Packing for any trip can be daunting, so what do you do when you’re heading off for a few months? Or to a number of different destinations, each with its own climate? Before you start to feel overwhelmed at the mere thought of where to start, never mind how many pairs of shoes or how much underwear to pack, take a deep breath and scan the list below.
Then start again at the top and take a critical look at all the items you’ve pulled out of drawers and wardrobes to pack… Do you really need them now that you know a little more about what you really, really need?
The list below is my comprehensive, go-to list to pick out what I need for where I’m going and the type of activities I’m likely to be doing.
My rule of thumb is that if I’m going somewhere for a two-week holiday or less, I pack enough clothes for the days that I’m away. If I’m going for longer, I pack for 7-10 days and find laundry facilities or do my washing along the way. For tips on how to do this, check out Anthony’s article which tells you all you need to know about laundry options on the road.
You’ll need these basics no matter where you’re going and regardless of the type of climate or activities you’ll be doing:
- 10 pairs of underwear, whatever you are most comfortable with. If they are quick-dry you could take fewer items if you feel like washing them in your room in the evenings.
- Shorts or leggings and T-shirt for sleeping. Even if you are in a room alone, it’s good to wear something in case you need to get out in the middle of the night or are using a shared bathroom.
- 2-3 pairs of socks, whatever works best with your chosen shoes – e.g. thin ones for trainers and/or thicker ones for hiking boots. If you are going to be hiking a lot without a break, then you may want to add another pair of thick socks to see you through.
- Sleeping bag liner. I even use this in hostels as my own layer under a duvet; it comes in extra handy when it’s cold!
- Scarf. Every time I travel, I find a new use for this. Great if you’re cold, useful when you need to cover up for temples and churches, good as a pillow when travelling, and it can even be used as a towel if you’re stuck.
- Microfibre towel. While all hotels and most hostels and camp sites will offer towels, packing a small microfibre, quick-dry one is a good idea. I also use mine if I’m on a longer hike or going to the beach.
- Flip-flops. Even if you aren’t going to the beach or using a pool, they’re great for shared showers and toilets or for taking your shoes off after a long day but not being barefoot if you don’t want to be.
- Sarong. Useful as a bottom sheet, beach mat, cover-up, extra skirt or even as a towel or additional layer when it’s really cold.
- Bathing suit. You don’t have to be going to a beach destination to use it. There are plenty of pools around if you want as well as rivers, lakes, waterfalls and hot water springs… It’ll always come in handy and doesn’t take up much space!
Hot and Temperate Climates and Summertime
For hotter or more temperate summer climates you can bring your style into it a little more. You will typically need:
- 2-3 pairs of shorts. You can vary the lengths to suit different circumstances – e.g. beach vs hanging out in town.
- 2 pairs of trousers and/or long skirts. This is where your style comes into its own. Both trousers and skirts are useful for travel days as well as for those countries where modesty is important and you need to cover up your legs. I avoid jeans as they take too long to dry and can add to the weight you’re carrying. I also don’t find them comfortable on long travel days, but if you do and can take the weight and extra drying time, go for it.
- Lightweight hiking trousers if you’re planning to do any trekking. I also find them comfy for long travel days.
- 6-7 t-shirts/tops that you can mix and match with your shorts, trousers and skirts. Depending on the climate you’re visiting they can be a mix of tank tops, spaghetti strap tops, long or short sleeves. You can also layer them if it gets cooler at night or the air conditioning is set to freezing.
- 1 nicer dress/top for going out somewhere a little fancier. You never know when you may get invited to a good restaurant or local event.
- Sandals and/or lightweight shoes. Personally, I take both and use the shoes if I’m doing a lot of walking and keep the sandals for shorter walks and outings.
- Hiking boots or trainers if you’re going to be hiking. I also wear them on travel days to keep my backpack weight down, especially on flights.
Colder Climates and Wintertime
For those colder climates, lightweight wool materials or thermals and layering are brilliant ways to help keep your backpack weight down and not take up too much space.
