Ultimate Travel Packing List

When I went on my first backpacking trip, I made a travel packing list and have used it as the base for all my trips since.  This list is intended to be all inclusive so you don’t forget anything, and may have to be altered depending on where you are traveling, climate and what gender you are.  Since I am a female, my list may be a little biased towards women, and I don’t know all things that guys need, but most of it should translate over.

travel packing list backpacking
Igor Bertyaev / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Limit your bag to 20-25 lbs.  If you go above that weight limit, you risk not being allowed as a carry-on for some airlines.  Remember, when you first pack, practice loading everything in, then take half out (clothing wise) and when you’re done, your bag should only be 3/4 full.

Also check out my post on the top 10 things to pack when backpacking!

Travel Packing List

Clothing

Item (Quantity)Notes
Shirts - 5-7Girls can get away with more if they are tank tops that take up less space. I would always bring six shirts for daytime wear, and one or two for sleeping in. Guys will want to bring a few dress or polo shirts for nicer evenings, and some t-shirts. Stay away from long sleeve dress shirts unless they are the wrinkle free kind, and one is enough. Make sure to bring darker colored, solid shirts made of cotton or other moisture friendly polyester shirts, as they don’t stain as easy, and will match all your other items better making more outfits to use. Unless you sweat profusely, no more than 7 shirts, as you can launder on the way, wash clothes in sinks, freshen up with febreeze, or rewear. If you are traveling in colder climates, or get cold easily, make sure to bring 1 long sleeve shirt. Nothing special, just something you can pull over a short sleeve shirt in case it gets cooler.
Fleece or jacket - 1A fleece or jacket is essential for cold climates. Even in tropical climates, if you are going to be in the mountains at all, you will want one as it gets cold at night. Mine is a North Face. You don’t want anything too heavy, but something to use on trains and planes, inside museums or in case the weather changes suddenly.
Waterproof jacket with hood - 1If you will be in the tropics, consider bringing one of these instead of a fleece. An umbrella or cheap poncho can also work, but if you will be in a rainy area a lot, one of these may be good to invest in and lasts longer.
Pants or jeans - 2Usually, you will see it recommended to bring some lightweight, quick drying pants. Some recommend the zip off pants. I bring a pair of lightweight capris and 1 pair of jeans, but that is because I love my jeans – you can rewear easily, and I never had issue with them. Yes, they do take some space up, but I wore them every day in Europe, so it was worth it, and I didn’t have to spend my money on quick drying, fancy material pants. If you are going somewhere that isn’t as warm, you may want another pair instead of shorts.
Shorts - 1-2This will vary depending where you go. If you aren’t planning on hitting up any beaches, you may not need any. Ladies should be careful about their length of shorts if they will be in religious countries or large European cities where shorts aren't typically worn by locals. In some cities, shorts are only acceptable at beaches.
Dresses or skirts - 1-2This is for the ladies going out at night. You can also bring a sundress if on the beach. A skirt is easier to get a way with as you can pair it with many different tops. If in the tropics, you may want more than 2.
Sarong or coverup - 1I consider a sarong an essential item because you can use it as a dress, cover up, bag, beach towel, or blanket. I would only bring it This is only if you will be at a beach.
Sleep shorts or pants - 1-2I usually bring one pair of active shorts and black yoga pants or lounge pants. The sleep pants also come in handy on travel days. Guys can sleep in boxers, so this is not as important for them. But remember, when staying in hostels, you should cover up a little more to be respectful of your roommates.
Swimsuit - 1Limit yourself to one. You do not have to be fashionable. If you will be spending extended amounts of time at the beach, then 2 just for the sake of them drying in time. If two, the second pair should count as one of at the shorts.
Underwear - 4-6Nothing white. Females can get away with much more than that, perhaps 10 pairs because they are smaller and do not take up as much space. Female panties are very easy to wash in the sink or in the shower. You can always buy more when on the road too.
Bras - 2-3I bring a regular tan-colored one, a strapless convertible and a comfortable sports bra.
Socks - 3-6If you will be in a hotter climate, and plan on wearing tennis shoes a lot, then I would bring 6-8. You may want to invest in some moisture-wicking, quick drying socks rather than regular cotton. If you are a fan of flip-flops like I am, then you will not need as many, maybe 3 pairs. Socks are also easy to wash, and cheap to pick up.
BeltIf needed
ScarfFor cooler climates and to accessorize to break up your outfit.

