Plan a Trip Around the World: How to Pack for the Entire World

The internet abounds with articles about packing for trips. There are checklists and charts and gorgeous photos of color-coordinated everything beautifully arranged and ready to go.

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A lovely luggage layout via A Pair and a Spare

I enjoy looking at these photos and daydreaming about where I’d wear these beautiful ensembles. And if I’m packing for a weekend getaway, I might even use them as inspiration for my own packing.

For longer trips, there are all kinds of comprehensive checklists available that ensure you won’t forget any of the essentials.

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TravelSmith‘s comprehensive packing checklist, complete with a toll-free number for advice when you’re having a trip planning meltdown

However, this trip around the world is like nothing I’ve ever packed for. We’ll be on all seven continents, in more than 150 countries and territories, in all kinds of weather, and doing a huge variety of activities.

And we’re only taking carry-ons. 

That’s right — one backpack suitcase and one rolling underseat bag per person. For nearly a year.

For most of our international travels, I consider the following things when deciding what to take:

  • Climate and season. This is the main consideration for most trips. Fur-lined snow boots work for Antartica and tank tops for Tasmania, but not vice versa.
  • Culture. Are there cultural requirements that need to be taken into consideration? I might need to pack shirts and scarves for keeping my arms or head covered or shoes that are quickly and easily removed as I enter temples or homes. I also do my research to see if any colors should be avoided; for example, brightly-colored clothing might be offensive during a period of national mourning or certain religious holidays.
  • Activities. Will we be doing anything that requires special clothing or gear, such as hiking, diving, biking, or yoga?
  • Special occasions. Are there any fancy dinners, celebrations, or festivals where I might want to dress up?
  • Transportation. Do I need anything to be more comfortable on long flights? Do I need to plan for unique transport such as hot air balloons, camels, gondolas, or the Popemobile? (Not sure what one requires for that last one, aside from a cassock.)

Once I’ve answered those questions, I have some things I do to lighten the load on every trip. We roll everything to maximize space and minimize wrinkles, and we fill every empty space, such as stuffing socks and jewelry inside shoes. We tried compression bags, but they didn’t work well for the type of luggage we use. I do, however, use packing cubes to keep things organized and separate clean clothes from dirty.

Speaking of dirty clothes, Mike is only taking three pairs of underwear on the trip. These amazing boxers from Ably are treated with Filium, and they resist moisture, stains, and odors, which means he can wear them for several days in a row before they need laundering. I’ve done the sniff test after a week of daily wearing, and they’re the real deal. (That’s also true love, friends.)

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In addition to superhero shorts, we have some other carry-on packing secrets we employ for every adventure.

  • Work around the airline liquids limit by switching to solids whenever possible. Over the years, I’ve found a number of terrific replacements for typical liquid, gel, and aerosol travel items, none of which have to go in your liquids bag:
  • Carry clothing that does double (or triple) duty. My favorite item in this category are kimonos that work as cardigans, swimsuit coverups, robes, scarves, head coverings, and lightweight blankets, not to mention serving as terrific packing material for delicate electronics and camera equipment. Other favorites:
    • Land’s End rash guards for women and men are great for diving and are also terrific as fitted cold-weather layers under other clothing. They work well as wicking t-shirts for bug-infested hikes in tropical climates, too. And since they’re designed for swimming, they wash well in the sink and drip dry quickly.
    • Mike packs Rip Curl board shorts for swimming and diving that can also pass for dress shorts. He also travels with Royal Robbins zippered pants that convert from full-length pants to shorts, giving him two items in one.
  • Go digital whenever possible. I love to read when I travel, but printed books take up too much space. I use my local library card to check out free ebooks that I can read on my phone.
  • Avoid security slowdowns. Some items always present a headache at airport security, such as laptops. You can avoid having to take yours out of your luggage with Global Entry when you’re in the U.S., but other countries will still make you remove computers from your bag. Our backpack suitcases have a special pocket that make this easier. Other tricks:
    • Pack a poncho rather than an umbrella. Many countries will make you fish umbrellas out of your suitcase and put them in a separate screening bin, which is a hassle.
    • Tape over battery contacts. If you travel with lots of camera gear and other electronics like we do, this will ensure you meet security requirements wherever you are in the world.
    • Slip on shoes save lots of security headaches, particularly when your hands are already full of stuff.
    • Jackets with zippered pockets are the best way to keep your phone, wallet, and passport safe so things don’t dump out in the x-ray bins.

Add to these tips an interchangeable color palette that gives you lots of mix-and-match options, and you’re set!

Have other packing recommendations? We’d love to hear them!

Previously in this series:

Up next: How to Plan a Trip Around the World: The Home You Leave Behind