Last Updated 23/11/2019
What to pack for a round the world trip is largely personal choice. You might like skirts, I like jeans, but there are certain things to take into consideration that we talk about below. I’ve spent at least 7 years of my life on Round the World trips now, I’ve got packing for them off to a fine art. I wrote this post before our second RTW, I was in the planning stage of packing. Today, I’m happy to say that I got it right, eventually. See what you need, what you don’t need, to pack for your RTW below.
Back then I wrote :
When I say ” What to pack for a round the world trip”, I don’t necessarily mean what you should pack for a round the world trip, this is what I pack for a round the world trip. I warn you, I’m not normal! This is my second RTW, so I know it works for me.
Please check and double-check all the information we give you locally as times, places, dates, and services do, as we found, change often. Restrictions and closures may apply.
What to Pack for a RTW
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I Don’t Pack Skirts, Dresses or Shorts
I used to live in the tropics, just 16 degrees south of the equator in Port Douglas, Australia. It’s stinking hot, and humid. I wear jeans, near enough every, single, day. I don’t subscribe to the idea that we all need to wear shorts as soon as the sun pokes its head out and I like to keep the sun off as much of my skin as possible.
My extensive research has found it to be cooler and less sweaty. Look at people who live in hot countries, how about the Middle East? Covered from top to toe to keep the sun off.
My skin is already monumentally stuffed from childhood, I’m covered in solar keratoses from having a suntan and I don’t want to make it even worse. It’s not just that, I can’t bear wearing skirts and dresses in the heat, sweaty legs, yuck! I think I’m doing the world a favour by keeping my legs out of sight.
Plenty of people do, in fact, most people do, feel free to tell me about it, but I can never get my head round it.
I Don’t Pack Expensive Travel Clothes
I don’t like commercial travel clothes, either. I think they are over-priced and unnecessary, the equivalent of buying a super big 3D TV when you could make do with a normal one. I’m trying to make my life as minimalist as possible. Aren’t you?
I’ve owned zip-off trousers, the zips dug in, I’ve owned a purpose-built, expensive, “fishing shirt” full of flaps to allow air to circulate and SPF 1 million. It was the sweatiest garment ever, synthetic fabrics just don’t do it for me.
I stick to natural fibres, they breath, wick sweat and can be boil washed to kill skin infections. Maybe they work in temperate summers, but I find them unbearable in the tropics. Let me know if you disagree, I’m fine with that!
The only synthetic items I use often are fleeces and running tights. Running tights and most sports wear are good for travel activity like trekking.
UPDATE: 5 months in, we are very glad we only packed natural fabrics for another reason…Mozzies! DEET containing mosquito repellents destroy synthetic fabrics but we can spray them all over our cotton and linen gear with no problems. Mosquitos DO bite through clothes, the DEET helps but we still get bitten. See our tips for avoiding mozzies here.
I Try Not to Pack Whites
I love to wear white. When I moved to Australia I stocked up on white shirts to throw on over a vest T shirt to keep the sun off. They were wrecked within weeks, the sunblock on your neck and wrists combines with tropical grime to make an orangey stain that never washes out, ever, even with bleach.
White has had to go. White jeans, are still possible, I love white jeans, or trousers. They actually don’t get as dirty as you think and most dirt washes out. But packing white for an RTW – just no. Making up a full white wash to go to the laundry is too hard and there’s no guarantees the laundry will keep your whites separate.
I Don’t Do Buying New Stuff for a Trip
Who am I trying to impress? A bunch of people I’ve never met before? They won’t know that I’ve worn that shirt every other day for a month. Sure, If you live in the arctic circle and you’re going to the tropics you may need a few things, but generally we’ve all got clothes in our wardrobes to cover just about any eventuality.
I take the stuff I’ve got already and if it wears out, I’ll buy new on the road.
What Do I Mean by a Round the World Trip?
I mean extended travel, longer than a month, in multiple climates. The length of the trip really doesn’t affect how much you need to take, but climactic variations do, a little.
Multiclimate packing isn’t so hard, you need socks and jocks everywhere, as they say. Same goes for jeans!
