How to Pack for a Backpacking Trip

Packing for a backpacking trip can be a daunting task, but can be accomplished with a bit of preliminary research.

The pack I use is the REI Women’s Ridgeline 65. It’s small enough to carry on a Ryanair flight, but big enough to store all that I need. It expands as well.

I bring a backpack and never check, so all liquids are less than 3.3 ounces (100 ml). I usually store all toiletries at the top of the bag (easy access for showering) and my journal, alarm clock, and other necessities are stored in the zippered head compartment.

Here is a packing list of everything I bring. And I always have extra space to bring home souvenirs.

Basics:

Passport

Photocopies of passport. You should have a photocopy of your own passport, and swap copies with your travel buddy.

At least one credit card and one debit card. Preferably Capital One, as they have no international transaction fees. And keep them separate, just in case.

Photocopies of all credit and debit cards

card with your bank’s number that you store in your backpack which you can call in the event your credit or debit card is stolen. Have it saved in your email too.

Print-out of all airline tickets. Ryanair, Europe’s biggest budget airline, will charge upwards of 40 pounds if you don’t have a print-out of your ticket.

Emergency contact information. Have a copy in your backpack with emergency contacts (phone number, email, address, allergies, etc.)

 

Clothes (summer list):

(Note- try to make sure it’s all wrinkle-free. But if something does wrinkle, just hang it in the shower as you are showering to steam it.)

1 lightweight jacket

5 shirts

1 pair of jeans

1 pair leggings. To wear under a dress if cold.

Several skirts or dresses

Bathing suit

Underwear

Socks

2 bras. One regular, one sports.

Pajamas. Note, can use cotton shorts for bottoms.

2 pair of cotton shorts. For beach or sleeping.

 

Footwear:

1 pair leather sandals. My everyday walking shoes in summer.

1 pair lightweight tennis shoes. I use Pumas.

1 pair flip flops. For hostel showers or beach. I swear by my super comfortable Reefs.

Wedge espadrilles. (I bring them because they are cute, comfortable and summery for going out, but they admittedly take up a ton of space).

 

Toiletries:

3 travel-size bottles bottles. 3.3 oz  (100 ml) or less with shampoo, conditioner and face wash (buy more if I need it).

Hairbrush

Hair ties

Toothbrush

Travel-size toothpastes.

Advil, Midol

Deodorant

Razor. (with one extra blade).

Tampons. (in plastic Ziploc bag, in case they get wet and to save space).

 

Electronics:

iPhone or iPod Touch, headphones and charger. Even without phone service, you can take great pictures, take notes, listen to music, set an alarm and use wifi. (Tip- there’s almost always free wifi, and air-conditioning, at Starbucks or McDonalds).

Kindle and charger. I’m a bookworm, so this is a must for me. If your Kindle has 3G it is really helpful to be able to use wifi on it, and unlike the iPad there is no charge.

Adapter. The U.K. and Ireland have a different outlet than continental Europe. Buy a universal adapter if you’re traveling to many areas with different outlets.

Camera, Charger and Protective Case. I always bring my small digital camera that takes fantastic pictures, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5. Leica lens, HD video, pocket-sized and 10.1 mega-pixels- best camera I’ve ever owned. I also bought this case and this protective screen.

 32 GB Memory Card. Lots of space for photos and great if I take videos.

 

Miscellaneous:

Journal and lots of pens

Little Moleskine notebook When I am learning a language I use this portable, flexible little notebook to jot down new words.

Nalgene water bottle attached to backpack with carabiner (to save money, fill up water bottle in sinks, fine in Western Europe but not a great idea in certain countries).

Sunglasses in hard case

Small lock for fastening outside of backpack

Pad lock. Often needed for locking belongings at hostel locker.

Small alarm clock

Large Ziploc plastic bags. For wet or dirty clothes.

