Packing can be the most stressful part of preparing for a trip, and you’re more than likely going to make mistakes on your first few trips. It can be hard to decide from the comfort of your own home what you will need while you’re on the road, especially if it’s your first time backpacking. Reading packing lists from other travel bloggers can leave you with a shopping list full of items that you never knew you needed, and that you might never use. I definitely bought a few of those backpacker ‘must have’ items and they ended up in charity shops and hostels around Asia as I found I didn’t need them.
I created a YouTube video going through everything that’s in my pack (watch it at the end of this post!), and below I’m going to run you through my favourite things in there! These are things that I have carried with me for nearly two years and I couldn’t travel without.
These are the #1 thing I recommend for all backpackers to get and my favourite discovery since we started travelling. I will never travel without them! Packing cubes are super light zipped bags that let you organise your backpack into different compartments. They allow you to section up your things and make it a lot easier to find something when you need it. I bought my cubes from Kathmandu who have a great range of packing cubes. If you’re buying anything in Kathmandu always wait until a sale as they do great reductions throughout the year – up to 50%. I have two medium and 2 XS bags, make sure to get different colours if you’re buying multiples of the same size. For example I always keep my bikinis in my small red cube, which I pack in the bottom section of my backpack, so when we arrive in a new hostel and I want to jump in the pool it takes me 30 seconds to get my bikini. Without the packing cube I would be rooting around in my bag, pulling out clothes to find one.
If still you’re not sure of the benefits of packing cubes then watch the below video at 13:27 to see how great they are!
Sleeping bag liners aren’t just for campers, they’re great for budget travellers that need to stay at low cost accommodation. A lot of the time we find ourselves staying in hotels or hostels that are a little grimey or don’t have any blankets so instead of sleeping on the dodgy sheets we sleep inside our liners. They allow you to have a comfortable sleep when your surroundings aren’t particularly nice.
This one is cheap, lightweight and folds up really small so even if you’re not sure if you’ll use one then I’d pick it up anyway. You can always leave it at a hostel for another traveller if you don’t use it, but it’s reassuring to have when you need to sleep in a not-so-nice place.
Don’t feel like you need to invest in a special silk bag, ours are cotton and they’re still going strong after 2 years. Also, I use them when I fake tan at home so that I don’t ruin the sheets – so they’re useful when you’re at home or away!
If you would like a double sleeping bag liner, click here.
Travel towels are an absolute backpacker staple. They are more compact and lighter than normal towels, and they dry extremely quickly and are very easy to shake sand off.
The best travel towel we have used is this one by LifeVenture. These Dock & Bay towels are also really cute and lightweight, plus they’re large enough to wrap around you if you’re in a shared bathroom.
One tip I have is not to buy fluffy travel towels like this one. They are a nightmare to travel with, they’re too high maintenance to keep clean and the softness goes really quickly anyway.
Much like sleeping bag liners, silk pillowcases help you to have a comfortable, restful sleep when your surroundings are less than desirable.
I use them when the bedclothes in a hotel are dirty or unwashed (it happens a lot) and when we’re camping or staying in a camper van we fill our pillowcases with clothes and sleep on them.
The pillowcases I have are silk and I know that sounds a bit indulgent but a little luxury feels even better in a €5 dorm bed. I read about silk pillowcases on a backpacker blog and they save a lot of time in the hair and make up department.
Silk pillowcases are a lot gentler on your skin and hair than cotton ones so you don’t have bed head anymore, or the telltale sleep creases that show you’ve just gotten out of bed. Also if you wear moisturiser at night, which you more than likely will after a day in the sun, silk pillowcases won’t absorb the cream like cotton ones will so you wake up with smoother skin.
When you’re backpacking, sleep sometimes has to take a backseat as you’re often waking up early to catch trains, planes and buses. Learning how to sleep outside of a bed is a skill you will need to learn and a comfortable eye mask will help you to sleep anytime, anywhere.
I’ve used this Jasmine silk eye mask since we first left, and even though I have lost it a few times I have always re-ordered the same one because I love it so much. The silk material means it’s seriously comfortable, and it’s adjustable so it fits just right. Perfect for my tiny head!
