You've figured out where you're going, your flights are booked, itinerary saved, and now it's time to... pack.... Packing can be stressful so I've constructed a fixed list that can be used for all trips. I use this list as my foundation, adding specialty items along the way depending on my destination or itinerary. At the end of the post I have a printout version so that you can check items off along the way. In the future I'll post articles detailing how I modify this list for specialty vacations.
What am I carrying on me?
Passport : The most important item while traveling. This will be needed everywhere, but I do suggest leaving it locked up when doing day trips from within a country. Make sure you have a least 6 months of validity and two pages within your passport, countries are now requiring this for Visa's.
Wallet : Generally speaking, men should purchase a small money clip that can hold a decent amount of cash and a few of the necessary cards. Women have more flexibility since it all depends on the size of the purse they carry, if one at all.
Currency : How much money you pull out at a time depends on a few things; length of stay, budget, how comfortable you are handling larger sums of cash, and itinerary. Hopefully you have a card that doesn't charge foreign or exchange fee's, but you'll most likely be paying all the ATM fee's. We want to reduce these fee's by making fewer trips to the ATM. When in Europe, I took out $200 at a time. In China, maybe $75 since the dollar takes yo a lot further. Also don't want to leave yourself with too much money because you'll have to pay a fee to exchange it. Little trick I use is before leaving find an American in the hostel and see if I can exchange my leftover currency for US dollars, save the exchange fee's!
Driver's License : This will be used as a secondary Identification Card to your Passport. If a hostel requires you to leave an ID card, it is better to leave your Driver's License since it is less vital for your travels.
Debit Card : A debit card is necessary since a lot of your destinations will only take cash. Make sure you let your bank know which countries you are traveling to so they do not suspend your card while you travel. Make sure you research the best card that will limit the amount of fee's you'll pay when withdrawing different currencies from banks outside their network. See my Banking post for more details.
Credit Card : Two credit cards should be brought with one of them being left in a locker in case of an emergency. Both credit cards should be chip readable and not have a currency swap fee. See my Banking post for more details.
Health Insurance Card : Your Health Insurance Card should be with you at all times in case of an emergency. See my Travel Insurance page if you need assistance on choosing the right insurance for your trip. Side note, some new credit cards now have travel insurance so no need to bring this if it's already included.
Mobile Phone : If you are bringing a phone from home, you must make sure it has international capabilities so you can purchase a SIM Card. See my Mobile Phone post for more details on plans and international SIM Cards.
Sunglasses : I suggest bringing one cheap pair of sunglasses. An expensive pair could easily go "missing" or they will get extremely scratched up from being stored in your bag when not being worn. Leave the nice pair at home and go with a $5 pair for your trip.
Belt : Recommend bringing a two sided belt since it will have a dual purpose and can match more outfits. My belt is usually white and black, though I'm beginning to stick with just a black belt since I'm caring less about matching my outfits when on the road.
Backpack : Can't leave home without it! Take a look at my backpack post to see how I choose the best bag for my holiday.
Jeans : I pack two pairs of jeans every time I travel. Being a city guy at heart, I don't feel right going out at night in a pair of shorts regardless of the temperature so wear a pair at least once a day.
Shorts : When traveling to warm destinations I pack three pairs of shorts, you can definitely get away with one though if trying to save weight.
Running Shorts : A pair of running shorts can come in handy throughout your trip. They can be used for sleeping, hiking, or just to lounge around the hostel.
Bathing Suits : One bathing suit is a necessity for all trips, never know when you'll run into a hot tub. If you're on a sun seeker trip I always pack a second.
Light Jacket / Sweatshirt : I choose to pack one or the other since they take up a decent amount of room within my bag. Usually going the route of a light jacket, not only are they lighter but a sweatshirt is very bulky. Take a look at the new puffy jacket I bought that's extremely warm and lightweight for easy packing. You can always pick up a sweatshirt for cheap on the road if needed, could act as a good souvenir.
Button Down Shirts / Dresses : On my first backpacking holiday I made a big mistake by packing two collared shirts along with two more button downs. By the end of the trip I was down to one collared shirt, tossed the other three since I didn't wear them enough. This is not a necessity since most backpackers don't head to places with dress codes, but it's nice to feel presentable for a change.
T-Shirts : Pack at least six shirts. Most people tend to sweat more having a bag on your back so you could burn through at least two shirts a day. I pack eight shirts knowing that some will get tossed after being ruined and that I'll pick up souvenir's along the way. Bar crawls and tour groups will often give you a free T-Shirt which is a great way to add to your collection.
