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Women on the Road

The Complete Long-Term Travel Packing List for Women

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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 years I kept changing it. At one point during my more than three 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 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 a separate ziplock or packing cubes or compression bags like these or similar. It'll make things so much easier to find later on.

Women on the Road's Ultimate Long-Term Travel Packing List for Women

Travel purse or daypack

Other than your backpack or suitcase, a purse or handbag of some kind is the one most important item you'll need for your travel wardrobe. It will be with you all day so make it comfortable. I used to carry a daypack for my day-to-day tourism but after buying a Pacsafe Citysafe Gii 200 bag,  I'm now hooked and this is what I use the most - comfortable, safe enough from thieves, everything within reach, and it all fits. (I have two!)

And now - what goes inside it all!


Travel documents

  • Passport
  • Plane or train tickets and passes
  • Student or senior card
  • Health insurance card and contact number (find out why I would NEVER travel without this)
  • Requisite travel visas
  • Extra photos for visas along the way
  • Money (a bit of local currency in small denominations is essential for when you land - you can change more later)
  • Other forms of payment including travelers checks (almost obsolete), credit cards, debit cards, prepaid credit cards
  • International vaccination certificate
  • 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
  • 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

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 travel pouch 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

  • Nail clippers
  • Small bottle of antibacterial soap (take this on the plane with you)
  • 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 uses)
  • Viscose or microfiber travel towel (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) 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 probably 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)

Technical stuff

  • 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

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)
  • 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
  • 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 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
travel packing list

Is there anything else you think should be on this list? If so please let me know in the comments below.