighter option that I tend to go with on shorter trips where I might not need to do as much typing.
E-reader | Go with the Kindle Paperwhite over books if you plan to read a lot– it eliminates a lot of potential weight from actually carrying books. This was one item that I didn’t have during my last few months of travel. I dealt with heavy, bulky books and they were such a hassle that I ended up leaving them all at my hotel on purpose.
Travel belt/money belt | Thief proof protection! I always use a FlipBelt when I’m out exploring or on travel days when I’m handling a lot of bags. Instead of keeping my passport and money in my backpack, I have it right on me, inside the FlipBelt. This also conveniently doubles as my running belt. I swear, this thing doesn’t budge or jiggle at all when I run, even when my phone and keys are in there. Plus it’s super comfortable around the waist!
Money | A mix of local currency and your home currency for emergencies.
Tickets and travel documents | Passport, student ID, medical card, proof of travel insurance, printed documents of your flight/hotel bookings, visas if you need them
Travel cards | Credit cards, debit cards, airport lounge access cards, visas
Journal or book | ‘Cause everyone could use a little alone time. I love reading my journal entries from years ago; they bring back memories that I may have forgotten. Oh, the sweet nostalgia.
OTHER TRAVEL GEAR FOR EXTENDED TRAVEL
Travel pillow | This one by trtl is THE one! It comes highly rated because it has so much support, almost like a neck brace (there’s a chunk of flexible plastic in there to prop your head up). It’s warm and super packable too. They’ve recently come out with the trtl Pillow Plus, which costs a bit more but comes with a bunch of new and improved features (scientifically engineered with ergonomic design, height adjustability, and in-built breathability). The fact that it is fully adjustable means maximum comfort for any type of traveler regardless of their sleep style.
Water bottle | Go with a collapsable water bottle that you can easily tuck away when not filled or when it’s not in use. Hydroflasks are my favorite for everyday use, but they’re pretty bulky in this case.
Reusable tote bag | Great for doing groceries or carrying your belongings in a pinch. Since reusable shopping bags are pretty much weightless and take up no room, I will usually bring a few with me and leave them in different places so I’ll always have one handy.
Laundry bag | Keep your worn clothes separate from your clean ones, especially when traveling to high humidity climates. Summer and/or long days of exploring = lots of sweaty, smelly, dirty, and worn clothes. Don’t soil your entire travel bag by mixing worn clothes with your unworn clothes! Definitely bring a laundry bag to separate your clean clothes from your dirty clothes to maintain the utmost freshness.
Small lock | If you’re staying in hostels, you may need to provide your own lock for the lockers. Otherwise, this can be used on your luggage bag when you’re traveling and checking your luggage.
Massage Ball | One of the best things in my bag, hands down. Roll your legs, upper back, and under your feet whenever you have downtime to undo that tension and soreness you’ve built up over the course of the day. Check out this one.
THE ULTIMATE PACKING LIST FOR EXTENDED TRAVEL
To wrap up, let’s review the ultimate packing checklist for extended travel:
- Wheeled Suitcase / Travel Backpack
- Packing Cubes
- Laundry Travel Bag
- Everyday bag
- 5 Tops
- 2-3 pairs of pants
- 1 pair of shorts if applicable
- 1 pair of wool leggings if applicable
- 1-2 pairs of leggings
- 1-2 dresses
- 5 pairs of undies
- 5 pairs of socks
- 3 bras
- 2 pairs of shoes
- 1 pair of sandals / flip flops
- 1 sweater or lightweight fleece
- 1 jacket
- 1 shawl or scarf
- 1 swimsuit if applicable
- Hand sanitizer
- Travel body wipes
- DIY survival kit
- Extra plastic baggies
- Laundry soap
- Travel towel
- Travel clothesline
- Ear plugs
- Eye mask
- UV Sanitizer for phone
- External battery
- Travel adapter
- Wearable technology / activity tracker
- Travel belt / money belt
- Tickets and travel documents
- Credit /debit cards
- Journal or book
- Travel pillow
- Collapsible water bottle
- Reusable tote bag
- Small lock
- Massage ball
Now you’re ready!
If you get nothing else out of this post, at least take this with you… pack light! Everyone has the urge to pack a lot of things. I get it, there’s a scenario for everything you own to have a purpose on your trip. But what usually happens is that we either wear them once or not at all. Remember to mix and match clothes and evaluate each item, only bringing it if you think you’ll use it more than 3-5 times.
Oh yeah, and pack early. You’ve got a lot to look forward to and a lot of trip to pack for!
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