Don’t forget, if in doubt, keep it out! Once you’ve chosen and bought your rucksack, fill it with the following. This is my ultimate one and only packing list for big trips:
(For more Useful Things You Might Need to Pack, click here. Here’s also my list of things you think you might need, but you really don’t! You might also want to check out my list of crucial things to think about before you go on any trip.)
What you take will depend on where you are going, and what you’re going to be doing. I’m not going to list every single item, as this will vary from person to person.
If you’re going to a warm country, you’ll just need a couple of summer tops/shorts/dresses/bikinis/havaianas, and maybe a long sleeve of some sort. If you’re going to colder places, you’ll need some warmer clothes. If you’re going on safari, or hiking, then you will need some safariesque shirts, or hiking clothes.
If you’re likely to be sleeping on many buses or trains, consider taking a hoodie with a big hood that you can pull over your eyes, or some sort of scarf or sleeping mask.
Whatever you take, just make sure you take the lightest things you can afford. Don’t pack too much. Take less and wash often.
If in doubt, leave it out, and plan on buying things you discover you really need when you are abroad. Items are often cheaper to buy abroad than they are back home, e.g. the markets of Thailand versus central London.
Most packing articles you read will tell you to not take jeans, as they are heavy and take ages to dry.
You can buy lighter denim pairs that weigh less, and take less time to dry.
I love my jeans and they were one of the best things I took with me. They are great for cold evenings, nights out, plane trips, and for walking around cities without sticking out like a tourist. Don’t bother if you don’t usually wear jeans, but if you’ve got the space, take a pair.
3. Good Sunglasses
You can buy cheap ones at any beach destination. But, if you want ones which definitely have UV protection and don’t cost a fortune, I would get these before you go. Don’t spend a lot and leave your designer ones at home as you’ll inevitably scratch or lose them.
4. Travel Towel
Take a large one if you have room, otherwise a medium sized one will be fine.
Travel towels are more useful than your usual towel as they are lighter and take up far less room. They are also supposed to take a shorter time to dry.
You’re not a muppet, you know what you need to get by, so take whatever you need. Everyone is different, some people are happy with no make up others wouldn’t be seen dead without any, some only need one bottle of Head and Shoulders to live on, others need three types of moisturiser and their whole bathroom cabinet.
Human beings everywhere need to wash and keep clean, so unless you’re in a war zone or intent on buying Aveda and Dermalogica, you can buy pretty much everything everywhere.
Miniatures are useful to begin with. They are not available everywhere, but you can usually buy smaller bottles of shampoo. Take things to share if you’re travelling in a group or as a couple.
A little miniature perfume or aftershave is great for nights out.
Instead of shower gel, take some sort of small soap container with you, and buy soap as you go, (or grab the freebies at cheap hotels). Soap is lighter, doesn’t leak, and is longer lasting than shower gel.
Toothbrush covers are also useful.
6. Multi-Vitamins and Prescription Medicine
My diet wasn’t the healthiest while we were travelling, so multi-vitamins were useful.
Take birth control medicine and diamox (for altitude) if you are planning on taking them, as they can be quite difficult to obtain abroad.
You can usually find malaria tablets where there is malaria but you might not be able to get the ones you want in time, so get some in advance if you’ll be in a malaria zone.
7. Toiletry Bag with a Hook
It’s not a sexy pink fluffy wash bag, but I’m so glad we bought this!
Having a lightweight toiletry bag with a hook is so useful! A large one is enough for two people to share.
Most hostels we visited had little if any shelf space, and the showers often didn’t have any shelf space or ledges at all. Some shower had a nail to hang things on, but even if there weren’t any, we could usually find a door or something to hang our toiletry bag on.
8. Packing cubes
I LOVE these! Until I used them, I thought they were completely unnecessary and pretentious, but having them made a huge difference! If you really don’t want to buy any then consider buying a few plastic zip lock bags instead.
Organising your clothes into bags/packing cubes will save you time trying to figure out where everything is. Packing and unpacking a few packing cubes is easier and faster then taking out 50 pieces of clothing trying to find what you’re looking for. If you can afford them get the lightweight Eagle Creek ones.
9. Zip Lock Bags
You can use these instead of packing cubes, but they are also good for keeping your clothes dry, either in your rucksack or when you’re having a shower in a room with no pegs to hang up your clothes. Zip up your clothes in the bag and you won’t have to worry about getting any of them wet.
10. Waterproof Dry Bags
These were one of the best purchases we made. Take at least one, even if you don’t think you’ll need it.
