How to Pack for a Multi-Week Trip in a Carryon
Disclaimer: This is the packing list that works for me, when I’m in hardcore, multiple month, living-out-of-my-backpack mode. My packing list for a weekend in Vegas would read more along the lines of “small, sparkly things. lipgloss.” You should also know that I’m ridiculously minimal and one of those people who’s willing to wear the same outfit for four days in a row and then wash it with bar soap in a bucket. Soooo, consider yourself warned.
When I’m backpacking, my goals (fashion-wise) are:
a) that you don’t notice that stain
b) that my outfit doesn’t ruin that photo
c) that I’m mistaken for European (there! I said it!)
And I try to accomplish all of this with a wardrobe that’s small enough to carry around on my back. Now, this may not be the most exciting wardrobe ever, but, based on my experience, it works. I’ve used this combination across multiple countries, cultures and climates and it hasn’t steered me wrong!
What to Pack for Multi-Week Trips
These are the not particularly-cool-or-fashionable items that you need to carry, especially if you plan on traveling through cold climates or doing outdoors-y stuff. These things can be quite expensive, but (as per the usual) I found most of mine at thrift stores for just a few bucks.
- Silk long underwear
Sure, they’re expensive. But they’re also thin (and thus layer-able), light and incredibly effective. Much of the world doesn’t have central heating, so you may even need these if you’re frequenting Ireland in March.
- Those ubiquitous hiker pants
You know the ones. They’re made of high-tech material, you can make them 47 different lengths and you could use them to walk through a lava flow and emerge unscathed? They are also a big ol badge that screams “I’m a tourist!” But if you’re going to do any jungle exploration, glacier climbing or bush bashing, you probably need a pair. But I only wear mine when I’m engaging in the above activities because I’m totally vain.
- Zip-up technical gear coat
Again, you know these. The ones that cost a million dollars, have 35 zippers and were designed for astronauts. I like ones that zip all the way open (as opposed to half-zips) because it’s easier to warm-up/cool-off without actually removing clothing.
- Merino wool socks
They’re light, they dry quickly and they keep your feet really warm. Done and done.
- Nylon windbreaker
I have a tiny black one that’s actually a boy’s size XL and I love it. It’ll keep you warm and dry, pack up into a tiny ball and if you pair it with the right scarf and jeans, you won’t even look totally ridiculous. I realize it might seem like overkill to bring two coats, but it’s nice to be able to layer them or wear them separately. Of course, if you’re feeling fancy, you could get one of these 2-in-1 coats that zip two layers together.
- Fashion Clothes
For all those travel situations that don’t call for nylon, mesh or pick axes. Personally, I like to stick to cotton/lycra blends because they can go awhile between washes, dry fairly quickly when you do wash them, and don’t look too painfully touristy.
Also, I pretty much exclusively wear black when I travel – that way everything matches and it looks clean longer!
Day to Day Clothing for a Multi-Week Trip
- Black cotton/lycra blend dress
(knee length or longer – preferably covering your shoulders)
You can dress it up, dress it down, find one at any given Target/TJ Maxx/Goodwill. I’d recommend something knee-ish length because many temples/churches/cultures don’t go in for the miles of exposed leg that we Westerners favor. Also, when in doubt it’s always better to dress a bit more demurely, isn’t it?
- Black long sleeved t-shirt
- Black tank top
I know, I know. I’m overwhelming you with all this color, right? But you’ll look classier in black and it won’t show dirt as easily, I promise!
- Dress/skirt combo-thing
You know those elastic-y topped, strapless sundresses? And then you can pull them down and wear the elastic-y bit around your waist? That’s what I’m talking about! They’re super versatile and good for dealing with all those awkward pop-a-squat-no-toilet situations that Southeast Asia is always presenting. Yes, really.
- Black thin, zip-up hoodie
Not your giant Hanes hoodie, but something a bit thinner and more sophisticated. You can wear it as a coat when you don’t want to rock the nylon windbreaker or layer it with the windbreaker when it gets cold.
- 2 or 3 patterned sarongs
Sarongs are every traveler’s best friend (it’s a dress! it’s a towel! it’s a water filter!) so you can use them all the time. I like to wear mine as a scarf to dress up my black outfits, so I’d recommend getting a few in patterns that your really love. And no, not that tie-dyed lizard pattern.
