Welcome to the most thorough round-the-world packing list you’ll ever find! I’ll tell you what to bring, what not to bring, and why. Unlike lists written by newbies before they depart, my RTW packing list uses years of road-tested experience to argue for or against each item. Click here to skip the preface or here for a list without the “why.”
Note: this is a living document that I update as I find great replacement gear and as readers chime in with their tips and favorites. I use this list several times a year, each time I switch regions or travel lifestyles!
I’ve been traveling for
about ten eleven fourteen so many years. I’ve packed for five six nine eleven a gazillion long-term trips. I have eleven seventeen twenty-five months years of experience being in foreign countries with just a backpack full of stuff, and I’ve spent heaps more time living outside my home country. I’ve also logged about well over 1,000 miles carrying a backpack in the woods. Currently I’ve been on the road for two three six seven years. I’ve gone round-the-world three times. And counting!
I have strong feelings on the value of traveling lightly. I’m not an extremist. Some people carry even less than I do. If you’re trying to convince yourself to pack less, you’ve come to the right place. I’m a woman, so my list includes lady things. My countries traveled do not yet include India or rural China, but I’d blindly bet that those places also have for sale things you think you need to load into your pack at the outset, and at cheaper prices.
One glance at my domain name reveals I strongly encourage you to “take half the clothes.” You won’t even need “twice the money” if you take what you saved by not buying a bunch of junk at home. Please! Give yourself the gift of affording an extra month on the road or a few luxurious experiences.
(Related: Cheap Flight Hacks: travel longer!)
How Not To Overpack:
- Don’t pack something just because you found it on a packing list
– mine included. Generally, you’re not going to like wearing styles you never wore before or start using items you don’t currently (wet wipes, multi-tool, lush bar shampoo, etc).
- Do it the MacGuyver way, not the Boy Scout way.
You can improvise, borrow, or go without! Trying to prepare (materially) for every possible situation ultimately limits you in the form of a heavy, heavy pack. Minimalist packing list advocates understand this. Tracking down solutions as the need arises uses your brain, builds your character, exposes you to the communities you’re traveling in, and adds years to the life of your vertebrae.
- If you’re telling yourself you’d rather bring it “just in case” and that you’ll get rid of it when you’re sure you don’t need it, don’t pack that item. Do not. Don’t pack it. Really. Don’t. I guarantee you that if you do not heed my advice, 95% of the items that fall into this category will end up in the bottom of your bag weighing you down.
“I’ve seen plenty of travellers in airports and train stations almost in tears because they’re exhausted and stressed out over lugging a huge backpack or suitcase everywhere they go. Overpacking be the difference between a carefree vacation and a stressful nightmare.” – Hostelz.com, What to Pack
RTW Packing List for Long Term Travel
|ITEM||EXAMPLE||WHY I LIKE IT or WHAT I THINK|
To Contain Things
|27 Liter Backpack||YOU DO NOT NEED A 90 LITER PACK! You may not even need a new pack. Above all, a great trip means not carrying unused, easy-to-buy-later stuff.
The bags preferred by today's backpackers are
*Gregory Border 25 (25L)
*Osprey Porter 30 (30L)
*Tom Bihn Aeronaut 30 (30L)
*North Face Big Shot (33L)
*Minaal 2.0 (35L - sexy!),
*Gregory Border 35 (35L)
*Berghaus Freeflow 30+6 (36L)
*Osprey Farpoint 40 (40L)
*Osprey Porter 46 (46L)
Here are some in-depth descriptions of the most common RTW travel backpack options.
This video shows you how much stuff fits in different sized bags.
While your bag is important, don't agonize for hours weighing pros and cons of superfluous features. The size of bag (small!) provides 80% of the comfort and convenience.
Your vertebrae will be disgusted with you if you get this bag or even this bag or this bag (unless you're a huge person). So will your wallet, emptied by the extra stuff you bought to fill it. In hundreds of instances (like this one) I've sang the praises of my smaller bag.
Could you use a bag you already have? Yes! I have yet to retire the 1999 North Face Borealis I already owned pre-travel. The school bag's organizational features have come in handy. When I put the bag to rest, I'll probably get the Osprey Porter 30.
|24 Liter Messenger Bag||Having a super-lightweight expandable bag is clutch on any packing list. If you hate messenger bags, consider a lightweight nylon backpack like this. It allows you to sprawl out at your destination but transit compactly. I've replaced mine a few times, but getting a light, expandable bag remains one of my top five packing tips!
Update 2016: I'm now carrying a thrift store score almost identical to this amazing foldable duffel bag. Definitely don't get anything bigger. I rarely fill it - even when I'm toting around a huge stash of food. Mine has a strap that allows me to carry it like a messenger bag. If you're not lucky enough to find one at a thift store, you could combine a strap like this with the foldable duffel to acheive the same setup.
|Nylon Stuff Sack||Much like the collapsible messenger bag or folding duffel bag, having a nylon stuff sack on your packing checklist allows you to spread out as needed. I fill it with dirty laundry and strap it to the bottom of my pack. It's dark-colored, so it blends in. For years I just used a heavy duty plastic shopping bag, but the black nylon is a bit less "hobo."|
|Reusable Nylon Shopping Bag||You can see a theme here on my RTW packing list: get the best of both worlds - the option to expand, but the foundation to pack light and travel light. My nylon shopping bag keeps my shower items sequestered, makes a fantastic beach/outing bag, and is even used for market shopping when I rent apartments or stay in one place for several weeks, etc.|
|Travel Vest||Airlines are really starting to crack down on weight restrictions - especially in Europe and Asia. Ten years ago, I got away with filling a 27L bag (easily meets carry-on size restrictions) until it felt like a bowling ball. Today half of my nine flights this year had me chewing my fingernails about weight on the way to the airport.
I've tried jackets that aren't purpose built, but they've been bulky, awkward to wear, ugly, and stuff fell out of the pockets. They required laboriously moving valuable electronics and small, heavy items from my bag to jacket, checking in, dealing with an awkward pile of stuff until boarding, then moving some stuff back to my bag once on the plane. Repeat ad infinitum.
On my next RTW trip, I will absolutely bring a vest-as-carry-on. My research says I'll buy this one, but will get a size up so it fits well when full of ipad, book, phone, camera, etc. The only people who don't like this ExOfficio vest have complaints about style.
If you're a sexy Spanish man, you can probably pull off a vest like this. Anything cheaper, is, well... cheap.
|Toiletries Case||My bag like this is nice for keeping contacts, fingernail clippers, etc. sequestered.
I didn't like the "hang it in the shower" kind. The bag was hard to keep dry, got everything in my toiletries bag wet, and the hanging flap always got in my way. However, minimalist traveler Julie loves hers. She reckons it creates a place to set your stuff, keep clothes and towels dry, and prevents her from forgetting shower items.
|Shoulder Bag/Purse||When I want to go out for the day, the messenger bag is often busy keeping anti-air-con sweaters handy and carrying food items. Additionally, it's too big when I just want a notebook, waterbottle, camera, and to-go snack. I use this packing list item at almost every destination. In transit, it's rolled up and packed in my backpack.|
|Quart Zip-Lock||These should be on every travel checklist to get your 100ml/3oz toiletries through airport security. Get the freezer/durable ones.|
|Plastic shopping bags||You know... what groceries get put in? You only need one or two. Plastic is not hard to come by. Overused and rampantly available in almost every part of the world. You'll put your wet beach clothes in one, you'll fill one up with rubbish on a long bus ride, you'll use it to take your dirty clothes to the laundry shop where your reusable nylon bags will often mysteriously disappear...|
|Travel/Money Belt||It's handy to have an "important stuff" container. Even though I don't actually wear my travel belt
anymore, it's still on my packing list: I use it to organize.