- 3-4 long-sleeve shirts that you can either wear individually or layer for more warmth.
- 1-2 thermal tops for those super cold days or if you are hiking or camping.
- 1-2 jumpers or sweaters that you can mix and match with bottoms.
- 1-2 pairs of trousers or hiking pants that are a little thicker and will offer more protection from the cold. Make sure that one of those will also allow you to wear a pair of leggings underneath without being uncomfortable if you’re going to be in really cold areas.
- 1-2 pairs of leggings, one of which could be a thermal pair if you’ll be outdoors a lot. This can also double up as sleeping gear if necessary.
- Extra pairs of thick socks. Depending on where you are or how much time you spend outside you may even want to double up at times.
- Good coat. The best one I’ve found so far is a synthetic down jacket that keeps the cold out and can be folded down into a small bag, so it doesn’t take up too much space when it’s not in use. Avoid real down or feathers as they take longer to dry and can’t be compressed as easily.
- Gloves, preferably with touchscreen fingers for using your phone or camera.
- Thicker scarf or neck warmer. A neck warmer can also double-up as ear protectors if you don’t have a hat.
- Woolly or beanie hat to keep your head and ears warm!
We all have different skin care regimes and habits but one thing that I’ve found when travelling is that you don’t need as much, and a lot can be found or replaced (when you run out) on the road. However, here are a few basics that I don’t travel without:
- Face soap for your morning and evening cleanse. If you have one that does a good job of removing makeup, that’s one less thing to have to carry.
- Face moisturiser. This is something that many women, including me, can be particular about. While you can find most major brands in most countries, there are exceptions for certain things (e.g. I can’t find Nivea in the USA), so you may need to take a couple with you if you’re travelling for longer.
- Shampoo and conditioner or a 2-in-1 if that works for you. You can find smaller travel bottles en route if you are packing super light.
- Shower gel or soap. Soap avoids the need to carry another plastic bottle or liquid and you can find either wherever you are, so you don’t need to carry a massive bottle from home.
- Toothbrush, toothpaste and floss. No further explanation needed!
- Deodorant. My advice would be to pack a small travel bottle and buy more when it runs out.
- Menstrual cup, pads and/or tampons. Tampons can be hard to find in some developing countries and without good infrastructure for the disposal of waste they could end up being a problem long after you have left. If you haven’t tried it already, give one of the many cups on the market a go. All you need is some bottled water to wash it out and you’re free to roam!
- Sunscreen, of whatever factor is best for you. Aim for a minimum of 30 and look for a biodegradable one if you can.
- Insect repellent. While DEET may be necessary in certain places (e.g. jungles and malarial zones) you can probably get away with one that’s less aggressive on other flora and fauna for most places.
- Razor, and you should be able to find refills if you need them along the way.
- Nail clippers and nail file. I even take my clippers to salons if the hygiene is remotely dubious.
- Tweezers. Not just for your eyebrows or the odd stray hair, but they’re also handy for other things such as splinters and removing stings.
- Make-up if you wear any. Personally, I never travel without mascara – I look like I have no eyelashes without it so I have enough to see me through my trip, however long it may be. If you do wear make-up every day or are likely to go out in the evening and want to dress up a little, you can get away with the basics of concealer, eye shadow, bronzer, eyeliner and lip gloss. Don’t forget the brushes for your eye shadow and bronzer!
- Extra contacts if you wear them as well as a pair of glasses.
- Birth control or any other medication you may take. It’s a good idea to carry your doctor’s prescription with you, as some countries can be funny about what they allow in and you may need to prove that you are taking it on the advice of your doctor.
- First aid kit. Mine includes the usual staples: plasters, cotton buds, alcohol, Betadine, insect sting cream, gauze and tape, ibuprofen, paracetamol, and a small bandage. If you are travelling to a rural or remote location, consider taking clean syringes with you should you need any injections. You could either make up your own first aid kit or buy one of the ready-made travel ones.
And there you have it. A comprehensive travel list for any destination in the world! Feel free to check out these supporting articles: