Last Updated on May 27, 2023 by Ellen
What does one take on cost-conscious world trip that lasts indefinitely? What’s on the packing list? Our goal is to wander the planet as lightly and cheaply as possible. That’s what budget slow travel in early retirement is all about.
This post lists what I carry – a frugal middle-aged woman who’s not high maintenance. It was inspired by some pictures I took of my ‘worldly possessions’ one day in late 2022 as we hopped around northern India. I realized it had been several years since I’ve done one of these posts, which our female readers especially appreciate. This packing list includes my clothing, and in this case, the list works in warmer climates.
Husband Theo has his own ‘system’. If he carries something we both use, I will note that for the benefit of our single female readers.
Packing list for budget slow travel
- Inside my ‘stay with me forever’ bag
- My ‘stay with me most of the time’ bag
- The ‘let it go’ bag
- Packing list items Theo carries for me/us
I divide my goods into three categories:
- Stay with me forever
- Stay with me most of the time
- Let it go
The concept behind these divisions is simple: everything can be replaced. However, some replacements would require much more effort. It’s those harder-to-replace items on my packing list that ‘stay with me forever’ and go in the ‘stay with me forever’ bag.
By the way, these are not high-end bags. One was a recent gift, one is an older gift, and one I bought at a discount.
Inside my ‘stay with me forever’ bag
This is the simplest bag, and the smallest. It has the most important items.
These are small items that cannot easily be replaced: passport, COVID vaccination cards, credit and ATM cards, enough prescription medication to last two weeks in case of a jam.
This bag is usually my purple purse. Inside, I also carry my phone, a hand fan, and a few small items in here.
I bought it new in Vietnam (I think) for $25. This was ‘the one’ because it is water resistant and it has plastic zipper teeth, which do not corrode over time in salty air. I only wish it was a tag bigger…
My ‘stay with me most of the time’ bag
Next is the ‘stay with me most of the time’ bag. Items in here would be pains in the ass to replace, or, they include things I need for land travel like tissues and hand sanitizer.
Most important item on the packing list for this backpack: my laptop. It’s an old Lenovo Yoga 710 ultraportable with an 11.6 inch display that is coming apart. It weighs 2.3 pounds, which was a selling point for me back in 2016.
I would be absolutely bummed if I lost my computer, even though it is literally falling apart. It still works and it’s been with me around the world. I wrote a book on it, several short stories, a million emails, hundreds of blog posts, and more.
Yet: it can be replaced.
Reminder: We do not work with affiliates or sponsors – we are independent and get nothing in return for good reviews.
Packing list for inside this bag:
- Lenovo laptop, charger, adapter
- several months supply of prescription cancer prevention medication (stuffed into as few boxes as possible)
- extra eyeglasses and prescription sunglasses
- passport copies and any tickets for upcoming travel (such as hard copies of Indian train tickets) in a small plastic folder – with pens
- small packing cube with:
- 5 pairs of underwear
- 3 toe sock pairs
- 3 ‘bralettes’
- 1tank top
- 1 bikini
- 2 Uniqlo Airism undershirts
- Kindle with charger
- small toiletry case (tissues, hand sanitizer, plastic bag, extra underwear, toothbrush and paste, masks)
- travel-sized Scrabble board (although no one ever wants to play, lol)
- cloth pouch with sentimental earrings, a necklace from my late friend Gracie, and a few talismans
- plastic bag with vitamins and medicines (paracetemol, loperamide), and a thermometer
- second small pouch with earphones, hair ties and clip, a few clothes pins
- battery pack for my old iPhone 6 and charger cord (both are not pictured)
Inside that small clothing packing cube
Your items in this category will be personal to you. To me, as a Caucasian woman traveling long-term in Asia, finding proper fitting undies is an issue, as is ‘bralettes’ and bathing suits ever since my double mastectomy without reconstruction for breast cancer.
How I pack my go-to backpack
In the smaller backpack, the small clothing cube goes at the bottom because I don’t need it when I’m on the move. The laptop slides in against the back.
I layer up items from there based on fit – and need. For example, my travel toiletry bag is easily pulled out at a public restroom. And, after Theo had dengue, and with COVID lurking around, I now keep a digital thermometer in this bag, along with some paracetamol and loperamide.
You likely have items that – for whatever your reasons – you want to hang on to, if at all possible. These are the items you struggle with putting in a ‘bigger suitcase’ because that suitcase will be tossed into the carriage belly of a bus (or strapped atop the bus) or checked onto a flight, and thus out of your sight.
