We see it time and time again: “I want to pack light, but I’m traveling for a year.”
A year is a long time to travel. Most people can’t even envision their lives in one year’s time, let alone plan out all the things they might need in a backpack for those entire 365 days.
So, it’s no surprise that when it comes to packing light and packing for a year, travelers often assume there is no way those two concepts can walk together, hand-in-hand.
But they can. The key is to pack for a year-long (or 3-month, 6-month, 9-month) round the world trip just like any short vacation. I use this tip to pack light for all of my travels, including my 5-month round the world trip, and you can easily do the same by taking note of the following advice.
Bring the Right Bag
Wondering how to pack light for a year of travel? It starts with the bag! When many people think about traveling for a year, they immediately think they need that giant, oversized, fit-a-family-of-4 type of suitcase. That’s really not true!
If you follow the tips in this article, that oversized suitcase is obsolete.
Obviously, packing light has many definitions for different people, but we definitely recommend a carry-on sized piece of luggage (even if you end up checking it). This keeps your packing in check and makes sure you don’t buy too many unnecessary souvenirs.
Your bag will need to last the year, so it should be durable enough to withstand the bumps of the road. It should also be made of a material that is easily cleaned (or doesn’t show dirt as quickly). Whether you go with a backpack or a suitcase, well that’s up to you.
Use Packing Organizers
A year of travel often comes with constant packing and unpacking. Packing organizers like packing cubes, compression sacks and even ziploc bags make the process way easier. But if you’re like me, you might want to find another way. Just make sure everything has a specific place to go back to so that you don’t lose stuff!
>> Brooke loves her Eagle Creek Compressible Packing Cubes.
Pack a Week’s Worth of Clothing
Look at the destinations you’re planning on visiting. Are they mostly warm weather or cold weather destinations? Pack a week’s worth of clothes that go with the climate where you’ll spend most of your time.
If you’re spending most of your time in warm weather destinations, pack t-shirts along with a light jacket in case of chilly transportation. Add in one light sweater for your cold destinations.
For cold destinations, pack clothing you can layer. T-shirts still work well here as a base layer underneath long-sleeved shirts or sweaters. Bring a coat that will keep you warm but also packs up small- or choose layers (read on).
Pack Solid Color Clothing You Can Layer
The key to dressing for all climates, seasons and occasions is solid colors and layers. Pack versatile items that can be worn multiple ways, such as a scarf that can keep you warm in cold climates and worn as a sarong in warm climates. Bring leggings or yoga pants that can be worn on their own or under others for added warmth.
Skip bulky sweaters and coats and opt for packing a few lighter pieces that work well together to provide similar warmth. These pieces can be worn on their own when the weather is warmer.
Solid colors also make for better items for a year of travel since they can be mixed and matched for multiple outfits and more seamlessly layered. They’re also much easier to accessorize with jewelry.
You Can Always Buy Or Ditch
Remember you can buy clothing all over the world. If the t-shirt you’ve been wearing twice a week for four months starts getting holes in it, you can buy another one to replace it (look at secondhand stores). If you’re only going to one cold place, wait until you get there to buy a warm coat and donate it on your way out.
Be Prepared to Do Laundry
Any trip longer than a week will require doing laundry, and that is certainly true if you’re traveling for a year. You don’t own a year’s worth of clothing, so you can’t pack that much anyway.
In some parts of the world, it’s very easy and cheap to get your clothes washed, dried and folded for you. In other places, it makes more sense to do coin laundry or wash in your sink.
Hostels often have affordable laundry services, and if they don’t, they should be able to direct you to a nearby laundromats or someone else who can do your laundry. I, personally, don’t like washing clothes in the sink, but it works in a pinch, especially if you pack quick-dry underwear.
Bring at least a travel clothesline, something to plug your sink and soap that can be used to wash clothes. Laundry sheets and items like the Reviver can keep your clothes smelling fresh in between washes.
You’d think this would be a no brainer, but if you buy something particularly for a trip, or you haven’t worn something in a while, well, it could end up being dead weight in your luggage.
Tips for Toiletries
Try to imagine what a year’s worth of shampoo looks like. It’s several bottles, and not only does that take up a lot of space in your bag, but it adds a lot of weight as well.
Unless you’re traveling to extremely remote locations far from civilization, you will be able to find shampoo, soap, toothpaste, contact solution, and just about anything else you need. You can easily buy more toiletries throughout your trip as needed.
Do a trial run before you leave. See how long your travel toiletries last. Then you’ll have a good idea of how often you need to restock on the road.
Over-the-counter medications are fairly easy to find in other parts of the world, so you don’t need a year’s supply of your favorite headache remedy. Even antibiotics are sold over-the-counter in some places like Southeast Asia.
Prescription medicine might be the exception. If you take medication on a daily basis that is only available by prescription, you have to plan ahead. Use your best judgement to decide if you can reasonably carry a year’s supply of medicine with you.
Otherwise, have your doctor write out the generic name of the medicine you take along with all the dosage information. Then research places where you can get your prescription filled on the road. This might mean planning to be in cities with more modern medical facilities when you need a refill.
52 One Week Trips
Think of your year-long trip as 52 one-week trips back to back. Almost anything can be purchased while you’re traveling, you can do laundry on the road, and the longer you travel, the more you’ll appreciate not having a heavy backpack weighing you down. Just remember, you really don’t need so much stuff!
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Tina Sumner says
We leave on our one year trip on Friday (7/31) and I practice packed today. I fit everything in but my 40 liter backpack is stuffed full. I hope I have everything I need!
If I’m going on a longer trip that will include multiple unpack and repack – I put a strip of duct tape (yes another use for it!!) inside each packing cell with the list of contents written on it with a sharpie. So if I am rushing to pack after sleeping in – each packing cell tells me what should be in there and then I don’t risk the toothbrush being left in the bathroom or the adapter plug being left in the powerpoint.
My complete list is also in my Paperless ap on my iPhone – but being a visual person I find the duct tape list inside the packing cell works a treat.