When it comes to travel, let me tell you one thing: you’ll wear less clothes than you think – just a few outfits are all you need. I’m a minimalist but in the beginning, I struggled when the time came to choose what to put in my backpack or suitcase. Now as a seasoned traveler, I can assure you that even if you’re traveling long term, you’ll only need to pack as if you’re traveling for just 1-2 weeks.
So, how is that possible? When we’re in a foreign country, sometimes we forget that locals do their laundry as well. Some hostels in Europe have coin laundry, and the laundromats in SE Asia charge by the weight. All you have to do is drop off your dirty clothes and they’ll have it all clean and folded for you. And by the way, it’s really cheap.
Don’t forget there are always things you can buy over there if you find that you absolutely need it!
Side-note: My must-have item in my backpack is travel underwear. Travel underwear you ask? Let me explain: It looks just like normal underwear and comes in a variety of cuts (ie. Bikini cut, boy shorts, lace, etc.), but the fabric is different and dries quicker after washing them. After a day of travel, you simply hand wash it and hang it to dry. It’ll be ready to go by the next morning. Because of this, I was able to live off of 3 pairs of underwear when I traveled. Now if you’re not into that, that’s totally fine.
This list includes everything for a short trip and/or extensive travel so you can adjust it as needed.
Items below in BOLD: what I pack personally & recommend as basic necessities when traveling. I roll my clothes (life hack to fit a lot of things in my backpack) and choose outfits that are versatile and can mix and match easily.
Clothing & Accessories
Beach cover-up/sarong (also can be used as a beach towel to lay on)
BUFF Headwear (I never thought I’d pay for something like this, but it was so useful for days where I needed to cover my face from dirt in the air, the cold wind, or hold back my hair and prevent sweat from dripping in my eyes)
4 Bras, 2 regular & 2 sports
1 Dress (light summer dress)
1 Flip flops (great to use in hostel/hotel shower or beach)
Gloves / mittens
1 Jacket or cardigan/sweater or a hoodie
2 Jeans (black or dark colors can be good for a night out too)
1-2 pieces of Jewelry/ Accessories
Scarf (can keep you warm and adds color to your wardrobe)
Pajamas (can be as simple as t-shirt and shorts)
1 Leggings or tights
Raincoat/poncho or umbrella
4-5 Shirts (I usually do 3 shirts, 2 nice-ish blouses)
Shoes: 1 dressy (ie. flats), 1 sneakers
3-4 Pairs of Socks
1 Towel (I recommend a “travel towel” as the fabric dries quickly overnight when you hang it dry. No more moldy wet smell!)
5-7 UNDERWEAR (I recommend a “travel underwear” as the fabric dries quickly overnight when you hang it dry. You can travel with just 3 pairs because of this!)
(I Keep my toiletries in SMALL BOTTLES that are allowed for carry-on luggage)
Lip balm with SPF
Cosmetics (eyeliner, 1-2 eyeshadow, mascara, blush, tinted lip balm)
Eyeglass/contacts/contact solution/contacts case
Moist Towelettes/Wet Wipes
Pads/Tampons or Menstrual Cup
Quart size Ziploc bag (to hold everything in case it spills)
Some Toilet paper/tissue (you never know when there will be none in a public restroom!)
Laundry detergent (travel sized liquid or powder. I usually just use my shampoo if I want to hand wash)
Wrinkle-free spray for clothes
Books or magazines
Camping stove/fuel Can opener
Clothes pegs (Clothes pins)
CUTLERY (I kept a plastic spoon and fork in my bag which was really useful if I wanted to just grab a snack from the store)
Daypack (purse, tote bag, small backpack, or plastic bag)
DIARY (Small 5 year diary – you only write the highlights of your day and can look back at how much you’ve accomplished at a glance. It was one of the best gifts I’ve ever received).
TRAVEL PILLOW (this style of pillow is compact and helped me sleep better on the plane)
Notebook and reliable pen
POINT IT BOOK (small & so useful when I traveled to non-English speaking countries!)
Small sewing kit with buttons
Swiss Army Knife
Camera and charger
Cell phone and Charger
CONVERTERS & ADAPTERS
Extra memory cards or film
Travel alarm clock or wristwatch
USB flash drive
Earplugs & Eye mask
Gravol or motion sickness remedy
infection treatment of choice
Pain killers (ie. Advil)
Sleep medications or Melatonin
Sore tape (Adhesive tape)
Water purification method/tablet
Research online and check with your doctor to see what vaccinations you will need for your trip. Examples may include:
Destination specific vaccinations
Japanese B Encephalitis vaccination
Yellow Fever vaccination
- Cary a copy on you. Put documents in a Ziploc bag. Put a few copies in your luggage. Email a copy to yourself and trusted family/friends.
- Address book & phone numbers & emails of: embassies/consulates, credit and debit card company, # for lost cards/checks, emergency contact #’s, travel insurance, Membership cards (AAA, frequent flier numbers)
- Copy of Packing List
- Employment stuff (make copies): resume/CV, references, names & address of business and professional contacts (if you’re looking to work abroad. You can also email this to yourself and print it out when you get into a country)
- 3-4 Extra passport photos
- $40 US Cash (small bills if possible, for emergency)
- 2 Credit cards
- 1 Debit card
- Personal Records (make copies) birth certificate, driver’s license, passport
- Prescriptions (including eyeglass)
- Student ID
- TRAVEL INSURANCE POLICY
- Medical and Vaccination records
- Plane tickets/itinerary, rail pass, accommodations & transportation reservations/confirmations #, International Student Identification Card (ISIC), International Youth Hostel Card
- Spray athletic shoes and luggage with waterproofing spray (can be found in shoes section of a department store)
- When I travel by plane with a checked luggage, I make sure in my carry-on there is one simple outfit (1 underwear, shirt, shorts) in case my luggage gets lost. I also pack my toothbrush, a travel toothpaste, travel shampoo.
- If you plan to carry on your bag, all liquids and gels must be in 3.4-ounce (100 mL) or smaller containers, and all of these items must fit within a single, quart-size sealable plastic baggie.
- Pack light, wash frequently, and you can buy it there if you find you absolutely need it.
- A week before your trip, pack your bag with everything you think you want to take, and carry it around for a day. Is it comfortable? Too heavy? Better to know now than later!
- Generally, packing for several months is the same as that for a 1-2 week trip. Just assume you’ll be washing/doing laundry every 7-8 days. So, 5-7 underwear, 4-7 pairs of socks, 2-3 pairs of pants, 5 shirts, 2 pairs of shoes etc.
- Label your electronics (e.g., computer or camera) to avoid mix-ups or if they get lost.
- Put ribbon or decorative stickers on luggage to identify it easily.
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