Footwear

Limit yourself to 3-4 pairs max.
ItemNotes
Flip FlopsFirst pair needs to be a very thin pair of flip-flops. If you plan on walking in them, get Roxy, Rainbows or Havaianas or a brand with good support. These will be your shower shoes for the hostels too.
Walking shoesThese need to be a thin walking shoe like chucks or pumas, not the large Nike style shoes as they look very American and don't fit in as well. I prefer and am comfortable in TOMS. For guys, these can be for day and night. You can get in most affordable clubs and bars as long as you have closed toed shoes on, so a darker color shoe may be best.
Flats (Female only)For ladies, a nice comfortable pair of flats is necessary to wear with dresses and for going out at night. Choose something basic that will go with a lot of outfits. DON'T BRING HEELS. You will not wear them enough to warrant giving up the extra space.
Walking sandalsTevas and Chacas can be used in place of flip flops by guys and girls, and may be required in tropical locations where you may be doing any kind of adventure trekking.
Dress shoes (Male only)If you will be in several large more cosmopolitan cities, you may want a pair of dress shoes to wear out at night. Make sure what you bring is less bulky and can double as other functionality.
Hiking bootsUnless your backpacking trip includes a lot of actual mountain or trail hiking, do not bring these. Even if you plan on doing just one excursion, these are way too bulky and not necessary for most normal city walking and hiking. You can always buy some there when you near your hiking destination as well.

Electronics

ItemNotes
Cell phone and charger
Ipad and charger or other tabletCan be useful for electronic guidebooks, Ebooks, etc.
Laptop and chargerLeave at home unless necessary for blogging or work. Hostels have computers available for use or cities have internet cafes.
Ipod, charger, and earphones I use my phone but some may prefer to bring instead of phone.
AdaptersYou can get a world-wide one if you are visiting many countries, otherwise, make sure you have adapters for each country you are visiting not compatible with plugs from your home country.
Wristwatch/small travel clock with alarmYou will want a cheap wristwatch with an alarm for those early flights and to tell the time when out and about if you won't have your phone.
Camera and charger/extra battery or memoryOnly if you are using a nicer camera than cell phone. I would not bring anything super fancy if you don't want to have to worry about it breaking or getting stolen.

Toiletries

Pack these sparingly, as you can buy whatever you need on the road at a decent price.
ItemNotes
Shampoo/conditioner/soapDon't go overboard here. Bring enough to fit in a travel size bottle, and you can buy the rest while abroad. Some hostels will provide in the showers.
First aid kitThis should have a few band aids, neosporin, Dramamine (if you get car/sea-sick), advil, Tylenol, nyquil (for long trains/buses when you need to catch some z's), midol (for the females), pepto bismol, anti-itch cream if in tropical areas, aloe vera gel (unless traveling in winter. You will get sunburned in some cities though just from walking around...trust me).
Prescription medicationsMake sure all medication is in the original bottle/packaging, as some countries may check upon entry. Also make sure you have enough for the duration of your trip.
Toothbrush/toothpasteTravel size
Tampons/padsAlthough tampons take up less space. Just enough for your first go around. Buy more next time you need them and maybe split with a fellow traveler if you don't need the whole box!
Shaving cream/razorsTravel size
Contacts (including extras)/contact case/contact solution/glassesDO NOT FORGET extra contacts. Pack more than you will need in case you lose one, get sand in your eye, etc. Glasses can be good for night reading, or when contacts fail.
DeodorantTravel size
Lotion/perfumeTravel size
Hand sanitizerTravel size
MakeupPack only the necessities. Make sure you have enough as makeup can be expensive in other countries.
Small towel/washcloth/face cleansing wipes
Nail polish/removerOnly 1 color.
Tweezers/nail clippers
Chapstick with sunscreen
Kleenex/small tissue packetHandy if you get sick, need to blow your nose, or ru into a bathroom without toilet paper.
Q-tips/cotton balls
Hair brush/hair ties/headbands/barrettes A small travel brush is best
JewelryEarrings, necklaces, whatever. Just don't bring anything that is too valuable or looks too nice. You don't want to have to worry about things getting stolen or lost.
Condoms/birth control pillsCondoms can be bought anywhere in most countries, but it's nice to be prepared.
Febreeze/dryer sheetsTravel febreeze can come in handy for freshening up your bag or clothes you have to rewear. You can also put a dryer sheet or two in your bag to leave things smelling fresh.
Wrinkle release sprayThis was a must for me, as you spray on, wipe the clothes, and wrinkles disappear. It also freshens clothes, so kick that febreeze out if you bring this!
Sunscreen/bug sprayTravel size. Larger if in the tropics. Sunscreen can be quite expensive and hard to find good waterproof brands while overseas. This is one area you don't want to skimp on. Bug spray is essential if you are in the tropics, but still can buy while you are there. Bug spray without DEET is preferable as it is better for the environment. You don't need this for Europe. Or malaria pills. Unless you are in Africa.
Hairdryer/straightenerTravel size. Make sure the voltage is compatible with the countries you are visiting. Use a lower setting if so.

