Whether you’re a digital nomad or full-time backpacker, this long-term travel packing list for women will help you fine-tune your bag’s contents down to just the right size.
The Just-Right List
This long-term travel packing list began at the same time as this blog, with Chris and my 6-month move to Medellin. And, like the blog, it started off messy, amateurish, and unrefined.
Pretty much as soon as we landed, I realized I had packed too much. All the extra jackets and knickknacks did nothing but weigh me down. Luckily, my family came to visit so I could dump it on them to take back home.
But I learned my lesson. I took note of what I kept to remember for future trips. And I’ve continued to learn and fine-tune my long-term travel packing list as Chris and I have continued our “unconventional routes” around the world.
It’s still a long list. But it’s not too long. It’s not too short either. For me, it’s getting closer and closer to being just right.
Long-Term Travel Packing List Outline
Even though the following should be obvious, I make a point of triple-checking I have them sorted out before I leave:
If you’re on prescription medication, make sure you get this before your trip. Also, have your doctor write you a prescription in case you need to have it filled while you’re away.
✓ Passport and Driver’s License
Make sure your driver’s license doesn’t expire when you’re gone and your passport expires six or more months after you return. It sounds basic but so many people fail to check this before leaving. Save digital copies to the cloud in case of an emergency.
✓ Travel Insurance
Many travel credit cards offer free travel insurance but they’re often only valid for a couple of weeks. A month, max. Take advantage of those free days of insurance, then pay separately for travel insurance for the rest of your travels.
If you’re not sure which travel insurance to buy, check out these steps for finding the best travel insurance.
✓ Call Your Bank
Let your bank and credit card company know you’re traveling, where, and for how long so the fraud protection team doesn’t cancel your card thinking someone else has gotten a hold of your account details.
While you’re at it, ask your bank if they have any travel accounts or cards with lower foreign withdrawal and exchange fees. If not, look to sign up with another bank that has them.
✓ Stop Monthly Payments Back Home
If you’re a part-time digital nomad, you probably don’t want to cancel everything but look into how much it will cost you to put your gym pass, phone, and other monthly subscriptions on hold while you’re gone.
Packing lists aren’t the most exciting reads, so let’s get some positive momentum with the more exciting (or at least less boring) stuff:
✓ Empty Space
Just because you have a big bag doesn’t mean you should fill it so the seams are about to burst.
As we recommend in our post on unconventional travel tips, if you have to roll your clothes to get them to fit in, you have too much. Save room in your bag for souvenirs, new clothes, and duty-free alcohol.
This is one of our top travel tips: To make new friends on the road and win over your hosts, pack a little something special that’s unique in your home country (or city) and difficult to find where you’re going to give as gifts.
For example, Chris and I bring Canadian delicacies like packaged smoked salmon and dried mushrooms (the non-magical kind).
Not for protection. At least not for protection against people or animals. My trusty Wusthof chef’s knife protects me from having to try to chop with whatever inevitably dull knives are in the kitchens and places we travel to.
My Zojirushi travel mug, which Chris got me for my birthday years ago, is more proof that Chris’ guide to how to pick gifts really works. It holds in heat (or cold) for hours, doesn’t spill, and has an appealing lightweight, sleek design.
✓ Workout Toys
Sometimes we have to be creative. To expand our options, I pack the following lightweight workout equipment:
- Lightweight skipping rope – Great for warm-up or circuit workouts and weighs next to nothing.
- Rubber workout bands – For activation exercises, stretching, and banded workouts on the bar.
- Lacrosse ball – To roll out tight areas and pressure points.
I pack high-quality green, black and herbal teas just in case I can’t buy them wherever I’m going.
✓ Packing Cubes
I use packing cubes to organize and separate my stuff. People recommend rolling your clothes but just like Chris, I feel like if you need to roll your clothes you’re already bringing too much.
✓ Travel Towel
Normally, we rent places with towels when we travel long-term or stay at hotels or Airbnbs that offer them. My travel towel still comes in handy for the beach, road trips, as a workout mat, and seemingly something new every trip.
✓ Check-In Bag
I struggle with this one.
