Alright, happy travelers! So you’re going on a backpacking trip, yeah? Amazing! You will have a blast and learn more about yourself and other cultures than you ever could have dreamed. But let’s get you set up for success first.
I’ve been backpacking for three years now and have definitely done, redone, and nearly perfected my travel backpack. Here are all of the things I have learned I 100% need when backpacking, and some tips on packing. I mainly live in hostels, though I throw in the occasional air bnbs, hotel, homestay, and stay with friends. This pretty much always covers me.
In this post, I'll go over necessary and optional:
- Health Products
- Pretty Things
- Wallet Stuff
- Packing Tips
- Key Apps
- Unnecessary Items
Also, don’t feel overwhelmed. Remember - people live wherever you are going! If you forget something, or realize you would rather have something different, you can always get it there! My typical rule is for every piece of clothing I purchase or acquire, I have to gift one of my own to another traveler or local. Trading is cool and sustainable!
Okay, here we go!
- 3-4 Light T-Shirts
- 3-4 Tank Tops: I go for ones that roll up tiny and take up as little space as possible. Space if of the essence here! But it’s always nice to have a few options for being beachy in the day and going to a dinner in the night.
- 2-3 Pairs of Shorts
- 2-3 Pairs of Pants: I typically go for 1 pair or joggers and one pair of leggings. CRAZY. I know. Once in a while I miss jeans but the lighter the better and jeans simply don’t roll up as small as alternatives.
- 1 Sweater: I have a light, see-through sweater that I can put over just about all of my clothing to make me look a little nicer, more covered, and a bit more warm and cozy. Sometime, I trade this for a flowy button-up.
- 1 Long Sleeve T-Shirt
- 1 Sweatshirt - I go for cropped and hoodless if possible. It’s still comfy but takes up MUCH less space than a hooded, bulky sweatshirt.
- 10ish Pairs of Underwear: (females, I got 9/10 daily wear, 2-3 bedtime wear, more covering/comfy). They are so little and I'd rather have extra and not have to wash them in a dire situation.
- 5ish Pairs of Socks: I go one high, 2 no show, 2-3 regular
- 1 Sarong: Wrap around your pillow, wrap around your camera to keep it safe, tie it as a bag, a skirt, a shirt, a hood. Use it as a towel, a blanket. Wear it to cover your shoulders / chest. Use it as a dusk-storm face protector in the Sahara (that’s where/why I originally got mine and now I will not travel without it. I literally once jumped off of a bus in no where India an hour and a half after getting on because I realized I forgot it, then hitched rides back on motos until I could get back to get it. Lol, I don’t have many attachments… but my sarong is CERTAINLY one of them.) The usage list literally never ends.
- 3ish Bathing Suits: I typically do 2 bikinis and a 1-piece (Long sleeves if I plan on diving or surfing. More fitted/athletic if I’m planning to kite surf. More covering if I’m going places I don’t wanna be too showy. I have a few options, but you could find one bathingsuit that could fit all three of these options if you wanted).
- PJs: I typically wear one of my t-shirts and shorts. No need for additional pieces here.
- 1-2 skirts: I typically go for 1 shorter and 1 long/flowy. The longer one if good for more covering cultures, and also looks amazing blowing in the wind for those pics!
- 1-2 dresses: I recommend one beachy cover-up style, and one longer but light, suited for going out but not too revealing depending on what countries you’ll be going to. I usually start and end in completely different parts of the world so I try to have clothing that can transform depending on where I am.
- 1 pair sneakers: Hiking, running, daily wear. I like ones that can condense very small in my bag.
- 1 pair comfy sandals: I go Burks. Sandals with backs are also good.
1 pair light flip flops: Good for communal showers and walking around inside
1 pair boots: or similar. Personal: I find every traveler has one unrealistic item. Mine IS my doc martins. I do not go ANYWHERE without them. BUT!! They’re not that impractical, because no matter the heat, the depth of water, or the coldness, I will be wearing them. Especially in transit days, like on busses, planes, trains, etc. I love my docs and they make me feel like me.
Additional Clothing Guide Info.:
- Color: I have gone through serious phases here!
- Colorful/ patterned: I never matched for a while. This was fun but i felt like I wore my three matching outfits in every photo. I, personally, am all about the pics! This was difficult for me. Benefits: You have your unique style! Flaunt it! Drawbacks: Clear outfit repetition, not matching.
