Booking a trip is the fun part of planning. Packing, on the other hand…
Deciding what to pack for a trip is way easier if you’ve got a handy checklist to go with. A packing list reins in chronic overpackers and reminds underpackers of all the important stuff they’re definitely forgetting. Who needs a toothbrush and underwear, anyway?
The thing is, drafting up a packing list is only fun if you’re an extremely A-type personality – which I’m guessing most backpackers are not.
Whether you’re a weirdo with a knack for organisation or a creature of chaos, this list will make packing for your next adventure MUCH easier.
It won’t tell you exactly how many t-shirts to pack. (That is between you and your sweaty pits.) What we’re dealing with here are all the essentials that are going to make your backpacking life much easier. To help with your packing journey, I’ve listed all the top products that The Broke Backpacker recommends across all categories.
Cue to you, one happy camper with a perfectly packed bag – and the adventure can begin.
The Story Starts with an Epic Backpack…
One of the most important things to consider when you’re prepping for a trip is that your backpack can keep up with your adventurous self. Not all backpacks are created equal. Take this from me – I hiked hundreds of kilometres with an ill-fitting backpack and on top of sweet empowerment, was also left with sore welts and blisters.
Every backpack fits differently, so you have to make sure you get one that is comfortable and the right size for your body type. On top of that, an ideal backpack for a budget traveller is durable and compact. (I can assure you that you DON’T need a 90-litre backpack unless you’re headed on a North Pole expedition.)
The Broke Backpacker loves the Nomatic backpack. It’s sleek, smooth, and almost as sexy as you. Designed to look modern, it fits both ragtag travellers and business backpackers, and it’s very compact. Nomatic works especially great as a digital nomad backpack.
If the Nomatic backpack doesn’t tickle your fancy, there are still plenty of other AWESOME travel backpacks out there. I personally have been a die-hard Osprey fan for years, and their comfort and durability is definitely the reason why Osprey stays on top of the backpack game year after year.
Pack Your Bag Like a Pro
Packing your backpack is like a sport that you have to practice before you can win the gold medal. Here are some of my best tips on how to become the world champion of packing your backpack:
- PACK LIGHT. No matter where you’re going or what you’re doing, always take the minimum amount of things. If you’re packing “just-in-case” things – ditch ‘em.
- One exception: always take something fun with you. Pack of cards, ukulele, a yo-yo…
- Always keep important stuff at hand. Keep documents in a purse, bum bag or any smaller bag that is on you at all times. Pack other things you might need quickly (hand sanitizer, tissues etc.) in the front pocket of the backpack.
- Pack versatile travel clothes that can be combined in almost any way. You save space when all your clothes fit together and you don’t have to pack each outfit separately.
- Roll your clothes – don’t fold them.
- Use packing cubes to control the chaos that reigns inside your backpack.
- Pack extra containers. Ziploc bags, tote bags, tupperware… It SEEMS superfluous but I always end up needing an extra plastic bag for my shoes or a box for leftovers in a hostel and never have it.
Travel Packing List Basics: 15 Biggest Travel Essentials
No matter where your road takes you, there are a few crucial bits of backpacking gear that are universally useful for the travelling kind. These are the travel essentials that should be the first things tossed in your backpack.
Before you pack your passport, before you pack your socks, PACK YOUR HEADTORCH.
The guiding light in the dark is your best friend in the wilderness that is the travel scene. Head torches are not only for campers. They can save your butt in dark hostel dorms, night buses, impromptu cave explorations – basically anywhere that’s dark.
The Petzel Actik Core Headlamp is one of the best combos of cheap and mighty head torches out there but in case you’re looking for something different, there are many great headlamps for backpackers.
2. Travel Insurance
Sometimes life head-butts you hard enough that your first-aid kit can’t fix you up.
Never travel without travel insurance. It’s a wild, wild world out there, and you never know what could be waiting just around the corner. You don’t want to be stuck on the other side of the world with a 100,000 dollar hospital bill just because you cheaped up on insurance.
At The Broke Backpacker, most of the team uses World Nomads Travel Insurance.
Getting an estimate from World Nomads is simple—just click the button or image below, fill out the necessary info, and you’re on your way!
The first thing on your hostel packing list should be a sturdy, trusty padlock to keep your valuables safe. Most hostels have lockers, but most of them don’t provide free padlocks.
