Alternative Packing Tips for the Long-Term Traveler

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Alternative Packing Tips for the Long-Term Traveler

Searching “How to pack for long-term travel” or “what to pack for international travel” will yield tons of articles from travel writers more experienced than I telling you to pack so light for your upcoming trip that you can fit everything into your fanny pack (a small exaggeration). Skillful packing is a sort of point of pride for many travelers. The more experienced a backpacker becomes, the smaller their bag often gets. But I have to say that if there is one thing that often bothers me about the backpacker culture when talking to other travelers, it is that this can also become a point of judgment. I am most definitely an over-packer. This is seen often times as a negative by the truly seasoned travelers. I understand this, and I definitely agree with many of their general guidelines. You definitely only need a couple changes of clothes, travel towels are a lifesaver, ebooks are better than book books and two pairs of shoes are more than enough (hiking boots and chacos for me). I definitely cursed myself many times when transitioning to new cities and walking for hours with my heavy pack on in search of the cheapest place to shut my eyes. But I also think there are many good reasons to pack more than just a change of clothes and your toothbrush.

Good reasons to go for that bigger pack
1. Save yourself some dough


I often wowed fellow travelers with ways that I had figured out how to save money. This was often thanks to things that I brought from home such as these:

  • Water purification In almost every city I’ve ever traveled to outside of the U.S., people do not drink their tap water. Instead, water is filtered and boiled before drinking.  I carry multiple forms of purification from a SteriPen to a LifeStraw and even iodine tablets. The SteriPen allows me to purify tap water and thus, save a few dollars every day on bottled water. That really adds up. The iodine tablets come into play when I’m trekking and camping, allowing me to fill up my water bottle in nearby streams, cutting down on the bottled-water weight when it matters the most. The LifeStraw is a lightweight last resort that would allow me to extract water from the dirtiest of sources (check YouTube if you don’t believe me) in worst-case scenarios. I like to get into the true wilderness of a country, so this is a smart insurance policy. These items might seem a bit pricey (I actually got my SteriPen used at an REI Garage Sale), but after just a month of buying bottled waters, you’ve easily already paid for all three!
  • Sleeping on the floor- Have you ever had a CouchSurfing host tell you they’d love to have you but they’re already hosting someone else so there’s nowhere for you to sleep? Or maybe you show up to the only hostel in a small town and they’re charging a premium that you can’t justify paying? Or they’re already full? I’ve handled these situations many times by pulling out my air mattress. It packs down to the size of a water bottle and is plenty comfortable. I have slept on the floors of multiple hostels for a quarter of the price (or once, free) by giving them a puppy dog face and pulling out my sleeping pad when they were full or too pricey for my budget (hint: leave and come back later saying you couldn’t find anywhere else to stay). I’ve slept on the floor of CouchSurfing hosts and people I befriended numerous times throughout South America. I even slept on the floor at the Hong Kong airport after finding out how much I’d have to pay for a bed in the city. I had my pad anyways, knowing that I would be doing some camping, but again, after a while it pays for itself!
travel packing tips essentials
A few essentials that I always have with me: Sleeping pad, SteriPen, LifeStraw and Duct Tape
2. Open yourself up to more (and unplanned) adventures

Carrying a bit of extra weight and bulk was worth it for me after my first trek of many. In international travel, “treks” often refer to what we call backpacking here in the U.S. (think Appalachian trail), but it’s used in many different contexts as well.

  • By bringing water purification supplies, a sleeping pad and other compact camping basics, I am ready to experience the less beaten paths that countries have to offer. I am already a camping addict, so it’s worth it for me to take some essentials as I know I will use them. After all, natural beauty is the best part of any country, end of story!
  • Bring your boots! If you like the outdoors even a little bit, you’re going to really miss out if you don’t bring some footwear that you’re comfortable hiking in. If I am headed somewhere cold, my boots are the only footwear I bring. If it’s hot, hiking sandals are all I bring. And if I’m headed to a place with both? I bring them both.
  • When my girlfriend, Allie went to Thailand solo, she brought a camping hammock. After her first night sleeping under the stars alongside the Andaman Sea, I’m sure that extra pound was well worth it.
  • Bringing something you can swim in is also always a great idea! You never know when you’ll stumble upon a nice toasty hot spring or find a waterfall with some great water slide potential!
3. Record those memories!
  • I’m definitely a sucker for making travel videos! Check out my YouTube channel for a few of my travel videos as well as a couple great action videos of my college roommate’s cat (okay maybe I shouldn’t be advertising those here, but they’re pretty great!). Video and photo equipment can be pretty compact with options like GoPros and even smart phones. My pack will be a bit bulkier for my next trip as I’ve upgraded to a mirrorless camera kit. Regardless, it’s worth leaving some room in your pack for this stuff if taking nice photos and videos is a priority for your trip.
  • If you’re serious about trying to start a travel blog like me (emphasis on trying), it’s also worth considering bringing some kind of small tablet, as web design and photo editing on your phone quickly becomes a living nightmare.
4. Thank the people who touch you the most

