Packing is a complex adventure.
Never mind the challenges ahead. How will you fit all your stuff into your pack? The general rule is to lay your clothes out, and plan a budget. Then cut your clothes in half, and double your cash. I couldn’t agree more.
How does one pack to anticipate all possible needs for their trip, and also pack light?
It’s easy: Figure out the essentials by trial and error. Fortunately, I already did this for you!
After four months of backpacking in South America, I returned home and surveyed my(GIANT) pack. It was at least 50 pounds, and I never used many items inside. What an eye opening experience! I ridiculously lugged around pounds of entirely unnecessary weight. It was after this memorable trek that I formed a packing list of truly needed items.
Experience taught me how to pack. Later, I headed into the rain forest for a week with only a half full backpack – the size and type you took to high school. It weighed about 13 pounds. It was sufficient for piranha fishing, being stung by an electric eel, enough sunscreen for ten hours of boating, camera supplies, and typhoid medication. I was well equipped for my trip and had plenty of extra space. I’m trying to build some credibility with you here :) – – Gratitude to my friend Ian, a true inspiration and the first person to model carrying all his belongings in a backpack to me. Cheers!
Packing must be tailored to your trip.
How long will you be gone?
How many temperature zones will you travel in?
Will you be attending formal events or desiring party clothes?
Will you need gear for adventure sports or atypical activities?
You will need to factor these in when packing.
The following packing list includes clothing for travel in colder temperature zones. I did not pack multiple sweaters to look fashionable – I needed them to stay warm.
I packed considering volume, and only volume. I had three shirts that I alternated wearing, and had no other change in my appearance. I actually enjoyed changing my fashion to be a minimalist… But I wonder if my travel partner got tired of seeing me wear the same red tank top every day. (Truth be told, I’m wearing it at this very moment back in the USA!)
Last, it is essential that some clothing items are high quality. Speaking from experience, they will massively affect whether you are comfortable or constantly noticing your “nice” hiking pants have a low crotch because you bought the men’s style at the used gear sale at REI for $5.
Bring travel-sized shampoo and conditioner containers and soap. Replenish at hostels and hosts. Purchase small bottles of sunscreen. Reasoning: These items weigh a lot. Toothpaste may be the only item which is difficult to find in small quantities.
When packing, be sure to tightly roll all clothing items. They become much more compact, and it is easier to navigate inside your pack.
Note: NEVER be separated from your passport, medication, cash, and other essentials while traveling. If you are on a bus, throw your big pack under the bus, and place all your important items in a money belt or in a day pack. Also, toss in snacks, extra water, a book, a journal, your cheap camera, etc. Don’t forget the toilet paper!
Now there is a much better option to the traditional money belt that goes all the way around your waist. Gone are our days of elastic side rashes! With the Passport Pocket, your documents are easy to access, safe, and more discrete. Be safe and and avoid theft and the stress and cost of replacing your travel documents. It is crafted with high performance Coolmax fabric, and lined with water resistant ripstop recycled polyester. The fabric wicks perspiration from your body, and keeps your passport, cash, and documents dry.
First time ultralight backpacker or international traveling? No single travel blog is sufficient! Hop online and Google terms like “travel tips”, “international travel”, “lightweight backpacking”, “vaccines + your country” and “ultralight backpacking” to get a great scope of information tailored to your needs.
Absolute necessities for ultralight backpacking in 3+ weeks in varied temperatures and activities:
A sturdy, high-quality, comfortable, weatherproof pack with a ultra padded waist belt and a lot of pockets. Purchase a bag only slightly larger than what your belongings fit in in order to accommodate any souvenirs.
If you’re packing according to my list:
You will need a pack between 1,800 cubic inches (30 liters) and 2,400 cubic inches (40 liters)
My (normal) pack is REI brand. It has a padded waist belt, on which was a zipped money pouch perfect for quick food purchases and bus tickets. It has two side water bottle holders, three front pockets, and a hidden pocket against the back. There is space for an internal water bladder and tube exiting the shoulder. The back is lined with a hard sheet of thin plastic to give structure and prevent stuff from poking me. I LOVE this pack, and use it daily back in Oregon.
