Uncharted Backpacker

The Ultimate Travel Packing Guide

Travel Packing Tips

Every time I take a new traveler with me on another Uncharted Adventure the first question I am always asked: “What do I bring?”. After 11 years of countless mistakes of over packing, forgetting things, and bringing the wrong gear, I can confidently consider myself to be a travel packing expert. This guide can help you learn the ways of travel packing and avoid all the troubles that go along with what seems like an easy task. So, grab your backpack, and prepare yourself for your next big adventure!


The Ultimate Travel Packing Guide

Step 1 – The Ultimate Travel List

My first and most crucial step is my travel list. This list I have created so that I can add things and build my gear long before my trip. Usually, I begin my list one month before taking off. This way if at any time while I am at work and I remember something new, I can simply add to it. The one-month bracket gives you ample time to figure your gear out, and if you think it’s not long enough, then simply extend your packing list period. On my packing list, I break things down into these categories:

  • Clothing
  • Bathroom Products
  • Electronics
  • Special Gear
  • Travel Health
  • Extras

Your list may begin to grow fast and seem as if there is way too much stuff on it, and there probably is! Do not fret, we will go over the list again in the future steps with what to do with all that extra stuff you do not need. When you put your categories down simply write everything you think you should bring under each category and keep the list out in the open so whenever you see it, you add to it.

The Ultimate Travel Packing Guide

My yak carried my gear hiking in Tibet!

Step 2 – How Much Clothes to Bring?

This is a tough one which has many numerous factors to take into consideration. The first being what is the weather of your destination. Obviously, if it’s going to be cold you will have to pack warmer clothes, which means more space will be taken up.

Washing Clothes Tip: I bring little packets of laundry detergent that allow me to wash my clothes in the sink or a bucket. Obviously washing it this way doesn’t give the results a machine would, but when you’re traveling to obscure destinations you must make sacrifices.

Next, what is the style of clothes worn in your destination? For example, Oman is a hot country, but because of its more conservative culture, it’s best to plan on packing more pants as opposed to shorts. Both these factors take some pre-trip research for you to devise a list of clothes.

Now that we have covered the deciding factors of what clothes you should pack; the next step is to decide how much clothes you should bring. My list goes like this:

T-Shirts x 3 – For me three shirts is plenty. I wear one a couple of days and then switch and wash.

Khaki Pants (Chinos) x1 – Blue Jeans x1 – I like having two styles of pants to change things up, especially in conservative or colder destinations.

Hooded Sweater x1 – Sweater without hood x1 – If I am going somewhere that is tropical and warm I usually only bring the non-hooded sweater, but if it gets cold or I am camping having a backup is important.

Underwear and socks – Underwear and socks do not take up much room. Just bring a good amount… I don’t think I need to explain why.

Jacket x1 – If it’s a warm destination I bring a rain jacket, if it’s cold I bring an insulated jacket that is also waterproof. I like Fjallraven jackets, they are old school and do the job.

Dress Shirt x1 – Because you never know when you will get invited to a nice dinner with the president of Zimbabwe.

Hiker Shoes x1 – Flip Flop x1 – Always bring a pair of flip flop sandals as it’s nice to kick off your shoes in the hostel and relax even in a cold destination. My hikers are my everyday shoes, so I try to pick something that can work as a street shoe as well.  Sometimes this is tricky if I am doing a destination with intense hiking. In this situation I bring a street shoe, and a rugged hiker.

Swim Shorts x1 – Even in cold countries there are swimming pools and hot springs!

The Ultimate Travel Packing Guide

Packing right for each destination is important

Step 3 – Picking Your Main Bag

Backpack or Roller Suitcase? Back when I was an amateur young traveler I experimented with both.  Now, a hardened travel extraordinaire, I can confidently tell you to choose the travel backpack no matter what. I know what you’re thinking, “But Stephen I am only going to Venice for seven days”. My answer is expect the unexpected. Venice has cobblestone that will make dragging a suitcase a living hell, or how about dropping your suite case as you hop from one gondola to another!?

Ok, now that we got that rant covered and you’re choosing your backpack we must go over what kind of backpack suits your trip. Obviously, the bigger the trip, the bigger the backpack that is needed. Backpacks are categorized in liters. I find an all-around size that meets almost all my trips needs is a 60 Litre size. This size is just enough for all my stuff and a few trinkets I pick up along the way.

Another important deciding factor is to dig into the build of the bag. Some bags have customizable belts that mold to you. These are great, but if they are not comfortable then no means of molding will help. Try a few bags on and see which one just feels right.

Security Tip: Avoid vibrantly covered backpacks. Apart from looking a bit ridiculous they stand out more to thieves. A more monotone bag that doesn’t scream its high price tag is a much better idea for traveling.

Find out more about the best travel backpacks with my Uncharted Backpacker Guide Here!

The Ultimate Travel Packing Guide

Hiking in Peru a high quality bag is needed!

Step 4 – Travel Bathroom Products

There’s no way around it, unless you want to be the person who stinks up the hostel and looks like a vagrant, your bathroom products are going to take up a lot of valuable space in your bag. There are many tips to reduce the amount of room however. Here are my best tips for packing the bathroom products.

