Art of Packing





If you’re going away for a long time, there’s a definite art to packing. Deciding what to take with you and how best to fit it all in becomes rather important, and while there’s no ‘right’ way of doing it, there are certainly plenty of wrong ways.


Pick the right bags

The first thing to do before getting any items of clothing ready is to pick the bag or bags they’re going to go into. The backpack versus suitcase debate will no doubt rumble on for centuries, but let’s just say that a backpack is a darned sight easier to carry around when you’re trudging a couple of kilometres between bus station and accommodation. That said, it’s a lot easier to keep things neat in a suitcase.



Assuming you do plump for a backpack, there are many types and sizes to choose from. Some are effectively cases with shoulder straps, others are the longer, more traditional type – choose whichever you’re most comfortable with and go with the biggest size you’re comfortable carrying. 


What is important is to make sure there are sufficient little compartments to keep things vaguely organised. It sounds silly, but it’s helpful to be able to go straight to your underwear or first aid kit.


First aid kit

Speaking of which, yes, a first aid kit is a good idea. You don’t have to go kitted out like a field surgeon, but a few paracetamols, the odd sticking plaster and a pair of scissors are unlikely to go amiss. 


Day bag

Only taking one big bag means that you have to lug that with you everywhere. Take a smaller day bag as well, and you can leave the big one behind whilst still carrying what you need (ie. book, towel, map, sun cream). They come in all sorts of sizes, but compartments are a winner again. The day bag also doubles as your flight bag, and the key thing when flying is to pack at least two changes of clothing into it. That way, if your main bag gets waylaid by the airline, you’re not stuck in just the clothes you’re standing in.


Check the weather

Before even starting on the packing, check what the weather in the countries you’re visiting is like at the time you’re visiting. Most people tend to follow the sun somewhat, and unless you’re planning to go to the southern tip of Argentina in mid-July, it’s unlikely that you’re going to need giant woolly jumpers and winter coats. Given that they take up acres of bag space, it’s wise not to pack them.



The other common criminal for taking up too much bag space is shoes, and I’m sorry ladies, but absolutely no-one needs to take more than three pairs of shoes with them. One pair of flip-flops for beaches/ every day wear, one pair of trainers/ walking shoes for pounding the streets (preferably a pair that look decent as casual wear in the evening) and one smarter pair that will do the job for both going out and any work you might end up doing along the way. You can easily argue that the smart pair isn’t necessary either. Then, once you have narrowed down your shoe options, stuff the ones you do take with socks – it’s a surprisingly effective space-saver.



It’s pretty much the golden rule that at least 25% of the clothes you take will generally end up staying in the bottom of the bag, largely unworn. That’s because when you get to the bottom of the bag, you realise you need to do some washing, and then put the clean clothes right back on top. This, in essence, means you should probably take around 25% less clothing than you initially plan to – after all, you can always buy some more on the way. The only exception on the cutbacks is underwear – that always runs out first, largely because you end up going through two pairs a day in hot, sweaty conditions.



But how do you start filtering things out? Well, first of all, ditch any items of favourite dress-up clothing. Work on the assumption that anything you take is going to be a tatty mess by the time you get back. Secondly, get rid of anything that can’t be worn with a significant number of other items you’re taking. If a top only goes with one pair of trousers (or skirt), then it’s hardly going to get worn and is taking up valuable space. If everything broadly matches, you’ve a lot more options. You should also think in layers – instead of taking one or two cumbersome items of warm clothing, a few items that can be layered on top of each other or worn independently will be much more productive (ie. a T-shirt under a long sleeved shirt, under a thinnish jumper under a jacket).


Specialist travel clothing

Are travel geek clothes (ie. zip-off trousers, quick-drying shirts with lots of pockets) worth buying? Well, if you get the right ones when they’re in a sale, almost unquestionably yes. Zip-off trousers eliminate the need for bringing extra pairs of shorts, whilst allowing you to cut back on the jeans (which are awful in hot conditions, and take up lots of space). 


A few lightweight shirts that dry quickly and have pockets that equate to extra storage space are great too – the right ones scrunch up really small, get plenty of wear out of them and are presentable enough in the evening as long as you’re not trying to enter a dress-to-impress nightclub. I use Craghoppers shirts, but it’s worth checking with the likes of Regatta, North Face and Berghaus.  Specialist travel gear that should be avoided includes walking poles (too much space, too little use), those awful chamois-like towels (they don’t dry you and stink after two uses) and neck pillows for flights (honestly, you’ll use it about once, and it takes up loads of space).



The general rule with reading books is to only be carrying a maximum of two at once. They can always be swapped with other travellers later on, and you can buy new ones in bookshops on the way. Guidebooks are a trickier task, but if you’re not travelling alone, share them between you rather than doubling up. You can always ditch them as after you’ve left the relevant country as well (although this can be somewhat heart-breaking to do).



Be careful about how gadgeted-up you get. After all, do you really need a smart phone, a laptop and an iPad? Also, if your laptop is gigantic, consider trading it in for a smaller, lighter netbook. Obviously, you’ll need to bring the chargers for everything as well. And this is where a everywhere-to-everywhere adaptor comes in handy. At some point, you’re pretty much guaranteed to leave a charger in the wall and have to buy a replacement. UK-to-everywhere adaptors are useless when you buy a replacement phone charger in Thailand or Mexico...



Some extra packing tips are included in our Guide to Staying Safe on a RTW Trip here



Here's a RTW packing list here


by Stuart Lodge