Minimalist Backpack Contents for Longterm Travel: Never Plane Check Your Bag Again

So you’ve decided to travel around the world.  You’re looking at a pro/con matchup and realize that the pro team is looking a lot stronger this season.  If you are like us, the risk of looking back and regretting the missed experiences in life is too great not to take this path.  Now you are working through the pre-trip timeline and need to start putting together a packing list.  Favorite high heels: check.  Hoodie footie pajamas: check.  Selfie stick…  Hold on, you’re gonna need to check out our list before you start.

This is a tough one.  Most of us have the luxury of having anything we need available for most situations that arise in some closet nearby.  Clothes for any possible weather, shoes for any occasion.  That spare screw from your Ikea bookshelf and extra matching buttons for each of your pants.  Now you need to pack things that will get you all the way around the world, in every imaginable weather and condition, and fit in a backpack.

Mt Fitz Roy backpacking with heels
What not to pack

We have visited over 25 countries on our continuous trip around the world and over 60 on 6 continents overall.  This list has been adjusted and perfected through our trial and error.

Our round the world trip involves mostly temperate or warm climates, so the packing list below was built accordingly.  Trekking through the Himalayas in Nepal and Iceland have been the coldest section of our travels, but we did not pack all items for these legs of the journey upfront.  Some area specific items which take up lots of room had to be purchased along the way and then donated such as heavy coats, sleeping bags and other cold gear.

When putting together your list longterm travel packing list, try to include things which could have multiple uses or purposes.  For instance, men’s running shorts can double as a swimsuit.  Whenever possible, opt for items which are not weighty and built for travel or backpacking as these tend to use lighter materials.  Clothes layering is an old backpackers trick which allows easier storage and adjustment to many climate conditions.  Also ensure that most of your gear is quick dry which will help keep items in your bag from staying damp after washing or usage, as it is unlikely that full laundry facilities will be available in most places.  Hand washing clothes in a sink is always an option.  Keep in mind that most items which you will need are available for purchase in most places in the world, so packing enough to last the entire trip is not necessary.  The good news is that you’re safe to leave your spare selfie stick at home.

We built the longterm travel minimalist packing list below for our own use and have added the items we felt were important to pack, along with our reasoning when appropriate.  Clothing is listed in items per person unless otherwise noted.

***The cold weather gear may not be necessary depending on itinerary and climate.

 

Our Minimalist Packing List For Round the World Trip:

Clothing – Outerwear

  • Packable Raincoat – Choose something lightweight which can pack down small, typically into its own pocket.  This jacket would be used for water protection but also as a wind layer.  If you’re prone to getting sweaty or clammy, look for waterproof breathable jackets.  Cheaper versions will have a coating called polyurethane.  This laminate style will tend to be less breathable, and also less expensive. If your jacket is not packable, follow these easy instructions on how to minimalist pack any jacket.
  • Lightweight Packable Puff Jacket – Again, look for a jacket that is light and packable, but has a good warmth to weight ratio.  You don’t want to take up too much room in your pack but also don’t want to compromise on the warmest layer you bring.  Choose according to your itinerary, with greater consideration for warmth if you will be in colder locations.  Our jackets got discontinued but are similar to these Patagonia ones.
  • Warm Hat – One beanie or similar for colder areas or evenings outside.
  • Gloves – One thin and windproof pair which doesn’t take up much space.
Round the World backpack contents
Grant’s backpack contents – expanded

Clothing – Main Layer

  • Long Sleeve Travel Shirts* – These are used both for mosquito protection and skin cover in regions or sites with cultural or religious restrictions.  We carry one very comfortable ExOfficio shirt which are lightweight, moisture wicking, have secure pockets and built-in bug repellency.  Bonus: you get to look flashy on special occasions.  Just match with your least dirty pair of travel shorts, spray a little bug repellent as cologne and you’re good to go.
  • Convertible Travel Pants* – Three pairs each of quick dry zip off short conversion, with zip side pockets.
  • Short Sleeve T-Shirts – Four athletic style quick dry.
  • Running Shorts – One pairs.
  • Skort – Megan has one quick dry with secure pockets.
  • Brimmed Hat*
  • Swimsuit – One bikini.  No men’s suit due to double use of running shorts.
  • Belt

Clothing – Innerwear

  • Hiking Socks – Two pairs of medium to heavy-duty wool blend boot socks.
  • Running Socks – Four pairs of athletic socks, either quick dry or cotton/poly blend.
  • Thermal Tops – One long sleeve layer for warmth.
  • Thermal Bottoms – One pair for warmth as needed.
  • Underwear – Five pairs, quick dry.  Didn’t want to skimp here.
  • Bras – Three comfortable, quick dry, dual uses with a t-shirt or when active.

