The difficulty of what to pack seems to grow exponentially with the amount of thought and preparation you put into your decisions. There is a seemingly endless amount of things to consider, from the climate, to how long you’ll be travelling for, to the luggage you’ll be using, to what activities you plan on doing. It’s enough to give even seasoned travellers a headache. AJ and I spent months reading articles and blogs and crafting and honing our packing list so, to try and help you save some time, I’ve laid out the different factors we considered when deciding what pack, and the final packing list itself. I plan to do detailed reviews of the equipment and clothes that I use throughout my trip to hopefully give some insight into what I’ve found useful and what I would avoid in the future.
How Long Will You Be Travelling For?
“The longer you’re away for, the more you have to pack.”
Well yes…and also no. If you’re going to be travelling for an extensive period of time, you need to be smart about what you pack in order to get maximum use out of the minimum amount of things. This means only bringing items that you will definitely use, multiple times. For example, AJ and I did the Inca Trail, so for months we had sleeping bags on our packing list because we knew we would definitely use them. However, we eventually realised that we would only use them once and ultimately after that they would be more of a hindrance than a help. So we took them off the list and rented them instead. However we did buy and bring hiking poles with us because we are planning on doing quite a lot of hiking around South America and they will get multiple uses.
Remember that you can buy toiletries while you’re away (plus it can be fun to try out brands you’ve never heard of before), so don’t bother with giant bottles of shampoo, conditioner and shower gel. In fact for travelling I would highly recommend packing solid shampoo, conditioner and body wash – they are lighter, last a long time and take up way less space. Another toiletry hack that I think is a must for female travellers is reusable menstrual pads or cups; you don’t have to worry about trying to find sanitary products when you run out, and you can leave a menstrual cup in for hours without worrying about toxic shock syndrome so it’s a lot safer if you end up stuck somewhere with no toilet facilities for a long time.
For clothes, again you need to make sure you’re packing clothes that you will definitely wear – there shouldn’t be anything that you’ve packed “just in case” as 99% of the time they do not get worn and are a waste of space. You need clothes that all work together in every combination – pick a colour scheme and stick to it. Everything I’ve packed is either black, blue, green or purple. I have a very pretty light infinity scarf in grey that I chose to stand out from the other colours but still compliment them.
For those of you planning on travelling for a long time there are basically two choices: either you pack a selection of cheap clothes that you plan on replacing along the way, or you pack a selection of clothes that are more expensive but which will last. AJ and I decided on the latter. This was down to a number of factors: we plan on being quite active, we’ll be dealing with a mixture of climates, and we needed clothes that could deal with being squashed up and tossed about in a rucksack and not be creased beyond belief. We therefore decided that merino clothing would be the best material for our tops and underwear – it’s antibacterial, odour resistant, breathable, wicks away sweat, lightweight and thin, but when layered up is warm. You can also get very pretty clothing that is suited for travelling but doesn’t look like Indiana Jones style travelling clothes that so many tourists end up wearing.
“But merino clothes are so expensive!” I hear you say. Let me tell you about one of the best websites I know of for buying travel and outdoor gear – Sport Pursuit. They do flash sales every week and have huge discounts on major brands; just subscribe to their newsletter to hear about their weekly deals. AJ and I managed to save over £400 on the clothing we bought.
[SIDE RANT: Okay, does anyone else get absolutely fed up with how limited clothing and equipment is for female travellers? And by this, I’m talking about colour availability. I’m not a fan of pink. At all. I love purple, but it gets to a point where you look a bit ridiculous because EVERYTHING you’re wearing is purple. Or grey. Or blue. That’s about it when it comes to the women’s section – a sea of pinks, purples, greys and blues. PLUS, most of what you get is essentially a worse version of what men have, but at nearly double the cost. I’ve been dazzled walking into the mens’ section from the womens’; the sheer amount of colours there is amazing! It is getting better, mainly with clothing, but there’s still a lot that can be done, especially with the equipment available. Plus a lot of the time, the mens’ stuff fits me better anyway – I don’t appreciate t-shirts that come in tights around my waist and under my armpits. I would kill for unisex travel clothing in every colour possible! END OF SIDE RANT]
What Will The Weather Be Like?
The choice of what clothes to pack is affected by numerous factors, including weather. If you know you’ll be dealing with consistently hot/cold weather, it reduces the number of decisions you have to make. However if you’ll be dealing with a variety of climates, then you need to be even more careful with what you pack. The best approach is to buy clothes that you can layer; rather than having two tank tops, two heavy jumpers and a heavy coat, pack a mixture of tank tops, t-shirts, lightweight long-sleeved tops, and lightweight warm jumpers. These can be warn individually or in any combination of layers depending on how cold it gets. Having more lightweight t-shirts and long sleeved tops means you’ll only need one jumper, and then a heavy coat won’t be necessary and you can just pack a lightweight raincoat instead which will pack down much smaller.