In Medellin, I used the big backpack pictured above. But since Chris and I prefer to stay in one place and explore deep rather than wide when we long-term travel, I thought I might as well get something sturdier, so I got an Away Travel suitcase.
I don’t like it. It’s too big and cumbersome and for some reason, the handle length is totally off so I have a hard time dragging it. So, I’m back with the backpack… for now.
Ideal Check-In Bag Specs:
- Straps to be carried as a backpack.
- The ability for the straps to be packed away when checking in the bag.
- Multiple zippers and compartments.
✓ Carry-On Backpack
My latest purchase is the REI Women’s Rucksack 40L. It’s a perfect size for me to fit all of my necessities for long-term travel, without looking like I’m about to climb Mt. Everest.
It’s minimal, has a ton of pockets, and has rave reviews like this from other travelers:
So far so good, but it’s still early days. I’ll let you know if this bag really is marriage material.
And if you can’t get your hands on this exact bag, no worries. Here’s what to look for:
- Easy-to-wash (no leather or other hard-to-wash material)
- Comfortable handles and easy-to-carry
- Padded interior pockets for laptops
✓ Day Pack
Last year Chris gifted me my Lululemon City Adventurer backpack for my birthday. I love it. And I’m not just saying that because he got it for me. (I actually picked it out myself.) It’s stylish, goes with everything, and has just the right amount of pockets including an easy-access one for keys and a laptop sleeve.
I use my Longchamp tote bag for the times when my backpack’s too big or sporty. It’s lightweight, foldable, and versatile.
Shoes take up a ton of space and are heavy—lucky you if you have small feet—but you’ll still want to pack a few pairs if you are traveling long-term.
Here’s what I pack:
- Runners. Go for something lightweight, washable, and that matches with everything. I swear by my black and white Nike Frees which are great for hiking, walking around cities, and exercise. Just not hiking in ankle-deep mud in Rwanda.
- Flip-flops. Since we usually travel to warmer destinations, flip-flops are a must. I like my Havianas.
- Dressy Sandals. No, I’m not talking stilettos. Pack flat sandals that can be dressed up or down that are also comfortable for long periods of walking.
- Sneakers. My Ecco sneakers on one of my 15 favorite travel essentials. When I’m moving from one place to the next I wear these because they’re the heaviest shoes I pack.
Since everyone uses different toiletries, there’s no point in me telling you what I pack. I’ll just share some items you might not consider packing:
- Creams in small, travel-friendly containers (100ml sunscreen, 50ml face cream, 100ml body lotion).
- Soap (body soap, facial cleanser) packed in a small Ziploc bag.
- Eye-drops for dry eyes.
- Small pouch with band-aids and medication.
- Small Ziploc of Q-tips.
Keep It Small and Contained
Don’t be that person who packs huge bottles of shampoo and conditioner in their check-in bag. Buy your bigger toiletries when you get wherever you’re going.
To stay clean you until you get settled and save money and the environment, fill small reusable containers with creams and shampoos. And always put them in a Ziploc bag to protect the rest of your stuff from spills.
For these reusable contains, my recommendations are the 50ml and 100ml containers from Muji. Quality matters. If you cheap out, there’s a good chance your shampoo and face-creams lids will pop off and turn into a gooey mess.
Clothing – Tops
Three words of advice: pack neutral colors. At least for the majority. Not every top on my long-term travel packing list is neutral, but pretty close. That way I can mix and match and not look like I only own three outfits.
✓ Shirts and Dresses
- 5 t-shirts or tanks
- Chris would disagree with bringing an easily-stained white shirt but I think it’s a must. It goes with everything and in warm countries (which we tend to visit), I always stay cool.
- 1 denim button-up shirt
- You might see me rocking this with some jeans to complete the Canadian tuxedo combo every now and then. I can’t help it. It’s in my blood. I love my button-up jean shirt because it’s super versatile and goes with almost anything.
- 2 dressy shirts
- You never know when you’ll get invited to a fancy dinner and need something a little dressier than a sports bra and tank top. Bring a couple lightweight tops that will go with almost anything. My favorite is my Hannah Lavery Drift Linen Shirt.
- 3 dresses/Rompers
- You’re going to want to dress up every now and then. I pack a romper and two dresses. One LBD (little-black-dress) and another summery one.
