I spent a long time last year trying to figure out what to pack after I decided to go on a yearlong journey around the world. There’s already a lot of advice out there, and while that’s great, the more I read, the more confused I got.
As with anyone who takes a trip like this, what goes in your pack and what gets left out is an ongoing process. I overpacked to start with, but within a few months, my pack was down to a better fighting weight, and I’ve been rolling with the same svelte existence since.
So, here’s what’s in my bag as almost 12 months in—along with some tips and tricks I learned along the way. (Want to know what I was happiest to have on hand? Check out this post on the 10 most useful things I packed.)
When I read the packing lists of a lot of my fellow long-term backpackers, I often got discouraged. “Tank tops? T-shirts?” I said to myself. “Am I going to have to change my whole look to be a backpacker?”
Before taking this journey, my style could best be described as “dapper.” My idea of “casual” was nice jeans, a button-up, and dress shoes (but no tie). I loathed the idea of buying a squadron of T-shirts to make this journey work. Besides, I thought, it’s not like everywhere I’m going folks just constantly wear T-shirts.
So, I decided to go with my gut and pack the things that would make me feel good. I was not disappointed by this decision.
All that to say, just because you’re backpacking around the world doesn’t mean you have to look like a backpacker. If you’ve got a certain style, be you (as much as you can within socio-cultural norms, of course).
Here’s what I packed:
- 5 dress shirts (originally I packed 3 long-sleeved dress shirts, but two got ruined along the way, so I picked up a few short-sleeved ones instead)
- 2 casual shirts
- 1 pair of jeans
- 5 T-shirts (including one for pajamas)
- 1 pair of dress pants (dress-casual—they doubled as hiking pants in climates where the jeans would be too hot)
- 1 pair of comfy pants (bought in India)
- 1 pair of pajama pants
- 1 pair of pajama shorts
- 1 fleece
- 1 hoodie
- 1 pair of swim trunks
- 1 rashguard
- 2 binders
- 7-8 pairs of underwear
- 2 bras (1 sports bra, 1 regular)
- 6 pairs of socks
- 1 set of thermals/long underwear (bought in New Zealand)
- 1 beanie (bought in New Zealand)
- 2 bowties
- 1 regular tie (I didn’t wear my ties much, but I don’t regret bringing them!)
- 1 longyi (given to me in Myanmar, where they’re worn)
- 1 belt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of Teva sandals (bought in South Korea)
- 1 pair of hiking shoes (bought in South Korea)
- 1 old man hat that I wore everywhere
What got left behind?
I definitely overpacked to begin with, but fortunately, I started my journey in South Korea, which is like my second home, and I stored some things with my homestay sister and gave some stuff away to thrift stores before I left. Here’s the excess that I probably should’ve just left in the U.S.
- 1 pair of dress shoes (they got ruined by Korea’s monsoon rains anyway)
- 1 pair of Converse shoes
- Some clothes
- Way too many books
I was working on a pretty tight budget, so I wanted to funnel as much money toward travel itself and avoid buying all the shiny, new things that make travel easier. But there were some items that I needed and others that I couldn’t be happier I purchased/found/repurposed.
Here’s the list of the travel-specific doo-dads I brought along with me and why they were helpful:
- 1 passport belt (to keep my passport, cash, and credit cards on my body when in transit)
- 1 Sea-to-Summit Pocket Towel (small, light, absorbent – I used this in almost every single hostel I stayed at, since a lot don’t provide towels)
- 1 Platypus 1.0L foldable water bottle (maybe the best purchase I made – it’s light, and you can fold it up as it empties)
- 1 water bottle holster (super useful for day hikes out in the Australian desert)
- 7-8 elastic/bungee ties (especially useful for making my own clothesline in hotel and hostel rooms)
- 2 packages of zip ties (small and large – great for “locking” your bag or tying it to a bed post)
- 1 combination bike lock (great for tying up your bag on a long train ride)
- 1 padlock (much needed for hostel lockers)
- 1 set of plastic, reusable utensils
- 1 bandana
- 1 document bag/folder
- 1 Sea-to-Summit sleeping bag liner (useful on overnight trains, in hostels, and camping)
- 1 Sea-to-Summit Ultra-sil daypack
- 1 shoulder bag (I used the daypack and shoulder bag in combination; the shoulder bag fit more stuff, including the daypack, and worked great as a carry-on. The daypack was perfect for seeing a city, taking my computer/notebook to a café, going for a hike, etc. In the end, the combo worked well, especially when in transit, because when storing my bags, for example, I could leave my shoulder bag still packed with stuff and then just take the daypack out into the city, etc.)
- 2 stuff bags (I used them for books and toiletries)
- 1 Kelty Compression Stuff Sack
- 1 dry bag (useful when taking a camera out kayaking or doing other stuff on the water)
- 1 DIY first aid kit
- 1 umbrella (given to me in Singapore)
- 1 poncho (given to me in Vietnam)
What got left behind?
- MY BELOVED TIMBUK2 MESSENGER BAG!!!! I took it to Korea but realized it was going to be too cumbersome for the rest of the journey (it’s a special kind that also functions as a pannier bag, which was great when I was a bicycle commuter but annoying as a traveler). I’m looking forward to picking it up on my way back through my “second home.”
I debated buying a smaller computer when I was in Korea, but I like my computer, it’s already relatively lightweight, and I didn’t like the idea of buying new, fancy electronics before heading out backpacking on a budget. I don’t regret it, but do know that if you have the option, smaller and lighter are usually better—but older and a little heavier are still doable.
Here’s what I packed:
- 1 ASUS Vivobook and adapter
- 1 Amazon Kindle (Having an e-reader saved this bookworm’s intellectual life. Hostel bookshelves are great, but so are Kindle Unlimited and my home library’s electronic book selection.)
- 1 Samsung Galaxy S5 (GSM, unlocked so I could pick up a new SIM card to use in any country)
- 1 Kmashi power bank
- 1 headlamp
- Several cords (micro-USB being most important for me)
- 3 USB drives
- An array of plug adapters
- Rechargeable hair clippers
- 2 pairs of headphones and small carrying pouch
Toiletries, Medicines, and Other Odds and Ends
Everyone’s going to have their particular health and well-being needs, and your packing list should match that. Here’s what I brought in my first aid kit and some general suggestions for toiletries to pack.
First Aid Kit
- Pepto Bismol
- Antibiotics (for SE Asia, Azithromycin is the drug of choice for serious traveler’s diarrhea)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Doxycycline (for malaria prevention)
- Daytime/Nighttime cold medicine
- Nail clippers (useful for cutting zip ties, too)
- Motion sickness meds
Okay, I’m not going to list everything I brought, and most of this stuff you can pick up on the road anyway. But here are some of the items I was most grateful to have.
- Shampoo, conditioner, bar soap, etc. (they’re not guaranteed at hostels and Airbnbs)
- Bug repellant
- Tampons (these cannot be found everywhere, so if this is something you need, bring a bunch and/or plan what you’ll do when they run out)
- Travel bottle of FEBREZE! (this is what I was happiest that I brought the first few months before it ran out – kept me (less) smelly between laundry days!)
- Multi-vitamins (you might be changing your diet a lot, so take multivitamins to make sure you’re supplementing with some extra nutrients)
Thoughts? Ideas? Questions? Let me know in the comments below!