Remember to pack appropriate equipment for the weather as well – suncream (again remember you can always buy more!), sunglasses, a scarf, a hat/cap, and type of shoes are all dependent on the weather.
What Will You Be Doing? Where Will You Be?
Is there any specific activity that you’ll be doing? Is there anything in the environment that you need to be prepared for? Again these factors will affect the clothes that you pack, and they can also have an impact on the equipment that you bring.
- Will you need a backpack/hydration pack/headtorch for hiking?
- Will you be in an environment with lots of insects? Are malaria or other diseases a problem?
- Will you be doing a lot of travelling overnight and therefore trying to sleep on buses/trains/other means of transportation? Are you staying in hostel dorms or a private room?
- Will you have access to laundry facilities or will you need to wash your clothes by hand?
- Will you be spending a lot of time on the beach/by a pool?
- Are the plug sockets and voltage the same as in your home country?
It’s important to take time to do research into the countries you will be travelling to and make sure you’re prepared for whatever is thrown at you.
Writing the Packing List
The process of writing a packing list generally goes as follows:
- Go away and do research into the climate, environment, available activities, means of transportation, electricity, and available accommodation for where you will travel to.
- Write down the absolute necessary basics of what you need to bring (e.g. clothes, adaptor, money, passport, toiletries, etc…) and then write out detailed lists for each category.
- Write down everything you think you will need to bring with you.
- Get rid of at least a third of the things on that list.
- Rewrite the list. Examine every item on the list and ask yourself, “Will I definitely use it? Will I definitely use it more than once?” If the answer is yes, it can stay on the list. If the answer is no, get rid of it.
- Buy the items on your list.
- Do a practice pack. Does everything fit? Are you happy with how it fits? Pick up your rucksack/suitcase. Are you happy with the weight? Even if you had to carry it around for several hours? No? Then something has to go – look back over everything you’ve packed. Yes? Great, you’re done and your packing list is now finalised!
Our packing list was broken down into a number of categories (because I like writing lists), but for the sake of simplicity I’ve included only two lists here, clothes and equipment.
- 1 x walking trousers
- 1 x jeans
- 1 x convertible skirt (Patagonia in black, I love it!)
- 2 x shorts
- 1 x 3/4 length trousers
- 3 x tank tops
- 3 x t-shirts (1 base layer, 1 sporty, 1 nice)
- 3 x long sleeved tops (1 base layer, 1 sporty, 1 nice)
- 2 x floaty blouses
- 1 x shirt
- 1 x thin jumper
- 1 x zip up top
- 1 x fleece jumper
- 3 x ankle socks
- 3 x 1000 mile hiking socks
- 5 x underwear
- 3 x bras (2 sports bras, 1 regular)
- 3 x swim wear
- 1 x hiking shoes
- 1 x Go Walk shoes (highly recommend for an everyday shoe)
- 1 x flip flops
- 1 x sleeper scarf (amazing investment, I absolutely adore it)
- 1 x buff scarf
- 1 x floaty infinity scarf for dressing up outfits
- 1 x hat
In terms of jewellery: given that I already have pretty bad tan lines from my rings and watch living in mainly sunless UK, I’ll be leaving the majority of my jewellery at home. The only piece I’ll be wearing is my El Camino bracelet – AJ and I got one for each other for our anniversary this year – it’s beautiful and a wonderful token of our travels.
- Walking Poles
- Portable Charger
- Toiletries (If anyone really wants the full list of toiletries we brought please ask)
- Card games
- First aid kit
- Bag locks and padlocks
- Water bladder
- Travel Towel
- Head torch
- Eye mask and ear plugs
- Mobile phone – cheap nokias that will survive pretty much anything, buy local SIM cards
- 2 x dry bags
- 2 x compression sack
- 1 x packing cube to use as a laundry bag
- 1 x set of GoTubbs
- 1 x electric travel toothbrush
- 1 x packet of laundry sheets
- Strong ziplock bags of various sizes
- Plug adaptors
Fully packed, my backpack came in between 16 and 17kg, which is a bit heavier than I had wanted, but is still a manageable weight for carrying around and handling the bag. The practice pack was an extremely useful exercise – it was after that that we finally realised that the sleeping bags were going to be a massive hindrance, and we were able to figure out the best ways to pack our clothes and shoes and other bits and pieces.
Remember, when it comes to packing, do your research, pack smart, and make every item count.