08 Dec Long Term Travel Packing List Essentials: Global Nomad Clothing Recommendations
Greetings from the road! So far we’ve visited the first 3 countries of our 10 for 10: Global Neighbors Project trip, and we can’t wait to share with you stories and interviews from Italy, Spain, and Portugal. But today we’re covering something we get asked often: what do you pack for 10 months of travel?
In this two part series we’ll share our long term travel packing list recommendations for both travel clothing and gear essentials.
Part One: Global Nomad Clothing
Today’s post includes:
1. How to pack for your own style of travel
2. Important considerations for choosing the best clothing for long-term travel
3. Best fabrics for global travel clothing
4. Best travel clothing brands (for both cold weather and for hot, humid climates)
5. Our recommended packing list for long-term travel (including the travel shirts, pants, dresses and skirts, socks, underwear, jackets, and shoes that we love the most)
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To start off, first consider this:
Pack For Your Own Style of Travel
Everyone has their own preferences for how they like to travel. Let your gear support and enhance your travel experience, not hinder it.
Here are our personal travel preferences that help inform the type of gear we bring for trips:
– We are essentialists: We try to make sure that everything we bring with us will actually get used.
– We are minimalist: The more gear, the more burden. We’ve found that backpacks are easier for us to manage than suitcases for going up stairs, walking on unpaved or cobble stone roads and routes where cars cannot go. By knowing we will be carrying our gear, it forces us to be more intentional about what we bring to literally lighten our load.
– Everything must be multi-functional: Our long term travels put us in a variety of situations, from working on farms to attending weddings, so our clothes have to be adaptable for different uses as well as different climates. For example: Jedd’s travel pants are durable enough to be used for work or hiking but casual enough for a day around town and passable for those rare semi-formal events.
– Value matters: Although we’re on a tight budget, buying cheap gear can backfire, so we invest in nomad travel clothing that is high quality and durable. For example, some of our Exofficio underwear has lasted us 5 years. They were expensive when you compare them to underwear you can get at Target or Walmart, but the quality and durability makes the initial price worth it.
A good rule of thumb here is to invest in great quality travel gear, especially for things you will use regularly like underwear, socks, shoes, etc..
What does your travel look like? Where will you be going? What kind of gear do you need to enhance and help you to have a great experience? Start there.
Choosing the best clothing to pack for long term travel
I’ll say it again: Your clothes should enhance and support your travel experience. Bringing the wrong clothing can become a burden and in some cases, the wrong clothing can actually make you sick.
Here are some important things to consider about travel clothing:
Avoid cotton when possible:
– Feels great against the skin
– Typically cheaper material than merino wool and high-tech fabrics
– Absorbs moisture too easy
– Does not dry quickly
Consider merino wool and high tech fabric blends (including ones with a cotton mix):
– Wicks away moisture well
– Dries quickly (Merino dries faster than cotton. High tech fabric blends are the fastest.)
– Not everyone likes the feel of these fabrics (we do)
– Typically more expensive material, especially merino wool
Find multi-use clothing:
Examples: board shorts that can be used for swimming and casual wear. A dress that works casually or for formal situations.
Find a balance between function, fashion, and durability:
Regardless of how many features an item of clothing might have, if you think it’s ugly then there’s a good chance you won’t wear it. Find the balance that works best for you. Thankfully, travel clothing is starting to look a lot better these days.
Read online reviews when possible:
Do products actually do what they say they’ll do? Learn about the fit, the features, etc… Also read the “most critical” reviews. What do people hate about the product? Maybe why they didn’t like something is the reason why you’ll need to get it yourself.
Cold Weather Travel: Why and How You Should Wear Layers
If you’re going to be traveling in cooler climates – something we actually try to avoid – the best thing to do for yourself is learn how to layer properly. The goal: protect yourself from moisture to stay dry and comfortable.
Most of the time people think the way to stay warm in cold weather is just to block out the cold elements. That helps, but if you don’t find something breathable that helps wick moisture, you will be a mobile sauna — sweaty and uncomfortable. The goal is to find the perfect balance where your body is neither too hot or too cold, protected against the elements but not keeping in all the warmth. With the right layering you can achieve this balance.
All you have to remember is the 3 layer rule:
– Base layer – The moisture wicking machine. Keep your body dry!
