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The Ultimate Travel Packing List
Or, The Art of Leaving Things Behind

Deciding what to take has always been one of my main problems - but only at the start of a trip.

The more I travel, the lighter the backpack gets! On one lengthy trip, I started with 25 kilos (55 lb) and ended up with 11 kg (24 lb) a year later.

So why not get it right the first time? I still remember giving away a brand new shoulder strap for my backpack (expensive), a portable hair dryer (not very useful in a mud hut) and a travel iron (what was I thinking?) on the first leg of my three-year trip.

I learned my lesson and began to prepare my own packing checklist. My friends have been adding to it and stealing it from me whenever they can, so I'd like to share what has now become the collective wisdom of a large-ish group with you.

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Of course, a lot will depend on the type of backpack you take and how long your trip is... but if you're going for a month or longer, this list should work for you. This is a list for warm climates in relatively inhabited areas - colder climates or extreme locations require a more technical approach.

And remember - pack each 'set' of belongings (washing, reading, first aid etc) in a separate ziplock bag. It'll make things so much easier to find inside your backpack.

The Ultimate Travel Packing List


Day Pack (can be cloth, to carry your guidebook and glasses - your papers should always stay in your money belt or neck pouch). Attach velcro to it: you'll hear it if someone dips in.

Travel Packing List: Travel Documents

Travel Packing List: Clothes

  • 2 pair quick-drying travel underwear (wash one pair each night)
  • 2 travel bras (sports bras usually breathe better)
  • Bathing suit
  • Wrinkle-free washable pants/trousers (with a zipper to turn them into shorts and preferably with plenty of pockets) - no jeans in the tropics, though, they stay wet forever
  • Wrinkle-free washable travel skirt, the longer the better (my friend Gigi swears by the Macabi skirts that turn into pants - I have yet to try one but they sound great)
  • 2 wrinkle-free washable blouses (one short and one long sleeves)
  • 2 pair socks (get special walking socks, not cotton ones! 1 light, 1 heavy)
  • 1 pair hiking sandals (for beach, town and shower)
  • 1 pair women's hiking boots/walking shoes (hang the hiking shoes on the outside of your backpack with a climbing carabiner when you're wearing the sandals)
  • Sarong (you can buy this somewhere along the way as you travel - it makes a great bathrobe, sheet, towel)
  • Cold weather clothes, a lightweight fleece jacket - or something heavier if you're heading to colder areas
  • Large plastic poncho (to fit over both you and backpack when it rains)
  • Decorative scarf (to dress up your travel clothes)
  • Headband or bandanna
  • One of the many excellent women's travel hats (this is where I have to be truthful: I love my Tilley hat!)
  • Thermal underwear (if you're heading for cold climates only)

Travel Packing List: Personal items

  • Reading book or Kindle (I love mine!)
  • Nail clippers
  • Dettol liquid soap (good for cleaning your Tevas too!)
  • Small bottle of antibacterial soap - when the toilet is dirty and there's no water
  • Small tube of moisturizing cream or lotion
  • Disposable razor (if you shave)
  • Comb or hairbrush
  • Toothpaste, toothbrush
  • Dental floss (not only for your teeth - you can slice soft food with it, sew with it, use it to lock things and many other things)
  • Viscose or microfiber travel towel
  • Deodorant or talcum powder
  • Lip balm
  • Hair clip or barrette (if you have long hair)
  • Tampons or hygienic pads (if you chop off a piece of tampon and pull it apart, it can be used as kindling - it's an excellent fire starter)
  • Baby shampoo (a small bottle - you'll find this absolutely everywhere - in a pinch you can wash your body and your clothes with it)
  • Inflatable sleeping pillow or neck pillow, especially if you're roughing it
  • Eye mask and ear plugs (for loud nights in backpack hostels)
  • Eyeglasses, contact lenses and supplies
  • Sunglasses (cheap ones - you'll have to replace them often)
  • Sunscreen
  • Wristwatch with alarm function

Travel Packing List: A Bit of Everything

  • Ziplock bags
  • Water purifier/filter
  • Whistle
  • Bungie cord and hooks
  • 3 meters of paracord (can be used as a clothesline, to fasten your mosquito net, a sling, a belt, a watch band, a carrier for your water bottle...)
  • 2 carabiners (one small, one large)
  • 2 safety pins
  • Small mirror (can also be used to attract attention)
  • Mini-sewing kit (with needle large enough to thread through dental floss)
  • Rubber bands
  • Rubber doorstop (thanks to Susan Marthaler for this one!) to prevent anyone from getting into your room
  • Sleeping bag and sheet (just use your sarong if you're carrying a travel mosquito net)
  • Small plastic magnifying glass or magnifying plastic sheet (credit card size) - great for reading when your glasses break or to start a fire
  • Mosquito repellent (check out the slow release type for longer protection)
  • Flashlight or headlamp (headlamp is particularly useful when walking outside to go to the bathroom at night)
  • Deck of cards for those interminable border crossings
  • Tin mug (you can eat out of it too)
  • Small candle
  • Sheet of tin or aliminium foil, folded
  • Waterproof matches/fire steel/lighter (if you're away from the city)
  • Roll of densely packed toilet paper (or a small pack of tissues) for the times there's none
  • Universal sink plug
  • Compass (I have a Swiss Army knife with a built-in compass, again, for rural areas)
  • A length of duct/duck tape (rolled up tightly) - this is amazing stuff for things like repairing your backpack
  • Eating utensils (I like those new sporks , half spoon half fork)
  • PLB - personal locator beacon: press a button anywhere in the world and an emergency signal goes out - this is purely optional if you're heading into what's left of the uncharted world

Travel Packing List: Technical Stuff

  • Plug adapter
  • Pens
  • Short-wave radio (and spare batteries) if you're going off the beaten path
  • USB key (use it to keep copies of your important papers and even to replace a laptop - you can slot a USB into just about any computer nowadays)
  • Travel journal or notebook
  • Glue stick (to stick cards and other interesting things into your journal or notebook)
  • Travel camera - and don't forget batteries, charger, spare memory cards - this depends on what you need them for. If you're a pro, take everything, but if you're not, go lightly on the photo gear
  • Music (iPod or MP3 player) - although some people feel this helps cut you off from meeting people - it's your call
  • Cell phone/phone cards/charger (make sure you pack it in something waterproof)
  • and... the best travel laptop you can find if you don't think you can spend a few hours away from yours!

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A final word, if I may: none of this is very green! I was appalled while packing for Panama recently to generate an entire garbage bag full of useless packaging that can't be recycled because most of it is plastic. I won't even mention how much pollution I spewed into the atmosphere shopping for this stuff... There must be a greener way to travel.

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