travel packing guide

A travel packing guide to ensure you have everything you need before you depart

A travel packing guide is so essential as it helps you pack your bags quickly and effectively before you depart and while you’re travelling. My eleven years of non-stop travelling saw me start travelling with a full suitcase (in which I only wore half the clothes anyway). Then to a fully stocked rucksack (jammed to the brim). To eventually a 13kg rucksack containing only useful and essential stuff!

So you could say that after eleven years, I’ve been able to streamline my packing in terms of weight and the time it takes me to pack my bags for each adventure. It took me time to learn how to avoid travel packing mistakes. I now know what is and isn’t required for a holiday. I now know what I will or won’t use on a holiday.

So when I met Carli (USA) in India in 2016, I didn’t have to think too hard when she asked me what do I always pack. The list has always been in my head but what a relief to actually put it down on paper.

Essential items on my travel packing guide list

First of all, I pack all the 'must haves'. Basically, these are the essentials that travel with me on every trip.

  • First Aid Kit  
    I fill it with miniature items of everything I could possibly need should I not be able to reach a doctor or clinic. To explain, I basically categorise the items into 3 main sections:

    1. Tablets:   Such as aspirin or paracetamol (for pain or fever), antihistamines etc.

    Remember to check with your doctor or a travellers medical centre for any other precautions you need to take with you for particular countries that you will be travelling to.

    2. Creams/lotions:  Such as antiseptic cream/wipes, anti-fungal cream (eg. Canesten),  sunscreen and insect repellent.

    3. Medical items:  Such as bandaids/plasters (in various sizes), bandages (one small, one large) and the list goes on.

    Although you can buy pre-made first aid kits, I usually find them full of items that I have never used. Instead, I bought myself a plastic lunch box and filled it with items that I always seem to use.  

    Read the 3 easy steps to create your own compact travel first aid kit for a more comprehensive list.
items of a first aid kit sprawled over a table
  • Travel toiletry bag conveniently containing all my essentials. It contains three pockets which I have divided into:

    1. Cosmetics - including powder, eyeliner, blush, one lipstick only and little bottle of perfume.
    2. Skin care – face wash, moisturiser, eye cream, tooth brush and toothpaste (5g).
    3. Larger items – transferring shampoo, conditioner and body wash into 100ml bottles. Also the hairbrush and body wash mitten. I classify body and hand creams as luxury and so I leave them out.
travel packing guide toiletries into a 3 tiered bag
  • Swiss army knife. It has come in so handy over the years. Especially the scissors and  the cork screw. How devastating it would be if you couldn’t open a bottle of wine on the beach!
  • 100% silk sheet liner/sleep sac. There will be times when the bed linen will look a bit dodgy and so I just prefer to sleep in my own sheet liner. It comes in handy too when staying at hostels/backpacker accommodation. It’s a definite must when I bring my sleeping bag, especially if I intend to do multi day hiking trips.
  • Laundry kit. Namely it contains an elastic clothes line that doesn’t need pegs, sink plug and small bottle of laundry liquid. As I only bring two pairs of socks, I wash them in the bathroom at the end of the day.
laundry kit with coat hanger, plug and detergent sprawled over a washing machine
  • Ear plugs. Hostels/backpackers can get noisy, especially if you’re in a 14 person dorm! There will always be one person that snores. Its also great for sleeping on planes.

