How to Pack a Travel Backpack

    How to Pack a Travel Backpack

    Packing is like opinionated rocket science, and everyone has their own way to going about it. I’ve collected trends I’ve seen and put them in one place. Let’s see if this helps!

    Includes:

    Space Saving Tips

    The Backpack

    What You Need: Organizers

    What You Need: Clothing

    What You Need: Toiletries

    What You Need: First Aid

    What You Need: Accessories

    What You Need to Avoid

    How to Pack

     

    Space Saving Tips

    • Use airport lockers to hold items you don’t need for the destination like heavier winter clothing
      • Make sure to pick items back up!
    • Roll Clothing
    • Pack a week or two in advance so you think longer on the contents
      • Don’t pack “what if this happens” items
      • Will I wear this more than once?
      • Think about the little things i.e. tissues, oil sheets, flashlight, etc
    • Buy items – toiletries – at your destination
      • Make sure to have a savings fund to afford forgotten items and refills of toiletries.
    • Wear heaviest items (jacket, shoes, sweater, etc) on the plane/train
    • Books/Travel Guides/Maps should be electronic only
      • Download so they can be accessed without data or wi-fi

     

    The Backpack

    The pack is the best place to start.

    A pack for regular (non-hiking) travel should weigh no more than 20 pounds (9 kilos), so look for a 30-50 liter pack. Try to stick to carry-on size.

    Features to look for:

    • Internal frame (external frames are solely for hiking)
    • Comfortable – Test it out!
    • Ventilation to your back
    • Access
      • Top access (with draw strap)
      • Front panel like a suitcase (preferable for international but not necessary)
    • Rain cover
    • Fit to your body frame (torso length and waist width are what matters)
    • While not necessary, some packs come with day packs which is a great feature!

     

    What You Need: Organizers

    • Packing Cubes
    • Packing Folders (if you have buttons downs, or nicer clothing)
    • Mesh Bag for dirty laundry
    • Toiletries Organizer
    • Cord Organizer
    • Ziploc Bags
    • Day Pack
      • Keep inside your regular pack until you reach the destination to avoid checking extra luggage
    • Purse
      • If you ladies don’t need the day pack on some day, use a purse.
        • Must have zipper and shoulder strap

     

    What You Need: Clothing

    Clothes make up the majority of the weight in your pack so this is where you need to cut content and maximize space

    Rules!

    1. Quality over Quantity
      • Get items of good quality to wear often and longer; buy fewer
      • Multitasking Items
      • Comfortable!!!! “Pretty hurts” is bullshit here, folks. Do “pretty comfy” for once!
    2. Versatile
      • Chose darker colors and neutrals
      • Everything matches with everything
      • Dress up or down
      • Stains don’t show
      • Quick drying
      • Wrinkle free
      • Opaque
    3. Low Maintenance – no dry-cleaning
    4. No Single-Use – you must wear it 3+ times on a trip longer than a week
    5. No Expensive Accessories – can get lost or stolen, cheap stuff is best
    6. Pack for 7 days at most and wash clothes
    7. Remember! You can buy minor items later.

    Tops

    • 3 short sleeve
    • 1 long sleeve
    • 1-2 tank top (wearable under clothing, can sleep in, or just for hot days)
    • 1 light sweater
    • 1-2 dresses (optional for those who wear dresses regularly)

    Bottoms

    • 1 pair of jeans (preferably dark skinny jeans)
    • 1 pair of long pants of lighter-weight material
    • 1-2 skirts (optional, if not, add 1 pair of pants/shorts)
    • 1-2 pair of shorts
      • 1 fashionable pair
      • 1 comfortable pair (for lounging and sleep)

    Undergarments

    • 3-6 pairs of underwear
      • Consider how often you do laundry – these can be washed in the sink
      • Moisture wicking
      • Quick dry
      • NO cotton
    • 3-6 pair of socks
      • Again, consider laundry situation, a good pair can be safely worn a couple days without washing
    • Swimsuit!
    For Women:
    • 3 comfortable bras
    • 1 quick drying sports bra
    • 1 pair of sheer pantyhose for those nicer outfits

    Jackets

    • Rain/Wind Jacket
    • Light Fleece Jacket
    • Down Jacket
      • This is only for winter or high elevation travel
      • Try to use layers instead to avoid heavy bulk

    Shoes

    Rule!

    No more than 2 shoes if you can help it

    • Flip Flops – for hostel showers
    • Comfortable sandals/flats
      • Only for warm to hot destinations
      • Main walking shoe
    • Walking Shoes
      • Not necessarily tennis shoes but comfortable and durable
      • Note: White shoes apparently are a dead giveaway for American tourists. Pack at your own risk!
    • Heels
      • To be avoided if possible
      • If you must, use wedges.

