One of the most common questions we get from people is “how do you pack for a trip around the world?” Prior to our around the world trip, purchasing gear was one of the most time intensive and important things we did. Tim and I made numerous trips to REI and placed many online orders in order to find the perfect backpacks, travel clothing, and travel accessories. Here is our around the world packing list, what we carried on our backs during 396 days of travel.
The general rule of thumb for long term travel is to pack light and be prepared to wash clothing over and over again. The less you bring the less you have to lug around. Buying lightweight clothing made from synthetic materials that can be washed in the hotel sink and hung up to dry is crucial to packing light. Being able to frequently wash our clothing by hand allowed us to bring less stuff.
It can be hard to make the transition from life at home with a closet full of clothes to carrying what you need for a year on your back. We learned that there is something liberating about only having a little bit of stuff…less to worry about, less to carry, less to weigh you down.
Around the World Packing List
Clothing (per person)
- 5 short sleeve shirts
- 2 pair of shorts
- 2 long sleeve shirts
- 2 pair long pants
- 7 pair socks
- 7 pair underwear
- 1 lightweight fleece
- 1 rain jacket
- 1 pair pajamas
- 1 pair long underwear
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 visor/hat
- 1 bra and 1 sports bra (Julie only)
- 1 scarf (Julie only)
We designed our around the world itinerary for an almost “endless summer.” By staying in warm climates for most of the year, we were able to avoid bringing along winter coats or cold weather gear. If temperatures got chilly, we layered the clothing we had. There were a few times we bought hats and gloves (China in early March and Drakensburg, South Africa in August). Prior to our trek to Everest Base Camp, we purchased winter coats and cold weather gear in Kathmandu. After the trek we donated the clothing to a local orphanage.
When purchasing clothing, chose synthetic fabrics over cotton. Synthetic fabrics dry faster and are more resistant to wrinkling. Our long pants were all synthetic hiking pants that either zipped off at the knee or rolled up to become capris.
There are a lot of travelers that get by with less clothing than this. Personally, I liked having enough clothing to go six to seven days without having to do laundry.
Julie’s clothing and a few miscellaneous items.
- Running shoes
- Hiking Shoes
- Keen Sandals (Julie only)
On several occasions, we bought flip-flops to go to the beach (along with one or two beach towels).
- Shampoo and conditioner
- 1 bar of soap
- Toothpaste and toothbrush
- Dental floss
- Makeup for Julie
- Hair gel
- Nail clippers
- 1 bottle of nail polish
- Brush and comb
Our laundry supplies got a lot of use! The clothesline and universal sink stopper made doing laundry super easy. If you really want to save on space and weight, shampoo can also be used as laundry detergent.
- Epi-Pens for Tyler
- Ciprofloxacin (for traveler’s diarrhea)
- Azithromycin (for traveler’s diarrhea for kids)
- Pepto Bismol
- Medrol Dose Paks (3)
- Aleve PM
- Oral rehydration solution
- Malarone (anti-malarial medication)
We carried a lot of medications but rarely needed them. On this list, the ciprofloxacin, azithromycin, Epi-pens, medrol dose paks, oral rehydration solution, and Mobic never got used.
- Laptop for each of us
- Kindle (Julie, Tyler, and Kara)
- iPhone for Julie, unlocked
- Samsung Galaxy for Tim, unlocked
- Canon DLSR
- Panasonic Lumix point and shoot camera
- 2 Travel power strips
- GPS Tracker (Columbus V-900)
- Eneloop Rechargeable Batteries
- Back Up Hard Drive
- Power Adaptors
Carrying four laptop computers around the world may sound excessive but it was perfect for our family. While we had downtime, Tyler and Kara did their homeschooling on their computers, I wrote articles for this website and edited photos on my computer, and Tim booked hotels and researched future destinations on his computer. It allowed us to be more productive and it also kept Tyler and Kara entertained, during the little bit of free time they had.
Tim tracked just about every mile traveled (by car, airplane, bicycle, horse, camel, you name it) with a small GPS tracker. Since the around the world trip, we started using a Garmin GPS 64S that we highly recommend.
