Your Life In A Suitcase: Packing For Long-Term Travel

It's like moving, but you're not allowed to bring your stuff

Confession: I am not a minimalist.

Packing For Long Term Travel - The Spirited Sloth

I love my stuff. I have pictures, books, notebooks, fuzzy blankets, a billion pillows, more shirts than I need (or wear), random trinkets, bizarrely sentimental objects, moisturizers, conditioners, old Christmas cards, paint supplies, and so much more that I adore.

And, no, I don't feel all that weighed down by it all. It's my stuff, but I've narrowed down the things that I want with me all the time. The rest can stay at home, and that's fine. I'll see it later.

At the same time, having a lot of stuff does make packing harder, and packing for a long-term trip is an acquired skill that I think it's time to share with you all.

Whether it's a temporary move, a round-the-world adventure, a work-away trip, or, like me, you're just not sure where you want to be yet, long-term travel is about so much more than just clothes (it's a little about clothes). 

I haven't been living at home for a couple years now. I haven't really been living anywhere. And now, we're about to take off to Wisconsin for six months of sailing.

After that, we might take a trip to Greenland and/or the Bahamas. So, we need to pack like we're moving into bags like we're traveling. 

It's time to fit everything of importance, our whole lives, into our suitcases and backpacks and strapped to our persons. 

This time we're driving, so I get to bring the fruit ninja! Obviously a necessity on any trip. Who doesn't love smoothies?

So, in the last two years in which I've been home two or three times, I've learned the ins and outs of fitting my life, not just my clothes, into my suitcase. Here's what I've learned.

When in comes to clothes...

Clothes are the most inconvenient part of packing. Sometimes I wish we still wore leaves...

If you're going to one place for a long time, it can feel bad to be circulating the same 10 piece wardrobe every day and for every occasion.

In the spirit of transparency, I've never managed to pack a 10 or 15 piece capsule wardrobe. I overpack clothes. They'll be rolled up as tiny as can be, stuffed into every, overflowing pocket of my suitcase, backpack, coat, and Ricky's suitcase, backpack, and coat. 

I'm working on it, though.

The trick is to pick your colors and keep it basic. Don't pack anything that doesn't look good with (almost) everything else in your suitcase.

The other trick is to wear a lot of black (especially if you're like me and can't dress yourself to save your own life). I keep it all black and white and pick one other color for when I'm feeling particularly exuberant. Also, my socks are always bright.


I really wanted this gif or a video of Albert's bright socks from "The Birdcage", but this was the best quality I could find! 

As for differing temperatures, leggings are your friend (screw the "they're not pants" debate), find a light coat like a fleece, and learn the power of layering. Of course, it's much easier if you know you're going to be warm the entire time. 

Anyway, as a style-challenged but clothing obsessed confused half girly-girl, I know how hard it is to pack minimally. 

Spending a year in party-town Costa Rica where the women dress to the nines in scantly clad, strappy, wildly sexy getups every single night, it became an emotional issue, getting dressed. This brings me to my next point. 

You will probably accumulate some stuff while you’re away.


I moved to Costa Rica in November of 2015 and when I left in December of 2016 I had a suitcase full of entirely different things.

On my way there, I carefully selected the best of the best from what was ok to leave behind, and when I left there, I had to do the same thing.

I left Costa Rica twice to visit family, and both times I brought an almost empty suitcase so that I could load up with new clothes to bring back. I was an idiot. Do not repeat my mistake. 

I'll write another post someday about how I moved to Costa Rica and felt the need to buy all new clothes that I would never wear anywhere else. Crop tops and tight little skirts. And I still never felt sexy enough or good about any of it. Like I said, it became an emotional issue, getting dressed.

I've accumulated other stuff, too. I had souvenirs, books, an additional blanket, almost a cat, and so much more stuff to pack on my way out. 

Or, let's not forget about all my fallen clothes that I had to throw away in Paris to make room for bigger, harder to pack, Iceland-appropriate fare. I came home from Iceland with a blanket, too. What an inconvenient tradition.

Last time I visited my dad, I had to leave with an extra suitcase!

The point is, keep in mind that you might be returning home with more stuff than you left with. Either keep some wiggle room in your suitcase, be prepared to leave some things behind, or roll up an extra little backpack or something in your initial luggage (my favorite trick).

Long-term travel means you won’t be up and at it all the time

If you are going to one place for a while, you'll have some downtime. For some of us, this is heaven-sent. For some of you, downtime can mean stir-craziness, restlessness, boredom, and stuff (extroverts are still a mystery to me, but I'm making an effort, here).

So, bring a book or books, a notebook or notebooks, craft supplies, or whatever you like to do when you’re not doing anything.

I like to consider these my necessities. 


That "Yes Please" is signed, by the way (imetamypoehlerimetamypoehlerimetamypoehler). How cool is that? 

Basically, don't forget your creature comforts. Being away for a long time, I like to make sure I’m comfortable and can feel at home.

Namely, my bed needs to be adequate. It may not be space-saving, but I bring a fuzzy blanket and a memory foam pillow (and a big, stuffed dog named Franco - wanna fight about it?) every time I long-term travel.

The thing about long-term travel is that you might not know where you're going to be. You might need summer and winter clothes, you might need a dress-up outfit, you might need a years worth of your prescriptions or your little travel coffee maker. You might need your big stuffed dog named Franco.

Am I forgetting anything? How do you pack for those extra-length trips?

As always, thanks for reading, and don't forget to follow the sloth!

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As we prepare for a six-month sailing trip, we have to figure out how to fit our lives into our suitcases. Packing for long term travel is about so much more than just clothes. So, in almost three years of long term travel, here's all that we've learned.

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