Packing

  • Backpack – We carry an Osprey Kyte 46 and an Osprey Kestrel 38 for our main packs (our exact ones are now discontinued but similar to these).  These are lightweight, very comfortable for extended use, and have integrated rain covers to keep our gear dry.  Additionally, they have side access zippers which allows loading and unloading from more than just the top and bottom openings.  These are also both airplane carry on size.  At times during our travels, these have been too large and actually had plenty of room to spare.  The extra space makes quick packing or rearranging very easy but also allows us to carry additional items for portions of our trip.
  • Daypack – We carry one which we expect will hold enough for both of us on day trips.  We decided on the Osprey Daylite Plus after much consideration.  We originally looked into bringing a stuffable backpack which took up very little room, but wanted to add a little bit of comfort for long day hikes.
  • Packing Cubes – We have five total.  Since we are using backpacks, the cubes allow compartmentalization of our contents without having to rearrange or repack every item each time you need to open the bag.  Rolling clothes allows you to see every item in the cubes and they can go straight from your pack into a drawer without unpacking.
  • Travel Purse – For day trips around town, trains, etc.  This will allow easy access to important items and keep them in view and safe.  Megan has a Travelon which is cross body style, has locking zippers, wire mesh lining, RFID pockets, and a cable in the strap to make pick pocketing, slashing or snatching more difficult.
IMG_6163
Megan’s backpack contents – expanded

Shoes

  • Hiking Boots – Sturdy waterproof mid-ankle boots for multi purpose use. They are primarily for hiking, trekking, and wet weather and will be worn while traveling between locations to save room in our backpacks.  These may or may not be necessary depending on your locations and interests.
  • Walking / Running Shoes – For everyday use and running.  Lightweight with durable soles and compressible upper portions.
  • Flip Flops / Sandals

Sleeping

  • Inflatable/Packable Travel Pillow – We both have an ultralight, inflatable and packable travel pillow with a removable pillow case.  It has a fleece side and is large enough to be sort of comfortable.
  • Sleeping Bag Liner/Travel Sheet* – This is essential for using as a layer between questionable sheets at accommodations, or to add a little extra warmth.  We have Sea To Summit silk liners which are quick drying, light, soft, and packable.  Can also be used as a huge stuff sack for all of your souvenirs.
  • Ear Plugs – For sleeping on planes, trains, or in noisy accommodations.
  • Eye Mask – For sleeping while traveling or in hostels.  Bonus use: works as an eye cover when you are sunbathing and run out of cucumber slices.
  • Sleeping Bag – This is optional depending on where you go and how you travel.  We purchased one for our Africa Camping Safari and saved it for Trekking in Nepal.  We donated them after the completion of these countries and since we do not stay in hostels.

Toiletries

  • Toothbrush and Cover
  • Toothpaste
  • Floss – To make your dentist happy.
  • Bar of Soap
  • Bar Shampoo – Long lasting, limits liquids and space.
  • Shaving Cream and Razor
  • Deodorant – I want the trip to end like it started, with a wife.
  • Q-Tips
  • Bug Spray – Containing deet which is useful almost everywhere.
  • Sunscreen
  • Eye Drops
  • Lip Balm – With SPF protection.
  • Hand Sanitizer
  • Nail Clippers / File
  • Small Toiletry Case

*** We used to carry wet wipes but found they are unnecessary and take up space.  These are handy for safaris and wilderness trekking but not helpful otherwise in addition to hand sanitizer.

RTW backpack contents - condensed
Grant’s backpack contents – condensed

Medicine

  • Malaria Prophylaxis – Doxycycline is the most commonly prescribed for the prevention of malaria infection.  Access malaria maps on Fit for Travel to check necessity.  Some countries sell this for cheap and without a prescription.
  • Ciprofloxacin or Azithromycin – Antibiotic for travelers diarrhea.
  • Ibuprofen / Acetaminophen
  • Other Prescriptions as Needed
  • Various OTC
  • Blister Care Kit

Documents

  • Passport
  • Passport Photos – Several spare photos to use for Visa and trekking applications (e.g. China, parts of SE Asia, and several African countries).
  • Driver’s License
  • International Drivers Permit – Translates your license into several languages.
  • Copies of Passport, Travel Insurance, Driver’s License, Important Contacts
  • Yellow Card / Immunization Records

