What to Pack: The Ultimate Packing List for Backpackers

Let’s be honest, there is a lot of crap written on what to pack for travel. Mostly by travel bloggers trying to make a quick buck by including super fancy and expensive gear you will never use.

No matter how much they say you will need it, trust us you don’t. All you need is a good backpack, a passport and some money.

Ok, and maybe an extra spare of clothes. Don’t want to be smelling like an old bum, do we?

To give you an idea of what else you might need, we included our packing list below. We spent two years figuring out what we consider to be the perfect balance of packing light and having all of the things we need.

However keep in mind that our packing list is not a one-size-fits-all, as every traveler is different and has different needs.

 

Backpack

• Main Bag: I am going to write a post on choosing the best travel backpack and why you should travel light soon. Just know that a 35-45 liter pack is all you need. It’s the perfect size and holds everything below. Plus, it can be taken as a carry-on on budget airlines, and it fits neatly under a bus seat or in overhead bins.

We both have an Osprey Talon 44 and highly recommend it if you are still looking for a good backpack. Not only is the bag ultra light and comfortable, it also has a lifetime warranty on it, which means Osprey will fix any defects for free, no questions asked.

• Daypack: A good daypack should have some back support, but still be malleable enough that it can be rolled up and put into your main backpack whenever you don’t need it. We use a regular JanSport backpack as our daypack.

 

Essential Items

The items below are the essentials and without them you won’t get very far in your trip. Do not forget to pack them.

• Passport: Kind of obvious, but you will be surprised how many people forget to bring their passport with them. Don’t forget to make a color copy of your passport and carry it with you at all times. It comes in handy for random police stops, or in case you lose your passport abroad.

• Visa (if needed): Depending on where you are going and what kind for passport you have, you might need to apply for a tourist visa before your departure. VisaHQ has a pretty cool interactive map that shows you for which country you need a tourist visa according to the passport you have.

• Ticket: It is always a good idea to print out your ticket before heading to the airport. Also, make sure to check-in and print your boarding pass before arriving at the airport if you are flying with a budget airline, so you don’t get charged a hefty fee at the airport.

• Travel Insurance: No matter how long or short your trip, make sure to purchase travel insurance. Most times you don’t need it but what happens if you do? You really don’t want to get stuck with a huge bill and spend the rest of your life paying it off. We recommend World Nomads.

• Debit/Credit Card: Don’t forget to notify your bank that you are traveling abroad so they don’t randomly put a hold on your card and you end up being stuck with no money.

• Cash: It is good practice to have $100-200 in cash somewhere hidden in your backpack. You never know when you will need it.

• International Driver’s License (if needed): If you plan on driving a car or motorcycle abroad, don’t forget to get an international drivers license before your departure. Most countries require one, and if you are caught without one expect to pay a hefty fine.

 

Clothes

Everybody wears different clothes but the list below should give you a good idea of how much clothing to pack. Feel free to change it up to fit your personal style.

• 1 Long Pants: We always carry one pair of long pants with us, even in the tropics. They are nice to have on cold overnight buses and in places where it gets a bit chilly at night. We like jeans but take whatever you feel the most comfortable in.

• 1-2 Shorts / Skirts: If you are going to colder climates maybe take an extra pair of long pants with you instead of shorts.

• 5 T-shirts / Tank Tops: We’ve found that five is a good number of t-shirts and tank tops to have in our backpack.

• 1 Hoodie / Sweater: A hoodie or warm sweater, just like the long pants, comes in handy for those cold overnight buses or chilly nights.

• 1 Long-Sleeve Top: Nice to wear on chillier days and after sunset when the mosquitoes come out looking for blood.

• 1 Comfortable Walking Shoes: Chances are that you will be walking a lot, so make sure to invest in some comfortable and lightweight walking shoes. We prefer running shoes like the ASICS Venture 5. They are very light and breathable, but also have a semi-good grip, which makes them great for the occasional hike.

• 1 Rain Jacket: Please do not pack an umbrella as one gust of wind will send it flying or will break it. Rather invest in a rain jacket. They are easy to roll-up and barely take up any space in your bag. We both have the North Face Venture Rain Jacket and we love it. It’s a great quality jacket that actually keeps you dry, unlike many other rain jackets.

• 1 Flip-Flops: Everyone needs flip-flops!

• 1 Swimwear: Our travels revolve around the warm climate and beaches so of course we pack swimwear. If that’s not the case for you, don’t pack it.

• 5 Underwear & Socks: You do not need 50 pairs of underwear and socks like you have back home. A week’s worth is more than enough.

 

Toiletries

Below is a list of the most basic toiletries used by most on a regular basis. Your own list might be a little bit different. If you are traveling with a carry-on only, keep the 3-1-1 liquids rule in mind when packing your backpack. You can always buy more toiletries abroad.

• Shampoo

• Soap / Shower Gel

• Razor & Shaving Cream

• Toothbrush & Toothpaste

• Contraception (condoms, pill)

• Sanitary Towels / Tampons

Medical Kit

We used to carry a medical kit with us but realized it was unnecessary weight. Plus, we figured if anything serious were to happen to us our little kit wouldn’t save us. So we reduced it to the bare essentials.

• Band-aids

• Bandages

• Antiseptic Wipes

 

Electronics

We are digital nomads so our electronics list is probably longer than it would be if we were just regular backpackers. Our electronics alone are 1/3 of our total packing weight. So think twice before bringing all your gadgets from home.

