As a woman who used to work in the fashion industry, packing light is hard. How could I possibly fit everything I would need for one year and ten countries into one 55L bag? The trick was to make a pile of everything I wanted to bring with me weeks before I was going to leave. I left everything on my dining room table, and every day I’d take out one thing that wasn’t essential. Eventually there was nothing left to remove, and I knew I’d gotten it down to the necessities. So what made the cut?
Backpack and Storage
Osprey Farpoint 55L Backpack
I chose this pack based off of reviews on REI’s website. I’d honestly never owned a travel backpack before and a lot of people told me this one would be too small. I knew that if I had space, I would fill it, so I insisted on getting a smaller pack. I see people with bigger bags, and they look way too heavy. This one fits everything I need and is comfortable. It’s also carry on size, so I’ve never had to check it on a plane. The smaller bag zips off which is perfect for a day pack, and the zippers have interlocking holes which allows you to lock them for safety. I find this handy for days when I’m in really crowded areas so that I don’t have to worry about pickpocketing.
I almost didn’t bring packing cubes because some people said they are useless. I disagree. Packing cubes keep my bag organized, but they also help condense things into neat little piles making it easier to zip my bag when it’s full. I’ve had tons of people look at my bag when I’m packing and go, “Wow, that’s so organized. I need to get some of those” while they try to shove stuff into their packs.
Aqua Quest Storm Laptop Bag
Luckily, I have not had to use this bag yet, but if you’re traveling during monsoon season, it’s a must. I would recommend removing the inside divider which adds a padded layer. It’s not necessary and just takes up extra room. When I’m not using this, I keep all of my important documents in it so they don’t get wrinkled or wet.
Mudder Waterproof Bags
These waterproof bags are so handy and barely take up any space. If it’s rainy, I’ll keep one or two in my day pack to protect my wallet and cell phone. They also came in handy when I did a cave trek in Pai, Thailand and ended up swimming through a cave with my pack.
I’d recommend getting two small TSA friendly locks. One for your day pack and one for your bag. You’ll also need them if you’re staying at hostels that provide lockers.
Small Change Purse
Oddly, I forgot to bring a change purse. Since I carry a day pack instead of a purse it’s hard to find my money in it. I ended up buying a very pretty and very cheap one in Thailand.
PacSafe Money Belt
I don’t wear a money belt all the time, but I really like it on travel days. I don’t like to leave my passport, credit cards, and money in my pack when I’m on trains, buses, etc. so having everything on me gives me peace of mind. It’s particularly helpful if you’re traveling on night trains/buses where theft is high.
PacSafe 55L Bag Protector
98% of the time, you won’t need this. It’s kind of heavy which is a pain, but the 2% of the time you do need it, it’s worth it. I’ve used this bag protector on the night train which is known for theft. My travel insurance doesn’t cover theft on night buses or trains because the odds are high. I’ve also used it on the rare occasion that there is no locker in a hostel or the locker is too small.
Ziplock bags are always handy. I like to have 5 sandwich sized bags on me. I keep things like my Purell in one in case the bottle breaks. It’s also good for holding things like snacks or helping to organize your bag. Bringing a plastic bag (like from a grocery store) for laundry is a good idea. I had a real laundry bag and it was a waste of space. Truth is, you’ll probably keep all your laundry folded to save room and only use the bag for underwear and socks.
Tops & Bottoms
Clothing is where most people pack way too much. It’s pretty easy to do laundry at least once a week while backpacking, so don’t overdo it. I have five t-shirts and five pairs of elephant pants with me. Cotton t-shirts are best. Take into consideration how much dirt or sweat they show. I try to choose fabrics that dry fast as well as darker colors. Avoid spaghetti straps, crop tops, etc. since most countries are modest. I recommend buying elephant pants when you arrive. They are less than $5 in most countries. They’re super lightweight and don’t take up much room in your pack. Shorts are a little scandalous in Southeast Asia, so I wouldn’t even bother bringing them.
Again, you can do laundry at least once a week, so don’t overdo it. I carry four sports bras, fourteen pairs of underwear, and five pairs of socks.
If you’re staying at hostels, you’ll likely be sharing a room with others. A t-shirt and gym shorts are great for pajamas. These can also be used for other purposes if you need a pair of shorts or are running low on laundry. Multipurpose pieces are always handy.
Depending on where you’re headed you may not need a swimsuit. I packed three swimsuits (two bikinis and a one-piece). A lot of areas are super modest, so try not to pick things that are too skimpy. Leave your cheeky bikini bottoms and thongs at home.
Workout / Activewear
I brought one pair of capri leggings and a tank top for yoga. This outfit also came in handy during two different treks, and it’s great for lounging around the hostel on lazy days. This might sound weird, but I like to wear this tank on days when I have no friends. It says “I’m just here for the savasana.” I find a lot of backpackers do yoga, so it’s a great conversation starter and ice breaker.
I carry one pair of cheap flip flops for the beach, pool, and showers. I also have a more expensive pair of Keen sandals with arch support for walking around. Last, I packed one pair of Solomon lightweight hiking boots for trekking.
I brought a toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, a hairbrush, hair ties, floss, q-tips, a razor, and nail clippers with me. Most of these items are easy to buy anywhere in Asia and are also cheaper if you need to replace them while you’re there.
Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Face & Body Stick Sunscreen (SPF 70)
This sounds excessive but it’s a solid sunscreen which is amazing. I mostly use it on my face, but I’ve also used it on my body. The sun is so strong that you’ll probably still get a tan even with SPF 70. Some people recommend just buying sunscreen in Asia, but I’ve also heard of it not being as effective. A few backpackers I met still got burnt even though they applied sunscreen three times a day.