Finance

  • Credit Cards – Get one without international transaction or conversion fees.  The best we were able to find for US citizens is the Capital One Venture Card.
  • Debit Cards – Get one without international transaction, conversion, or withdrawal fee.  We carry a Charles Schwab card which also refunds us all foreign ATM fees.
  • Cash – For some visas which require US dollars.
  • Security Access Token – Third level of protection to access online banking accounts offered by some companies.  We now have this as a phone app instead of a physical token.
IMG_6161
Megan’s backpack contents – condensed

Electronics

  • Cell Phone – With wrist strap for security.
  • Laptop and Sleeve Cover
  • E-reader – To look busy when your neighbor on the plane won’t leave you alone.
  • Backup Battery Recharger – Helpful for trekking or long travel days.
  • Charge Cords – For each of the items listed above.
  • Headphones and Splitter – We use the splitter so we can both use headphones to watch a movie while traveling on the same phone.
  • Cheap Watch – Waterproof, durable.  To keep from needing to pull out a cell phone to check the time.
  • International Electricity Converter

Photography

  • Camera – you can see our full minimalist photography kit.
  • Camera Strap – Convertible to shoulder or wrist.
  • Ultralight Neoprene Camera Cover
  • Aluminum Tripod – Pocket sized extendible.
  • Accessories – Spare battery, small travel size charger, filters and memory cards.

Vision

  • Glasses
  • Contacts – Including case and solution.
  • Sunglasses

Other

  • Water Filtration – This is one of the most useful things we carry.  We filter water from the tap in many countries which would otherwise not be drinkable, and also can drink stream water when trekking.  Having this saves lots of money and has saved thousands of plastic bottles from going in the trash in countries which don’t have recycling programs.  We used to carry a Sawyer Mini, but upgraded to the larger Sawyer Squeeze.  Despite the slightly larger size, the flow rate is significantly faster which is worth the extra space.
  • Collapsible Water Bottle – We each have a 1 liter Platypus bottle.
  • Silicone Wedding Ring – So no one cares if it gets lost or stolen, and has no hint of value.
  • Ziploc Bags – Various Sizes for various purposes.
  • Pack Towel – Quick dry, packs small. We actually got rid of this after a year because we didn’t get the use value for space requirements, but we also don’t stay in hostels.
  • Headlamp – We carried this for many months and found it useful, but ended up sending it home and just using our phone flashlights in a pinch to cut down weight.
  • Small Padlock – To secure items in lockers.
  • Travel Size Laundry Detergent
  • Universal Sink Plug – We didn’t originally bring this and had a tough time locating one.  This is essential for doing laundry by hand in various sinks. Even though laundering clothes is generally inexpensive around the world, a few dollars per week on a service adds up big over time. Cutting small expenses is part of how we invested for long term travel.
  • Toilet Paper – For the many places that may not have this available or charge for use.
  • Clothes Line – For hanging washed or wet clothes to dry.  We got a Sea to Summit version which takes up almost no space and has synch cords to hold clothes without having to drape over the line.  Also good to use as a fishing line if you get hungry.
  • Safety Pins – These have come in handy.
  • Coffee Filter – This was another addition to the original list.  No two lodgings are the same and few have normal coffee pots of presses, but almost all have boiling water.  We carry an ultralight travel filter called Primula Coffee Brew Buddy.
Round the World backpacks - packed
Megan and Grant’s backpacks

*We had InsectShield spray permanent insect repellent on our Travel/Sleeping Bag Liners, Convertible Pants, Brimmed Hat, and Travel Shirts.  We also tried to have our backpacks treated but they were too water resistant to absorb the treatment.  This product will help repel mosquitos (which can transmit malaria, dengue fever, Japanese encephalitis, etc.), and other pests.  We chose these items as they would be used for body cover in mosquito prone areas, along with our direct contact bedding.  Some travel and hiking clothing is sold pretreated.

And that’s it, our longterm travel minimalist packing list!  Feel free to Contact Us if you have any questions about how we prepared.


Are you itching to get on the road?  Don’t forget to turn in a professional resignation letter and get started planning your world trip with our detailed countdown.  And we highly recommend checking out posts from these other countries for a little inspiration:

5 thoughts on “Minimalist Backpack Contents for Longterm Travel: Never Plane Check Your Bag Again

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