Ten years ago, my passport came with me EVERYWHERE. This isn't a bad idea. Just ask tourists who weren't in their hotels when an earthquake/tsunami/flood hit and were left identity-less, cash-less, and far from home. But I finally decided the discomfort and constantly looking like I'm pregnant wasn't worth it. So now I place my trust in fate, secure my hotel room/locker, and hope it will all be there when I return.
|Pocket Notebook||Make lists, store important info, write down directions, keep emergency USD$ in the secret pocket, and use the magnetic closure to keep business cards, tickets, and receipts from fluttering away. I really like Paper Blanks.|
|Composition Notebook||Great for keeping big lists (life goals, future job ideas), journaling when my computer isn't a sensible option. Taped in lists of phone numbers and addresses for postcards. Made a multi-year calendar in the back for keeping track of birthdays and planning. Also doubles as a storage place for all 8.5x11 documents folded in half. Not every RTW packing list needs one, but I really like having a notebook!|
|Pens||I like writing. And it's fun to have different colors for postcards|
|Passport||Clearly this is the number one item on the ultimate packing list. Not even the world's most hardcore problem solver would be able to get on an international flight without one! If, like me, you think souvenirs are a hassle and clutter your life, you'll still have the stamps and affixed visas when friends ask, "What did you bring home?!"|
|Travel Insurance||I'm not a privileged schmuck who says, "If you can't afford insurance, you can't afford to travel."
That said, if you care about your family's financial stability, at least get a $20-$40 a month policy.
For a quick primer on travel insurance, read:
Travel Insurance 101: Do You Need It?
If you're a newbie, also check out:
Travel Insurance 201: Don't Get Duped.
For RTW travel insurance, I use and recommend:
World Nomads - the best coverage for money ratio. If, like me, you don't know where you're going, World Nomads doesn't care.
If you're from the UK/EEA, consider: True Traveller.
For a decade I've covered shorter trips (90 days or less) with policies found on Insure My Trip - my favorite comparison site.
|Flights||I don't advocate RTW tickets: here's why. But I will admit they're a good fit for some people. I've flown around the world three times for cheaper than you might guess.
I do advocate Free Flights! If you're American and have at least a few weeks before departure, get your bum on the free flight bandwagon before you leave!
|U.S. Cash Stash||This is the currency of the world, at least for now, so an emergency stash of greenbacks should be on your packing list whether or not you're American. I carry three twenties for emergencies. I carry two fifties because $50/$100 bills get a better rate when I just need a few days worth of the local currency (stuck, passing through, etc.) and want to avoid ATM fees.
Have a few small bills kept in separate places/bags for:
1) visas sold only in USD
2) visas that offer a better rate for USD (sometimes HALF PRICE!)
3) scammy border officials who will tell you they don't have change for a large bill
|Yellow Fever proof||If you know your travel plans from start to finish, you may not need it (read up on Google). If you're just setting out and seeing where the wind takes you, get the vaccine and carry proof that you have it. Many countries will ask to see your vaccine document at the border, especially if you're arriving from a known-risk country.|
|Vaccines||Your needed vaccines depend on your travel plans. Educate yourself and ask your doc. I've gotten some of my vaccines/boosters in Bangkok - hospitals there are gorgeous and cheap. I've traveled Asia, South America, U.S. North America, Australia, New Zealand, and Europe with: Hep A, Hep B, Yellow Fever, MMR, Polio, Typhoid, Tetanus|
|Debit & Credit card||If you don't have a credit card earning you miles, open one today. Seriously, right now. Here's how.
My biggest travel regret is that I had been traveling for ten years, telling myself my budget life would never earn enough miles to matter, before I got a card. My current card doesn't even charge foreign transaction fees!
For cash withdrawals, see if your bank has a way you can avoid fees. It's usually complicated - e.g. a high balance or multiple accounts. But if starting up a savings account could save you a few hundred dollars in fees, do it!
Make sure you tell your bank you're going, and consider increasing your withdrawal limit. Generally Better to pay an fixed fee on a bigger withdrawal.
|Driver's license||Especially for RTW travel, packing lists should include your license, even if you don't think you're going to drive.
Some countries will accept a foreign license, some "officially" will not. Often times the cops look the other way. Do whatever you're okay with. One guy I met made several color-copied, laminated "licenses." The corrupt foreign cops didn't know the difference, and it kept him from having to bribe them (they just confiscated his license. Over and over.)
On the other hand, some car rental companies will not accept anything but an "international license" - basically just your license translated into a million languages. It's hard to obtain this from abroad, especially while moving on a tight schedule. If you think you might rent, this may be the best $20 you ever spent.
|Collapsible Water Bottle||A woman who couchsurfed with me in Croatia gave this to me. She wasn't using it, but I think it's GREAT. I often buy several gallons or liters of water when I'm in one place for a few days/weeks. Then I carry just the amount I need in my reusable, collapsible bottle that only takes up space when in service. It saves money and tons of one-use plastic bottles. Also fits perfectly in a seat-back pocket on planes/buses. In countries where I can't fill it with airport tap water, it generally slips through security because the agents don't recognize the liquid-containing shape.
Here's the one I recommend including on your packing list.
|Cards & Duct Tape||Cards are great for entertainment. Fun icebreaker with new friends, pass the time with a travel buddy. Wrapped about three feet of duct tape around the outside. Great for pack repairs, flip-flop repairs, blisters, etc. Duct tape - just a few feet - should be on every RTW packing list.|
|Safety Pins||I recommend a small variety of sizes for every long-term travel packing list. They've come in handy in myriad ways. I store mine by using them to secure a strip of cloth that covers the brand patch on my bag. (Covering it makes my bag look less pristine which helps me blend in. The bag's age helps, too.)|
|Keychain LED flashlight||Sure, you could use your phone's flashlight in the dark at hostels or walking home on an unlit island path late at night... if your phone still has battery life. I use my keychain light occasionally, but won't replace it when it dies/breaks.
Reader Ale says she adores her magnetic clip light: hands free, better than a headlamp, good night light, long lasting battery, "best thing i ever bought haha."
|Batteries for LED light||My light required Energizer CR 2016 batteries, which are really light and worth packing around.|
|Travel lock and key||I rarely use my TSA approved travel lock, but it's good for peace of mind. If I leave my bag in luggage storage for the day, I put all my electronics, etc. in the main compartment of my backpack and lock it. It won't stop a determined thief, but it will deter an opportunistic one!
When I lose or break the ones I have, I'll probably go with a flexible lock like this that can double as a backup for when my heavy duty lock won't fit the locker or door hasp.
|Keychain carabiner||I think this S-biner is handiest for organizing lock keys, room keys, rubber bands, hairties, etc. Oh yeah - and opening the beer your brought back from the 7-11!
I use the D-style biner to clip my bags together if I can't keep a close eye on them (makes them awkward to grab and run with). One packing passionista argues that clipping a carabiner through your bag's zippers is a better thief deterrent than an actual lock because a lock screams "VALUABLES!"
|The World's Smallest Washing Machine||Whether or not the world's smallest washing machine belongs on your RTW packing list really depends on where you're traveling and your travel style.
If you're traveling slowly (4+ days in each place) and in places where laundry service is cheap (Asia, India), you don't need this.
If you're traveling quickly or in countries where laundry service is expensive or non-existent (I once spent an entire day trying to do laundry in Sao Paulo, Brazil), having this 5oz/150gram miracle is a lifesaver. It will work with any soap, and tests proved it washes clothes as well as a home washing machine in 30 seconds, as well as an industrial machine in 3 minutes. Even hardcore minimalist travelers who travel with just two sets of clothes might prefer this over scrubbing out each item individually in a sink at night.
You can't wash your entire wardrobe in one go, so if you have a ton of laundry and no patience, you're better off just slowing down your travels and coughing up the cash for laundry service or a laundromat (if you can find one!). If you hate scrubbing and can spare the luggage space, reader Rachel recommends SOAK - a teaspoon in a sink-full of water for 15 minutes is supposed to be absolutely brilliant.
|15 ft. parachute cord||This army staple will have you stringing up drying lines in a hotel room, tying up mosquito nets, tying up a hammock... If you are a creative problem solver, this needs to be on your RTW packing list.
Says reader Jason in the comments here: "...I arrived back in the US after an epic round the world trip that lasted 167 days. Your travel advice helped me with my packing choices and you are right, parachute cord is handy."
|Rubber door stop||Great for peace of mind when sleeping alone. Didn't work well on a bamboo floor, and most doors have deadbolts/chains/etc. I like having it. Probably don't need it.
Update: I only remember using this twice in three years of carrying it around. But it's lightweight rubber. I often choose to sleep in situations many other travelers would deem "sketchy." You, too? And you're a woman? Consider one, then.
