Some of my most frequently asked questions are to do with the contents of my backpack — what do you pack when you’re travelling forever? How do you fit all of that stuff into a bag so small? Do you ever get bored of wearing the same clothes? Do you carry a mattress with you around Southeast Asia?
Yes, I was actually asked this once.
I try to update my packing list every year, partly because I know that you find it useful to see what I’m travelling with, and partly because I find it fascinating to see how my packing style has evolved over the years. Each year has had a theme.
The theme for my first year was newbie traveller who didn’t have a clue.
Before I set off on my round-the-world trip, I sat down and devoured hundreds of packing lists online, making notes of all the key points. I learned that I’d need to pack light, make sure that all of my clothes matched with each other, and take all kinds of useful tools with me, like a money belt, duct tape, a year’s worth of anti-malarial tablets, padlocks, external battery packs, and even an umbrella.
I decided what to take based on what had worked for other people, without giving any thought as to what I’d actually like to bring.
This turned out to be somewhat of a mistake.
The theme for my second year was backpacking cliche who’s grown a little more sensible.
After travelling for a year, I had a much better idea of what worked for me, and it wasn’t what necessarily worked for everyone else.
I threw out the ugly khaki clothes with dozens of pockets and replaced them with colourful garments I’d actually enjoy wearing. The amount of clothes I was carrying doubled in size, even as I threw out everything I mentioned above.
A year in and I had never worn a money belt; never found a use for duct tape. I’d yet to take a single anti-malarial tablet, never used a padlock, and had realised the umbrella had to go.
In my second year of travel, I also was hippie-fied by Southeast Asia and ended up with a wardrobe of hippie pants and singlets and all kinds of backpacking cliches.
The theme for my third year on the road was comfort.
After two years of travel, I was starting to grow tired of a life of perpetual motion. There was so much I missed from a more settled life, and I was fed up with travelling with just one pair of pants and a handful of t-shirts.
In my third year, I started carrying a lot more clothes — two pairs of jeans, even, and several dresses. I ditched the hippie-style items from my backpack and began wearing similar clothing to what I used to back home.
And from my fourth year onwards, I became all about minimalism.
Let’s face it: travelling with a 20 kg backpack [!] wasn’t going to be sustainable, and I was damaging my back from carrying so much weight around the world.
I bought a carry-on backpack and never looked back.
Now, I travel with a solid 10 kgs worth of things, and that’s enough to carry me through summer and winter destinations. I have enough technology to run my business with, and have opted for plenty of ultra-lightweight gear in order to ensure I’m maximising space and weight allowance.
First of all, I’d like to kick off this post with a video! I recorded this after I’d been travelling for two years on the road. In it, I talk about the things I decided to travel with and why I’d decided on travelling with each item. Yeah, it’s a little outdated, as I travel with around half of the stuff these days, but I think it’s still interesting to have a look if you have some spare time.
Which Backpack to Travel With?
I’m an Osprey obsessive and refuse to travel with any other backpack. I’ve opted for the Osprey Exos 48l backpack, upgraded to the Osprey Farpoint 55l pack, and have now been using the Osprey Farpoint 40l pack for four years and counting. I firmly believe it’s the best carry-on backpack on the market today.
What I love about Osprey backpacks is their lifetime guarantee — Osprey commit to repair or replace any backpack for any reason and at any time. Have a back of theirs you bought 20 years ago and it just fell apart? They’ll patch it back together or send you a new backpack from their updated range. I got to test this out when an airline tore a hole in my Farpoint 55l backpack during a flight — I contacted their customer service and they repaired the damaged panel in just a few days, for free!
Because of this, and because their backpacks are fantastic quality, I wouldn’t consider choosing any other brand.
What About Day Packs?
Get ready to roll your eyes at me, because yes, I’m all about that Osprey life when it comes to day packs, too!
You’ll want to travel with a day pack for a couple reasons: if you need to check your backpack, you’ll want a separate bag to keep your belongings in, and you also won’t want to carry your main backpack around with you whenever you head out to explore.
I’m a big believer in choosing the lightweight-yet-durable option in all situations, even if it costs me a little more to do so. My favourite daypack to travel with is the Osprey Ultralight Stuff Sack. This daypack squeezes down into the size of an apple and weighs just 500 grams, so it really helps keep the weight down. Despite that, it’s tough and heavy-duty, as I’ve been using mine for several years and never had any rips or tears. Whenever I head out to explore, I put my camera, phone, passport, water bottle, and money inside, and it carries them with no problem at all.