    Accessories

    • Hats/Gloves (depends on weather)
    • Cheap Jewelry
      • Small quantity
    • Sunglasses
    • Sun hat
    • Sarong (versatile item!)
      • Can be used as a scarf, pillow, head covering, blanket, picnic blanket, privacy curtain on bunk bed, etc.

    Laundry

    • Dry laundry soap in Ziploc bags
    • Consider washing clothes in the sink
      • Have rubber sink stopper
      • Flexible, portable clothesline

     

    What You Need: Toiletries

    Rules!

    1. Bring only what you need to get started
      • Buy more later, most countries will have what you need
    2. Use powder where you can instead of liquid
    3. Minimalism
    4. Multitasking Items
    5. Keep in plastic Ziploc bags and/or toiletry bag

    Basics

    • Shampoo
    • Conditioner
    • Soap (bar instead of body wash)
      • Consider a soap bar that multi’s as shampoo
    • Baby Powder (for chafing/dry shampoo)
    • Toothpaste and brush
      • Have a cover for your toothbrush
    • Razor (and cream if absolutely necessary)
    • Deodorant
    • Chapstick with sunscreen
    • Face wash
    • Oil Sheets (cheap, fit anywhere and are great for quick touchup on-the-go)
    • Glasses/Contacts
    • Travel Toilet Paper
    • Hand Sanitizer
    • Quick Dry Travel Towel
      • Face towel
      • Body towel
    • Condoms
      • Even if you don’t use them, someone else might need them!
    Women:
    • Diva cups
      • Strange at first, but wash-and-reusable
      • Less bulky than pads and tampons
    • Makeup – keep it light and natural!
      • Mascara
      • 1-2 eyeshadows
      • Eyeliner
      • Lipstick/gloss
      • BB cream with sunscreen and moisturizer
      • Blush if you must
    • Mini straightener (try to use as a curler too)
    • Mini hairdryer (only if traveling by hostel)

     

    What You Need: First Aid

    • Prescription Medicine (make sure to have doctor’s note/receipt in luggage)
    • Pain Reliever
    • Band-Aids
    • Motion Sickness Pills (optional)
    • Tissues
    • Tums (or a variant for upset stomach after spicy food)
    • Laxative (in case you ate something that doesn’t sit well)

     

    What You Need: Accessories

    Basics

    • Sunglasses
    • Flashlight
    • 1-3 locks
      • Retractable cable lock (lock your pack somewhere to prevent theft)
      • 1-2 Small padlocks (close pockets on bags)
    • Notebook
    • Copies of all important documents (passport, travel insurance, driver’s license, prescriptions, etc) in all pieces of luggage
    • Camera
      • Use phone or small digital for casual photography
      • Only use larger, more advanced cameras if photography is extremely important to you and your trip
    • Flexible Water Bottle
      • Plastic (empty through bag check, in case you didn’t know)
    • Earplugs & Eye mask (noisy hostel dorm, plane/train/bus rides)
    • To-Go Stain Remover
    • Umbrella
    • Plastic Utensils
      • You never know when you’ll need them!
    • Money Belt
      • Wear under your clothes to avoid pickpockets
    • Swiss Army Knife
      • Only bring this if you are checking luggage
        • If everything is carry-on and you attempt to bring this, you will get in trouble. Don’t do that.
    • Travel Sleep Sheet (in case hostel bed is less than clean)

    Electronics

    Try to avoid too many electronics, because these are high-theft items and take up space in your pack.

    Take nothing irreplaceable!

    • Phone
    • Tablet
    • Laptop
      • Only bring this if you absolutely have to, tablets can provide most casual functions.
    • Outlet plug adapter
      • Plugs vary by country, so make sure you can charge your electronics
    • Power Strip (optional, other people in stations might love you, though)
    • External Hard drive
      • Back up everything you can on multiple devices

     

    What You Need to Avoid

    • Sleeping bag (unless camping often)
    • Water Filter (in 1st World countries, definitely bring in others)
    • Valuables
      • Nothing Irreplaceable
    • Wire Mesh Backpack Cover
      • Unless in a particularly unsavory place, it is just extra weight.
    • Prepackaged Travel Food
      • At most, bring peanut butter and crackers as a snack or budget food. Nothing more.

     

    How to Pack

    • Least used items at the bottom of the pack
      • Heavy jacket, shoes, sleeping clothes, dirty clothes
    • Heaviest items in the middle and against your back
      • Electronics, First Aid, toiletries
    • Mid-weight items in the middle-front
      • Clothes
    • Items needed quickly at the top
      • Hat, light jacket, etc
    • Accessories in the various outside pockets
      • Sunglasses, scarf, snack, important documents, phone, wallet

    I really hope this gave some explanation and narrowed things down. Don’t wait until the last minute for these longer trips! Good luck on your preparations!

     

     

    Resources: The Savvy Backpacker, Rei Co-op

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