Some people use them in conjunction with door alarms like this, which still work when the door opens outward.
|Rubber bands x 5||A variety of sizes came in handy often in NZ for sealing up food in our van-pantry. Now I have them around for MacGuyver moments. Rubber bands are so lightweight, you'd be crazy not to have them on your packing list.|
|Heavy duty lock & key||Perfect for locking a locker or a door that comes with a lockable hasp. It's annoying that it's so heavy, but worth it when I go out and know that my passport, computer, camera, and sentimentals are safe from all but the most determined thieves. I picked Masterlock! Whether or not you actually need a heavy-duty lock on your RTW packing list depends on your level of security consciousness, I guess.|
|Twist ties x9||Awesome for peace of mind - securing zippers to deter opportunistic thieves from unattended baggage. And other MacGuyver applications.|
|Sewing kit||I wouldn't recommend a full blown kit, but it is nice to have a needle and thread to repair bag straps or clothes. I picked mine up at a vegas hotel, have used it several times, and always toss it in when packing for travel.
You could easily assemble your own if you don't want to buy one like this .
|Roll of TP||Don't bring this. But leave space in your bag. You can often pick up rolls at convenience shops/kiosks or take the rest from your hotel room.
In developing countries, I always carry a roll plus a few sheets in every bag/clothing pocket. Remember to check before dropping off or doing your laundry, or you'll be very sorry.
I've tried going local and just washing with the pail of water. Inevitably, I soak myself, don't feel clean unless I really scrub (and then sometimes there isn't soap with which to wash afterward!), and want to dry with TP anyway. If you can forgo toilet paper, more power to you!
|Bamboo or Plastic silverware||Nice to have when that bag of mango slices you just bought didn't come with a skewer and you haven't washed your hands for what feels like three years. Easy to obtain for free.
NB: You'll see below that I do NOT recommend a multi-tool for weight & low-use reasons. If you're going to carry one anyway, consider one with silverware.
|Garbage Bag||Mostly for backpacking – the real kind. But the heavy duty 40 or 50 gallon bag could double as a poncho or a backpack cover in the rain (If I remembered I had it in time. It's light enough and out of the way so it feels worth keeping around).
Update: I have never used this. I don't even thing I have it anymore. However, I still think it's worth having on an RTW packing list. I wouldn't include it on a general travel packing list.
|Sleep Sack||This is one item I actually recommend buying. Some tropical countries provide a mattress covered in a fitted sheet with an unappealing blanket that's either too hot, made of an itchy material, or seems unwashed. Some hostels charge extra for sheets. Sometimes I'm freezing and it adds extra warmth.
A silk-liner is spacious, cool when you’re hot, warms you up in the cold, dries quickly if you wash it on the go, and doubles as a beach, airplane, and airport blanket! I like Cocoon Silk.
|Sunglasses||My future's so bright... I always buy retail rack specials. I don't know how long these polarized glasses are going to be on mega-sale, but there's always these basic glasses that amazon buyers *love*!
|Earplugs!||Earplugs are a definite contender for a top spot on the ultimate packing list. Great for keeping out crowing roosters, karaoke, all-night bands, loud neighbors, squeaky fans, etc. Supposedly, your brain kind of needs the silence.
I keep a few "single use" pairs stuffed in practically every pocket imaginable so they're always available. You roll them into a tiny cylinder and quickly stuff into your ear canal before they re-expand. I use each pair more than once (which is supposedly medically risky).
If you can't pick them up through a blue-collar friend, at a sports stadium, or from a library dispenser, these are the ones I recommend buying. I like this size - bigger ones hurt my ears.
|Travel Bug Spray||I have a cavalier attitude toward carcinogens when it comes to itchy bugs. If you don't know that this stuff is seriously evil - cancer giving evil - educate yourself before you buy. It certainly doesn't belong on everyone's packing list.|
|Sleep Mask||Kept my airplane freebie on a whim a few years ago. It came in handy so often, sleeping in airports, on planes, on buses, etc. that I finally bought a good one. If you aren't sensitive to light, maybe you don't need one. But getting sleep in often uncomfortable situations hugely affects the quality of your adventures.|
|Travel Pillow||I did fine for years using my fleece as a pillow (and sometimes still do when I'm lazy). I decided to test a travel pillow out in 2015 after being in numerous situations where I longed for one.
If a pillow is what it takes for you to get at least SOME sleep on overnight bus rides, add it to your packing list. You'll be in far better shape upon arrival. Save space with the inflatable kind. I have this one, and I love it. Ironically, I use it even more at hotels than I do in transit. When the bed pillow is too big, I inflate my travel pillow to the perfect height and fall right asleep!
FWIW: Unless you are a really picky sleeper, I don't recommend the J-pillow, now en vouge. Yeah, it's super cool. And yeah, it takes up TONS of space for occasional comfort only slightly better than than provided by an inflatable or your fleece.
|Hankie (aka Sweat Rag)||Ew, gross, eh? Well, people often comment that Asians don't seem to sweat. Not true. They just think it's gross to make other people look at it. So they keep a folded cloth handy to dab up any perspiration on their faces. I finally adopted the practice a few years ago in Thailand. If you're headed for Asia, consider adding this to your packing checklist.|
|Laptop Computer||Bought my Toshiba KIRAbook on sale at Costco. It's everything my $300 Netbook wasn't. Incredibly fast, battery lasts ages, handles power use (a dozen applications open and a bazillion internet tabs). Geek speak: Windows 8.1, 8GB RAM, 256 SSD, i7 processor
If you just want something to check email and skype, it could just be cheaper to use internet cafes or your smartphone if you have one already. If you're committed do documentation in any way, a laptop is an almost-necessary packing list item. Otherwise, internet cafe's could frustrate you endlessly. A laptop is also a burden - one more valuable and one more reason you might shy from hammocking randomly on a beach somewhere. “The things you own end up owning you!”
Read more of my KIRAbook thoughts here or see it on Amazon.
|Computer cord||Plug it in, plug it in...|
|Digital Camera||Obviously most people have smartphones to serve this basic purpose. If not, be sure a camera is on your packing list.
Reader Dan says most digital cams under $200 are not better than your iPhone or Galaxy.
He thinks it can be worth carrying a more rugged digital camera. He has an Olympus Tough that is waterproof and drop proof, great for the beach, rafting, caves, snorkeling, and food fights. He reckons a GoPro camera also works great if you want to spend a little more for something lighter.
Related: a common trick to avoid losing all your vacation photos is to bring several SD cards, swapping them out regularly in case of camera theft. Cloud storage is an alternative, but barriers include slow uploading speeds in your country of choice or data caps (like in Australia/New Zealand).
|Extra Long charger cable||You'll recharge your electronics every day. In hotel room after hotel room, you'll be longing for a longer cable.
If you use micro USB stuff, this cable is a MUST. It's the longest I could find, and it's great. Its braided sheath means it doesn't get tangled, banged up, or easily damaged. Color options make it easy to spot among all the other cables I have.
If you're an Apple baby, this 6 ft. cord or this 10 ft. cord both work for iPhone 5, 6 and a bunch of iPads. If you see the value of a brightly colored, no-tangle cord, pick one of these. Or if you're still using Apple's original, proprietary charger (iPhone 4, old iPods, etc), get this 6ft. or this 10ft. cord.
|MP3 player||I love music when I run and workout, which I try to fit in outside of tropical latitudes. When my 8GB, 3rd gen iPod Nano dies, I'll probably buy this 16 GB MP3 player or this 32 GB one. I also really like this waterproof one, too. We'll see!
If you're traveling with a smartphone, it can do double duty for music.
|iPod charger cord||Is anyone else annoyed by Apple's proprietary charger cables ?|
|Earbuds||My old Apple earbuds that came with my iPod were brutal. The rubber sheath was peeling, they killed my ears during long listening sessions, fell out when running, faded in and out, and then actually fell apart.
I was horrified to discover how much these Bose Headphonesare worth, but they are excellent. If you love, love, love music or running with earbuds is a regular part of your life, I'd recommend splashing out. Otherwise, I'm sure cheapies will suit. You can replace them as they break.
|mic/earbuds for skype||As a product, these Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones are pretty cool. I don't think they're worth the dent they'd put in your wallet. That said, they are lovely on airplanes and buses, and come with a mic so I can use them for Skype when I'm in a noisy place.
