Packing for travel can be easy if you follow our simple tips on how to pack for travelling. We share advice on what to take and what to leave behind from our own personal travel experience.
Where will you be travelling?
This is the factor which determines what to take when packing for travel. The climate you will encounter plays a big part in knowing what to take and how to dress.
So have a think about the full range of places you will be travelling and at what time of year. As we have mentioned previously climates can vary dramatically from month to month and having a rough idea of what lies ahead will really help you out.
You might wear a thick winter coat at home but it’s not practical to travel with if you won’t wear it all the time. Layers are the way to go. Nice lightweight, quick-drying layers we say!
What will you do when you get there?
Again this really impacts what you take with you. For the vast majority of people, it won’t be anything too extreme and you can go with our fairly standard packing list below.
If you’re off to hike the Himalayas then you might need more info than this guide gives you as your list will be quite different to ours. But for most their list will be similar to ours depending on their hygiene levels. Nice.
How much should you pack for travelling?
The short answer to this is… not much.
You’ll see from our packing list below that we travel as light as we can whilst still being comfortable, the general rule is the smaller the better.
If you buy a 40-50 litre pack you won’t be able to pack an endless supply of clean clothing. Trust us when we say you’ll be doing yourself a huge favour by getting a smaller size pack to restrict your packing choices. It’s no fun to struggle to get on a sweaty local bus with a massive backpack in 40-degree heat, we’ve been there.
It’s also worth noting that, unless you are going to remote places, a lot of things can be picked up as you go. The world is far more developed now than you might think and beyond places where there are restrictions on imports, most items you’ll need will be readily available everywhere.
Even if Laos sounds exotic and far, far away right now, you’ll find pharmacies and clothing stores to grab any essentials you may need in all the main towns. People around the world have the same basic needs as you and demand usually push the supply no matter where you go.
You don’t need to look so pretty 😉
Travelling is quite different from day to day life at home. In general, people don’t care what you look like and quite often you won’t want to look too ‘dressed up’ as you’ll stick out like a sore thumb in many places.
We are not suggesting that you let yourself go completely, although we have seen some travellers who do, but travelling sometimes necessitates a looser approach to your attire and appearance.
However you should still look as smart when it comes to border crossings, checkpoints and immigration checks. Looking rough or scruffy means you are more likely to get picked out for questioning or worse!
Above all it’s important to be comfortable on the road and occasionally that might just mean not looking your finest but just relax and enjoy the ride!
Our rough packing list
It might end up being a little different for you but we’ll share what were packing for travel when we left the UK and how that has changed since being on the road.
No packing list can be definitive as we all have different needs but we hope it helps you decide what to take.
TOP TIP: Take plain colours as they are easier to match up than patterns.
T-Shirts x 5
Charlie has discarded 2 and purchased 1 new one since travelling. Kristina carries 3 plain t-shirts too. Nearly everywhere you go you can buy t-shirts. Fact.
Don’t take heavy ones, pick a light material that will dry quickly to avoid it smelling damp after washing. We recommend Wicking T-Shirts for men or women as they absorb sweat rather than show it, are lightweight and dry really quickly.
Kristina has 1 dressy and 1 plain spaghetti top plus 1 tank top so can mix and match.
Underwear x 6
Male or female you don’t need to take many items of underwear. We would suggest 5 or 6 pairs at the most as you can hand wash most things on the go to keep yourself fresh!
Socks x 5 pairs
This depends if you are going to be wearing trainers/shoes a lot. If you’re going to hotter climes then you won’t need many and it’s best to opt for trainer socks to avoid a weird above the ankle tan. Plus they are really small, taking up no room at all.
Trousers/Jeans x 2
We both opted not to take any jeans, they look nice but are heavy to carry around and it’s mostly too hot to wear them where we are right now. Do you really need yours?
Charlie has 1 pair of full length lightweight Craghoppers Men’s Trousers, just about smart enough for a night out, and another pair if he zips the bottoms onto his shorts. Useful if the others are being washed.
Kristina has 1 pair of leggings, comfortable anytime and can act as nightwear. Also 1 pair of lightweight trousers and 1 pair of chinos, useful for cities and colder climes.
Charlie did have 3 pairs to begin with but dumped one pair that were heavy and didn’t fit too well. 2 pairs is more than enough we’d say, just make sure they are lightweight and dry quickly.
Kristina has 1 pair of shorts for hotter weather.
Charlie has 1 actual jumper and 1 hooded fleece top and Kristina also has 1 fleece top and a long-sleeved top. We’ve only used them a handful of times but even in SE Asia they come in handy when the aircon on buses and planes is set to ‘stun’.
We both purchased a lightweight North Face waterproof jacket when in the north of Vietnam for around 475,000 VND ($21 USD) each to brave the cold and mist. If we don’t need them for a few weeks we’ll donate them somewhere.
It’s just not worth the extra weight to carry a jacket in humid countries. A jacket is worth having in cooler countries but again lightweight is the way to go and use a system of layers to stay toasty.
We both have a pair of sandals and a pair of trainers. If you’re going somewhere cold, forget the sandals but taking extra shoes/boots quickly adds weight to your pack.
We always try to wear our shoes and stick our sandals in our backpacks on a travelling day to save weight and space.
Charlie has 1 simple pair of swim shorts and Kristina has 1 simple swimsuit. Both lightweight and easy to pack/dry. We’d recommend these even in colder places as you might encounter an indoor swimming pool or water park on your travels.
Kristina packed a simple lightweight dress for hotter weather.
Kristina has 1 full-length skirt, handy for entering temples etc where the legs must be covered.
