Within the first few weeks of leaving home, I managed to give away a brand new shoulder strap (expensive), a portable hair dryer (not very useful in a mud hut), and a travel iron (what was I thinking!)
And I kept ditching things. Which got me thinking...
Why not get it right the first time?
First it all goes on the bed, and I eventually end up taking no more than a third of what I first planned
I made a list (I love lists). My friends borrowed it and started adding and deleting things based on their own travels.
After plenty of trial and error I can now share with you the collective wisdom of a large-ish group of well-traveled women.
Of course you'll want to pick and choose depending on whether you're touring Italy or trekking around the Amazon - but it's all here.
And remember - pack each 'set' of belongings (washing, reading, first aid etc) in a separate ziplock or packing cubes or compression bags like these or similar. It'll make things so much easier to find later on.
I've provided various links on the list below. Some lead to more information on this site, to information on other sites, or to Amazon affiliate links (I get a small commission if you buy through these links - it helps pay for this site and doesn't cost you anything extra).
Women on the Road's Travel Packing List
Bag or Day Pack - Other than your backpack or suitcase, this is the one most important item you'll carry. It will be with you all day so make it comfortable. I usually carry a day pack but recently I bought a Pacsafe Citysafe Gii 200 bag and this is the one I now use the most - comfortable, safe enough from thieves, everything within reach, and it all fits.
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 (if you're traveling in cities, then by all means take along a pair if that's what you usually wear at home)
Shorts, if you can't stand those pants with zippers
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 myself) I use a long-ish Tilley skirt
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)
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 warmer if you're heading to colder areas
Large plastic poncho or lightweight waterproof (carrying an umbrella can be cumbersome when you're on your way from A to B)
Decorative scarves (to dress up)
Headband or bandanna to keep cool in the summer heat (just wet it)
A flashy travel hat (this is where I have to be truthful: I love my Tilley hat!)
Thermal underwear (for cold climates or high altitudes)
Lightweight fleece (again, if you're going where it's cool) or a pashmina for those heavily air-conditioned malls
Gobi roll or compression bags/packing cubes
Small bottle of antibacterial soap
Small tube of moisturizing cream or lotion
Disposable razor (if you shave)
Comb or hairbrush
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
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) or a diva cup; a few panty liners
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
Eyeglasses, contact lenses and supplies
Sunglasses (cheap ones - you'll have to replace them often)
Sunscreen (although you can easily buy this wherever you travel)
Cotton earbuds (Q-tips)
Wristwatch with alarm function (unless you use your Smartphone for this)
I never travel without a flashlight - a small LED, plus a headlamp (headlamp is particularly useful when walking outside to go to the bathroom at night)
Individual country plug adapters (this map will show you what you need, where) or a universal adapter (this is the one I use but do your research and read the reviews - not all adapters work in all countries)
A small penknife or Swiss Army knife - I have a relatively large one (a gift from a dear friend) but if I were buying one I'd get a smaller version
Reading book or Kindle (I still use mine!) and small clip-on reading light
Cell phone/phone cards/charger (make sure you pack it in something waterproof)
Phone card or unlocked cellphone if you're using local SIM cards
If you're not taking a phone you'll probably need a camera - and don't forget batteries, charger, spare memory cards...
Again, if you have no phone you might want to take music (iPod or MP3 player) for those long bus journeys; try to avoid wearing earbuds when you're out and about, unless you really don't want to meet any new people and experience the country you're visiting; you'll also be safer without them
USB key (use it to keep copies of your important papers and to carry your documents if you don't want to take a laptop - you can slot a USB into just about any computer)
and... a good travel laptop if you really really can't disconnect from work or happen to be location independent
If you're headed off the beaten path
1 pair women's hiking boots/shoes (hang hang them on the outside of your backpack with a climbing carabiner when you're wearing sandals)
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 doorstop (thanks to Susan Marthaler for this one!) to prevent anyone from getting into your room
Sleeping bag and sheet if you're roughing it (or you can use your sarong as a sheet)
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) but if you're headed where there's malaria or dengue, you'll need a mosquito tent or net
Deck of cards for those interminable border crossings - you can play with others and don't have to take your expensive Smartphone out for all to see
Tin mug (you can eat out of it too) - in a year of travel across Africa this turned out to be my one most important possession (I called it Kermit for its froggish green color)
Sheet of tin or aliminium foil, folded (you can eat off it, drink from it - amazingly useful)
A small candle and 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 'those' times
Universal sink plug - for some strange reason, outside decent hotels half the world's sink plugs have been lost
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
Need a printable list without all the commentary?
Just subscribe to Women on the Road NEWS by filling in the form below to download your own printable list.
What else will you get by signing up?
Every other Tuesday, smart travel strategies and tips to help you plan the trip of your dreams from someone who has been traveling independently for more than... four decades.
Subscribers to the NEWS have learned how to use Google Maps to stay in touch, find jobs in ski resorts, figure out the best way to learn new languages and calculate their carbon footprint.
They've also found out how to travel cheaply, safely and serenely, so please do subscribe (and no spam - I hate it as much as you do). All of it free of charge, of course!
None of this is very green! While packing for Panama recently I generated 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.
Is there anything else you think should be on this list? If so please let me know in the comments below.