- All black: I did this for about a year and a half… maybe longer. Everything i owned way black with maybe 2, nuetral exceptions. I loved this bad-ass vibe, it was super easy, always looked clean, and always looked good in photos. Drawbacks: After a while I felt like I always looked the same and started identifying myself with these pieces. (A year and a half in 10 pieces of clothing and you’ll start to do this.) It was hard for me to readjust to wearing colors again. Also, I was blonde for a while and already stood out clearly. Black makes you blend in any amount more, which I personally like.
- Currently: I still wear mostly black, but i try to throw in a few stand out pieces or neutrals. I also have replaced most one of my single tone, travel Ts with Ts I’ve collected at some of my favorite places. These make me feel at home, because when i wear them i remember how much fun I had in those places, all of the beautiful souls I’ve become friends with there, and I remember why I continue to live my life like this. To meet, love and explore!
- Cropped: All of my tops are cropped and then all of my pants are all high. This is a stylistic choice but is also super convenient for having less material in every shirt, sweater and sweatshirt!
- Light: Everything I have rolls up as tiny as possible. I buy things based on rolling them up and seeing how much space they will take up.
- Material: I go for light weight, breathable material that is soft and will dry quickly when I sweat.
- Co-Pilot’s Daily Travel Supplement: I literally will not travel without this now. It was created (by me) for long-term travel. It keeps you mentally and physically healthy. No more anxiety, no more stomach issues, more energy, better sleep - it does it ALL. You don’t need 47 different supplements any more. Also, it fits right in the deck of cards hold of your backpack so it is super convenient and takes up no space! I typically carry 4-5 packs in case I can’t order them for a while, or meet another traveler in desperate need or health. Then I just give them a pack. Bonus! The tins can be reused and hold nail clippers, cards, or any small thing you’d like in a cute little travel tin. Also available on Amazon.
- Random Drugs: All of these I put in small, ziplock baggies, and sticker on the drug facts to make sure I am absolutely sure what’s what. Then, I put them all in a larger, reusable, nice zipper plastic bag to keep them together and flat. This works for me because it doesn't take up much space.
- Remember: These are just what I bring. Bring what YOU need or want!
- Ibuprofen: I put 20-30 in a little baggy and label them. You can find them pretty much anywhere in the world, but with that hangover? You might not wanna get out of bed and have to hunt around town for them just yet.
- Yeast Infection Pills / Male Problem-Equivalent Pills: Typically easy to get over the counter in other countries, just not everywhere. If something goes wrong, or someone you meet has something like this go wrong, it’s much easier, faster, and comforting to just take one pill and handle it yourself. I think your doctor needs to perscribe them in the states.
- Men, I’m not sure what your equivalent sickness is to this, but whatever it is, get yo pills. It’s better.
- Imodium: I honestly have never used it but it’s something I always have incase.
- Z-Packs: You need a prescription for these in the states. I used them once when I was living in Bali during the height of the pandemic. No one knew what to do at the time, but mentally, unsure if I had Covid, they make me feel better. These are easier to get in other places, like southeast Asia, where you don’t need a prescription. I typically just restock on these and a few others when I’m in these places if I’m low.
- Benadryl: I have non-severe allergic reactions randomly and it’s nice to have these incase. Of course if you have a serious allergic reaction, bring your epipen or personal care products. This just works for me because mine arent life threatening, just hives and a few other symptoms I’d rather treat myself. Do what is best for you!! Always good to have Benadryl handy in case, however.
- Advil PM: If you’re having a rough-go and cant sleep for a few days, this can be a lifesaver.
- Melatonin: I personally always use melatonin, so for me having this is normal.
Personal Medication: Remember this trip could go on for a while! If you have any medications you are on regularly, I find it’s best to travel with a little surplus just in case.
Also: These are just my recommendations! Do what feels best for you and what you may need. Make sure any products you bring are safe for you before using.
You will most likely run out of all of these things and restock while away. No worries! Find some new products, it’s fun! And leads to some funny stories (like accidentally buying face-bleaching moisturizer. Lol, oops.) All of my stuff is travel sized because I do not check a bag. My backpack is a carry-on.
Remember, everything needs to be under 3 oz.! Even if there is less than 3 oz. left, but the container holds more than 3 oz., it will likely get thrown away. One thing I do is to use little, travel containers and label them.
- Small Shampoo
- Small Conditioner
- Small Body Wash
- Small Toothpaste
- Face Wash
- Face Moisturizer
- Small Body Lotion
- Face Sunscreen
- Coconut Oil: I use this for EVERYTHING. Make up removal, lotion, after sun care, idk, whatever the day calls for.
