10 Things to Pack while Backpacking: for Newbies and Seasoned Travelers

About to embark on a backpacking adventure? Whether it’s your first time or maybe your 20th, we’ve all learned a few things long the way and learn something new each time. I’ve traveled to over 40 countries at this point in my life, and have made plenty of mistakes along the way. I view travel as iterative, and I try to improve my experience with each journey. Here’s a list of some of the most helpful things I take with me on the road.

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1) TSA Compliant Lock

A mission critical item (I travel with two of them)! Most hostels will have a place for you to lock up your valuables and generally don’t provide locks. I also like to attach a lock to both my backpack and my suitcase to deter theft and secure my items.

2) Power Bank

Another power player in the bunch (I’ll see myself out). I travel with two, a larger one for travel days/camping/Burning Man, and a smaller one that easily fits into my bumbag/daypack without adding too much weight.

3) S Hooks

I love S hooks while traveling! Need to hang your towel and there’s no hook in your hostel room? Need to keep your clothes dry while you hop in the TINY shower? Want to dry your bathing suit somewhere other than your bunkmate’s topbunk ladder? BAM! Traveling with S hooks takes up almost no space and helps you organize when space is at a premium. I use a small metal one for my shower supplies (see #4) and two larger ones for my towel and coat.

4) Mesh Shower Bag

This bag is a game changer. No longer do I have to carry all my shower stuff down the hall without dropping my towel (see #5 for recommendations). It’s mesh, so it allows everything to dry and I can use the handles to hang it from almost anywhere (or the small S hook mentioned above).

5) Microfiber Towel(s)

No longer do you need to pay an extra 2 Euro to rent a towel! Microfiber towels dry fast and take up hardly any space. I actually travel with two of them, so I always have a clean one handy if I need one for the beach or the other is in my dirty clothes bag (see #8).

6) Toiletries that condense

If you’re traveling for a couple of weeks, travel sized toiletries are perfect. Longer than that? Full size products are more economical and saves you the hassle of frequently having to repurchase. I look for products that condense as I use them, saving space as you go. Here are a couple of examples: shampoo, conditioner

7) TSA Compliant Liquid Bag

As a TSA prechecker, this didn’t come on my radar until I started seriously traveling internationally. I used to use a ziplock bag until I got stuck having to throw away half my liquids in Helsinki. A reusable TSA compliant bag is not only better for the environment, but it’s better at leak prevention and you never have to worry about issues going through security.

8) Laundry Bag

Nothing too ground breaking here, but a mesh one will let your stinky clothes air out and I found this one to be the perfect size for me.

9) Flip Flops

Mission critical. While helpful for the beach, the real bang for your buck comes when you’re putzing around the hostel. Use them to shower, use them when you’re half asleep and have to pee in the middle of the night, use them for lounging around. I recommend some trainers when you’re out exploring, but when kicking it at the hostel or the beach, these are your go-to shoes. I paid a bit of a premium to get Havaiana’s but after 15 years of abuse, they are still in good working order.

10) Clothes Line

This felt a little unnecessary at first, but it quickly earned its place on my top ten list. I tend to do a lot of laundry showers, and always have underwear that needs to dry somewhere. Almost every hostel will have a place where you can hang something to dry, but there isn’t always space and almost never clips to keep smaller items in place. Now, I prefer using my clothes line even if a line exists at the hostel because I can have all my stuff secure, in one place, and it’s easy to transport back to my room when dry. When I don’t have wet clothes, I hang it above my bed (when I’m lucky enough to score a bottom bunk) to help with organization (I can clip things to it)

Optional helpful items:

Travel instant coffee: if your caffeine addiction is anywhere on the same planet as mine, traveling with coffee is a must. I like this brand (you can find it at whole foods or my link) because it doesn’t taste like ass and you can choose between individual packets or a glass jar (I’ve traveled with both). Want to up your game even more? Traveling with a travel mug lets you take coffee anywhere, perfect for early mornings when you have somewhere to be or for hiding your booze.

Packing cubes: Another item that you don’t know what you’re missing until you start using them. It makes finding your stuff a breeze, whether you’re traveling with a huge backpack or a small suitcase. I bought the set here and use the smallest one for my underwear/socks/bras, the medium for PJs, workout/hiking clothes/bathing suits, and the larger one for all my normal clothes. I have the cubes linked above but here is a more budget-friendly option.

Hydration tablets: Whether you’re hiking through the Outback or just simply hung-over, these will help. I generally travel with a couple packs to help keep me running. Here’s another option that I like.

Quality Sunscreen for your face: not always easy to find abroad and you don’t want to end up with something that will make you break out. I’ve gone through countless bottles of this stuff.

A lightweight, easy to cram into a suitcase daypack: This thing isn’t built to last a lifetime, but it’s cheap as hell and super lightweight. I use it on hikes and for roaming around town so I don’t need to carry my water bottle and camera separately. It’s made from a lightweight material, so it’s easy to stuff into your bag without taking up much space for travel days. The inside will start to deteriorate, but it’s surprisingly durable for the price.

Earplugs: these are the most comfortable ones I found after a lot of trial and error. You don’t need 60 pairs, but you will be set for life with this pack. I generally bring five pairs with me so I can replace them every so often. You can store them in a ziplock baggy to keep them clean.

Travel adaptor: crucial for some international travel but also helpful for being able to connect 4 USB ports and still plug in to the wall regardless of where you are.

Waterproof backpack cover: something I rarely use, but am sooooooo happy to have it when I do. My electronics are still functioning because of this guy.

Laminated copy of your passport: actually, any copy of your passport! A photo of your passport on your phone even. Also helpful for not having to dig out your actual passport every time you need to write down your passport number on a form (such as on an airplane).

Travel toothbrush: these little buggers fold up on themselves, making it really easy to pack up


Backpack or suitcase? The fierce debate

I travel with a carry-on suitcase and a small backpack. Most backpackers I meet travel with a medium to large backpack (and some brave souls with only a small backpack). There have been a handful of times I wished I had a backpack, but overall I’m very happy to travel with my little suitcase. I never pack more than I can carry (crucial) and can easily pop my suitcase on my head if it’s difficult terrain (like the 200m of beach necessary to cross before reaching one of my favorite hostels in the Philippines). If I have to walk a long ways, it’s a lot easier on my back to roll the suitcase than to carry a medium to large backpack. Additionally, I save money on flights because I don’t have to check a bag. I know that if I pack my suitcase to the brim, it will never be heavier than 15kg, so there’s no need to worry about Ryanair’s insane baggage policy. Hence, TEAM SUITCASE 🙂


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