Round the World Packing List: My Top Picks
Preparing to Travel the World
When I set out to travel the world, I had planned very little beyond my first 2 months in Asia. Consequently, my packing list was tailored to warm, humid climates which allowed me to travel for almost 8 months with 15kg in a 55L Osprey backpack.
While this seemed appealing at the time, it did mean I had to be pretty militant about what I take with me and procure along the way. Invariably I ended up refreshing my wardrobe regularly and shipped, back to the UK, the excess that I couldn’t bear to throw out.
There is a plethora of advice online that is pretty prescriptive about exactly how many tops/bottoms/jackets/bras etc you should pack for your trip, which was helpful when I set out originally.
However this post aims to talk more about the kinds of clothes, fabrics that can be multi-functional and that will last you much longer and serve you well across various climates. I will also make recommendations for the brands I have found to be well worth shelling out a little more for.
It makes sense that you’d pack around 7 tops for each day of the week, but there are fabrics out there that you can get where you’ll be able to wear the same top everyday for 3 or 4 days in a row before you’ll need to wash them. Who wants to be at a laundrette every week anyway, there’s a whole world to explore!
Let’s face it ladies, life on the road isn’t always conducive to being able to shower everyday in nice clean bathrooms. Sometimes you’re going to straight-up stink! But to make you feel better, heres the scientific reason why… Our bodies are constantly releasing heat in the form of vapours, and most plastic based fabrics don’t allow those vapours to ventilate, which creates odour. There are fabrics out there that provide better ventilation and are, as a result, odour-resistant.
While it would be wonderful to have a backpack full of expensive Merino Wool clothes (in my view the ultimate breathable fabric), I have found that opting for elastase, lyocell or spandex blends can be a good compromise. Fitness or outdoor clothing make for good, budget-friendly options for tees and tanks, particularly those with mesh inserts for ventilation.I tend to avoid 100% cotton tops, as stains are harder to remove, they don’t air-dry quickly and they lose their shape a lot faster than other fabric blends. Add to that the need to use washing machines and dryers all over the world, you’ll have less control over the heat settings on the machines. There have been countless times I’ve had to squeeze back into a cotton tee after it’s shrunk in the wash.
Generally speaking, I tend to cheap-out on the tops for nicer occasions, everywhere I’ve travelled to on this trip I have been able to find pretty cami tops or blouses that look lovely with jeans or skirts. This is largely because of the fact that I’d rather invest in the clothes that are practical for everyday rather than occasional wear, but when I do look for something fancier I will usually opt for viscose, lyocell or polyester/elastase blends because they are less likely to wrinkle, easier to dry and retain stretch after being in the dryer.
My Top Picks
The world famous female fitness brand Lululemon is great at making that clothes that don’t look like fitness attire. Sometimes you’ll see gym tops with that weird sheen coating that makes them look shiny, or they’ll be skin-tight and unflattering. Lululemon gear is on the more mid-range budget side (between $30-$50 per top), but I have found them to be worth the cost. Even better if you can find something in the sale!
My go-to is the Home Stretch short sleeve tee, which have a 3/4 mesh back and mesh underarms. It’s comfortable, durable and feminine. This top is so breathable it lasts me up to 4 days at a time in the hot, humid weather. It also air drys really quickly after a wash. Perfect!
If mesh isn’t your bag, they also have a great Love Crew range of crew and v-neck tees and tanks that have 4-way stretch comfort, breathability and a cut that flatters.
Black Diamond is a climbing, skiing and outdoor brand from Utah, the home of some of the best National Parks in the US. As they specialise in outdoor clothing, much of their gear focussed towards mobility and breathability, making it ideal for a world traveller.
I have the Interval Tank which features a mesh upper back and a polyester/elastase blend. The fabric is soft and has an almost velvety feel providing warmth when you need it for layering. Their tanks cost between $30-$55.
We didn’t have much time for shopping between leaving the 30 degree heat of Australia and arriving in a chilly -2 degree New Zealand. As I shivered while shopping in Queenstown, I was lucky enough to stumble upon an outdoor store that stocked Patagonia and found myself two long-sleeve baselayers for a fraction of the price by rifling through the clearance section.
The Patagonia Lightweight Capilene Baselayer is comfortable, stretchy and warm. It’s 100% polyester fabric makes it perfect for air drying or throwing in the dryer, it won’t lose its shape either. I wore this under a Merino Wool hoody throughout our time in New Zealand and was able to keep me warm even into the coldest nights we encountered. This is advertised on their website at $49.
Throughout this trip I’ve burned through a couple of hoody’s for various reasons, such as losing shape in the wash, lack of breathability, lengthy air drying times and difficulty in removing stains. All the things you have to think about when you want to travel to a new destination (potentially with a totally different climate) at a moments notice.