They are great for protecting your electronics, your camera, or any other valuables. If there’s any chance that you’ll be doing water activities (boat rides, kayaking, canoeing etc) and you might want to take your phone or camera, then one of these is essential.
11. Debit Card and Credit Cards
Take a debit card, ideally one that isn’t going to charge you a fortune every time you withdraw money abroad. Some countries favour one card over the other, so it’s useful to have at least one Visa card, and one Mastercard if you can get them. For example, not many places in Uganda use Mastercard, whereas many places in other Eastern African countries don’t accept Visa and favour Mastercard.
12. US Dollars
Wherever you are going, having some USD with you is really useful.
You can usually get a better rate if you order USD in advance in your home country. Take as much cash as you are insured for, and maybe a bit more.
It’s good to have in emergencies, and in some countries, e.g. Burma/Myanmar, you’ll need to take a load with you anyway. In some countries, you can also get a much better rate of exchange with USD, for example in Argentina.
Businesses in a lot of developing countries often don’t accept credit cards, but will accept USD for expensive transactions like multi-day treks or tours. For these kinds of tours, you’ll pften have to pay in cash or transfer money using Western Union or MoneyCorp. Bring the cash with you and you’ll manage to avoid expensive ATM withdrawal and exchange conversion fees.
Some ATMs in those countries will dispense USD (for example in Cusco, if you have to pay for the Inca Trail trek, or in Cambodia or Zimbabwe), but if not, you’ll be in a better place if you have the cash to pay for it already.
13. Sleeping Bag Liner
A must! I would highly recommend a silk one as I am paranoid about bed bugs -I’ve met too many people who’ve been eaten alive followed by a week of painful itchy scars, it’s not pleasant! (Apparently you can spot the bed bugs by checking the corner seams of mattresses where they sometimes live.)
If you’re going to be staying in a lot of hostels, they are an expensive but brilliant investment. Get one that covers the pillow (bed bugs can get to you there too), and is large enough to not feel too constrictive when you sleep.
We stayed in some dodgy places with a lot of unwashed looking blankets and sheets – I’m really glad that I had my liner.
If you’re going to be hiring a sleeping anywhere, then a liner is worth taking, as not everywhere supply liners, or wash their bags, (especially if you’ll be hiring a down sleeping bag).
If you like reading, this is the best investment you’ll make while travelling. Forget taking kilos of books with you! I know, I know, I know, I love book stores too, and the Kindle, true to it’s name, is rapidly burning the print book industry. But, do you really want to be carrying kilos of sightseeing guides or novels with you? Do you really want to increase the chances of you getting back problems in a futile attempt to save the print book industry?
If you’re really against buying a kindle or another e-reader, then I would take a couple of paper books, and try to buy more en route. If you’re willing to step into the 21st century, then make sure you take an e-reader.
Even if you don’t think you’ll need this, it’s worth taking at least one with some spare batteries. Headtorches are fairly light and take up very little room. You’d be surprised at how many dark streets you might have to walk up in places like Burma and India, where street lighting is often non-existent.
They’re also useful if you’re having to leave places early morning or if you’re staying in places that often have power cuts, or only have electricity on during certain hours of the day. You’ll also need one if you’re planning on doing any sunrise or sunset hikes.
16. Smart Phone and Headphones with Chargers
If you have a smart phone then it’s worth taking.
This was probably the most useful item we took with us – don’t leave it behind.
You can capture notes, take discreet photos, use GPS, and with wi-fi or a sim card you can keep in touch with people. There is also an array of useful travel apps out there, including excellent offline language dictionaries and guides, (check out Duolingo for learning languages, as well as TripAdvisor’s downloadable guides).
Headphones are a must to listen to music or podcasts.
Few hostels have more than one computer these days. You don’t want to be queuing to use a computer in some dodgy internet cafe where your passwords might be recorded, so take your own little laptop or tablet with you. Protective cases are also useful, (I thought it was overkill until I dropped mine a couple of times!).
Shiny Apple laptops are beautiful, but they also make you a prime target. Buy a lightweight cheapy notebook that you’re not so scared of losing. Don’t be afraid to make it look old and haggard, cover it with tacky stickers, and trash it a bit. If a thief has to choose between stealing a shiny Mac Book or your piece of tin, guess which one they’re going for.
We took a cheap and small Acer laptop which was useful for internet banking, looking up Flash websites, and general web browsing. We used it to edit and transfer photos from SD cards to a couple of separate external hard drives, and where we could, uploaded a few photos. (Keep one hard drive with you at all times, and another hard drive in your big rucksack).