We probably won’t go RTW this time, air fares to the Americas will be too expensive ( update: we did! see USA, Canada, Guatemala and El Salvador categories), but we’ll be doing lots of tropical and a bit of cold and snow, we hope to take on some high Himalayan trekking ( we did, click through to our Everest Base Camp Difficulties post), as much as the kids will allow. Specialist trekking gear is of dubious necessity. See our post on trekking gear for Nepal – what we needed, what we didn’t.
We won’t be doing much of Europe, maybe just the UK. If we do, we may need to be a little better turned out, we’ll buy stuff there. I’ll need new jeans by then, clothes in Britain are cheaper than in Australia and there is far more choice. And shoes, how I miss shoes! But it’s not worth putting them in my backpack. I borrowed shoes from a friend in the UK last time, that saved me $100 plus.
This is What I am Going to Pack For Our RTW Trip
This list is subject to change, we’re still four months out from departure, but this is the plan.
1 Pair trail shoes.
They will do for light trekking, cold climates, occasions where covered shoes are required and walking carrying a pack for any distance. They’ll do for running too ( not likely to happen). I am not taking my hiking boots this time, they’re too bulky and if we’re trekking with the kids, even for a few days in the Himalayas, we won’t need them. We won’t be trekking in snow. ( Update: We did, the trail shoes were fine but for Everest I invested in boots. I now always travel with my hiking boots)
1 Pair flip flops.
Essential for showers. These will be my every day and every evening shoes of choice in warm climates. I can walk in them all day. Easily replaced wherever you are. Maybe I’ll pick up a spare pair in case of blow-outs. That’s it for shoes. ( Update: Never without them! However, plastic isn’t good so I’m on the look out for vegan rubber flip flops)
3 Pairs of jeans.
Yes, really! Two light-weight stretchy pairs, one of which could be worn with heels if absolutely necessary. I could also trek in these easily, I usually trek in stretch denim. One heavy weight baggy pair, because I think I look better in them and they’re fashionable, in my head. I always wear these to travel because they have lots of pockets and are the heaviest thing in my pack. ( Update: I took 1, but now I carry 2 pairs , always, each pair of jeans lasts 1 year)
Thai fisherman’s trousers.
To look the part. Easy to replace anywhere in the world, my current pair are strong cotton came from India. They also do well as pyjamas when it’s cold. (Update: They wore out after about 20 years, I’ve got a new pair from India, less bulky than the voluminous Thai ones, they also wore out, instead, these days, I pack running tights or leggings only – do not buy Thai elephant pants, they last 5 minutes)
1 Pair of running leggings/yoga pants.
Comfortable to pull on if you’re doing nothing much at your lodgings and maybe I’ll make it out for a run. (Update: I did a lot of the Everest trek in yoga pants and they double as warm bed wear.) Not shorts…eeeww I hate shorts! Unlesss…
1 Pair of swim shorts and a rashie.
Most people in Australia swim in shorts and a long-sleeved rashie to keep the sun off. I own a pair of swim shorts although I rarely use them for swimming, they’re unflattering and clingy. They’re very light to pack, I’ll wear them to sleep in or for short-requiring emergencies. ( Update: Still in my pack, rarely worn)
Swim suit and bikini top.
The bottoms don’t fit me, the top will make a handy extra bra and be useful if I end up getting the tattoo on my back that I’m planning, the straps won’t rest on the tattoo. ( Update: Down to swimsuit only now, I got the tattoo, see the post about getting a Sak Yant in Bangkok here. )
Sarongs have so many uses! I’ll drop a bit of weight once we hit the road, once I’m thin enough to wrap a sarong around twice it will make a respectable skirt. Men can wear them too. (Update: I don’t use the sarong so much now, I use the scarf, see bottom, instead)
Vest tops, maybe 6 .
They call them tank tops in Australia. Sleeveless T shirts, you know. For sleeping in, for wearing every day, for layering. I find them indispensable, I’ll take plenty so that I’ve always got a clean one, I won’t be doing laundry more than once a week, I hope. ( Update: Down to 2 or 3 now)
2+ Long Sleeved Shirts/Tops.
Thin cotton ones with buttons, like the orange one up there, to keep the sun off and to be respectably dressed in counties that require it. I bought a great one in Cochin, India, last time, there are loads of light cotton clothes in little specialist shops there. ( Update: I now mostly have long-sleeved Primark jersey tops, black, the shirts all wore out.)
