Updated: Nov 15, 2020
Packing a backpack for a lengthy trip (regardless if the duration is two weeks or six months) is a daunting task. Coming up with a list of the essentials, consolidating that list 3 times, and then magically fitting it (in my case, shoving it) into a 55 liter backpack are the top three things to conquer prior to each trip. Mastery comes with time. These all depend heavily on the season (winter clothes might be necessary but are naturally heavier), the region and the local attire. For example, if I am visiting a predominately Muslim country, I’d probably leave my short shorts and tank tops at home and bring light and airy tops and bottoms. To learn more about the local attire for a specific country and also the weather, Google serves as your best friend.
I pack light knowing that when I am in Europe there will be stores like Zara and H&M where I can easily purchase the essentials if I forget an article or when the seasons change and I need warmer or lighter clothing. When in Asia and Africa, there are also markets and large retailers where items can be easily inexpensively purchased. While in Myanmar in 2015, I purchased a few pairs of "elephant pants" for $3 a pop from a local floating market (casual!) because I was sick of wearing the same three shorts & pants for the first two months of my trip. As long as I arrive to the airport with my passport, I am frankly not concerned about the items I neglected to pack. It’s actually quite fun to add a garment or two to your wardrobe along the way.
Most backpackers (myself included), suffered from the lumbering weight of a backpack during their first go-around and decided to pack differently for their second expedition. I've definitely learned my lesson. I used to pack a pair of wedged heels, thinking that they’d come in handy on nice evenings out (or for that one Instagram photo). But I realized that I was only wearing them once during a trip and learned quickly from that mistake. Now while traveling during the summer I pack a pair of light comfortable versatile sandals that can be worn during the day and can also be worn with a causal dress (Birkenstocks are a great option). It’s silly and painful to carry a pair of shoes that will only be worn once or twice when the room could be saved for a more practical item or left empty for a nice souvenir along the way. Not only is the weight an issue, you’ll most likely be the only one wearing heals and you could receive unwanted attention. In my opinion, no Instagram photo is worth a broken back or walking around with blisters the next stay, or God for bid, standing out especially when traveling solo.
Here is my packing list for the next six months…
First off, since 2015 I’ve used North Face’s 55 liter Terra backpack. After being schlepped through 50 countries, the bag has held up perfectly and overall it’s been a practical, affordable and comfortable first backpacking (or hiking) backpack and one that I highly recommend.
Patagonia Ultralight Black Hole® Pack 20L daypack. I bought this daypack just before leaving California and absolutely LOVE it. It’s light weight, sturdy, folds into itself, and the size is adjustable. It’s so light that I forget that it’s on my back even when it’s stuffed with the essentials for the day (including my MacBook Air).
12 pairs of undies
5 bras (including 3 sports bras)
2 bathing suites
1 pair of jeans
4 pairs of socks (these admittedly get worn at least 2x without a wash)
3 pairs of yoga pants
1 pair of denim shorts
1 pair of active/pajama shorts
1 long sleeve dress
1 skirt-- Lulu Lemon has great versatile skirts
1 t-shirt (ended up buying another)
1 long sleeve t-shirt
1 ultra light weight rain jacket
1 casual/versatile jacket-- I went with this one from J. Crew
1 small purse
2 outlet converters (must!) If you forget, they can be purchased at the airport, markets, and most electronic stores
Sony 5100 camera, camera bag and charger
Battery pack – I have this one from Mophie and it lasts for several days. A 2 year warranty is included
MacBook Air (so light!) and charger
iPhone 6 and charger (totally outdated but feel better about having an older, less desirable phone while traveling) Updated 2/10/19 - I caved and bought an iPhone 11
Shoes—they’re the heaviest items so pack light!
Shower shoes- Rubber shower flip flops (must!)
Sneakers- If you plan on hiking, buy sneakers that are suitable for walking and hiking
Sorel boots—My absolute favorite boots! Fashionable, water resistant and super comfortable
A handful of protein/granola bars to snack on. Don't go hangry!
Microfiber towel-- I ordered this Wolfyolk set from Amazon and it arrived the next day with Prime!
Neck pillow for those 8hr. long bus rides
Filtered reusable water bottle (filter isn't necessary if traveling in western and central Europe)
Day-Quil & Ny-Quil
An antibiotic for just in case scenarios, see if your doctor will prescribe one before you leave
Hand sanitizer - Travel size
Disinfectant wipes (good for bus seats, wiping your bag down, etc.)
10 Rehydration/electrolyte packets – these will come in handy during/after a hike, recovering from a hang over, or if you get sick!
Enough feminine products for the first month—Tampons are often difficult to find and sometimes expensive in some Asian countries. When I was in Boracay, Philippines I had to order tampons from a store and go back later in the day to pick them up.
Bare minimum makeup (chap stick, 3 lip glosses, mascara, foundation, eye liner, blush)
Face cleanser, moisturizer, shampoo, soap, and conditioner (less than 3.4 oz./100ml bottles so they can easily go through airport security without a fuss)
Hanging Travel Toiletry Bag-- Must buy! I bought this one
Razor and razor blades
Sunscreen (less than 3.4 oz./100 ml)
Tooth brush, small containers of tooth paste (less than 3oz.), and floss
Four pairs of earrings (none of which are valuable)
USD – For emergencies
Debit card & credit cards (I’ll have a separate post on currency)
As always, please let me know if you have any questions or any recommendations on items to pack!