Deciding what to take with me when I travel has always been one of my main challenges - and that frustration is why I eventually created my own detailed packing list for travel essentials.
if you'd like a printable version of this packing list
For years I kept changing it. At one point during my nearly four years of traveling around the world, I noticed that my baggage was getting lighter and lighter.
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?
So - welcome to my ultimate long-term women's travel packing list, or, "How to pack for a long trip overseas."
First it all goes on the bed, and I eventually end up taking no more than a third of what I first planned
I started by making 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 ended up with the collective wisdom of a large-ish group of well-traveled women.
Of course you'll want to pick and choose depending on climate, length of trip, terrain, and every other variable - but it's all here.
And remember - pack each 'set' of belongings (washing, reading, first aid etc) in separate ziplock bags or packing cubes.
Women on the Road's Ultimate Long-Term Travel Packing List for Women
Travel purse or daypack
When packing for a trip, your first item is something to carry everything in, perhaps a backpack or one of the new secure anti-theft backpacks.
Second, you'll need something to use during the day. A great accessory is a travel daypack, which leaves your hands free for photography (or shopping). An alternative is a reliable and stylish purse or handbag, or one of the practical anti-theft handbags which you tend to wear crossbody. (I have two Citysafe Gii 200 bags, a beige and a twill: they're comfortable, safe from thieves, everything within reach, and everything fits.
And now - what goes inside it all!
Travel documents: what to pack
- Plane or train tickets and passes (see here if you're headed for Europe and need a Eurail pass)
- Student (yes, mature students can sometimes get these) or senior card
- Health insurance card and contact number (find out why I would NEVER travel without this)
- Requisite travel visas and extra photos for visas along the way
- Money (a bit of local currency in small denominations is helpful for when you land - you can change more later)
- Other forms of payment including credit cards, debit cards, prepaid credit cards
- International vaccination certificate if you're traveling in tropical regions
- Travel journal or notebook and a glue stick (to stick cards and other interesting things into your journal or notebook)
- Map or map app (these days I'm enjoying maps.me - download them before you go and use to guide you once you're at destination)
- International driver's licence as well as your regular driver's licence (often required if you're planning on renting a car abroad)
- Emergency phone numbers, including embassy contacts in each country, next of kin contacts, and the address and number of your hotel in case you get lost
- A list of local contacts and friends, tourist offices and anyone else you might want to contact
- Copies of all important papers (and keep them separate from the papers themselves!) via email, printed copy or on a stick
- A postcard of your home town and a couple of family photos (pets allowed) to show people you meet (I like carrying postcards because, unlike a photo on your phone, you can leave the postcard behind!)
- Travel money belt
- Whatever you need from this first aid kit checklist
packing essentials: Travel clothes
- 2 pair quick-drying travel underwear (if you're a minimalist - if this is too scary, take more)
- 2 travel bras (sports bras usually breathe better on long transport segments)
- Bathing suit
- Wrinkle-free washable pants/trousers (with a zipper to turn them into shorts if you like that style and preferably with plenty of pockets) - I stay away from jeans in the tropics: they stay wet forever (if you're traveling in cities, jeans are perfect if that's what you usually wear)
- Shorts, if you can't stand those pants with zippers (as long as you're not in a conservative country of course)
- 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 which unfortunately isn't made anymore
- 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) or walking shoes
- Sarong (you can buy this somewhere along the way as you travel - it makes a great bathrobe, sheet, towel)
- Cold weather clothes, thermal underwear,, a lightweight fleece jacket - or something warmer if you're heading where it's really freezing
- 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) - or get this great infinity scarf with pockets that doubles as a hiding place for your money
- Headband or bandanna to keep cool in the summer heat (just wet it and wear it)
- A flashy travel hat (I have to be honest: I love my Tilley hat!)
- Gobi roll or compression bags/packing cubes (these are the ones I use and love)
Personal items for a women's packing list
- Your travel toiletries list should include things like nail clippers (or file), disposable razor (if you shave), comb or hairbrush
- Small bottle of antibacterial soap (take this on the plane with you)
- Small tube of moisturizing cream or lotion
- 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 uses)
- Viscose or microfiber travel towel or towel set (if your accommodation is more adventurous and towels aren't being provided)
- 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); a few panty liners and feminine hygiene products you might need
- 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 probably have to replace them often)
- Sunscreen (although you can easily buy this wherever you travel)
- Cotton earbuds
- Wristwatch with alarm function (unless you use your Smartphone for this)
Technical travel essentials list
- 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) or comfortable reading light
- 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)
- Pens or other writing implements (the Space Pen doesn't leak)
- Foreign language phrase book or app
- 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; security won't let you take it on as hand luggage though...
- Reading book or Kindle (I still use mine!) and small clip-on reading light - the Kindle app on your smartphone will do just as well
- 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 or plane trips; 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
things to pack for a trip 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)
- Ziplock bags
- Water purifier/filter (or tablets) in case of contaminated water
- 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 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 if the sun is out
- 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 or, at the very least, some mosquito repellent clothing
- 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) - this may not be one of your essential travel items but when I backpacked 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 aluminium 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 around something, like the cardboard tube of a toilet paper roll) - this is amazing stuff for things like repairing your backpack
- Eating utensils
- PLB - personal locator beacon: press a button anywhere in the world and an emergency signal goes out - this is only if you're heading into what's left of the uncharted world or traveling on your own away from populated areas
- a partial or full first-aid kit
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