“I get ideas about what is essential when packing my suitcase
Diane Von Furstenberg

Packing Tips: An Introduction

One of the biggest challenges in my long-term travel adventures has been packing correctly, and I have made many mistakes, some of which have been expensive and painful. Fortunately, however, over time, packing has become a routine that seldom takes very long, and I usually pack only things I use during my trips.

That said, I have learned a lot of tips that should help Fifty Plus Nomads to avoid my mistakes, including the following:

My Top Packing Tips

Over the years, I have read and heard a lot of advice about how to pack correctly. Some of it has been useful and some not. 

My hardest lesson from traveling worldwide is that packing light is often NOT the best advice. Worldwide, long-term travel as a fifty-year-old is different from sporting a backpack as a twenty-year-old on a month-long backpacking trip around Europe. I suspect that other Fifty-Plus Nomads will reach this conclusion as well.

Many expert packing tips have proven very useful to me over the years. The following text summarizes the top tips that I have learned work well for me:

Expert Packing Tips Worth Following

The following is a list of tips I have found on various experts’ websites and books that I have followed consistently. I would recommend that all Fifty-Plus Nomads, whether they are packing light or not, do the following:

  • Take only things you can part with if they are stolen or lost. Some of the stuff you pack, particularly garments, will be lost, stolen, left behind, improperly cleaned, etc. (Often, in Third World countries, clothes are hand washed and beaten, which tends to make them threadbare quickly but extremely clean).
  • Ensure you have a comfortable pair of walking shoes, preferably water-resistant ones. If you plan to buy new shoes for a trip, buy them well ahead of time and wear them daily until you leave to avoid blisters.
  • I usually bring two closed-toe shoes and two pairs of sandals and change them frequently on my long-term travel adventures… Travel wears shoes down. It causes them to get smelly and can cause fungus problems if you continually wear the same pair of shoes. I usually select closed-toe shoes that can be used in semi-formal settings and are easy to slip off (like boat shoes) instead of tennis shoes. They can be worn for almost all situations and quickly take off in a pinch (like airport security).
  • Pack things in an order that works for you. Put the things you will frequently use on top so they are easy to get to and do not have to refold items.
  • Pack your toiletry kit away from your clothes (if possible, in a separate pocket) to avoid leakage.
  • Use undergarments and socks to tuck in gaps between garments. If you can, use the zippered upper compartment space for dirty clothes. (If not, travel with a dirty clothes bag). I also use dirty clothes to wrap anything breakable that I have bought along the way.

Some Other Ways to Pack Light and Well

  • One of the more natural ways to reduce weight nowadays is to limit how many paper items you take with you on a trip. Between smartphone apps and Kindle-like devices, you do not need to bring maps, guidebooks, reading material, etc. I must admit that if I take a short trip, I usually take paper books and maps because I find them easier to read and use.
  • If you have access to a car, place your clothes on hangers and hang the clothes on the car’s backseat hanger rack  (usually on top of the window). I have read that there are devices designed for this purpose but have never tried them.

Packing Toiletries and Medical Items

  • Carry small, sample-sized containers of all liquid products. If I only find large containers of a product I like, I will buy a smaller container and pour the product into the bottle. I can usually buy another small container of a similar product quickly in a big box store almost everywhere in the world. I also often take the little shampoo bottles for hotels (sometimes even mouthwash, etc.) for later use. When necessary, I will leave the larger container with any leftover liquid in the hotel or bedroom when I leave.
  • Small containers not only reduce weight but also help to avoid problems when things leak. I only bring a large container when it can’t leak much, does not weigh much, and is hard to refill (i.e., toothpaste).
  • Keep all toiletries in a kit (with multiple sections). A toiletry kit (using small containers) avoids problems when things leak. I got a toiletry kit (from Jansport) fifteen years ago that I still use. Look for a kit with a hook so you can hang it up if necessary. I also find this helps when I wash the equipment after something leaks. (I even wash the empty kit in the laundry occasionally since, after a time, it can get dirty).

Packing Pharmaceuticals and Toiletries

  • I make sure I have the following toiletries and medicines with me most of the time on the road:
    • an antibiotic ointment
    • insect repellant
    • suntan lotion
    • aloe vera (great in case of sunburn)
    • antacids
    • anti-diarrhea medicine
    • cold medicine
    • bandaids
    • antifungal cream (like Tinactin)
    • Tiger Balm/Ben Gay (for muscle aches)
  • Experts usually recommend bringing even more of these products with you. However, I have found that my list works for me because I:
    • Am inclined only to travel to cities alone (where medical care and supplies are usually relatively easy to find).
    • Travel to rural areas in groups (I can get help from the guide to negotiate the health care issues in these areas).
  • If you are traveling in rural areas by yourself, the experts’ recommended list of medical supplies makes sense. It would be best if you prepared for whatever may happen. (Karen McCann’s Packing Light list (see link at the bottom of this page) is the best I have seen).

