Packing For A Long Trip: Five Tips

by | April 9, 2019 |

Question: How to go about packing for a long trip?

Answer: You don’t.

Yesterday I left Durham, North Carolina to begin my fifth trip Around The World. My route is continuously Westbound. First and only stop in the U.S.: Seattle, Washington, where I am today.

Before I got on the road, a friend asked me, “You’re leaving the country for five months, so you’re packing for a long trip. How do you get it right?”

My response, “I can’t get it right, so I don’t try.”

But I do have a few tips so you don’t get it horribly wrong.

Packing for a long trip: Tip #1

Think: Inverse proportion. 

The longer the trip, the less I bring. It’s easier in the summer months, of course. This time I am packing:

1 dress (plus the one I’m wearing on the plane)

2 skirts

3 tops, plus a couple of layering pieces

1 sweater

1 pair of jeans

2 exercise outfits

5-6 sets of underwear

1 pair of closed-toed casual shoes (plus the dressier shoes I’m wearing in transit)

1 pair of sandals

1 scarf (plus the one I’m wearing for travel)

1 pair of earrings (no other jewelry of any kind)

minimal toiletries

Some people might pack way more than this for a week-long trip.

Packing for a long trip: Tip #2

Plan to jettison cargo along the way.

I don’t mean for you to send stuff to landfills in other parts of the world. I mean that you might be bringing useful things for people along the way. When you give it to them, you lighten your load and make room in your luggage for something you discover you need to get.

In my case, I’m bringing two types of items to Japan. The first is what is called omiyage ‘gift.’ Guess what the Japanese like?

packing for a long trip


Sugar. Lots and lots of sugar. Starburst, Skittles, anything chocolate works, apparently. I know I’ll be picking up a few more chocolate-y things in Seattle.

Second, I’m also bringing my grandmother’s wedding china to my son who lives between Osaka and Kyoto. Over the past few years I’ve done it in bits and pieces. This time I’m bringing four dinner plates and three serving bowls. I’ll be wrapping them in the light green baby blanket you see sticking out of the corner of the suitcase, along with other padding. I’m putting them in my carry-on.

packing for a long trip

You can also see the omiyage lying on the floor to the right of the unpacked suitcase in the middle ground

Once I deliver these items, I will instantly have more room in my luggage – and be heartily relieved to get everything there, hopefully in one piece.

Packing for a long trip: Tip #3

Think of what you might need, but defer buying it before you go.

The usual idea people have before going on trip is to gather everything they need beforehand. For a short trip that makes sense.

For a long trip it makes less sense.

First, you can’t anticipate everything you’ll need.

Second, let’s say you know you’ll need a pair of sandals at some point during your trip, but you don’t have any at the moment. Don’t go out and buy a pair to pack. Simply resolve to make sandal-buying an activity somewhere along the way.

I’ve needed a new pair of glasses for a long time. I’ve decided I’ll try to get a new pair in Japan, where I’ll be for a month. I figure the experience of the eye exam will be interesting. It’s also possible I won’t be able to pull it off finding an optician and getting the job done.

Packing for a long trip: Tip #4

Adjust your mindset.

This tip is as important as packing your bag. Maybe more important.

My trip is five months. Thus, I’m not going on the kind of trip where I “put my life on hold” while I take a vacation. Instead, I’m living my regular life while I travel. “My regular life” means that I’ll get my hair done when I need to get it done. I’ll read and write. I’ll walk around. If something comes up, I’ll deal with it.

On one trip, I got to India and discovered I had left half of the power cord for my laptop in Vietnam. I was in Delhi where I had a guide. He and I spent a good half-day or more looking for this particular Apple product instead of visiting the tourist sites. I could have been annoyed that I was wasting time, but I decided that this hunt counted as a particular kind of tourist experience. I certainly remember the mad dash around town!

I take minimal toiletries because I figure going into grocery stores or pharmacies to buy face creams or whatever is part of the experience.

Packing for a long trip: Tip #5

Figure out what’s important.

Instead of more shoes, I’m taking two notebooks and two and a half manuscripts. These items are important to me.

I have the bottom notebook open to the page where I took notes while reading the Crazy Rich Asians trilogy for things to see when I’m in Singapore in May.

I can imagine a photographer traveling the world would have tons of camera equipment and two changes of clothing.

In case the title image concerned you (I am a slob), I can now show you a neater result. Roll your clothing, don’t fold!

packing for a long trip

See also: How To Act Like a Local When You Travel

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This post was written by Julie Tetel Andresen

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