What to pack for 6 months of travel: planning for long-term travel

If you’ve never spent more than a couple of weeks travelling, or even if you have, figuring out what to pack for 6 months can be wildly overwhelming! We’ve spent a lot of time travelling, and most of it recently has been long-term overland travel in Africa.

The question we always get asked the most from those who are undertaking similar trips themselves is ‘what should I pack?’ so here we try to break down everything we found really useful, and everything we could have done without.

The planning itself is possibly the hardest bit of this kind of trip, and personally, we knew no one who could help us do it! So in this guide, we’ll aim to be your gurus. We’ll be talking you through everything you need for planning 6 months of travel or longer, what to pack for 6 months of travel and everything else you need to think about!

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Table of Contents

How to plan your route

OK, so firstly, we suggest deciding on your travel style. Are you going slow and trying to soak up as much of the culture as you can? Or do you have a lot of things you want to see? From an sustainability perspective, slower travel is generally best (fewer flights, more time to invest in local economies etc), but you might be able to pick up your pace if you’re travelling someone with great transport connections.

Next, we advise taking a map and plotting out the basic places you want to see. This might change over time, but it’s a good way to visualise what you’re going to be doing and see it come to life.

Next, break this down into chunks (for example, we like to work month by month) and figure out what you can reasonably accomplish in that time.

Remember that you can book some things as you go, so you don’t need to have everything totally mapped out before you leave.

Pro tip! Consider busy periods of the year, for example: certain festivals that might make a place busy (Mardi Gras in New Orleans, St Patricks Day in Dublin, festivals in Germany, New Year, Lunar New Year (especially in Asia), Christmas, Eid and Ramadan in Islamic countries. You may need to pre-book accommodation and transport for these places to avoid them selling out.

Example Map Of Our Route for our recent travels:

Booking accommodation on a budget

There are a few ways you can plan accommodation for a long-term trip. It’s safe to assume that most people travelling for 6 months or longer will be on a reasonably tight budget (of course, there will be those who are not, but for the most part).

  1. Optimise benefits available on booking sites and apps – this is not the cheapest way to travel but many booking sites and apps have features that allow you to get free night stays, discounts and additional benefits once you reach a certain tier within their loyalty programmes. If you’re confused about where to start, we wrote you an article about it!
  2. Look for opportunities for pet-setting – our favourite site for this is Trusted Housesitters, since the homes come with reviews, insurance etc. You pay an annual membership, and then after this point, you just need to be accepted for each housesit. Make sure you look after the pets well! Our link will get your 25% off your membership.
  3. Couchsurfing is a great way to get ‘free’ accommodation – though Couchsurfing asks for a small fee to join (and it really is very small!), it’s then a gateway to staying with locals for free all over the world. Couchsurfing is an exchange, so hosts usually do expect something in return (such as cooking, socialising etc.), but it’s a great way to meet local people in the areas you’re staying and see a destination through their eyes.
  4. Consider volunteering in exchange for accommodation – volunteering is a great way to give back to local communities, and we love to use programmes like Worldpackers to do it! With our link you can get $10 off your membership or use code THAT_TRAVEL for the same discount.

There are other ways you can get free or cheap accommodation, such as through home exchanges, hotel collaborations (if you are creating content or

A row of tents pitched on a campsite (with no facilities) backing onto a mountain view in Africa. It is nearly sunset.
Our accommodation was a mixture of camping and guesthouses

How to plan getting around

If you’re travelling slowly, you can usually make good use of public transport wherever you are, but planning this can be a little stressful.

We always like to check if the public transport we’re booking is bookable on Busbud and Trainline, so we can have it prearranged (if we know what we’re doing), and we always try and pre-book cars, using Rentalcars.com (which is a part of booking.com and the rates are usually really good value).

We usually check this around a month before we plan to take the transport, unless we’re not sure if our plans will change, in which case we leave it until closer to the time.

Should you pre-book activities?

Again, this really depends on the activity and the time of year. For example, if you’re planning your trip around certain activities that you really want to do then yes, absolutely, you should try to pre-book them.

With things like festivals, gigs, sports events, this is a must for us and we always use Ticketmaster for this. Additionally we pre-book things like safaris a few months in advance. Day trips like walking tours etc., we find can be left until closer to the time, but we still like to pre-book them, usually using Viator or GetYourGuide, or directly with the operator if we can.

