I’ve never been on a long-term trip, but, even with my knowledge restricted to shorter travels, I still recognise the importance of this statement: be careful about what you pack.
Chris, who’s been on a full-on gap year before, agreed with me. When I asked him about his packing method back then, he started listing all of the things he wished he didn’t take with him on that long trip – as well as all of the things he wished he did!
When it comes to the packing situation for our upcoming long-term travels, we really haven’t made it easy for ourselves. Firstly, we’ll be travelling through just about every season – from the middle of winter in Japan to the peak of summer in Cape Town, South Africa. Weather aside, we’ve also planned a wide variety of activities for our journey. Most of my trips nowadays involve me forcing Chris to walk and sightsee until we are literally footsore by the end of the day. While this will still be the case (sorry, Chris), for our big adventure, we’ve also thrown in day hikes, kayaking and canyon swings into the mix.
How on earth am I supposed to pack for such a trip?
After plenty of to-ing and fro-ing – and writing lists of my lists – I’ve managed to come up with this guide to packing for an adventurous holiday. If you’re facing a similar packing dilemma, I hope this proves useful to you!
– Pick the right luggage –
I’ve already confessed to being a long-term travel newbie, but even the shortest of trips can leave you loathing your bag choice. After my three-week trip to Thailand, I had to fight off the strong urge to set fire to my backpack. Not only was it heavy, it was cheap (no zips to speak of), with only one opening at the top. If I wanted to locate any particular item of clothing, I basically had to paw out the entire contents of the bag. Yes, it was obviously a security risk but it also just ended up annoying me. Note: I didn’t burn the backpack; it lives on top of my cupboard, where I still aim scathing glances every now and again.
This time, I wanted a much more practical and secure backpack. In a fortuitous turn of events, I managed to win my dream bag in a giveaway hosted by Bemused Backpacker. I had read about anti-theft backpacks before, but I never bought one for myself as these tend to be on the pricey side. Thanks to Mike, I now have my own Smashii Anti-Theft Backpack.
Granted, this will be the first time I’ll be trying it out on a trip, but the list of features is impressive. As the name suggests, this backpack’s main selling point is the fact that it’s designed to deter thieves. The material of the pack is made up of nylon, cordura and kevlar – and it’s slash-proof. The zips, as well as the cover that goes over the zips, are also made of kevlar. To top it all off, the main bag has retractable steel cables integrated into the material itself. So whether I want to secure my pack in transit by wrapping the steel cables around it, or if I want to secure my bag to another fixed object, I’m sorted.
The bag makes me feel less vulnerable to crime, but it also unzips horizontally, which means I can access the entirety of the bag contents easily. Which means I won’t start each day by unpacking and then repacking my bag. Some of the main criticisms aimed at this backpack include the fact that it looks more like a hold-all as opposed to a traditional backpack. Since I want all of the perks attached to taking along a hold-all, I’m not overly fussed by this ‘negative’.
When it comes to choosing the ideal luggage for your adventure, I’d recommend having a think about the features that are most important to you – and start comparing bags that champion these features. For me, three things mattered the most: security, easy access to my belongings, a backpack as opposed to roller bag. With these three factors in focus, an anti-theft hold-all-like backpack is the perfect fit for me.
Once you’ve chosen the right backpack, you should also consider how you’re going to organise your bag contents. Both Chris and I wished we had taken packing cubes on our past trips, so this was on our essentials list this time around. There are so many packing cube options out there. I decided to go with something simple: the Hopsooken five-piece packing cube set. There are four packing cubes, as well as a laundry bag; in this set, each cube has a mesh cover so that you can see the clothing within without having to open it up.
– Layer, layer, layer –
Now that the main bag is settled, the next big question was what we’d put inside. I’ve already mentioned that we’ll be facing just about every season and weather condition on our upcoming trip. If your trip overlaps into several seasons too, my only advice is this: take clothing that you can easily layer.
While we all may love a particular dress or those cute overalls, these will quickly become a nuisance if you’re hauling around a bag of only these for a few months. Instead of taking individual outfits, where each element only works in that particular combination, I’ve focused on taking clothes that can be mixed and matched with all of the other clothing within my backpack.
There are a few t-shirts, long-sleeve tops, jumpers and jeans for casual wear, and all of these can be interchanged with one another to make up a number of different outfits. For the colder destinations, I’m armed with baselayers that easily fit underneath these top layers. I’ve got baselayer tights from Weird Fish, which can fit under my pair of jeans when we’re doing some winter-time exploring. If you’re looking for thermal baselayers, I also really love the affordable HEATTECH range from Uniqlo. If you’re looking for baselayers you can use for more active pursuits like hiking, I’d highly recommend looking into baselayers offered by outdoor brands like The North Face or Berghaus.
Of course, when you’re travelling with a backpack, it’s essential to think about how much you’re planning to take with you. By focusing on taking layers as opposed to outfits, this should help to reduce the overall number of items you need to bring along. In total, I’m a handful of baselayers, some t-shirts, two long-sleeved tops, a jumper or two, one pair of jeans, sportswear and a few dresses. I’m certainly not bringing enough clothes to last me the full five months, but I feel confident that I’ve chosen items that work well together – and that will see me through no matter what the weather’s doing on any given day!
– Practical over pretty –
This is similar to the tip above, but it requires you to be even more ruthless when it comes to choosing each item that you’re going to bring along.
