Everyone has different needs and requirements when deciding what to pack for travelling.
The aim of this post is to try and give you an insight into our experiences with the things we found invaluable during our adventure.
It is by no means an exhaustive list, just an insight into what we bought to take with us and how we now feel about that purchase 8 months into our journey.
We originally posted this blog prior to leaving on our great adventure. Completing hours of online research on what we would need and what we should take.
We have been travelling for a while. And have written this page based on our experiences.
So, the million dollar question, what to pack for travelling on a backpacking trip across the world?
The correct answer to that question is whatever you want.
However, the drawback is, what you take, you must carry. Consequently, other people’s informed views are important.
After all of our research, we thought that we had a good idea of what we would require. To an extent we did, but we still got some things wrong.
For instance, disagreements occurred over items we wanted to take. Resulting in a huge slice of humble pie for one of us later in the adventure. Most importantly the item in question proved to be invaluable. Then again, we sent a parcel home containing the things we hadn’t used at all in the first 2 months.
Our 12 month adventure across the globe has mainly been completed overland. Wherever possible utilising public transport, without flying. Travelling this way and for this length of time has definitely resulted in us having some different requirements to someone who is just travelling through South East Asia for example.
The type and size of bags we wanted was our first major decision. Clearly suitcases weren’t a good idea, so the choice was really between backpacks or travel packs.
What’s the difference between a backpack and a travel pack?
The main difference is that a travel pack has a zip around the outside, like a suitcase. This makes packing, unpacking and finding things far easier. They also come with internal pockets and compression straps. Carried in the same way as a backpack and generally come with additional carry handles.
Traditional backpack are usually loaded from the top only. Making finding things more difficult. It will generally have more straps and clips, to hang kit off, on the outside.
After trying out many different manufacturers, styles, and sizes we both went for Osprey travel packs, Guy getting a Farpoint 70, which comes complete with a detachable day pack and Tania getting a Fairview 40.
Both come with a lifetime guarantee. Osprey will repair any damage or defect for any reason free of charge. If they are unable to perform a functional repair, they will happily replace it. Hopefully, something that we won’t need to use.
Don’t forget to get rain covers for the backpacks. You may not be walking around in the rain, but at some time the backpacks will end up on the roof rack of a vehicle. When they do, you can guarantee it will be wet.
When we were in Georgia, our backpacks had to go on the roof rack of the minibus to and from Mestia, which is high in the mountains. Although it didn’t rain during the journey, we went through clouds and mist. Without the rain covers, this would have made all of our gear wet and that was with the driver throwing a tarpaulin over it.
Oh and another thing. Clip your backpacks to the roof rack yourself. We trusted one driver to do it, saw him tie them on and still watched one of them bounce off the bonnet into the road in front of us, when the vehicle stopped quickly. Luckily the backpack stopped when it hit the road and it didn’t roll away. Resulting in no damage.
We are both more than happy with our travel packs, as they are practical, durable and comfortable to wear.
Bags sorted, next on the agenda for what to pack for travelling was packing cubes. The cubes have been invaluable throughout our journey, as we are both tidy and organised people. They make packing and unpacking a very simple task. Keeping all of our clothes together, one cube for tops, one for bottoms etc.
The only problem we have experienced with the Gonex packing cubes we bought, is the mesh panels in the cube lids. These have started to tear, so our future cube purchase will be without any mesh. These have been so good that we will use them for all travel packing now, even in a suitcase.
The clothing that you take is something that only you can decide. Only you know your itinerary. Again, we made some mistakes here, but soon sorted it out.
With our journey starting in Europe at the end of August, we were following summer as we travelled east. So shorts and t-shirts were great.
As we got to Kazakhstan in late October, it was getting cold, so much so it even snowed. Requiring warmer clothes, that take up space and add weight. So think carefully where you are going and what to pack for travelling in terms of the clothes you actually require. Most countries are quite casual in the way they dress when going out to eat. So you don’t need that special outfit for dinner.
One thing we have found. Tops made up of anything less than 100% polyester bobble from rubbing on the backpack. Throughout Asia, cheap polyester tops are available in all the markets, so don’t overpack. Wear one, wash one and a spare is our philosophy now.
Quick dry underwear is a must, in our opinion. Simply so you can wash it before bed and it’s dry in the morning, either to wear again or pack.
We took concentrated washing liquid with us, we didn’t need to. We using the soap or shampoo at the accommodation was just as effective. Alternatively, we purchased individual washing powder sachets from local shops.
