September 19th, 2014

How to Pack for a Gap Year

How to Pack for a Gap Year


Congrats on taking a gap year! It takes courage and planning to embark on this type of trip so first off, pat yourself on the back. Once the excitement fades, though, and reality sets in, you may start panicking about how on Earth you're going to create a packing list for such a long trip.

What you bring on your gap year journey will vary, depending on where you're going and what you plan on doing. For instance, if you're traveling to Russia or planning on hiking up mountains, you'll obviously need warmer clothes than someone who is heading to Costa Rica mostly to lie on the beach. And if you're traveling to a place such as Africa, you'll need a mosquito net to help prevent Malaria. So be sure to research your particular destination online ahead of time (in fact, you may need to get certain vaccinations in advance).

Also, look into any baggage restrictions you might face. If you're flying, for example, you may be allowed to bring only a certain number of bags that are a particular size and weight, so check your airline's site.

No matter where you're going on your gap year, every traveler needs some essential items, so follow this basic packing list to ease your anxiety and get started. 


Whatever you do, don't leave home without the following:

  • Identification: This could include a driver's license, a passport, a visa, a health insurance card or travel insurance documents.
  • Money: Put cash, debit card(s) and credit card(s) into a money belt under your shirt so they're easily accessible to you—but not to thieves.
  • Ticket(s): Print or electronically file tickets for any plane, train or bus rides.
  • Medication(s): Are there any medications or supplements you need to take regularly for optimal health? Glasses or contact lenses? Allergy medication?
  • Phone: Don't forget your phone, and consider bringing a calling card or a hotspot—anything that'll help you make calls or send emails abroad.  
  • Itinerary: Whether it's paper or digital, know where you need to be and when.

Tip: scan and email all essential documents to yourself and a friend or family member in case they are misplaced or stolen during your journey.


When preparing for your gap year, it's best to pack lightly, clothing-wise, and check the weather forecast. Bring only essentials in solid, muted colors that match and will last you at least a week or two—until you can find a laundromat.

  • Boxers/panties/bras: 7 pairs
  • Socks: 7 pairs
  • Shorts: 2 pairs
  • Casual Pants: 2 pairs
  • T-shirts: 3
  • Long-Sleeve shirts: 3
  • Fleece or sweatshirt: 1
  • Breathable rain jacket with hood: 1
  • Comfortable shoes, such as hiking sneakers: 1 pair (put them in protective shoe pouches)
  • Flip-flops: 1 pair
  • Swim suit: 1
  • Pajamas: 1 pair
  • Towel: 1


Consider packing: toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, soap, deodorant, tampons, razor, make-up, nail clippers or file, tweezers, hair bands, comb or brush, shaving cream, sunscreen, and insect repellent.

If you're flying, follow the TSA's 3-1-1 rule for liquids, aerosols and gels. Eagle Creek's Silicon Bottle Setis TSA-friendly, so if you put your liquids and gels in them, you'll have nothing to stress about. You can replenish your supply once you arrive (depending on how remote your destination may be).


  • adaptors for unusual outlets
  • water purification tablets
  • hat
  • sunglasses
  • first aid kit
  • bandana
  • camera, music player, watch and alarm (though a smartphone offers these)
  • chargers for any electronic devices
  • journal (unless you'd rather blog on your smartphone)
  • ear plugs
  • playing cards
  • sleeping bag


  • stylish but uncomfortable or new shoes that could cause blisters
  • perfume or aftershave that may annoy fellow travelers in tight spaces
  • body lotion that may attract insects
  • any prized possessions that you might lose in transit

There you have it, your ultimate gap year packing list! Oh, and don't forget to leave some room for souvenirs.

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by Jane Bianchi

Jane Bianchi is a freelance writer who has worked for a variety of national magazines, including Seventeen, Family Circle, and Good Housekeeping.