Whilst packing for a solo trek across the world, it can be overwhelming to know what to pack and what is a waste of space. You may think that packing for a trip is as simple as throwing a bunch of your favourite items in a suitcase and calling it a day. However, the clothes you wear every day at home may not be the most practical items to pack. There is definitely a strategy that you need to follow to ensure you are not packing things you will never use.
There are things that you might feel you cannot part without, but I guarantee that you won’t actually miss these items when you are carrying everything on your back. Generally, clothing items that have multiple purposes or that are versatile enough to mix and match with all of your outfits are ideal. Also, items that are made for layering are desirable over big, bulky clothing that will take up half of the room in your bag.
There are also a ton of helpful items that you may never think of packing that will actually save you a ton of hassle and frustration while on the road. Some serve as smart life hacks while others are to ensure you are always safe while travelling solo. As a traveller myself, I have this list down to a T of must-haves when I am getting ready for a big backpacking trip. You can pick up most of these items extremely cheap, and you’ll be ready for whatever life throws at you while making your way across the world.
20 Plastic Bags: because you never know (Helpful)
You will be surprised how much a few plastic bags will come in handy on your trip. You may have some wet clothing or bathing suits that you don’t want to mix in with the rest of your things, or you might need a little bag to hold medication or toiletries.
Another great use for them is to keep items such as phones, chargers, passports, and anything valuable away from any moisture. You will be shocked at how often you will think ‘I really wish I had a plastic bag’ throughout your trip when you haven’t brought any. The uses for them are endless!
19 Neck pillow (Waste of space)
I know what you’re thinking, how can I possibly survive an 8 hour flight without a neck pillow? Well, I’m here to tell you that there are a ton of alternatives that will save you from lugging around an annoyingly-shaped item (that never fits in your luggage).
Once you get to your destination, you will likely never use it again anyways. Instead, wear a large scarf on the plane to use as a pillow or a bulky sweater to fold up. A lot of airlines will also provide you will pillows and blankets for long haul flights, so it doesn’t hurt to ask!
18 Money belt: to keep your valuables safe (Helpful)
This is an especially good item to have when travelling solo, as you are solely responsible for all of your items at all times. There will be times where you will have to leave your luggage in a storage room while you wait to check into a hostel, and you don’t want to be leaving any valuables out of reach.
You can purchase an inexpensive, lightweight money belt that has the storage to hold your money, passport, phone, and anything else you want to keep on you. The best part is, it is so lightweight and unnoticeable that you won’t even notice it’s there, and it will be pretty much impossible for any thief to spot it either.
17 Anything that doesn’t serve multiple purposes (Waste of space)
Backing those ‘one-time items’ for a long-haul backpacking trip is a big mistake. You will likely never come across that ‘one time’ you wanted to wear them, and you will come home from your trip to find that you hadn’t even taken that item out of your suitcase. It’s always better to pack light, and if you desperately need an item (which you probably won’t), you can buy it at your destination. After all, then you can tell all your friends that you bought your t-shirt from a vendor in Hong Kong, and that’s a lot cooler of a story.
16 Dry sack: to keep your valuables dry (Helpful)
Especially for countries where the weather can be unpredictable (so basically, every country) a dry sack can be a huge lifesaver. Anytime you are going out for the day for a hike, beach day, or boat ride, a dry sack will be your best friend. When you are travelling solo and staying in shared accommodation, you don’t always want to be leaving valuables in your room, so it’s a great way to not have to worry about your electronics, money, and passport being damaged. You can pick up small ones for under $20, where you will be rest assured that nothing will get in the way of having a good time on your trip.
15 Bulky clothing (Waste of space)
While you are packing, try to avoid packing any items that are bulky and take up a large amount of space. Instead, pack lightweight clothing that is ideal for layering, as it will give you the same outcome as your fluffy sweater. Those lightweight options can even be warmer than something more bulky, as they trap the heat in to your body.
If you are wanting to pack a big sweater, wear it on the plane (as we all know planes can get bitterly cold). You will thank yourself when you are wanting to buy various souvenirs in different destinations but, alas, there is no room in your suitcase to fit any.
14 Mini bungee cord: no more laundry stress (Helpful)
You may think I’m crazy, but I saw a fellow backpacker using a bungee cord as a mini clothesline once and I was seriously mind blown. No more hanging all of your clothes all over the edge of your bed—this item will be a serious game changer for you.
I didn’t realise how many uses would come from such a simple item; you can use it to keep a door open or to hold a busted suitcase together as well. Hair tie? Belt extender? The options are endless! You can pick one of these up for a few bucks and save yourself a lot of aggravation on the road.
13 More than one electronic (Waste of space)
As a backpacker, the last thing you want is to add extra weight to your bag. It’s easy to get carried away with electronics, including cameras, laptops, tablets, and electronic books. You will probably only need one camera device, at the VERY most two (unless you are an epic travel blogger).
In terms of bringing a laptop along, it’s generally not needed since there are so many ways to gain computer access on the road. Hostels, hotels, and libraries will all likely have free access to the internet if you need. It’s a better idea to bring along a smaller scale option such as an iPad or tablet, that can be easily stored in a small bag.
12 Portable charger: to ensure you are always charged up (Helpful)
This is another one that you MUST have while travelling solo on the road. You don’t realise how scary it is to be a foreign country when your phone dies and you have no idea where you are and have no phone to look up directions, until it happens. It’s always a good idea to bring a portable charger around to ensure that you are always charged up in case of emergency.
Also, a lot of buses and trains will not have charging outlets, and that 8-hour journey will be a lot more bearable when you can listen to your favourite podcast.