- 1 beach dress
- Something that you can throw over a bikini that dries quickly.
✓ Sporty Shirts
- 4 athletic top/tanks
- Lululemon wins again here. I wear this tank at least once or twice a week. It’s perfect: quick-drying and anti-stink.
- 1 athletic long-sleeved shirt
- Again, Lululemon comes to the rescue. The Swiftly Lululemon tops are great. I purchased one from their outlet store a couple of years ago and wear it, constantly. It’s thin, easy to wash, and dries super quickly.
- 3 sports bras
- I work out a lot, so having 3 sports bras is a must. My favorite sports bra is the Flo Y Bra by Lululemon.
✓ Warmer Tops
We avoid wintery destinations for our long-term travels, so you may need to add to this section if you’re going somewhere snowy.
- Rain jacket
- My yellow MEC rain jacket makes me look like a bumblebee, but I’m okay with it. It’s super light-weight, reasonably priced, and packs up into a small little pocket, which makes it perfect for traveling light and coming in handy for those unexpected hiking downpours.
- Lightweight down jacket
- My Patagonia Nano Puff is such a versatile jacket that is perfect for layering that I don’t care that Chris has the same one. I can put my rain jacket on top of it and wear two, even three, layers underneath for when it’s really cold. Also, Patagonia has a lifetime warranty so if you accidentally rip your jacket on barbed wire (like I did) they fix it up for you in a few weeks at no extra cost.
- Light sweater
- My black long-sleeved top is my one and only foray into the world of merino wool that Chris is obsessed with. I like it, but it doesn’t make me want to write a whole post about how awesome merino is.
- 1 hat/cap
- A super versatile cap that goes with every outfit. I’ve worn my Nike golf cap for about 6+ years and it’s still going strong.
- 4 bras (2 nude, 1 black, 1 strapless)
- 10 underwear/thongs
- 2 sets of PJs
- My friends make fun of me for dressing like a 60-year-old Japanese lady wearing my floral-patterned pajamas, but I pack them anyway, especially for long-term traveling. Bring something lightweight and easy-to-wash.
Clothing – Bottoms
✓ Day-to-Day Bottoms
- 1 pair of jean shorts
- To complete my Canadian tuxedo ensemble while traveling in warmer countries, I like to bring a pair of jean shorts. Any will do. A local thrift store is sometimes the best place to find some.
- 3 bikinis
- Lucky for us ladies, our bathing suits can be tiny and take up hardly any space. But that doesn’t mean you should bring your entire collection.
- 1 pair of jeans
- I love my somewhat boxy, high-waisted Levi’s. Chris, on the other hand, does not.
- 1 pair of loose pants
- My Aritzia Nanterre pants keep me cool in warm weather, have handy pockets, are comfortable for walking around the city or sitting on a 14-hour plane ride, and can be dressed up or down.
- 7 pairs of white socks
✓ Sporty Bottoms
- 2 pairs of athletic shorts (+ 1 spandex pair)
- Lululemon shorts are the only sports shorts I own. There are plenty of other good shorts out there but I haven’t purchased any recently so I can’t speak about their quality or versatility. I personally like the Run Times shorts.
- 2 pairs of athletic pants
- Ok, maybe this post should be sponsored by Lululemon. My favorite workout pants are the quick-dry Fast and Free Tights. I wear them just about everywhere.
I like to carry most, if not all of my electronics with me on the plane. Just in case something happens. The REI backpack I use has a storage compartment for a laptop and I like to keep all my cords and chargers in one place.
- Laptop + charger + case
- Camera + lenses + charger
- Wireless headphones + charge cord
- Speaker (same charger for headphones). My UE Boom portable speaker is one of my favorite things.
- External hard-drive. For our photos. We have a 1TB Seagate.
What Did I Forget?
The funny thing is that despite having spent many years refining my long-term travel packing list, every time I leave for a trip I still get the nagging feeling that I forgot something.
And normally my feeling’s correct. But I always survive. I either buy whatever I’m missing wherever I am or figure out how to live without it.
I’d rather not though, so if you have suggestions for items to add (or remove) to improve my long-term travel packing list, please let me know in the comments below.