Ultimate Travel Packing List

Every good traveler has a packing list

This started off as my own packing list for traveling but because of traveling in so many different environments has become quite a big one. Not everything on the list is essential to everyone, but it's worth thinking about it.

If you travel light, good for you. If you are traveling around the world or if you don't know what to pack or bring then maybe this list can help you out in choosing.

I learned the hard way. The backpack I use, once, at its worst, has weighed in at over 35kg and front back at 12kg. Yes, too heavy. But that was at its worst. Now its just under 20kg and the day pack 8kg (that's for someone who is permanently on the road).

A lot of these items are listed on my own amazon.com travel store. Check it out if you want to get an idea of the prices, or if you want to buy anything mentioned.

Also listed at the bottom of several items are some travel packing tips!

What type of backpack is best for travel?

Without doubt, a zip around backpack. I could never handle a top loader. I have seen backpackers struggle with them for years now. The zip around allows me to open it all the way and, have access to everything in an instant.

It's slightly thicker than the top loaders, and generally not as tall. 80 liters to 120 liters. But if it can carry a maximum of 20KG then it's the right size - that's probably an 80 liter one. Why 20kg? Well firstly:

- Under pack it. You will fill it up with things on the road as you travel.
- Most airlines allow 20kg max, so having your backpack contain 20KG is a smart idea in that case.
- Make sure the backpacks zip is extra thick with a slight plastic coating if possible. It needs to be strong.

Remember that straps and supports are vital. A well designed waist belt moves the weight to your hips, so you don't feel the weight as much. And, it helps your back. A chest belt and well padded shoulder straps will help in dispersing the weight.

Packing Tip: Try to pack with the heavy stuff at the bottom of the pack. And, keep all liquids down there too in case they leak!

Packing Tip 2: Distribute the weight a little. In other words don't put all your heavy stuff on the left hand side. You'll start having back trouble and come off balance easily. Distribute the weight as much as possible.

Putting the bag in storage for a while? Wrap it up in cellophane (shrink wrap) it will stop mould or bacteria getting to the material.

Do I need a day pack?

To carry on or not to carry on? Yes, I say. A day pack is where your camera, gadgets, guidebook, water bottle and snacks live.

If you carry a laptop, try to get a well padded one. Lots of pockets for batteries and the little things you use regularly.

Packing Tip: Always carry some wet towels and/or a mini pocket of tissue paper. Sometimes the need hits at strange times when you travel and there might not be any paper around!

Backpack covers

I never had one until the last few years. They save backpack and luggage a lot of wear and tear. In countries where luggage is stowed on roof tops having rain protection is vital. In dry climates they keep the dust out. Airlines also tend to take their wear and tear out on a bag so a cover helps prolong its life.

Travel Tip: Try and not buy one with logos all over them, it attracts attention. Backpackers attract attention anyway with large backpacks and so on but keeping it all covered helps.

Travel Bag Locks

I opt for key padlocks. I had a bad experience with a combination one before. Two medium locks and several small ones. By medium I mean they should have a loop thin enough for both your main backpack zip loops and a locker in backpacker hostels or for trekking tea houses or indeed to help secure your valuables.

The little locks are for your day pack as a deterrent more than a preventative. Just remember not to over do it. If someone is going to break into your stuff they are going to do it. The day pack locks are just to keep pickpockets out.

Travel Tip: Wearing a day pack on your chest is only good for seriously crammed areas. Again, thieves are pros and I have seen criminals slit a front back with a razor blade. The contents just drop out and the stunned traveler never even notices!

Plastic Sandwich zip-bags

Great for keeping small things water proof and for airlines who requite 100ml liquids to be places in one.

Packing Tip: Buy high quality bags over the cheap one's found in discount stores. They are tougher, and don't rip so easily!

What are the best clothes for traveling

This one depends on how long and where you are traveling. I am sticking with the long-term travel here. 1 light rain jacket or body warmer, 5 long sleeve shirts, 2 long sleeve t-shirts, 5 underwear, 5 socks and 2 trousers, 1 shorts, 1 pair trek or backpacking boots, 1 pair flip flop/sandals and a scarf. It just packs right for me.

Shirts/T-shirts: I used to be a big cotton fan. But after Africa the nylon shirt cannot be beaten. It dry's overnight or in an hour depending. I have found the super cheap ones are great alternatives to expensive "trekking shirts".

There are specialized adventure travel gear stores selling 100 USD type shirts and travel clothing. I have to say that after a few months they seem to pick up a few permanent smells.

The one exception is a polyester/nylon blend. These one's don't seem to acquire permanent smells so easily. At least mine don't!

Trousers/Pants/Combats/Jeans: A pair of light quick dry combats cannot be beaten. Just watch out for the crotch stitching. Too much material there can cause very sore problems if they have not had a wash in while like on a trek or something. So watch out!

And, yes I have a pair of thin baggy jeans. Many people say denim takes too long to dry, but then denim isn't always a pair of Levi's. Have a look for the thinner types. They are great for nights out and for colder weather.

