This article proved so popular I wrote another one a year later which can be found here.
In this article I’m going to break down everything that I will travel with on my next trip, what I travelled with in the past, and analyse it so you know what works and what doesn’t. I think everyone travels with too much stuff, if not initially then you pick stuff on on route which adds to the bulk. My stuff spread out below looks quite a lot alone. There really isn’t a need for it all and I think it comes from a materialistic background of having and consuming lots of stuff.
I’ll break this down into sections and review each piece individually, this isn’t appropriate for all, we all have different needs and they differ depending on the trip, my experience has been in South East Asia and Australia (so far) so I am geared towards warm weather with rain protection. I also work as I go along (i.e. writing for this blog) and take equipment for that too that is not necessary if you just want to enjoy yourself.
I travel with a Karrimor Global 50-70. This bag is expandable and comes with a daysack with is zipped onto the exposed back of the bag. It has some nice features like dual entry, YKK zips (never buy a bag without these zips, they are the best and seldom break), a zipped lining to cover the shoulder and waist straps (so it looks like a more regular bag on an aeroplane and doesn’t have airport lugguage handlers throwing it about via the shoulder parts) and an internal net to store smaller items. There are no hidden pockets, it came with a large shoulder strap which I took off as I never used, and another internal bag for holding a passport which I also never use.
Would I recommend it? Yes and No. Karrimor is a great brand and the quality is there, so I can recommend them (they are British I think so a bit hard to find in the USA), but I think the detachable daysack is a poor design concept. I thought it was handy at first to have matching bags that attached, but you never realise the flaws until you travel with it. The daysack is a poor design, it is cheap compared to the main bag and as I use it to carry my heavier items (laptop and SLR camera) I find the straps dig in underneath my armpits.
Also if you mount it as it was designed and put heavy weight in the daysack then you will have a huge laden pulling you back at the worst possible place. The day sack is suitable for carrying around your lunch or souvenirs, but not for those who carry their heavy gadgets around like I do. If you are like me then I recommend buying separate bags and getting a higher quality daysack. If not, then this design is OK.
I use Karrimor’s own 3 number locks for my main backpack, in fact I don’t tend to keep valuables in there so I’m not overly bothered about it’s ability to stop theifs, a knife will carve through the bag quicker anyway for the truly determined. The locks are mediocre and I accidentally changed the code twice during my travels because of the way it’s set up. I also figured a way to find the code (from a possible 1000 combinations) in less than 4 minutes but I won’t write that here.
For my daysack I use a Pacsafe wire lock. This is also 3 number combination (I prefer combination locks over keys as you don’t have to worry about a key then) and is basically an extendable wire that loops around stuff to lock. I actually use it to lock both compartments of my daysack with the one loop so it saves me on a lock too. It is also handy for tying your bag up to somewhere solid when you’re not with your luggage and want it to stay still.
I don’t carry a Kensington style lock for my computer because I’ve yet to think of a situation where it will be handy. If I’m not on my computer it is in my locked bag.
Pacsafe Exoskeleton: I bought one of these initially to take a look and promptly returned it. The idea is it covers your backpack in a steel mesh so a budding thief can’t get a knife through it and take your items. Well this item was almost 2kg and bulky. It looks utterly ridiculous and is something someone who is not good with people will use. In effect it is telling everyone you do have valuable stuff on you as well. Nice idea, but utterly stupid in reality.
This is the area most people concentrate on when packing for travel is concerned. My opinion is focus on it once, choose good items and forget it until they start to fall apart. Travelling isn’t about looking good, I don’t think any backpacker will win a style award. You need practical clothing which is lightweight, easy to clean (wash and dry), folds easily and preferably looks good enough to pass certain places (like clubs). I also recommend cleaning bi-daily at most to keep on top of it. Some people carry more clothing, wait until it’s all used and then wash it together in a machine. The problem is separating clean and dirty clothing in your bag (requiring another bag) and people also tend not to treat their dirties (re: folding/rolling up) like their clean clothing.
