Deciding what to bring on a backpacking trip is not an easy task. The idea of narrowing down everything we use on a daily basis to fit into a very small pack is truly an art. Every time we pack, especially for first time travelers, what we “need” takes a back seat to a list of what we “think we need” or the “just in case” list. So, tip number one, before you put anything in your pack, lay everything out on the floor and select from that pile what you will actually bring. Tip #2, keep in mind what kind of trip you are packing for: is it a backcountry trip (in which case you need a modified version of this list) or is it a country-hopping escapade. Tip #3, photocopy all of your important documents (passport, credit cards, etc…) and give them to a person you trust—back home—for them to keep in case of an emergency.
Following many country-hopping adventures over the years, I realized how little I actually needed to bring, no matter how remote the country I visited was. The smaller and lighter my pack, the easier it became to move around and the fewer things I had to worry about. Not having to pack and unpack a heap of things a million times whilst changing locations from place to place will make your trip experience a whole lot more enjoyable. Trust me. When travelling through different places, our attention and time should be spent exploring and having fun; not wasting hours re-packing our bags every time we switch hostels. A light backpack equals a happy traveler; and knowing that everything we need is included in it, makes it that much better.
The following is a suggested list of essentials I find important and love to always have with me during my travels. However, since even when I country hop I tend to stay on the active adventurous side of travelling, my list is geared towards those who like to spend a little bit more time outside—in between sight-seeing all around.
- Backpack: to put everything in, 60 liters or less. The bigger the backpack, the more you will bring (rule of thumb). Don’t buy a bigger pack so that you can have the extra space “just in case.” Trust me, if you have the space, you will fill it up and then you have to carry it.
- Daypack: good to bring out for daily adventures (when moving around from place to place, wear your big pack on your back and the day pack on the front of your body). This is a bag you will keep on you at all times–with all your valuables in it–when the main one is checked away from you.
- Clothing: Lightweight quick drying everything (pants, shirts and underwear). I recommend bringing one pair of quick drying pants, one pair of jeans, a pair of shorts, a couple of quick drying shirts (one long sleeve one short sleeve), a couple cotton t-shirts, a nicer shirt you can dress up, lightweight fleece (for colder temperatures), socks (2-3), clean underwear (3-5), a base layer (could also be used as a tank top).
- Stretchy yoga pants: you can run with them in the morning and dress them up for dinner at night. They are tremendously comfortable to wear during travel.
- Light waterproof jacket: no matter what the weather forecast told you right up until you left home, you will be thankful the moment it starts to rain.
- Swimwear and Sarong: a bathing suit will always come in handy and the sarong triples as a towel (shower and beach), a dress and a blanket for long cold bus/train/plane rides.
- Shoes: Flip-flops (you can dress them up or down, they pack super light and are great for wearing in shared hostel showers) and running shoes (great for hiking, walking long distances and adventuring all around). I personally love to pack Chaco’s as they are good for pretty much everything in all kinds of terrains.
- Foldable water bottle: it packs really small and water is good for life.
- Headlamp: great for reading or looking for stuff in dorm rooms with more people sleeping in them and not having to bother any of them by turning the lights on.
- Toothbrush & toothpaste: clean teeth are always a plus and will save you tons of money on future potential dental work.
- Sunglasses and glasses straps: never leave home without them. More importantly, you don’t have to worry about losing them with the straps. My favorites are the Treeline Collective straps.
- Hat: you can wear it and not worry about packing it and comes in super useful during sunny days.
- Cell phone: works as a camera for taking pictures, for listening to music and for communicating with loved ones and new friends met along the way. Also, good to set up an alarm for early morning wake ups.
- Buff: multipurpose and doesn’t take much space. It can be used as a headband, toque, and scarf plus many other functions.
- Sunscreen: important even when travelling to places at higher altitudes.
- Neck and body pouches:I personally prefer the ones that go around my belly underneath my clothes. Good to keep money, passport, credit card and other valuable items while on transit and during long commutes.
- Mini first aid kit: make sure you pack any and all medications you use on a daily basis (if any). I like to include clean water tablets and nail clippers and earplugs (for light sleepers staying in shared dorm rooms).
- Multi-tool Knife: Swiss army or Leathermanare good options just make sure you put this on your checked baggage—during travel. One that comes with a wine opener is usually a winner for me (or bring a separate wine opener).
- Books: reading material is absolutely essential when travelling (different hostels have book exchanges you can switch your old book for a new one) as well as a travel guide. Journals are great for anyone wanting to write about their experiences (don’t forget a pen) or keep track of people/contacts you meet.
- Energy bars: as a vegetarian they come in handy during long bus rides or when travelling to areas that I know I will have a harder time finding something to eat (ex: late arrivals).
After a few travel experiences you will see that you will begin to shed all kinds of baggage (literally and figuratively). The less we worry, the more we will begin to understand that we can wear the same pair of pants over and over. That washing clothes is always an option and that having a lighter pack means that we don’t have to carry a house on our shoulders. Remember that backpacking entails walking for longer than we think at times, and depending on the mode of transportation we take, a bigger pack may not fit in the storage compartment.
So, for all you travelers out there, who want to take a chance and explore the world, pack light. Find out for yourselves what it is that works for you. The more you travel the more you will come up with your very own list of travelling essentials. In the meantime, the above are all items I bring with me wherever I go and form the foundation of my packing. Add a few additional things depending on your destination and you are good to go! Just be reassured that even in the most remote of places you will be able to find essentials that you need. Everything else you can get along the way. Read up on the place you are going and get familiarized with it. Most importantly, every one of those instances you may have considered challenging in the end is what makes our trips worthwhile.