Packing Light for Longterm Travel

How to pack like a Girl

We have been living out of our carry-on backpacks for over 10 years.  Airports, bus stations and the like are a breeze!   We travel light, but not ultralight.  Light enough to trot off to our hotel and not wait in a long taxi queue.  Small enough to keep with us on a bus/train/boat trip.  I cannot imagine how having more stuff would be any better.  So finally, after lots of promises and much procrastinating, this is how I pack….like a girl.

Luggage and Packing 

My backpack is ancient now but it is near perfect for me (strong and with a good zip opening – all the way around for easy access).   I don’t want wheels or extra padding for laptops,  but I quite like a mesh pocket.  I am faithful to my old backpack and have, so far, resisted trading up for a newer model.

Packing Light for long term travel

These days, prefer one simple packing cube for my clothes and a few ziplock bags which I use occasionally to keep items separate and to keep my ‘posh frock’ clean and flat. Trousers are rolled and secured with a hair band. Vacuum bags and compression bags do save space, but (& I can’t believe I am saying this!), I have space to spare.

48902A6A-3BD0-4477-9E07-6FB014087901 Packing Cube –  inside are all my tops, skirts, undies, a dress, and a sarong.  Space to spare for shopping bag, hairbrush and my sunglasses too!



T shirts are for sale everywhere – Clive replaces his frequently as we travel, but I am more quite fussy about fit and fabric.  I want something a bit more fitted (ie flattering!) and stylish, so I pack an extra top or two….it’s my guilty secret.

Tops and Dresses

  • 2 summer dresses 
  • 3/4 T-Shirts
  • 2/3 Cotton blouses (1 long sleeve)
  • 1 Cardigan (lightweight silk/cotton)


  • 2 Skirts (reversible, fine cotton doubles the options/wear, without being bulky)
  • 1 pair of trousers suitable for trekking, but nice enough for city wandering
  • 1 pr Capri trousers

Underwear and Swimwear

  • 5 pairs of knickers
  • 2 bras plus 1 sports bra (for exercise and/or very bumpy road trips!)
  • 2 pairs of merino socks (to wear with hiking shoes or as slippers)
  • 1 swimming costume


  • Sunhat – with a strap (which has saved it many times!)
  • Sarong – doubles up as a sheet, beach towel, scarf, privacy curtain, modesty (long) skirt 
  • Sun glasses 


Just one pair of each !

  • Walking shoes/sandals, 
  • Heels 
  • Flat(ish) sandals


  • Waterproof jacket (rarely taken and ONLY if it is going to be both cold and wet).

Packing light for long term travel

If it rains, I do as the locals do – buy a disposable rain poncho and wear with sandals! 



I will confess to packing two airport size liquid bags as I give one to Clive to carry through airport security. One or two of these items are shared use anyway!


  • Shampoo
  • Conditioner 
  • Body lotion
  • Moisturizer
  • Deodorant
  • Toothpaste
  • Shower gel
  • Sanitary products (2 month supply)


Most of the miscellaneous items here are packed in a small lightweight bags (see photo in ‘Little Luxuries’ section).  Other items will stay my handbag, or a pocket of the backpack.

  • Small hairbrush
  • Tweezers and foam nail file
  • Spare electric toothbrush heads
  • Zip lock bags in different sizes, couple of empty spare 100ml bottles.
  • Pen,  retractable pencil and notebook
  • Duct tape, small roll.  (Ideal for instant repairs/holes in mosquito nets etc)
  • Mini torch (batteries in upside down)
  • Mini sewing kit
  • Day bag – use a folding totebag if you are going mainly city, but a backpack style if you are planning on trekking.   Either should be not much bigger than a pack of cards when packed. 

Little Luxuries

It really helps to have a few little lightweight bags for groups of things.  

  • Make up – just a few basics (mostly sample or mini sizes) 
  • Heavy duty sunlotion : 100ml from the airport, i.e. 8 hour, 30+ factor, waterproof
  • Handbag –   washable/wipeable and relatively lightweight.  To fit iPad, bottle for water and camera. At least two zip pockets. 
  • Jewellery – just a few bits! 
  • Extra purse for spare cards, currency, keys etc.

015E3B3D-08C8-411E-B5BB-9AE62EB8A52EPhoto : These are my mini bags for make up, jewellery, cash and cards etc

Optional Extras

None of the following are essential and all can be picked up easily as you travel, but if I have a long flight or will be somewhere remote for a while, I might include them to make the trip a more pleasant. 

  • Empty 500ml water bottle (fill after airport security)
  • One reading book (Use book swaps for variety)
  • Earplugs – only important if staying in hostels or going on really long bus trips in South America! 
  • Phrasebook/teach yourself language book 


I just take my iPad and an electric toothbrush with the appropriate chargers. Perhaps a phone, but we often share one.  Clive takes all the other electronics! Sometimes I will pack the camera. 


I leave all this to Clive too! You could argue that some of my miscellaneous could be first aid items. 


We don’t often choose extreme cold weather for lengthy trips, so don’t always take much to keep us warm.  We can’t resist the amazing natural beauty such as the Bolivian Salt Flats or the vast mountain ranges such as The Andes, which at altitude can be very cold. Watching dawn break to reveal a wonder of the world is worth getting cold for (or buying a local wooly) but for longer periods, always go prepared. My packing list would include

  • Hat (possum or cashmere)
  • Gloves
  • Base layers (merino – it is antibacterial and anti pong!)
  • Walking boots to replace sandals (with extra socks)


Things I no longer take 

Security Mesh for luggage, heavy duty locks, money belt etc

Travel towel – we just don’t stay anywhere that we would need one.

Guidebooks – too bulky for multiple countries. I save maps offline and use maps from tourist information/homestays etc.    Use an online guidebook if you wish, instead of lugging around an actual guidebook (better still ask locals for recommendations).  Spare guidebooks are often on book swaps shelves. 

Fleece –  I have ditched this for layers of merino, which is cosier, more versatile, takes up less space and dries quicker. 



Typically our bags weight between 8-12kg.  We are often over the allowed carry-on luggage weight, (especially with the budget airlines)  but we have never  been stopped for a weight check in the last 10 years. I think it helps that we have only one bag each, check in online, and try look nonchalant as much as we can.

I might be umm… 50ish and have called this a Girls Guide to Packing, but indulge me, I still feel young at heart. Packing for the next new adventure is always fun! 


For more Packing Tips, click here

You might also like  :   How to Pack Like a Man 



  1. Great and very similar to what my wife and I do. We download all the books we would need to our Tablet or Ipad and never have to pack paper, saving both space and weight.

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