Packing For An Extended Trip Abroad

February 3rd, 2010 in Featured by cee 2
Life in a bag

How does one pack for such an extended trip abroad where you may or may not have a permanent home-base during your stay?

First, there’s the luggage…

You have several choices:

  • Standard suitcase – heavy, bulky and hard to carry around, even with wheels.  (I traveled in Ireland, staying at various hostels on a tour with a suitcase.  I’ll never bring a suitcase for a trip like that again.  It was too cumbersome for a trip like that).
  • Internal frame backpack – A good option.  However, it requires a separate duffel to put the pack inside of to send it as checked baggage at airports. (they are too big to serve as carry-ons).  The straps will otherwise get caught, ripped or damaged during baggage handling.   A good option as a pack cover is an army duffel, which can be found cheaply at any army/navy surplus store.
  • A “Travel Pack” – A pack that is a less rugged version of the standard internal frame packs.  They have a panel that zips up to stow away the shoulder and waist straps for ease of checking in as checked baggage at airports (no need for a separate duffel).  They also should have straps to grab as if they were a duffel.  The only downside to these is that they aren’t as suitable for the trail as a traditional frame pack.  They do have the same structure, but not as geared for extended wear.  And, there aren’t as many options to choose from and are harder to find.

I went for the travel pack, and Paul decided on a more traditional pack.

The key is to consult with the staff at the store and make sure you’re fitted and they weigh it down for you so you can see how it feels.  And of course, stay within your budget.  You can find a pack at the right price if you give yourself time to shop.   And ask your friends if they have one you can borrow.  (I bought mine before learning 2 days before I left that several friends had bags they were willing to offer me).  Though, just because it’s free, don’t settle if it doesn’t fit you comfortably.

Another important point is the size:  In my research I found that a pack for such a trip should hold at least 4000 cubic inches.  Mine is in that range, and it’s filled to the brim, but not too big I can’t carry it.  Remember: The bigger the bag, the more you’ll fill it.  And the more you fill it, the heavier it will be.  But please practice pack a couple months BEFORE you leave, so if it’s too small or too big you’ll have time to exchange it for a more suitable bag for you.


This is personal to you…

Are you planning on bringing a laptop and camera equipment to document your journey?

Are you going to a place where the weather changes often, or can you stay in your swimsuit the whole time where you’re going?

Are you traveling to a 3rd world country where supplies are scarce, or can you likely find what you need just around the corner?

…These are all things that will affect your packing style.

There are loads of resources online to tell you what to pack (none of which really helped me much), so I won’t waste your time.   But I will share some helpful tips I’ve learned:

  • Pack appropriately for the weather where you are going.
  • Don’t pack 5 of the same thing (except for underwear, socks, etc of course)
  • Jeans are HEAVY – don’t bring too many
  • Bring a pair of flip-flops, a pair of good hiking shoes (carrying a pack requires good footwear for support), and a pair of “day shoes” good for walking around cities when you don’t want to wear your hikers.
  • If you can use your cell phone there and it has an alarm, don’t bother bringing a separate alarm clock.
  • Stuff your toiletries in separate baggies and stuff them in your shoes, etc to save room.
  • Use space bags (the vacuum ones still work by simply squeezing out the air) to make your clothes take up less space.  They are a pain when you want to get to something, but it saves room and organizes your clothing.
  • Pack-It Folders are helpful for tops that can get wrinkly.  And they do save space and help organize a bit.
  • Make sure you have a separate, smaller day pack to use for daily essentials walking around in the city and touring or hiking on trails, etc.  Trust me – you WILL use it.
  • Don’t bring a flashy camera bag.  You can find suitable bags at army/navy supply stores and affix the padding from your professional camera bags into them for protection.  They are less obvious that you are carrying expensive equipment for someone to steal.  Try to find one that you can use as a purse as well as a camera bag so you don’t have to bring 3 bags w/you.
  • A rain cover for you pack will likely be an essential at some point if you plan on being outdoors a lot w/it.
  • Not all hostels supply sheets (and not all that do are as clean as you’d prefer them to be).  So you should either invest in a travel sheet (or sleeping bag liner), or make one yourself by sewing a sheet in half.  But make sure if you make your own that it packs up super small and light.  If you buy: the silk ones pack smaller, but are really expensive ($75).   The cotton ones work just as well at only $25.
  • Get yourself a quick-dry travel towel.  They take up almost no room, are light and super absorbent, but dry super quick.  Who wants to carry around a bulky, heavy, musty, wet towel in their pack?   (Many hostels make you pay to use a towel).
  • Invest in carabiners.  Once you arrive, you can hook your rain cover, flip flops, etc onto the outside of your bag and save room inside it.
  • Bring a small notepad or small notebook and a pen to jot things down as you go.   It’ll come in handy.
  • Get a travel adapter if you’re bringing electronics from home with you abroad.   The outlet plugs are different in other parts of the world.
  • If you can avoid bringing lots of excess electronics, leave em at home.  They and their batteries/chargers/etc get pretty heavy and cumbersome.

I could go on, but it’s all pretty much common sense.  Though it is a daunting task to decide what and how to pack if you’ve never done it for such a trip before.

We’d be happy to help if you have further questions of your own.
We are re-evaluating our packing strategies on a daily basis, ourselves.
I’m sure we’ll ditch a few things as we go along in favor of a lighter load. 🙂