You’re going travelling for months and all you’re taking with you is a backpack. Easy! Or is it? How exactly do you pack for long-term travel? What are the must-haves and what should you ditch? Read my tips here!
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How do you pack in just a backpack??
I remember when I decided to finally go backpacking, one of my first thoughts was “Okay… but how the hell do I pack for a year in just a backpack??” I knew other people were doing it so I was determined to find out HOW. After months of reading tips from more experienced backpackers and putting together my packing list (and making it smaller!), I have officially declared myself qualified for passing on the backpacker’s knowledge. 🙂
I’m not going to share a complete list of what I’m taking with me because I don’t want to bore you to death and well, you don’t need to know everything. But don’t worry – you’ll still find plenty of tips in this article which should make your packing easier. I’m also sharing some useful travel hacks you should know!
First thing everyone will tell you is less is more. You’ll be carrying your backpack for weeks or months on end, maybe even in tropical temperatures and you just don’t want it to be too heavy. I think that’s a good motivation for minimalism. Always ask yourself several times: do you really need all those ten T-shirts and eight dresses? Didn’t think so.
HOW TO CHOOSE YOUR BACKPACK?
First things first: you need a backpack. (Don’t even think about dragging a suitcase with you if you are going to be moving from place to place for months.) Now, I am not an expert on backpacks – there’s just so many to choose from and everyone has different needs. However, I can recommend what I chose: This amazing 60L travel pack opens up all the way down (a bit like a suitcase) which means you don’t have to take everything out when you need something from the bottom of the pack. (I’m sure backpackers know the struggle!) It also comes with a raincover and a detachable daypack. Definitely travel with a daypack for smaller trips and walks – you wouldn’t want to carry your big backpack ALL THE TIME.
Another tip: get yourself some packing cubes to keep organised! You can put all your clothes or anything else in them. Such a handy thing when you don’t want to dig around for something for ages, nor have it wrinkled.
Feel free to skip this part if you’re not an obsessed photographer or videographer and don’t need to document your travels in any way (I’m slightly jealous of you). I, however, need to carry my laptop and my camera kit with me for work (and duh, I’m a blogger now 😀 ), which makes packing light a lot harder – but hey, I just won’t bring any clothes…
If you’re aiming for good quality photos from your travels, a DSLR camera is a must. I also like to have an extra lens – the 50mm is my favourite. And in case you use tripods a lot (for time lapses, videos, professional selfies or whatnot), I can only recommend the GorillaPod, it’s really travel-friendly and you can even wrap it around a pole or something if you have nothing to place it on. And I always have a spare battery or two so I don’t have to worry about my camera dying on me.
And because I always create a lot of media, I can’t live without external hard drives. I even carry two to have a backup of a backup (I went to film school – there’s never enough backup, OK?). I just like my photos and video files to be safe. Tip: you can put your external drives in some bubble wrap. They aren’t exactly enjoying being tossed around in your backpack.
Things I would recommend anyone to have are a power bank (so you can charge your phone on the go if you need to), a PowerCube (so you can charge more appliances at once – just make sure to buy one with the outlet your country uses) and a universal travel adapter (so you can actually charge your things abroad).
Don’t forget about chargers for all your electronics – luckily, most of them can now be charged via a USB cable, meaning you don’t have to carry ten different plugs. Speaking of cables… do yourself a favour and keep your cables organised! That goes for your earphones too. I keep mine in a small pouch to prevent damage.
HYGIENE & COSMETICS
Now this is a part where you can massively cut down. Aim to have everything you need in one single bag. Solid soap and shampoo, toothbrush, toothpaste, hairbrush, deodorant, sunscreen, one or two make-up items and washable cotton pads for make-up removal. Everything else can be replaced by coconut oil.
And if that still seems like a lot of products, notice that I’m not carrying any hair conditioner, face wash, mouthwash, body lotion (except for a hand cream because my hands get dry easily and coconut oil doesn’t always help me), after sun, make-up remover, lipstick/eye shadows/whatever other facial make-up women use, nail polish, perfume, etc… So not too bad, eh? I know it’s still not super minimalist, but hey, I still want to look like a human being.
I have written about my travel hygiene in more details in this post, where you can even read why I totally recommend women to use a menstrual cup when they travel (just make sure you start using it a few months before your trip – it takes some getting used to).
Two must-haves I also recommend are a microfibre towel (it’s compact and dries fast) and an antibacterial gel. And it doesn’t hurt to travel with some toilet paper 🙂
Clothes are very individual but I’ll try to give some universal tips. Obviously it depends on your destination. If you’re going somewhere colder (which I’m not), I have one word for you: layers. I wouldn’t pack five big jumpers, for example, but several smaller pieces, such as thermal wear and cardigans you can layer up.
But really, don’t overpack when it comes to clothes. Only pack your favourite items. That’s the only way you’ll end up wearing all of them, instead of carrying a lot of clothes you’re not using. For instance, I have only packed about five or six T-shirts I can wash over and over again – or just buy some new ones if they become unwearable after some time.
I’m definitely not leaving without a pair of leggings. Forget jeans. I’ve been wearing jeans for like 20 years and I’m sick of them. (Note: what you see in the picture above are denim shorts – just to be clear!) When packing your clothes for long-term travel, you should make two things a priority: comfort (Will this be comfortable to travel in?) and space (How much space will this take up in my backpack?). Jeans are failing in both categories in my opinion. And let’s be real: I’m going to SE Asia – elephant pants are probably going to be the first thing I buy. Who needs jeans?
The rest is up to you – just make sure you have good shoes, a waterproof & windproof jacket and a scarf (shawl). And it goes without saying you should wear the warmest and bulkiest clothes and shoes on your flight. Not only will your backpack be lighter, but you’ll also appreciate the extra layers when the always-present air conditioning is making you shiver on the plane.
Oh, and some sort of a dirty laundry bag might also be a good idea!
OTHER TRAVEL HACKS
If you’re planning to stay in hostels, bring a padlock or two so you can lock up your valuables. It’s also a good idea to have an eye mask and earplugs for a good sleep. Get a universal sink plug if you ever want to wash your clothes by hand.
When it comes to keeping your money safe, you can opt for a money belt that can be worn under your clothes. And if you are travelling through several countries and have different currencies on you, I recommend bringing at least two wallets with you so your money doesn’t get completely mixed up. Tip: You can also carry a small wallet with just a few dollars – that’s in case you get mugged and are forced to hand in a wallet…
And of course, have a notepad and a pen! I like to keep important numbers and addresses someplace other than a smartphone, just in case. And it’s obviously handy for jotting down notes, ideas and information on the road.
Have I forgotten anything? What are the things you don’t leave without? Let me know in the comments!