I’d love to bring along my prettiest winter coat for when we go sightseeing in Japan, but, when I look at all of the other legs of the trip, I know that this isn’t practical. Likewise, I have plenty of shoe options I’d be tempted to sneak into my backpack, but that also wouldn’t prove very useful (and might make the bag rather heavy!). For our long-term travels, I’ve looked at the whole trip, and have chosen staples that cover as many of my needs as possible.
For those worried that I’m going to commit terrible fashion crimes judging by the subheading I’ve chosen above, thanks to the amount of options out there, practical doesn’t necessarily mean ugly.
In fact, one of my favourite items I’m bringing is The North Face Evolve II Triclimate 3-in-1 Jacket. I have steadily fallen head over heels with this versatile jacket. It’s waterproof, which means it’s ideal for soggy conditions, but it also has a fleece layer that can be zipped in. When I combine these two elements, I have a cosy winter coat that, due to its breathable material, can also be used for strenuous outdoor pursuits. Even though investing in a jacket like this may be costly, I think it’s the most useful item I’m taking on this trip.
Other multi-purpose items in my backpack include a Berghaus Easton Fleece ([pictured above] which keeps me extremely warm but also passes for casual wear), waterproof trousers (which double up as tracksuit bottoms), a Peter Storm chute (which is great for hiking but also diminishes the need to bring a scarf) and my Asics running shoes (which I’ll be using for all of our day walks plus my running outings).
By considering practicality over aesthetics, and by finding items that fulfill multiple purposes, this is another great way to reduce the contents of your bag.
– Find the gear that suits your trip –
Up until this point, I’ve mostly been speaking about clothing, but I’ll admit some of the heaviest objects in our bags consist of gadgets and camera equipment. We’ve been saving up for this trip for a long time but there were a few pieces of equipment we knew we really wanted to buy to help us capture the adventure as we go along.
For me, one of my biggest purchases was a camera lens I had wanted for years. The Canon EF-S 10-22mm lens is a wide-angle lens and, if you love taking landscape shots as much as I do, you can see why I’ve wanted this for so long. At just under £400, it’s not cheap but, since I’ve chosen a lot of our destinations based on their natural beauty and scenery – I want to have the ability to suitably capture these in images.
One thing that we haven’t delved into much on our blogs so far is video, but we’ve made up for this by investing in our first GoPro. Since our video needs are simple, we have opted for the cheaper GoPro Session, which still has most of the perks of other GoPro models. Since we’re doing a lot of water-based activities in the first two countries on our itinerary, our little GoPro will be able to accompany us when our DSLR cameras cannot.
My old travel adapter is on its last legs, so I’ve invested in an upgrade, which features all-important USB ports so that I can charge my iPhone or GoPro easily. For moments when all else fails, we also have a few external batteries. In terms of other important gear, we have a mini camera tripod, extra memory cards, extra camera batteries and cushioned pouches to protect lenses/gear when in transit.
If capturing your travel memories is important to you (or if you’re travel bloggers like us!) then there is no shortage of options for what you could potentially bring along. To whittle down the choices, think about what format you want to end up with, as well as the quality level you need, and try to find gear that suits those purposes – and your budget.
– Remember the travel essentials –
This part of my guide could stretch on for ages but, to make things simpler, I’ll try to cover the most important essentials in this list. No matter what sort of trip I go on, I always ensure that I’ve thought of all of these items:
- Passports and visas: Make sure that your passport covers the duration of your trip, and do research on any visas you might need. I cannot begin to explain the ordeal I went through trying to get my South African passport in time for this trip, so make sure to leave plenty of room when dealing with the necessary paperwork. In addition, take copies of your important documents.
- Medication: Get enough of your prescription medication to last the duration of your trip. The last thing you’d want to do is waste time trying to get a prescription in a foreign country, or to run into health complications when you unexpectedly run out of what you need. For example, I suffer from eczema, which especially flares up when passing through sudden changes in weather conditions (I am clearly born to travel). I’m making sure that I have enough prescription ointment on hand to avoid this issue while on the road.
- Vaccinations: Are your vaccinations up to date? Are you travelling through a malaria zone? Make sure to go to a travel clinic or the travel nurse at your GP to get appropriate advice. And pack in your vaccination booklet for the trip.
- Document folder: I’ve lovingly typed out itineraries for each country we’re visiting, but important documents like these need protection. We’ve found some excellent water-resistant document sleeves, so we know that this paperwork is safe no matter what kind of weather is happening outside. Also, in terms of the documents, remember to bring a record of your travel insurance policy agreement – just in case!
- A first aid kit: This is so important, and it needs to be in a pouch so that you can easily fit this into your day pack. Apart from basics like plasters and stick-on bandages, our first aid kit includes paracetamol, anti-bacterial cream, hand sanitiser, Imodium and electrolyte powder sachets.
- Currency: Find your preferred method of bringing foreign currency and ensure that you have everything you need in order to access that money. We’ve found – and adore – Revolut for our trip, which allows perfect conversion rates (and zero charges) when drawing cash from ATMs or when paying with the Revolut card.
With the trip now only a few days away, I am filled with equal quantities of high expectations, excitement and nerves. Even though I can’t be entirely sure of what we’ll experience while we travel through the eight countries on our itinerary, I know that we’ve given plenty of thought to what we’ll be bringing along. If you’re facing indecision about what to bring on your own adventurous holiday, I hope my tips can help you to streamline your packing options.
Have you gone on an adventurous holiday? What are your ultimate packing tips? Let me know in the comments below!
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