  • Bars of Soap take less room then body wash and tend to last longer.
  • Only wash your hair with shampoo every few days, honestly you don’t need to everyday anyways.
  • Toothpaste in foreign countries kind of sucks, best bring extra
  • Deodorant is not sold everywhere, if you’re North American like me then bring extra
  • Body spray is great for making a couple day old shirt smell brand new!
  • Face Wipes really do make you feel human again, they also don’t take up much room.
The Ultimate Travel Packing Guide

Travel Grooming 101, head to the Barber Shops! Havana, Cuba

Step 5 – The Super Special Bag

I tried to look for a cool name for this bag, but nothing gave it justice accept super special bag which I have called it for years. This is the small bag that if you lose then your travel life is going to take its biggest hit. This bag will carry your passport, credit card, travel insurance, proof of vaccines, money stash and other items you deem very important.

Travel Money Tips: Mentioning credit cards and money you’re probably wondering about foreign currencies and ATM’s. Don’t worry I have a guide for that too right HERE.

Only an amateur traveler would make one super special bag however. In my second special bag I put passport copies, my debit card, copy of travel insurance, copy of vaccines and a small money stash to help me if I need it.

The first and more important special bag I carry with me on my carry on. My carry-on stays with me wherever I go on my voyage. It is like and extension of my body…. OK, well maybe its just exceptionally important to me.

The second special bag I put in my main travel bag in one of the inner pouches where it stays until an emergency.

Step 6 – The Travelers Companion, the Carry On

As I mentioned in stage 5, my carry on is my life. In my side bag I carry my special bag, camera, GoPro and my guidebook. As you can tell because of the carry-on importance, you need to choose one wisely.

Daypack, backpack, side bag? Yes, it’s daunting choosing the bag that you will carry for almost every moment of your trip. From my experience the side bag takes gold. Whether you call it man purse, satchel or side bag it is the best companion to any would be traveler. This is because of its easy access, plenty of open room and most important of all, its security.

Having a side bag allows you to carry it, yes you guessed it, on your side. In busy places you can hold it in front of you, or simply place your hand over top of it. Also, because it hangs lower, it is harder for thieves to cut it open while you’re walking. Just make sure you get a side bag that seals shut with a zipper or good Velcro.

The Ultimate Travel Packing Guide

My side bag strapped to my camel in Morocco

Step 7 – Organizing Your Travel Gear and Traveling Minimal

At this point we are nearing our two-week marker before the trip. Now I browse through my list and cross off anything I think that I don’t need. I then lay out everything on the floor in an organized manner. If it looks like a lot, then I remove more articles. This is when the fun and excitement begin as I do my first pack!

Fold or Roll Clothes? This is another question I get asked a lot. It might seem weird, but honestly, if you roll your clothes you magically do have more space in your bag. I am assuming it’s because of Travel Witchcraft, but I cannot say for certain, all I know is roll those clothes!

Once all your gear is neatly organised and displayed in front of you, begin packing it all in your bag. I start with the softer items at the bottom, and harder items up top as they will compress the softer ones below. With this first stage of packing you can realistically see if you have to much stuff or too big of items, this is a great travel packing hack!

The Ultimate Travel Packing Guide

You never know what you’ll be travelling in, pack minimal! My van in Mongolia

Step 8 – Travel Health!

You have everything in order, but there is one last thing to add to your bag and yourself. These are vaccines, medications and first aid equipment. Definitely do not go out and buy a first aid pack equipped with syringes and full cast but do think about where you are going and what you may encounter. For your travel vaccines make sure you consult a travel health clinic on what you need and be sure to get travel insurance!

Here is a list of the basics I bring with me on every adventure I take:

  • New skin and bandages
  • Painkiller like Advil or Ibuprofen
  • Mosquito repellent
  • Sunscreen SPF 15
  • Diarrhea Medication
  • Medication for heart burn and upset stomach
  • Travel Health Clinic Prescribed Medications

Everything else you can pretty much pick up along the way as needed. Almost every country I have been too has well equipped pharmacies that are much cheaper then back home.

The Ultimate Travel Packing Guide

Step 9 – The Travel Packing Begins!

That’s it you are ready to go, and the final packing stage begins. At this point you have pondered the ultimate packing list and it should look like a scribbled mess and that’s a good thing!

For the last pack I like to have it done at least two days before taking off, this way I can really think about if I have missed anything. Also seeing your bag all packed and ready to go is incredibly exciting!

I hope this guide can help you with packing and turn a potentially nerve wracking experience into something fun that will fill you full of anticipation for your trip!

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Stephen Gollan

Stephen Gollan

Uncharted Backpacker is a glimpse at the past eleven years of globetrotting I have done. Now at over ninety countries I share my travel knowledge for you so you too can travel the world and see what wonders it has to offer.

1 CommentLeave a comment

  • There are some great phone apps out there that can help, such as TripList, the ultimate packing list app, which will also handily remind you when you need to check-in online. Make clever use of space… A few clever packing hacks can make a huge difference to the amount of stuff you can fit in your suitcase.

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