If you require something with a bit more support and security for your items, opt for the Osprey Daylite Plus Daypack. This is such a great product! It fits everything you could possibly need to keep in your daypack, as it has a size of 20 litres, but it’s still relatively lightweight. It also has a secure padded section for your laptop, if you decide to travel with one and want to ensure it doesn’t get bashed around.
The Clothing I Take With Me on Every Trip
- My Icebreaker Hyperia Lite jacket is my dream travel jacket. It’s lightweight at just 340 grams, but keeps me so warm, even on freezing cold days. It’s pretty pricey, but one of my favourite investments — I fully intend on keeping this as a staple in my backpack for many years to come. I wear this whenever I find myself travelling through cold countries, and it never fails to keep me warm.
- One strap top: I primarily travel in hot countries, so as long as the destination isn’t particularly conservative, I wear a strap top to keep me as cool as possible.
- Two tank tops: For much the same reasons as why I bring a strap top, I pack two tank tops to give me some variety with my clothes.
- Two t-shirts: T-shirts are also good for cloudy days or if you feel uncomfortable showing any more skin. I wear t-shirts in conservative countries with hot climates, like India, Tonga, Oman, or temple-hopping around Thailand. One of these is a casual, loose-fitting t-shirt and the other is a workout top for any hikes or yoga classes I take around the world.
- One nicer top: Travel for me more about dressing casual than dressing up, so I don’t need anything super-fancy with me. I bring one dressy top with me for date nights or heading out to high-end restaurants.
- One long-sleeved top: When I’m travelling in winter, or dealing with cold mornings in hot countries, I wear this long-sleeved Merino top to keep me warm.
- One pair of jeans: I consider jeans to be a travel essential, but many people don’t like them, as they’re heavy, bulky, and slow to dry. But! If you live in jeans at home, you’ll want a pair while you’re on the road. Trust me: I tried to go without and as soon as I returned home, I picked up an old pair to travel with. Plus, they’ll keep you warm in winter, allow you to cover up in summer, and fit in with the fashionable locals in Europe.
- One pair of leggings: I like to be active when I travel, so a pair of leggings/yoga pants is vital. I wear these when I’m hiking or working out, or simply when I need to cover up but don’t want to wear jeans.
- One pair of denim shorts: For all those beach visits and hot countries. I love wearing denim shorts at home, so they come with me when I travel, too.
- One pair of mid-thigh-length biker shorts: They’re lightweight and comfortable, and I wear them all the time, especially when hiking in the middle of summer.
- Havianas flip-flops: The iconic, the classic. I love Havianas — I think they’re the most comfortable flip-flops out there, so I always travel with a pair. It’s pretty self-explanatory — when I’m bumming around Southeast Asia or spending any time in beach towns and hot countries, you’ll usually find me in my flip-flops.
- One pair of sunglasses: Because of course! I’m always out in the sun, so sunglasses are an essential for me
- One pair of glasses: Because I’m blind as a bat, and wearing contacts every day when travelling can be annoying
- Seven pairs of underwear: I bring enough to cover me for a week and then do laundry every week
- Two bras: That’s enough for a week for me
- Seven pairs of socks: Same same
- Two bikinis: I travel with more than one because when I’m hanging out in beach towns, I don’t always have time to wash everything before the next day on the beach.
- One travel scarf with a hidden pocket: So cool! Thieves are totally aware of the existence of money belts these days — it’s one of the first things they’ll check for when mugging you. So that’s why it’s great to travel with an infinity scarf with a hidden pocket. I’ll always keep some money and my passport in here, and occasionally my phone if I’m travelling in a dodgy part of town.
What About Packing Cubes?
I’m a huge fan.
Packing cubes help keep your backpack organised, so that you can easily find everything you need when you’re in a hurry. In a time before packing cubes, I would I have to empty my entire backpack to find anything I was looking for, and then repacking it became a pain in the ass. Now, I use one cube for my tops, one for my bottoms, one for my underwear, and one for charging cables. Unpacking and repacking my bag is now so easy and quick. I love this brand of packing cubes the most.
If you’re a chronic overpacker, you can use vacuum-sealed packing cubes to free up a ton of space in your bag. You’ve likely seen vacuum-sealed bags before, as they’re used for storage around the world. You simply put your clothes in, roll the bag up to expel any excess air, and then you’ll find the bag takes up around a third of what it usually does. I travelled with these ones for a couple of years and really liked them — I just found that it didn’t incentivise me to cut down on the weight of my backpack, so I switched to regular packing cubes afterwards.