I purchased this pack: http://www.rei.com/product/775739
Do purchase a color that is not too bright. Blending in with the crowd makes one less of a target for thieves.
If you carry a lot of junk because you’re not listening to me:
My large pack was awesome. It had both top and bottom access to the main chamber, and side access! It was always able to easily grab items. My giant bag is Arc’teryx brand. I swear by it. This high quality name is expensive, but well worth it.
Be sure to verify the shoulder and waist straps are fully adjustable. I strongly recommend going to a quality company like REI and having professional fit you with your pack. This will spare endless back aches and possible injury. A comfortable pack will make or break your stay.
This packing list is tailored for short and long term travel. On a trip with a warm climate, all items listed here fit easily into my day pack. Camping items are not included.
(WD): Weather dependent. Pack volume according to weather where you are traveling
(HQ): You need to purchase a high quality product.
(Items in parenthesis): These items are only necessary to some, like a sweater for cold weather, or a journal or sunglasses. For example I am always writing, and never pack sunglasses. And a man may choose to not pack lipstick.
I gave y’all links to my favorite travel items. I own all of them, and love all of them. They’re from REI, and have a lifetime warranty on all their products. If something breaks ten years from now, you can return it for cash. I encourage you to buy any of their products… You may pay 15% more than at some cheap sports store, but the products are so high quality that you (usually!) will have no issues with them, and can always return them. It’s worth the peace of mind. And that’s coming from me… I’m really cheap!
4 pairs sports socks. (WD) Thin for hiking on hot days.
1 pair merino wool socks. (HQ) If in warmer areas, short. If in cold, knee high.
1 pair warm socks. (WD) Thick for hiking on cold days.
4 pairs of underwear. Yes, plan on hand washing… You do not need 20 pairs of underwear to last you six weeks of travel. You will survive. Easy-wash, easy-dry underwear for travelers are now available.
Active wear pants (HQ) which zip off at the knees. They have extra pockets to eliminate need to carry a purse or bag. I wear NorthFace, which are quick drying and SPF 30.
Leggings (WD) For added warmth under jeans and active wear pants to layer in the cold
Hiking shoes. (HQ) Do NOT compromise on your shoes.
(Day shoes.) Small, lightweight shoes for around town. You will look much less like a tourist. While in the pack, rubber band them together, soles out, toe to heal. They fit together nicely and save space.
Flip-flops or walking sandals. (WD) PLEASE never wear socks with sandals or flip-flops. If your feet are cold, put on some friggin’ shoes!!! (Besides, you will look like an idiot and be an obvious target for thieves.)
Swimming suit. I only bring a bikini top and use my shorts for swim bottoms.
Sports sweater. (HQ) (WD) I traveled with a Nike sweater that wicked sweat. High-performance polypropylene blends are best. Necessary for active travelers.
Rain jacket: I basically found the best one ever. My favorite attributes: There is no logo and the color is completely neutral. I don’t feel like a North Face or Colombia target for thieves. The REI Madrona is extremely light, has inner pockets, windproof up to 60+ mph, and – get this – fitted. I feel attractive in it! I wear my fleeces under it when it’s very cold; the combo is essentially a coat.
3 day shirts. Anything you find very comfortable. Remember… You will likely be layering these with your sweaters in very cold weather.
2 tank tops. (WD).
1 nice shirt for dates, parties, formal events. Wear your jeans with a nice shirt and you’ll blend right in.
(Bra). Girls – consider substituting your bra for a tank top with an elastic built-in shelf bra. One less thing to pack. And it is more comfortable for me as well!
All of the clothing should fit in your pack. The night before your trip, verify this. Then unload, set out the clothes you will wear for your departure, and repack your partially filled backpack.