- Black ballet flats
They’re always classy and should be quite comfortable. I love the Clarks, Born, or Me, too brands. Yes, they are spendy and no, you shouldn’t just get a pair from Goodwill or Target. I know you wouldn’t want to spend $2,000 on a ticket to Japan and then spend most of your time there with blisters and an aching back because you’re wearing $12 shoes, right? Riiiight?
- Good flip flops
There is such a thing, I swear! I always opt for flip flip style sandals over the strappy sport sandal version because, as we’ve established, I’m vain. A high quality pair of flip flops can run you $50, but you can wear them every day of your trip, they’ll support your back and I’ve even hiked in mine! I love my Chacos. They’re so innocuous you can even wear them in your daily, non-travel life.
- Black Adidas (or any non-white athletic shoe)
I will certainly be evicted from the Society of Serious Backpackers for saying this buuuut, you don’t need to bring hiking boots with you. Really. I’ve hiked Vietnam, Peru, Greece and Bolivia in a pair of black Adidas shelltoes. They weigh one-third of what hiking boots weigh and you can actually wear them around the city without looking totally ridiculous.
- Dark wash jeans
They’re dressier than a light-wash pair and they won’t show dirt. I’d opt for a pair that is not skin tight, so you can layer your long johns underneath if need be.
- 1 or 2 other solid color tops that match your sarongs
Mixing and matching, you clever thing you!
- 7 pairs of underwear
This is where I gross you out by recommending that you get used to hand-washing your underwear in a sink. Yes. Sure, it’s a little yucko but 90% of the time when you travel, your laundry is going to be hand washed – either by you or by the tiny grandmother who runs your hostel. So you might as save the money and keep your panties to yourself. I’d also recommend non-cotton underwear as they air-dry much, much faster.
- 5 pairs of socks
- Black leggings
Layer then under skirts and dresses or even under your jeans if the long johns are dirty or too warm
Non-clothing stuff to pack
Since you’re only bring a few carefully edited pieces of clothing, you’ll have heaps of space for other important things, right?
- Money belt
Sure, it’s a little embarrassing when you appear to be rummaging around in your groin to find your passport. But these really do keep your money and documents safe. I like this method heaps better than those awful around-the-neck numbers. Just be sure to actually tuck it into your pants, for the love of Pete. I’ve seen a shocking number of tourists attempt to use these as fanny packs. No. Fail.
- Packing cubes
Ohhhh, these are fantastic. They will save you approximately three years of time in repacking your backpack every time you have to pull your jeans out of the bottom. If you want to get all Virgo about it, you can get different colored ones for different items – red for bottoms, blue for socks/underwear/bras and yellow for tops.
- Shampoo bar
Doesn’t weigh much, lasts forever, won’t spill and gives you sexy beach hair. Win!
- Lotion bar
- Tinted moisturizer with spf
I don’t know about you, but two days into any trip I usually abandon any attempts at makeup and just start wearing sunscreen and chapstick. But with tinted sunscreen, at least I’m kind of faking it.
- Tinted chapstick
Because I’m 11 on the inside, I have a deep and abiding love for Lipsmacker’s Dr. Pepper chapstick. But mileage may vary, so find something that works for you.
- Really good smelling deodorant/solid perfume
There’s not point in wasting your spendy perfume on gaseous llamas or lascivious teenage Peruvian boys, but one doesn’t really enjoy stinking. I like to get a solid version of my favorite perfume or some really, really yummy deodorant.
- Bar of laundry soap
You know, for all that hand-washing of underwear you’re going to do
- Messenger bag
You’ll need a day bag to take around the city, but backpacks are easy targets for theives and fanny packs are douche-y. A messenger bag can be tucked under your arm or worn in the front without creating too much of a “I’m nervous that you’re going to rob me” vibe.
- Sanity pack
Inflatable pillow! Ear-plugs! Sleeping pills (though I’d only use these on overnight flights or overnight bus rides in safe areas) Motion sickness pills! Ibuprofen! Copies of all your documents and cards! An extra camera battery! An extra memory card! A Swiss army knife! Mace! Playing cards!