Traveling the world as a backpacker forces you to adopt a minimalist lifestyle. It’s incredible how little you need in order to survive happily. That said, preparation for longterm travel can be quite stressful, especially when considering you’re packing your entire life into a backpack.
What do you bring? What do you leave?
I traveled for the last 14 months through Eastern Europe, South America and Asia. I modified and adjusted my load as I traversed different seasons and climates. I purchased items, threw things away, carried useless stuff I wish I hadn’t, and sent a few parcels home. This is what I came up with at the end, my tried and true guide to packing and preparing for longterm travel. I’m sharing My Complete Packing and Travel Checklist for Backpacking the World for anyone looking to gain more perspective on this topic.
First things first. Everything you bring needs to fit in your backpack. All the items and clothing listed below were in some shape or form squeezed into my trusty Osprey Women’s Kyte 46. I met a few other female backpackers who had the same pack and we all agreed that the smaller 46 liter size was sufficient for necessary belongings and convenient to carry.
- Passport & Visas
- 2-4 x hard copies of your passport
- 1 x hard copy of your travel insurance information
- 2-3 x extra passport photos for visas you need to file along the way
- Always have some USD on you and hide throughout luggage
Many travel bloggers claim anti-theft gear as an absolute must. It may a non-negotiable for you, but I personally recommend thinking twice before shelling out a few hundred dollars on portable safes and anti-theft bags. I discuss the reason why in my 10 Travel Tips for Backpacking the World.
- 1 Master Lock | for dorm lockers
- 1-2 x Smaller Luggage Locks | for your backpack and when your Masterlock is too big for the dorm lockers
- 1 x Pacsafe Backpack and Bag Protector | I brought this, but feel it’s optional. I only used it once in 14 months.
- 1 x Pacsafe City-Safe Anti-Theft Crossbody Bag | I brought this, used it and would recommend it; however, I don’t think it’s necessary
- 1 x Moneybelt
- Travel Towel | I have a REI XL towel for my body and REI Medium towel for my hands and face.
- 1 x battery-powered headlamp | I used this on half a dozen multi-day treks and pretty frequently when reading or looking for something in shared dorm
- 1 x Travel Sheet | I use a Cocoon Travel Sheet and a standard silk sleeping bag liner/travel sheet. I didn’t think this was necessary until I suffered from a terrible allergic reaction on the backside of my body in Myanmar. I am talking hives, welts, lots of pain and itching, medical textbook-worthy inflammation. I needed a 7-day steroid treatment in order to recover. I am 99% sure this allergic reaction was because of the sheets, either an allergy to the laundry detergent or some other chemical or bacteria. I didn’t think a travel sheet was necessary before, but I am a firm believer now.
- Foldable day backpack | I love the VenturePal Ultralight Waterproof Backpack. I used this a lot
- 1 x Drybag | Mine fits my laptop, iPhone, passports and camera. It was great when I went on multi-day treks and wanted to ensure my most expensive belongings and underwear/socks remained dry. I own this one.
- 2-3 x hooks | these are cheap, generic, multi-purse hooks like this or this or this. Nobody really talks about this on other blogs. Half-way through my trip, I picked up a few kitchen hooks at a dollar-store in Japan and now am a big believer that every longterm backpacker should travel with hooks. They are convenient for hanging anything in a hostel dorm-room, an AirBnB room, a shared bathroom… You can hang your wet towel, clothes, bags – anything!
- Packing Cubes | I use these EagleCreek Packing Cubes that come in 3 different sizes
- Ziplock Bags | bring several ziplock bags or used plastic shopping bags in different sizes for toiletries, shoes, dirty clothes, etc
- 13 inch Macbook Air + charger
- Kindle Paperwhite
- iPhone 6
- 2 iPhone chargers & their cords
- Headphones | of the earbud variety, to keep things compact!
- Portable Battery Chargers | especially great for multi-day treks where there are no outlets and you need to charge your iPhone and Kindle
- Sony A6000 Mirrorless Camera + Camera Charger | this camera may be my favorite travel item.
