morro de sao paulo things to do

Planning to take a RTW backpacking trip? Read on to help you plan what to pack for a year-long trip. This post will go through how to pick a backpack, what to pack for a year-long trip, and some extra packing tips!

Pick a Backpack

Picking a backpack can be a somewhat stressful experience, since it’s hard to tell how much space you’ll need. If you search “Best Travel Backpack,” expect to be bombarded by endless options that all look pretty similar and yet all somehow claim that they are the best! How do you know you’ll make the right decision?!

Is it possible to carry everything you need for a year-long trip and never have to check any bags? Yes! Michelle and I both traveled for a year with carry-on sized 40-liter backpacks.

At a high level, you need to decide whether you want to pack light, and thereby rent or buy any necessary equipment as you go, or pack to be prepared for anything. Anything smaller than 40 liters, would put you squarely in the first group, while anything larger than 40L would put you in the second group. For anything larger than 40L, plan to check your bag any time you fly. Google around and check out different styles and reviews to see what looks best for you. Expect to pay over $100 for a good backpack.

Peru Sacred Valley Colectivo Pic 1
It’s helpful to pack light when traveling through rural Peruvian towns via shuttle bus, the only form of public transportation.

Unfortunately, we cannot make the right decision for you, but we can offer tips and share what we did! If you plan on flying a lot, traveling light may be worth it in order to always have your belongings with you. In addition to a carry-on, airlines usually allow you a personal item such as a purse or tote. This offers a bit more room for overflow items, but in general you should plan to fit all your personal belongings in your backpack.

Michelle and I traveled 40L Osprey Farpoint and Fairview backpacks (here’s the link for men and women) along with one (1) 22L daybag and a tote that we picked up along the way. We used the daybag for day-hikes and bus rides, and the tote usually carried food and spices that we lugged around. Although Michelle is traveling slightly lighter than in her perfect world, the combination has certainly gotten the job done!

Everyone we’ve met (besides Michelle) wishes that they had packed less and had brought a smaller backpack that would be less of a hassle to lug around and would not need to be checked at airports.

But what if I’m going camping?

You should think about what the majority of your time will be spent doing. Will you mostly be camping or staying at hostels? Will you mostly be in the wilderness or in big cities? You don’t want to have to lug a tent and sleeping bag around (as well as cooking equipment) if you’re only going to be using it in frequently. Plus, all tourist towns offer rental options. For any camping we did, we easily found all the equipment we needed for rent.

torres del paine packing list
Our rented gear for the Torres del Paine W-trek in Chile

Packing Cubes and Plastic Bags

I was skeptical that these would actually work, but they really are helpful! We bought this basic pack from Amazon and they worked perfectly with our 40L backpacks. It’s also important to purchase a durable toiletry bag.

It’s always a good idea to have extra plastic bags handy. We used plastic grocery bags to wrap up shoes and to separate dirty clothes. Also, pack at least 10 plastic sandwich bags to isolate and waterproof small things like emergency money or cards. Be sure to put some spare bags in your pack. You never know when you’ll need them!

Year-long Packing Lists:

These packing lists are perfect for travelers who want to travel light (40L or less). These lists reflect what we packed PLUS what we wished we had packed or bought along the way, and what we ended up not needing.

Essentials

Most of the items below can be shared. Ones marked with an * denote one per person.

  • Copy of your passport in a different location than your actual passport
  • Dramamine (motion sickness, for long bus rides)
  • Tums and Pepto Bismol (nausea, heartburn, indigestion, upset stomach, diarrhea)
  • Advil
  • Toothpaste / toothbrush / floss / toothbrush cover *
  • Universal charger
  • Deodorant
  • Bar soap & container
  • Shampoo
  • Face wash
  • Sunscreen
  • Insect Repellent
  • Nail clippers
  • Tweezers
  • Comb or brush
  • Swiss army knife
  • Duct tape (literally works with anything)
  • Deck of cards
  • Monopoly Deal (this is a must-have)
  • At least two (2) small packs of wet wipes
  • Safety pins
  • Reusable straw, fork and spoon *
  • Exercise bands
  • Extra phone screen protectors
  • Ten (10) empty plastic Ziploc sandwich bags (don’t ask me why, you’ll just need them)
  • Plastic bag or small container of salt
  • Money belt *
  • Carabiner * (useful for clipping things, like shoes, to the outside of your bag)
  • BeFree 1L water filtration bottle
  • Headlamp *
  • Travel pillow

NOTE: When you can, keep liquids under 100ml to comply with airline requirements

World famous Sambodromo during Carnival in Rio de Janeiro
Body glitter is NOT essential, UNLESS you’re going to Carnaval; but you can always buy it there.