• Laptop: In our opinion, the 13” Macbook Air is the best travel laptop out there. It is not only very lightweight, but also very powerful, unlike many Windows laptops. If you don’t need that much screen space, check out the 11” Macbook Air instead. Also, don’t forget to buy a good hardshell case for your laptop. If you have a Macbook, I recommend Incase. Though they’re a bit more expensive than the cheap cases from China, they actually protect your laptop’s fall or bang and will not break upon impact.

• Portable Hard Drive: A portable hard drive is a great way to backup all your images and files while traveling. Alternatively, if you trust Google with your data, you can also back things up on the cloud.

• USB Stick: A simple USB stick comes in handy when you need to print something (ex. boarding pass) at a copy shop and you don’t want them to have access to your portable hard drive.

• Unlocked Smartphone: If you want to use local sim cards abroad make sure to bring along an unlocked smartphone. Most carriers will unlock your phone for free if you tell them that you are going abroad.

• Camera: We travel with a Sony RX100. It’s lightweight and has the quality of a low range DSLR, which is perfect for what we need it for. If you are looking for a new camera or thinking about upgrading, check out our post on how to choose the best travel camera.

• Ebook Reader: Carry around a whole library of books without all the extra weight with a Kindle.

 

Miscellaneous

The items below are all the things that didn’t fit into any of the categories above but are still essential to pack.

• Travel Towel: A good travel towel is essential if you plan on staying in hostels or budget hotels, as most times they don’t provide towels. Unlike regular towels, travel towels are lightweight, take up almost no space and are quick drying. A must in everybody’s backpack.

• Earplugs: If you are a light sleeper don’t forget to pack some earplugs for a good night’s sleep.

• Headlamp: Headlamps are one of those things you probably won’t use often but it is nice to have, especially when you are leaving early in the morning and don’t want to wake up your dorm mates or for random, yet very common, power outages. Energizer has some good headlamps for a very low price.

• Universal Plug Adapter: If you are not sure whether you need a plug adapter or not, check out this page for a detailed list of all the plug and socket types used around the world.

• Padlock: Many hostels have lockers but no padlocks, so make sure to bring your own.

• Toilet Paper or Tissues: Don’t ask, just pack it. If you want to know why, check out our post on why backpackers are the unluckiest people on earth.

• Insect Repellent: Insect repellent can be found all over the world, but some places only sell the weak stuff with 15% DEET. If you want an insect repellent with 50% DEET or stronger consider buying it in advance.

• Sunscreen

 

What NOT to Pack

• Travel Pants: Would you wear travel pants when you are at home? No? So why would you wear them when you are abroad?

• Packing Cubes: Packing cubes are an interesting idea but take up too much space and add unnecessary weight.

• Money Belt: Money belts are totally uncomfortable and chances are that the person robbing you knows about them. If you are worried about getting robbed, bring a dummy wallet with you instead.

• Hiking Boots: Unless you are a hiker and plan on hiking a lot, leave those hiking boots at home. Not only are they heavy, they also take up way too much space. Regular walking shoes are more than enough for the occasional hike.

For more tips on what not to pack, check out our anti-packing list.

 

And that’s it. That is everything we own in this world and let me tell you, we have never felt better. The more we travel around the world, the more we realize how little we actually need.

Now that you know what to pack, plan your trip with our detailed budget travel guides to popular destinations like Jamaica, Venice, Guatemala, Vienna and more.

Disclosure: Please note that some of the links above are affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, we earn a small commission if you make a purchase. Affiliate links help pay for this site and keep the content free for you to read. We will never recommend products we do not believe in.

The Author

Ben

Ben is a professional web designer and the man behind the scenes of Road Affair. He has been traveling around the world with his partner in crime, Jazzy, since 2012.

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Comments

    1. Glad we could help Brittany. Don’t forget to pack a warm sweater and a light jacket for Guatemala. It can get chilly once the sun is down.

  1. I so disagree about packing cubes! Without them, my clothes would take up 2x the space. Plus, they double as pillows in a pinch. I bought mine in 2011 and they are still going strong. The only time I don’t use them is if I’m throwing an overnight bag together. Otherwise, I would be lost without them.

    Everything else looks great though. =)

    1. Totally agree, Stephanie!
      This is the first trip I’ve used packing cubes, and I’ll never be without them again. Don’t know how I survived without them all these years.

  2. I have a cheap backpack from Hawk, bought it on sale. My laptop is heavy from Lenovo. My camera is Nikon D5100 also heavy. I have Yugen packing cubes and it helped me to organize my clothes. Believe me, it was a life saver.

  3. This reads like my list, but I noticed that you didn’t address any camping gear. While I do like to stay at hostels, I camp when I can.

    Of course, this adds weight and bulk, but when in warmer climates, you can get away with a hammock/tarp or a small bivy and pad. I was able to get most of your list and camp gear into my 45L/15L Eagle Creek (it has locking zippers!), though the hammock/tarp ended up strapped to the outside of the pack. I was forced to take a Macbook Pro so I could do video editing (Work-cation). That was heavier than my sleeping gear!

    1. We did travel with camping gear in the beginning but that was because we were hitchhiking a lot. Nowadays we stay mostly in hostel/budget hotels so we don’t have the need for camping gear anymore. For some camping gear suggestions check out this post.

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