So it’s time to go! Your dream of roaming around faraway lands is about to happen – but first you have the difficult task of deciding what to bring with you. However long your trip, it is important to make like a good scout and “be prepared”, while avoiding the temptation of over-packing.
Admittedly, I am an over-packer. On my first big backpacking trip to Asia I filled my bag with so many clothes that I nearly fell off a motorbike taxi because of the weight of my backpack. That same week on a local bus journey, my thighs became bruised by the sheer weight of my bag on my lap. And there were times that a short walk to a hostel or bus station that was ‘only five minutes away’ became a half-hour endurance event as I struggled and sweated under my heavy load.
Travel is made more simple and comfortable with a lighter load. You will value comfort and versatility in your clothes, and this is possible without forgoing how you look. It’s about making good choices and getting the most out of everything that you pack. Trying to condense all your material needs into one bag is a challenge. But it’s also a chance to simplify your life and to shed the unnecessary stuff that we all accumulate.
The difficulty in packing for a cross-continental or round-the-world trip is that you will be travelling through different climates and terrain. While you don’t want to be arriving in each new city with a shopping list, take comfort in the fact that most necessary clothing can be bought abroad – and often for a fraction of the price at home.
Below is a suggested list for the average traveller. Most backpackers will stay in hostels or guesthouses so camping gear is not included. Nor does the list include gear for high-altitude trekking. If you plan to do some hiking, it’s important to have good quality gear with you that warms you in the cold and protects you from wind and rain. This list focuses on keeping you cool, because most independent travellers go to the tropics.
And remember the Spanish proverb: “On a long journey, even a straw weighs heavy.”
60-litre backpack – Different compartments are handy so you can separate your shoes from your toiletries and underwear.
15-litre backpack – This can work as a daypack for holding essentials such as your camera, passport and sunscreen.
A satchel bag – It won’t take up much weight but is handy for day trips and going to the beach.
3 x t-shirts
3 x vest tops
1 x long sleeve top – Light cotton to wear in the evening time for warmer countries.
1 x light shirt which can double up as a jacket.
1 x fleece for colder climates
1 x light hoodies – Light in weight and try a neutral colour so it matches everything.
1 x cardigan in grey or back to match everything
2 x 3/4 length trousers – Light in weight for wearing in hot climates.
1 x walking trousers – Combat-style are handy with the extra pockets. Get ones with zip-off bottoms that turn into shorts.
2 x pairs of shorts
1 x jeans – These are a controversial item and open to debate. Jeans are often too sticky for the tropics but sometimes it’s nice to blend in with city life or while on a long haul flight. If you are really trying to keep weight down, they are a non-essential item.
Dresses and Skirts (for the ladies)
1 x day skirt – Denim ones are handy as they go with everything.
2 x day dresses – One of these can be a kaftan type that you can wear over swimsuit.
2 x night time dressy dresses
1 x trekking shoes – Non-waterproof breathable shoes are best for warmer climates. They can double up as runners for walking around cities and sights and hiking shoes for lowland terrain. If you plan on hiking in high altitudes such as the Himalayas or the Andes you will need to take hiking boots or else buy them when you’re there.
1 x comfortable walking sandals – Birkenstocks are perfect for this, leather ones are best for the tropics.
1 x flip flops – For everyday use and for wearing in the shower. Many public buildings in Asia request that you remove your shoes before entry, so it’s handy to have flip flops that don’t require buckling.
1 x waterproof rain jacket with a hood
5 to 7 pairs of underwear – Wash them as you go.
4 x socks – 2 thick pairs for walking and 2 light pairs
3 x bras – Include at least one sports bra for comfort.
2 x bikinis
1 x swimming trunks
1 x shorts and vest top PJs
1 x Smartphone – Free Wi-Fi is easy to find in South and Central America and in Asia. A smartphone is handy for keeping in touch with home using free apps such as WhatsApp, Skype and Viber. It can double up as you iPod and your camera.
1 x ereader – Lugging around a library of books is a thing of the past. Get yourself an ereader and loaded it with good books and travel guides.
1 x international adapter
Toiletries and Medicine Bag
1 x toiletries bag – Miniature versions of shampoo, conditioner, and shower gel etc. Face wipes are handy to refresh your face at any time of the day.
1 x makeup bag – It’s nice to have some makeup with you, but mascara and lipstick is really as much as you need. You’re most likely going to get a tan on your face and foundation won’t be needed.
1 x medicine bag – This should include a First Aid kit, handy travel medicines such as anti-diarrhoea tablets, rehydration sachets and antiseptic creams and anti-malaria tablets if needed. Obviously, go to a travel health professional before you leave home and get vaccinations.
1 x insect repellent
Anti-bacterial hand sanitiser
Padlocks for your rucksack
Eye mask, ear plugs and travel pillow
Pashminas – An essential travel item for women. They are useful when you need to cover up visiting a temple or if you feel you getting unwanted attention.
Sarong – Can be worn as a skirt or dress and used as a towel for the beach.
Silk liner – If you ended up sleeping on a bed that doesn’t look the cleanest, to protect you from mosquitoes when there are no nets and in the cold it increases the heat inside a sleeping bag. There is no need to take a sleeping bag. If you need one for camping etc that can be hired.
Your passport, of course, and always carry a photocopy of it separately. It’s a good idea to leave a copy with someone at home.
Always have a few passport photos which are needed when getting visas.