If you will talk often to people back home, having a headset is a dream. My RTW packing list will always have one, but you know yourself. Maybe cybercafes and smartphones will meet your needs.
|google voice account||Google voice currently offers an amazing service to U.S. Citizens FOR FREE. You need an American IP address and an American phone number, so this one is tricky to take care of if you’re not on American soil. Not everyone has Skype, Facetime, Viber, Whatsapp, or even a smartphone/laptop/tablet. But I’d guess most people you know have a phone. If the number is American, Google voice allows you to call them for free! FREE! The rates to numbers outside America are super competitive.
A google voice account definitely belongs at the top of the ultimate RTW packing list. If you're not American, consider trying to find a way to make it work for you!
|Plug Adapter Kit||Every international travel packing list needs plug adapters. The best kit I ever found had four very small, lightweight adapters. The kit came with a converter, which I junked. Heavy, and probably unnecessary as cameras, laptops, etc. come with built in converters these days. If you need your blow dryer or razor, you might need a converter, too.|
|16G USB||A thumb drive is great for backing up my computer occasionally, grabbing files from travel mates, and the occasional internet cafe usage (look out for viruses!).
Given it's weight (none) and the number of times I've used it in the last several years (lots) I'd recommend it for any RTW packing list.
To Put on My Body
|Sports sandals||Chacos are the most versatile type of traveling shoe, in my opinion, and the only footwear you need. Good for heat, water, walking long distances, hiking, and can adjust straps to fit gargantuan layers of wool socks if you go somewhere cold. I've worn Chacos in Bolivia with temps well below zero, slipping and sliding on a three day jungle trek in SE Asian mountains, and hustling though multiple airports and cities.
Tevas are also popular. Barefoot aficionados like Xero Shoes
Readers have written in liking more fashionable OluKai drop-in-heels with washable soles and easy-to-dress up or down laceless Chucks,
Consider just one pair of shoes for your personal RTW packing list. If you end up hating it, you can always add as you go! There have been times I've had more than one pair of shoes. However, the convenience was tempered by the annoyance every time I repacked and struggled to fit the pairs I wasn't wearing into my bag.
|Underwear x 15||The women's brand here has awesome, deep, built in pockets. If you're a lady, you know how clutch this can be even when you're not traveling.
Although I have more, 10 pairs is plenty, even for an RTW packing list. Women can get away with having extra, but your small clothing stash will require frequent washing. Therefore, undies never run out.
When my knickers wear thin, replacing them makes for a fun souvenir. (e.g. It broke my heart when my favorite Brazilian pair had to be let go.)
|Bras x 4||Wish I would have bought something that would allow me to wear racer back or neck-halter tops. Two white and two black have given me plenty of versatility.|
|Shirts x 6||Most people in the world wear t-shirts (not tank tops), and I like to blend in. DON'T BRING MORE THAN FIVE! Adding to your supply or replacing stained/stinky/torn shirts will give you automatic souvenirs. My current stash contains two shirts new within the last month, one new within the last three months, and I've gotten rid of two I packed originally.
Under Armour has great, quick drying, non-stinky, durable t-shirts.
|Pants x3||I started off with two pairs of bottoms - leggings and cargo "travel pants," which made laundry day challenging.
Jeans are nice for temperate countries, but mostly go unworn in the tropics.
I don't often wear shorts, mostly to blend in as mentioned in t-shirts. It's a bummer to get caught in culturally inappropriate attire and be denied entrance to places like Angkor Wat temples. Pants are a safe bet. Even those in capris are often turned away from specific areas. I really like the convertible, zip off travel pants that allow me to have shorts when I want them.
|Fleece Pull-over||Even if you are going to an equatorial desert, your packing list needs a fleece. In warm places, when you pay for A/C, you GET A/C. Buses, airplanes, grocery stores, movie theaters, shopping malls, lobbies... all absolutely frigid. Since my REI fleece shrunk, I've picked up all of mine second-hand - usually in skiing destinations.
A lightweight down jacket or down alternative will take up less space and maybe be warmer, but can't really double as restaurant outerwear... unless you're a weirdo who doesn't mind breaking custom and eating dinner in your parka. If you tend toward outdoors instead of hors d'oeuvres, consider rocking the down.
|Long-sleeve Poly Pro||This type of long sleeve is great for me as an outdoors lover (polypropylene dries quickly when compared to other fabrics - especially cotton. This is key in hypothermia prevention on the trail). Comes in handy on the bus when I want to use my fleece as a pillow but still need protection from the A/C.|
|Gym Socks x 1||Light, below ankle socks are easy to carry, great for warmth on busses. I've never regretted having a few pairs of socks on my RTW packing list.|
|Wool Hiking Socks x 1||A wool pair of socks is handy in cold places (occasional mountain towns) where you wear everything you own. Also great on busses. I like Smart Wool.|
|Dress with Sleeves||While I am NOT a dress type of woman, I also hate wearing clothes. A dress I bought at a market in Cambodia was the perfect answer. I roll out of bed and throw it on to pay visits to shared bathrooms. It doubles if I need something nice.
|Bikini||Water baby! Waiting to buy a a bikini until you're on the road is risky. I found out the hard way that suits at your destination may not fit at all, and can be cut in a style outside your comfort zone. Given my experience, definitely put your swimsuit/bathers/togs on your packing list.
Buying something online will allow you to pick a top and bottom that actually fit if, like me, you struggle with pre-matched bikinis.
|Contact Lenses||I like to see. I try to carry at least six months of my Acuve 2 & Oasys, and I try to refuel in Asia where I don't need a prescription to buy. (NB: contacts are the same general cost around the world. To consider: no optometrist in Bali carried my 8.4 curve.)|
|Contact solution||I keep full-size bottle of solution in my bag and re-fill a travel bottle as needed. If you need this on your packing list, know this: unless you're going really far off the beaten track, you'll be able to replace it as you go for same or cheaper than 1st world prices.|
|Contacts Case||Supposedly you need to change the case like you'd change a toothbrush. If you care about this, maybe add an extra one or two to your packing list.|
|Rimless Glasses||Come in handy when I don't want to wear my contacts. You can order cheaply through Zenni Optical. I had a great experience, but lots of other reviewers didn't.|
|[Organic Cotton] Tampons||Tampons are hard to come by in some countries. I started out with six boxes of 20, back when I knew I'd have a car in NZ for a year. Despite my feelings on carcinogens in bug spray, I strongly prefer not to use mainstream rayon-and-chemical-laden tampons. Which, if they're available at all, are all you'll get in a developing country. I like this kind.
If this is an item you use already, read up on availability in your first destinations and definitely put a few months worth on your RTW packing list.
|Shampoo||Available at roadside shops, 7-11, everywhere in 100mL (3oz) sizes - perfect! You can also buy sachets a lot of places, which ultimately seems more wasteful and is definitely more expensive.
I know y'all are going to think I'm a total crazy-pants... (I am!) but you could consider a hair routine that doesn't require shampoo. Sounds insane, I know. Here's how I do no shampoo, while still looking normal.
|Face Wash - Baking Soda||Give it a try. Baking soda is a bit gritty, so it exfoliates. I either mix it with water to form a paste and store it in a small bottle or dip my wet fingers in a little container of powder. I don't know how it works with makeup. Baking soda does triple duty as shampoo and deodorant, not to mention battling shoe stink and other travel smellies.|
|Deodorant - Baking Soda||"Normal" (chemical-laden) deodorant is available everywhere - 7-11, pharmacies, roadside stands, etc. No reason to bring extra.
I've been using baking soda for 18 months, and I love it! I never ever, ever have B.O. Ever. And I couldn't have said that at any point during the last few decades of my life.
|Travel Towel - medium||Some places provide towels, some don't. I'm committed to keeping a travel towel on my RTW packing list, despite having adopted a slower travel style that sees me using it less and less. If this is your first big RTW trip, I think it really pays to have one.
