How to Pack Like an Expert for Long-Term Travel

We’re off! Six weeks in Mexico, maybe more. It’s agonizing trying to decide what to take, but I finally packed everything in my Osprey Porter 46 and a small tote bag.

Joe managed to get six weeks of gear into a Jansport school backpack (I’m jealous!) He’s never been on a long-term trip, but somehow managed to pack about half as much as I did in 1/3 the time.

How did we do this? By answering a few questions, carefully planning, and leaving things we can purchase on the road at home.


Suitcase or Travel Backpack?

The very first question that you need to ask yourself is do you want to take a small (less than 22 inches) carry-on suitcase with wheels, or do you want to take a backpack? Some questions to ask yourself when you make this decision are:

  1. How far will I be walking?
  2. Can I comfortably carry my backpack for up to an hour?
  3. Will I be able to wheel my suitcase wherever I go?

Personally, I believe carrying a backpack is the easiest option. I own a 22″ Samsonite Carry-on suitcase and an Osprey Porter 46 backpack that packs like a suitcase. I occasionally take the suitcase, but not if I know I have to walk a long distance over several modes of transportation.

There were many situations during this trip that carrying the weight of the backpack far outweighed the awkwardness of a suitcase on wheels.

Start Packing Early

Start packing early so you’ll have time to take out the things you don’t need. I used to start weeks in advance for a long-term trip. This time I started the week before I left, laid out what I wanted, then started eliminating items to cut weight. In the end we just have our two carry-on bags, plus my tote bag, and that includes all electronic gear!

Leave the Toiletries at Home

On previous trips I used to pack every thing under the sun of to save money, and make sure all of my favorite items were readily available. This time I left it all behind and took only my favorite face wash, homemade deodorant, a few essential oils, and a small toothpaste. Everything is cheaper here!  Plus it’s just as nice or nicer than the products I use at home.

Put Back 1/3 of What You Packed

This goes along with the earlier discussion. Put back 1/3 to 1/2 of the things you plan to take. You don’t need it, and you’ll find plenty of nice cheap things almost anywhere you’re going.

Bring a Small Empty Daypack

How else are you going to bring home all those souvenirs and clothes? The airlines (we flew American) are getting strict about carry-on limits so if you already have your carry-on bag plus a small personal item, you’re not going to be able to add a daypack.

Electronics and Photography

Nikon D3300 DSLR Camera in Red               iPad Mini 4
VanGoddy Camera Case                               iPhone 5s
Battery Charger & Extra SD Card                  Altec Lansing Bluetooth Speaker
ASUS Zen Book UX305                                 Cords & Chargers in One Pouch
Thule 13in Laptop Case


3 Lightweight Dresses                             Hiking Shoes
3 Pair Linen/Cotton Shorts                      Dressy Walking Sandals
4 cotton/linen t-shirts                               Flip-Flops
1 long-sleeve white t-shirt                       1 bikini
2 cotton sports bras                                1 sarong cover-up (doubles as a blanket or towel)

Personal Hygiene Items

Lush Solid Shampoo and Conditioner

Peppermint, Lavender, Terra Shield, & Purify Essential Oils

Toothpaste & Toothbrush, Face Wash, & Moisturizer

Minimal Makeup consisting of concealer, mascara, and lip gloss (everything else’s going to sweat off anyway).

Miscellaneous Items

Bandanna          Ibuprofen
Probiotics          Day-Pack
Vitamins            Travel Towel
Ibuprofen           Travel Pillow

I hope you enjoyed our post on how to pack like a pro for six weeks of travel. Do you have any must-have items you take with you? Do you prefer a suitcase or backpack? We would love to hear what you think! Please leave us a comment below.


  1. Hi, Jen. Well, i’m trying to decide what to pack and which one of those backpack or suitcase. I’m planning to travel over Europe. I don’t want to carry so much. That is something that I want to think about it. I just want to carry on. But, can you carry on two small bags? Hmmm..? Thank for this article to read and it’s help me to pack smart.

    • Hi Eric. I’m so glad this was helpful to you. When’s your backpacking trip going to start? Where all are you going? Let me know if I can help you with your travels. Yes you can carry on two bags, one carry-on backpack, and a personal item like a purse, briefcase (does anyone still carry those?) or laptop case. That’s not ironclad, but just a general guide, it varies by airline.

  2. Hi, Jen. Well, about a month, first fly in London then head to Paris ,around France, Trier(thank for tell it about,I didn’t know about it),Munich,maybe Amsterdam,and Rome. But , You know how it is. Making plans is driving me crazy! So, I read through Lonely Planet book and get an idea what do I really want to go. One thing, I love nature! I may go biking or hiking someplace. I’ll traveling there for 5 weeks. I want to get a light laptop. I’ll bring camera. However, The travel plans I have, It may change anytime. I just want to be flexible. No touristy people! I can’t stand it. I will go in the morning or lunch or late day. I’m interesting more on history or ancient sites.

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