The mask comes with a pouch you can use to store your mask, which means it’s not roaming freely around your carry on bag picking up bacteria. Plus it’s cheap at only £5.99.
A lightweight mesh laundry bag is a really handy item to have with you and takes up very little space and weight in your bag. Plus they’re cheap — the bag linked above is less than £2
Previously we used to use plastic bags or packing cubes for our laundry but these weren’t large enough to fit everything if we weren’t able to do laundry for a few days. Tim’s backpack came with a mesh laundry bag and it’s been a godsend.
You can hand this straight into the laundromat and get your clothes returned in it, saving on plastic bags and doing your bit for the environment!
A must-have if you’re going anywhere that has mosquitos, this pen will soothe the itch from a bite stop you from being covered in red marks.
The BiteAway your bites itching in seconds and has become a staple when I travel- because I am always getting bitten! Click the button on the top of the pen and it applies heat to the bite which removes the itch – and no itching, no scratching and no nasty red marks on your body!
If you are prone to getting bitten then I could not recommend this more, it’s a godsend.
When we first started backpacking in 2016, bringing a reusable water bottle was pointless, as there were very few opportunities to refill them. However, water refill points are now easier and easier to find, as the world moves away from disposable plastic bottles.
This Kemier bottle is very handy for travel, as it folds up when empty and is lightweight. It can be clipped easily to your backpack, freeing up your hands. The bottle stores 750ml of liquid and weighs just 155g.
One helpful sustainable tip: if your accommodation doesn’t offer water refills, purchase a 5/6 litre bottle of water in a local shop and use this to fill your reusable bottles. This will save a great deal on plastic bottles over the duration of your trip!
I can’t overstate how something so small can make life so much easier. These have so many uses for any backpacker.
A really helpful use for them is to hang laundry, wet bikinis or hiking boots on the outside of your backpack so that you don’t have to carry them as you walk. You can use them to hang items in your accommodation, even laundry out to dry when needed!
You will find a thousand helpful ways to use these as you travel, so for only a few £ it’s a no brainer!
There are some things you can count on when you travel Southeast Asia. The hostels will be cheap, the food will be great…and the sockets will be very far away from your bed.
If you’re a nighttime scroller, or want to keep your phone close in a hostel, then investing in an extra-long charging cable is a necessity. These 3 meter cables will be a godsend on your trips! We have found them invaluable in cafes and airports, when we couldnt get seats close enough to a socket.
The one linked above is USB-C. If you want USB, click here.
For Beginners: Olympus Pen E-PL Series
When I first started travelling, I used the Olympus Pen and I adored it. It’s great for beginners, and it’s helped us to take some pretty epic photos. Plus, it has a vintage feel so it doesn’t look very expensive so people are less likely to rob it.
The Olympus Pen has built in wifi so you can transfer your photos straight from the camera to your phone, which means you don’t need to carry a laptop or extra cables with you. It’s a mirrorless camera which means it’s less bulky than an SLR so it’s really small and light and super easy to carry.
I bought the double zoom lens, a cover and a strap too. I highly recommend investing in a good cover as getting sand inside your camera can mean a very costly repair job.
For more serious photographers: Nikon D3500
I’ve recently upgraded from my mirrorless camera to my first DSLR and chose the Nikon D3500. This has a pretty budget friendly price point at £314 for the body and the VR lens kit. It’s really easy to transfer my photos to my phone using the Nikon app, and the self timer is much better than the Olympus Pen (this is what I use most of the time to get my photos!)
I love the photos this camera takes, and how many more features there are than the Olympus Pen. It’s not as easy to transfer the photos to your phone, but buy the dongle I have linked below and it’s so easy!
I find that this is a better camera if you like to edit your photos. If you use presets or like to play with light or colour, photos from this camera respond better than ones from the Olympus.
This hard phone case allows you to take photos underwater with almost any smartphone. This is a recent addition to our pack, and we tried it out on a snorkeling trip in Sicily. It works well, and is lightweight and easy to carry with you.
You can unlock and use your phone while it’s in the cover, and it comes with a wrist strap, so it won’t get lost!
A tip if you buy this: consider buying a case to carry this in (or keeping the original box) as the front screen could get damaged from being kept in a backpack.