So now to our full packing list…

Deadvlei in Namibia

What to pack for 6 months or more of travel

Travel insurance

Travelling for 6 months is no joke, and you really never know what could come up. Of course we all want our travel to be smooth sailing, but the fact is that things do go wrong and you need to be prepared for that.

We use SafetyWing for our travel insurance and they are great, especially if you are travelling for long periods of time. Their main product is nomad insurance, which is literally designed around digital nomads. You can also easily add extras, like electronics and adventure sports.

Check the cost of your trip below.

A Capsule Wardrobe

If you’re not aware of a capsule wardrobe, it’s the best way (in our opinion!) to keep your clothes to a minimum. The concept is simple: outfits consisting of tops and bottoms you can mix and match to create more outfits. For example, if you have 3 tops and 3 bottoms, you should in theory be able to create 9 outfits.

Firstly, packing light is great for the environment, which we’re big fans of! But secondly, it’s really practical, as you genuinely won’t need to wear that many clothes, and it just creates more weight and more washing for you otherwise! In that capsule wardrobe, we highly recommend taking lightweight, neutral coloured clothing. The density of the clothes will help you stay cool (cotton or hemp material is great for this) and the colouring is important for safaris, where bright colours can be off-putting or not allowed.

Check out our guide on putting together a capsule wardrobe here.

Waterproof Clothing

If you’re travelling for more than a few weeks, you’ll likely see a few variations of weather, especially if travelling somewhere that experiences a lot of different seasons. For example in Africa, the continent is vast and the weather really varies in between North and South.

You want to make sure you have clothing that works for all weather, and waterproofs are a must!

Thermals

Like I said, if you’re travelling for any extended period of time, you’re likely to encounter somewhere different seasons! That might be at the top of a mountain, during a rainy season or because you stray into winter temperature on one end of the continent. It’s definitely a misconception that Africa is always hot all the time, so don’t forget your thermals!

6 elephants walking across the savannah
Elephants on parade

Hiking Boots

Also a must! If you’re walking a lot of course this is necessary, but even without, travelling is hard on your feet and it’s a good idea to have sturdy shoes that you can rely on.

Packing cubes

Alongside the capsule wardrobe, these are so essential! If you haven’t used them before, they really are a gamechanger and squash your clothes down so small that you can fit so much more than you’d think.

Solar chargers

If you find yourself without power while travelling (which is more common than you might think), solar chargers can be an absolute lifesaver, whether that’s a solar battery pack to charge your devices overnight, or just a solar charger for the day time. We’ve relied on ours more times than we can count!

A waterway covered in lily pads. A Botswanan man is pooling a canoe.
Pooling in the Okavango Delta

Sun protection – watch out for greenwashing!

Like we said above, if you’re travelling for a long time, you’ll probably experience lots of different weather, and there will almost certainly be places you’ll get a lot of sun.

It is worth noting that suncream belongs to one of the most greenwashed industries in the world, as many products which claim to be ‘reef-safe’ still contain many damaging and harmful chemicals. Unfortunately, research into the best eco-friendly suncreams is still very much lacking, but it is known that titanium dioxide- and zinc oxide-based creams are less harmful than traditional creams. To be on the safe side, check the list of ingredients on Save The Reef and make sure your cream does not contain any of them. We currently use this cream by Amazinc, but the next trip we take will be our first one using it properly, so stay tuned for the review!

Mosquito Repellent

Regarding bug spray, there is only one we’d recommend: Incognito. This stuff is actually amazing – unlike traditional deet-based sprays, which both damage the environment and just cover up your scent, Incognito makes your scent undetectable. We honestly get almost no bites when we use this stuff, even though we still used to get absolutely mauled when we used traditional sprays. If you are looking to go completely natural or you run out, we heard that mosquitoes also hate mint so you could try rubbing that on you too!

A Reusable Bottle With Filtration System

Many countries don’t have tap water suitable for drinking, and additionally, not all of them have great waste disposal systems. This means that plastic bottles are regularly sold, but sadly there’s no sustainable way to get rid of them.

You can use things like water filtration tablets, which are OK, but they do come with a lot of waste themselves from packaging. Our preferred option these days is our carbon filter bottles – we use this one from Lifestraw. You can even use them to fill up in airport bathrooms according to their website, which means they should work on water from any taps, even abroad.