Washing line & washing
Guy packed a 5m roll of plastic coated string and 5 plastic pegs to use as a washing line. They’ve been absolutely brilliant. We have had to use the accommodations hairdryer on occasion, to finish off drying some things.
On countless occasions, the pegs have been used. Being used more for other things, than pegging out the washing. Such as when we used them on a leaky shower head, to stop it spraying all over the bathroom.
Laundry can be done cheaply, when in Asia. We have always tried to do it ourselves.
The footwear we took covered all eventualities. Flip flops for the hot countries. Also used in shower rooms. This prevents slipping on the tiled floors. However, make sure they are made of plastic. This prevents slipping on the tiled floors.
Tania’s Merrell’s are still going strong. However, Guy’s Hi-Tec sandals expired after 7 months. The sole splitting and coming apart, proving that Merrell, whilst being more expensive, is definitely a more robust sandal.
For the more adventurous walks and the colder weather, Guy uses a pair of HiTec walking boots. He also wears them travelling between destinations, as it’s easier than carrying them. Tania has a pair of Regatta walking trainers. Both are still going strong.
Travel towels come in all shapes and sizes now, making the choice of what to pack for travelling far easier. We have a bath sheet (160×80 cm) sized microfiber towel each, made by Dock & Bay. They fold down to a small size, dry really quickly, meaning no wet gear inside the backpacks. Ours doubles up as beach towels and even blankets when needs must. You have to relearn how to dry yourself with microfiber towels, dabbing and patting, rather than rubbing. Once mastered, they are brilliant, hard wearing, multiple purpose towels.
What to pack for travelling to ensure the security of our belongings was always a concern. We invested in a money belt, the trouser belt type, which Guy wears on a day to day basis. However, he has yet to use the secret zip to conceal money.
An under clothing money belt was a gift for Tania. She has used it as a bum bag holder for her phone.
Guy also went to great trouble to find a holster style under clothing pouch, which has yet to be used.
Combination travel padlocks were our choice of locks for our backpacks. The theory being, no key to lose. A great theory in principle.
Five months into our travels and both backpacks now have conventional key type padlocks.
So, what went wrong with our theory?
When the locks were taken off the backpacks and left on the bedside table. They were knocked or moved resulting in the combination accidentally changing. Rendering them useless. Partly our own fault we know. Arriving at your accommodation, after an epic, near death bus experience. The last thing on your mind is to snap the lock shut when opening your backpack.
In short, when it comes to what to pack for travelling security. Use common sense, don’t flash the cash, wear expensive jewellery, keep your wits about you and don’t go into the unsavoury parts of town.
On the start of our adventure, we had a water bottle each. Now we only use one metal 0.5L insulated bottle between us. Water is available everywhere that most travellers go, unless you are going to really remote areas. Filtered water filling stations are popping up everywhere. These are a good alternative to single use plastic bottles.
Travel cups are essential when it comes to what to pack for travelling, especially on trains through the “Stans”. Each train carriage has a samovar, a water boiler for hot water, allowing you to make tea, coffee and even pot noodles throughout your journey.
It is also advisable to take a knife, fork, and spoon set. Ours are from Poundland, yes Poundland. A simple set that slides together for easy storage, again perfect for preparing and eating meals on those long train journeys. You don’t want to be that person trying to eat your food with an improvised paper spoon.
Guy received a gift of a Gerber multi-tool. It has become an essential item on our what to pack for travelling list. Used for loads of little jobs, usually to do with leaky showers or unclogging shower traps so the bathroom stops flooding.
A first aid kit of some kind is essential on everybody’s what to pack for travelling list. We definitely went overboard with our first aid kit. Better to be safe than sorry. We prepared ourselves for most situations.
Throughout Asia, pharmacies sell everything you need, like 1 single plaster or a couple of paracetamol tablets.
In our opinion, it is still a good idea to have the basics with you, such as plasters, painkillers etc. When you’re in need of that plaster, you can guarantee that the pharmacy won’t be near, or it will be closed.
We have found that plasters have a variety of other uses as wel. Such as covering a hole in the accommodations mosquito net, or blocking out that bright LED light on the AC unit, that lights the room up like seafront illuminations at night.
We must be quite lucky. Apart from plasters, the only other items from our first aid kit that we used in our first 8 months away, are the savlon, an antiseptic cream, to treat some grazes and a minor burn, from a hot saucepan. Imodium tablets, anti-diarrhoea treatment, which, strangely, weren’t required during our 12 weeks in India. Instead they had to be used in European countries. Lastly, antihistamine cream, for the countless mosquito and midge bites.