The clothes you wear en route are: your hiking shoes, your zip-off pants, and your sweat wicking tops.
Constantly needed items: Keep in an easy -to-reach bag. Reminder: Do not bring your Social Security card.
Emergency contact list. Include two contacts from home. I included my parents’ info with their phone numbers, email addresses, and street addresses. Include your travel partners’ information, and a local host if you are staying somewhere long term. List your name, passport number, address, phone number, permanent address, medications, and allergies. Consider including your date of birth.
Consider translating this into the local language.
Place it in an obvious place, like the front pouch of your pack.
2 color copies of your passport.
Include pages with pertinent visas as well as your cute face. When on day trips, keep a copy on you, leaving your real passport at your lodging. When I am on long trips, I usually keep a copy handy so anyone questioning me can see the copy. The real thing can be tucked away in your passport pocket or deep inside your backpack. Less public exposure of your passport is better. If authorities need to see the real thing, they’ll certainly ask. Keep the other copy next to your emergency contact sheet.
Extra debit and credit card. Even if you think you have plenty of cash, or that your checking account has a ton of money, always travel with a credit card. I have never used mine, but it is excellent to have for emergencies and peace of mind.
Extra cash. In local currency, approx. $100 USD
In addition, I hid the credit card, copy of my passport, copy of my emergency contacts, and extra cash deep in my backpack.
It’s a safer alternative, and much less bothersome! I invented it myself because I loathe traditional money belts. It simply clips or pins on the inside of your pants or shorts. No uncomfortable belt. No obvious pouch. Just a simple, safe pocket.
With the Passport Pocket, your documents are easy to access, safe, and more discrete. Be safe and and avoid theft and the stress and cost of replacing your travel documents.
It is crafted with high performance Coolmax fabric, and lined with water resistant ripstop recycled polyester. The fabric wicks perspiration from your body, and keeps your passport, cash, and documents dry.
USB flash memory drive. Need to swap photos with your travel buddies? Want to transfer data between your host home and the internet cafe? You’re covered.
Universal Card Reader. Gone are the days of taking a cable and your expensive camera into a dingy internet cafe. **Remember to upload your photos often!
(Cell phone and phone charger.) Before travel, verify your phone from home functions where you are headed, and verify the change in costs. It is often much cheaper to buy a phone and minutes when arriving to your destination than paying your regular cell provider for international service.
iPod Shuffle, charger, and ear buds
Other important stuff
Toilet paper. Keep at least one roll on hand at all times. Walk into every bathroom with it. You almost always need it. When you eat in a restaurant, steal five napkins to restock. Your TP and napkins multipurpose as Kleenex, clean up spills, wipe down disgusting tables, toilet seats, and chairs, etc. Ladies – Include extra tampons or pads in the bag.
Snacks. Carrying grocery store items like granola bars or local foods will greatly reduce your costs.
Disposable water bottle. I always kept them in the sides of my day pack. Fill them up when a restaurant or home has a jug of purified water. You will save a LOT of money in the long run… And save our dumps from unnecessary waste.
(Guide book.) Ultralight backpacking isn’t conducive to books. Consider condensed forms or tearing out relevant pages. Ignore travel agents for travel in urban areas. A travel agency may be great to assist with cheap travel deals in rural areas. Five days in the Ecuadorian jungle, all expenses paid, $200.
(Maps.) Local maps can often be found in city centers… But many touristic areas surprisingly have none at all. I spent four hours looking for a map in Bogota, Colombia. Good grief.
(Full-sized journal.) I encourage everyone to write down a summary of what they did each day. Three sentences is more than sufficient. You will be delighted to have the records later.
(Pocket-sized journal.) Moleskine are awesome. Bring it on nature hikes, bird or butterfly sanctuaries, coffee plantations, etc. Your brain will never be able to remember how many grams of fresh grounds make the perfect cup of coffee without your notes. And it’s seven, by the way.
