This is not a packing list. No two trips are the same, and to decide what to pack, you’ll need to take into account where you’re going, the type of trip you’re doing, and your own personal needs. This is a list of hacks and tips to make sure you get the most out of your travel bag, and to help you live out of a backpack for months or even years.
1. Choose the Right Backpack
When shopping for a travel backpack, comfort is key. You’ll need to decide which bag is the right fit for you, and be sure to try it on and adjust it before making a purchase.
Make sure to choose a backpack that is big enough to carry everything you need, but bear in mind that if you get one slightly too large “just in case”, you’ll likely fill the extra space with stuff you don’t need.
The range of backpacks available can be mind-boggling, but the choice is yours. I personally opt for bags that can be fully opened, rather than top-loading (realising you need something from the very bottom of your bag is incredibly frustrating!). Also, bags with many side pockets are good for separating items and keeping them to hand.
You’ll need a smaller bag to keep with on you for day trips/ cabin luggage/ keeping your valuables with you on journeys. Buying a rucksack that has an attachable day bag can really free up your arms and spread the weight when you need to carry both.
2. Make Smart Clothing Choices
Packing clothes for every occasion and eventuality is not going to happen if you’re heading off to travel the world for a long time. Rather than bringing both heavy and light clothes, pack a bunch of items you can layer when it gets cold (it’s amazing the difference a pair of tights under your trousers can make!).
Shoes do take up a huge amount of space, so limit yourself to a pair of sturdy walking shoes and some comfortable sandals. Make sure both are broken in before you set off!
As a backpacker, you’ll likely hand wash your clothes at least every now and then. Just one sweaty or smelly item is enough to stink up your bag, so it’s usually best to rinse it out in the shower rather than wait for your dirty clothes to pile up. Bring clothes that will dry quickly (jeans are a big nope). It’s also handy to keep a small bag of washing powder in your rucksack, and a bungee cord to string up wet clothes.
If you keep your clothes in a separate bag inside your rucksack, make sure that it is breathable (it’s amazing how quickly mould can grow if you have so much as one damp sock). A pillowcase does this job nicely.
3. Allow Space for Toiletries
Many travellers swear by travel-sized toiletries. While they are great for shorter trips, for longer world travel, you’ll have to consider what will happen when they run out. You need to replace them with full-size bottles. Make sure your toiletries bag is big enough to carry what you’ll need.
A hanging toiletries bag that unfurls to allow access to individual pockets can be a blessing in a hostel shower where you’ll need to take your belongings into a small cubicle. Whatever bag you choose, be sure to let it dry fully before putting it back into your backpack.
A microfibre towel is a smart choice to save on space, though they do feel horrible and rarely get you completely dry! I’ve known backpackers, myself included, who gave up on them and bought full-sized towels. Try out your travel towel at home and if you need one that’s full-sized, budget the space for it.
4. Think Carefully About Which Electronics You Really Need
Electronics can add a tremendous amount of weight to a backpack, so think carefully about what you need and what you can do without. Will all that camera gear really be worth it when you have to carry it on your back day after day? Unless you’re working on the road, do you really need to bring your laptop?
Chances are you will take some electronics with you, to keep in touch, find information online, or keep you entertained on a long journey. A tablet or smartphone can prove very useful (in a sturdy case so you can simply toss it in your bag without fear of breaking. Consider bringing a battery power pack if you’ll be unable to charge it for a long time.
Also, consider investing in an e-reader. They weigh very little and can prove very useful. Having your books stored digitally means you don’t have to carry a stash with you or find a place to exchange them.
5. Do Bring a Few “Just-In-Cases”, But Limit Yourself
It’s dangerous to get into the “just in case” mentality when packing, as you’ll end up bringing things you’ll never use. That said, there are a few bits and bobs that I’ve found immensely useful on the road. Just make sure your “just-in-cases” fit into a small pencil case, and no more!
Some items I’ve found useful are: A needle and thread, safety pins, a spare padlock, a lighter (for hostel stoves), a pen, duct tape, sandwich bags (for separating and sealing items), and a spork.
6. Follow the “One In, One Out” Rule
It’s tempting to pick up souvenirs and mementoes along the way, but, remember, you’ll be carrying these with you until you go home. Photos are usually all the souvenirs you’ll need.
If you do pick things up during your trip, try to stick to the “one in, one out” rule, that is, when you add something to your bag, something else must go. It is difficult to dump things, particularly if you convince yourself you’ll need them at a later date, but prioritising is key when you have to fit your whole life into one bag!
Finally, perhaps the most important tip of all: Don’t sweat it if you end up bringing too much or forgetting some items. Having to dump a few things or do without things you forgot won’t seem like a big deal once you’ve set off on your backpacking adventure. (Though, do remember to learn from your mistakes by amending your packing list for your next big trip!).