These things are notorious for stinking and needing washed often. I'm glad I have a medium so it takes up little space. If you don't get one of these travel towels, I'd recommend a washcloth. It won't dry as fast or provide any coverage, but it shouldn't get as irreparably raunchy. Forget about using a sarong or t-shirt. See here for my reasoning.
|Compact Mirror||Sort of belongs in the MacGuyver category. Good for eyebrow plucking. In terms of frequency, I don't use this enough to justify having it on my packing list. BUT, when I do use it, I'm really glad I have it!
This one is spendy, but has a light that could be a great back-up in dark hostel rooms.
|Sunscreen||I think Solbar is the best sunscreen you'll ever own. Amazing if you genuinely want to keep the sun off. Read more here , or see it here. I have this on my packing list because I've found even mediocre sunscreen to be quite expensive in other industrialized nations. In Asia, it's almost impossible to find it without "whitening" ingredients.
Don't forget to repackage it into a 3 oz. container if you're traveling carry-on only.
|Lotion||I always need lotion after a shower, no matter the humidity.|
|Fingernail Clippers||Also potentially belongs in MacGuyver category. I use these
all the time, and they double as scissors for many situations. I recommend them for every RTW packing list!
|Toothbrush||You don't need a pack of six
- just replace as you go!
Update 2016: After reading James Turner's awesome packing list, I'm considering getting the battery-operated Oral B brush he recommends. No voltage hassles as I jump from country to country.
Update 2017: I love it! Battery-operated electronic toothbrush is where it's at!
|Toothbrush cover||A toothbrush case is overkill unless you're a germ-a-phobe, but a I think a toothbrush cover belongs on the ultimate packing list. Your toothbrush will be constantly subjected to questionable surfaces. I love my smiley toothbrush cover - keeps the ick off *and* makes me happy!|
|Travel Toothpaste||Toothpaste takes a long time to use up and is widely available. This
is a good size.
|Floss x 2||Also a MacGuyver tool.|
|Electric Hair Trimmer & Batteries||As a person not obsessed with shaving, my battery-operated trimmer is way faster than razors when I finally get around to ridding myself of body hair. This one is on my current packing checklist, but when it dies (hasn't in five years!), I'm switching to this little guy.
Helps dudes go a few more weeks without a haircut by trimming up sideburns/around the ears and neck. Also wonderful for all those times that he goes days or weeks without shaving.
|Blush & Mascara||I hardly ever wear makeup, but occasionally I want to decorate my face.|
|Chapstick x2||If you don't already use chapstick,
you probably won't start. I like to have it around. If in doubt, leave it off your packing checklist: buy when you're sure you want it.
|Q-tips||Wearing earplugs will make you feel the need to clean your ears, so consider these for your RTW packing list - even if this need doesn't already arise in your current life.
|Bobby pins x 8||MacGuyver. And great in a pinch to keep your hair out of your face etc.|
|Hand Sanitizer||This stuff keeps getting dumped on me, but it has come in handy. i.e. Long bus trips when your mango snack didn't come with a skewer and your hands are filthy, etc. Don't get the scented or gel kind - leaves your hands feeling sticky and tasting like perfume.
Unless you already use the stuff, I'd say wait to buy it until you experience a time you wish you had it.
|Large Hair Clip||When I had really, really long hair, this was always on my packing checklist. No need to tote a back-up around as it will probably get broken before you ever get a chance to use it, and replacements are widely available.|
|Hair Ties x 4||Used for securing my hair when I go swimming. Also a MacGuyver tool.|
|Drugs - pain||Aspirin/acetaminophen/paracetamol have come in handy on multiple occasions. Add a small stash to your packing list - it can be replenished easily and cheaply on the road. Long bus rides, dehydration headaches, hangovers, long jungle treks, miles of swim/snorkeling... you'll eventually want this stuff.|
|Drugs - other||You know yourself. My immune-system-of-steel leads me to recommend against having your own, personal pharmacy - even for an RTW packing list. I threw alkaseltzer packets in at random, and my travel partner ended up using them for digestive troubles.
If you regularly take any over-the-counter meds, throw in a few (labeled!) doses. Generally, you can get OTC meds as needed in any country at any pharmacy. The internet will help you.
|Bandaids x 10||I never use bandaids in my normal life. But in the tropics things get infected more easily, so I always add these to my RTW packing checklist. A past travel partner was accident prone and used most of my stash at the time.|
Unique to My Life
|Diving Credentials||I decided to get certified finally, with CMAS. I love the water but could never justify adding a $400 ticket item to a $2,000 trip. Now that I'll have plenty of opportunities to use my certification, I went for it. It's an expensive sport, but worth it. Just don't make the mistake I made.|
|Workout Routines||I picked workouts that can be done without equipment. In tropical countries, I barely use them at all. Most are just torn out or printed from the Women's Health website. Rather than a having these as a physical item on your packing list, consider an app.|
|Photos to Mail||I like to send photos as postcards. I brought along prints from family gatherings. I use them to write home so my nephews don't forget me and my family is reminded of all the fun we have together and how much I love them. I'd rather remind them of our times together than send a postcard of our time apart (the place I'm in). The slowly dwindling stash also doubles as something to share with new friends.|
(Update: some items I’ve since purged, others I continue to succumb to “but what if I end up needing it?” thinking. Better to stick to a minimalist packing list in the first place – do not pack questionable items!)
Stuff Currently Weighing Me Down
|ITEM||COST||WHY I HAVEN'T TOSSED IT OUT YET|
To Contain Things
|Small Nylon Stuff Sack||If a bigger nylon stuff sack is on your RTW packing list, I don't think you need a small one. In past travels, I used this football sized one for containing toiletries. I like my nylon shopping bag, because it's bright green - easy to spot. I keep this extra stuff sack around "in case I need it someday." #hoarderinsecurities.|
|Coin Purse||I get rid of (heavy!) coins as fast as possible. I tend not to carry a purse or keep money anywhere but my pockets. Right now the coin purse contains a single coin, a safety pin, and the piece of hard plastic my Philippines SIM card came in that has the telephone number of the SIM on it. Junk!|
|Various Zip Lock Bags||I have half gallons, a dirty one gallon, and a broken two gallon bag that I keep in case I need them for some MacGuyver purpose. Which is stupid. Just carrying them around because it makes me feel better. Like that pair of jeans you're thinking about packing for tropical destinations. (DON'T DO IT! Jeans are heavier than zip lock bags!)|
|Books - 6||I have six at the time of writing. These are my vice. Every traveler has one. I try to only carry one or two. However if my stash is that low, I can't seem to escape a bookstore without two or three more books in hand. #addict|
|Gum||My last pack! Why did I bring so much gum? I'm not really even a gum chewer. And it's pretty widely available. And usually I forget I even have it. So unless you're a true addict, you don't need to waste space and weight by putting this on your packing list.|
|Cell Phone||If you have a smartphone, you're probably bringing it. I left the U.S. years ago, just before smartphones really took off, often traveled on Nokias, and have yet to be sucked into the pocket-zombie world. These days, I still don't have one, and I often don't bother with any phone at all. Here's why:
Figuring out each country's system, recharging, finding the right SIM, etc. is a pretty big hassle. I mostly use skype and google voice (see #2) to talk to my family and friends.
