You made the courageous choice to deviate from the traditional path and take a gap year before college. Awesome! Hopefully by now you have also already developed a well-rounded plan for your gap year. (If you haven't you might consider scheduling a free consultation with us to help you get started :) For those of you who already have their gap year plans sorted, you may have already begun thinking about what you will take with you. It is smart to begin strategizing how you will pack in advance in order to avoid the fatal mistake of overpacking.
The single most important piece of advice I can give on packing is to stick to the packing list. DO NOT OVERPACK. You maybe be tempted to bring more than what is suggested, but after a few days of lifting your luggage on/off trains, planes, and tuk tuks you will wish you left that extra pair of shoes at home. You will be surprised how much you can live without, and how little you care about your fashion choices during your gap year. Trust me....
Traveling light is the ideal. When selecting clothing to bring, keep in mind that you may be traveling through diverse climates as the season changes, and choose clothing that is comfortable, and versatile in all situations. Plan to layer up for cooler weather. You can still appear put together and practical if you put good thought into your packing. Pack clothing that can serve multiple functions, for example, leave the sequence mini dress or silk shirt at home and bring a maxi dress or wrinkle free collared shirt that you can wear for both cultural activities and a night out. Avoid items that require ironing or special laundering.
Don't forget to be culturally sensitive with your packing choices. In some countries it is not acceptable to wear short shorts or tank tops. Pack knee-length shorts/skirt, or pair of loose fitting pants instead. You may be expected to cover your shoulders or head before entering some churches, temples, or mosques. Often times simply covering with a scarf can be modest enough to satisfy the requirement. Be sure to read up on the customs of places you plan to visit beforehand so you are prepared to be respectful of local traditions.
If you are participating in an organized travel program during your gap year, the program administrators should supply you with a specific packing list for your program. I recommend following that list closely, as they know best what you will and will not need.
For those who are planning an independent gap year experience, here is a sample packing list I use for the Semester in Europe programs I lead:
Suggested Packing List
Shoes (No more than 4 pair)
◻ 1 pair of comfortable walking shoes ie. (broken in before we leave)
◻ 1 pair of business attire dress shoes
◻ 1 pair of sturdy sneakers or running shoes (optional, depending on your interests)
◻ 1 pair Flip-flops (optional but useful around hotel/hostel)
◻ Long pants x 2 (1 pair jeans, 1 pair that can be dressed up)
◻ 1 pair of Shorts
◻ Skirt or Dress x 1-2 (Something that is comfortable and can also be dressed up)
◻ Shirt/tops x 5
◻ Warm tops for layering x 2 (cardigan and light-medium weight jacket)
◻ Socks x 4 (can easily hand wash)
◻ Underwear x 5 (can easily hand wash)
◻ Business Casual Outfit
◻ Suitcase for traveling (see below)
◻ Daypack and/or messenger bag (over the shoulder strap is most secure)
◻ Water bottle (avoid using plastic bottles to save money and the environment!) ◻ Stuff Sacks and a Reusable Tote ◻ Portable Charger ◻ EU and UK electrical adaptor
◻ Small combo lock (lock the zippers of your daypack together to deter theft in your hostel)
◻ Small travel umbrella
◻ Quick Dry Towel
◻ Sunglasses + Hat
◻ Camera & charger
◻ Ear plugs (optional)
◻ Eye shade for overnight travel (optional)
◻ Laptop or WiFi compatible device – phone
◻ Money belt pouch/belt to carry passport and money when traveling
◻ 1 Debit and 1 Credit Card
◻ Travel journal (optional)
◻ General toiletries (toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, shampoo (4 oz. or less), sanitary needs etc. No need to bring full sized bottles. There will be places to re-stock along the way.)
◻ Contact lenses and solution (Enough to last entire trip)
◻ Hand sanitizer (travel size)
◻ 4 oz. bottle of Dr. Bronner’s or other laundry soap (optional)
Personal first aid kit:
◻ Any prescribed medications in original bottles + copy of prescription
◻ Pain relief (Tylenol, Ibuprofen etc)
◻ Electrolyte sachets x 5
◻ Vitamin C tablets or Emergen-C packets x 10
If you plan to spend part of your gap year in a location without regular access to potable water, you will likely want to bring a UV water filter.
No matter your destination I recommend leaving Hairdryers; Hair Straighteners, Electric Razors; or Expensive Jewelry at home. If you try to use hairdryers, straighteners, or electric razors you risk breaking them and starting a fire, as the voltage is not the same in every country.
Laundry: Your program leaders will help locate laundry facilities roughly every week. In Europe these can cost $10+ per load. Bring a small bottle of multi-purpose soap, such as, Dr. Bronner’s to hand wash items in the sink.
Most gap year experiences involve spending time away from home, either internationally or domestically. You will likely need a sturdy piece of luggage small enough to fit at least 3 months worth of gear. It is worthwhile to invest in a sturdy piece of luggage that will last you a lifetime rather than buying something just because it is cheap and risk having it fall apart mid- trip. It does not necessarily need to be brand new in order to be of good quality. REI and Patagonia both sell used gear. Do your research and read reviews of products and brands before investing in a piece of luggage.
If your gap year program offers suggestions as to what type of suitcase - backpack, duffel, or wheeled suitcase, I recommend you heed their advice. They know what sort of luggage will suit your needs best.
I use a 70 liter backpacking pack for trips where I expect to engage in rugged outdoor experiences that might require me to carry everything a significant distance over a bumpy road or across a sandy beach (Southeast Asia & Ecuador & Peru). It is nice to have a pack with a zipper that allows you to access things at the bottom of your pack without unpacking everything from the top. A rain cover will help keep your belongings dry when you encounter wet weather.
I took a duffel and a hiking day pack both times I traveled to Nepal. It is likely your bag will go on top of a bus or in the back of a truck at some point. A waterproof duffle like the Patagonia black hole is super sturdy and waterproof. We employed porters on our treks, and packed our belongings in duffles to make it easier for the porters to strap multiple bags to one another. We carried what we needed for the day in our daypacks.
For trips where I spend most of my time in cities (Semesters in Europe) I use a wheeled Osprey that also has stow-away backpack straps and detachable daypack. If you plan to travel by train I recommend your suitcase dimensions not go over 25" x 16.8" x 11.5”. Larger suitcases can be difficult to fit inside the luggage compartments on board trains.
Wherever you are headed, remember to pack only what you really need. Your gap year is a once in a lifetime experience and you'll want to save your energy for actively engaging with the world around you, not stressing about all your stuff. Have questions, comments, or tips I left out? Leave a comment below!