It can be a little daunting to decide what to pack for a long trip away. Especially if, like me, you have to fit it all into a 55 litre backpack. Whatever you decide to take is all you are going to have from home for the next 12 months or so. Sure, you can pick stuff up along the way as and when you need it, but initially whittling down a room full of belongings into one small bag is no mean feat. Here’s my guide to the things you should take with you, how to pack efficiently and what to definitely leave behind.
My Top Five Don’t-Leave-Home-Without Items
1) Blackout eye mask for long-distance journeys, flights, and hostels with crap/no curtains.
2) Amazon Kindle for all the books you could ever want in one tiny tablet. Hurray for technology!
3) First aid kit. This has got me out of a few scrapes.
4) Hand sanitizer. Great for developing countries where bathroom facilities can be questionable. Or any time you need to eat with your fingers.
5) Portable speaker. Just because you are travelling doesn’t mean you must be deprived of epic tunes. Taking an iPod goes without saying, right?
What To Pack: Clothes
Clothing takes up about half of my backpack, including underwear. It’s a good idea to take three or four basic tops in plain colours that go with all of your skirts/shorts/trousers. If you’re travelling to hot countries don’t take jeans with you. You won’t wear them and they take up so much backpack space. One pair of lightweight walking trousers is fine – even better if they also zip off into shorts (sexy, I know).
A couple of shorts/skirts options is adequate. I’m a fan of denim shorts as they are hardwearing and comfortable. I took one printed sundress which I loved and it made the whole 20 month trip around the world and home again. One pair each of flip flops, sandals and trainers is all you need for footwear. My walking trainers doubled up as hiking boots and for days when I was covering a lot of miles.
Sticking with the sexy garments, a fleece is a great thing to take for a long-term trip. It’s super warm in cold places and a comfy pillow for sleeper buses/trains. Plus it dries quickly if you get caught in a monsoon. I also pack a waterproof jacket for rainy days and to wear as a coat when needed – they are great wind-breakers.
Three other items I would not travel without are a sarong, a pashmina scarf and a travel towel. My sarong doubles as a blanket, a bikini cover-up and it’s what I take to the beach instead of a towel so my actual towel stays clean and sand-free. My pashmina folds into a wonderful pillow and keeps me warm on public transport. Travel towels take up about a sixth of the space a regular towel would, and dry uber-quickly. Why waste all that precious room?
What To Pack: Toiletries
Take everything in miniature for your shampoo, shower gel, moisturiser etc. Those small bottles last longer than you think. Besides, there’s nothing worse than using up space in your bag with a half-empty bottle of product (rookie mistake).
It’s a good idea to take a couple of really good quality products or all-rounders in your toiletry bag. Just because you are on the road doesn’t mean grooming has to go completely out the window. For example, I always carry an excellent anti-frizz cream so I can let my hair do its natural curly thing. Think about what matters to you in terms of personal grooming. Maybe you’ll pack the luxury of an electric toothbrush, a bottle of perfume/aftershave or a can of shaving gel.
Other essentials for a long trip are sun cream (preferably one that’s designed for extreme heat and humidity), insect repellent, baby wipes for showering on-the-go and a few packets of tissues for all the many times you’ll need toilet paper!
Now here’s one for the ladies: your make-up bag. If I have one piece of advice here it is to go minimal. When it’s 30 degrees Celcius and uncomfortably humid wearing full foundation is not a good idea. If you’re out diving all day applying mascara is the last thing on your mind. Once you’ve got a little bit of a tan going on you don’t need make up, anyway.
Inside My Make-Up Bag
I carry a powder foundation for nights out (Bare Minerals is my favourite), a compact of mattifying powder, concealer, mascara and a decent pencil eyeliner. I also have high quality make-up brushes – which I wash regularly with shampoo – and a mini eye shadow compact for when I want to make a little extra effort. A decent, nourishing lip balm is a must; I’m a fan of Burt’s Bees. That’s it!
What To Pack: First Aid Kit
I can’t recommend enough that long-term travellers take a decent first aid kit with them. Without mine a leg infection that I was afflicted with in Thailand could have been a whole lot worse, which doesn’t bear thinking about.
You can pick up travel first aid kits from outdoor retailers such as Blacks or Millets for about £20-£25. They’ll include dressings, antiseptic wipes, bandages, plasters, scissors and tweezers. I would also suggest bulking your kit out with the following:
Immodium (for the inevitable bouts of Delhi Belly. Some bus journeys would have been unimaginably uncomfortable without these magic tablets!)
Rehydration sachets (the second-best hangover cure ever, after a dip in the ocean)
What To Pack: Everything Else
Now for all the other random bits and bobs you have to squeeze into your 55 litres. Most of these are totally optional, but personally recommended!
Ear plugs – I always go to outdoor stores such as Millets and buy camping ear plugs, because they actually work. Great for daytime sleeping or drowning out the snoring/sex noises coming from your dorm mate’s bunk.
Pack of playing cards/Uno or similar – good for making friends and passing the time on a rainy afternoon. Not to mention drinking games!
Pen knife – I rarely use mine, admittedly, but it’s a useful thing to carry (if only for the bottle-opener function!)
Sleeping sack – A lightweight sleeping sack made of silk will protect you from unclean bedding and bed bugs (every traveller’s worst nightmare).
Head torch – Again, not super sexy but extremely useful when trekking, camping or when you need to find your way around the dorm room in the middle of the night (trust me, you do not want to be that person who turns the main light on).
Lighter – Even as a non-smoker I find it useful to have a way of making fire.
Journal – As a writer of course I carry one of these at all times. During my last trip I filled five of these! A great way to record your memories and for noting down names/email addresses etc.
How To Pack Your Bag
First of all you must invest in a decent backpack. Do not cut corners here – the size, design and comfort level of your backpack is going to make a huge difference to your whole trip. I personally think the smaller the bag the better. I travelled for two years with a 55 litre backpack and still found I was carrying items I didn’t really need. My pack is by Berghaus and is specially designed for women. It is completely adjustable to fit my shape. The best part about it is that the zips open all the way around like a suitcase, meaning I can access the entire contents at once. Plus I can padlock the zippers closed for extra security.
My top two tips for packing your bag:
1) Use packing cubes to organise items.
2) Roll your clothes, then secure each garment with an elastic band. You can rummage to your heart’s content without messing up your stuff!
Packing cubes are awesome. They keep everything neat and protected and you can simply throw them into your backpack when you’re in a hurry. I use one large one for the bulk of my clothes, a small one for my underwear and another small one for random bits and pieces. They save time and make your bag so much tidier. I’m also quite into using plastic bags to protect my stuff from moisture. This does make me one of the dreaded dorm room bag-rustlers, but I never do it late at night and since I don’t snore or indulge in hostel nookie I reckon it’s not too much of an issue!
I’d love to hear other travellers’ packing tips – especially the items they won’t leave home without. Post your comments below!