As far as calling places to make reservations: phone conversations between people who don't share a first language are always a bit frustrating and often fruitless anyway. That said, if you'll be job or house hunting, you'll need a cell phone. If you're hitting the road with a smartphone, research having it unlocked.
|AV Camera Cord||Bought a new camera on the road, and it came with a cord I won't use while traveling. However, thought I might want it back home to show pictures on a TV. In reality, I will probably never use this. Ever.|
|NZ plug adapter||While I do think you need an adapter kit on your RTW packing list, this particular one is the bulky replacement I had to purchase when the smaller adapter from my original kit went missing. I'm keeping it around for future just-in-case. Given it's bulk, it would probably be better to hand it off to another traveler and buy again later.|
|Flimsy Laptop Sleeve||I convince myself I might want it someday. So it floats around.|
|Extra Earbuds||To be fair, my iPod earbuds fell apart, and I did use these. However, back up headphones don't belong on your packing list. Silly. Cheap replacements can be found anywhere Lonely Planet will guide you.|
|Keychain red LED flashlight||I do think you need some kind of light on your RTW packing list. However, this flashlight is basically burnt out, and the batteries aren't replaceable. But I still keep it around. What if I find myself in a cave, and... miracle of miracles, I happen to have it in my pocket and it's the think that saves the day!? #hoarderinsecurities|
|Zip ties x 5||MacGuyver. And #hoarderinsecurities. Please, do not put zip ties on your packing checklist.
|Duct Tape - second stash||This is another three feet wrapped around a piece of cardboard (in addition to the same length wrapped around my playing cards box). Unlike most other things I pack around merely because of my hoarder insecurities, I actually remember consistently that I have it. I love to MacGuyver things.|
|Mini Highlighter||Got it for free, it's tiny, who knows where you're going to need a highlighter?! After nearly two years, the answer is... NEVER. Conclusion: do not add to your RTW packing list.|
|Sharpie||Used my Sharpie a tiny bit in NZ. Don't actually use now. I thought about it once. #hoarderinsecurities.|
|Expired Credit Cards to give to thieves||Lots of other travelers had this on their packing lists. The idea is to use these expired cards as decoys - leaving them in easy places, keeping one in your pocket to hand over should you get robbed. I brought five or six of them, but have never used them. The diligence it would take to always have decoys ready and remember which pocket has my real stash... not happening.|
|Water purifier tablets||Headed off to see well-known, beautiful things? The infrastructure required to accommodate visitors includes access to safe water. Unless you're going - for weeks on end - to places that aren't written about in Lonely Planet, your packing list doesn't need anything but cash to buy cheap, purified, bottled water.
I do think, however, you should bring along your own collapsible water bottle.
Have fixed plans to be deep in the Congo? Definitely invest in advanced water purification.
|Medical Tape||Just tossed the half used roll in when I was packing under the guise of "what if I need it to MacGuyver something?" Let's be honest, people. I have duct tape, should any kind of tape be needed. I would never even remember I had this, even if I were longing for adhesive, unless someone said, "do you have any medical tape?"|
|Tissue packet||This shows up on many a RTW packing list. I just threw it in for emergencies. In an emergency I'd forget I have it, since I already have three or four different places I keep wads of tissue.
|Folding Frisbee||Folds like those windshield sun shades. Never use it. Never even think about usng it. Never really come across a grassy open field where a game of frisbee would be appropriate. But what if I found a little kid to play with/give it to?! #hoarderinsecurities|
|Full Size Face Wash||Face wash lasts a long time and smaller containers are lighter and widely available. When I finally use this one up (next year?!), I will stick to 100mL (3oz) or less.
And actually, in 2014, I switched to baking soda. How-to post coming in 2015.
|Hotel Shampoo||I used to pack around 3 hotel freebies in addition to 6 oz/100-200 mL containers... before I switched to baking soda. I think I'd forget about these hotel freebies, even when a situation arose that I might actually have used them up.|
|Small Hair Clip||Brought as a backup. The reality is, I have hair ties (that I actually use) for this purpose. I invest far too much mental energy (too much = any at all!) into making sure it doesn't get broken. Gladly gave this away to a friend.|
|Solid/Bar Shampoo & container||I got Lush Trichomania after seeing this on other people's RTW packing lists and thinking it was a great idea. A whole bottle in a single bar! Saves space and weight! Just add water! Ended up not liking it. 1) Lathering up takes awhile. 2) Keeping the bar dry is high maintenance. And if you store it wet or let it get too wet, it starts to disintegrate and then becomes a huge challenge to lather all the broken little pieces. 3) you have to keep it in a solid container that continues taking up space whether it's full or not.|
|Solid/Bar Conditioner & container||Same as shampoo, only Lush Jungle takes a really, really, really long time to get the conditioner to lather. I.e. it takes me a full 15 minutes of lather, apply, lather, apply, lather, apply to coat a very long mane.|
To Put on My Body
|Scarf||Got it as a gift. It actually has come in really handy on cold buses and for wrapping my busted ankle. So now I'm glad I have it. But I wouldn't necessarily recommend putting it on your packing checklist. Better to buy along the way as a souvenir.|
|Running Shoes||Had these on my original RTW packing list, because I knew I'd use them in NZ for working out. They've gotten very little use in SE Asia. I have run a few times. And they would come in handy for the theoretical jungle trek I've not done this time around. And I liked having them when I busted my ankle, because they're light (er than my Chacos). I'm about to do something stable for a few months - living in the same place day after day. If I don't use the shoes then, they're getting donated!|
|Sports Bra||Felt guilty finding my sports bra in the bottom of my bag when I went to make this list. I'm just not dedicated to running in the tropical heat. However, as a fitness fan, this will always be on my travel packing list.|
|Running Shirt||see Sports Bra.|
|Running Spandex||Same as above.|
|BeachWrap - muslin skirt||Really, I'm conflicted on this one. It did come in handy when I started out with only two pairs of pants and nothing really to wear on laundry day. Probably if I were more of a beach person, I would use it more often. Now that I have three pairs of pants, I've not used it once.|
|Cowl neck tank top||I don't really wear tank tops, but kept this because it's "nice" I tend only to wear it when it's the last thing clean. It's rare that my laundry situation gets that desperate, which is a great example of why you don't need a gazillion shirts on your RTW packing list.|
Unique to My Life
|Ankle Brace||Blew out my ankle in the Philippines and needed help with rehab. Picked a brace up at a Chinese pharmacy in Thailand. My ankle has healed, but I keep it on silly grounds - like, "What if I re-injure it?"|
|Barefoot Running Shoes||I'm really into barefoot running and bought these shoes for when I couldn't run completely barefoot (no grass, too much gravel/glass).
Running in cities in developing countries is tough. The pollution usually makes outdoor exercise pretty awful. And in the tropics, running is ugh. If I knew a runnable country was on my itinerary, I would absolutely keep these on my packing checklist.
Finally, there are lots of packing lists out there. Most of them are made by people who are just setting out for the first time, and they haven’t been updated with lessons that have been learned the hard way. Here are:
- items I considered
- why I ruled against them
- why I think you might actually need some of these things
- which items I secretly covet
- how I’m faring without.
Stuff Other People Say to Pack & Why to Ignore Them
|ITEM||EXAMPLES||WHY I DON'T HAVE IT - - - WHY YOU MIGHT NOT NEED IT|
To Contain Things
|I see packing cubes on many RTW packing lists. If you think you'll like sequestering your things, the cheaper version gets my vote. As a bonus, the cheaper version is also transparent, making your stuff easy to find. Pair these with nylon stuff sacks, and you're all set!
Update 2016: Finally Eagle Creek is making silnylon sacks (read: insanely light and durable) with no space-taking, brick-making, shape-holding seams. As a long-time lover of silnylon (brilliant in the outdoor industry), these are the only packing cubes that seem reasonable and useful to me.
Note that sequestering items can make fitting everything into a small bag difficult. As "organization nut" Danielle at World-Smith.com found after buying packing cubes, "they are way too bulky to fit a lot of stuff in a small space." And, "when everything you own fits in a 40L backpack, that’s really all the organization you need."
Reader Rachel says, "I have learned over time that the only cubes worth using when packing a backpack are the little ones that are meant for socks and undies. Because they are small, you can then cram them into the corners of your pack that other cubes won't fit in, and they don't turn into heavy bricks like the large ones."
Update 2016: If you're dying to organize, consider this sectioned stuff sack - all the joy of separating your stuff without the bulk!
|If you're an avid reader like me, a Kindle should be on every packing checklist you ever make. Benefits: avoid packing multiple heavy books *and* access the internet! But make sure you actually like the thing before hitting the road with it. And if you're not an avid reader, stick to a real book or two that you can trade as you go. Nothing sucks more than having something valuable that you're not cavalier about jettisoning but not ever using either.|
|food||If this is your first RTW trip, I definitely recommend putting "treats from home" on your packing list. When you are taking off for a long time, familiar food is helpful in getting you through inevitable culture shock.|
|When I traveled in South America, my down, 20 degree (f) bag came in handy on nighttime bus rides through the Andes on transport with NO HEATER! Also in South American hotel rooms with no heater. But if you're not going to be spending more than two weeks in the high country, don't put it on your RTW packing list. Aren't sure where you're going? DEFINITELY don't bring it. You will be able to sort out a solution at your destination.