Underwear : Probably the most important article of clothing. I opted for 8 pairs, probably would have brought 10 - 12 if I could have fit them. Also found breathable hiking underwear that can last for longer periods of time, reducing the amount of times I have to do laundry.
Socks : Eight pairs should be fine. I purchased hiking sandals to wear when not lugging around the bag to reduce the amount of times I have to wear socks.
Bath Towel : A Microfiber towel should be purchased since they are thinner and dry faster.
What toiletries to pack?
- Tooth Paste
- Loofah (I no longer bring this, took too long to dry)
- Electric Shaver / Razors (Electric Shavers now come with a "vacuum" that is less messy)
- Mouth Wash
- Nail Clipper
- Mirror (Not needed if you have a front facing camera on your phone)
- Sun Tan Lotion
Footwear to bring?
Sandals : One pair of sandals should be brought for beach days and casual touring. They also will come in handy for when the showers aren't in the cleanest conditions.
Hiking Shoes : I brought a pair of white runners with me which was not the best idea. White sneakers look much dirtier than black so I will go that route next time. I also suggest purchasing hiking sneakers over runners since the running shoes are not durable enough to handle most of the trails and will rip. My ASICS were fantastic for walking around, but the soles did rip from a lot of hiking after 3 months. I'm not going to say they weren't made well since they did last 3 tough months, but I will definitely go with a comfortable hiking shoe next time.
Casual Shoe : A casual shoe should be brought that can be used for both walking around and going out in at night. Some places will not allow you to wear sneakers so it is important to have these available. My shoe is black or a dark blue, again going for a darker color that goes with everything and doesn't show the dirt as much. Comfort is still the most important.
Camera's : This all depends on the type of person you are. Will you be taking your time with pictures, or just clicking away to use as a flashback to your trip? Will you be partaking in many outdoor adventures? I am really happy with my decision to bring a Canon Powershot and a GoPro. Although I did bring two camera's, they were both small and lightweight and have different strengths.
I used the GoPro just for outdoor adventure days, which were more often than not. It may be the best action camera on the market today, and the 12mp camera was great for stills. It also comes with a waterproof casing which is nice for all water adventures and places that tend to rain often. The Canon on the other hand was more for city use, its zoom, and the flash. I took the most pictures with this but never had to use the mediocre video feature since I had the GoPro.
Extra Batteries : One of the most annoying things to happen while traveling is having your camera or phone run out of batteries. An extra battery takes up limited space, and if you run into an issue where you can't charge a device on any given night you'll have a spare to rely on. These batteries usually cost less than $20 shipped which makes it worth the money to carry extra versus losing a day worth of memories.
The Canon's battery life never ran out on me, but I had 3 GoPro batteries at all times since they never lasted more than 45 minutes. Would have left the Canon battery at home now knowing that it never died but glad that I originally brought it.
Additional SD Cards : On my first backpacking trip I brought two 8GB cards for the Canon and 4 32GB cards for the GoPro. When first writing this article three years ago I stated how I would have preferred to bring an external hard drive instead of all the cards since they were hard to keep track of. Now I would only bring two cards for each camera but purchase cloud storage. Will write a separate article on the cloud so that you can decide which route to go.
Mobile Phone : My Samsung Galaxy was perfect for backpacking. Where I don't necessarily want to suggest the phone, I'll definitely say that its functions were essential to my trip. Between the flashlight app to the notepad, every little thing saved space in my bag. Just make sure you put it on airplane mode if you didn't purchase a new SD card. Will write a separate article to go over all the details you need when purchasing a phone.
Tablet vs. Laptop : Many people like to blog about their travels and feel that they need to bring a laptop over a tablet for typing purposes. This is now outdated given that you can purchase a keyboard for many tablets. I bought the Microsoft Surface which was amazing; great battery life, lightweight, keyboard, and comes with a Cloud Drive. The laptops will have a larger storage space, but you must also consider that the power plug for the computer is much bulkier than those of a tablet. The SD card slot and USB port features on the Surface also made it a better fit than the iPad or Air product line.
Power Converters : I made a few mistakes before I traveled as far as converters going. First off, if you need a multi-outlet surge protector you are doing something wrong. There is no reason you need to bring one of these unless it is for work related purposes. What you first need to do is bring only items that can be charger from 110v-220v outlets. This way you won't need to bring a converter or surge protector.
Next, discard all chargers with the same connections unless you have over 3 items with the same plug, than bring 2. I brought a wall to micro USB and a USB to micro USB cord since I had 4 items that were charged with the micro USB port.