- Citronella Essential Oil: Best, all-natural bug repellent and it is tiny.
- Tiger Balm: You’ll get sore.
- Wide-Toothed Comb: I always use combs not brushes, and they are much easier to travel with. But also my hair prefers combs. Do what works for you.
- Hair Product of Choice: One is probably enough. Two if you’re feelin' spicy.
- Neosporin: I ma literally always hurt or scraped or falling.
- Bandaids: As per my last item. Ya girl hikes and ya girl falls
- Nail Clippers
- Nail File
- Eye Drops: Dust is real
- Razor: I have a nice one and then carry a few extra heads. Toss out ones are fine too, I just live for sustainability, so, yk.
- Liquid Bandage: I love this because I live in the water. Took me a while to find out about and now it’s a must-have for me.
- Iodine: I get hurt a LOT. It’s not too hard to find in other countries, though.
- Nail Polish: I personally travel with one, but no nail polish remover. Idk man.
- Ear Care Product: I am a scuba diver and bigger water gal. I travel with a little dropper filled with 50% rubbing alcohol, 50% apple cider vinegar. This always dries my ears right up (you put a few drops in an then stand with your head tilted like this for actually about 2-3 minutes. Works like a dream and all natural.)
- Body Cleaning Wipes
- Aloe: I usually wait until I’m burnt and either use coconut oil or buy aloe there.
- Sunnies: I carry 2 pair of sun glasses
- For Hair: I have a little change purse filled with hair elastics, body pins, hair clips I like, tiny hair ties. Anything that can help me feel pretty.
- Jewelry: I have another, similar little change purse filled with various earrings and a few little bracelets or necklaces that make me feel like me and show my style. I end up collecting jewelry and rings as I go and trading it out and it always ends up floating around my backpack. It’s okay. It’s fun. But starting out at least a bit organized is better!
- Make-up: I very rarely wear make up while I travel. But, if I want to go out nice, or look good for a video or work zoom, then it’s nice to have. I carry tiny, light versions of all of my regular products. I have a trio bronzer, blush, highlighter. I have 2 mascara (one waterproof, one not), eye brow pencil, liquid eyeliner pen, smudge eyeliner pen, little eye shadow pallet, and little contour pallet. I carry a small assortment of brushes for each of these products. Everything is tiny and fits into a little makeup bags. Since making this video I have ditched the foundation. I change skin tones so often depending on the country, city or village that it was silly to carry. Also, your skin will be great from rarely wearing make up, so it’s just unnecessary I find. If you have a little other products that make you feel good then do that! Maybe a little cover-up pen or something. You do you pretty people!
- Backpack: I personally carry a Tortuga backpack. There are soo many pockets and dividers. I can keep so many things in it without even thinking about it. I have also seen a few travelers replace the backpack with a little carry on suit case, and I have replaced mine with a very small duffle at times. Personally, I think it’s easier to have my backpack. The suitcase will not always be easy because there is mostly uneven ground in the world and trying to drag it all over the place just makes it dirty and ruined. Or, you pick it up and awkwardly try to carry it for a mile down a jagged rock path. Not for me, but works for some people. My little duffle made me look cooler, I can’t lie, but it was always killing my shoulder and always a disorganized mess. Hey, I tried it though. Back to the backpack.
- Side Bag: As much as I would like everything to fit in my backpack, you don’t pack neatly every time you move, and you may tend to expand a bit over time (even with simple things, like snacks for the bus ride, drinks, a sweatshirt you wore on the plane but don’t feel like wearing today). It’s nice to have a little bag that you can hold and have easy access to your phone, passport, money, or sweatshirt in. I go for one with lots of pockets on the inside.
- Roll Up, Reusable Bag: Great for putting things in for the day and walking around so you don’t need to empty your side bag. Also, you can use it for getting fresh fruit or anything else you may buy while out to cook/eat. I work from cafes on my laptop daily, so I put my laptop, charger, water bottle, wallet / whatever else in t while I’m trying to find a place. Think like the big bags you get from free people.
- Optional: Dividers/Packing Cubes: I kind of use these. I prefer a bag with lots of pockets then adding in lots of other bags. I put my electronics in one
- Optional: Adventure bag: I have a very very light backpack that I carry to put my camera and water bottle in while I hike.
- Optional: Fanny Pack/Purse: I use a fanny pack as my purse everyday. It’s not a money belt or anything wild, suggesting I think someone is going to steal from me, I just wear it like a cross body because it’s my style and I can also tighten it when I run so I don’t need an arm band or anything additional.
