What to Pack for a Backpacking Trip
Heading off travelling or backpacking for the first time? Unsure of what to pack? Well as a rule of thumb most people pack way too much. While it is tempting to pile in everything you think you might need and all your favourite items, you will soon regret it once you’re rushing around in the sweltering heat of some far-off destination trying to find somewhere to stay, not to mention crowded train and bus journeys with luggage racks that aren’t quite big enough for your beast of a backpack.
This backpacking checklist should help you decide what to pack and what to leave at home.
Points to Remember When Packing for your Trip
1) There are shops in every town in every country in the world. They sell pretty much the same stuff as shops back home, often much cheaper. If you forget something you can always buy it when you’re abroad and if you’re unsure as to whether you’re going to need it then it’s probably best to leave it at home. It’s better to pack too little than too much.
2) Leave a bit of space in your backpack as you will no doubt find some exciting gifts or other delights that you want to buy while you’re travelling and you don’t want to be throwing stuff away just because you packed too much.
3) Obvious but consider the weather of the places you’re going. Even if you’re just visiting hot sunny countries, it’s a good idea to pack at least one set of warm clothes. Nights can be chilly in many hot countries and even if you have a planned itinerary it will almost certainly change.
4) There are laundry facilities everywhere, sometimes for free in your hostel.
5) US Dollars are accepted in many countries, so even if you’re not from the states having $40 or so stashed away somewhere is useful for emergencies and you are often charged a small fee in US dollars at border points. ATM’s aren’t as easy to find abroad but all major towns should have at least one.
6) You will almost certainly lose things while you are travelling and if you are unlucky you may have some belongings stolen. Don’t bring anything you really couldn’t bear to lose and try to keep valuables to a minimum otherwise you are increasing your chances of being the victim of theft (remember that other travellers can steal too). Bring a padlock and use lockers in hostels whenever possible.
Read our Hostels Guide if you’re not sure what to expect.
backpack– a decent backpack is important. Shop around and choose one that is comfortable, strong but not too heavy. One with a waterproof cover that you can pull out if needs be is a major bonus as rains can be torrential in many places.
money– always helps, a debit card plus some cash is a good starting point. You can get some local currency before you go or when you arrive at your destination.
documents– passport, photocopy of passport, record of any vaccinations you’ve had, few passport sized photos, any visas you need in advance, any ISIC/youth cards you may have.
daytime wear– pack for maybe a week’s worth of clothes, you can always do laundry and you’ll get used to wearing dirty clothes very quickly.
evening wear– one slightly smarter outfit isn’t a bad idea but most popular backpacker nightspots are fairly casual affairs. T-shirts, shorts, dresses etc that can double up as daytime/evening come in handy and save room in your backpack.
location-specific wear– well if you’re planning on spending most of your time on the beach then pack a couple of items of swimwear. Going somewhere wet?? waterproofs…Going to cold places then take a warm coat and warm clothes (use your common sense people!) If you’re going to hot countries first and then considering somewhere cooler then you may as well wait till you get there and buy what you need otherwise you’ll be shipping around unnecessary clothes for several months.
underwear– doesn’t take up much room in your backpack, ankle length socks are good, and socks do seem to go missing very quickly so pack plenty. Clean underwear may be of little or great importance to you so pack with this in mind. (guys you can always turn underpants inside out if they start to smell bad :-))
shoes– lightweight flip-flops, one pair for evening and pair of trainers/hiking boots if you intend to do anything remotely active.
towel– some places will give you a towel but not all so it’s useful to have one for your showering needs and another that you don’t mind getting messy.
toiletries– take bare essentials, don’t pack for a year of travelling, you can buy replacements easy enough.
first aid– plasters, diarrhea pills, paracetamol, malaria tablets (if needed)
contraception– seriously trying to find condoms in a country where you don’t speak the lingo isn’t much fun.
lock– important, take a small lock for lockers in dorms as they aren’t always provided and thefts do happen in hostels.
mp3 player (& charger)– lifesaver on long journeys.
camera– chances are you’ll want some record of these travelling times so take a camera but take good care of it.
adaptor– worldwide adaptors are a sound investment. There is about 4 or 5 different major socket types in the world.
common sense & an open mind– most important of all. The world is nowhere near as dangerous as your parents, your government or the media would like to make out. That said if you leave your basic common sense at home, then you could run into problems. Trust your instincts and don’t take unnecessary risks. Some places can be dangerous so do your research but there are many so called ‘third world’ countries that are actually considerably safer than their first world counterparts. Violent crimes against foreigners are extremely rare in most popular backpacking countries. Petty theft is more common especially at night in bigger cities in South America for example, so only have on you what you need. Bring an open mind and you’ll most likely have a fantastic time!
guidebook– a guidebook can be very useful but also takes something away from the randomness and excitement of travel. Almost everyone seems to have a shoestring guide which does come in handy if you’re on a tight budget but believe it or not it is possible to travel without a copy of the latest Lonely Planet.
laptop/netbook– don’t take anything heavier than a lightweight netbook. There are internet cafes everywhere and most hostels have internet/wifi so it’s easy enough to keep in touch with people back home.
mobile phone– not really necessary, especially now in the internet age of facebook, skype etc.. if you do take your phone then an international or local sim will help avoid a nasty phonebill.
Where to Shop?
It is worth shopping around a bit untill you find a good backpack. It is important it is the right size for your needs, not so heavy that you can’t carry it but sturdy enough so it’s not going to fall to pieces a week into your trip. You can find good quality backpacks and a huge variety of travel items on the web but it’s useful to see how it feels first before buying it. If it’s not comfortable empty then chances are it won’t be when it is full!
Read more tips for first-time travellers.
This page was last updated in February 2015.