The ultimate backpacking checklist: 20 things every traveller needs

Ros Walford

written by
Ros Walford

updated 15.03.2019

Packing for a big trip often causes dilemmas. Should you take a large tube of toothpaste to last the trip? How many pairs of trousers to take? Should you invest in some ventilating undies? It’s all too easy to angst over your packing list – be selective and remember that you can buy most things while you’re away.

To help you, we have put together an essential kit list – it’s not exhaustive (obviously, don’t forget your passport, tickets, money and bank cards too) but these are items you’ll be truly grateful for…

1. Ear plugs

Treasure these little beauties: you’ll be worshipping their inventor every time you’re facing a sleepless night, like when you inadvertently opt to stay in the party hotel next to the mosque on a main drag during a fiesta.


© Myimagine/Shutterstock

2. Eye mask

The humble eye mask is at the frontline in the battle for sleep – a barrier to that aggressive first ray of tropical sun that pierces the flimsy curtains and takes a direct hit on your retina.

3. Hand sanitizer

Keep Delhi-belly at bay with antibacterial gel that doesn’t require water, especially when you’re about to eat or have just visited the toilets from hell.

4. Bags of all types

Pack your clothes into fabric bags within your rucksack and avoid being the irritating rustler in a shared dorm. If you’re heading to a wet climate, line the inside of your backpack with a bin bag to keep your belongings dry. Take spare plastic bags for your dirty laundry plus a few ziplock food bags for good measure.

5. A sarong – even for men, too

A simple piece of cloth with many functions: wear it as a skirt or as a shawl to protect you from the burning sun or when visiting religious places; it doubles as a sheet in hot weather; and it can be used as a (quick-drying) towel or to cover up after a shower or on the beach.

6. Flip-flops or waterproof sandals

These simple, light shoes will keep your feet protected when you have to shower in a grimy cubicle.

7. Walking shoes

If you’re going away for a few months and plan to do some trekking, don’t take walking boots. In hot weather, you won’t want to wear them and they’re heavy to carry. Instead, opt for lighter walking shoes that have a strong sole. Whilst they don’t offer the ankle support that boots provide, it’s a fair compromise for something you won’t use all that often.

8. Travel adaptor

Make sure you buy at least one adaptor before you leave home, as it can be hard to find the right type once you’re abroad. Get one with multiple sockets and preferably a USB port, too.

9. A mobile phone

If you have an unlocked phone, buy a local SIM card when you arrive in a new country to enjoy local rates. Smartphones can be invaluable – as well as the obvious communication benefits, you can pre-load street maps while you still have wifi. Most also have an array of travel gadgets, such as an alarm clock and compass, and there are handy apps, like the currency converter and offline language dictionaries.


© May_Chanikran/Shutterstock

10. Portable recharger

This little gem could save the day if your phone battery needs a boost while you’re out and about.

11. Neck cushion

Banish embarrassing head-lolling and sore necks on overnight flights and coach journeys. Buy a good-quality inflatable cushion that packs down flat.

12. First aid kit

A basic first-aid kit should include oral rehydration salts, plasters, water purification tablets, antiseptic cream, mosquito repellent, painkillers such as ibuprofen and – most definitely – Imodium.

13. Sewing kit

Don’t underestimate this – there’ll be times when it will be vital. Include a needle, pins, thread in several colours and safety pins. Include some string too, which can be used in many ways, for instance as a washing line or when one of your shoelaces breaks.

14. Padlock

Many hostels provide a locker for your valuables, but you need to bring your own padlock. It’s also wise to lock your handbag in crowded places where pickpockets are active. Go for a combination lock rather than one with a key, as keys can get lost.

15. Headtorch

Besides the obvious uses on camping trips and night hikes, a headtorch is helpful if you want to read when others are trying to sleep, leaving your hands free to turn pages.

16. Waterproof trousers

Don’t be too vain to wear waterproof trousers on rainy days – they’ll keep you comfortable and dry, instead of wallowing in soggy-bottomed misery. Choose breathable fabrics to avoid getting wet on the inside.

17. A silk sleeping bag liner

Even if you’re not taking a sleeping bag, this is an absolute essential. Avoid bed bug attacks and close-contact with questionable stains on your mattress by using one of these when you check into those grotty budget hostels.

18. Penknife

There’ll be countless times when you’ll be delighted that your penknife has a knife, scissors, tweezers and – hallelujah! – a bottle-opener. Don't forget to keep it in your checked bag though – it'll get confiscated at the airport if you keep it in your hand luggage.

19. Travel bottles


© nadisja/Shutterstock

Decant your toiletries into small plastic bottles. To save space, try to use all-in-one toiletries, such as shampoo/conditioner, shower gel/shampoo or a soap that will wash hair and clothes too.

20. A Rough Guide book

Because paper doesn’t run out of battery. Find the right guidebook for you here >

Compare flights, find tours, book hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Top image © kitzcorner/Shutterstock

Ros Walford

written by
Ros Walford

updated 15.03.2019

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