How to pack for your trip
Whether you’re off on a European city break or an Antarctic expedition, a well-packed bag can make or break a trip. To take a little stress out of stuffing that suitcase, we’ve selected seven handy guides from our book, How to Pack for Any Trip, to help you pack right for your trip type.
Where are you going? The wilderness
The elements will be both a marvel and a maverick force. Often finding yourself miles from shelter and civilisation, you’ll need to carry protective kit. Advances in the design of walking shoes mean clunky hiking boots might not be essential, but a quick-drying, wind- and rain-proof shell or jacket will be. Large plastic bin liners, ziplock bags in different sizes and/or waterproof bag liners will help keep kit dry.
Temperatures will vary wildly with weather, season and altitude, so embrace the layering system.
- Base layer: a high-wicking, close-fitting top and possibly bottoms. Merino wool is warmest and needs less frequent washing.
- Mid-layer: fleece or similar on top; quick-drying walking trousers on the bottom.
- Outer layer: a breathable waterproof/windproof jacket and trousers.
- Extra-warm layer: a down jacket for use at night can be spirit-lifting, and adds comfort on chilly damp days.
Where are you going? The cool culture city
While perhaps not so culturally unfamiliar, this destination still demands careful suitcase strategy. Many of the essentials will be digital. Want to hotfoot it across town to bag that gold-dust restaurant reservation/show ticket/cheap hotel room? Then download interactive offline maps or apps that access wi-fi without resorting to roaming charges. And while the scene may be hot, the weather might not. Layers are key for looks that balance comfort and style.
- Comfortable shoes: your kicks should be stylish but should also sit happily on your feet while pounding miles of pavement.
- Sunglasses: it might not always be sunny, but life in the city, from the glare of the morning-after to that dazzling check-in moment at the hotel, demands sleek shades.
- Cashmere jumper: this softie packs down to almost nothing and is the perfect defence against ferocious summer air-con in hotels and on the plane.
Where are you going? Rainforest expeditions
Packing for protection in the tropics is paramount. You’re most likely modes of transport to explore this part of the world will be exposed: canoes, kayaks, jeeps and your own two feet. It’s hot, but you’ll need to cover up.
You may be here to see the big mammals – howler monkeys, jaguars, orangutans or even tigers – but the most prevalent beasties are the smaller, biting kind. The other stinger is humidity, which will play havoc with everything from skin to suitcases if you’re unprepared.
- Shoulder the burden: a sturdy backpack is best for this terrain.
- Quick-dry: the tropics can cool down at night so you’ll need layers, but ensure they’re made of quick-drying material (not cotton) or you’ll be clammy and chilly.
- Itchy and scratchy: insect repellent containing DEET (diethyltoluamide) and an anti-itch ointment are must-haves.
Where are you going? The Antarctic
You’re going outside… you may be some time. But, in fact, as most Antarctic trips are cruises, much of your southern exposure is likely to occur in the comfort of a very well-equipped ship, with short excursions by motor boat and on foot. As such, Antarctic forays don’t require huge amounts of specialist gear. It’s worth investing in a decent pair of insulated waterproof boots, though.
- Parka life: most Antarctic ships provide a take-home parka jacket for each passenger, so leave that hulking great down-filled puffer jacket at home.
- Chill out: Antarctic cruising is generally casual, so you don’t need that ball gown. Each operator has different dress codes and supplied kit, however, so read up before you travel.
- Best bins: pack the highest-spec pair of binoculars you can afford, and a camera with a good zoom, unless you want to see nothing but the occasional finned blob.
Where are you going? High-desert trekking
From the Great Basin and the Mojave deserts of the USA to the Sahara-backed Moroccan Atlas Mountains, take a high-altitude desert trek and it soon becomes clear that not all deserts are made of sand. Packing for active trips here needs to take temperature extremes into account, along with footwear and kit that can tackle rough, rocky, exposed terrain. Take a leathery leaf out of a cowboy’s book and stay covered up. The more skin is exposed to the elements, the more evaporation (and dehydration) occurs.
- Be bio: go for biodegradable soaps and lotions where possible and, if you want to up your chances of spotting wildlife, ditch scented deodorants and perfumes.
- Go solar: in these sun-soaked parts of the world, a solar charger will get more than enough exposure to be useful. That said, wi-fi and phone signals are likely to be scant, so while your devices may be charged, their use will be limited. Consider a GPS as a back-up, and perhaps a traditional compass, too.
Where are you going? Big-Five country
The tiny charter plane that delivers you deep into the African bush dictates all when it comes to suitcase strategy. For over-packers, the associated weight restrictions are as brutal as a lion kill – limiting you to luggage that averages as little as 10kg. And within this small soft duffle (forget wheelie cases) you need to combine kit that is functional, photogenic and, ideally, includes some outfits that have at least a little fashion flair.
- Colour me glad: up your chances of getting nose to whisker with the big game and blend in with the bush by wearing natural, earthy tones.
- Get protective: Buy a couple of choice pieces of clothing that are UV-protective and pre-treated with bug repellent.
- Camera kit and caboodle: powerful binoculars, a compact camera for snaps, SLR and long-range lenses, extra batteries, memory cards, charger... Photographic gear will already account for much of your luggage, but it’s worth considering an additional item: a rubber air-blower to remove grit and sand from clogged cameras and lenses.
Where are you going? Round the world (RTW)
How to fit kit for two hemispheres into one bag? Doing so is the key to packing successfully for a true RTW trip. Consider what you can ditch as much as what’s essential. If you need heavy trekking boots and a down jacket in New Zealand or South America at the start, but won’t use them again as you travel via the South Pacific/Asia, consider sending stuff home as it becomes redundant.
- Pull the cord: you can use a bungee or parachute cord to tie things to the outside of your pack, make a line to dry clothes, or strap your bag to the roof of a bus.
- Plug it: does your room-mate snore like a howler monkey? Pack earplugs. These will also serve you well when bedding down for that long airport layover, or during that clattering long-distance train journey.
- Travel trilogy: the lucky formula for light packers comes in threes. Namely three pairs of socks, three pairs of underwear and three shirts; one to wear, one to wash, one to dry.