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The Complete Long-Term Travel Packing List for Women

Women on the Road

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.


PLEASE NOTE: Some articles on this website were written before COVID-19 emerged. I've done my best to keep destination articles updated but the changing situation has made it impossible to adjust the entire site to the realities of the pandemic or travel restrictions. You'll find updated information from the CDC about travel conditions by country but please check all appropriate sources before you travel as situations can change in minutes. 

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." 

Travel packing list female - all laid out ready for sortingFirst 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

  • Passport
  • 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
  • Guidebooks
  • 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 - 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)
  • 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
  • Whistle
  • 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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