Badger Anti Bug Balm
This stuff is AMAZING. The bug repellent looks like a chapstick, making it easy to pack and carry around. You can just apply a single line to each leg and arm and you’re all set. I’ve barely gotten any bug bites and it’s all natural. I can’t believe I didn’t know about this until backpacking.
Some hostels will provide soap and shampoo, however most do not. If you’re traveling short term, you can buy shower supplies in each country for really cheap. I decided to bring solids with me to avoid having liquids in my bag. I use J.R. Liggett’s Old-Fashioned Bar Shampoo and Bee Beauty Conditioner Bar. They aren’t the easiest to shower with, but they are convenient for travel. I also have a bar of soap (I’d recommend an exfoliating one), razor, and face scrub. I use Lush: Angels on Bare Skin.
A lot of long term travelers recommend getting a cup like Blossom. If you’re traveling short term, make sure to bring tampons with you. A lot of countries in Asia do not have them. I’d specifically recommend U by Kotex since their packaging is the smallest and takes up less room in your luggage. If you prefer pads, bring those as well. The ones available in Asia are very bulky.
Always have a packet of tissues and Purell with you. A lot of bathrooms in Asia don’t provide toilet paper or soap. This is mostly in public areas like restaurants, tourist attractions, and train stations. Hotels and hostels will provide both, although I did go to one hotel with no toilet paper.
Having a pack of wet wipes on you is always handy. You aren’t allowed to wear shoes in temples so your feet will constantly be filthy. They’re also great if you’re going trekking and there’s no access to showers.
I usually do my laundry at hostels for less than $2, or I’ll pay for wash and fold which is usually less than $5. That said, every once in awhile, you’ll find yourself in a jam or without laundry. For those times, I use Sea to Summit laundry sheets. They aren’t ideal for everyday use, but they don’t take up any room in your bag and are good for desperate times. You’ll need to use at least 5 sheets for a small load of laundry. Be careful not to get them wet in the pack or they’ll all stick to each other.
I have a 13″ Macbook Pro but wish I had a Macbook Air as mine is pretty heavy. Don’t forget you’ll also need to pack the obnoxiously large charger.
Unless you’re really good at disconnecting, you’ll probably need your cellphone, and of course that means another charger.
My Nikon D70 is my baby, but it’s time to upgrade to something a little more compact. Despite that, I’ll always travel with a semi-professional camera. Again, don’t forget your charger and a USB to connect to your computer.
Ironically, I bought a GoPro so that I could leave my Nikon at home and save space. Turns out that once you buy all the attachments, the GoPro takes up more room than the Nikon. Unfortunately, the GoPro has it’s limits and can’t do simple things like zoom, so now I have twice as much camera gear. I’d recommend getting the selfie stick, head strap, and touch screen backpack. The rest of the stuff just takes up too much room. Oh yea, and you’ll have another charger.
Travel Outlet Adapter
I’d recommend an adapter that’s international. In Asia, I’ve seen several different types of outlets, sometimes even in the same country. A built in fuse protector is also handy due to constant power outages.
Venture 30 Power Pack
This charger has saved my butt a few times. First of all, it has a built in flashlight which is great for power outages. Second, it can recharge items when you’re on the go or don’t have access to power. I did a three day trek and still had charge in my battery on the last day.
I have seen so many people carrying books while they travel, and I can’t comprehend it. I didn’t like Kindles when they came out, but I will never carry another book while I’m traveling again. I download at least ten books before I leave home. Not having a Kindle seems crazy to me. The only downfall is you need yet another charger. Ugh.
Basic First Aid
For me, this includes bandaids, Advil, and an antibacterial cream. Chances are you’ll get at least one blister or headache while you’re traveling, so it’s best to have some basics on hand.
The Common Cold
Everyone will tell you to pack things related to travel, but let’s not forget the common cold. I caught a cold in the dorms and was miserable when I couldn’t find cold medicine. Luckily, a fellow traveler gave me some. I’d recommend bringing DayQuil/NyQuil tablets and Airborne Chewables. I’d also recommend throat drops since your dorm mates will hate you if you cough all night.
Food Poisoning / Dysentery / Dehydration
Depending on what countries you go to and how long you are traveling, you are almost guaranteed to face one of these issues. Ask your doctor to prescribe a high grade antibiotic before leaving. Make sure to ask them at what point you should take it.
Get any prescriptions you may need prior to leaving. Prescriptions have different names in different countries and finding a pharmacy with someone who speaks English can be challenging. Make sure to keep the accompanying paperwork in case they ask for it at customs.
If you are going to a country where malaria is a risk, make sure to get malaria pills before leaving. I also got a prescription for altitude sickness since I plan to hike in higher altitudes.
You won’t get very far without your passport, and it’s always good to have a backup, so be sure to copy it along with any visas. I carry a hard copy of each and email a copy to myself just in case. I also carry a copy of my travel insurance policy with all of the important phone numbers.
I like to have two credit cards, two debit cards, and $100 in small bills when I travel. I keep one credit card and debit card in my locker along with my USD cash, then I carry the other two cards and my foreign currency in my change purse. That way, if it gets stolen, I have backups of each somewhere separate. As a last resort, people tend to accept USD in most countries, so you can always pay with small bills if you’re in a jam.
Water Purification Straw
I haven’t used my straw yet, but it doesn’t take up much room, and I’m glad I have it. Most of the water in Southeast Asia isn’t safe to drink, so it’s nice to have this as a backup if I can’t find bottled water and am desperate.
Earplugs & Eye Mask
Pretty self explanatory, but if you’re staying in a dorm you’ll need one of these at some point. People snore. People leave lights on. People suck sometimes. So better to be prepared than get woken up at 3am while someone packs for two hours.
Did I miss anything? What are your go to items to pack?
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