What About Colder Temperatures?
I try to avoid them, if at all possible.
For the most part, the clothes I’ve listed above are enough to keep me warm in temperatures down to around 10 degrees. I’ve got my jeans, a long-sleeved top, and my coat, and the combination of the three are perfectly fine in most winter situations, unless it’s snowing.
There was one exception. I travelled to Japan in the middle of winter and I was not prepared at all. I had my one pair of jeans and my one coat, and I was still freezing cold. I immediately went to the nearest store and bought a couple of thick jumpers, a warm scarf, hat, and pair of gloves. When I finished my trip in the country, I donated them all to a charity store, as I wasn’t planning on being in another cold country for at least half a year.
If, like me, you plan on primarily travelling to warm countries, that’s what I recommend doing. Bring a pair of jeans, a Merino wool long-sleeved top and a lightweight coat with you, as that will cover you for most situations. If, however, you find yourself feeling freezing and ill-equipped for the weather, suck up the additional cost, buy a few extra items, and donate them at the end of your trip.
What Clothes Didn’t I Like Travelling With?
Rain jackets/ponchos: Well, first of all, I hate ponchos! The first time I tried wearing one, I looked ridiculous and felt like I had a shower curtain continually sticking to my body. But I’m not a big fan of travelling with rain jackets either. Instead, I just use my Icebreaker lightweight coat I mentioned above. It keeps me dry in 99% of downpours, whether it’s a tropical storm in Bali or a torrential downpour in Helsinki.
Umbrella: I just didn’t use it enough. I was finding myself using my travel umbrella maybe twice a year, and I couldn’t justify carrying it in my backpack for that. If it rains while I’m out exploring, I’ll grab an Uber to get back to my accommodation or walk into a nearby cafe and wait out the storm. If it’s in the tropics, the rain is always warm, so I never mind getting wet. If you do want to try travelling with one, I recommend this one, as it’s tiny and weighs less than 1 lb.
The Toiletries I’ll Never Travel Without
Moving on! Let’s talk about toiletries and beauty products and anything that sort of falls under that category.
- Bamboo toothbrush and toothpaste: I recently invested in a bamboo toothbrush recently to cut down on my plastic consumption, and I’m obsessed with the offerings from B-Earthly. Their toothbrushes are biodegradable, comfortable to use, great for sensitive teeth, come with a travel case, and have a built-in tongue-cleaner. I combine mine with Crush&Brush toothpaste tablets, which come in zero-waste packaging, and biodegradable dental floss.
- A razor: I get my hair lasered, so I don’t have to shave very often, but I usually pack one reusable razor for each trip.
- Deodorant: This is a travel essential! I love the Organic Island solid deodorant bar. It’s plastic-free, biodegradable, and works just as well as traditional deodorants. The fact that it’s not a liquid will please all of my fellow carry-on travellers out there!
- Sunscreen: To be honest, you’ll get through so much sunscreen if you’re going to be travelling long-term that you should plan to be replacing yours fairly regularly. I recommend this reef-safe sunscreen from SunBum and always bring a bottle with me to start off.
- Solid shampoo and conditioner: I love LUSH’s solid shampoo bars — they leave my hair feeling soft and shiny, are super-lightweight and small, and last me over six months when using them continuously! Because they’re so small, I’d definitely recommend picking up some solid conditioner, too — that salt water can really mess up your hair. The cork pots that are sold by LUSH are perfect for storing your bars as you travel.
- A small bar of soap: I usually grab a bar of soap from LUSH before a trip, too. I love their products and the fact that they’re packaging-free. A bar of soap will last me for an entire trip and also means I don’t add to my liquid limit with shower gels.
- Tangle Teezer: I’ve been traveling with a Tangle Teezer since I first started traveling! It’s the only hairbrush I’ve found that can get rid of all of all of the knots in my crazy, curly hair.
- Contact lenses: I bring monthly contact lenses with me on my trips — usually around six months’ worth.
- Make up: I travel with a whole bunch of make-up — tinted moisturiser with SPF, a small Tarte eyeshadow palette, black eyeliner, mascara, highlighter, blush, lip gloss, eyebrow pencil, and a whole load of brushes. In general, despite how much make-up you wear in everyday life, expect to wear a lot less while travelling. Exploring with a full face of make-up in 90% humidity and high temperatures is not a fun thing to do.