This adapter is one of my favourite purchases of the past few years (recommended by @haylsa on instagram who is a great follow for travel photography tips!). It makes it super easy for you to shoot and upload your photos really quickly and on the go.
Take a photo, pop the SD card into the adaptor, plug it into your iphone, and you can import photos directly to your phone to edit and post.
If you work online, or just like to browse the internet regularly, a wifi extender is a godsend when you’re backpacking. These devices will connect to the weak wifi in your hostel or hotel, and boost the signal so that you can do important Zoom calls (or just catch up on Netflix).
The GL.iNet is a portable travel router, wifi booster, mobile hotspot, and Wifi repeater bridge. This will help you stay online, with a good connection no matter where you are.
They also have a more expensive version which is a portable battery, so you can stay charged 24/7.
If you own, or travel with, multiple international plug adaptors then you need to buy this.
The iBlock adaptor is a universal adaptor, which you can use around the world. Just slide out the pins in this block to plug it into the socket in the country you are visiting – and plug in your device. There are four international plugs that cover over 150+ countries. It works with US/EU/UK/AU plugs
The charger comes with 4 USB ports and a USB-C port – so this small block can charge up to 6 devices at once. It comes with a case so it can’t get damaged, and costs under £30. Stop reading and buy it!
USB chargers are common these days for charging your phone and handheld devices, but what if you want to charge your laptop on the go? This RavPower external battery pack allows you to plug in any UK plug to charge up on the go – that means laptops and any other device that won’t charge via USB can still be powered up while you travel.
At £89.99 it’s not a cheap piece of kit , but if you’re planning to work remotely then this is a must-have. A portable laptop charger allows you to work anywhere in the world, even during the inevitable Asian power cuts.
Along with the plug port, there are two USB ports so that you can charge your devices at the same time. The power bank recharges in just 3.5 hours, and once full it allows you to charge an iPhone 7 for 5.6 times, a Galaxy S8 for 3.7 times, or the 12″ MacBook 1 time.
A tripod is an excellent thing to carry with you when you travel, especially if you’re travelling solo so that you can take photos with you in them!
This Benro 2-in-1 selfie stick and tripod is great for travelling as it folds right up and can be popped in your handbag. There is a tiny bluetooth remote that clips onto the case and can be hooked up to your phone to take photos, so you don’t need to rely on a timer.
The bluetooth remote can be charged using a micro USB, and the phone holder can be removed so that you can screw your camera in there instead.
This tripod is larger than the Benro tripod above, and is something that might be better for short trips and not long term backpacking. Having said that though I’ve carried it through 5 countries now and I haven’t found it annoying to bring with me at all. The shoulder strap is comfy and I have been able to pack it in my backpack so that I can check it on flights.
This tripod is much sturdier than the Benro tripod, which struggles in high winds and on uneven surfaces, especially if I’m using my camera instead of my phone.
I’d highly recommend it if you have an interest in photography, it’s helped me to take some great shots. It also means you don’t have to rely on someone else to take your photos.
You might not be interested in bringing any fitness equipment with you, but working out is something I love to do so I always bring mine with me. I definitely thought about whether it was a good idea to bring this stuff with me but I’ve used it so much that I don’t regret my decision at all!
TRX is a resistance training system that can be hooked up on a door frame, a tree or any overhead bar for a full body workout.
I bought this a little while before I left London and wasn’t sure if I would have much opportunity to use it while I travelled, but I get so much use out of it!
It’s perfect to string up outside your beach hut for a morning workout. I noticed that a lot of other backpackers were carrying them too.
These gliders are a more recent addition to my kit and I really love them. They’re super lightweight disks that you use for leg and upper body workout – even in a small hotel room.
The best thing about these is that you can do a full leg day workout in a tiny space with out any impact.
The gliders have got two textures, one for hard floors and the other for carpeted floor, so you can use them most places. There are a lot of workouts on YouTube that you can follow that use the gliders, and they’re great for a tough ab workout.
So that’s everything in my backpack that I couldn’t travel without! I hope you’ve found this helpful, if you have any of these in your pack or you’d like to recommend something to other readers then share it below in the comment section.
Thanks for reading!