Packing for Travel:
What to Pack for Your Trip
Packing is obviously a very personal thing, as every person’s travel experience is different. For example some people would consider an entire case full of camera equipment to be essential travel gear. Others would just think of it as excess, unnecessary weight. Some people choose to bring a sleeping bag and tent. Others prefer to sleep in hostels, guest houses, or just rent this sort of equipment as they need it. No matter what you pack, it’s important to be mobile. If you can’t comfortably carry everything while walking a couple kilometers, you’re gonna be miserable.
Here is a list of things I often pack or end up accumulating along the way.
Essential Travel Gear:
All your stuff should fit easily in a sturdy backpack with hip support. Don’t overstuff it and leave some room for the little things you’ll inevitably pick up along the way.
Lightweight, compact, sturdy, and with multiple pockets. Something you can roll up easily and stuff into your larger pack when you aren’t using it.
First Aid Kit:
Antibiotics, Antihistamines, Ibuprofin
Needle and Thread
I found her at a garage sale. Isn’t she cute?
In my case, Doxycycline (malaria pills) and a few doses of Azithromycin (an antibiotic for treating severe cases of diarrhea)
Extra Ziplock Bags
Cream for Sore Muscles
Durable Plastic Silverware
Essential for not getting sick and not polluting the places you visit with ugly plastic bottles
Portable Can Opener
Plastic Food Container
1 Liter Water Bottle
Stored in a plastic bag, then put in a mesh bag with first aid kit and other random accessories
Dental Floss, Toothpaste, and Toothbrush
Don’t want your teeth to rot out of your head.
So you can sleep soundly on airplanes, buses, trains, and in hostels
So you don’t have to carry tampons with you or find tampons all over the world.
I prefer Doctor Bronner’s. You can use it on your hands, face, and hair.
Rain Protection Gear:
I had this small one that had a hood and zip pockets. I liked that it was was really really light and could be stuffed into a small ziplock bag. BUT…it stopped being waterproof after a few months. It did rain a lot during my trip and I often wished I had invested the money to buy a proper, fleece lined waterproof jacket. Yeah, it would have been more bulky…but I think worth it.
Fits into a tiny stuff sack
Covers your entire backpack to protect it when it’s raining
2 Pairs of Pants
Preferably ones that dry fast. One pair that is soft and comfortable enough to sleep in. Another pair that has zip pockets and the ability to break down into varying lengths (shorts/capris/pants). These pants do look touristy, but there’s a reason every tourist seems to have them – they’re great!
5 or 6 Shirts
Most likely you’ll accumulate clothes as you travel that are way more interesting than the ones you started your trip with. It’s nice to have a few shirts that remind you of home, but it’s also a good idea to bring shirts that you won’t be sad about losing. For girls, a few shirts with build in bras are nice to have.
Thin Long Sleeved Shirt
Something you can wear under your shirt or under a thicker sweater. If you’ll be in cold climates, you can bring two of these and layer them as you need them. This is useful for many different situations – from bus rides where they’re blasting the AC or in conservative countries where it’s best to cover your arms.
Something with zip pockets and is tight fitting (so it isn’t too bulky to pack)
The ones I took to travel with were old and gross and really hurt my feet. I ended up buying some new hiking shoes along the way. I didn’t end up getting any major blisters, but it’s probably best to bring ones with you that you’ve already broken in.
Get durable sandles, not cheap flip flips. They should have decent traction so they can be used for hiking or water shoes. I prefer Chacos.
6 or 7 Pairs of Underwear
Lightweight and quick drying
4 or 5 Pair Socks
So important! Can be used for many things (washcloth, headwrap, bandage, filter for water). A great way to cover your hair when you haven’t washed it for 3 days.
For obvious reasons. I plan to do a lot of swimming and snorkeling. Unless you’re only going to be in cold climates, I would imagine everyone would want to bring one of those.
Scarf or Sarong
Really important! Can be used for many things (use it as a towel, blanket, or laundry bag; wrap it around your neck, head, or waist)
30 percent of heat loss is through blood vessels in your head. The best way to keep warm is to bring a nice, warm hat. But…if you aren’t going to be in enough cold countries to make it worth it, you may not need it. You can always buy a cheap hat when you need one and ditch it again when you don’t.