Charlie wears glasses so doesn’t bother with them which is silly. Kristina is sensible and has 1 cheap pair which are easy to replace if they get lost or damaged. Don’t take expensive shades, you can buy cheap ones everywhere in sunny countries.
We both have baseball style caps as they help keep the sun off your face. Pick whichever style suits you best but use it for sun protection, not just to look lovely, a burnt face is the worst. It’s also handy if you want to hide your greasy, messy hair.
We both carry these, very versatile and can offer quick sun protection or act as a dust mask. We’ve even used the buff as an emergency bandage, very handy.
Charlie sleeps naked, but you don’t need to know that. Kristina has a very lightweight nightdress but it’s your call based on personal preference. T-shirts, running shorts or underwear do just fine in most cases and save extra space.
We usually take a guidebook with us wherever we roam but will opt for one that covers the whole region rather than just 1 country to avoid carrying more than one.
If you have a Kindle or similar you can download single chapters of the Lonely Planet guides or the whole thing to save some weight. Kristina uses the Kindle app on her iPhone to save carrying books around.
This, of course, applies to any type of book but if you prefer the paper type most hostels and backpacker hangouts will have a book exchange where you can grab a new read.
For us, working online is our living and means we can work from anywhere we travel, depending on wifi. We carry the kit to make this happen, a list of which is on our Travel Resources page.
If you’re not working as you travel you shouldn’t need as much as us but these few things may come in handy…
If you’re going to be shooting on the go a lot, grab yourself a lightweight travel tripod to stabilise those shots. You’ll get better images overall without adding much weight or bulk to your pack.
We use our iPhones for filming, quick social media updates and navigation with Google Maps. The last one has been a lifesaver many times and Charlie often ends up giving taxi drivers directions.
You can grab a free or cheap sim in most countries, handy if you want to use SMS or call to book local accommodation. Beyond that, we would always use wifi as network data is never cheap. The Skype app is a great way to keep in touch with the folks back home for free.
Take only photographs, leave only footprints…. why spend all this time and effort on travelling if you haven’t got the pictures to flick through in a few years and remember how great it was?
I learnt the other day that there are 15 different types of plug sockets in use around the world. That’s a bit of pain for the world traveller but most regions tend to stick to a similar standard and some plugs work in more than one socket (stop it). Check out this handy map to work out which plugs are used where.
To make this mess easier we use the Flight 001 4-in-1 Adapter. It’s colour coded, super easy to understand and has never let us down yet.
People are split on whether to take a laptop or tablet travelling. You’ll see lots of travellers sitting around hostels and cafes using them and they can be very handy to upload and edit your photos on the fly. Unless you have a fairly lightweight model we’d suggest leaving it at home.
Most things you can do on a laptop you can do on Smartphone these days so ditch the extra weight.
You might not need as much as you think so leave the bathroom cabinet at home, you buy supplies pretty much anywhere there are shops and if you pack your own to start with, keep the bottles small to save weight.
If you are staying in hotels, even budget ones usually provide you with a toothbrush, toothpaste, shower gel and shampoo. We grab all the complimentary ones available and use them over several days.
We carry 1 razor each and a small amount of shampoo, shower gel and suncream.
Medicines/First Aid Kit
These can be pre-purchased but our health essentials are covered in Part 5. Health care for travelling.
Stuff you really should leave at home
A classic purchase for travellers convinced they are going ‘off-road’ for several weeks. They quickly realise that hopping along the Australian east coast on a bus from bar to bar isn’t really that rough after all and it’s too hot to wear boots anyway. However, they don’t want to part with their $200 footwear so struggle on with them hanging off their backpack, getting kicked in the arse every second step.
Our advice, get some decent waterproof trainers and you’ll be set for most casual walking trails around the world. You can always pick up a cheap pair if really needed.
Okay, we hold our hands up, we got one of these for our SE Asia trip. Not once have we actually used it over a bed. Anywhere we have stayed close to the water with lots of flying pests had one in the room already. Natural insect repellent is more worthwhile.
Back in 2001, Charlie set off to Australia with a massive backpack full of useless things including a sleeping bag. Not once did he use it to sleep in, maybe on a few times as a pillow but not for it’s intended use.
Anywhere you stay that’s cold enough to warrant one will have lots of bedding available to keep you warm if needed.
Not really worth carrying around a special bottle, just buy 1 large bottle of water and keep refilling it where possible to save waste.
Everywhere we have stayed so far has provided towels, even the budget places will lend you one for a few pennies. You might want to carry a lightweight towel for the beach but again these can be picked up on the road.
- What you are packing for travel depends on where you are going
- Pack as light as possible to save any extra weight in your pack
- Most stuff you think you will need you probably don’t, most things can be picked up later
- Use our list as a rough guide and adapt it to suit your style
- From our experience there are a few things you don’t need when packing for travel
If you know someone who would find this post useful please share it via the social links. What are your top tips on packing for travel? Let everyone know in the comments below…
The longer I travel, the less I take with me. I just feel that I don’t need stuff anymore. I only take my tech gear and a few clothing items. If I need something more, I can always buy it later, right?
You are absolutely right, Joanna, less is more! We totally agree that if you need anything, you can always buy it on the road 🙂
Amazing post! I will bookmark this for when I eventually take some time off work to go travelling properly – I’m a pretty good & light packer for short trips but I know that I wouldn’t know where to start when packing for a long trip!
Thanks for stopping by Danielle! Packing light for a longer trip is pretty tough, you keep thinking you might need this and that, but in reality you need very little, especially if you are travelling to warmer countries. I find myself wearing a couple of my favourite pieces over and over again so there’s no point in carrying all that excess weight 🙂