I suggest purchasing adapters. The first one is a wall adapter to adapt to your personal plug, the second is an adapter to USB to charge items such as your phone or e-reader.
e-Reader : One of the bigger mistakes I made when packing was not bringing my Kindle e-Reader. I felt that this was just another item to pack and charge the entire time. What I didn't realize is that although you will need to charge it, books are heavier and larger than the e-Reader so it actually would have saved me room and weight. Don't leave it at home. You should also choose a reader that has an ink display since there won't be a glare in the sunlight.
Electric Shaver : I purchased an electric shaver instead of bringing razors with me. This was a preferred purchase given I'm a fuzzball and need to shave twice a week to look somewhat presentable. The shaver was amazing since it has a built in vacuum so the hair doesn't get everywhere, and I can assure you your hostel mates will love you more for a cleaner bathroom!
Umbrella : An umbrella will come in handy, especially if your backpack is not waterproof. There is nothing worse than doing laundry only to have your entire bag get soaked through the next day in a storm.
Padlocks : Two padlocks should be purchased. One can be used for your hostel locker and the second for your day pack or main bag if it cannot fit in the locker. I used cable padlocks since they could easily go through my backpack zippers as well.
Water Bottle : Possibly one of the best items I brought on my trip. Unlike in the US water does not always come with your meal, refill the bottle whenever you can to save money each day! Go with an insulated bottle, it will keep your water cooler for much longer.
Swiss Army Knife : Another fantastic purchase. The knife should have a bottle opener and scissors, two items that are needed often and under rated. Just make sure to put this into your checked bag before flying, I can't tell you how many were taken from me forgetting to switch the bags before flying...
Tea Bags : Random I know, placing tea bags in your backpack will get rid of the smell by keeping moisture out.
Duct Tape : I chose not to bring tape, but I am also not traveling on as small of a budget as others. I have seen people do amazing things with duct tape such as fix their shoes and backpack. Even seen others create a water cover for their backpack with just tape and garbage bags. Up to you, was too bulky for me though.
Money Belt : I found these to be useless. Just keep your belongings in your front pocket and leave your passport locked at the hostel. Problem solved.
Destination Info : I use the internet and locals for my information but many people still rock the destination packets. If you bring a Kindle you can buy them on there to save space, if not I don't recommend wasting the room with these books since you won't read most of it.
Photocopy of Passport / Health Card / Drivers License : Very important! Make a photocopy of these items in case they are misplaced or stolen. This can help expedite your trip to the embassy and ease your mind. I left a photocopy in my main bag and also gave a set to my parents at home in case of emergencies.
Earplugs : Hostels can be loud at night between people filtering in and out of the rooms and from the bar which could be right downstairs. I can sleep through anything, but this may be a necessity for others.
Sweaters : May want to pack sweaters for cold areas. I only bring these if necessary due to the amount of room they take up, but rather make room than freeze my ass off.
Beach Towel : Such a difficult thing to make room for. I brought one on my first summer trip throughout Europe and ended up tossing it. Too large and heavy to lug around for its limited amount of uses, especially when you could always use your bath towel if needed.
Being organized throughout your travels can make your life much easier. Knowing where everything is in your cluttered backpack will also help prevent you from leaving items behind.
Backpack organizers can help reduce clutter, keep clothes less wrinkled, and will maximize the amount of space you have in your bag. Eagle Creek sells many of these packing solutions, but I will outline some of the organizers I have used in my travels. Before purchasing the products, you should visit a local store and try to pack the bag before your purchase since they do tend to get expensive.
Half Cube - I don't feel that you need to waste your money on the two sided half cube, these aren't large enough where you'll need to open both sides. Will work perfect for your underwear or other smaller items.
2 Sided Cube - Largest of the cubes and have two of these in my bag. The first one has one side with my t-shirts and the other side with my other shirts. The second cube contains my shorts and bathers in one side and the two pairs of jeans in the other.
Folders - I purchased a packing folder for my collared shirts so they would not wrinkle but ended up not bringing it. This was a good move because there was no need to bring that many shirts and tossed the collared shirts anyways.
Tube Cube - Possibly one of my favorite cubes just because of how perfect it is for socks. Easily fit 8 pairs in here without cramming.
Toiletry Kit - A toiletry kit is a must have to keep everything from falling all throughout your bag. Picked up the smaller one at REI, could have easily went with the larger one but would have only packed unecessary items.
Compression Sac - Purchased a medium sac for dirty or wet clothes and proved to be large enough. It also seals shut to ensure the smell or damp clothes do not effect the rest of your backpack.