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Top Packing Tip for Long Term Travel

March 05, 2013

best packing tip for long term travel

What is the best packing tip for long term travel? First and foremost be frugal and know you do not need much and you don't need to spend a lot of money, even in expensive places like Tahiti. Less is more and will make your life and travel MUCH easier.

I've written about packing in our Top 10 Family Travel Tips , How to be a World Traveling Fashionista and 10 Best Tips for Family Friendly Travel, but there is always more to tell. After 7- plus years of non-stop world travel as a family, this reformed over-packer has become a minimalist expert in this area.

We've traveled around the world ( 26 airports, 13 countries over 12 months one year) with just a small carry-on piece of luggage each and stayed on our $23/day per person budget to the 45 countries on 5 continents that we have been to so far.

BIG SECRET TO HOW WE TRAVEL CHEAP AND EASY

Brugge travel fun!

See this photo of me in Brugge in September  2006 at the beginning of our European part of our world adventure? That is the exact same blouse ( and pants, shoes and socks) as shown in the top photo and one of the two outfits I took on our recent month long  trip to China. I had a public speaking engagement in Beijing and confessed this secret to my amused audience.

You will see it ALL though this blog, because it is my "travel uniform" that I always wear on plane trips, to doctors, fancy hotels or restaurants etc. or any time I need to look presentable. The picture below is me wearing it with the three of us having an exquisite dinner at one of the most luxurious hotels on earth in one of the world's most over-the-top extravagant cities, Shanghai.


Soultravelers3 eating delicious dinner in Shanghai

TRAVEL UNIFORM TIPS

I tend to like to wear natural fabrics and do most of the time. I have on a silk top and cotton shorts as I write this in tropical Penang, but my "travel uniform" is mostly polyester with a little spandex. I bought the pants and top years before leaving the USA in 2006 and they still look almost like new ( despite that rather deceiving first photo). They hand wash and dry quickly which is necessary in fast and slow travel.

I still have the same good-for-walking versatile  shoes and socks that we bought for our world tour. DaVinci wore his to death for 7 years and recently invested in a new pair, but mostly wears flip flops in Asia or when it's hot.

I also had a pair of Berkie sandals that I had long before the trip and they are still going strong as my warm weather shoes and slippers. I didn't pay much for most of my travel uniform and got it all on sale, but we do tend to invest in shoes, so paid a good price for expensive quality.

Soultravelers3 in Barcelona

VERSATILITY IS KEY TO TRAVEL WARDROBE

Yep, there is that top again  a few years ago in Barcelona and DaVinci has on his "travel uniform" for this fancy dinner with our beautiful Spanish friends.

The black velour top that I wear as my sweatshirt and/or warm dress top happens to be the third one I have bought along the way. The first one flew out the RV window somewhere in Scandinavia when I was using it as a window shade while working my laptop on a long drive day in our campervan.

The second one was cut off me when I broke and paralyzed my arm in Austria. Third time is a charm I guess. I actually use it here in tropical Asia when we go to movies because the air conditioning makes it freezing in the malls and it was very handy in northern China in the winter. Even in hot-climate travel, I have it wrapped around me and often use it on the plane.

black travel wardrobe for Paris

PACKING TIPS FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY

We all have "travel uniforms" that are versatile, easy and usually black. Since we like to pack very light in one carry-on only for each of us, we tend to wear the heaviest things.Our adult, layered travel uniforms have remained the same,( DaVinci is still wearing those exofficial pants that you see here in Paris),  but Mozart changes a bit because she grows.

Here you see her basically in the same outfit in Paris and San Francisco. When we were in based in Europe we bought her one good pair of boots every fall, which lasted a year and became part of her uniform.

Cutie fashionista catching a cable car in SF

LESS IS MORE

I've heard some people complain about wearing the same things over time, but it's never bothered me. In fact, I love it because it makes my life easy. In my glamorous twenties and thirties, during my modeling and acting days,  I use to be known as quite a fashionista who never wore the same thing twice and it use to take me an hour or more to get ready, instead of the 3 minutes it takes me now. ( This is when I was a VERY heavy packer, but usually had someone else carrying it for me).

I use to try on endless shoes, tops, and accessories getting it just right. Now I see that as a waste of time. Been there, done that, glad those days are gone and all the time and space I wasted in organizing  and shopping for it all. Less stuff makes for an easier life. One or two scarves is all I need to accesorize.

3 CARRY-ON BAGS IS ALL WE NEED - NO BAGGAGE CHECK OR LOSSES

TRAVEL LIGHT WITH KIDS

Mozart has more clothes than anyone because they are small. She has fashionista and model leanings, but wears the same things over and over, which is typical of most people who usually wear only 20% of their clothes. Still, she has much less than most kids and yet always looks great and feels abundant.

cute shot of world traveling kid in airport

TRAVEL PACKING TIPS

What is your best packing tip and do you have a travel uniform?