Emma and Murray, a white English couple, are sitting on the edge of a waterfall. There is a very prominent rainbow on the edge of the rainbow.
Devil’s Pool at Victoria Falls

Solid Cosmetics

In terms of toiletries, we were packing for 6 months, since we didn’t know what we’d find while travelling, so we opted for those which 1) worked and 2) were as easy to transport as possible. In most cases, this was a win-win, as eco-friendly toiletries seem to be the easiest in this regard. We were absolutely over the moon to find Ethique products, which work brilliantly and are almost all solid rather than liquid. Here are all of the toiletries in our washbags and where we get them from:

  • Shampoo and conditioner bars, moisturiser bars, and deodorant from Ethique. I also have a lipstick from their make up range, which is great. The only thing we’re not 100% happy with is the deodorant and even then, it’s not bad, it just doesn’t have quite the full protection we need on hot days. We’ll continue to use it while we look for a replacement. Everything else is brilliant
  • Toothpaste tabs from MyPearlies. Recommended by a friend. These are brilliant. Our teeth feel amazing and they’re so easy to transport. We put them in an airtight plastic container for travel (to avoid breakages) with the silicone packs to stop them getting wet.
  • Bamboo toothbrushes. We took 3 each for a 6 month trip and this was about right. You can pull the bristles out with pliers before composting or reusing the stem.
  • A Bambaw safety razor. We took one between us with a load of razor heads, which we just replaced as needed. We found that the razor got blunt very quickly if we travelled with it inside the razor so this is best removed for travel.
  • A bar of soap – we used up what we already had
  • Facehalo cleansing pads – these are a godsend. They’re suitable for all make-up and just need to be rinsed (or washed with soap) ready to be used again. They also dry out super quickly when it’s hot.

A Travel Pillow (and optionally a sleeping bag)

We found our travel pillows to be a lifesaver: either while we were travelling on buses, camping in tents or waiting around in airports and train stations, and kind of wished we’d had better ones than we had! The other bonus to them was that we could take the stuffing out, and pack it full of excess clothes (or laundry) if needed. Our travel pillows did double up as packing cubes, which made them even more useful. Additionally, more as a side-note, we were so pleased we both had eye masks and ear plugs, as trying to sleep on African buses without these is impossible! But of course, these are more optional.

Another thing which is definitely optional, depending on your own trip is a sleeping bag. We took them and found them very useful for sections of our trip, particularly for any sections where we were camping (which was a lot), however we often found we were frustrated with having them with us. They are heavy and bulky, so if you take one we’d definitely suggest keeping it lightweight! If you’re not camping much or can rent or borrow sleeping bags from someone else (like a tour provider), we’d definitely suggest doing this instead, as it’ll save you a lot of weight while on the move.

Murray is sitting on the edge of a cliff in Lesotho
Views in Lesotho

Choosing the right backpack

For obvious reasons, this is really important for long-term travel, as you’ll be lugging around with you for the whole trip, and you need to make sure it’s comfortable, durable and packs nicely. Choosing the right size and brand is important, so this is definitely something we suggest researching thoroughly.

Do you need a tent for long-term travel?

Again, this will definitely depend on the type of trip you are doing. We only camped when we were travelling as part of a tour (either with Intrepid Travel or smaller independent tours through Africa), and the tour companies usually had tents we could use. A tent would have been really cumbersome so we left ours behind, but this will depend what you are planning.

Packing Tips

This is definitely something that’s better explained visually, but our best possible packing tips are below:

  1. Wear your bulkiest clothes for travel days and layer up where you can, BUT make sure you can still fit all the clothes you’re wearing in your suitcase, as it’s tough to wear multiple layers on warm travel days if you’re going abroad
  2. Use your travel pillow as another packing cube. Remove the pillow from the casing and stuff it full of clothes. When packed densely enough, it still works great as a travel pillow!
  3. All bulky items should go in first, don’t forget things like wash bags, which take up more space than you think
  4. Shoes in your main bag can be stuffed with clothes, like underwear and socks
  5. Clothes that don’t fit in packing cubes can be rolled up and stuffed down the side of bulkier items
  6. Use socks to wrap delicate items or things that might spill

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    Written by Emma

    Emma

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