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How to Pack Light for a Long Trip

Packing Light
Allianz - Packing Light

Maybe you’re living your dream and traveling around the world. Maybe your job keeps you constantly on the go. Or maybe you’re planning to backpack around Europe for a month. Whatever your reasons, it’s time to learn the art of packing light for long journeys.

It’s not as hard as it sounds! We’ll walk you through the packing process. And remember — the best way to pack peace of mind is by protecting your trip with travel insurance.

Invest in a travel wardrobe. 

Normally, we’d advise travelers not to run out and buy a bunch of specialized clothing for a single trip. Instead, you could spend that money on fabulous dinners and souvenirs at your destination! But when you’re packing for a long trip, you’ll feel 100 percent cleaner and more put together if you invest in clothing designed for travelers.

  • Travel underwear is breathable, comfortable and quick to dry. The Wirecutter road-tested 34 pairs of men’s and women’s travel underwear and named its champions: the ExOfficio Give-N-Go sport mesh boxer brief for men, and the Patagonia Active Hipster for women.i
  • Travel socks keep your feet warm, dry and comfortable. Fabric is what matters most; travel experts praise merino wool because it can be worn over and over again without getting smelly.
  • Travel pants should be able to go from rugged trails to five-star restaurants. We hear good things about the Stretch Zion line of pants from Prana, which are water-repellent and have hidden pockets.
  • Travel dresses are wrinkle-resistant and can be dressed up or down. We’re partial to Betabrand’s Round Trip Dress, which can be flipped inside-out and front-to-back for four looks in one.
  • Travel shoes need to be ultra-light, ultra-durable and supremely comfortable. Get some recommendations here: Tips for Picking and Packing the Best Travel Shoes

Pack less clothing than you think you’ll need.

For shorter trips, we’re big fans of the 1-2-3-4-5-6 Rule for packing: 1 hat, 2 pairs of shoes, 3 pairs of pants or skirts, 4 shirts, 5 pairs of socks and 6 sets of underwear. It works for long trips, too, as long as you can do laundry once a week. Throw in a few extras: more undies, a dress or nice jacket, and fun accessories to fight travel-wardrobe fatigue. Pack laundry detergent, a drain stopper, a stain stick and a travel clothesline, and you’re set.

Weather can be tough to predict when you’re on the road for three weeks or more. Take a look at the extended forecast for your destination(s) and calculate what percentage of the days will be warm. Then, pack accordingly, advises Travel Fashion Girl — for example, 30 percent cold-weather, 70 percent warm-weather clothing.ii

Pack multifunctional, durable travel accessories.

Instead of a power adapter kit for every country you visit, buy one that adapts to different voltages. Instead of buying bottled water (and contributing to ecological disasters like the Maldives’ “trash island”), get a refillable bottle that filters your water. A lightweight sarong or Turkish towel can be used as a shawl, coverup, curtain or tablecloth.

If you’re traveling in urban areas, don’t worry too much about toiletries. “A toothbrush and electric razor are the only things I pack; I buy soap, shampoo and toothpaste once I land,” says Ben Granas, co-founder of Trip Happy.iii

Use your phone or other device to store all your important travel documents: passport scans, itineraries, photos of your open, packed suitcase (in case your baggage gets lost), and travel insurance documents. Carry paper backups, too. If you haven’t already purchased insurance, don’t delay. Compare plans and purchase one that fits your trip and your budget, to protect yourself against unforeseen emergencies.

Assess your luggage.

Your beloved, battered old suitcase might not be the best choice for a long journey. When you’re packing for a long trip, the ideal bag is water-resistant, super-durable, lightweight and easy to roll.

Which suitcase should you buy? That depends on your destination and your budget. For maximum flexibility, look for one that’s expandable (so you can make room for travel purchases) and has internal compression straps. Instead of one monster suitcase, consider a luggage system: a wheeled carry-on and a backpack that clip together so you can sail easily through the airport.

When you’re planning a long trip, you absolutely must have travel insurance with the baggage loss/damage benefit. If your stuff gets lost, damaged or stolen while you’re traveling, travel insurance can reimburse you for the actual price, actual cash value, repair or replacement — whichever is less, based on the limits in your insurance policy’s letter of confirmation.

Now, it’s time to pack.

Our travel packing checklists can help you make sure you’re not forgetting anything. As you place each item into your suitcase, ask yourself why you’re bringing it. “If you start with the words ‘what if,’ or you only plan to use it once during an extended trip, it may not be a necessity,” says Frank Brown, editor at 1 Bag, 1 World.iv 

The old-school way to pack a suitcase: Roll, don’t fold. The new way is to use packing cubes.  “Once you start using packing cubes, there is no turning back,” Travel + Leisure declares. “It’s incredibly satisfying to open your suitcase and know exactly where everything is.”v Use these lightweight cubes to organize clothing (by type or level of formality) along with a wet-bag for storing and even washing dirty clothes. Some cubes have a compression zipper that packs your clothes as tightly as possible.

Take it all for a test run. 

On a long trip, you may have to drag your bags through airports, subways, crowded train cars and bus stations. Once you’ve packed all the stuff you think you’ll need, see how it feels to lug your luggage. Can you carry it upstairs? Can you make it around the block? Can you lift it high into an overhead compartment? If you struggle to do these things easily, then it’s time to edit your belongings.

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