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Sheralyn

Wow! Only 1 carry-on each? Amazing! I don't know how you do it... what with a laptop, camera, plus your clothes... if you don't mind my being nosy, what do you bring in that carry-on exactly? (We're planning on leaving for an open-ended family trip in 18 months and until now, it never occurred to me that we wouldn't have a carry-on PLUS a checked bag... but now you've got me thinking... it would certainly be easier not to have checked luggage...)

:)

Jeanne @soultravelers3

Actually our 3 full size laptops, cameras and all our tech gear takes up the most space.Hubs and I wear VERY few clothes and kiddo doesn't have a whole lot more.

We started out with a lot more stuff, but the longer we travel, the lighter we go.

Our packing list varies slightly depending on where we are going and what our current circumstances are.

We usually travel in spring or summer weather, so one doesn't need much. Even going into cold China we just wore our travel uniforms and one other outfit and had more than enough. ( Long underwear goes a long way in cold weather).

In warmer weather I get slightly more in with shorts, T's, sun dress/nightgown combo and sarong that don't take up any room. My black goucho pants are also a must and goes with black T and this travel uniform top for touring in Asia, USA and Europe. ( I wear them here or hot places more than the warmer pants like if we are out to a mall or movie.) Didn't take them to China.

You can always buy what you need if necessary. I bought one super cheap sweat pants and sweatshirt top for our 6 months in California since we didn't have anything warm with us and wore it daily/slept in it, unless I was in my travel uniform out and about.

Hubs always has the least and does fine. Think one versatile comfy thing for hanging out at "home" and one travel uniform. I wear my sarong about 90% of the time in Asia, unless out and about.

We use natural baking soda for shampoo, toothpaste and deodorant, so our bathroom supplies are small and easy.

http://www.soultravelers3.com/2012/09/how-to-make-diy-homemade-shampoo-and-creme-rinse-easy-cheap-healthy.html

And we never used our first aid kit, so left that out long ago, although we do take some natural supplies often.( Added a whole bag of it when I was real sick coming here).

In China, we even brought a little food ( sardines mostly) with the tech gear and that came in handy for my diet.

We even include our homeschool supplies,books and toys for kiddo in those 3 carty-on bags! ;) Kidlet has her toys in either her little shoulder bag ( if she take it) or violin case or outer little portion of her backpack rollie. ( Mostly playmobiles).

Mandy Love

Well, I did have a travel uniform and I left a piece of it at the Mall in the Philippines in transit! Oh no, I am obviously not as efficient as you!

I agree totally with light packing and I do still go through wanting a bit of the clothing variety, especially when we are at a guesthouse for longer than my wardrobe lasts, yet then I get over it. I don't necessarily "blend" and am still on that journey of just totally letting go of the "looking good" or at least not looking bad thing :-p

I like to get rid of things along the way and practice giving things away. We went to the Himalayas and got very cheap clothing in New Delhi and then we gave that away before we left the area because we were for certain that heavy jackets would not be in our future any time soon.

We carry what works for where we have been and where we are going and enjoy the giving process throughout. Having carry on only has still saved us as much or more than it would have cost us to check our bags since we trimmed it all down.

For new people it can be some getting use to and if they feel more comfortable with their things at first, I think as you travel on there is a natural inclination to want to shed the weight because you eventually don't want to carry stuff or deal with all of the checked bags.

Thanks for yet another great article! I loved reading it and your practice and position on it is noteworthy!

Tracey

Great article!
We are an Australian homeschooling family starting an open-ended Europe, Uk, US trip starting in August. Our girls are 8 and 9 so will just have daypacks, while DH and I will have checked wheel bag each and daypacks. We are heading into autumn and winter so need wintercoats each and waterproof treking boots (we like to walk!)

How much do you pack for your homeschool supplies?
We are techy so have so far: ipads (for apps and ebooks), ipods and one laptop but I'm not sure how much more to bring. At this stage I am thinking small Moleskine lined and unlined for each girl, watercolour pencils, paint brushes, and one lined divided subject A4 book for school notes (online maths, French etc). I assume we will fill and mail them home as we go.
Any thoughts?

PS We too are older parents and our girls gifted too...your blog has been a wonderful inspiration to our getting the trip together! Thank you so much!

Jeanne @soultravelers3

Ha, Mandy, no worries, as you read here I lost part of my travel uniform twice. Always easy to add it back.

We always give away the clothes that kiddo outgrows, we purge every trip, but we sometimes leave clothes in our "homes" around the world where we do longer stays and return. ( Best style with kids I think; http://www.soultravelers3.com/2011/02/kids-friends-travel-on-the-ultimate-family-adventure.html )

We left our winter clothes ( and more like piano) in Spain with our RV, those sweatpants and sweatshirt in California for next time, and even a few things here with friends ( another piano plus xmas tree)since we knew we'd be back.

