Travel Packing List – For A Year Of Travel

When we sold it all and moved to Spain in August of 2012, we really downsized and simplified our lives.  When it came to packing, we knew we were going to be stationary in one place in Spain and then take small vacations from our home base.  Our packing list for the move was a bit of a challenge, but we knew we would have a place to store those items that would be used occasionally.  We ended up bringing 1 large backpack, 1 suit case and 1 carry on each.  The carry on was the size of a laptop backpack.  Now we have morphed from having a home base to being homeless or as some may say “nomadic”.  Well, our home is where ever we are!

How to pack for your vacation

Becoming nomadic doesn’t seem so different on the surface.  That said, when it came time to come up with our travel packing list for a year of mobility, it became a challenge.  It all sounded wonderful and romantic. The thought of traveling around and being free to get up and go or stay as long as we like.  Ah, it still sounds great, until we had to actually pack for a year!

We all had to dwindle down all of our possessions, clothing, first aid, papers etc. into what we could carry.  After several rounds of decluttering, donating, throwing away things, we did it.  We managed to simplify our lives even further.  We didn’t really accumulate much in Spain.  We only needed to sell our barbecue and car and we gave away our printer. Other than that it was time to give away clothes and get down to the bare bones.

Packing List

How to come up with your travel packing list and make it fit.

As I see it, you can do this one of two ways:

1.  Determine what you absolutely need and then find the luggage that will accommodate your items.


2.  See what luggage you have and only take what fits.

We opted to try number 2, as we still had all of the luggage we arrived with and I didn’t want to spend money on anything new.  Not to mention, I don’t like “guessing” what we will really need.  I like to see what we need and then make a purchase, if necessary.  Keeping in mind that we were going to have to carry anything we packed, we wanted to be sure we made use of the luggage with wheels too.

Our available luggage to choose from.:

  1. One extra-large suitcase – with wheels and pull handle, over 8 years-old and zipper ready to go.
  2. One over-sized duffel bag – about 4 feet long and only small handles
  3. One medium suitcase – with wheels and pull handle (that is bent, so doesn’t move up and down easily)
  4. One 63cm duffel bag – with wheels and pull handle and loads of exterior pockets, the carry handle is broken, so not good for going up and down stairs.
  5. Two 53cm suit cases  and one duffel bag – with wheels and pull handle, and meet carry-on standards in Europe.  We purchased these for our travel on the low-cost airline in Europe and have been life savers.
  6. Four 57-60cm large back packs – with padded straps and cumberbund (all adult size) 2 are over 15 years old.
  7. Four small day packs for laptops

Was there any logic used when picking out your luggage?

Well, I am glad you asked.  Okay, I know we had loads to choose from, but they all eventually found a home.  We knew we would need to use the four large backpacks, so those were a go to become nomadic.  We also knew we needed our small day packs to house our laptops and use for any day trips.  So that gave us all we could carry, but we didn’t think the kids would be able to carry both bags.

Next came the craziness…I wanted to be sure we took advantage of any of the luggage we had with wheels too. If we didn’t like being nomadic and decided to have a home base in Asia, we would have them handy for short trips. So we decided to do a bit of nesting of the luggage.  We put our day packs in the small carry on suit cases, so we could roll them.

It all seemed logical at the time!

That gave us each one large backpack and a carry on sized rolling suitcase for 3 of us.  Alan used the large rolling duffel bag for his clothing and his large backpack for his electronics and the family electronics (excluding our laptops and power cords).

Where is the extra luggage?

As far as the remaining luggage, well it is in the US or Spain. We left suitcase 4 in Spain with our good friends.  It is full of our winter clothes and blankets, so when we return to Spain we have them.  If we don’t return to Spain, they have the right to throw away, keep or donate the contents.  I took the large suitcase (it contains some other things that we didn’t want to throw away, but wanted for the future) to the US with me last month.  It is also is holding our extra-large duffel bag and tripods inside.

I know what you are thinking, we want to know about your packing list!