I travel with the Icebreaker MerinoLOFT Ellipse half zip hoody, which I’ve worn at least 4 times a week for the last 6 months. I can do this because it’s Merino Wool. This kind of Wool is said to have a built-in temperature regulation, which keeps you cool up to 30 degrees (which honestly a bit of a stretch, perhaps rather the mid 20s) and warm up to -20.
On balance, this makes it a fantastic all-rounder and it acts as a decent windbreaker too. Admittedly I did stretch my budget to buy this, but at $170 its one of the cheaper in the Icebreaker range as it’s a 75/25 Merino/Polyester blend. Luckily, you can bag this on Amazon from $68!
Other pros include, it has a small secret pocket in the chest to stash valuables, thumb loops, zippered hand pockets, super lightweight and it packs up really small.
I tend to find that shopping for bottoms is easier than tops, simply because the fit and style choices are so unique to the wearer. For instance, I always opt for high-waisted bottoms because they're more flattering on me, but that's not necessarily the case for everyone.
I offer here, instead, that the fabric and functionality of the bottoms are what dictate which ones have been the most travel-friendly. Obviously jeans don't seem like a sensible option for a traveller looking to lighten their load, but I find them to be pretty versatile and therefore have been worth carrying around (see below).
Opting for water-resistant and stretchy trousers or shorts have been so beneficial in terms of overall comfort and function. Also, looking for those with multiple pockets (especially zip pockets) are highly recommendable.
Black Yak is a Korean hiking brand that’s making its mark in the international outdoor clothing industry. I have 2 pairs of shorts from this brand and they’re excellent. Most of their shorts are made with CORDURA 4-way stretch fabric, which is lightweight, water-resistant and breathable.
So far, I’ve found two drawbacks to this fabric. Firstly, that it tends to wrinkle easily, so I usually roll rather than fold it and the heat of your body will tend to straighten out those wrinkles after you’ve had them on for a while. Secondly, if you buy a light colour, it can be quite see-through when it’s stretched, so I do have to think about what underwear I’ll pair with them.
I bagged each pair of shorts for around $20 each because we went to their outlet in Seoul, South Korea. But you can find these online through other retailers for relatively cheap.
A more established alternative brand is Marmot, with a similar price bracket and comparable quality of fabrics I have found them to be equally versatile. I have a pair of Marmot Scree hiking bottoms which are a blend of Nylon/Polyester/Elastane, which you can bag from $76 on Amazon.
Nike is a brand that's to acquire anywhere in the world, it’s reliable, reasonably priced and they tend to use decent fabrics - all good reasons why I’d recommend the Nike DriFit Legend leggings. Predominantly aimed at the fitness market, they’re designed to absorb odours, stretch and be super durable.
I throw these on all the time, they’re even warm and comfortable for long stints of travelling, particularly on those flights where they crank up the aircon! I also wore them as a baselayer underneath hiking pants for those freezing cold mornings in New Zealand.
I debated with myself many times when it came to deciding whether I should travel with jeans. After all, most jeans are so bulky and they take a lifetime to dry unless you have access to a dryer. My dilemma is... they do look good with practically anything!
After having phases of travelling with different kinds of jeans, I finally settled on the durable Levis 721 High Rise Skinny stretchy range with the 87% cotton, 12% polyester and 1% elastane blend. Due to this blend they are made from a thin denim-look fabric, they stretch for comfort, the dye doesn’t rub off on your hands when you touch them and they don’t wrinkle easily.
You can pick them up on Amazon between $20-$50 depending on what style you choose. The compromise here is that they don’t ventilate well, but I haven’t been able to find a pair of jeans that are this practical as well as breathable within this price bracket. If someone out there knows of any, please share!
The Patagonia Gore-Tex Triolet Jacket is the most expensive clothing purchase I have made on my trip so far, priced at $399, I definitely flinched at the checkout with this one. However, I admit that so far this has been well-worth the investment. There are a lot of great waterproof jackets or ponchos on the market, but I often find that they don't breathe well when you're on a trek or in humid, rainy conditions. This jacket features underarm zips that allow for ventilation, so I never have to worry about being sweaty and uncomfortable in it. It's thin enough to layer for the cold conditions and another plus is that it packs down really small if you roll it into it's hood. It's windproof and is really flattering.
Although, with many tech fabrics, it does require some maintenance. Every so often I spray it down in Nikwax to re-waterproof it. This is only required every 6 months or so, but will help to increase the life-span of the jacket. I've been told that these jackets last years if you take care of them! Plus, because Patagonia are pro-environment and sustainability, if you stain, tear or damage the jacket, you can take it back and they’ll fix it for you (so keep the receipt - they can’t send that via email too #paperless). Matt had actually worn away the collar on a 10-year old jacket and they gave him a refund... after 10 years!
Hopefully I’ve recommended some solid pieces here to help you on pack for your travels. As you may have noticed, I try to be a pretty minimalist packer and I tend to choose items that are multi-functional, even if it means stretching the budget.