Travel Packing Tips: How and What to Pack

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How and What to Pack for Travel

Now, I’m actually not a big fan of packing lists. We’re all different and so we all travel differently, wearing and using different things. And, keep in mind that factors such as climate, culture, season and the actual type of travel you’re planning (hiking? Camping? Road trip?), will all affect the exact content of your travel bags.

However, I thought having at least some idea of what to cram into your back pack, and guidance on just how to do so, could also be useful! For a long list of articles on this subject, click here!


Travel as a key to the simple life

Ever dream of the simple life? Well, travelling is a superbly effective way of learning how to live it. If you want to take a step back from material living and live in a more basic, minimalist way, going travelling is a perfect starting point.

How come? Well, with travel, there’s really no other choice. With just a backpack and (maybe) a carryon/day bag, there’s literally no way of taking a lot of stuff. Try as you might, it simply won’t all fit.

And, when you realise that it’s you who’ll have to lug everything around for however many weeks, you’ll see the incentive to pack light! There’s nothing quite like dragging around a beast of a backpack to sap the enjoyment from a day’s travelling. It’s miserable. Hopefully this fact will help you pack lightly!

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With such limited space you’re forced to prioritise. You have to focus on the essentials and sacrifice some luxuries. For a first time traveller this can be especially difficult as many things seem essential before a trip. In reality, they aren’t.

Those spare jeans and fancy shoes for potential nights out; that extra towel for the beach; additional pairs of underwear or socks etc, are all tempting additions that should be left at home.

When you pack, try to avoid a ‘just in case’ or ‘what if?’ attitude. The nature of travel means all manner of potentialities can happen on the road. It’s impossible to prepare fully for all of them. However, it’s almost always possible to deal with them when you’re there.

Without past experience, it is really tough for a first time traveller to have the confidence to know you’re capable of dealing with everything travel can throw at you.

 Pack light! Travelling is far more enjoyable when you aren't weighed down by your backpack!

Pack light! Travelling is far more enjoyable when you aren't weighed down by your backpack!

As a result, it’s tempting to try and prepare and plan for every eventuality in our packing. I can almost promise that you’ll surprise yourself with how simple it is to adjust and manage surprises on the road. Don’t have the right stuff? Buy it out there. It’ll usually be cheaper and better suited to the culture and environment anyway!

By the end of your first adventure you’ll be a pro.

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It’s almost guaranteed that you’ll take more than you actually need on your first trip. As drastically light as you think you’ve packed, you can probably cull further!

Clothes will go unworn, books will be unread and bits of kit will be unused or used infrequently. It’s all to be expected and absolutely just part of learning your personal travel style.

So long as you’re not too attached to it all, it doesn’t really matter if you have too much stuff. If you find that you’ve over packed, no big deal. Simply shed and sell anything you don’t need. Donate clothes to charity shops, leave books in second hand stores or in hostel book shelves, sell or give your excess kit to travellers and friends you meet on the road etc etc.

I’d advocate starting the practice of living simply before you actually take your trip. Remember, travel is a lifestyle as much as something to just do. Weeks and months before you go, start getting used to living with less. Throw away things you don’t need.

Old school books laying around just in case you need them in future? Chuck ‘em. Clothes which are too small or too big that you’re never going to wear? Donate ‘em. Whatever it is, try to get used to having less stuff. It’ll make travelling feel like a breeze when you have no other choice but to live simply.

And, honestly, there’s something amazingly cleansing about this process. There’s an oppressive quality to having so much stuff. As you acquire new things you come to be owned by them, rather than the other way around.

Living with less puts you in control. Own only what you need and life becomes infinitely more straight forward.

Again, a lot of this comes down to mindset. And, like I said at the beginning, through constraints of space and strength there’s no better way of generating a minimalist mindset than travelling.

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Having covered all of the above, let’s get to the actual packing list.

Now, I’m pretty useless at practicing what I preach when it comes to packing. On my last trip I filled a 60L backpack and only used about half of what I took. Actually, I tell a lie. I did use it all, but only because I was determined not to not use it. I broke my own rule and packed with a ‘just in case’ mindset. We live and learn though! Next time, I’ll pack more effectively.

Disclaimers aside, here’s what I’d count as the general essentials for any trip:

Full Packing List

1 x Large Backpack (with waterproof cover preferably)

1 x Smaller day bag (useful as a carry on for flights and for short day trips)

1 x Laundry bag/ plastic bag (useful for dirty/wet clothes)

1 x Good pair of shoes/trainers suitable for walking

1 x Flip flops/ sandals

3-4 x Underwear and socks (some people take as few as 2 pairs! Wear one, wash one...)

3 x T-shirts (functional over stylish!)

1 x Shorts

1 x Swim shorts

1 x Walking trousers

1 x Hat (for sun protection)

1 x Pair of sunglasses

1 x Something warm (such as a fleece or hoody)

1 x Raincoat (depending on where you’re going and season)

Toiletries in a bag (toothbrush, toothpaste, bar of soap, travel shampoo)

Travel towel

Travel clothes wash (for hand washing clothes)

A good camera (I prefer point-and-shoot to huge DSLRs) 

A mini first-aid kit (plasters, allergy tablets, painkillers...)

Miscellaneous & non-essential (pad lock, money belt, head torch/torch, hand sanitiser...)

Water bottle (only in places with drinkable tap water- saves buying plastic bottles and it’s better for the environment!)

...And that’s it! That would be my bare bones packing list. I’m sure for some people that’ll seem like loads and for others it’ll seem like nothing at all! But, I think it covers nearly everything you actually need. And, that’s exactly what’s important when you’re packing.

For more great packing tips, check out these links to other blogs and articles on this subject!