PACK LIGHT. If you do nothing else, pack as little as you can. I guarantee you that you will only regret taking too much stuff.
If I go away now, this is what I would take with me:
- Toothbrush, toothpaste, soap
- Sleeping bag
- 1-2 pairs of clothes
- Passport and debit card
- Kindle or books
- Notepad (to write down ideas)
If you can’t travel light, here is advice more the more conventional traveller…
Packing is one of the most important, yet badly done parts of every trip. The biggest mistake is always overpacking. Why is overpacking such a big mistake?
- Security. The more that you have, the more you have to lose.
- Flexibility. The less you have, the easier you can move about, get onto public transportation, and carry your bag when you need to walk. This gives you more options when you are considering where to go and where to stay when in a new location with your backpack on.
- Peace. You will have less stress about losing belongings, more time because packing is quicker, and generally your life will be that much more pleasant without excessive material possessions to worry about.
The two most important pieces of advice one can offer are:
- You don’t need as much as you think you need.
- Other countries have shops.
It is far too easy to take too much stuff away with you. Once you have stuff with you, you feel loathe to part with it and end up carrying it around for several weeks / months without ever using it. It is far easier to take less and if you really need something, you can buy it on the way. Chances are, shops aren’t that much more expensive once your journey has began (unless you happen to be visiting Norway, Switzerland, or Japan).
When you pack, think about:
- Weight reduction.
- Utilising the space you have.
- Taking only what you need.
Rather than going into detail on how to fold clothes so that you can fit them into the tiniest of bags or where you can buy a towel that doubles as a superhero cloak, I will simply offer you a packing list that covers the bare essentials.
The following list details generic items that you will need for a typical backpacking trip and can be applied for males or females.
- Passport. You can’t go anywhere without this.
- Bank Cards. You need money. Alternatively you could try street performing (although you do need a license for this in many locations).
- International Driving License. Great fun if you have one.
- Travel Insurance information. Whether paper based or electronic, make sure that you have this close to hand in case of an emergency. From experience, I highly recommend that you do not travel without travel insurance.
- Initial Ticket. Unless you are hitchhiking or your ticket is saved electronically, you need something to get you going. You do not need to take copies of every single document in your life because nowadays, everything is electronic. I email all necessary documents to myself so that I can print them at a later date. It did take me a couple of trips, but I eventually found out that it isn’t only my home country that has printers. When I travel now, I normally take a kindle and I email all the documents to my kindle so that I can pull them up for reference at any time. You can also do this with smart devices.
- Toothbrush and Toothpaste. Just because you’re travelling the world, it doesn’t mean that you need to be unsanitary.
- Razor (unless you prefer au natural). Everybody likes to make new friends in new places. You may also want to take shaving cream, unless like me you are not blessed with extensive hair growth and you find that you can get away with an economic shave using soap (or your friend’s shaving cream). From past experience however, I would not recommend buying cheap razors. It hurts your face. Or worse.
- Smelly Stuff. Sometimes it can be nice to be clean and when you are around other clean people you may appreciate smelling nice. They will also appreciate you smelling nice. One deodorant / antiperspirant and one perfume will suffice.
- Make Up. For boys this is normally just hair styling product. For girls, a little bit more. Try not to take everything. You are a backpacker and you don’t need to look like you just walked out of a magazine. Some girls like to include a hairbrush. ‘Make up’ is not really necessary but the feel-good to weight ratio of these products makes including them justified.
- Medicine. Not all people need medication, but don’t forget your life saving medication if you need it or if it stops you from biting strangers. When I travel, I take antihistamine tablets for allergies, Carmex for dry lips, 3 sachets of antiseptic wipes for when I cut myself open, and 3 sachets of rehydration salts for when I have spent too much time in the sun. This takes up a very small amount of space and weight in my backpack but covers me for everything I should need. Girls need sanitary items. Bare in mind that you can also buy these in other countries too, so don’t take more than you need. Remember that most of these items will be in your backpack and might not actually be available when you need them.
- Miniature Soaps / Shampoos / Clothes Wash. These are optional because you can buy them all around the world. If you insist on putting them into your backpack, try to find miniature versions of everything that you are getting. If you are travelling with a friend, you can take it in turns to buy / carry the products and share them between you. I often ‘share’ with friends who like overpacking.
- Micropore Tape. This stuff is amazing. If you cut yourself and have a gaping wound, you can strap it back up long enough to reach professional medical attention, or ideally, long enough for it to heal by itself.