The reality, the length of travel doesn’t really play into things once you are over a week of travel.   For a week or a year, your packing list should really need to grow.  You really need a weeks worth of clothes.  You then need to wash, repeat and continue to wear the same things over and over.  As you will see, we went over that week limit a bit.

What is inside our bags?

Too Much!  We are still working on the right balance.

  1. Heidi
    1. Big Backpack
      1. 5 short-sleeved shirts, 1 long sleeve shirt, 4 tank tops, 1 fleece jacket, 1 pair jeans, 2 pair Capri pants, 4 shorts, 3 bras, 6 undies, 1 pair tennis shoes, 1 pair hiking sandals, 3 pair socks, 1 scarf, 2 bathing suits, jammie dress, family toiletries (shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, brush, ibuprofen, bandages, sewing kit, safety pins, child aspirin, sun screen, etc), a roll of plastic bags (rain, laundry etc), a few Ziploc bags, 4 microfiber wash cloths.
    2. Carry On
      1. Day pack, laptop, Phone, camera, mp3 player and chargers for them all. USB drive, backup hard drive, wallet, gum, chapstick, notebook, documents (passports, international driving license, birth certificates, marriage certificate, flight info etc).
  2. Alan
    1. Rolling Duffel Bag
      1. 7 short-sleeved shirts, 1 pair jeans, 1 convertible pants, 5 shorts, 12 undies, 1 pair tennis shoes, 1 pair hiking sandals, 1 pair hiking books, 10 pair socks, 2 bathing suits, 2 belts, personal toiletries (shaver, medicine, toothpaste, etc), power strip, small blanket, 1 fleece jacket.
    2. Carry On – Big Backpack
      1. Laptop, iPad, phone, CPAP Machine, and chargers for them all. USB drive, backup hard drive, wallet, loads of cables for family devices, harmonica, notebook.
        Alan deciding what is going on his packing list
  3. Lars
    • Big Backpack
      1. 8 short-sleeved shirts, 1 pair sweats, 7 shorts, 8 undies, 1 pair tennis shoes, 1 pair flip-flop sandals, 5 pair socks, 2 bathing suits, 1 blanket.
    • Carry On
      1. Day pack, laptop. nook, camera and chargers for it all, snacks, case for glasses, toiletry bag (tooth-brush retainer case).
  4. Anya
    1. Big Backpack
      1. 9 short-sleeved shirts, 3 tank tops, 3 sun dresses, 1 pair jeans, 7 shorts, 8 undies, 1 pair tennis shoes, 1 pair flip-flop sandals, 5 pair socks, 2 bathing suits, 2 pj’s, 2 scarves, 1 blanket.
    2. Carry On
      1. Day pack, laptop and charger.  Brain Quest workbook, notebook, pens, crayons, Uno cards, 2 lovies (small stuffed animals) and one lovie blanket, bracelets, wallet, gum, chapstick, 1 toiletry bag (brush, toothbrush, hair ties).

Okay, that is everything we have as of now.  We have been nomadic for just one week and we made minor adjustments.  We had more and already dumped a bag full of clothing in Malaga, mainly Alan and me.  We quickly realized that all of this isn’t really sustainable for us to keep up long-term.  The kids big backpacks aren’t full, but they are adult sized and that isn’t working well.  The kids are uncomfortable, but are being troopers.

Time to rethink that packing list

Now that we have moved to Champagne France for 5 nights, we are taking this down time to reevaluate our luggage and packing situation.  The kids need to carry smaller packs, Alan’s large duffel bag isn’t great for being mobile and needs to go.  My adult backpack has adjustable straps, so we were planning on having one of the kids switch to that pack.  I was adjusting it and realized the plastic that holds the padded straps to the frame have crumbled!  This is my favorite pack and is more than 15 years old, so it needs to go.  Okay, that solved one problem. It is forcing us to downsize!

one backpack ready to go

We have decided the kids should be able to fit all that they have in their small day pack and their carry on suitcase with wheels, but we need one of them to carry a larger backpack.  The “nesting” of bags is somewhat a waste of space.  We can actually hold about the same in our day pack as we can in the carry on, so it may be more efficient to do just that.