- 2 x Extra Camera Batteries
- 128GB Ultrafit Flash Drive | for photo, movie and other file storage
- 4GB USB Flash Drive | for storage, specifically sharing files with other travelers
- Portable Speaker | very optional. I used mine a few times at the beach but definitely could do without it
- 1-2 x Electrical Outlet Converters
- Havaianas Flip Flops | for hostel showers, dorms and everyday walking
- Converse | for everyday walking
- Sneakers | I did all hiking and outdoor activities in my Brooks Running Shoes. I did not bring hiking boots and was fine
- Sandals or Flats | I brought a pair that was a tad dressy but neutral and comfortable. It’s nice to have a pair for a night out
You can buy clothes cheaply pretty much anywhere in the world. I am a huge proponent of bringing several items you are prepared to toss on the road. I traveled in every type of climate out there: snowy, frigid temps, torrential rain, scorching hot deserts and jungles – you name it. Layering is key. My priciest clothing items are my activewear and sporting gear. I bought cheap, knitted winterwear (gloves, legwarmers, etc) in Patagonia and ditched them when I reached toastier temps. In Thailand, I bought elephant harlem pants. Below is a backbone list to get you through most climates, though you may have to modify along the way.
- 1 x Normal Bra
- 1 x Strapless Bra
- 2 x Sports Bras
- 4-5 x Tank Tops
- 2-3 x Shirts with Sleeves
- 1-2 x Longsleeve Shirts
- 2-3 x Yoga Pants | I lived in these
- 3-4 x dresses | I brought 1-2 that could be dressed up for a night out
- 1 x Running Shorts
- 1 x Regular Shorts
- 2 x bathing suits/bikinis
- 1 x Jeans | I brought a lightweight, stretchy jean
- 1 x Pajama Pants
- 1 x Collapsable/Foldable Puffy Packet | I have a Uniqlo Down Jacket that folds down to pocket-size
- 1 x NorthFace Rain Jacket (I also carried an extra disposable poncho which I used)
- 1 x Sweatshirt
- 1 x Scarf/Sarang | ideally this will be large enough to be used as a scarf, picnic blanket, blanket and something to wrap around your body when entering mosques or temples
- 4 x Travelers Underswear | I own 2 Ex-Officio Lacy bikinis and 2 Ex-Officio Lacy thongs
- 12 x normal underwear | this may be excessive, but I believe laundry happens when underwear runs out. The more panties, the longer you can go between laundry days
- 3-4 x Pairs Ankle Socks
- 2-3 x Pairs Tall Socks
- cheap, winter gear | In colder temps, I also had leg warmers, 1 beanie and gloves. I bought these in Argentina and stuck them in a box and sent them to the USA when in Colombia
One of the tips in my 10 Travel Tips for Backpacking Around the World post is to buy toiletries as you go. Absolutely bring any prescription medications you need, but when it comes to bodywash, shampoo and conditioner, the better option is to purchase these on the road, as needed. Bottles of goo are heavy and clunky. They take up valuable space and weigh you down. Most every place you visit will have a drugstore or market that sell sachets, single-use and travel-sized liquids and creams. Many hostels also have complimentary shampoo and bodywash available for guests. Opt for this path if you can.
Initially, like many travelers, I carried a few nail polish bottles, enamel remover, face masks, roller perfume and a bunch of other crap I didn’t need. While each individual item is small, these toiletries and beauty products add up in weight. As a longterm backpacker, I felt no need to beautify myself after a certain point.
- Earplugs | Bring a bunch. Earplugs, like bobby pins, run away after one use to a magical unknown universe
- Toothbrush + Steripod Toothbrush Cover + Floss + Toothpaste| you can buy more along the way
- Disposable Razor | you can buy more along the way
- Baby Wipes / Wet Wipes | I brought a pack with me and also regularly bought these along the way. They were great for showerless multi-day treks and general use
- Brush or Comb
- Face Lotion
- Nail Clipper
- Face Lotion + Products | if you have favorites you can’t part with, bring them. otherwise, buy along the way
- Makeup | whatever you use that you need to bring
- Shampoo + Conditioner + Bodywash + Body Lotion | as mentioned above, I strongly recommend you buy what you can along the way. Here are some lightweight, travel-friendly options I recommend if you want to go prepared:
- Solid Bar Shampoo by Lush – This solid shampoo is light and lathers well. I have personally used the lavender, but there are many varieties available based on hair-type and scent preference. Lush also sells metal cases for bar keeping and storage. Because this shampoo is solid, there is no chance of it leaking in your backpack – another plus.
- Dr Bronners Castille Soap – This is a no-nonsense, highly concentrated liquid soap. It’s great when used as a bodywash, shaving cream alternative and even as a detergent to wash your clothes. I haven’t used it on my hair, but I bet it would serve fine as a shampoo. I did buy a couple bottles before leaving on my trip and consider this a travel essential.
- Face Washing Powder Pods – I am a huge fan of Korean and Japanese beauty products. I found these in a drugstore in Japan but you can find them online. They are tiny, single-use pods filled with a powder that lathers into a foamy face wash when put in contact with water. They are especially convenient for plane rides, airport layovers, multi-day treks or when you need something quick and easy without having to unpack your entire bag. And because they are airtight, individually-packaged powders- no leaks!