11 Everything in your bathroom cabinet (Waste of space)
When you are on the road, the simpler your beauty and hygiene routine is, the better. Not only is it more ideal to not have to deal with a million products every day, but it will save a ton of room in your luggage as well. You may not feel like the most well-kept person all of the time, but that’s what travelling is all about… so embrace it!
For the gals, I guarantee you won’t touch a spec of makeup if you are visiting a tropical destination. The sun is all of the beauty treatment you need. Trust me on this one.
10 First aid kit: for emergencies (Helpful)
It’s a good idea to run through any possible ‘worst-case scenarios’ in your head before heading overseas. You may not be able to access the same medication and supplies you have at home, so taking everything you think you might need at some point is a must. Anything from Tylenol, allergy meds, eye drops, bandages, and multivitamins to keep you healthy on the road are all great things to bring along.
It’s also a good idea to have an emergency contact info card in your valet, with emergency contact info inside just in case you get into any trouble and are unable to speak for yourself. When you are travelling alone, you won’t always have someone there that knows you.
9 More than one pair of shoes (Waste of space)
When you are travelling solo, you likely are carrying your life on your back, and you definitely don’t want to be carrying more than you need to. It seems that many people think that bringing multiple pairs of shoes for different purposes is a must, but opting for one or two pairs that have multipurpose is a much better call.
You will likely never touch half of the pairs you bring, so don’t waste space and weight in your bag. Wear a comfortable pair to the airport, and then pack another lightweight option (such as a pair of sandals) in your suitcase.
8 Wet wipes: to feel fresh even when you don’t (Helpful)
The number one item I always have in both my carry on and suitcase are without a doubt anti-bacterial wipes. I have different types for my hands and face, ensuring that I am ready for every situation. In order to avoid germs while travelling (especially in airports), wipes or hand sanitizer are both useful items to ensure you don’t get sick while on the road.
Also, for the times when you have been in an airport for 10 hours and feel grubby, face wipes will make you feel like a new human. Not only that, they are easy to use without mess and you simply discard them after. Easy peasy!
7 Multiple Books (Waste of space)
While we all like to have a good read to bring along on a solo trip, there are other options that will avoid you having to bring 3 heavy, hardcover books in your bag. If you have an electronic book device such as a Kindle or a Kobo, you have access to endless amounts of things to read on the road.
Otherwise, bring one lightweight book along with you, as there are used book stores in pretty much every city once you finish that one. In most hostels I have stayed in there is also a book exchange shelf where you can swap your book for a different one, and your book will be passed on to another traveller.
6 Headlamp: for those unexpected blackouts (Helpful)
Depending where you are travelling to, a headlamp can be a lifesaver. If you are doing some hiking or camping on your trip, bringing along a headlamp is a no-brainer. However, I didn’t realise how useful it would be even if I wasn’t camping.
For more remote areas outside of the city where you won’t necessarily be experiencing the most glamorous of accommodation, a headlamp can be super helpful to use as a flashlight when you are walking to the bathroom in the middle of the night or strolling through the streets with no street lights. There was also a time where I had to pack while the electricity was out, and boy was I glad I packed it.
5 A bulky towel (Waste of space)
While you may think that a towel is a useful item to bring, in reality it is a bulky item that is not needed. If you are going to a beach destination, opt for a lightweight sarong or fast-drying micro towel. However, most hostels and hotels will provide you complimentary towels, which saves you from having to lug around a wet, stinky one while you are hopping from place to place. And even if they don’t, it’s probably a better idea to buy a cheap one in your destination and throw it out at the end of the trip, to optimize space in your luggage for more important items.
4 Foldable down jacket: to optimise space (Helpful)
If you are travelling to a destination that may be a little cooler, it’s a good idea to bring a warm jacket just in case. Instead of bringing along a bulky, oversized jacket, opt for a warm yet lightweight option. There are a ton of down jackets that will do the job, and they won’t compromise space in your suitcase since many of them can fold easily into a little bag. On my recent backpacking trip, I stored my foldable jacket in my carry on and used it as a pillow when I was on the plane. Gotta love an item that has multiple uses!
3 Anything you don’t want to ruin (Waste of space)
Especially if you are in it for the long haul, don’t pack anything that you can’t see yourself parting with. An airline could lose your luggage, or you may lose your favourite t-shirt in the midst of packing in a hurry to catch your bus. Anything of higher quality or items that are more expensive should also be left at home.
It’s always better to pack cheaper, lower quality items if you are going on a backpacking trip. That way, if something lets lost or damaged, it’s not the end of the world. Also, if you are lacking room in your suitcase, you can get rid of things without batting an eye, because they are replaceable items.
2 A Whistle: just in case (Helpful)
There is no need to feel paranoid, but especially if you are a solo female traveller, a whistle is a good item to take along with you. Even though solo travel is definitely safe, there are obvious risks involved in foreign countries when you are travelling by yourself, as you may be seen as an obvious target if you aren’t smart about it.
In most cases you will be surrounded by other travellers and tourists, but it doesn’t hurt to take that extra step for your safety. Carrying a whistle to use in case of emergencies will attract the attention you need to get out of a sticky situation.
1 Big headphones (Waste of space)
Having one more bulky item that you have to lug around is not ideal when you are travelling solo. Sure, big headphones are definitely better quality, but you will thank yourself later when you only have to worry about a small pair of ear buds.
Not only are they bulky, but large headphones are also on the pricier side, and you don’t want to risk getting them stolen or damaged. You will only be using your earbuds on long bus rides anyways, so there is no need for a high quality pair. That way, if you lose them, you can easily get a new set.