I’ll never stop campaigning for number combination locks over padlocks with keys. Unless you’re a successful small-time criminal, picking the lock to your own locker after you’ve lost the key is not worth your time!
Psst! Heading to a hostel? Don’t forget to pack a padlock! It’s well worth having one so you can secure your locker and protect your stuff!
4. Travel Towel
Wherever you are, one thing’s for sure – you will always get wet. (No, not in that way! Well, actually, hopefully…)
Some hostels provide towels but like most fun things in life, their towels are rarely free either. Save a buck and pack your own!
A microfibre or a bamboo towel deserves its spot at the top of the list of travel essentials. It takes up barely any space in the backpack and it dries quickly.
5. Reusable Water Bottle
Stay hydrated AND save the turtles – that’s pretty good for a day’s work, if you ask me. Disposable plastic is the bane of your planet’s existence and one small but not insignificant way you can help is getting a reusable water bottle.
And while you’re at it, why not get a water bottle WITH a filter? The Grayl Geopress works wonders in countries where tap water is not safe to drink as it is or on far-away mountain hikes. You might have seen our Grayl plugs floating around the blog before: that is because we love it so much.
Drink water from ANYWHERE. The Grayl Geopress is the market’s leading filtered water bottle protecting your tum from all the waterborne nasties. PLUS, you save money and the environment!
Single-use plastic bottles are a MASSIVE threat to marine life. Be a part of the solution and travel with a filter water bottle.
We’ve tested the Geopress rigorously from the icy heights of Pakistan to the tropical jungles of Cuba, and the results are in: it WORKS. Buy a Geopress: it’s the last water bottle you’ll ever buy.Buy a Geopress! Read the Review
6. Appropriate Clothing
Unless you’re headed to a nude beach in the French Riviera for the whole holiday… You’ll obviously need clothes.
The type of clothes you pack depend on your destination. Is it hot or cold? Sometimes both? Will you need to cover up if you’re travelling somewhere conservative? Will there be a lot of walking on broken cobblestones?
The Broke Backpacker has done all the legwork (and armwork, and torsowork…) to find the best travel clothing for any aspiring adventurer and lifestyle nomad! Check out our reviews below.
More and more travellers are switching to snapping only phone photos. In most cases, phones do the job just as well as a camera if you’re taking shots for your mum more than trying to get published in National Geographic. But hear me out!
A camera is still better for some purposes: you wouldn’t pick your phone over a GoPro on a diving or a biking trip. I personally prefer a mirrorless camera. It’s so much more lightweight that it’s super easy to carry with me even when I’m hiking.
Here are the best cameras for backpackers, although, spoiler alert: you can’t do much better than the Fujifilm X-T20. You get all the vivid colours and deep blacks that Fujifilm are known for without needing the unrealistically deep pockets to afford it!
Toiletries! Drug stores make my hob-goblin brain go into total horde mode, and I always walk out with an assortment of toiletries I definitely (maybe not) needed. If this is your problem too, get a hanging toiletry bag to better keep your rubber ducks in line.
Most of this stuff you can buy wherever you’re going – unless you’re going on a different planet – so I’d highly recommend shopping at the destination. I’d pretty much only recommend BYOB for stuff that can be harder to come by. This includes shampoo bars (versus liquid soap), non-whitening face wash (Asia, looking at you), and some of the weird things you might be into.
Toiletries usually pack a lot of plastic in a pretty short-lived package so if you can, look into more sustainable alternatives – bamboo toothbrushes, reusable razors, washable cotton pads etc. Here is what you should add to your toiletries packing list:
- Toothbrush and toothpaste
- Shampoo and conditioner
- Sunscreen (hella expensive in some countries)
- Razor and extra blades (optional – let the weeds grow wild)
- Waterproof make-up, make-up remover and cotton pads (optional, but nice)
9. Sleeping Bag
The road to becoming a successful adventurer is paved with cozy, comfy down fluff. Mm, toasty…
Sleeping bags are not only for hikers and hobos. Sometimes it can save you in a pinch when you rock up to a town where all hostels are full, or if your guest house is being mean and cannot provide enough blankets.
Pick a lightweight sleeping bag that’s easy to carry with you. Here are the best sleeping bags for backpackers.
While we’re at it – pack a hammock. A good travel hammock packs up light and compact, and it’s the quickest way to set up camp anywhere.
