When traveling internationally for an extended period of time, there is a balance between bringing what you want and not being weighed down by a ton of luggage. In this day in age, when airlines pose stringent weight limits on individual bags and even charge to check in luggage it is even more important to carefully plan what to bring.
Starting with the type of bag to bring, the best ones, from a portability and storage standpoint, are either backpacks or sturdy rolling duffels. Within the backpack or duffel, using smaller bags or even something as simple as baggies to keep like items together and accessible makes it easier to find things. I always include extra plastic bags to use for dirty and wet clothes that need to be kept separate from everything else.
Whatever bag you end up choosing, you must be able to lift it and carry it for long distances and off and on trains, planes, buses and other forms of transportation easily. In situations where overground transportation may be used, it is best to have an outer bag or cover to keep dirt and dust off the bag. Using a basic outer bag helps it to blend in with other luggage to discourage theft. Couple this bigger bag with a small backpack that can be used as a carry-on item and for day trips, and you have a great combination for long trips.
Successful Clothes Strategies
Clothing choices for an extended trip are important. Having some variety while maintaining a practical approach to your apparel with go a long way in striking the proper balance in what you bring. Since an extended trip will likely bring you to multiple climates, having layers is important, as is gear for rain and other inclement weather. Everyday clothes should consist of some neutral colors (i.e. beiges and blacks) that can mix and match with some more multi-colored articles. For example, bringing a pair of black pants and beige pants and then some print tops that go with both colors provides you with several outfit variations with just a few clothing items.
Another way to add variety is through numerous smaller items, such as belts, earrings, hats and scarfs. No matter what I bring, I always throw in at least one pair of good old jeans. Shoes are a real challenge. After many trips of having too many or not enough pairs, I have now tried to stay to three types, one that I wear and two that I pack. Those are (1) a good pair of sensible walking shoes, (2) a pair of waterproof sandals (I personally love Tevas because you can walk / hike in those) and (3) a pair of dress shoes.
But What About Laundry?
Laundry is a fact of life on long trips and can get expensive and time consuming to send out to be done. I almost always do my own, and, therefore, rely on non cotton items where possible (with the exception of those jeans I mentioned previously). There are many wonderful fabrics out there that wash well and dry quickly, including quick dry clothes offered by REI, Travelsmith, Magellan, Ex Officio, Columbia. These type of clothes end up being somewhat pricey, so look for sales or close out items. I also seek out tried and true polyesters and silks at my favorite discount stores. One of my favorite tops is a $12 raw silk shirt that I bought at TJ Maxx. It had a subtle pattern that went well with black and beige and dried quickly when washed.
To wash clothes I use the hotel bathtub (or once in India we even used a bucket). I bring little packages of laundry detergent, double bagged to keep them from leaking, and use just a minimal amount with warm water. After washing and rinsing, I take each item and wrap it one of the hotel towels and then wring it out to get all the moisture out. Next I hang it over the bathtub and it will usually dry within a couple of hours.
Electronics and Other Creature Comforts
After choosing my clothes, then there are tough decisions to be made about other items that can be of great necessity during an extended trip, at the cost of the additional weight. The next article will focus on those items that I believe are the most important to have on a long international journey.