1 T shirt.
Because I’ve only got one I like. ( Update: Still only 1)
Again, to keep the sun off, I’ll take my cap for now, not ideal, but I’m not buyng another ’till I can replace my favourite-hat-ever that I bought in Thailand. It was with me for years and was good for hot and cold. (Update: I wear a cap almost every day, everywhere)
Do I really need to tell the world about my underwear? Yes I do. I will take 1 or 2 supportive running tops ( Lorna Jane), they’re respectable enough to wear on their own in a beach situation and good for layering. But they take ages to dry. So I’m also taking normal bras, maybe 3. Or 4. Strapless ones are good. Bras have to fit, so I’m not taking a risk on finding stuff I like on the road when I’ve got great ones here I can take ( Marks and Spencer, in strong colours, not white, white goes grubby looking). I apply the same reasoning to knickers, about 10 pairs, again, nice ones, Marks and Spencer, lightweight and quick drying. I don’t like cotton underwear, I like fancy, lacy, synthetic things, never had any bother with you-know-what. Socks, maybe 3 pairs, thin ones from Top Shop. I use them for running and trekking ( unless we’re in snow), I don’t like thick socks. Underwear doesn’t weigh much so I take plenty. ( Update: I still carry loads of underwear, but it’s wearing out and I lose some. I trekked in the Himalayas in thin socks or my 1 pair of hiking socks, we bought hiking socks for the kids in Kathmandu)
I love my fleece. But great ones can be bought cheaply just about anywhere chilly. ( Update: I bought an extra one for $14 in Kathmandu)
1 Micro Fleece.
I bought it in Kathmandu 12 years ago, it’s still going strong. (Update: ditched, the zip finally broke)
1 Down Jacket.
This is purely because I already own one, I wouldn’t go out and buy one new. It packs down very small. If I didn’t have one I’d buy one in Kathmandu, or Beijing, or wherever I found myself in need. You’ll find cheap replica ones easily and they’re pretty good. You can even hire them for a trek. ( Update: I never took the down jacket, I’ve never needed it, in the Himalayas I bought an extra thick fleece, I didn’t take a down jacket even for Everest Base Camp)
Again, because I already have them. Not very glamorous but they work just fine over stretchy jeans for skiing or as an extra warm layer on treks. ( Update: I didn’t pack these in the end either, I haven’t missed not having them. I bought salopettes for skiing in Romania)
Jewellery and other accessories.
Just the jewellery I wear every day, all silver, nothing too valuable. I know I’ll end up buying more. Two bandanas for tying my hair out of the way when it’s a mess, which is most days. Handbag of some sort, fabric. My last one came from Thailand, I use it every day worn under my backpack at the front of my body if we’re travelling and a good cotton scarf. Scarves have a million uses, from dressing up an outfit, to drying wet kids in emergencies.
The One Most Important, Useful Garment I Carry and Pack?
A large cotton scarf. This scarf is, a scarf to keep me warm, to keep the sun off head, shoulders, arms, to use as a curtain on buses, a towel for emergency mop-ups, a clean cloth for dirty kids, an emergency handkerchief, a clean cover for grotty bedding or seats, an emergency sarong and a good hat. It’s worth it’s weight in gold!
And that, is it. I think that will see me through just about any eventuality, cities to country, mountains to beach.
Famous last words, I know a few more travel essentials will find their way into my 60L backpack. Really, whatever you need, or want, you can buy, so I’m going to start with a light pack and progressively make it heavier. It always happens. I love all my hippy, ethnic, gear and pick something up in just about every country, I’ll be on the lookout for some lighter trousers, I just can’t find anything here. Things will wear out as we go. I give the jeans 6 months.
I’m expecting a few comments on this one, a lot of people will think I’m certifiably insane for living in flip flops and jeans, but I’ve lived it for the last 5 years, it works for me. This post came about because I read Annie’s packing post this morning. If you want to see how to pack like a lady, click through to her site. It’s not me, it’s never gonna happen, I’m sticking with jeans!
UPDATE: In the end I took less. The medical kit, wash kit, kids books, pencils and so on took up so much room I couldn’t fit all of this in. I ended up with one pair of jeans, which I’ve worn to death. Read about what we actually took and how well it did the job in this post, our 4 month update on how good our packing was.