This is something that I wish I thought of more often. There have been countless times when locals have done nice things for me, like opening up to me with their unique perspectives about their home, giving me a lift to the local bus station or helping me when my bank card got sucked into the ATM. It is times like these that I wish I had a unique and genuine way to thank them. Here are a few ideas of things you could bring when you find yourself in these situations:

  • A stack of stickers or magnets- Maybe these portray your local sports team. Maybe they are of a flag of your country or state.
  • A small candy or food item unique to your home.
  • Coins- This is something I have done before and is very easy. Give them a coin or two from your home country! The only downfall to this is that you will occasionally get someone who may ask you how much it is worth, thinking they struck gold.
  • Small airplane-sized liquor bottles- These are really cheap at our local liquor store. Living in Cincinnati, I brought a few small bottles of Kentucky Bourbon for my host brothers the second time I went to live with them in Peru.
  • A small photo album of your life back home- Obviously you aren’t going to hand these out to people, that would be a little strange. But when you really relate with someone, it’s great to open up to them by showing them a little bit about who you are when you aren’t a smelly vagabond!
5. Souvenirs, of course!

I love bringing cool stuff home for friends, family and myself. Sometimes it’s gotten a little out of hand, but that’s when it’s nice to know that you went for that bigger bag! Any space that you haven’t packed to the brim can be filled with Thai fisherman pants and Peruvian Pisco. But fear not, if your bag is already full, chances are you can find a small, cheap bag wherever you are traveling and start filling it with souvenirs, just remember that’s another bag to have to carry around.

These are not good reasons to spring for a bigger bag…

Nobody needs more than a couple changes of clothes for their trip. Embrace the stank! You’re traveling around the world living out of a backpack, you’re supposed to look like a hobo and you’re supposed to be a little raunchy! I’ll never forget how much my friends in Lima, Peru made fun of me for not having any shoes other than my hiking boots to go out to clubs to dance with. But they’ll never forget me for that, so uh, that’s cool right? If you’re finding the need to be fashionable in any situation, consider investing in a rolling suitcase and reading a different blog! As far as the smelly thing goes, just pack athletic material clothing so you can wash it in a sink with a little bit of detergent. It’ll dry in a couple of hours and then you’re nice and fresh again!

Bulky things you can rent

I would love to bring my own tent to travel with, but realistically, I know that it would not get used often enough to merit that (on international trips, at least). I also know that most outdoors-oriented places that I go will rent me a sleeping bag and a tent for a (usually) reasonable price. And unless you’re bike touring, there’s no need to invest in a bike box for the plane, just rent a crappy beach cruiser and have fun. The same goes for climbing gear, scuba gear, alpine gear, your surfboard, etc. Unless of course your trip is based solely on one of these activities, these above things are all items that I have rented for a fraction of the price to rent them in the USA.

international travel rent camping gear packing tips
Allie and I in Malaysia with our packs loaded with rented camping gear.
My last bit of advice…

As always, do whatever you want. I commend you for taking a risk and traveling. Take my advice or not, just know that the ultralight packing recommendations you’ll see on other blogs can be a bit overblown. Worst case scenario if you over-pack is that you’ll give some extra clothes to people who need them more than you, or you’ll coming home with some nice shoulder muscles. Have fun!

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Please Help Support us!

You can support No Strings Travel by using this link when shopping on Amazon! A small portion of the sale will go to us at no extra cost to you! Bookmark it :)

No Strings Travel is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

2 responses to “Alternative Packing Tips for the Long-Term Traveler”

  1. Carl says:

    Great tips, Nate! I'm an over packer!

  2. […] A trip-specific packing list with links to our favorite products will be here shortly! In the meantime, read up about some great packing tips here! […]

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