I literally love electronics. I travel with most of these things. I know people who travel with only their phone. Live your truth. This is where all of my extra space / weight goes.
- Phone with a good camera
- Phone charger
- Universal adaptor
- Portable charger
- Laptop charger
- Apple pencil
- Ipad charger
- More adapters
- Nice camera
- Spare batteries
- Battery charger
- 360 camera
- Hard drive
- Flash drive
- SD cards
- SD to iphone cord
- Dive computer
- Tripod: I have a normal sized one I sometimes bring, and a tiny one I prefer that just holds my phone and then I perch it onto something. It has a remote control.
- Ring light
- Spare phone: (I don’t travel with a spare phone. If I ever lost mine I would fly to some place with an apple store and get another. I’ve had to do this for my mom… twice. Lol.) (also, I carry my laptop, so I basically have another, giant phone.)
- Portable Wifi: I do not have one and I just buy SIMs and hotspot from my phone if the wifi is bad, but I could definitely see the benefits of traveling with one.
- Any cords to make your electronics fit together (adapters)
- HDMI Cord: Honestly I do not travel with one and always forget to get one and then always wish I had one. Kind of a crazy thing to travel with, but would definetly have its benefits.
- Nintendo Switch: I do not game, but I’ve seen people go crazy for the guy with the switch. Could be cool if you’re into that.
Wallet Stuff:I have a personal wallet and then a larger wallet bag.
- Personal wallet:
- Credit Card
- Debit Card: I try to get a debit card that refunds bank fees and at a MINIMUM doesn’t charge international withdraw fees.
- I have two travel credit cards: My business I run through united and I love the card. If you want it please use this link and we’ll both get lots of fun bonus miles (actually enough for a flight.) I also have the Bank of America travel credit card. It’s fine but I got it when I was 18 and there are better options now I believe, but do what you feel.
- Wallet bag: This I carry in my backpack and only take out when necessary.
- Vaccine Card (Covid)
- Yellow Book Vaccine Passport (not covid. This is for countries that require specific vaccines to enter.)
- You receive one at the vaccine clinic when you are getting specific vaccines.
- Global Entry Card
- Padi Certification Card (for scuba diving)
- SIM Card Pin to open sim card tray and mini plastic bag to hold sim cards if you need to change them (a paper clip can work in lieu of a pin sometimes, but having the little pin is so much easier)
- Spare Cash: (About $100 USD for emergencies. Better in small bills incase a taxi can’t find an ATM and you have to pay. If you hand them $100 American for a $3 ride they’ll say they don’t have change.)
- Spare Debit Cards
- Spare Credit Card
- Old I.D. just incase I lose mine
- Little Pouch for random money: I like collecting one bill from each country I travel to
- I also hold my plane tickets or whatever docs while I’m physically traveling, like in transit
- Other important documents
- You can have a few passport copies through your bag if you want. I’ve never needed them, but it’s a smart thing to have.
- Laundry Bag: I travel with two. Sometimes wet and dry, sometimes to give one away, idk, they’re tiny so I like having an extra incase. Though, everything I own can fit into one.
- Roll Up, Quick Dry, Microfiber Towel: Mine is lulu lemon. Most places you can get a towel, but if you’re in the middle of no where on a random camping trip, that’ll be on you. Also, a lot of hostels will let you rent one. It saves money and the energy of having to go back and get one if you already have your own. Also, you can use it as a little blanket if ever necessary, or a yoga towel.
- Deck of Cards: I usually have a regular deck and a deck to play wizard. It’s super fun, different, and people can quickly learn and join in around the hostel or coffee shop table you’re at.
- Lock: For lockers. You can also carry a metal tie thing to strap it places and lock it. I have one but have never used it. I’m very trusting. (Sometimes to a fault, but knock on wood, in hostels it has never done me wrong.) (Hostel people are cool.)
- Head lamp / forehead light: I go for a waterproof one. Also great for lighting your face up for photos.
- Flashlight: I carry this if I will also be going diving.
- Spare screen protectors for your phone. You’ll prob break yours.
- Little reusable plastic bag filled with items that make me smile. It’s been over three years and all of my little things are not even close to filling this little bag. I like to save very small things from really good times. I’m more of a photo memory person than an items person, so this is plenty for me.
- Reusable water bottle: I used to carry one. Now, I just get a single plastic water bottle when I enter a country and reuse/refill it for up to multiple months. This is easier for me because it takes up less space when you have to compile everything for a flight and you can toss it if you need to.