(Budget tracker.) Any system works. At the end of each day, write down your costs. I enjoy that I wrote down specific items because now I can look back and remember the fresh coconut on the beach in Manta or obleos in the town square of Armenia. I noted my expenses in my journal each day to skip packing an extra item.
(A small inflatable pillow.) I use it for everything. It is designed for back lumbar support. It has a little nozzle and auto inflates when I open the nozzle. It is my back support on long bus rides. My pillow at night. My guard against the sharp window panes on the buses. You can order this on orthopedic websites for about $35, and it’s worth every penny.
(A thin blanket.) I used mine all the time. It’s perfect for buses which vary in temperature. Some have no AC regulation, you’re freezing, and you’re wearing your tank top because it’s 90 degrees outside… and all your clothes are in the bottom of the bus!
(Cheap day backpack or cloth bag) to carry day items in dangerous places or to store items on short day trips. You will also take this on the 10 hour bus ride when you must store your large pack under the bus.
2 Giant brand name Zip-Loc bags. Store all your toiletries in these. Purchase translucent so you can see all the contents. They are good for a myriad of other applications. Do not get the slide-top closers as these can break. My name-brand slider broke after 4 months of use, and off-brand broke in a week.
6 brand name standard Zip-Loc bags. I kept my contacts, solution, and glasses safe in one, and Q-tips, tweezers, rubber bands, band-aides, etc in the other.
4 regular plastic grocery sacks. Fold them neatly or tie each in a knot.
Camera. (HQ) I use a Nikon CoolPix P-80. To create excellent photos, be sure to get a camera with a long optical zoom. Mine is 18x optical and 10 megapixel. This was a perfect zoom length, and the camera was was worth the “large” weight and size for the quality of photos. Purchase an extra sturdy model. Mine has been tossed into handbags and jostled all day for the last 10 months, and is still chugging great.
DO NOT purchase a camera that uses AA batteries. These are very expensive in the long run, and can be very difficult to find spur of the moment when you are in a small town or rural area. You want a camera with Lithium-ion batteries or some other rechargeable. Take a black sharpie and darken the name brand of the camera shown on its face or strap.
A compact, inconspicuous camera case. Do not buy a huge name-brand Sony / Cannon / Nikon case unless you will be in an extremely safe area or want to be held at knife-point. (Just sayin’ it like it is…) Consider keeping your camera in a tote that you can safely keep over your shoulder. Remember to pack an extra charged battery and memory card.
Extra batteries. (HQ) Name brand. I traveled with three Nikon batteries. Any time I was on a long day adventure, I always had spare batteries available. Off brand batteries are cheaper, but lose their charge substantially faster.
Extra memory. My camera shoots in JPG. Each 1Gigabite memory card holds about 200 photos. I can shoot up to 300 photos in a morning. ALWAYS own twice the memory that you believe you could possibly ever use assuming you will not have computer access to upload photos. After backing photos up, erase and reuse. I travel with four cards totaling 11G.
Battery charger. Every day, recharge your batteries. Always. You’ll be in some miserable predicaments if not – and miss capturing some amazing memories. Again stated from experience.
Mini tripod. A $3, bendy legged tripod will work perfectly.
Lens cloth. Too many muddy roads and waterfalls to not bring one.
A really cheap camera. You will bring this ugly thing into unsafe public areas. You are much less likely to be robbed.
Toiletries and emergency kit
I place the wet items in one giant Zip-Loc bag and the dry in another.
Wet Zip-Loc bag
(Bar of soap or liquid soap.) Hotel size only last about three days. Consider a larger size bar if you will be gone for a week or more. Many hostels do provide tiny bars, but don’t count on it. You will need soap to wash clothes. Keep it in a Zip-Loc.
Shampoo. Bring travel-sized shampoo and conditioner containers and soap. Replenish at hostels and with hosts.