Not to mention WAY more comfy than a tent. Swinging gently into sweet sleep in a camping hammock will always be more comfortable than sleeping on the ground.
11. Money Belt
When you’re backpacking on a budget, every penny counts. Save your shillings from pick-pockets with the magic of a money belt.
A travel money belt is easy to hide under your clothes and is a secure place to store cash and important documents.
Custom-designed BY the Broke Backpacker FOR broke backpacking, the Active Roots Security Belt will keep your valuables safe no matter where you go.
It looks exactly like a normal belt except for a SECRET interior pocket perfectly designed to hide a wad of cash or a passport copy. Never get caught with your pants down again! (Unless you want to.)Check on Amazon
12. Universal Adapter
All hail the C type plug! While my EU standard plug fits most sockets around the world, there are still many, many countries that are going to leave me disconnected without an universal adapter.
Gone are the days you needed to purchase a towering inferno of all types of different adapters. Now you can get a nifty universal adapter that has every possible plug and prong in the same block of tech.
13. Book or a Kindle
I LOVE a good book; no better way to pass those multi-hour bus rides.
Unfortunately many of the other lost souls of the road don’t agree with me. Hostel book exchanges these days have pretty slim pickings.
To combat this, get a Kindle for the nice digitally enhanced paperwhite experience. There are also great reading apps you can download for your phone.
If you’ve never been into journalling, travelling is a fantastic time to get started.
Whether you’re keeping track of all the fun you’ve been having or recording down your daily mantras, a cute writing journal is a must-add to your travel packing list.
15. Pocket Planner
I use journals like the one above for both planning and scribbling down ideas. However, some of you are not all that wordy but still need some form of organisation. If this sounds like you then check out this beautiful, leather bound planner from Kodiak.
It’s essentially a one year, 365 day planner which you use to scribble in appointments, work tasks, and record goals. It’s wonderful for organisation and personally I still find a paper planner far more intuitive than using a smartphone.
The reason we have recommend this one is because its leather back makes its pretty hard wearing and ready to withstand 365 days of fingering. It also looks quite beautiful.
16. Sarong / Shawl
My favourite thing to have in a hostel is a sarong. Why? Two words: privacy curtain.
Sarongs must be the invention of a genius – they have so many purposes! They double (triple? quadriple?) as beach towels, towel towels and blankets. You can also tie one around yourself as a sling and carry your cat in it.
Above all, a sarong is an outfit. I don’t care if you’re a gal or a guy – sarongs are fashionable clothing options for any gender. (They even make sarongs with pockets!)
Travel Packing List Part 2 – More Important Things to Pack
Now that we have covered the most essential of travel essentials, let’s move onto the second tier of packing. Wondering what to pack for a trip as a solo female traveller? What meds and drugs to take with you? Keep reading to find out the answer to these mysteries.
Travel Packing List for a Tiny Travel Pharmacy
Having a personal health kit is important preparation for days when the road sucker-punches you in the face.
The best case scenario is that you’ll never have to use your first-aid kit. The worst case scenario is that you REALLY need it but you left it out of your adventure packing list.
Whether you’re Indiana Jones-ing your way through tropical jungles or interrailing across Spain, a traveller’s first-aid kit and a few extra health essentials are vital.
What to Pack in a DIY First Aid Kit!
- Personal meds (inhaler, anti-depressants, birth control etc.)
- Pain medicine
- Band-aids and blister plasters
- Disinfectant spray and wipes
- Mosquito repellent (at least 40% DEET)
- Bandages and gauze
- Cream/Ointment (great for small cuts, wounds and the aftercare of travel tattoos)
- Throat lozenges/Cough drops
- Probiotics (great for getting your gut used to new environments)
- Diarrhea medicine
- Malaria pills if needed
Note: if you’re taking prescription medication, you should travel with a certificate of the doctor’s prescription since some countries require proof that you’re not just an international drug dealer. You should also make sure that you have enough re-fills for the whole duration of the trip.
Carry-On Packing List
The most hardcore travellers do their whole trip with one bag only. I used to be a die-hard one-bag gal too. The secret? One bag travel packing list has exactly the same travel essentials as normal packing lists. You just pack fewer and smaller items.