Items in the next level bag won’t cause any angst if you don’t always carry them.
The ‘let it go’ bag
Items in the ‘let it go’ bag are easily replaced while traveling, and/or I won’t use them until I’m off the train or bus or plane.
My ‘backpack on wheels’ has dimensions that make it a carry on size for flights.
By the way, for flights, extra shuffling is needed to combine the ‘stay with me forever bag’ into the ‘stay with me most of the time bag.’ Then the smaller backpack becomes my ‘stay with me forever bag’ and I pack the empty purple purse into the larger backpack.
Budget slow travel packing list for larger backpack:
- Clothing in a medium packing cube (detailed image below)
- metal cup with immersion coil*
- plastic mug (weighs nothing)
- tea bags
- 3 hats
- walking sandals
- Turkish towel (in this bag only because it’s so beat up I need a new one anyway)
- empty, small cross-body purse
- folding day bag/back pack (pictured above with corroded zipper)
- plastic folder with more passport copies, passport photos for visa applications, marriage license copies, pictures and small art images that are special to Theo
- corrective lens swimming goggles (one-size-prescription-fits-all)
*I carry the metal cup and coil, but Theo carries the coffee screens to make coffee without a machine. The orange mug below is for illustration.
Also, at our budget slow travel price point in India, not all rental units have kettles, so we bought a cheap one. Theo carries that. Inside our small kettle are things like instant coffee and creamer and kitchen sponge and dish soap. No container is ever packed empty.
The kettle and its contents are not things we would pack for a plane ride, but it works for us at the time of this writing since we are slow traveling around India by bus and train.
Packing list for medium clothing cube
Our female readers are always curious about what clothing I pack. This is much easier to accomplish without a checked bag in warmer weather because garments are thin.
Since I get tired of wearing the same thing all time, I will ‘shop’ at a used clothing store or flea market and replace an item here and there. It is always a challenge for me to find clothing that feels good without breasts, and occasionally, I will go into a mall or western-style retail store. But mostly, I steer clear of ‘fast fashion’ and have for many years.
At the moment, these are my garments:
December in northern India is chilly, and there are times I’ve worn many layers from the items you see here. It sure does make me look like a vagabond.
Not pictured: my shoes. I have cheap walking sandals that I pack in a plastic bag. I wear my ‘clunkier’ shoes, which are Croc knock-offs at the moment, but I’ll buy real shoes soon and retire the plastic shoes, which were perfect when I bought them – for walking around on a healing broken toe.
How I pack the larger backpack
How does everything fit and work? It’s a backpack on wheels, so there is no hard frame. There is a hard metal slot where the pull handle collapses, so it’s not flat.
I place smaller items on the bottom and fit things in like a puzzle. The clothing cube is mashable and goes on the top.
That’s it. There are always a few odds and ends to tuck in here and there. Like plastic bags and small water bottles. We reuse them as much as possible. We also carry silly things like a plastic fork and spoon.
Packing list items Theo carries for me/us
In addition to the coffee filters and small kettle Theo carries for our use, he also carries a thin, fast-drying bed top sheet that we’ve used all over Asia, where top sheets are not standard amenities in budget rental units.
Theo also carries my 20-year-old prescription dive mask. I can hardly see out of the old prescription, but it’s better than nothing if we go diving or for long snorkels because I cannot see without glasses.
Of course, Theo insists on carrying my ‘big’ bag in addition to his two bags. He’s pictured below with his ‘big bag’ and the bottom picture shows his backpack; which is his ‘stay with him most of the time’ bag.
We’ve really lightened the load over the years…
All of this stuff is moot, really, when you get to packing for your own journeys. You’ll find your own packing needs and style as you get experience.
Incidentally, over the years we’ve lightened the load quite a bit. Here’s a post about our bags from our early years, and another post a couple of years later. Those older posts really show how much we’ve unloaded.
We still carry 10 unusual items for comfort and convenience as budget slow travelers, such as the top bed sheet and my beloved Turkish towel (threadbare these days).
Today, on buses in countries like India, we buy a seat for our bags. This saves the hassle (and dirt) from strapping it on top of old school-bus style transport.
Perhaps this packing list can be a starting point for anyone wondering what the hell to bring on a budget slow travel trip that will last indefinitely.
Life is Now – travel now!