Small Lightweight Shorts
Preferably of the fast drying, spandex variety. For sleeping in hot climates and for wearing over a swimsuit when you want to be a little more covered up (like if your in a conservative area, you feel uncomfortable walking around in your swimsuit, or if you’re doing some sort of activity where your swimsuit might fall off)
This is probably a good thing to have if you know you’ll spend a lot of time in cold climates. I thought I would use this a lot, but I ended up just wearing a bunch of layers instead and I was able to keep warm enough. It was bulky and not getting used (except one night as a pillow while sleeping in my tent), so I sent it home.
Small mesh sacks
For keeping things organized
Microfiber Travel Towel
If you’re like me, you’ll likely lose or break your sunglasses many times during your trip. Bring some you don’t care about – like ones from the $1 store. It’s good to have ones with dark lenses, because walking around in the hot sun all day will probably make your brain feel like it’s boiling.
Bring 1 small padlock to lock your backpack. Also bring 1 small cord to lock your backpack to objects (like train seats, hostel beds, etc). The cord lock is also a good thing to have if you plan to rent a bicycle or motorbike during your trip (as you should never trust the locks given to you with the bike). I prefer locks with combinations rather than keys – keys are too easy to lose.
This thing was endlessly useful (for strapping wet shoes to my backpack, for clipping my room key to my belt loop, or attaching my wallet to the inside of my purse so I don’t accidentally leave it on a counter somewhere). I wish I had brought 2 of these.
This is basically a thin cotton sheet sewed up like a sleeping bag. I used this thing all the time. I ended up buying a brand name one, but if you don’t want to spend the money…you could easily just buy some fabric and sew your own. It’s perfect for every situation – especially when you sleep in sketchy places where you suspect they don’t wash their grubby sheets very often. It’s also great for sleeping on buses, trains, planes, or to add to your sleeping bag when it’s really cold.
I have mixed feelings about my sleeping bag. I used it tons when I went camping (especially in colder places like New Zealand) and sometimes when the bedding provided by hostels was insufficient or nonexistent. But there were definitely many months where it just sat at the bottom of my backpack unused. It was a nice security blanket to carry with me, but a heavy, bulky one. If you know you’ll only be traveling to warm climates, you’ll probably only need a sheet.
Store them in a waterproof, multi pocket bag or a waist pouch. Also store them online so you can access them remotely from anywhere.
International Driver’s Permit
Extra Passport Photos
If you’ll need to acquire visas while traveling, have a decent idea of the logistics involved in applying for them on the road.
If you aren’t in the habit of stretching or working out, print out a small paper with a basic routine you can do while on the road.
Also: Airline Miles Card, Extra Copies of Itinerary
Camera Equipment and Electronics:
Waterproof Camera Case, Reflector, and Gel
Lots of memory cards, battery charger and extra battery (I wish I had brought 2), camera cord, lens wipe, usb stick. Store it all in a small ziplock bag.
I have an Acer Aspire One. Don’t forget to bring the cord. You also might want to bring an ethernet cable in case you’ll need to use the internet and there won’t be wireless.
Travel Adapters and Converter
So important! (for trekking in the dark, climbing around caves, rummaging in your backpack without waking up your hostel neighbors, reading on the night bus, etc. etc. etc.)
This is a really small solar powered currency converter that fits in your wallet. I found it to be really useful in the beginning, but it quickly died on me. I ended up just using my brain to get a general idea of conversions instead. This worked out fine and I rarely missed this thing in the end. It’s not a bulky thing to carry around though, so not a bad thing to have.
Random Personal Things:
1 Small Notepad
I ended up bringing two notepads, but I only ever used one at a time. Just bring one notepad for jotting down email addresses, travel details, etc. You can find cheap notepads in every country as you need them (often with funny pictures or amusing English translations).
2 Crochet Hooks
Brought two in case I lost one or wanted to teach someone else. If you plan on teaching a class (as I ended up doing), it’s best to find a bunch of cheap, plastic crochet hooks at home and bring them with you. Next time I will be sure to do this – as crochet hooks are either expensive or difficult to find in other countries.
A Tiny Friend
Photos of People Back Home
Packing Tips and Gear Resources:
OneBag.com – The art and science of traveling light
Packing Guide for Hostel Backpackers
To The Woods – three-season gear list
Travelite – travel packing tips and product reviews (also see Travelite archives)
Vniman: packing lists
Gorp: activity-specific packing lists
Mark Verber: Packing & Traveling Light Recommendations
Perpetual Traveler: Packing
Perpetual Traveler: List of outdoor gear catalogs
Backpackinglight.com – gear reviews, checklists, guides, and forum for buying/selling used backpacking items
Make Your Travel Backpack Lockable Tip – video showing how to lock your backpack