A lot of places have temperamental internet connections so don’t depend on having access to the internet.
You don’t want to spend hours in internet cafes trying to upload photos like we saw some people do. If you’re going to take lots of photos, and will be travelling for a while, don’t rely on SD cards or on being able to upload photos to Dropbox/Facebook. Take a couple of external hard drives with protective pouches with you instead.
18. Universal Adapter with USB charger
These are extremely useful. Take at least one. Also remember that some countries like South Africa and parts of Namibia require a completely different plug to the rest of the world, so keep your eye out for an adapter there, or take one with you in advance.
19. Lightweight Rucksack Cover
These are useful when you’re putting your rucksacks in the luggage hold of buses or on top of vehicles where they will get very dusty. Rucksack covers keep your bag clean, safeguard pockets from wandering hands and make your bag a little less conspicuous.
20. A Large Sturdy Combination Lock
You’ll need these to lock up your bag in hostel lockers. The combination means that you won’t have to worry about losing the key.
21. A Cable With a Combination Lock
These can be heavy, so get the lightest, most decent one you can find.
I thought my boyfriend was being really paranoid when he bought this, but to be fair, we used it almost every day. These are great for securing your bags to bus seats while you’re sleeping or going off the bus; or if you’re on a train and want to get something to eat. We also it to tie our bags together, and/or to furniture while we went out for the day from hostels that weren’t very secure. It’s more of a deterrent than anything else.
22. Little Locks
You can use these to lock the zips on your bags. Take one for each of your bags and maybe a spare in case you lose one.
If you’re travelling to or through the United States, make sure the locks are TSA ones. TSA locks have been developed with the Transport Security Administration. They allow security officers to open your bag if they have to inspect it by using a master key. If you don’t have TSA locks then the locks will be cut off, leaving your bag un-secure and you won’t be able to use the lock again.
23. Travel Insurance
Don’t even think of leaving home without taking out a decent policy. This really is essential. I know enough people who’ve experienced travel disasters to know how important this is.
If you’re planning on doing any activities like sky diving, paragliding, white water rafting etc, then make sure that you are specifically covered for those. If you’re in any doubt, check.
If you’ll be hiking at altitude, checking how high you are likely to be going, and make sure that your insurance policy will cover you. Some policies will only cover you up to a certain altitude.
Not all policies provide adequate cover for smart phones, laptops and cameras etc, so you might want to take out specific cover for those. We use Photo Guard to insure our cameras and laptops for example.
Check what your policy covers and what any excess charges or caps on what you can recover might be. In some cases the excess is so expensive that you’d be better off replacing your things yourself then making a claim, which kind of defeats the purpose of having a policy in the first place.
Cover for north America is extremely expensive and will massively inflate the price of your policy. Even if you have flights booked at some stage to go to the US, if you are not definitely definitely going there, I would get a policy without North American cover. Plans do change (as did ours) and flights are usually changeable. If you do end up going then you can sort out a separate policy or add on cover just before your arrive.
Even if you’re going for a few months, it might be cheaper or better value to get an annual policy. Talk through where you are going and what you’re likely to do with your broker.
I know lots of people who work in the insurance industry, so I know how insurance companies often go out of their way to limit any cover they might owe you. If you’re in any doubt whether you will be covered or not, it’s much better to be up front and ask the company directly. It’s not worth making assumptions, only to later find out that you “failed” to disclose something that’s invalidated your policy, or that you weren’t covered to begin with and now have a crippling medical bill.
24. Important Documents and Paper Copies
Your passport should of course always be with you or in your day sack. Passport holders are useful to keep passports from getting frayed from wear and tear.
As well as e-mailing copies of your passport and visas to yourself and a few others, it’s useful to have a few paper copies of your passport, visas, insurance policy, diving and vaccination certificates with you too.
Keep them in a plastic waterproof envelope in a couple of different places.
25. Something to Take Photos With
With the cameras on smart phones becoming more and more advanced, some people might decide that they don’t need a camera.
I love photography and was glad I took my SLR. If you’re not sure whether to take yours then read this.
I would also strongly consider a GoPro if you’re likely to do any diving or extreme activities. We ended up buying one towards the end of our trip and wished that we would have bought it earlier. They are expensive, so if you’re going to end up buying one, you might as well get as much use as you can out of it.
For more Useful Things You Might Need to Pack, click here. Here’s also my list of things you think you might need, but you really don’t! You might also want to check out my list of crucial things to think about before you go on any trip.