Small towel

Small pair scissors

Make-up in case. Bobbi Brown tinted moisturizer with spf 15, bronzer, blush brush, concealer, mascara, lip stain, pencil sharpener, tweezers

 

What I don’t bring:

Sheets. Renting  is rare and inexpensive.

Laptop. A large, heavy liability.

Shaving cream. Just shave with conditioner.

Earplugs. Some people love them but I never find use for them.

Sunscreen. I just buy it or borrow it when I get there.

 

Final note:

This is just a guideline which should be tailored to your own trip and your own preferences (i.e.If you’re hiking Patagonia, bring hiking boots!)

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Ashley Fleckenstein

Ashley is an American travel blogger and freelance writer who moved to Paris at 21 and has been traveling the world ever since. She's usually in pursuit of yoga, languages and perfectly ripe cheese and her writing has been featured in National Geographic, Viator and Jetstar Australia.
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7 Comments

  1. Great list. Good place to start for any backpacker. I keep a text file saves with my entire list that I check through before each trip. Always some modifications based on location, weather, etc but good to keep a reference handy so you don’t forget anything. One item I’d add to this list is an unlocked mobile phone. That way when you arrive someplace you are planning to stay a bit you can usually pop into a convenience store and pick up a local prepaid sim card. Especially useful in parts of Asia where the sim cards are really cheap. Since I do a lot of short trips around Europe, you pass through countries here like you do states in the US, I find it easier to have a single good travel sim (there are various ones, I just grabbed one on an EasyJet flight one time) that gives me a low rate anywhere in Europe. If your current mobile is unlocked (or you can get it unlocked) you can use that or just get a cheap unlocked phone someplace, or an old phone you have laying around. I have an old Samsung Galaxy I take so I don’t have to worry about my new HTC X+ and works great as since both are Android, I have all my contacts and accounts synced on both phones. And since its still a decent smartphone I can make use of public hotspots for Skyping, Whatsapp & Google Voice communications. And also research any info I need along my trip. Off subject but Google Voice by the way absolutely amazing for free communication back to the US. People can leave voicemails and sms messages to your GV number and you can check them online, from your email or from your Android App anywhere you are online, all for free. Which reminds me, unless I’ve missed it, a suggestion for a post here could be means of staying in touch aboard and while traveling.

    Reply
    • Thank you for all of this great advice, Jeremy! I definitely need to get my smartphone unlocked, and I’ve heard a lot about Google Voice and DEFINITELY need to just get an account already! Thanks for the idea about the post as well.

  2. Great, great, great list (and love the easy to read format)! I have a bit of an obsession with packing lists and yours sounds flexible, comprehensive, yet very managable. One tip I have to add (for those travelling with a rolling suitcase) is to use the ‘secret’ gaps between the tracks of the telescoping handle to place in extra small, emergency things. When I do use my suitcase as a main bag, I just lift and upzip the lining and stick a deck of cards, a small first aid kit, umbrella/poncho in the gap between the tracks. Since I’m not backpacking I won’t mind the extra weight and this is the perfect spot for the “I really should bring…..” items you want to have on hand for emergencies.

    Reply
  3. I actually have a question. How long are your trips typically? And, the first one may have answered this one, how can you run your website without a laptop?
    From one travel writer to another, I’m just super curious.

    Reply
    • Actually when I wrote this post I had only recently started my site so I didn’t bring my laptop traveling back then, but now that I am more serious about my site I bring it along for longer trips. (A week or less and I leave it home though.) And my trips are all different lengths- I just got done living in France for a year but next up I’m backpacking for five months in Asia. I hope that answers your questions!

  4. Do you bring a hair dryer or straightener? I am not sure if you use them but what do you do for that? And if so, do they work with your adapter?

    Reply
    • Actually I don’t bring either- I find they take up too much room! Though I would bring a curling iron if I were living abroad for an extended period of time. I’ve heard that it can be hard to use certain hot tools in Europe because the voltage is too high for American electronics. Sorry I’m not an expert but I hope this helps! :)

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