Rain Jacket: A light weight rain jacket is great. Try to find one that wraps into a small sack. In my own experience there's not much need for a super expensive one. After exposure to heat, packing, stuffing, pulling and rain means they don't last long. But if possible try to find one with anti rip material.

Trekking Socks: For travel socks I go thick natural and woolly. Even in 40+ degrees. They provide padding and soakage which work well alongside good footwear.

Trekking boots: Travel footwear is expensive. I find trekking boots to be the best. However, The Mendel trekking boots I have used don't last more than six months. For all their carbon fiber and high cost heavy duty trekking construction they failed me miserably in Turkey. Not a great place to find another suitable pair. I emailed Mendel (or rather Meindl) and of course got no response.

I managed to find an Italian pair of trekking boots called Technica and in under a year the inner lining started coming apart. All the Gortex fiber and all the added glitz does little if you opt for the wrong kind of shoe/boot.

These day I opt for non-branded trekking shoes of good quality. I like heavier boots with solid hard soles that last. If I'm staying a while in place I buy a cheap pair of light go around shoes.

If you are looking at long-term travel, avoid trekking boots as the soles simply don't last. Something, with soles that look like they could be repairable at a cobbler is best.

Travel Tip: Make sure you pick a breathable outer layer. Without that your feet will suffer. Break in all footwear / boots before you go.

Extra info: I was told by a lady that there is a bacteria in West Africa that weakens Vibram soles. Vibram is the common sole of most trekking boot no matter the brand. I don't know if this true or not, but I did meet one other person living in West Africa who met others who had similar problems. I've also written an update about the best boots for backpacking & long-term travel.

Insoles for travelers: I am seriously happy after investing in a pair of travel insoles. SuperFeet is the brand I use. They've lasted years and provide amazing support. The type I mean are hard plastic as the base, and material on top. Around 40 USD but worth it! I should add that I've tried other insoles and the latest non-branded heavy gel ones are okay but can be warm. It's important to spend a little cash here and not buy the really cheap foam ones. Again, the different insoles make to a pair of shoes or boots can be like putting on brand new ones!

Sarong / Scarf: Okay I don't have a Sarong, but for the ladies it's a great thing to take as a towel, or as a head/body cover, to keep warm on bus or even to bundle things in. Personally I carry a scarf, even in hot places it helps with dust, dirty pillows, the backs of bus chairs etc.

A canvas sack

It took me a long time to finally find the key to separating dirty stuff from clean. I started off with a vacuum sack, but it didn't last. Plastic tears and make too much noise.

A canvas sack with a tie at the top keeps the smells at bay.

Packing Tip: Have a plastic-bag stuffed into the bottom to give to the laundry people. They will make the canvas one disappear!

Dry Bags

These keep your valuables or electronics completely water proof.

Super Travel Tip: Here's a secret travel tip of mine. If you can't find a bucket to wash clothes in, use your dry bag. Fill it half up with water and detergent, soak overnight or for a few hours. Slosh and mash it around. And you will soon have clean clothes.

Don't over fill them though. Handy for shirts and smalls when trekking etc.

Quick Dry Travel Towel

Yes they work. They are thin and pack fast. The higher quality one's are considerably better than the cheaper ones.

Packing Tips: Don't pack it wet, they smell. If you shower in the morning, and are traveling that day pack it into a plastic-bag and air it our afterwards a.s.a.p.. I have a medium sized one and I wash it once every few weeks.

Silk Sleeping bag liner

Okay, I once saw someone with a silk sleeping bag liner and thought they were wimps. Now, I would not part with mine.

They keep the bugs out of nasty bed coverings. And, yes they adjust well to your body temperature. They are expensive, but to slip into one at night is a true luxury after a long day.

Packing Tip: Try to get a double size one, they are big enough to pull over your head!


Soap, little bottles of shampoo, nail cutters, a metal mirror (glass ones break), deodorant, toothbrush, toothpaste, universal basin plug and that's it. It's an individual thing. You know what I will say if I mention hairdryers and aftershave, so I won't ;-) Just do what you have to on this one eh?!

Buying Tip: Hanging wash-bags that wrap up small are best.

Money belt

They are awful. But important. Use them sensibly. Don't overfill it. They become obvious then. And, don't wear it on the outside!

There are different types for the waist, leg and shoulder and neck. It's a personal choice with what you feel comfortable with. But I would avoid  the neck hanging ones worn on the outside- it's just asking for trouble no matter how tough you are.

Travel Tip: I never use mine in public, doing so is telling the world where your stash is.

Second Wallet

Okay it's not a big thing. But do divide your cash up. A backup note or two in each backpack, and cash in both wallets. Hide one well, and keep the other close. In the event of a robbery hand over the one with less in it. It's also useful place to keep expired cards.

Robbery's are usually fast and handing something over might reduce a pat down.


Most people will travel with a form of electronic equipment these days. Be it a camera, phone, laptop, tablet etc. Nearly all still require their own battery types and chargers. You'll be amazed how many people you'll come across who've forgotten at least one type of charger for their gadgets!

If you have piece of electronic equipment - make sure you have a charger for it.

