How to Pack for Long-Term Travel


And there they sit. Mocking you with their heaviness. Laughing as you try to steer them through the airport, the train station, or just along the sidewalk.

Suitcases… the bane of every traveler’s existence.

You’ll remember the struggle. Every time hauling those suckers through public transportation will be etched into memory. Up the stairs, across the platform, down the stairs, up more stairs, onto the train, off the train, into the taxi, out of the taxi, then, naturally, up more stairs. Up 9 stories, via spiral staircase, with no elevator… I’ll certainly never forget that Parisian apartment experience.

So that leaves the question… how do you pack for long-term travel?

Here’s a few tricks I’ve learned over the years.

1. Basics are your best friends.

Your favorite pair of jeans, those shorts that match everything, a black tank top… yeah, they need to be in your suitcase. Along with tops that lend themselves to layering. These items are the foundation of 90% of the outfits you’re most likely to wear. If you can’t make multiple looks including an item, leave it behind.

2. Dresses are one-stop shopping

Classic dresses are a total outfit. They can be dressed up, dressed down, perfect for a lunch or brunch and fabulous for drinks out on the town. Their versatility is what you can’t do without. I’m particularly fond of the maxi-dress, especially for long-haul flights. Too easy!

3. Decorate yourself

I don’t know about you guys, but I’m not a huge jewelry person. Other than a few pairs of earrings, I can usually wear the rest of the stuff I’m most likely to want with me. Being realistic about whether or not you’ll actually need those 10 necklaces and various other accessories will cut down on a surprising amount of weight in your suitcase.

4. Buy at your final destination

Unless you have some super special face cream or shampoo made with gold flakes that makes your hair shine just so, buy it once you get there. Pretty much everywhere in the world has figured out soap and shampoo, so you don’t need to worry about finding quality products. They’ll be there, and they’re heavy. Your arms will thank you.

5. Shoes – the Rule of One

While you may have an entire closetful of fabulous shoes, do you really need every single pair? I have learned from experience that I generally need one of each kind – one sandal, one flat, one boot, one heel. And my running shoes. And I always wear my heaviest shoes on the flight over.

6. Go digital

I’m a huge reader. As in, I have a book going constantly and read every single night before bed. It is completely unpractical to carry that many books with me, so I have bit the bullet and swapped to an e-reader. No, it’s not the same as the feeling of paper between your fingers, but you’ll adjust. And if you use a tablet you can save your flight confirmations, hotel bookings, and all of the other things you usually print out as PDFs right on your device. So. Much. Easier.

7. Save it for the special

You know, that one item or small group of items you absolutely love even though you only wear them on special occasions. Pack your very favorites, restricted to your top 3 or 4. This a slippery slope – once you open the floodgates it’s easy to get carried away adding everything in that once caught your fancy. Self-restraint is paramount.

And there you have it – my top tips for making sure I arrive, arms alive. Gleaned from years of experience and more than a few missteps in the practice of prudent packing.

Now, this really only helps you on your way to your long-term destination. If anyone has tips on how to get everything you bought while there back without a major fuss, I’m all ears. Because hauling 11 boxes to the French post office to ship home doesn’t rank high on my list of favorite things to do.

  • Great tips, Amy! Over the years I like to think I’ve become somewhat of an expert on travelling light. I didn’t used to be good at it but not so long ago I was able to travel to China for 2 months and only take (BA) hand luggage. Pretty good, I thought! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Well done Robert!! That’s impressive! I used to pack soooo much stuff… it was ridiculous really. I’ve certainly learned through many trial and errors what I need, and what I don’t lol. But only in hand luggage for 2 months – hats off to you!! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Great tips! I’m going to Spain in January for six months & I’m definitely going to need this!

    • Oooh exciting Karla!! Where in Spain? I’ve only been to Barcelona and Mallorca, but I loved it. The food… so. good!!! And packing light is a life saver – it’s amazing how little you actually need when you break it down tot he basics. ๐Ÿ™‚

      • I’m heading off to Granada, I’m really excited ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m a HUGE over packer, so I’ll try my best at packing basics

        • Haha I hear you! Granada will be amazing though, I’m sure. And you should be able to save bulk on winter clothes – wear your heaviest and pack with layers in mind. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Jenn Tormo

    Great post, and soooo true about those Parisian staircases. You nailed traveling through Europe with too many suitcases to a T. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Thank you Jenn!! I’m sure you can relate… I wish I could say I was exaggerating the hassle, but nope! lol The next apartment I got after that 9-story spiral staircase… yep, ground floor lol. Much easier!! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Venice was a charming city, but the boat, all those bridges and then the long staircase up to our apartment was a killer. I am a horrible packer and still seem to rely on having 5 set outfits that I rotate through instead of doing the mix-and-match to keep things interesting. I am also guilty of packing things “just in case.” Packing for multiple climates is the hardest part for me. I need the tropical clothes and the cooler weather clothes when layering isn’t enough. I will definitely have to keep your advice in mind.

    • Oh Venice… I was lost there for 3 hours trying to find our hotel during my first visit. Dragging that suitcase got tiring, to say the least!! Packing for multiple climates is a HUGE challenge, although I do know that I tend to wear the same sweaters and coats, so I try to just pack those. If I find I’m really missing something, I’ll find something for a reasonable price at my destination. Hence my problem with getting BACK in one suitcase lol.

  • Thank you Stephanie!! So very nice of you to say! Packing light has been an acquired skill for me… oh how I failed miserably at this in my earlier travels lol. I feel like I pack light now, but I still find that I don’t use items in my suitcase. I doubt that will happen this time with only one big piece of luggage for 12 months! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • Love that first photo. I hate packing but since we travel so often we’ve gotten pretty good at it trying to pack light. Some great tips although I would suggest taking fewer shoes as they are heavy and take up so much room. We never take more than 2 pairs each and often can get away with just one very versatile pair of shoes each. Even on our month long trip to Africa, we each just took 2 pairs even including our waterproof hiking shoes. Finding versatile shoes is a great investment of time from my experience! But I always pack a real book or two and then exchange, leave, and borrow books along the trip – I just don’t enjoy reading digital books as much.

    • Thanks Jessica! I’m totally on board with the shoes – I generally try to keep them to an absolute minimum. If I’m gone for more than 6 months, then I’ll allow more weight for more pairs of shoes. I used to be so much worse – an entire suitcase for shoes, accessories and toiletries. I’ve learned!! lol I love book exchanges! That’s a great way to stay with real paper without carrying around too much all the time. Great advice! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Ugh… I have to say I’m becoming a pro light packer but I also hate living my life out of a carry-on. I wish I had more choices of clothing, instead of having the wear the same thing practically every damn day. I also wish I could wear more shoes too… sigh. But I agree that dresses are the best because it’s a whole outfit in just 1 piece of clothing, haha! But … as much as I hate my limited clothing options… what’s really the most sad is that I miss not being able to pack the other stuff.. like books and stuffed animals! ๐Ÿ™

    • Ugh I completely agree with you Anna on the books!! I always want to buy the amazing coffee table-type books I see in Anthropologie and stores like that, but I know it’s impossible to take them with me everywhere. One day, when I do have a house again, then I’ll be stocking up on all the housewares I did without for so long lol. But I wouldn’t trade the travel for anything in this world. ๐Ÿ™‚

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