Underwear: I took 3 pairs of boxer shorts (2 is enough). 1x Icebreaker Merino Wool, and 2x North Face Polyester. After a year of use the icebreaker stuff seems to be falling apart a bit more than then Polyester ones but I’d still recommend wool over polyester. Both are better than cotton alternatives which smell quicker, absorb more (you will sweat down there when you’re in 30 deg+ C heat) and therefore smell more and be heavier. Cotton also takes much longer to dry (they don’t always dry overnight). Merino wool and Polyester also dry much quicker as they don’t ‘absorb’ moisture, they ‘wick’ it, meaning more efficiency.
In terms of socks, I took 3 pairs originally but reduced that to 2 after a short while. I wore flip flops (or sandals/thongs depending on what part of the world you’re coming from) most of the time so socks were unnecessary. Take lightweight ones. If it gets cold put both your pairs on.
Bottoms: I recommend you avoid jeans and demin where possible. They are rugged and hard wearing but they take an age to clean and dry. It’s only worth taking a pair if you are settled somewhere for a while (I got a pair in Australia as I stayed in 2 cities for 4 month periods – and chucked them when I left). Jeans also take up a lot of room, don’t fold down well and are heavy. An alternate trouser choice is polyester. I had Craghoppers Nosi versions and they were great and lasted well. They have all the advantages over jeans disadvantages. You only need 1 pair.
Shorts: I bought 2 pairs of shorts when I was in Thailand cheaply; they were cotton ones and fell apart after 6 months. They were fine as I paid a small amount for them, don’t be afraid to throw old cheap clothing away, you can always get more. Men can double up by wearing swimming shorts as regular shorts.
Tops: This depends a lot on your taste, I still recommend keeping it as light as possible. The trend in South East Asia is to wear some of the cheap local cotton t-shirts, which are ok but smell and stain easily I found, and they also fall apart after 6 months. Don’t buy thick ones and don’t buy black ones. I had a very lightweight merino t-shirt, literally about 25g in weight but it was black. I boiled in it because of the colour and threw it away despite it otherwise being good (note: they are now available in alternative colours). I travelled with a Berghaus polyester t-shirt too which was great. Please note although the features advertised on polyester shirts are attractive (no smell, high UV protection) they are chemical advantages and fade away after 5-10 washes. FYI a dry cotton t-shirt offers factor 5 equivalent sun protection, a wet cotton is factor 3, most polyester ones are 35-40. You might not feel hot but the UV rays (you know – those ones that give you skin cancer) still get through.
Smart top: I wore a craghoppers polyester shirt. It looks like a normal shirt at first glance so helps when you need to look smart. But it has benefits of polyester and built in mesh net and cooling vents. Craghoppers is another British brand, a USA or Australia alternate would be Coolibar.
Warm top: Think carefully before packing one of these. They can be the bulkiest item of clothing you take and are useless in hotter weather. I travelled with a merino wool slip on jacket, but a fleece is just as good.
Belt: I took a lightweight nylon belt which had a hidden zip underneath it. Originally I travelled with about $100 in here for emergency back up, but because I occasionally made the mistake of clipping it together the wrong way round (exposing my ‘secret’ zip full of money) I decided it wasn’t such a good idea to keep money in the belt. I still use the belt though, and it cost me £1.
Shoes: I went through several pairs of flip flops, you can pick them up anywhere at reasonable prices. I’ve not invested in an expensive leather pair so can’t comment on that tactic. As for trainers/sneakers it is worth taking a dark pair with you that will help get into any club. I personally travel with a red pair as that’s my style and haven’t had an issue. Boots are not worth travelling with; I took a pair when I travelled, and they got stolen. However they were cumbersome, heavy and I only had one use (climbing Mount Kinabalu) where they were actually of an advantage. If you plan to do a LOT of trekking or climbing, then it’s worth it, otherwise, stay clear.
Rain Jacket: These are something you can pick up anywhere cheaply. I never used mine as an umbrella is more versatile and doesn’t get you hot and sticky in humid climates like a rain jacket does.
