Essential Backpacking List

Essential Backpacking List

You have your flights booked, your accommodations sorted, and your itinerary prepared. Now, you need to figure out what to BRING on your adventure!

Although it is always tempting to immediately start shopping for the perfect “holiday outfits,” it is highly impractical! I, myself, fell victim to this when I went on my first backpacking trip with Life Before Work Travel in May of 2011. Despite the LBW Packing List assuring me that I only needed the “essential” items, I bought a WAY too big backpack and filled it with my favourite clothing items.


If you are wondering I truly did learn the hard way on this one – being stuck with a backpack that was nearly ¾ my height and weight, with precious clothing items (i.e., my entire lululemon collection), left me uncomfortable throughout my travels.

When they tell you to pack light, it is not to discourage you; it is truly for good reason! Take it from me, who learned this the hard way – the essential items is a way more condense list than what you may think, and it will be necessary to pack your bag a few times prior to departure to make sure that you get it right!

I have created a list of TEN essential items that you will need on your journeys. Anything else is OPTIONAL to you, and is in your hands to decide whether or not it is worth hauling around during your trip!

(1) The RIGHT backpack for YOU!

I highly suggest going into a camping/traveling equipment establishment (Camper’s Village, etc.) to try on a number of different fits, styles & shapes to make sure you get the right one for you. They have employees there that will consider where it is you are traveling to, your height, weight & packing requirements to help you select the best backpack to suit your needs. I cannot stress enough how important it is that you do NOT get one that is too big for your needs – it will honestly negatively affect your trip. If anything, when in doubt, opt for the smaller option and pack efficiently!

Budget Note: You can sometimes find your backpack at cheaper prices online. Make sure to write down the description of the backpack you find that suits your needs, and to check online prior to purchasing in store. This way, you can save those extra dollars on your travels!


(2) PRACTICAL (not practically everything you own) Clothing Items for your Destination.

Depending on your destination, and length of journey, your type of clothing required will likely vary. For example, warmer climates (such as Thailand & Bali) you generally want to include:

  • 4-5 shirts (lighter cottons are preferable)
  • 2-3 pairs of shorts
  • 3-4 bathing suits (which you will likely wear on a daily basis)
  • 1 pair of pants (for rainy days or temple excursions)
  • 1 light jacket
  • 1 fleece top/sweater (for air conditioned buses, airplanes, etc.)
  • 1-2 pairs of socks (for air conditioned buses, airplanes, etc.)
  • 1-2 pairs of durable sandals
  • 4-5 pairs of underwear (type is purely under your discretion!)

Although you may be shocked by the small amounts described here, there is a reason for this. Ultimately, you will be able to wash your clothes and hang them to dry overnight on your own whenever they need to be washed. This way, your “but what if I run out of clean clothes…” excuse is not viable. Trust me, your back will thank me if you follow this guide. Plus! This leaves a little leeway for purchasing souvenirs along the way!

(3) A Durable Camera with MULTIPLE Batteries and Memory Cards.

As tempting as it is to purchase a gorgeous, D-SLR camera with a million functions and extra lenses, it is ultimately unnecessary – unless your sole purpose of your travels is to photograph your surroundings, and is the pretty much the only thing you pack! With today’s technologies, it is possible to purchase a compact camera that will take amazing pictures (and usually videos!) that are comparable to such cameras. I was lucky enough to stumble upon an incredible camera by SONY (Cybershot DSC –TX10) that was waterproof and shockproof. This camera outlasted every other traveler’s Canon, Nikon, Olympus cameras in my tour group -some even purchased this very camera later on in the tour after seeing how happy I was with mine! Ultimately, it is about finding a camera that suits your needs! I highly suggest looking into waterproof/shockproof cameras though – as they are durable and fun!
(See Picture of Fellow Traveler with Fishy Friend in Koh Tao!)