Many low-fare airlines charge extra for luggage, so many people like to travel with hand luggage only. This means that the overhead bins overflow quickly… and you might be asked to check in your bag anyway.
I recommend always having a smaller daypack on top of you normal backpack. It’s handy for day trips and incredibly useful for hand luggage on planes, trains and busses.
There are a few things you should always pack and keep in your carry-on luggage.
BONUS: A sewing kit
You don’t need special skills to stitch things up with needle and thread. Something will always fall apart when you’re travelling, and these days I NEVER travel without a small sewing kit. Throw in some safety pins, too.
Travel Packing List for Women
It turns out that backpacking packing lists for female travellers are not all that different from general ones. There are just two extra things that I’d recommend taking, if those are products that you also need at home: sanitary products and birth control.
Finding tampons in many countries is a hassle and a half so it’s worth packing a package. Or even better, get a menstrual cup for extra sustainability and space-saving points.
Another ESSENTIAL thing is stocking up on birth control, if you’re using a re-stockable kind. Pills might not be available everywhere without a prescription, impossible to ship through the mail, or the same brand might not be available in your destination.
Some lady travellers also speak highly of a Shewee, a nifty little device that allows you to pee standing up.
Hiking and Camping Packing List
When you’re headed out in the boonies, it’s extra essential to make sure you’re packing as light as possible. This means that you DON’T need a foldable camp chair (well, unless you’re planning to drive right to the camping spot).
Rule number one of preparing your camping packing list: make sure everything is waterproof.
We’ve already covered sleeping bags, hammocks and head torches in the first section. Here are some more essentials that you should bring with you for camping and hiking trips.
Camping tents come in all shapes and sizes. The number one rule of tents is the same as the #1 rule of camping in general: waterproof, waterproof, waterproof!
I prefer a small two-person tent. Even though I always hike alone, it’s nice to have space for vibing and my backpack inside the tent. Here are the best waterproof tents that the Broke Backpacker team recommends.
2. Camping Stove
Camping stoves are obviously a necessity in the wilderness. But hey! A good portable stove is also a lifesaver in hostels with no kitchens and in cities where eating out is simply too expensive.
One CRUCIAL thing to look out for when buying a camping stove is to make sure that you can use it. This is a mistake I made: turns out that the fancy schmanzy screw-on camping stove I’d bought only took a certain type of gas canister that I couldn’t find anywhere the day before a three-week hike. I ended up having to buy a puncture-type stove on the morning of. Yikes!
3. Camping Utensils and Cookware
Whatcha gonna do with that nice stove without any utensils? Pack some camping cookware and some cutlery. No hiking gear list is complete without a spork.
Titanium pots are the bee’s knees but they’re pretty pricey. Stainless steel is a great second option. Aluminium is probably the most popular choice since it heats up evenly and is extremely lightweight, its only problem is that it’s not as durable as many other materials. But hey, nothing lasts forever!
4. Sleeping Pad
Camping sleeping pads are not only necessary for comfort. They also keep you insulated from cold coming from the ground, keeping you nice and toasty at night.
Pro tip: a yoga mat is neither comfortable nor very good at keeping you warm.
5. Hiking Boots and Other Shoes
I’m gonna go ahead and say it. Good-quality hiking shoes are the most important bit of hiking gear! Your non-sprained ankles will thank you.
Remember to always also bring a lightweight pair of camp shoes. The feeling of squeezing out of your boots at the end of the day is unparallel to anything else except for maybe a really good piece of cheesecake… But it’s worth nothing if you don’t have sandals or flip flops to slip into. Crocs are also a solid choice if you don’t mind committing fashion crimes.
Best Hiking Boots for Men
The waterproof Lowa Renegade Mid GTX Walking boots are sturdy and durable.
Best Hiking Boots for Women
Salomon Women’s X Ultra 3 Low boots are lightweight, breathable AND waterproof.
Other Outdoorsy Necessities:
Digital Nomad Packing List
When you’re travelling as a digital nomad, your baggage probably includes a few more gizmos and gadgets than the average traveller. Here are some of them and our recommendations for the most kick-ass tech gear for working on the road.
The number one thing you need to become a digital nomad is a kickass travel job!
The second most important thing is a good computer. (I should know – mine is currently falling apart)
The perfect travel laptop is a combo of lightweight, compact size and enough processing power. Depending on what you do for work, you might require a computer with a bit more pizzaz. Here are the best travel laptops on the market right now.