- Water bottle with filter or life straw: I use grayl. You can literally filter a dirty lake and drink it if you ever needed to. I’ve had friends that have filtered pool water to drink it. Personally, I find that horrifying, but they were fine. More power to ‘em.
- Plastic Bag: I just have a grocery bag for wet clothes.
- Notebook and Pens: Writing and drawing is nice sometimes, especially on long bus rides or your first night at a new hostel.
- Hobby stuff: I give stick and poke tattoos, so I carry that stuff. If you have a fun, compact-able hobby, bring it along! People love it. If not, no worries! Your presence is present enough.
- Under water phone case
- Body jewelry/chains/glitter if you may festival hop. These tiny items quickly jazz up an outfit.
- Bar of chocolate or favorite food to feel comforted/happy if you’re sad.
- Mixed nuts, pretzels, or food to eat when you just really need something.
- Hydration Packs: I use liquid IV because my mom got them for me, but honestly idk if they’re the best for you, they’re kind of high waste, and not the most room-effective. Sometimes I take a big thing of hydro powder and just pour it into a ziplock and then ration it out myself. Just make sure you use a nice ziplock so it doesn’t rip and get everywhere - yikes.
- Mask and Snorkel: You can typically rent one wherever you go. But if you have a nice one, it can be nice to have your own.
- Roll your clothing
- Group like-items together: Clothes, electronics, etc.
- Organization is key
- Bags that open the wide way make it easier to find things, rather than having to rummage through everything from the small top down.
- Think like the way an Altoids container opens. (Opposite of how a CoPilot tin opens. This is because Co-Pilot was designed not to spill on busses.)
- Put a bag tag on your backpack. A phone number, instagram, address, name, and anything else that could help your bag get back if anything ever went wrong.
There are a trillion navigation and travel apps out there. People will tell you that you will basically die without certain ones. You’ll probably live. Here are a few that I find key. I don’t use many others than Google Maps for navigating, honestly. I’m also big on just asking for directions and help.
- Google Maps: Great in most places (maybe not for exactly correct directions/hours, but to get you around where you’re going generally). Also good for zooming in and trying to find a place to stay if there’s nothing on hostel world or booking.
- Hostel World: Not every place is on hostel world, but when they are, it makes finding a spot to sleep soooo much easier.
- Booking.com: They’re pretty good I have found.
- Uber: Good in a lot of places. Some countries have their own version, like Gojek or Grab in Bali, so then you’ll use that. Other places you just hail a cab or get a moto taxi that's driving by. No apps there.
- Whatsapp: How everyone communicates.
- Instagram: If you’re not a photo person, that’s okay! But everyone stays connected through insta and checks on where people are around the world. If you see someone you met two years ago is randomly in the same country as you again, it's super cool to be able to go meet up for a drink and catch up. You can always make an account strictly for travel friends. You don’t even have to post!
- But do us all a favor and post one photo of your face, and make your first name somewhere on your account. Even if the account is private and you can't see your photo until you accept the person. The reason being, we meet a lot of travelers and it’s nice to be able to see a face and name to remember the person when you get a message that someone you haven't seen in two years is in your area.
- PayPal: Good for paying back friends and paying some businesses. Also, if your debt cards and everything get lost them you can transfer money to other people and have them take it out of the ATM for you. (I love venmo, but venmo is only in the states, so with literally anyone other than American’s, it’s a no.) (PayPal, in my experience, is the most widely used by everyone. More common than CashApp as well.)
- Laundry Detergent: People live wherever you’re going! Remember that. You can either buy a small laundry detergent if you need, or usually the hostel or hotel can provide you with some.
- Lots of places have people you can just bring your clothes to and then the next day you go back and get everything back, all washed and folded. It's usually pretty cheap.
- 15 Spare Phone and Other Cables: One or two phone chargers is fine. If you break one, you can always find another. I have made the mistake of having a million extra wires that you never use and just always end up tangled. Unnecessary.
- “Maybe’s” for clothing. If it’s not a yes, it’s a no. Only pack what you will wear and what makes you comfortable.
This is my list! It may seem a bit daunting, but it’s just what works for me, and what I've acquired throughout the years. Make it your own!
Everything here fits in a carry-on sized backpack. And my backpack, the linked Tortuga, is actually smaller than most travelers' backpacks.
You will shed and gain items, learn what you like and don’t, and realize what items are non-negotiables for you. That’s part of the fun! No stress. Packing is cool and its own adventure. Once again, remember: you can always get stuff there. Ain’t no thing!