Compact, super absorbing towel. Size: a deck of cards. Try to find a quick-dry towel at REI or, better yet, an Olympic towel. You do not need a larger size than a standard hand towel. You will have little privacy, meaning wandering around in a big bath towel is not an option, so… After your shower and before toweling off, wring your hair out. T hen use your hands to slick off the water on your entire body. Pretend your hands are a rubber squee-gee. This will allow for two things: Your towel will fully dry your body, and your towel will absorb less water and quickly air dry. Damp clothes and towels are miserable to travel with.
REI products are guaranteed for life…
Deodorant stick. Be sure you have enough. (You won’t find Tom’s All Natural in Rozo, Colombia!) Buy stick, not liquid. Liquid bottles leak.
Shavers. Bring several cheap disposables.
(Eye contacts.) Pack this, solution, and case in a separate Zip-Loc bag.
(Contact solution.) This is the only item I’ll allow you to bring more than you think you will need. Remember – only 3.4 oz. of liquids if flying and carrying on to a plane.
(Bug spray) – stored inside a standard Zip-Loc bag
Dry Zip-Loc bag
Head lamp. (HQ) Head lamp. (HQ) Essential no matter where you ar e go in g, even if you are not camping. You will need it to not disturb people sleeping near you, for night events, etc. And if you are the only one who has one, you will be an instant celebrity! Consider purchasing one with red light feature for subdued night illumination. It’s from REI, I love it, and REI has a money back guarantee for life.
Petzl Tikka Plus 2 LED Headlamp
(Tampons or pads.) Separate Zip-Loc bag
Six feet of strong string or twine.
Athletic tape. (HQ) Helps to prevent callouses for ill-fitting gear or clothing, as well as a myriad of other unpredicted needs. You won’t need Duct Tape.
Cigarette lighter. I have never smoked, but the lighter equates to the head lamp – always useful! Great for starting fires and gas burners.
(Jewelry.) ONLY one pair of earrings. Perhaps one bracelet or necklace. NO gold or silver hand rings. Yes, I urge you to take off the flashy wedding band. Read on…
Women: Minimize the jewelry. Most areas in third world countries it is better to wear none at all. When I was with friends in a safe place, I wore my $0.50 pearl earrings. I never wore them on the bus; this would make me an easy target for thieves.
Ear plugs. (HQ) You don’t need anything at all other than toilet paper and ear plugs.
Ear plug container. Your ear plugs will get grimy and you will lose them fast without it.
(Glasses case.) Compact.
(Medication.) Extra. Keep part in your day pack and part in your large pack. If one is stolen (or, less likely, lost), you will still have medication. Pack Extra. Extra medication. Pack more than you think. Surplus. You know, a lot. Remember to research vaccines and immunizations before your trip. There are travel clinics in most major cities. Also, malaria pills may be available where you are traveling at a much cheaper rate. For me it was not worth the gamble of not finding them or having them be sub-par in quality.
The following go in a sandwich-sized Zip-Loc bag inside the dry giant bag.
Tweezers. You cannot board a U.S. plane with these.
Q-tips. Useful in dozens of ways.
Fabric band-aids. They stay on much longer than the plastic ones. Pack many.
Neosporin or other brand of antibiotic ointment if you are accident prone like me.
The following go in a sandwich-sized Zip-Loc bag inside the dry giant bag.
Ibuprofen, Alieve, Advil, etc.
Anti-nausea. For bad bus rides or long boat rides. Typically easy to find in any market place.
Immunization / Vaccine supplements, e.g., Malaria pills
Items that were nice to have but unnecessary to me:
iPod, charger, ear buds.
A small bottle of hand lotion
Items I did not need at all:
Social Security card
Normal sized towel
CamelBak water bladder and backpack
A skirt or dress
More jewelry than one pair of earrings
Salsa dancing shoes
Rock climbing shoes
Spare set of contact lenses
I hope these travel tips make your adventures as brilliant as mine.
Happy Travels, and God speed-
ADVENTURE! – travel abroad – backpack europe – dream vacations – peace corps volunteers – travel over 50 – volunteer vacation – semester abroad – international student volunteer – backpack south america – ADVENTURE!