If you are a complete gadget person you might also consider a small light extension socket so you can charge more than one item at a time from one wall socket. USB hubs can help lower the weight for chargers but pay attention to the output voltage as fast chargers require special outputs that most USB hubs don't have!

Moral of the story? Use a USB charging hub for your less important devices and if your device came with a fast charger then take it with you.

What's the best torch for travel?

Head torch's work. Having your hands free is vital for early morning packing, trail walking and general use.

Buying Tip: The ones with the a red LED are excellent for not disturbing people other sleeping people nearby.

Alarm clock

I use my phone or watch.

Ear plugs

Really, really important for me. Noise is a killer at night even in some of the quietest places. Try to avoid the real cheap ones. A high quality pair are worth it for a restful nights sleep.

Universal Electric plug

Really important if you are bringing gadgets. Try for the one's with surge protection for fluctuating electrical supplies. Avoid the cheap ones.

Buying Tip: Think about your gadgets, are they worth protecting, if yes then buy a quality plug.

Duct tape

It fixes just about anything. Bring a roll!

Bug repellant

If you are going somewhere that has plenty of bugs then you'll need to think about keeping them away from you. In malaria/dengue zones mosquito protection is essential so it's long sleeves/trousers, sprays and if you can manage it a mosquito net for sleeping under.

In my experience physical protection works better than sprays or creams. e.g.. long sleeved shirt vs. bug spray. However it's more uncomfortable for short term leisure travel. A combination of the two is probably a lot more practical. Though make sure your bug repellant doesn't damage your clothing. DEET has a habit of that!

Swiss army knife

I prefer the Swiss knife over a Leatherman. But would love a little pliers. I find the Leatherman's that bit too heavy.

Some people state they never use more than the knife. Yes I use the long and short knife the most, but I also use the scissors and cross screwdriver a lot. The toothpick and tweezers come in handy as well for picking up tiny things or cleaning electronics. Likewise while trekking the saw and file came in handy on many an occasion.

Universal Sink Plug

Need to wash some clothes or yourself? A lot of hotels remove plugs from their basins for some reason. Maybe to discourage clothes washing? Either way defeat them and be clean by getting a universal basin plug.

Travel Tips: I recommend a heavy one. The lighter types leak a little bit. Keep it in a little plastic bag. Over the long haul the rubber gets degraded, keeping it in a air tight bag helps!

Plastic spoon & fork

If you go trekking or eat out of supermarkets these are handy. The heavy plastic kind are best.


UV proofing your eyes is so important, both in the sun, snow and strong daylight hours. Sunglasses can also protect your eyes from dust, grit and pollution.

String (nylon)

Sounds like a small thing. But for a quick washing line, or to tie stuff together, it's great to have some stashed away.

Sewing kit

Okay I have one. It's tiny. I wouldn't call it essential in developing countries as you can get just about anything repaired there cheaply and quickly. But in developed countries if a button pops off it can be difficult to find someone to fix it quickly. It's takes up little room and can come in handy.

Passport Copies

Never forget to photocopy your passport! Try to keep a copy in each bag you have. I keep a full copy of every page in both backpacks. Then a copy of the details page (photo ID), in a separate compartment.

While out and about I carry a copy of just the details page. Generally speaking if I am going off the beaten path, or am in a dodgy area, I also carry a copy of the entry stamp from the country I am currently in too.

The same goes for your travel insurance.

You should also email yourself copies of all and if possible email a family member the same for backup.

Travel Tips: I never hand my passport over to anyone! If the police ask for it, I say "sure, but first we have to go to your foreign office at the capital where it's being kept. But, if you want you can look at the copy here".

It might seem like overkill having so many copies stashed around, but I have been at this a while and prefer to have too many than not any.

Extra Travel Tip: One more thing when it comes to passport copying. Scan in the details page and email it to both your own email address and a family/friend, just in case all your bags get stolen.

Birth control

Whether you plan on using it or not. Carry it.

Medical gear

IMPORTANT! This is what I have, and it is personalized. I am not recommending you buy nor take anything on this list. It is merely an itinerary of what I have. Consult your doctor before taking or buying anything.

Assorted plasters
Lots of tea tree oil
Olbas oil
Decongestant -(xylometazoline HCL 1mg)
Paracetamol 500mg
My preferred sinus antibiotic - Amoxicillin & Potassium Clavulanate -250mg* three times daily for 7 days.(backup cefaclor 250mg)
My preferred stomach antibiotic - Ciprofloxacin -500mg twice a day for 5 days. Or (norfloxacin 400mg) twice a day for three days
Malaria Treatment - Cotecxin (Dihydroartemisinin) One daily for 8 days.
Giardiasis - (tinidazole 2g) single dose or (metroniidazole) 250mg three times daily for five to ten days.
Amoeba Treatment - Metronidazole( 400mg & Diloxanide 500mg) 3 times a day for 5 days.

Packing List Summary

That's if for my ultimate packing list. It's aimed at long-term travelers more than short term as you can see. However, you can certainly pick and mix the items listed.

It's a practical list and not a made up list by a random first timer. Everything that goes in your bag should have a reason or two for being in it. If not, then leave it behind.