Year-long Packing List for Him

  • 1 pair of hiking shoes (either worn or hooked to carabiner on outside of backpack)
  • 1 pair of sneakers (extra points if they can be used for running AND going out)
  • 1 pair of Chacos Walking Sandals (for hostel showers, but also for hiking when your boots are too much)
  • 7 pairs of socks (2 long hiking socks)
  • 7 pairs of underwear
  • 2 pairs of pants (1 khaki, 1 cargo pants)
  • 1 pair of khaki shorts
  • 1 pair of athletic shorts
  • 5 t-shirts (3 dry-fit tees)
  • 1 long sleeve thermal shirt
  • 1 long sleeve dress shirt
  • 1 puffer jacket
  • 1 swimsuit
  • 1 hat
  • 1 beanie
  • 1 pair of warm gloves
  • 1 buff
  • 1 quick-dry towel
  • 1 portable charger
  • 1 laptop
  • 1 liter reusable water bottle
  • Electric beard trimmer (skip the razors and shaving gel)
    • Can go with disposable razors and <100ml shaving gel (not cream)

Hard to believe this all fits into a 40L backpack with room to spare! With 7 pairs of underwear and socks you can expect to need to do laundry about once a week.

Filandia Colombia Tourism
Bring clothes you’ll be comfortable in, regardless of the occasion.

Year-long Packing List for Her

  • 1 pair of hiking boots (either worn or hooked to carabiner on outside of backpack)
  • 1 pair of sneakers (extra points if they can be used for running AND going out)
  • 1 pair of Chacos (for hostel showers, but also for hiking when your boots are too much)
  • 1 pair of sandals that can be dressed up
  • 7 pairs of socks (2 long hiking socks)
  • 7 pairs of underwear
  • 1 regular bra
  • 2 sports bra (maybe more)
  • 1 lounge bra
  • 2 pairs of pants (1 jeans, 1 hiking pants)
  • 2 pairs of leggings (extra points if they can be used for exercise AND going out)
  • 1 pair of running shorts
  • 2 pairs of casual shorts
  • 3 exercise shirts
  • 3-4 tops (at least 2 for going out)
  • 1 long sleeve thermal shirt
  • 1 dress or romper
  • 1 puffer jacket
  • 1 swimsuit (I bought a 2nd in Brazil)
  • 1 hat
  • 1 beanie
  • 1 pair of warm gloves
  • 1 buff
  • 1 scarf
  • 1 quick-dry towel
  • 1 portable charger
  • 1 laptop
  • 1 liter reusable water bottle
  • 1 razor
  • 1 delicates bag
Michelle bought an extra swimsuit in Brazil, where she her American-style bikini made her seem Mormon-level modest

Extra Tips

After 7+ months on the road, here are some lessons we learned:

  • Expect anything white to eventually turn a yellowish brown
  • Expect cheap clothes to degrade or stain within 2 months
  • Don’t bring anything that you would be heart-broken to lose or damage (like expensive jewelry)
  • Laundromats are common in cities. Expect to visit one about once a week
  • Travel is tough on clothes. Expect them to start falling apart after a while. You’ll come to see shopping as a cultural experience, and hopefully not an all-day activity, though it might become one.

BIG TIP: There’s no need to “stock up” on generic items such as razors or shampoo. Unless you plan to spend extended time in ultra-remote places, you’ll be able to find what you need, or a close substitute. If, however, you are aware of how picky you are with regards to something specific, such as sports bras or body soap, it might be useful to bring extra.

Final Remarks

In short, bring what you need. Not too much. And be flexible. You may not find your favorite bar soap, but you’ll find something to make it work. The adventure isn’t in what you have or acquire along the way. It’s what you’ll find when you get there.

It is preoccupation with possession, more than anything else, that prevents men from living freely

Bertrand Russell
morro de sao paulo sunset

There you have it, What to Pack for a Year-long Trip! We hope you had fun reading this post. Do let us know what you think or any questions you have in the comments below.

And make sure to check out our other post on How to Prepare for a Year-long Trip.

From us to you, happy adventuring!

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