Tips for Picking the Right Clothes for Your Trip

  • Pack easy-care, wrinkle-resistant, quick-drying clothes. I often buy clothes from Columbia Sportswear because they meet these requirements. Quick-drying clothes are also helpful if you find yourself in a sudden shower without an umbrella or raincoat.
  • Some people buy their travel clothes at a thrift store and leave clothes behind along the way. Clothes from a thrift store can be an excellent gift for hotel staff. However, finding enough comfortable clothes that look good on me at thrift stores is hard. I may try this if I lose weight (thrift stores often do not have many garments for heavier-set men) and have a relatively short trip.
  • I try to pack all the clothes I may need for my trip beforehand. Many travel experts recommend not to worry about packing all the clothes you need for a trip. They say that you can always buy clothes if required when you get to your destination. I have found this advice does not work. As a heavy-set man, I have a hard time finding clothes abroad. Usually, I buy ugly, ill-fitting, and expensive clothes that I never wear again. (I presume anyone short or tall would have similar issues).
  • I don’t like rolling clothes because I have to re-roll them frequently, or they get wrinkled.

Tour Company Recommended Packing Lists

  • Generally, I do not use many specific things on most of the packing lists developed by tour companies. I have seen over time that I needn’t buy specialized equipment because it is expensive, and I will probably never use it again. Instead, I try to find a substitute that will serve me elsewhere. For example, a couple of times, I purchased water shoes and found they were not very useful. Nowadays, if a tour company calls for water shoes, I will bring sandals, like Teva, that dry out quickly and can be used in many other circumstances. The only specialized equipment that I bought based on a tour recommendation that I like is a headlamp that I frequently use on nature outings.

Buying Souvenirs on the Road

  • Many experts recommend that each time you purchase something, you should get rid of something else. I do not think this is necessary if what you buy is not heavy in the first place. (Particularly if you are not always on the move).
  • I would, however, discourage you from buying anything heavy or breakable until you are about to go home. When I was younger, I purchased many heavy, awkward, or fragile souvenirs and dragged them along with difficulty throughout my trip. Many items broke and were often cumbersome. Thank God, I had a stiff back then.

Fifty Plus Nomad offers personalized workshops and courses in Spanish, English, Living and Traveling in Mexico, and Long-Term Travel Book a Two-hour Free Sample Introductory Session

A Few Final Clothing Tips

  • 95% of the time, if I am flying in an airplane, I wear a long-sleeved shirt, long chino pants, and closed-toed shoes that can quickly be taken off at security. I also have a jacket and/or a sweater packed in my carry-on baggage. (I rarely wear shorts and a short-sleeved shirt unless I know both my departure and arrival points are hot).

I wear this outfit because:

  • It looks presentable to airline personnel and immigration officials. Airline officials may upgrade me because I look like I belong in first or business class. Immigration officials are likely to let me pass because I look very non-threatening.
  • I do not have to worry about the weather. Until I adapted this airplane outfit, I would freeze or sweat a lot on arrival. I got stuck overnight in London on a trip to Chennai, India, and froze. I noticed that not many men follow this advice. Not long ago, I arrived in Charleston, South Carolina, at eleven-thirty at night with many people who had left Mexican beach resorts that morning. Almost every man, except me, was dressed in shorts. It was 22 degrees Fahrenheit (-5 degrees Celsius) when we arrived!

Check Out These Two Books for More Packing Tips 

If you need to pack light all the time, here are some great sources for more packing tips

Additional Long-Term Travel Posts from Fifty Plus Nomad

Paul Heller has been a lifelong avid traveler and language learner and teacher, Even as a child, he told Santa Claus that he wanted to visit all the children worldwide. At seven years old, Paul wanted to retire to Mexico. At eight, he memorized the name, capital, location, and some facts about every country worldwide. At twelve, he found a book "Lonely Planet: Southeast Asia on a Shoestring" and started developing his own itinerary for a future round-the-world trip. He remained obsessed with travel; after getting a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from the University of Southern California and working as an administrator, He spent his vacations going to different countries around the globe studying language, touring, and volunteering. In 1994, he quit his job and lived in Russia as a volunteer English instructor. He discovered that he loved teaching languages. In 2004, he decided to make a living out of his travels and founded a community of people who love to travel just like him. He developed 5 three-hour classes about living and traveling long-term worldwide which he taught in over 50 adult education programs throughout the US. After his parents passed, he realized his dream of traveling around the world; cruising and touring some of the most remote places like the North Atlantic, Patagonia, and Oceania; and learning new languages (he knows Spanish, Italian, French, and Russian). Paul encourages everyone to learn foreign languages. He knows that it can be frustrating and slow but that anyone can learn a language if they put in the work and, most importantly, learning a language is well worth the time and effort because it opens up a whole new set of people, ideas, and cultures. He is currently spending the next chapter of his life in Mérida, México. He is excited about using this blog and his classes and workshops to inspire and equip fellow Fifty Plus Nomads with the language, cultural, and psychological skills necessary to be successful and happy long-term travelers and expats over 50.

Write A Comment