- 2 Pairs of Shoes. One for nice stuff, one for normal stuff. Flip-flops are a great option because they are lightweight and can be worn in a huge variety of situations.
- 4-5 Lightweight Tops. Take one for nice events such as going out and the rest for casual wear. Sometimes I add an extra item if I feel like taking two shirts.
- 2 Pairs of Trousers / Shorts / Skirts. One for going out and one for day wear. Typically I take a pair of shorts and a pair of jeans and they cover me for everything. Remember that clothes can easily be washed. Girls clothing is generally lighter and smaller (as are they), so they may be able to take a couple of extra garments.
- Something Warm. A big thick hoody works best for me and can be worn in a variety of situations. Even in warm countries, it can get cold at night.
- 4 Pairs of Underwear. You can wash them easily.
- 3 Pairs of Socks. As I prefer to wear flip-flops, less socks are necessary.
- Swim Wear. Only necessary if you are too shy (or prude) to swim naked. Your shorts can actually double as swim wear if you don’t mind waiting for them to dry or if you have swim wear that looks like shorts (more applicable for boys).
- Travel Adapter. So that everything works.
- Camera (and charger). To make your journey into a story and share it with the world.
- Duct Tape. This stuff has a million and one uses including repairing shoes and stopping your toiletries from leaking in your bag. It is an absolute lifesaver in so many situations and I think that you must take it with you.
- Water Bottle. We need water to survive. Even an empty plastic water bottle will suffice and it is lightweight.
- Reading Material. Books are heavy but they form an integral part of many traveller’s favourite past time. I now carry a kindle because of the weight reduction and the number of books instantly available to me.
- Notepad and Pen. Because memories and thoughts are precious.
- Travel Towel. Lightweight and quick drying qualities are essential.
- Waterproof Backpack Cover. Invaluable to protect all of your possessions.
- Day Bag. I take a handbag sized bag capable of carrying my passport, money, camera, and water bottle. On most days, you don’t need anything more than this.
That pretty much covers everything that you need for a basic backpacking trip. However, there are some other specifics that you may require on certain trips which are detailed below. Consider each one carefully and assess it’s usefulness before committing to putting it into your backpack.
- Country Specific Medication. This includes diarrhea medication, malaria tablets, and water treatment chemicals that you would not want to be without in certain parts of the world.
- Winter Clothing. This covers thick socks, a coat, a hat, gloves, and possibly even thermals when travelling to cold places.
- Sun Cream. You can easily buy this if you are going to a sunny place, but if you are particularly susceptible to sun burn, it doesn’t hurt to take it with you.
- Medical Kits (including syringes) for Emergency First Aid. I don’t carry these because I normally don’t take my backpack everywhere with me and find that most the time, these things simply take up space and weight in my backpack. If you are far from ‘civilisation,’ a medical kit may be necessary.
- Rain Jacket. Personally, I hate rain jackets. However, I appreciate that they can be useful in certain situations. When hitchhiking, I generally find shelter or remove my top when it starts raining as I hate the heat and sweat accumulation that occurs within a water-proof jacket. One day I hope that ‘they’ will make a one-way permeable membrane in order to overcome this problem.
- Padlock. Great if you are staying in hostels to help keep your belongings safe. If you aren’t sleeping in hostels, this isn’t necessary.
- Tent. Fantastic freedom and money saver for the right situation. Assess this dependent upon where you are going.
- Sleeping Bag and Liner. Once again this is invaluable whilst couch surfing or free-camping. However, if you are staying in hostels, this most probably isn’t necessary.
- Internet Enabled Device. If you can’t survive without the internet, you need it for making plans, or you work on the internet, you may need one of these. If you only need internet access for contacting family and posting pictures onto facebook, chances are that you will find internet access wherever you travel that is far more efficient (and less likely to be stolen) than what you can fit into your backpack.
- Phone. Great for emergencies. If my network works in the countries that I am visiting, I normally take my fully charged and switched off £9.99 phone along with me in case I get stuck in a dangerous situation.
- Nail Clippers, Scissors, and Tweezers. Once again, you must ask the question of how essential is self pruning?
- Knife. Men love to carry knives. It makes them feel more like men. At times however, a blade can be very valuable (such as when eating food on the side of the road or digging sea urchin spines out of your foot). If you are practical, not staying in hostels, and won’t damage yourself, take a knife.
- Hand Sanitizer. Sometimes you just feel a bit dirty.
That’s it for generic packing lists. At a later date, I will provide packing lists tailored to specific trips. If you have any thoughts on the above material, please feel free to comment below.