What to bring when you travel: The eternal dilemma

By Lynn Strough

Travelynn Tales


17This week, Lynn interrupts her parade of places to bring you a comprehensive packing post (at least from a woman’s perspective—guys, you’ll have to adjust accordingly).

This packing list is for long-term travel on a budget, mostly following summer. It’s not for a short-term trip to a big city where you’ll be dining out every night in fancy restaurants, or on a cruise with formal dinner parties, although I think even with what I have, I could make do. This list can take you from hiking in the mountains to lounging on beaches, to perusing museums, to wine tasting, to dining out at a fish shack or a 4-star restaurant.


Note: This kind of travel isn’t about making a fashion statement, although it’s nice to look presentable. It’s about being comfortable, warm and dry (except maybe when snorkeling or diving), and having a great time exploring our beautiful world.



Try to leave a little empty space in your bag for acquisitions, as you’re bound to see something you like, and it would be nice to have room to carry it. The hardest part of my trip is that moment each time I move (which is frequent) when I try to zip my backpack closed, because as light as I’ve packed, I still have too much stuff.


And if you’re traveling to Southeast Asia, you can go with just what you have on and an empty backpack and buy a complete wardrobe for about the price of one quick-dry name brand outfit back home.


Just remember, those elephant pants that look so cool out on the street in Thailand might look a little out of place back in the mid-west, but if you’re a bit of a bohemian, who cares?



  • This travel list can take you from...
  • ...hiking in the mountains...
  • ...to lounging on beaches...
  • ...to perusing museums...
  • ...to wine tasting...
  • ...to dining out at a fish shack or a 4-star restaurant.
  • Quick-dry skort
  • Quick-dry white blouse (colors work better)
  • Rain jacket
  • Hat (make sure it's crush-proof)
  • Colder weather wear
  • Bring a clothesline and clothespins
  • Leave a little empty space in your bag for acquisitions
  • Get over that "I'm too old for a bikini" mindset! Women in their 80's don't hesitate to flaunt it.
  • A small gift for your host conveys a good thought
  • I'm not traveling to acquire things, I'm traveling to experience things. My photos and my memories are my souvenirs.
  • My new friends from all over the world are really what make this lifestyle worth living.
  • Right now, my job seems to be that of a goodwill ambassador, showing people in other countries that we Americans aren't all bad...
  • ...and to inspire you to follow your own dreams.
  • Remember, whatever you do take along or pick up, you have to lug around, so think seriously about if it's worth it.
  • Just think, the monks only have one outfit, and they seem pretty happy and enlightened.
  • Pack light, pack light, pack light. And bring twice as much money. That old adage, for better or worse, is true.



Ready? Here we go!


Packing List:

  • Kindle (1,000 books for the size and weight of one)
  • 1 pair jeans (I brought one pair, and despite how long they take to dry, I’m glad I did)
  • 1 pair gray quick-dry hiking pants
  • 1 pair quick-dry black pants (can be used for dress or casual or pajamas)
  • 1 pair quick-dry green capris
  • 1 pair black tights (can wear with a dress or layer under pants for warmth)
  • 1 pair quick-dry tan shorts
  • 1 black quick-dry dress
  • 1 brown quick-dry skort (skirt with shorts built in)
  • 1 quick-dry white blouse (I’d have picked a different color, given a good choice—white might look nice, but not for long)
  • 1 gray t-shirt—long-sleeved, quick-dry
  • 1 black long-sleeved, lightweight cotton shirt (alternates as a pajama top)
  • 1 brown patterned, quick-dry top with long sleeves (patterns are good as they hide the dirt)
  • 1 patterned quick-dry green t-shirt
  • 1 green quick-dry, short-sleeved t-shirt
  • 1 striped quick-dry, short-sleeved shirt
  • 2 cotton tank tops
  • 1 striped sleeveless top, brown and black
  • 1 black quick-dry, sleeveless hiking top
  • 1 taupe cotton long-sleeved top with black tank (layers for warmth and tank can be used for pajama top in hot weather)
  • 3 pair hiking socks
  • 2 pair short black socks
  • Hiking boots
  • 1 pair cushy flip flops
  • 1 pair Tom’s shoes (couldn’t find summer walking shoes, so I took my old Tom’s as a temp solution. They ended up lasting me five months and I was sorry when they bit the dust)
  • Gloves (lightweight)
  • Bathing suit
  • Sarong (multiple uses—skirt, dress, beach cover-up, nightgown, towel, blanket, tablecloth)
  • 1 pair short pajama bottoms
  • 2 thin decorative scarves
  • 7 pair quick-dry bikini underwear (you can get away with 3 pair if they’re quick-dry, but my 7 rolled up only take up the room of a pair of socks or 2, and I like not having to do laundry every day)
  • 2 bras
  • A few pair of inexpensive earrings, rings, necklaces (leave your good jewelry at home, you’re likely to lose it, and flashy stuff makes you more of a target for thieves)
  • Rain jacket and rain pants
  • Fleece jacket and thin cardigan
  • Pashmina (can be used as a blanket or a shawl)
  • Packing cubes
  • Silk sleep sack (you might not need this often, but when you do it’s nice to have and takes up the room of 2 pairs of socks)
  • Money belt (not the most comfortable, but important to have)
  • Pack towel (a bit pricey up front, but well worth it—they’re quick-dry, antimicrobial, and pack up small)
  • Door stop (cheap, small, with a big security factor)
  • Drain plug (can’t tell you how many times I’ve used this!)
  • Converter kit (I only use the adaptor plugs, as my phone and computer have their own, and many appliances like hair dryers now come with a way to switch the current)
  • Tiny keychain flashlight
  • Small packets of laundry soap (you can always buy more where you go)
  • Mini-sewing kit
  • Wet Wipes
  • Snacks (just a few for on the plane, you can always buy more wherever you go. Keep in mind many countries don’t allow fruit or nuts in, so eat them before you arrive)
  • Reading glasses
  • Regular glasses and sunglass clips
  • Sunglasses
  • Zip-lock plastic bags, quart and gallon size (bring more than you think you’ll need—you’ll use them all and wish you had more)
  • TSA-approved locks for backpack and daypack
  • Travel document pouch with passport, driver’s license, credit cards, debit cards, plane ticket (always bring at least 2 credit cards—if one is compromised, you’ll have another one for back up)
  • Small amount of cash in US dollars (bring some ones, and make sure they’re new, not creased or torn—some places will only take new bills.)
  • Immunization certificate
  • 10 extra passport pictures (for visas—you can get them abroad but it’s a hassle)
  • iPhone (I use this as my camera, but otherwise add camera to your list)
  • iPod for music
  • Small notebook
  • Lightweight 11″ Macbook Air Laptop
  • Cords and plugs for computer, phone, spare battery, Kindle
  • Spare battery charger (I use this almost every day)
  • Earbuds for iPod
  • Backpack (up to you if you want a roller bag or backpack, both have advantages and disadvantages)
  • Small zip-off daypack
  • Small purse
  • Dop kit
  • Pocket-sized plastic poncho
  • Water bottle
  • Whistle
  • Length of nylon rope (can be used for a clothesline, among other things)
  • Spork (small plastic spoon/fork/knife all in one)
  • Prescriptions (bring what you think you’ll need as you may not be able to get the same thing abroad, however I was able to get my migraine rx for a fraction of the cost in both New Zealand and Thailand – $5 vs the $40 a pill I have to pay in the States!)
  • Antibiotic—general rx for potential intestinal problems
  • Epipen for allergy
  • Ibuprofin
  • Aspirin
  • Benadryl
  • Pepto Bismol
  • Bonine for motion sickness
  • Health and beauty aids—remember, airlines have rules about small quantities in a clear plastic quart bag. You can always pick up shampoo, toothpaste, etc. where you’re going.
  • Shampoo and cream rinse
  • Toothbrush, toothpaste and floss
  • Razor and extra blades
  • Mascara, liner and remover
  • Lipstick
  • Chapstick
  • Brush/comb
  • Hair ties
  • Headband
  • Eye and face cream
  • Body lotion
  • Soap
  • Facewash
  • Sunscreen
  • Deodorant
  • Tweezers (make sure you put tweezers, nail clippers and nail files in checked bags; some airports really will take them)
  • Nail file
  • Nail clippers
  • Contacts and solution (bring extra contacts)
  • Eye drops
  • Hair dryer/flatiron (you can really leave these at home)
  • Swabs
  • Shower cap
  • Band aids
  • Tissues
  • Earplugs
  • Neosporin


Art supplies (something most of you probably won’t need):

  • Travel watercolor kit
  • Travel-size brushes
  • Paper
  • Refill paints
  • Spray bottle
  • Pencils and sharpener
  • Eraser
  • Pens – drawing and calligraphy
  • Small watercolor paintings as gifts for some of my longer-term hosts


