Adventure Travel Packing Tips

In my real life, I run a couple of travel companies that offer adventure travel to various spots around the planet. International Wildlife Adventures is one. We’re constantly being asked packing tips on critical matters, like “What color socks should I wear?”, “Should I bring my camera?”, or “Will I need a jacket when I go to the Arctic?”. We lump these packing tip queries affectionately under “stupid sock questions”.

Obviously any set of packing tips will depend on the type of trip, not to mention your person preferences and needs. Is it a luxury cruise down the Danube, or a scuba diving trip to Belize? A wine-tasting weekend in Napa or an adventure cruise in New Guinea?. This article won’t attempt to address a comprehensive list of packing tips for all travelers, but will try to help you focus your attention on the bigger picture. The rest is up to you.

I’ll cover a few general things to think about when you start the packing process.

So begin by making sure you understand what type of trip you’re about to take. Will there be times when you’ll be eating in a fancy restaurant, or will you be just scarfing up your vittles around a camp fire? Will it be hot, cold or both (the last is the hardest to pack for)?

  • If there’s a big disparity between different parts of your trip, such as “city clothes” needed for the flight and the start and finish of your trip, and “safari clothes” (using the term loosely) for when you’re actually on your trip, consider leaving those clothes behind at the hotel in storage, and pick them up when you return. To avoid having to bring more than one bag along, pack a nylon duffle folded up in your main bag when leaving home, then put your “adventure” clothes in it when you get to the start of your trip. Leave the big bag at the hotel with your city clothes there, then re-consolidate when you return. This will keep your luggage weight down when you’re on your main journey. This is a key to meeting ever more stringent airline luggage requirements.
  • So you want to bring back that rare Dogon sculpture, but don’t want to ship it? Refer to the first point, above, and use a large, hard-sided suitcase (preferably with wheels) as your main traveling luggage, but include that soft-sided duffel in the suitcase. Then, when you get ready to return, put your artifact collection in the hard-sided suitcase (well padded), and put all your clothes in the soft-sided duffel.
  • You always need less clothes than you think. My wife is a master at this. I’m not.
  • There are a lot of new synthetic fabrics that have come on line in the last few years, from ExOficio, Columbia, REI and others. Take advantage of these. Most can be washed in a bathroom sink and will dry in a few hours. There’s even a line of “around the world on one pair of underwear” for both men and women. I’d advise two pair. And resist the temptation to talk about this to your travel companions after a couple of bottles of sake. they’ll appreciate it and you’ll save face.
  • These high-tech fabrics come in all sorts of clothing articles: shorts, pants, shirts, etc. The added bonus is they weigh far less and pack much tighter than cotton. Most are very breathable and are great in tropical climates. Some even have sun protection factors (SPF) of 50+, for the heliophobes in the audience.
  • You can get more clothes in a given space by folding them. Some people prefer to fold, then roll into tight rolls, as it helps keep wrinkles down.
  • Boots and shoes can be stuffed with socks and underwear to utilize the empty space inside.
  • Consider putting all or most toiletries into heavy duty Ziploc freezer bags. Especially for medications. Not only can they be stuffed into tight spots but they are water proof and will prevent leakage from staining your clothes. An added benefit is if you are searched by airport security or customs, it is much faster for you and the agent if they can see what’s in the bags rather than removing all the items.
  • Most electronics’ power adapters (for cell phones, computers, iPods, cameras) today are dual voltage which helps enormously when traveling between countries with 120 vs 240 volts. It used to be you needed a voltage converter, but not so much any more. Check your individual units, but I’ve not found any made recently that aren’t dual voltage. Note that most of these are two-prong non-polarized plugs (each prong is the same size) which will fit into both polarized and non-polarized vertical wall receptacles.
  • You still should bring along a set of plug adapters as the world is still a mishmash of two and three-prong wall plugs.
  • For that rafting trip or wilderness camping trip, consider bringing along a solar battery charging unit for your cameras, Kindle, iPad, etc. There are quite a few varieties with a range of capacities available.
  • Some people prefer to try to carry on their luggage. If you can get all of your gear into a carry on bag, go for it. Keep in mind that carry on size, weight and number of pieces changes as frequently as the weather: what works on your outbound trip actually may not work coming home. Regulations change that fast. Plus different countries and airlines have different rules.
  • Do a little homework on the websites of all the airlines you will be traveling (as well as any charter operators you may be flying) for odd baggage restrictions. I fly Air Canada between Seattle and our little-known neighbor to the north, Canada, frequently. Air Canada allows two checked bags leaving the US, but when trying to return, their “gotcha” is that they only allow one bag and will charge you for the one they let you bring up from the States! Will that be VISA or MasterCard?

This isn’t intended to be an exhaustive list, and we’ll post some more tips in the near future. We’ll also post a packing list too, so stay tuned!


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