Worst case scenarios: you pack it around, never use it, and ruin it in the process. Soaked in a torrential downpour, then no time to dry it and it mildews. Torn by the edge of that shovel sticking off the crap-heap that tops every Bolivian bus. Stolen. Forgotten at that hotel you left at 3 a.m. to catch your flight to another continent after drinking all night. Etc.
A past travel partner had one of these, which he used heaps in New Zealand. I was unexpectedly impressed with the Coleman brand. When my Marmot dies, I might give one a go!
Reader Dan says he adores carrying his $60, 40-degree bag that compresses down really small. He uses it in many situations where I use a smaller sleep sack: in lieu of hotel/hostel sheets, a blanket on cold train/bus rides, to avoid dirtying sheets at a couchsurfing host's house, etc. He's also used it outside on a mountaintop because he wanted to see the sunsrise and all the rooms were full.
|If you've never used an external hard drive, you probably don't need one on your packing list. If you use one often, maybe you do. What are the going rates for internet in the countries you're going to? Can you upload along the way? Do you need to pack around a bunch of movies? How much space do you have on dropbox/google drive? External HD's are heavy - especially if you're never using it but have to worry about keeping it dry, etc.|
|Lots of people swear by these. If you aren't a detail-oriented person, perhaps the brain space this saves you is worth it (vs. having to remember to rotate things that need charged).
Reader Dan reckons having one is terribly handy, allowing you to add more outlets at hostels and airports and keeping you from being tethered to awkwardly placed outlets. It even lets him reach power points from the top bunk in a dorm and snake the cord into his locker so he can charge things while they are locked up.
|For a person who spends hours on the computer making spreadsheets, etc. for strangers like you, I should maybe get one of theseto ward off carpal tunnel. But so far awareness, internet cafes, and having a lighter load are working for me. Unless you already use one daily, don't put a mouse on your RTW packing list. You can buy on the road if you end up wanting one.|
|watch||If you don't usually wear a watch, don't start. Other people know what time it is. Make a friend. Even if they don't speak your language, they'll usually be happy to show you their watch face or cell phone.|
|For lots of reasons, I think RTW tickets are not a fit for most wanting to travel around the world. They're great for people with specific goals. However, they don't necessarily save you money. For cheaper than you'd think, I traveled around the world three times only buying tickets four or five weeks in advance.|
|Guide books are awesome to read before you go - which I would recommend to every single first-time traveler. The irony is, they are not awesome to carry around. However, if you're moving fast you benefit the most from possessing a book. If you're putting this on your packing list, get a Lonely Planet. They are the world's best guidebook. Period. I've used Footprint, Frommer's, Let's Go!... no one can beat LP's organization and ability to get you excited about the sites.
I have PDFs which I reference occasionally. Consider not traveling via guide book. (!!) 🙂
|You probably will need these if you're on a long trip to indefinite locations. So why shouldn't you add them to your RTW packing list?
1) You'll pay more for them at home than you will on the road.
2) You'll never be left stranded because you don't have them. A border where you have to have a photo or you don't get a visa? Guess what. Some entrepreneurial soul saw this unmet need and started up a shop next door offering just that service for the same or cheaper price than you'd pay back in your country!
|I scanned mine and have them available via email. If your passport and credit cards get jacked, there is a good chance EVERYTHING got stolen... in which case your copies are gone too. Hence, the reason to have the documents available online and not as a physical item on your packing list.|
|traveler's checks||If you found an RTW packing list with traveler's checks on it, run the other way. Cash and plastic are king. Travelers checks have become obsolete, people have a hard time cashing them, and they are a pain to manage... all those copies, knowing the serial numbers... blah.|
|If you genuinely have one, bring it! If you aren't genuinely a student but intend to avail of those discounts... karma, karma, karma. But if you don't mind being reincarnated as a cockroach, you can get good fakes on the streets in SE Asian cities.|
|phrasebooks||The time I turned to a phrasebook, it was the middle of the night. I needed to go to the hospital. No matter which Khmer phrase I tried, the sleeping hotel desk attendant just kept mumbling "No speaking English" with his eyes firmly shut. Unless you're dedicated to actually learning the language, you probably won't use a phrasebook and therefore don't need it on your packing list.
I tend to learn my phrases one at a time, as needed, and write them down in a notebook.
|Most places where mosquitoes are a problem will have a mosquito net in the room. Most countries with mosquito problems will have these for sale, and often at cheaper prices than back home, if you decide you need your very own. Only if you're doing tons of camping would I *maybe* concede adding this an RTW packing list.|
|Same as mosquito net. Countries with mosquito problems sell mosquito coils and for as cheap or cheaper than you get them at home. If you try and bring them, they'll likely be crushed into pieces before you even get to your first destination.|
|I'm a minimalist above all else. However, one of these is really nice to have to have on your packing list. I'll bring one on my next RTW trip. For now, my heavily researched keychain LED works wonders.
|knife||I did travel for a bit with someone who had a knife. We used it to cut mangoes. Overall, one of those "nice to have" but totally-not-worth-the-weight things. As with many items others have on their RTW packing list, you can almost always improvise, borrow, or just go without.
Reader Dan begs to differ. He likes having both a knife and screwdriver. He picks up a cheap knife at a random shop wherever he goes to cut food and do other odd jobs, paying a dollar and then leaving it when he boards a plane.
|Heavy. Will you really be in a situation that you need this? And you won't be able to improvise or borrow ANYTHING else? C'mon...|
|Depends on your level of paranoia. A cable lock would have been nice to have when I traveled for five days on the Amazon sharing a small boat with over 100 other people sleeping in hammocks with no secure luggage storage. But trust, a small carabiner to hold my bags together (harder to steal) and strategic placement of valuables in locking bag chambers made me feel secure and kept unnecessary weight off my packing list.|
|compass||If you already have the skills to use a compass, you don't need one on your packing list (unless you're planning on doing some serious backcountry stuff, and even then you can probably rent).
If you don't already have compass skills, don't get one. This is one of those things where you can easily dream up situations where it would be really handy. Will those situations happen? Probably not. If they do, will you have your compass on you? Probably not. If you do, will you remember you have it, put your bag down, and unpack all the crap on top of it to get it? Probably not.
|Laundry powder will probably just end up breaking open all over the stuff in your bag. Most countries will have small amounts for sale in 7-11s, etc. And many countries have laundry service that's so cheap it's not worth the time of doing it yourself.
The exception, as reader Rachel points out in the comments, is anyone with allergies to common soaps. She recommends rinse-free SOAK wash - no scrubbing required, no perfumes or dyes, works amazingly well.
|You can improvise something if you really need to plug the sink. But think through this. Why would you need to plug the sink? To do your own laundry. But if you're on that much of a budget, you're probably staying in hostels or hotels where the sinks are really gross or shared with lots of signs posted around telling you DO NOT USE THE SINK TO DO YOUR LAUNDRY. And so you will likely spring for the (very cheap) laundry service anyway.
Some dedicated light-travel enthusiasts bring only two of everything and wash a set of clothes each night. If this is you, consider the world's smallest washing machine. Or... plug away. For everyone else, don't put this on your packing list.
|candle||Why? Please don't burn down a hostel. If not for outdoor use, this doesn't belong on your packing list. If you really think you'll need them, you can probably buy them at your destination.|
|Really? Seriously? Envelopes, tape, and most office supplies your heart desires are widely available. Don't want the hassle of shopping for it? I would encourage you to consider the hassle of carrying around 10 extra kilos, on top of the 15 you already have as you wander the streets in the rain being turned away from full hostel after full hostel.|
|Nah. Don't carry a patch kit. If your bag really tears, there is a cottage industry supporting the phenomenon of plastering your bag with the embroidered names of countries you've been to. Buy one of those patches and sew it on with the kit you brought or the needle and thread you bought at 7-11.|
|shoelaces||If your shoelaces really break, I've got news for you. People all over the world wear shoes requiring shoelaces, which also break. They remedy this situation by purchasing new ones at the local store after the breakage happens. Rather than clogging your RTW packing list with unnecessary gear, you should, too!|
|I followed the advice to add a fake wedding ring to my very first RTW packing list. It never stopped cat calls, which annoy me more than anything. Serious advances generally aren't annoying and can usually be fended off by dropping "my boyfriend" a few times very near the beginning of your chat. A ring is only going to fend off a nice person. More aggressive people aren't going to be less aggressive just because you're wearing a silly old ring. And thieves will see a person with nice jewelry who must have $$$$ money $$$$!|
|I think a first aid kit, even a tiny one like this, is overkill.