Things you can get ahead, but I planned to get at my first destination:

  • Good walking shoes
  • Hat (more fun to buy on the road, unless you already have a favorite—make sure it’s crush-proof, as no matter how careful you are, somebody will sit on it or put their bag on top of it)
  • Bug spray (too many liquids are hard to carry. Almost any place you travel that you need these, they will be readily available)
  • Travel Umbrella


11That’s the list! Modify to suit your needs. This is pretty much all I needed in the first six months. You can figure that whatever you need for a week should just about cover you for a year, with a few exceptions. I did end up buying a base layer in Australia, as I’d planned to hike in the glaciers in New Zealand and had already been caught in rain and hail hiking in summer in Tasmania. These I don’t need often, but when I do, I’m glad I have them, and have used them for pajamas in chilly places as well. I also bought a wool beanie cap, and have worn that to bed, and used it out on the fjords in New Zealand. I left the gloves in a hostel for someone else in the give-away bin. I might need some down the road, but something had to go as I couldn’t zip my bag.


What have I brought that I haven’t used? I’m happy to say I’ve used almost everything I brought, except for things I’m glad I didn’t have to use, like motion sickness pills, and my Epi-pen (thankfully, no allergy-inducing mushrooms have crossed my lips), and my emergency whistle. I’ve used only one band aid when I cut my finger on a metal door hinge, and did have to use Benedryl for a couple of colds I picked up in a hostel and on the Tokyo trains (they wear those face masks for a reason).


3I’ve used my hairdryer only twice, even though I have long hair now, but if I’d been traveling in cold weather places instead of mostly following summer, I might have used it more. I brought a mini hair straightener and only used it once, so that was a waste of space. On the road, you need very little makeup, jewelry, or fancy clothes, unless you’re doing a very different kind of traveling. Really, it’s a nice break to not worry all the time what your hair looks like.


What did I wish I’d brought? More zip-lock baggies. You use them way more than you’d think, and even though you can purchase them most anywhere, I don’t really need a box of 50. Pretty much anything else you need you can find most places—toothpaste and shampoo, clothes, tissues, you name it, other countries have it too. I highly recommend quick-dry clothes, which you can’t always find in all countries, or in some, they’re very expensive, unless you want to be waiting for days for your heavy clothes to dry on the line. Most of the countries I’ve visited don’t use clothes dryers, which are so prevalent in the US. They use good old-fashioned clotheslines and pins. Which reminds me, throw a few clothespins in as well!


10What have I acquired? Very little. A pair of loose cotton “elephant” pants and a top in Thailand for my meditation retreat. Some clothes were loaned or given to me, and some clothes I gave away. I did buy a bikini in Australia—they have great bathing suits there. And women in their 80’s don’t hesitate to flaunt their stuff in two-piece bathing suits, so I got over my “I’m-too-old-for-a-bikini” mindset.


I replaced my years-old cardigan, and I’ve bought a few gifts for people who have provided me with accommodations or made the effort to come meet me, however with my minimal budget and lack of backpack space, plus no home of my own to ship things to, I haven’t bought much. It’s hard when you see so many cool things in other countries that you know you can’t get at home, and I’ve thought more than once I might like to be an importer and shop for a living


But back to packing—remember, whatever you do take along or pick up, you have to lug around, so think seriously about if it’s worth it.


25Also, remember when you pack your bag full and head off from a winter location, wearing your jeans and long-sleeved shirt and fleece jacket and hiking boots, and head to a summer place where the temperature is 99F, you aren’t going to want to keep wearing all of that heavy gear. So then where do you put it? In a kangaroo bag! And now you have three bags to tote around. Pack light, pack light, pack light. And bring twice as much money. That old adage, for better or worse, is true.


About Lynn Strough

Lynn is a 50-something-year-old woman whose incarnations in this life have included graphic designer, children’s book author and illustrator, public speaker, teacher, fine art painter, wine educator in the Napa Valley, and world traveler. Through current circumstances, she has found herself single, without a job or a home, and poised for a great adventure.1


“You could consider me homeless and unemployed, but I prefer nomad and self-employed, as I pack up my skills and head off with my small backpack and even smaller savings to circumnavigate the globe (or at least go until the money runs out). Get ready to tag along for the ride…starting now!”





travelynnlogoAll images copyright Lynn Strough and Travelynn Tales

Reprinted with permission