– Mid layer – Provides insolation and some breathability
– Outer layer – Provides protection from the wind/rain/snow, but needs to have ways that hot air can escape (pit vents or breathable material/seams).
Outer layer: Consider a waterproof shield of some sort. It doesn’t have to be heavy or insulated to do the job (the base and mid layers should keep you warm). Remember, the bigger and heavier the coat, the worse it is to pack. Look for taped seams, pit venting pockets and materials that claim both breathability and waterproof technology. You want something that shields the external elements but allows your body to vent so you don’t get too hot and sweaty.
Mid layers: You have a variety of ways to go here and it all depends on how much warmth you need. If you tend to get cold often, like Michelle, consider mid layers that incorporate fleece or down. If you will be more active or you heat-up pretty easily, consider high tech fabrics. Look for words like wind-resistant or wind-proof as well as breathability. Do not use a mid layer to protect you from rain, but it should help protect you from the wind. Think warmth on a plane, early in the morning, or later at night.
Why Cotton Should Not Be On Your Travel Clothing List
The most important thing you want your travel top to do (besides look good) is to help you stay dry. In cold climates, if your clothes are damp, cold air will find this moisture and make you cold. If you properly layered and protected yourself against outside elements (like rain and wind) but you’re wearing cotton, you risk overheating and sweating. Your clothes will be drenched because cotton has poor wicking properties. Then it will become uncomfortable (and potentially smelly).
In hot and humid weather, cotton can feel nice against the skin, especially with a breeze. However, once it absorbs and holds on to sweat it can feel, well, unpleasant. Because cotton absorbs and holds moisture well, it will not dry quickly if it rains (or if you need to do a quick wash) and it will show sweat. We’ve also found that the more you sweat, the more you attract mosquitos and flies – gross!
Denim is our one caveat when it comes to cotton. Jeans are so common world-wide and many people feel most comfortable traveling in jeans, plus they’re pretty versatile. When we lived in hot, humid Jamaica for 2+ years, Michelle never had jeans. (These days, she does pack one pair of jeans if at least one of our destinations has milder weather.)
So first and foremost, always and forever — avoid cotton as much as possible when traveling. Mix blends are ok and full merino wool is best (though pricy).
Best Travel Clothing Brands
Because everyone has their own fashion sense, here are some of our favorite brands to check-out:
For Mild to Cooler Weather Look For Merino Wool:
⁃ Icebreaker: An outdoor and sportswear company from New Zealand that specializes in merino wool clothing Browse Icebreaker Women’s | Browse Icebreaker Men’s
⁃ Smartwool: Performance apparel that’s moisture-wicking, anti-shrinking, odor-reducing, and itch free
Browse Smartwool Women’s | Browse Smartwool Men’s
⁃ REI brand merino wool: Browse REI Women’s | Browse REI Men’s
If you’re wondering: Why the big price difference between REI and the other brands? — It comes down to the quality of the material and the detail in the fit and finish. You’ll find that Icebreaker and Smartwool will fit better against the skin were REI will have a fit for the masses kind of feel.
For Hot and Humid Weather Look For Moisture-Wicking Techwear:
⁃ Patagonia: An environmentally-conscious brand for climbing and other outdoor adventures
Browse Patagonia Women’s | Browse Patagonia Men’s
⁃ Mountain Hardwear: A high-tech outdoor clothing and gear company
Browse Mountain Hardwear Women’s | Browse Mountain Hardwear Men’s
⁃ PrAna: Stylish, sustainable clothing for every-day life and adventures
Browse PrAna Women’s | Browse PrAna Men’s
⁃ Columbia Sportswear: A Pacific Northwest company producing outdoor gear and sportswear
Browse Columbia Women’s | Browse Columbia Men’s
Long-Term Travel Clothing Packing List
We would recommend packing the following, assuming you’ll be traveling for several months at a time:
Best Travel Shirts
Pack 6-7 tops that can be used in a variety of situations. For men, go for about 4 t-shirts, 2 collared short-sleeve polos, and 1 long sleeve shirt. If you are a true minimalist, use the same high tech t-shirts (like this one) for work, day to day travel, and working out.