So we are going to take this week to figure it all out and see if we need to buy something that will suit us better.  Each time we move and have to carry it all, makes the “getting rid of” part much easier.  We don’t need all of this stuff!  We will slowly get into a routine and figure it all out, but for now we have a rental car for 2 weeks, so that will give us time to figure it all out.

Hey, you can also check out what our traveling friends, World Travel Family, consider to be their travel essentials.

What would you pack for a year?

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About Heidi

Heidi has a passion for travel and has been exploring the world with her husband and 2 kids, since August 2012. She's visited more than 50 countries and loves to write about their family adventures, mishaps and costs. She has been an inspiration to others wanting to live their dreams. Her travel tips, planning posts, cost breakdowns, accommodation, and product reviews are also very popular. Her current home base is in Spain. Any post on this site may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase, there is no extra cost for you and we may receive a commission.

12 thoughts on “Travel Packing List – For A Year Of Travel

  1. thanks for this! I love that you share what “isn’t” working and the part about one week or one year, it’s shouldn’t matter! It’s so true!

    • Thanks Lindsay! Now that we have just returned to Spain, I need to write an update to this with how we functioned with this packing. Let’s just say we will left things behind in just about every country, on purpose!

  2. Interesting post. The more people travel the less stuff they bring with them. I know some people why carry 20 kilo suitcases for two day trips… And wait for others to carry it. 😀

    I found that a big scarf of a lighter material is an useful traveling companion. It can be folded up small but can be used as a blanket or pillow, to sit on, to carry things in, as a dress. And my art-on-the-move kit.

    • You are so right D! We have already lightened our load in the past 2 weeks and we too have the scarf/blanket/pillow too. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. I find it hard to pack for two weeks … I can’t imagine packing for a year! Great list!

    • Thanks for stopping by Randi. Yes, I don’t like packing for any length of time. A year or two weeks, it all has to fit in something we can carry. We have been shedding things already, leaving them behind in whichever country we are in. We left a suitcase in Belgium today, trying to lighten our load.

  4. WOW! THis is amazing! My only question is what do you do with gifts you’d like to bring home? Ship them over?? I really need to do this–but with my home. I have hoarder tendencies and trips send me into panic mode. This is a great post to keep in my back pocket.

    • Hey Christina. It is super simple, we don’t buy gifts! We stopped the souvenir thing many years ago. We focus on photos and experiences rather than “things”. It is a complete mind shift and it is so liberating. We had a huge 5 bed home in the USA, full of stuff! 95% of it is gone and it is wonderful! How To Sell on Craigslist – Declutter Your Life

      Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  5. Holy moly! That is insane! My house has not been unpacked in 8 years! We have so much stuff that we would have to get rid off and a lot of it – I don’t know that I could (I’m a sentimental type that keeps things for memories). I think if I could store what I needed to and then just bring necessities for one year, it wouldn’t be that bad. Aside from clothes, my cell phone, a computer and my Kindle for reading – there isn’t much else I would need to get through a year! Kind of makes me want to try it!…

    • Ha Leila, you are too funny. It feels so good! We moved to Spain about 2 years ago, so we do have a few things in storage back in the US from that move. I too was attached to “things” for emotional reasons. It is amazing how good it feels with some of those things are actually gone and guess what? I still have the emotions and memories with out the stuff! 🙂 I took photos (digital) of some of my favorite things to look at now and again. Thanks for stopping by.

  6. Yep, sounds fairly similar to ours, except I don’t wear shorts or short sleeved shirts and no pj s for anyone. It’s getting really exciting now, I can’t wait to see you take on Asia!

    • Alyson,
      We are about ready to ditch the pj’s, taking up precious space! I am sure our world is about ready to get flipped up side down! Just a few more weeks. For now in France, I am actually wearing my long pants and a jacket. Who knew it would be cold and rainy in July? Go figure.

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