- Powder Dry Shampoo – this is a must-have travel item for me. I am a huge fan of Oscar Blandi Pronto Dry Shampoo but have usedBumble and Bumble’s Pret Powder and stand by it as well. It’s a powder, not a spray, so it’s compact, leak-free and easy for air travel. I used this regularly when backpacking, especially during multi-day, shower-free adventures like the Inca Trail Trek in Peru and boating down the Amazon in Rurrenabaque, Boliva.
- Mesh Shower Caddy | optional. I liked it because I could easily carry all of my bath products to the shower, hang the mesh bag in the shower, and then hang the mesh bag full of product to dry in the room on the bed post. It’s easy to carry, your belongings stay clean and don’t touch the floor. I bought mine at a 99 cent store, but picture something like this or this.
Medications / First Aid
f you take prescription medications, certainly bring those, but there is no need bring a whole pharmacy with you. I met dozens of travelers who had large first aid kits, luckily most of which were never used. Here’s the thing: you will find pharmacies pretty much everywhere you go. The Western concepts of “over-the-counter” and “prescription” medication access largely don’t apply to the rest of the world, especially in developing nations in Latin America, East Asia, Eastern Europe, etc. I talk about this more in my 10 Travel Tips for Backpacking Around the World.
- Standard Medications | I carried a modest amount of Advil/Ibuprofin, Benadryl, Pepto-Bismall in pill-form, Advil Cold & Sinus and Allegra (seasonal allergy meds).
- Several bandaids
- Cortisone/Anti-itch Cream | for bug bites
- Anti-Diarrhea Pills
- Check required vaccinations and medical protocol for the countries on your list. I never took anti-malarial pills though you may need to. A Yellow Fever vaccination is required for Boliva so I got the shot a clinic in Buenos Aires, Argentina. It worked out well because it was a free vaccination, but it may have been better to take care of this before I left
- 5 x “Thank You” cards | you can certainly buy postcards along the way, but I knew I was going to crash with several friends in their homes throughout my trip. I am from California so I brought Cali-themed cards for a personal touch
- Small Notepad/Moleskin + Pen | for journaling all stream of consciousness glory
- Sunglasses | I bought sevearl cheap ones $5 ones along the way
- Baseball cap | I love a cap when hiking on hot, sunny days
- Small, collapsable umbrella | optional, but I was in many countries during their rainy seasons
- Disposable poncho | I always had a cheap backup in my bag
- Hand Sanitizer Gel
- Pack of Tissues and/or toilet paper | Bring a small supply and buy the rest as you go. Toilet paper is a staple when you’re traveling through developing countries. Always have some on your person AT ALL TIMES
- Download and Setup all Mobile Apps on your Smartphone
- WhatsApp, Line and Skype | for communication
- Maps.me | for offline maps
- Spotify | for music and offline playlists
- Audible, Podcasts | for book and podcast recordings
- Express VPN | always good to have a VPN, but especially necessary in places with media censorship like China
- Camera+ | for editing pictures
- Rome2Rio, Expedia, Hostelworld, Booking.com, Tripadvisor, Skyscanner, etc | for accomodation booking
- Online and Offline Language Translation Apps
- Online and Offline City Guides and Tourist Information
- Currency Exchange Apps
- Cellphone Service | I have Verizon Wireless and kept paying for my cell service back at home as I traveled. This was a waste of money. In some countries, I opted not to buy service and relied on wifi. In other places, I bought a local sim card paid for a pay-as-you-go plan. I know tmobile has a decent and economical global cellphone plan worthy of reviewing.
- Sign up for a Charles Schwab Checking Account | Charles Schwab will allow you to withdraw cash from any ATM in the world without bank fees
- Mileage credit card with Zero International transaction Fees | I personally use the Chase UnitedPlus Mileage Credit Card and the Chase Sapphire Credit Card. Both have zero fees for foreign purchases and you rack up miles whenever you make a purchase. I have flown internationally for free several times on points alone.
- Currency Exchange | look up currency exchange rates before you leave and determine whether you want to exchange currency at your local bank before leaving. I had a bunch of USD on me when I left but personally did not exchange currency in advance.
- Withdraw at least several hundred dollars in cash (USD). Try to always keep a small stash in your moneybelt for emergencies
- Save any itineraries/travel information to your notes section on your smartphone
- Buy Travel Insurance (I used WorldNomads) and print a hard copy to have on your person
- Make and bring hard copies of your passport