You are not going to a war zone. You are not time traveling to the 16th century. You’re just going to another country. Where people also cut their fingers. And get colds. And have infections. And need antibiotics. Unless you’re straying really far off the beaten path, please don’t fill your bag with all this stuff “just in case.” You’re going to be able to buy first aid supplies abroad. You have the internet to help you make sure you’re taking the right thing and to translate it into the local language. And if it’s something you’ll find in a first aid kit, some other schmo carrying a 70L pack will gladly give it to you – happy to finally take a little weight out of his/her monstrous pack.
The only thing that I would recommend that I don't have now is antibiotic ointment that got used up by my accident prone travel partner in New Zealand.
|Not for this woman! Had way too many sunburns and freaky dreams on malaria meds. Doxy is said to interact with birth control, too, which could be a problem for you. Pretty sure doxy also made me ill in South America. A friend who's lived 20 years in the tropics and whose whole family has had malaria at one point says, "We think it's better just to take the drugs when you get it." Think you don't want to risk ruining your trip with an illness? Having chronic sunburn or hallucinations or vivid nightmares may be worse! Especially considering that you may not have even gotten sick anyway! Caveat: death from resistant malaria is on the rise in western Cambodia and on the Thai/Myanmar border. Bottom line: talk to a travel doc and decide for yourself whether this belongs on your RTW packing list.|
|A friend of mine had a bite zapper, and it was fun to zap my mosquito bites. It was probably about 60-70% effective, but fun to do and way more gratifying than a cream. I would never seek one out or suggest adding it to your packing checklist.|
|I did have ciprofloxacin (for traveler's diarrhea). I carried it around for a year. Just before it expired, a travel partner - whose stomach was far more sensitive than mine - finally used it. This is a cheap antibiotic. If you know you have an iron stomach like me, consider leaving it off your packing list. If you're not sure, it's cheap. Just bring one course. You can always replenish on the road.|
|I have an IUD - an low-hassle option best for monogamous women. If you are already on birth control, bring enough for your trip or research which of the cities you might pass through have options for refills. If you imagine you might just meet the person of your dreams on the road and you or this person will likely have male anatomy, you'd be wise to pack a few condoms. But keep track of them. If they've been in the front pocket of your backpack which sat in the blistering sun on the top of a bus for seventeen hours, they're potentially going to harm you when you think they're helping you.|
|razors||I pick up disposable razors as I go and am not obsessed with keeping my body free of every tiny microscopic hair.|
|If you're a woman who has a skin care routine beyond "wash face," by all means - add this to your packing list! Otherwise, wait until the first time you want it and buy on the road.|
|hairspray||Really? *Really?* Maybe I'm blessed with the right kind of hair. Or comparative apathy.|
|I haven't owned one for... ten years? I comb my hair with my fingers when I condition it in the shower. Try it!
Okay, okay -if you use a comb or brush already, of course it deserves a spot on your packing list.
|Unless you already use these regularly in your every day life, you probably aren't going to start. If your intended use is toilet related, please don't flush these. Ever. If you're a germaphobe, and hand sanitizer isn't going to cut it, *maybe* add these to your packing list. And prepare to be horrified in less "sanitary" places!|
To Put on My Body
|jacket||As long as you have one warm layer (like a fleece) you can always buy a jacket if you end up needing it, and usually for cheaper than in your home country. If you bring a jacket from home, you'll feel more attached to it and more concerned about taking care of it. Buy it second-hand abroad, and you'll be happy to wear it for three days in that mountain town and then give it to a local in need.
If you must bring a jacket, choose one with lots of pockets.... especially if you're going to Asia or Europe or any region where airlines weigh your carry-on. Being able to stuff small, heavy things into your pockets can save you lots of money. In a perfect world, we'd all have a travel vest as part of our wardrobes for this purpose. (Which could be combined with a fleece to serve the purpose of a jacket as well!)
|Admittedly, I don't like rain jackets ever - period. My skin just gets all clammy and wet underneath anyway. So I don't think it's worth having on a packing list. A travel partner I had wore his sometimes.|
|Good if you're trying to get a job or really like dressing up for other westerners (what's fancy for you is different than what many locals would consider "dressy" or appropriate for their cultural celebrations). Unless they're really versatile and easily serve casual purposes as well, fancy duds don't belong on an RTW packing list. If a wedding or something is on your radar, buy something to suit when the time comes.|
|scarf||Buying one along the way as a souvenir is so much more rewarding. And chances are you will end up doing without or improvising, just like a good traveler. Same goes for dress scarves, unless you're obsessed with this accessory.|
|sarong||Same as scarf.|
|buff||If you've used a buff before, go for it. If you're just considering one because it's on someone else's packing list, please don't. I borrowed one on long backcountry trips in New Zealand, but had van space to store a plethora of don't-really-need-it items. They're versatile, yes, but if you're not used to meeting your many needs with one of these, chances are it will sit in the bottom of your bag, and that new scarf and hat you bought that double as souvenirs will be at the top.|
|boots||Heavy items like this do not belong on an RTW packing list. Unless you are a serious hiker or obsessed with being maximally comfortable every single second of your life, you don't need boots. And, ironically, if the latter description fits you, you're about to make yourself VERY uncomfortable hauling around several kilos of stuff you don't need.
Reader Dan says he prefers boots for all the walking he does with a heavy bag, since they last longer than sneakers and do better in wet conditions. He often wears flip-flops when stationary, but never carries the boots on his back - always on his feet.
Reader Ale loved her super light, SoftWair soled, Dr Martens boots in Europe.
They protected her "clumsy" ankles, were okay hiking, looked good with dresses and tights on dress-up days, and were great to walk in - especially in the frequent rain. She comments: "I would say a good pair of nice and sturdy boots and a pair of sandals is all you need. F*ck ballerina flats, those shoes are the worst."
|Eh. I tend not to do shower sandals, and I've not had athlete's foot since I was a child. Knock on wood. Rather than adding flip flops to your packing list, consider buying them as a souvenir. Unless you live in your slippers/jandals/thongs anyway, I vote for just one pair of sports sandals that go anywhere and do anything. But flip flops are light and packable if you must have another pair.|
|belt||My pants don't fall down in general. Most travel pants (cargos, leggings, etc.) feature elastic waistbands anyway. At least mine do. Unless you usually wear a belt, don't put one on your RTW packing list. If you end up needing one, you'll get it as a souvenir AND it will probably be cheaper than if you'd bought it at home.|
|Same as scarf. You probably don't need a hat on your packing list. If you end up needing one, it will be an opportunity for a souvenir.|
|I'm blessed with an apathy about my appearance. There have been a few occasions that I wish I had nicer shoes. Overall, the extra weight makes them not worth having on my packing list. Maybe a pair of ballet flats that pack down. But definitely not heels of any kind. If that's you, backpacking may not suit you all that well. 😉|
Congrats if you made it this far!
If you’re not done thinking about packing, here are a few other packing lists for you to peruse:
- A man’s
- Another man’s when ^that^ link doesn’t work
- A woman’s (minimalist!)
- A woman with too much gear – She hasn’t updated since her trip, but her list is a great example of why people are walking around with huge packs.
- A couple’s
- A couple with more gear than I think you need – Most people regret bringing this much stuff once they realize how easy it is to source as you need it on the road. Some say they don’t even remember they have most of it.
Finally, don’t forget packing light saves you money. US News and World Report interviewed minimalist packing experts (including yours trulyaalthough they quoted me (grammatically!) incorrectly several times! ) to explain the financial and mental benefits of packing light. Here’s another guru’s great advice on minimalist packing, in case you’re still not convinced.
To paraphrase Rick Steves, “There are two kinds of travelers — those who pack light and those who wish they had!”
Happy Traveling! ♣
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References [ + ]
|a.||↑||although they quoted me (grammatically!) incorrectly several times!|