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Packing for Gap Year Travel vs Vacation

Our first gap year travel included backpacking in Central and South America between 2009 and 2010. We had no clue how to prepare for long-term travel or what to pack for a gap year. Now, our travel style is geared towards vacations or working holidays. Preparing for the two is completely different as you can imagine, but what’s unexpected is how quickly we forget or struggle to pack light.

Packing for a Gap Year / RTW Trip

Gap Year

Aracely carrying her luggage on our RTW trip

When we first left for Central America, we had our huge backpacks full of stuff.  Tons of clothes, camping equipment and gadgets.  After one month, we sent a 15lb box back home of all the stuff we realized we didn’t need.  It takes some time to adapt to living with only 2 shorts, a few t-shirts, 1 pair of jeans and some underwear.  We learned we can pick up what we don’t have for half the price while traveling in Latin America.  Even as we traveled further into South America, we found ourselves leaving clothes behind in hostels for the cleaning people, because we didn’t need them anymore. After Patagonia, there was no need for thick jackets and gloves.  It was a new way of traveling, packing and living, that we became very accustomed to.

Packing for a Vacation

Since Aracely and I have returned to the United States and settled in Miami, our trips and adventures have shortened.  We take vacations, preferably more adventurous ones, but they are still vacations, or holidays for those in Europe.  One might think, we take our big backpacks out of the garage and start packing them with as little as possible, just as we did for Latin America.  That’s not the case.  We grab our roller luggage, doing our best to avoid checking bags, but the selection of clothes we pack is much greater.

Gap Year

Enjoying a vacation in Napa Valley, California

We didn’t do many fancy dinners during our backpacking days.  It was too expensive, and blue jeans with hiking shoes were my dress clothes.  On vacation, we expect to enjoy an evening with dinner and drinks.  We want to dress up, feel good and enjoy the upscale atmosphere.  The next day, we might seek out some nearby hiking, or lounge on a beach.  Add some hiking clothes and boots, bathing suits and beach towels.  At that point, we have packed more clothes for weekend getaways than we did for an entire year backpacking in Latin America.

I am sure there are still many people that pack light for all their vacations, but it’s difficult to stay so disciplined.  When you have the options of many different clothes and shoes sitting in your closet, we tend to grab them all.  It’s tough to think, “I won’t need that.”  It’s easier to think, “I might need that,” and therefore, you pack it.

Shopping for a Vacation

Do you go shopping before a vacation or holiday?  I think most of us do.  It’s habit.  We always feel like we need to purchase some new or more appropriate clothes for a destination.  Since, I am planning on visiting the Galapagos Islands and doing lots of snorkeling, I figured I needed a surfers shirt.  It’s a tight spandex shirt to protect me from the sun, while I am snorkeling.  I went and bought one.  We also wanted to get all biodegradable and natural cleaning products to use while on our Galapagos tour.  I imagine most of the water we use for showering and brushing our teeth on the islands ends up in the ocean, so we wanted to go green.  Add sun hats and sunglasses.  They are absolutely necessary for visiting the Galapagos right?  We needed to get us some of those.  A few hundred dollars later and we are prepared for our vacation.

Gap Year

New purchases for our Galapagos Vacation

This is quite the contrast if we had visited the Galapagos Islands during our backpacking journey in 2010.  We wouldn’t have purchased much, and if we needed something, it would have been a cheap local item that we could pass off to someone else when we were finished using it.  I do feel a bit guilty, knowing that I have succumb to the consumerism based economy of the USA, but hey, at least I am helping the economy, right?

We do remember the lessons learned during our gap year, and still make every effort to make positive decisions when traveling to foreign destinations.  Galapagos is a delicate environment, and we will do our best to keep it safe, while giving back to the local community.

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Wftristan says:

I am 100% useless when i comes to packing so need all the help i can get.


Packing is probably the least fun thing about travel.

This is a challenge that I just think I could never pass!

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