Once you’ve got your laptop sorted, it’s time to jazz it up. An anti-virus software is essential for any laptop vagabond, and every savvy traveller should get a VPN.
A VPN allows you to pretend-surf the web seemingly from another country. This is golden in places like Iran, Indonesia or China where some social media networks have been completely blocked. Bonus points: foreign Netflix access!
2. External hard drive
Most days you’re travelling without a care in the world… then one day your shiny Macbook slips through your fingers while you’re trying to multitask too many things and shatters on the ground.
If you haven’t backed up all those photos and docos somewhere – bad luck, buddy.
I always travel with an external hard drive that I can use to store my files. (It also saves storage space on your computer – RAW files take A LOT of space.) And just to be sure, I also back it all up in the cloud.
3. Multi-Port Charger
Ever been to a hostel dorm or a co-working café with just one outlet? Multi-port USB chargers or multi-plug chargers have saved my butt multiple times, and it’s also a great way to make some friends with low batteries.
It would be wrong to say that a multi-point charger is worth its weight in gold because it weighs barely anything – just another reason to plop it into your tech bag.
Or opt for a multi-charging cable for pretty much the same result. Plug in multiple multi-charging cables. Harness the power of power. Power!
4. International SIM card
Unless you’re an EU citizen travelling in the EU, you’ll need a new SIM card anywhere you land. And because it’s 2021, you know just how hard it is to navigate without any connection when you first arrive somewhere new. You’ll probably end up lost and confused and just buy the first SIM the guy at the corner shop recommends (hint: it’s the most expensive plan) to call your mum crying.
No more! Now we have international SIM cards.
With one of these bad boys, you’ll always be set up, no matter where you arrive at whatever ungodly hours of the night or day.
5. Wifi Device
Portable wifi-devices are your new best friend if you’re a vanlifer, a vagabond or otherwise an off-the-grid dweller. What’s that about your actual best friend of 16 years? Toss them! This little square of wifi connectivity is your bestie now.
Portable Wifi devices are international hotspots that can keep you connected anywhere in the world. Real handy when the deadlines and the sunset over the mountains are equally looming.
6. Something to Remind you of Home
OK, so, this is not obligatory if you’re pressed for space but it’s a nice thing to have. The one big, bad downside to the mobile lifestyle is that you never get to have your own space. No apartment or hostel bed or star-lit patch of beach sand is ever yours for very long.
I like to travel with a little something that makes every place feel a little more like home, and honestly, you should too. For me, it’s the postcards that I’ve collected from all over the world and a bit of Blu-tack – easy to hang up on the wall literally anywhere a wall exists.
For you, it can be anything similarly light-weight and small. Something that reminds you of the place you’ll return to. If you can cuddle it, that’s a bonus!
A friend of mine travels with a miniature teddy bear (but don’t tell him I told you that).
Will has gone from broke backpacker to serial entrepreneur and… there are secrets he wants to share with YOU.
Over on Ditch Your Desk, you enter the mind of Will Hatton: blogs about online entrepreneurship, personal development, mastering your productivity, and an honest look at the digital nomad lifestyle.
9-5 or anytime, anywhere. The choice is yours.[Visit] Ditch Your Desk [Read] Online Entrepreneurship 101
FAQ about the Best Travel Packing List
Still have some questions? No problem! We’ve listed and answered the most commonly asked questions below. Here’s what people usually want to know:
Final Thoughts on Packing
And there you have it: the biggest, baddest packing list for backpackers that has ever seen the light of day.
Now all there is left to do is pack your tried-and-tested backpacker’s bag – and take what I’ve said with a grain of salt.
(Except for head torches and sewing kits – you will ALWAYS need them.)
While this is a pretty exhaustive list of things to take with you, it doesn’t mean that you have to follow it like it’s gospel. What to pack for a trip depends on your personal travel style and the trip as well.
For example, if you’re planning for a two-week stint backpacking around European capitals staying exclusively in hostels, you can probably leave your sleeping bag at home. And if you’ve never been a reader, don’t spend your money on a Kindle “just in case”. Just download some Netflix shows on your phone.
Packing for a trip doesn’t have to be stressful. Like my mum always used to say: As long as you have your passport, wallet and phone with you, you’re good. Everything else you can buy on the way.
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