Much depends on where you are going and how. When traveling around Asia, the weather is pretty similar and less is needed.

We are often in many different weather patterns and areas like our last flight here that started in hot Barcelona, cold Germnay, cool NYC, hot Miami, cool California, cool Hong Kong and hot SE Asia.

Our travel uniform works for all those places and we always look good when we are out exploring.

I love the velour top as it works both as a sweatshirt for warmth ( can be layered over the other shirt and even T or long undewear if more needed) and also ALWAYS looks new and good for dressier occasions.

Airports and planes are usually air conditioned or cool, so usually perfect for that environment, even in hot climates.

Between cool climates of Ca and Sydney and NZ, we once had a few stops in Tahiti and had to do a fair amount of walking and taking non-aircon buses, so a bit hot, but it even worked there.

Good shoes also tend to more important in Europe where one is doing a LOT more walking in cooler weather.

I have more fashion challenges because of my overweight size. Hard to find stuff in MANY places at my size, so another reason for me to hang onto things. ;)

Sometimes I buy things in male sizes like the coat I wore in China or the sweatpants/shirt in Ca. ;)

I started with a bunch of makeup, but now am down to a compact ( powder and foundation combined), lipstick, mascara, and pencil liner)..though only use that for going out.

I use a bit of organic virgin coconut oil for many things including moisturizer.

As a family, it's too expensive to stay in hostels and guest houses, so we almost never do.

The good thing about black is people often don't realize you are wearing the same thing or similar over and over. ;) I think Steve Jobs had the right idea, find something you like and wear it over and over. ;)

Jeanne @soultravelers3

Thanks Tracey, always happy to hear how we have helped and inspired people! Sounds like you have a great adventure ahead.

I'd wear your biggest clothes and boots as your travel uniform as that will give you more space. Carrying a winter jacket in hot areas is not that fun, but the best way to transport easily ( we did this between hot SE Asia and... 12 hours later after a few stops..to cold Beijing).

We walk a ton too, but decided to go with one pair of waterproof shoes that could be worn for walking, hiking and dress occasions.

Traveling to colder areas does add challenge, but you still don't need much. The less you carry, the easier it is on you.

A travel lifestyle teaches one how very little we really need. The things that first world folks think are "essential" changes drastically with long term travel. ;)

We are not very techy so pack very little for homeschool supplies..it all fits in that photo above of 3 small carry-on pieces....plus her violin.

Of course we do have an motorhome in Europe, so a bunch of books, toys and supplies there. Libraries and bookstores around the world are our cherished friends. ;)

We do have 3 full sized laptops ( same that we began with).

Only recently added ipod touch and Kindle and I wish we did not have the ipod touch and we have no interest in an ipad. I don't like the ipod touch because I think it is addictive and distracting from real life ( and we purposely never got an iphone, nintendo DS etc and rarely even use a cell phone).

We prefer to be mostly unplugged and in nature, and very carefully use tech ( limited to just educational things for kiddo in very limited time frames and no minecraft or games).

http://www.soultravelers3.com/2012/06/unplugged-todays-best-luxury-.html

We've never used or needed moleskins so I can't comment on that either.

We do have colored pencils and usually some painting things and paper notebooks. She has actually read mostly real books, ( prefers them) but we have used our home library on the laptop as well as some Kindle books for our voracious reader.

We liked Singapore Math workbook as a great ( and cheap) portable math curric, but she does some online as well and we use a lot in real life use/games/money/discussions etc as she and hubs are math geeks.

If you haven't read the posts about our homeschooling like this, that will help:

http://www.soultravelers3.com/2010/03/long-term-family-travel-homeschool-roadschool-world-school-digitalnomad-lifestyle-design-virtual-.html

http://www.soultravelers3.com/2013/01/world-school-education-at-its-best-.html

It's hard to advise in a small space like this and I don't know how long or how fast you will travel which affects things.

I'd head south and to warmth in Europe and USA during the cold, rainy months as much as possible as it's a LOT more fun ( and easier) to travel in warm weather. Following the good weather is KEY to happy long term travel.

Go slow too so you don't burn out as so many do!

http://www.soultravelers3.com/2011/08/how-to-prevent-travel-burnout.html

Happy travels!

Catherine Kolodin

Nik wears jean leggings and an easy to wash top and wears her "uniform" at least a couple times before washing. I wear black wool pants and can wear them over and over again until they are walking by themselves. We also take Ipads instead of computers (sometimes with a keyboard) because they are easier to pack and have the same functionality (for us) as a computer.

Indah Jelita

Nice post and images!

Keep writing and goodluck. ;)

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