The Eneloop rechargeable batteries are also a great thing to have in your backpack. For the few things that took AA batteries, it was much more cost efficient and environmentally friendly to have a few rechargeable batteries than leave a trail of regular batteries in landfills around the world.
We regularly uploaded photos and videos onto a back up hard drive, so we would have a second copy of everything in case our laptops were lost, stolen, or just stopped functioning. Roughly every 4 months we sent the hard drive home and then started uploading the new data onto another hard drive. The megabytes of data that we amassed while traveling were precious to us and we wanted to keep those memories backed up and protected.
To learn more about our photography gear, we have an in-depth post: Travel Photography Gear Guide
- Soccer ball
- Ball pump
- First Aid Kit
- Insect repellent
- 2 travel umbrellas
- Lockable steel cable
- Small travel locks
- Eagle Creek Packing Cubes
- Eagle Creek compression bags
- Sewing Kit
- Microfiber travel towel (2)
- Deck of cards
- Emergency toilet paper
Kara carried a soccer ball with her for most of the trip. It was annoying to carry around and get through airport security on a few occasions, but it gave Tyler and Kara something else to do. Plus, other kids joined in on the fun, so it also opened up Tyler and Kara to the chance to meet other children from around the world.
I first started using packing cubes on our around the world trip and they have totally changed how we pack and organize our things. Now, we never travel without them. Packing cubes are available in all different sizes and are critical in keeping your clothing organized. If you are living out of a backpack long-term, keeping your clothes compartmentalized makes traveling, packing, and unpacking so much easier. Rather than a backpack filled with a jumble of shirts, socks, pants, shoes, and underwear, you can have a cube for each type of clothing. Finding what you need is easier and unpacking when you get to your next hotel is quick and easy. We used lots of cubes, in all different sizes, and I highly recommend them.
The Eagle Creek compression bag (size large) is the perfect place to stash dirty laundry while traveling. Throw your dirty laundry into this bag, compress it flat as a pancake, and toss it in your backpack. These bags separate your dirty, smelly clothes from the rest of the clean clothes, all while taking up less room.
There are several items that were rarely used but really nice to have. The corkscrew, the sewing kit, the Steri-Pen (for sterilizing water while hiking), and the first aid kit fall into this category. However, the emergency toilet paper was used much more than you might expect. This is something you really should consider carrying with you, as toilet paper is not found in all bathrooms around the world.
- Copies of passports
- Passport photos
- Immunization Book
- International Driver’s License
- Tim: REI Grand Tour 80L backpack
- Julie: REI Grand Tour 80L backpack
- Tyler: Northface Overhaul 40L
- Kara: REI Trail 25L
- 2 Pacsafe daypacks
- 1 packsafe messenger bag (as Julie’s camera bag)
We packed our clothing and accessories into Tim’s backpack, my backpack, and Tyler’s backpack. Kara’s backpack became the kids’ daypack, filled with their computers, Kindles, and journals.
While we were out sightseeing, Tim carried food, money, water, and other essentials in his daypack. I carried the camera in the messenger bag.
When we traveled around the world, Tyler was in the 6th grade and Kara was in the 5th grade. To keep them on track with the public school system, they both did homeschooling while we traveled.
We used a company called Calvert Home School, at the advice of our local school system. In 2014, most of their books and lessons were not digitalized. Tim and I digitalized most of the curriculum ourselves (prior to leaving the US) and loaded this onto Tyler and Kara’s computers. There was no way that we could carry boxes of books with us as we traveled.
What about Souvenirs?
As we traveled we purchased souvenirs, although we kept this to a minimum. Anything we bought either had to be carried or shipped home. Shipping a box from Africa or Asia to the US is expensive and there’s always that small chance that it won’t make it to its final destination. All of our boxes made it home, but several got damaged in transit, so not everything we bought made it back in one piece.
In addition to the backpacks listed above, we also had a smaller bag, similar to a cloth grocery bag, for carrying souvenirs, filled journals, or even snack food, while traveling. Once the bag was full, we would ship it home.
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