How Much Medication I Bring With Me
I don’t bring a lot of medication with me when I travel because there are pharmacies all over the world that’ll likely stock whatever you need. I bring a handful of essentials and restock up whenever I run out of them.
- Dramamine: I suffer from seasickness, so always make sure to have some motion-sickness tablets on hand for any island-hopping or flights I take.
- Painkillers: There’s nothing worse than having to venture out in the hot sun in search of a pharmacy when you’re dealing with an agonising headache. That’s why I always travel with a dozen painkillers when I travel, usually half a dozen acetaminophen tablets and half a dozen ibuprofen.
- Imodium: Unfortunately, travel isn’t always incredible for our stomachs, and travellers’ diarrhoea can sometimes threaten to ruin our vacations. I always keep Imodium on hand for any times when the local food doesn’t agree with me. It’s been a life-saver on days when I’ve needed to get on a bus and wouldn’t have otherwise been able to leave the bathroom. I also recommend packing some DripDrop rehydration sachets in case you get felled by food poisoning or sun stroke.
- Anti-histamines: I’m a pretty reactive person, so anti-histamines are a must for me! I always bring a dozen tablets with me in case I break out in hives or start sneezing all over the country.
- Band-aids: You don’t want to get an infection while travelling, so you’ll want to bring a couple of bandaids and a small tube of antiseptic cream for any cuts or grazes you may get. When I was travelling in Cambodia, I fell over and the resulting graze became infected. If I’d had antiseptic cream, I’d have been able to prevent a nasty week of pain and a course of antibiotics.
- A smartphone: I travel with an iPhone XS, but there’s no real need to upgrade your phone for your trip — just take whatever you normally use at home.
- A camera: My main camera these days is the Sony A7ii with a 28-70mm lens, along with a couple of 32 GB SanDisk SD cards. At $2,000 for the full set-up, this is pricey AF, and I bought it as an investment in this site. I’m incredibly happy with the quality of the camera and lens, though, and would highly recommend it if you have the cash and are looking to invest in a mirrorless system. If you’re not into photography, just bring whatever camera you usually use on holiday, or use your smartphone to take photos.
- A GoPro: GoPros are fantastic for island-hopping, because they’re small, lightweight, and come with an underwater casing. I used mine with the GoPro 3-Way Grip, because it’s great for taking selfies, but in the future, I’d consider getting a floating selfie stick to use. I was way too nervous about accidentally letting go and watching my GoPro sink to the bottom of the sea.
- A Kindle Paperwhite: Now this is something I won’t consider travelling without. I’m a voracious reader when I travel, and a Kindle allows me to power through a travel memoir a day without adding weight to my luggage.
- A laptop/tablet: Most of you won’t need to bring your laptop with you. I work online as I travel, so this is an essential for me, but if you don’t think you’ll have a use for it, save on weight and space and leave it at home. If you have a tablet, this could be a good compromise, so that you can watch TV shows on it in the evenings. I travel with a Macbook Pro and love it.
- Various chargers/adapters: Trust me: I’ve used a hell of a lot of travel adapters over the past decade, and I can tell you that Saunorch makes the absolute best. This travel adapter is so freaking great! It works in over 150 countries, has 4 USB ports, and fits so well in every socket. The latter is especially hard to find, as I know I’ve wrestled with so many adapters that kept falling out of the wall!
- Case to keep SD cards in: I love this case so much! I always travel with spare SD cards because I take so many photos when I travel. This case helps keep your memories safe and secure. I once had an SD card snap in half in my backpack because it wasn’t in a case and I lost all of my travel photos from the last six months. It sucked.
Miscellaneous Items I Travel With
- A dry bag: An essential for spending time out on the water. It meant I could put my camera in my dry bag, get some air in it so it floats, and swim off to a little beach with my camera and take some great photos. The extra air helped it to float, which was useful. I’ll only use Sea to Summit products when it comes to dry bags — I’ve been using mine for seven years and it’s still going strong.
- Vapur foldable water bottle: I don’t want to contribute to plastic waste, so I travel with this reusable water bottle from Vapur. It rolls up to a very small size, weighs next to nothing, and means that I never have to buy water bottles when I travel. I pair mine with a Steripen so that I can make tap water safe and drinkable anywhere on the planet, whether I’m in Mozambique or India.
And that’s everything! After 10 years of travel, this is exactly what I travel with on every trip I take. Let me know if you have any questions in the comments below!