Other Essentials

ItemNotes
Packing cubesDon't leave home without them. You can also get packing folders. These are just smaller containers to organize your belongings when traveling. I travel with two half cubes, or medium-sized cubes and one small tube one, which I keep my toiletries in. These are perfect because I use one for my tops, and one for my bottoms, and they keep all my clothes organized, unwrinkled, and easy to find.
Sleep sheetI love my sleep sheet. In fact when I got home from my first backpacking trip, I slept in it for a few weeks after I was so attached. Though more expensive, if you get a good silk or silk blend one rather than cotton, they take up less space and are able to make it cooler when hotter and warmer when colder, magically. It also makes cheaper and dirty accommodation more comfortable. DO NOT confuse this with sleeping bag. Don't ever bring a sleeping bag. It is bulky, heavy, not necessary, and not allowed in a lot of hostels. If you plan on camping that much, just bring a cloth hammock.
UmbrellaOne of those mini ones that folds up real tiny. Keep it in a side pocket of your daypack at all times!
Travel documentsPassport, driver's license (handy to get into clubs at night when you don't want to bring your valuable passport out), student ID (for discounts), plane and train tickets, any maps (I like the square pop up maps for cities I am spending a lot of time in), copies of any reservations, photocopies of passports or credit/debit cards you are bringing (in case you need to cancel for emergencies if they get stolen), insurance policies, copies of itineraries.
Guidebook and phrasebookEither bring the whole thing or rip out the sections you know you will be visiting. Phrasebook if you will be spending a long time in a country with a foreign language, though guidebooks usually have a "common phrases" section in the back.
Pack towelWe all know how regular towels take up so much space, even when rolled, and forever to dry. Spend the extra bucks and get a pack towel. It is well worth it, and folds into a small square so you won't even notice it. A medium or large is what I use. One of those shammies can work too, though small, and I like to use mine as a blanket or beach towel too.
Headlamp/flashlightYou will need this wherever you go. Whether you want to read a book at night in your hostel room without disturbing your roommates, find something in your bag at night, or walk back from the bathroom to your room in a dark jungle. A small flashlight will do too, but an LED headlamp is so much easier.
Playing cardsA lot of hostels will have these and other games, but this is always good to get a good group of strangers gathered at a hostel or in case of a rainy day.
Plastic bags and ponchoALWAYS, Always, always have a few plastic bags with you. I am not just talking about the ones you seal your toiletries in so they don’t spill. These are extras. Extra large and small ziplocks, a trash bag or two, even one of those cheap plastic ponchos come in handy. You will want these to store wet clothes, cover your pack when caught in the rain, separate dirty shoes from clothes, and other usages you can’t even imagine. Save those plastic grocery bags you pick up on the way too. They make good laundry bags.
Sewing kitI’ve never needed one that badly because I would rather buy a new shirt, etc. on the road, but if you are on a tight budget, traveling for a while, or know how to sew, this could come in handy
Laundry kitSmall laundry soap sheets, a universal sink stopper, and a clothes line. You can also make laundromat stops on the way, but hand washing is cheaper and can be done more frequently in sinks or the shower of hostels.
LocksThree backpack locks will do. Make sure they are TSA approved, or TSA may cut them off your bag if they have to inspect it when it is checked. A bike lock can be a precautionary step if you anticipate staying in a lot of hostels that don’t provide lockers. You can strap your big pack to your bed so no one steals it. A locker lock isn’t useful unless a pack lock will not fit the hostel locker lock, which most do.
BooksBring some to read in your downtime. Limit yourself to one or two. You can always exchange with other travelers along the way or use the hostel libraries of books left behind by other travelers.
Travel duct tapeI have never used this, but if traveling for a while, this will come in handy to fix a variety of things.
SunglassesA cheap pair. They will probably get lost or broken at some point.
Swiss army knifeWhile the tweezers, screw driver, and wine opener can come in handy, this won’t pass through airport security. If your backpack is carry-on size, and you plan on taking a few short flights to get around and carrying your luggage on, then do not bring this. You can find all these things if you really need them. The place where you buy your wine will open your bottle for you, and bring tweezers separately. Otherwise, get creative.
Journal and penA thin journal if you want to document your journey (often recommended for first timers) and bring a pen no matter what. It is useful when filling out those immigration forms, or jotting down numbers or email addresses from new friends.
Lint brushOnly if you REALLY need it. If you bring that duct tape, you can just use that!
WalletAs a guy, this is a given. Just keep it in your front pocket, and take out any extra cards and items you don't need. Girls, don’t use a fanny pack or money belt. If you must carry out belongings at night and don’t want to lug around a big backpack, just bring some thin wallets, like Vera Bradley or something, and stuff the cash you need, your driver’s license for identification and maybe your room key, and you can tuck the wallet into your waistline of your pants or bra. Much better than getting mugged I think. You are less likely to get mugged if you appear to have nothing of value.
Money beltNot to be confused with a fanny pack, this is a flat, thin pouch that you wear under your clothes against your skin. It's a great way to hide money and other valuable documents on you during the day that won't get easily stolen. Get one that blends in with your skin. I use these when I don't bring my backpack out during these days or at night sometimes instead of a wallet.
Water bottleA good Nalgene bottle, or any reusable plastic bottle if you don't want to have to purchase bottled water everywhere. This is for countries where it is safe to drink the water.
Small souvenirs from home to give outBring some tokens or souvenirs that represent your home country/city to give out to travelers you meet on the way to remember you by. I still have some of the gifts from others on my first backpacking trips that have fond memories of those friends and the good times we had.
Ear plugsLast but not least. This is a must for hostel living. Bring a lot because you are guaranteed to lose some along the way.

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