Jedd’s favorite travel shirt for men:
– REI Tech T-shirt – Standard quick-dry, moisture-wicking crew neck tee perfect for hiking, work outs, and every-day wear; currently available in black, blue, green, dark red, and gray
Michelle’s favorite travel shirts for women:
– Cowl neck polyester blend shirts that work for long walks, long flights, and even work meetings, like the To The Barre top by Lucy
– Almost anything by prAna
Best Travel Bottoms
Pack 2-3 long pants or jeans and 1-2 pair of capris or shorts (maybe more if you work out).Try to find pants and shorts that can be used in social, work, and semi-formal situations. Know that shorts are not worn in some cultures so lightweight capris may be more appropriate. Remember to choose colors that can match with several tops.
The best travel skirts and dresses should have the same elements mentioned for tops and bottoms. They should be quick drying, comfortable, and appropriate for casual exploration around town or out to a semi-formal dinner. Michelle packs 1-2 dresses or skirts for a trip, but some women may prefer more depending on their personal style.
Jedd’s favorite travel bottoms for men:
– Mountain Hardware AP Pants – Versatile cotton/nylon pants (also won a Backpacker Magazine Editor’s Choice Award); currently available in golden brown and shark gray
– Quicksilver Amphibian Hybrid Shorts – Stretchy water repellant swim suit shorts that look like chinos so you can wear them in town; available in solid colors like red, navy, khaki, grey, black, and light blue
Michelle’s favorite travel bottoms for women:
– Lucy Get Going Capris – Quick dry, light weight black capri pants with a hidden pocket in the belt area. Just be careful with how you wash these because the fabric can pill.
– Saturday Trail II Knee Pants – Quick dry, light weight stretchy bottoms that keep knees covered. Sleek pockets so you don’t look like you’re going on safari!
Michelle’s favorite travel skirts and dresses for women:
– Almost anything by prAna or Toad&Co. Browse prAna and Toad&Co dresses
Best Travel Underwear and Socks
Adjust the number of socks and underwear you pack based on how often you’ll be able to do laundry. We try to have a week’s work, just in case.
If you don’t feel comfortable in your underwear or your socks, you will not enjoy your travel experience no matter what you are wearing on top of it. Things to think about here are staying dry from sweat and avoiding chaffing. The last think you want is a rash or blisters on your feet. Mositure-wicking socks are essential.
Our favorite brands for underwear:
– We’ve also heard great things from fellow nomads about Icebreaker’s merino underwear
Our favorite socks for travel:
– Smartwool ankle socks for running and every-day use Browse Smartwool ankle socks
– Injinji moisture-wicking toe socks (Jedd swears by these) Browse Injinji toe socks
Best Layers and Outerwear for Men and Women
Jedd’s favorite travel jacket for men:
– Columbia Ascender Softshell Jacket – Wind and water resistant shell makes a great every-day jacket or a mid-layer to go under heavier coats in the cold
Michelle’s favorite travel jackets for women:
– Mountain Hardware Packable Down Jacket – Lightweight down jacket that packs into a pocket. Available with or without hood, in various colors
Best Travel Shoes and Footwear
Shoes can easily take up a ton of space in your luggage because they’re not usually collapsable. So it’s best to find shoes that can be used in a variety of situations. We suggest bringing the following 3 types of footwear and wearing your bulkiest pair for transit days, to leave more room in your luggage:
– Town shoes: For casual day-to-day exploring and traveling. Think comfortable and durable enough to walk and explore a city like Rome or rugged enough for the dirt roads of Jamaica. It’s ideal if the shoes can be considered dressy and casual at the same time.
– Athletic shoes: Hiking, working out, exploring, etc… your go-to shoe. Try to find athletic shoes that can do many of these things and still match with multiple outfits.
– A good pair of flip-flops, sandals, or mocs: There are so many times where it’s nice to have lounging foot wear. In warmer climates you might even use your flip-flops for every-day wear. Again, find the style that best suits your needs and doesn’t take up much space.
If your travel itinerary calls for a specific kind of footwear, then adjust for your needs. For example, if you plan on doing a backpacking trek then you might need really durable hiking boots. If you’re doing a walking trek like the “Camino de Santiago”, you’re going to want comfortable walking shoes that can handle many miles of walking. Plan accordingly.
Coming soon —> Part 2: The best gear to pack when traveling
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