A good insect repellent is recommended to be added to all what to pack for travelling lists. We use Pyramid Trek 100 mosquito repellent, which contains 97% DEET. The only downside to all repellent is the greasy film left on your skin once it has been applied, but it seems to work, for us at least.
We also purchased a Mountain Warehouse compact double treated hanging mosquito net and Lifesystems hanging kit. This was in an effort to reduce mosquito and bug bites at night.
A good idea, but it didn’t work in practice. Some of the accommodation we stayed at had mosquito nets already, although they did have holes in them! All accommodation in Asia comes with either a ceiling fan or AC and a ceiling fan. With the ceiling fan being above the bed, there is no way of hanging the net, so it covers the bed and doesn’t get caught up in the fan. Out of the options of being boiling hot all night or getting a couple of bites, the bites won each time. So in our honest opinion, we wasted our time bringing the net and hanging kit, as so far, neither have been used.
Being more mature travellers came with some additional issues we had to address, such as medication.
Our doctor couldn’t provide us with sufficient medication for the proposed 12 months of our adventure. This meant we would have to source it during our travels, a somewhat scary thought.
We were always concerned about being able to purchase genuine medication in foreign countries, we believe that we have.
With our supplies running low whilst we were in India, our solution was to go to the pharmacy at the local hospital. Whilst they wouldn’t provide us with our medication directly, they told us the reputable pharmacy at which we could get it. That’s exactly what we did.
Throughout Asian countries, it is rare for bathroom basins to have a plug. For that reason, we took a universal sink plug with us. The plug was used extensively, whilst Guy shaved or while washing clothes in the wash hand basin. That is until we lost it! Trying to find a replacement while away was virtually impossible, so we just managed without it. Would we put it on our what to pack for travelling list? The honest answer, no we wouldn’t, it is a nice to have, but not essential.
Toiletries for the adventure were, in our opinion at the time of leaving, a must. We both had our favourites that we had to take! 8 months in and we just buy whatever is available.
Your outlook on these things changes as you travel. We aren’t saying that we don’t wash or keep on top of our personal hygiene, but deodorant is deodorant after all.
As Tania has long flowing hair, that requires a lot of shampoo and conditioner, we tried to find a quick fix travel answer as to what to take with us. That came in the form of solid shampoo and conditioner from Lush. Purchased with travel tins, they seemed to be the perfect answer. In reality, despite being told in the shop the bars we had would last 80 washes. They both ran out quite quickly, after only 10! Good products, but it turned out to be an expensive option, one that Tania won’t go with again.
To keep all of our travel toiletries together, we have a Jack Wolfskin hanging toiletries bag. Bought as a clearance item, it has been really good keeping everything together in the backpack, well except for the universal plug. It is usually the last thing packed and the first thing unpacked. We simply hang it on a hook in the bathroom and voila everything is to hand.
Gadgets & gizmos
Gadgets and gizmos are another personal thing. Being more mature, we don’t do much in the way of technology, however, we would recommend a few things.
During those long bus and train journeys, watching a downloaded film helps to pass the time. We do this on Tania’s phone, having a set of earphones each and a splitter so we can watch the film together.
Pretty much the only other electronic devices we have are the travel plug and phone chargers.
Sleeping bag liner
For those overnight journeys on sleeper trains, we got ourselves single cotton sleeping bag liners. We didn’t need to use these on the sleeper trains we took, as bed linen was provided. However, we have used them as sheets, when staying at some accommodation where the bed linen didn’t meet our cleanliness expectations. Therefore, in our opinion, a must on any what to pack for travelling list.
The item you’re all dying to know we had the disagreement about, was, wait for it………. a pillow, yes that’s right, a pillow.
Tania has trouble sleeping unless she has a certain type of pillow. You can imagine Guy’s reaction when she announced that we were going to take one.
The pillow in question is larger than Tania’s backpack, so there were some lengthy discussions regarding it. Common sense kicked in, Tania of course got her way. So the pillow got clipped onto the back of her backpack and came along with us.
Good thing it did really, as it was mega useful on long bus and train journeys. It is a good backup for some of the limp cardboard provided as pillows in some accommodation.
The result of the pillow coming with us meant, Guy, chewing on a large piece of humble pie on more than one occasion.