    TG Tip: It's not practicle to bring a whole box of disposable earplugs with you. Therefore, I recommend going to your local hearing centre and order specially moulded earplugs that fit snugly into your ears only. As a result, experience no pain while you’re sleeping and you can reuse for up to two years.
  • Toilet paper. Public toilets/bathrooms never seem to keep it fully stocked with toilet paper.
  • Smart phone. I never had that when I first started travelling in the nineties. And ten years ago I tried to travel around Spain without it. But now it’s essential for pre-booking accommodation/tours, download your boarding pass, Skype your family and friends and to re-connect with all the new friends you made on your travels through Facebook. Backpacking was so different 20 years ago, when you still had an element of adventure because you couldn’t research and pre-book with your fingertips!
  • Credit cards/money cards. Grab some tips at Best way to travel with money overseas.
  • Lonely Planet guide book, or any other type of travel guide that provides information on city maps, what to see, local transport, where to eat and what to watch out for.
  • Diary/journal. This is on my essential list because I have always kept daily travelling notes on every journey I have taken. It’s nice to refer back and reminisce. These days you could do this directly onto your phone or tablet but there is something I like about handwriting in a journal.
  • Pocket note book – keep in your day pack. How many times you want to write a note, a recommendation, a persons contact details and you don’t have pen and paper in your bag. I seem to fill up my notebook every time I go travelling.
  • Clothing: 1 pair of hiking pants, 1 pair of jeans, 1 pair of shorts, two short sleeve shirts, two long sleeve shirts, 2 hiking shirts, one fleece jacket, one waterproof jacket, sleepwear and underwear.
  • Shoes: 1 x hiking boots, 1 x sandals/casual flat shoes, 1 x evening shoes. No more ladies!!

This is the bare minimum I take. However, I may take a couple of extra items depending upon what the journey entails. For example,  I may need to bring a dress for an important function.

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Non-essential items – but nice to have

A travel packing guide isn't complete without a small list of items that are nice to have, even though they are not essential. Sometimes we need some luxuries!

  • Good camera. These days the smartphones are highly developed to take extremely good photos and videos. However, I do notice they have limitations, especially during evening or low light conditions. If you’re seriously into photography or wanting to take magical shots, then you will need to bring a decent camera with you – like we did in the good old days before smartphones.
  • Bose noise cancelling headphones. A couple of years ago I heard someone rave about these headphones, stating he couldn’t fly without them. So I bought a pair to check it out and what a difference it makes on the plane. In particular I noticed that background engine noise was completely gone. And I could listen to the on board movies without the volume set to high. What a godsend. Consequently, now I can’t travel without them on any flight myself. I’m even prepared to carry them around with me when I go on backpacking holidays.
  • Chamois towels. These are super absorbent towels that you can roll up into really small bundles and takes up less room in your bag. In particular, this is definitely handy if you’re staying in hostels/backpackers because they usually don’t provide towels. They come in many sizes, so even the large size is small when compared to a regular sized bath towel. A great way to pack and travel light.
    In contrast, I have tried the microfiber towels too but found they smell too much in your bag after one use – you really do need to make sure they are super dry before you pack it. So while you can still pack your chamois towels while damp, I do let them air out as soon as I get to my next destination. There seems to be no mouldy smell like with microfibre towels.
a medium sized rolled up towel next to a small rolled up chamios towel
a chamios towel layed over the top of a medium sized towel.
  • Hand sanitiser. 2016 was the first year I travelled with a hand sanitiser. Interestingly, I travelled in India for 5 weeks without getting sick. In fact, I was the only one in the group that didn’t feel any tummy troubles. I wonder, could it have been because I was using the hand sanitiser before and after every meal??
  • Steripen. In contrast, there are water purifying tablets but most people don’t like the taste of the water. So a Steripen is an alternative, which removes toxins from contaminated water using UV light. It is battery operated, so you can use many times.  They’re not cheap and it’s an extra item to carry in your bags.

    If I had a steripen or water purifying tablets while sailing up the Amazon river in 2003, I may have avoided contracting para-typhoid from contaminated water. Even though I bought bottled water from the river colonies, I did notice that the bottle caps were loose. So I bought the cleanest looking bottled water and hoped for the best.

What would you add to the travel packing guide?

So that’s my packing list. But I’m sure you have other ideas on what you classify essential and non-essential. What’s on your travel packing guide list?

About the Author Lisa

A travel gypsy by heart, having already been to over 70 countries and still counting. Founder of Travel Groove, to share travel tips, tricks and knowledge with other travellers.

  • Richa Jain says:

    Thank you for your list. You covered everything. I would certainly be adding some of these for my next trip.

    • Lisa says:

      Glad you were able to gain some extra useful items for your next trip. Looking forward to hearing about it.

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