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How to Pack for Long-Term Travel

June 24, 2022

When you’re only traveling to one destination for a short period of time, you don’t have to think too hard about what to pack. It’s when you have to factor in long-term travel with multiple destinations and various seasons, that the process becomes a bit more complicated.

Here are the things full-time travelers and soon-to-be full-time travelers should consider when taking the leap from casual vacation to digital nomad.

Prioritize Versatility 

A versatile wardrobe is going to be one of the best things you can think about when packing as a full time traveler. If you have the happy accident of loving beaches, cities, and mountains, then you need to have a more diverse clothing selection depending on the place where you are living at the moment. Try to pack items that can be multipurpose for when you go from a city weekend to a country escape. One multipurpose wardrobe strategy that is extremely effective for long-term travel are capsule wardrobes. 

A capsule wardrobe is when everything in your bag essentially goes together, forming one large collection in your suitcase where any item can be interchanged. Capsulizing what you pack means your color palette is complimentary so each item can be worn interchangeably. A pair of leggings you can use for hiking, but can also layer under a long sweater dress for example. A tank top that you may have for a trip to the beach but can be worn layered under a cardigan for an afternoon in the city. The idea is that a shirt should be able to match with each pant, skirt, or short and vice versa ultimately giving you the ability to create dozens of options. An easy way to start thinking of a capsule wardrobe is coordinating colors and styles.   

Not only is it a way to pack more sustainably, but it’s a way to take the guesswork out of getting dressed. When all of the pieces in your luggage are complimentary, you’ll have an easier time creating a variety of looks from only a few pieces. The concept of a capsule wardrobe isn’t new, but the idea of applying it to travel is a more unique way to pack. 

Plan Layered Outfits

This is a packing tip that can be applied for a weekend getaway or an around-the-world backpacking trip. An arsenal of versatile layers will let you keep changing up your outfits, plus you’ll be prepared for all kinds of events and weather scenarios. This method of packing also ties in nicely with an idea of multipurpose items or capsulizing your wardrobe. A shirt that can be worn in humid weather can also double as a cold weather base layer helps. Look for items that can be worn on their own or added to a casual look to dress it up, like a thin sweater. Every article of clothing should aspire to have more than one use—function and fashion included.

Invest in Quality Pieces

Fashion trends don’t hold up for long-term travel packing. Instead of indulging in the latest trend, find a style that can be worn season after season and pick clothes that can take a beating. These are items that will be featured heavily in your wardrobe rotation so having clothing that is made well can make a big difference. 

Choose lightweight items whenever possible, especially ones that pack and can roll easily. I often look for fabrics that are easy to wash since a dry cleaner may not always be possible to access and things that don’t wrinkle easily. Fabrics like cotton or linen are prone to wrinkling, while a sustainable fabric like bamboo or tencel are not only easy to pack, but easy to wear without needing to have an iron handy. This way of packing allows you to only really appreciate and bring the articles of clothing you truly enjoy wearing.  

Repair Don’t Replace

On a short trip, you can afford to take a piece of clothing that might be prone to tearing, but when you’ll be repeating outfits for an extended trip, you’ll soon wish you had sturdier clothes. Even so, we all fall victim to snags and rips eventually, so it's a good idea to carry a small sewing kit in your suitcase. It really comes in handy for a quick fix with buttons, hemlines, or small tears, especially if you are in a location where you won’t find a tailor easily. 

If you can afford the space in your bag, you may want to consider bringing your own (liquid-free) laundry supplies also. Many zero waste products like eco-friendly laundry detergent sheets or wool dryer balls can be very lightweight and they will help your clothes last longer. One great tool is the Scrubba bag, which lets you get a good lather going when you don’t have access to a laundry machine. Take control over your laundry and your clothes should last you much longer.

Consider Rentals or Shopping Second-Hand 

If you need specialty gear, like camping or photography equipment, be sure to always look for rentals and secondhand stores in your next destination. These are items you can donate or sell once you’re done with them. For example, if you’re going on a two-week hike through Southern Chile and you need a down coat for winter temperatures you won’t plan on seeing again, find a local outfitter to rent it from so it doesn’t take up real estate in your bag when you set off for your next stop.

Second-hand shopping is a great way to add niche pieces to your wardrobe that you can take home to remember your trip. At the end of the day, what you have in your suitcase needs to be a reflection of yourself, even if you’re in constant motion. You should enjoy the clothes you have and feeling and looking good in them are just as important as the weight of your luggage.