Also, it is smart to bring a couple batteries and memory cards in case:
(1) you lose one of them, or
(2) one of them dies/fills up when you need it! Better to be safe than sorry!
(3) A Combination Padlock for your Backpack

Although key locks seem to be more common, it is much more practical to purchase a padlock for your backpack. In the event that you lose your key, a key lock is not too much fun when you need to open your bag for your boarding pass at the airport! If you are worried about forgetting your combination – send it in an e-mail to a friend. That way, if you are in a bind, you can run to the nearest Internet café for a little reminder. You will surely never forget it again if you have to do this once… okay, maybe twice!


(5) A Scanned Copy of ALL of your Documents

It is VITAL that you bring with you a scanned copy of your documents with you. In the case that you lose your passport (God Forbid) this can be very helpful to you when you are requesting a new one. As well, include a copy of your driver’s license, birth certificate, and traveler’s insurance just to make sure!

To be EXTRA precautions – email a copy of these documents to yourself and a close friend in case you lose those scanned copies too!

(6) An “All-in-One” Shampoo/Body Wash

In terms of hygiene, I am definitely all for keeping it simple while still smelling and looking great! I found these great bath & shower gels at Sephora by Philosophy that are an all-in-one solution for your personal hygiene needs! I used one bottle as both my shampoo/body wash/shaving cream throughout my travels in Thailand. Although this might sound scary to those who are accustomed to using separate products for each activity – trust me on this one. I too, am one of those people at home. However, when it comes to traveling, it is MUCH more efficient to find a product, such as this one, that will save you a lot of time and effort in the long run. Carrying around liquids is a daunting task to any traveler, and I suggest putting them in SEPARATE Ziploc bags in your backpack to avoid leakage onto your other items. PLUS these lovely gels came in a huge assortment of delicious scents that will surely entice you!

(7) A Concentrated Travel Wash

When it comes time to wash your ESSENTAIL clothing items, this product will help you big time! Instead of spend your money at an expensive Laundromat, washing your clothes yourself and hanging them to dry will fix your problem in a bind! Your shampoo/body wash will work as well, if you are TRULY opting to minimize your travel items (you nifty traveler you!!)

(8) A Few Medications for Precautionary Purposes

You never know what you might encounter on your travels: a night out on the town turning into a morning of torture, or a new type of food that your stomach disagrees with. Ultimately, there are a few types of medications that are great to have along for a variety of purposes.

  • Advil (for those mornings when a cup of coffee just won’t do)

  • Pepto-Bismol (for nausea, heartburn, indigestion… you know the rest)

  • Gravol (in case you find that being on a boat is not all T-Pain made it out to be)

You can often find these items at local pharmacies wherever you go. However, it is good to have at least a few of each in your backpack at all times!

(9)Sun Protection (Sunscreen, Hat, Sunglasses and Water Water Water!)

I know I know, I’m not your mother. You know all the damaging effects the sun can have on the body. However, it needs to be said regardless. It is vital that you pack some sunscreen with you (I recommend finding a sport sunscreen, as they tend to be more active-backpacker friendly), in order to avoid obtaining a sunburn that will surely ruin a couple days of your trip. Also, bring a hat and sunglasses to avoid overexposure to the sunlight – AND DRINK LOTS OF WATER! I suffered from heatstroke on the SECOND day in Bangkok because I thought I could handle the sun. Well, I was wrong, and I missed out on the second outing in Bangkok with the group as I was forced to stay in bed watching Batman while everyone else went out. Hey, I’m not saying Batman wasn’t a good movie – I’m just saying it wasn’t exactly my number one choice of activities in Bangkok, especially being alone!

(10) An Open Attitude.

I cannot stress enough how important it is that you embark on your journey with an open attitude to your adventure. There WILL be days that will be stressful, hectic, and frustrating – DO NOT LET THIS GET YOU DOWN! This is all a part of the adventure. Make sure to embrace each moment, and take any opportunity to learn that you can. Go out, take risks, eat something weird – make your journey a memorable one. As is stated in my bio on the LBW Staff Page, my motto is to “Feel Everything.” Consider this when debating whether or not to do that bungee jump that makes your knees quiver, or to taste this dish that doesn’t look like you mother’s cooking. Often, those kinds of experiences tend to be the ones that stick with you the longest, and become those stories to bring home to your friends and family. Don’t disappoint yourself with a “safe vacation”- feel everything.

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