So you’re going to travel long-term? Maybe you’ll take a round-the-world trip for a year, or you’ll start your digital nomad adventure. But you have no idea how you’ll be able to live out of a backpack or suitcase for months on end. Don’t worry! Living out of a backpack or suitcase sounds scary and impossible, but it really isn’t. All you need are some concise packing tips!
To get you started on your packing or help you out of your packing rut, I set up my camera and filmed myself unpacking all of my luggage (which took about 30 minutes).
I have been living out of backpacks full-time since 2014 (and for a year before that). The two in the video hold everything I own and need as I go city to city, country to country. They are my closet, my office, my beauty salon, even my bedroom.
So stop packing – and panicking – take a deep breath, get yourself a cup of coffee, and within the next half hour see a real-life, multi-country, multi-season digital nomad’s luggage unpacked.
Along the way, I’ll share with you my most essential packing rules and give you some additional tips on making travel (and unpacking/packing) life more comfortable.
And if you need a cheat-sheet, here are these essential packing rules & a collection of 50 long-term packing tips in two neet lists
Tip: Feel free to copy + print the lists and place them in a prominent place when packing for your trip and during the first few months of your big journey!
My 13 Most Important Packing Tips, Well, Rules Really
Review your backpack every 3-6 months, more often at the beginning of your travels.
Know your lifestyle and travel destinations – there are different levels of minimalism.
No cheating – fit everything into a set number of bags/luggage items.
Decide on a place for every item and keep putting items back where they belong.
Selected trinkets are allowed even for long-term travelers. They’re fun!
If you can’t carry it don’t bring it.
Reduce the number of items you carry by finding multiple purposes for each.
Avoid using sleeping bags in hostels – they’re a prime bed bug attraction.
Toss clothes when they have a hole that cannot be easily and invisibly fixed.
You are allowed 1 or 2 items that do no more than make you happy.
Find a balance between practical clothes and clothes that make you happy.
Golden Rule: The total weight of your backpack(s) should be no more than 1/3 of your body weight.
Platinum Rule (i.e. my experience): A backpack that weighs max. 1/5 of your body weight is comfortable for hikes.
50 Excellent Packing Tips Based On 6+ Years of Experience As Nomad Traveler (Random Order)
- Get a versatile carry-on that holds everything for travel days but is also a small enough day pack.
- Choose bags with plenty of small compartments (inside and outside) as well as loops for to attach items.
- Plastic bags are practical and a great conversation starter.
- So are rubber bands.
- Photographers, even if it adds bulk: A solid camera bag helps to extend the lifespan of your equipment in rugged environments.
- Sort your chargers into one or two small bags.
- Keep your most important chargers in your carry-on.
- Have a set passport pocket that is easily accessible to you but not to thieves.
- Pockets and small bags help to keep things in order.
- Carabiners are a handy extension of your bags and allow even easier access to items you might need regularly or quickly.
- Attach items with carabiners/straps for more space and to not lose items in transit.
- Tug in your straps and anything attached to your (checked) backpack to avoid it being torn off.
- For shoes, less is more. Carry three pairs:
Dress Shoes + Flip-flops/sandals + Sturdy hiking shoes
- Pockets and small bags help to keep things in order and compress items.
- Hikers, keep an analog compass on you, it might just save your bacon!
- Business cards are an easy way to leave your details when you’re on the go.
- USB sticks are a safer backup option for photos/videos as the hardware is less likely to fail 100%.
- Looking for light but sturdy ( and with great grip) hiking shoes? Get trail runners!
- Wear your heavier clothes in transit to lighten your bags.
- Buy bulk (and plan extra space) for items you know you need and replace regularly, e.g., razors, your favorite earplugs, socks, etc.
- Use Vaseline for smooth skin, as lip balm, to take off makeup, to clean leather, etc.
- An electric toothbrush is a long-term health investment
- Standard travel medication (pain, headaches, diarrhea, etc.) is available around the world.
- Only bulk up on special (prescription) meds.
- Check with your doctor on legal requirements to carry your prescription drugs.
- If you are not familiar with your destination, take 1 sweater + 1 pair of warm socks as a precaution, even if your destination is tropical.
- Store liquids in plastic bags to avoid nasty surprises.
- Get one global adapter with USB outlet to charge your phone/tablet along with laptop/camera/etc.
- Get a 4-side locking plastic container which can serve as cup/bowl as well as store dry goods and liquids for transit.
- Consider where and how you want to travel. Start with less and add items if necessary.
- Best travel menstruation solutions: 1 – Get a coil placed if you can to reduce the flow, 2 – Use a menstrual cup as a reusable option.
- Carry a marker to mark your belongings in hostels.
- Carry a pen for paperwork (border, embassy, etc.).
- Get a folder for important paperwork. Leaving a good impression at an embassy can make the difference between getting the visa or not.
- Change leftover currency at your guesthouse/hostel with travelers heading in the opposite direction.
- Back up your photos, videos, and files as often as you can (online, USB stick, external hard drive).
- Store files in more than one place (for example, online and on a USB stick).
- Assign an easily accessible part of your backpack for daily use.
- Exercise anywhere and without the need for extra gear thanks to the 7 Minute Workout App for your phone.
- Use a breathable cotton canvas bag for day-to-day dirty clothes.
- Merino wool has a broad temperature range, and merino wool undergarments are great for hiking.
- Why you need compression bags for packing: they are sturdier.
- Why you need zip-lock bags for packing: they come in different sizes, are transparent, cheap and offer automatic compression.
- Sort zip-lock bags by type of garment (underwear, shirts, pants, etc.) or by daily sets (one bag contains 1 shirt, 1 slip, 1 pair of socks, etc.).
- Microfiber travel towels are a lightweight alternative to cotton terry.
- Walking sticks: Not just for old people but great for walks in the mountains and long hikes.
- Invest time in buying the right backpack for you. Try different ones on (with weight).
- Invest money in the right backpack for you: A good bag can easily last you 15+ years.
- Look for accessories for item that are no longer in your backpack
- Travel makes beautiful. The longer I travel, the less I wear makeup.