Computer: Originally I travelled with a 10.2″ Samsung NC10 which I have previously reviewed. It’s great and I can’t fault it apart from the obvious small size and processing power. There is plenty of debate about travelling with a computer or not, in the end it totally depends on you. It is much more convenient than finding a internet cafe somewhere, works out cheaper if you go long term (with free internet everywhere Vs the cost of buying a computer). In the future I will travel with a Apple Macbook Pro or without a computer at all. I am more efficent at getting work done on this computer and it is more comfortable to use, but at 13.3″ and 1.8kg it is 50% heavier than the NC10. Personally if I have up to 3 months of travel I will go without it, if I intend to travel longer then I will take it with me. Note that the weight of any chargers has to be accounted for too.
External Hard Drives: With that I now travel with 2 external hard drives. I would highly recommend 1 external hard drive to back up your computer if it ever goes missing or breaks, and make sure to keep it separate from your computer too (e.g. take external drive with you and leave computer in your accommodation). I use 500Gb Buffalo hard drives and have never had a problem and they work fast compared to Seagate or Western Digital. The reason I carry 2 is because you can’t have enough back ups, they are cheap, relatively light, and I have a lot of movies and music which I separate to keep things running quicker (if you fill up a computers hard drive on windows it will slow down). In the future I will change this to SSD external hard drives (they are currently prohibitively expensive) and online back ups, such as Google Docs for documents, and FlickR for photos As this allows you to carry a lighter and faster computer that will also not rely on the computer being reliable as information is stored elsewhere.
Camera: I originally went with a compact Panasonic digital camera, which was fine, and I’d happily recommend. However it doesn’t touch my Canon 500D (now superseeded by Canon 550D or Rebel T2i) for out and out quality. I also have a Tamron 18-270mm lens, which is a massive superzoom and fantastic for travel. However this option comes at a huge price in weight and financially. My camera costs more than my Macbook Pro and double what my NC10 costs. Is it worth it? To me yes. A camera is all about capturing memories so why not take the highest quality memories. It has developed into a hobby since travelling too. I purchased it whilst in Singapore (along with Hong Kong it is the cheapest places to buy expensive electronic goods). If you just want the usual snap shots then a smaller compact camera is fine, but you might not have canvas print quality photos to hang on your wall later on in life ;-) 1/1/16: I now recommend a mirrorless camera for travel, such as my favourite Olympus OMD EM-5
Camera Accessories: I do not take a cable to connect my camera to my computer as it has an SD card slot to transfer photos, whenever you can avoid taking a cable – do it! The SD card I used was a Panasonic 8Gb class 4 card. Storage capacity was fine although the speed (class 4 means 4Mb/second, Class 6 means 6Mb/sec, etc) wasn’t good enough for HD video. I now have a Transcend 16Gb speed 10 card which allows me the option of shooting video in HD. I always have a UV filter on my lens, more for protecting the lens in event of an accident than altering the photo).
I did carry a weather proof camera bag (small enough to fit in my day sack) too, but in the future I am ditching this 500g accessory and keeping the camera wrapped in clothing instead to save on weight. If I’m out taking photos I don’t need the bag, if I don’t need the camera, it’s in my daysack. I use the standard Canon battery charger and original 500D battery.
LAN cable: This is used for connecting computers to networks that are not wireless. I have used this only once in my travels but I can’t remember when. Generally a useless item that I won’t carry in the future as WiFi is abundant everywhere.
Wind up radio/torch: Never used it, used phone for music and torch, chucked it away eventually. May have been more useful when I was in my campervan across Australia, but I didn’t miss it. Don’t bother with them.
Mobile/Cell phone: Which one you choose isn’t important as long as it is unlocked so you can slot in a SIM card in the country you’re travelling too. I could travel without a phone, but it did come in handy at times. They are lightweight and small so don’t weigh anyone down. Mine is GPS equipped but I only used that facility once walking back after a drunk night out for 8 hours to get home as I couldn’t afford a taxi. I use a Nokia 5800 but it’s already out of date so I’m not going to recommend you taking anything more then what you already have. If you can double it up as a music player. I never had an iPod/mp3 player as my phone did the same task well enough. I transfer photos/videos from it to my computer using bluetooth, which saves carrying another cable.
Headphones: For music – enough said.
Electrical socket adaptor: Use one of the 5-1 designs, they will cover everywhere. Because I have electronics from the UK, Hong Kong and Singapore all my plugs are different, but it doesn’t matter with one of these. Power plug adapters really are essential items.
Electric socket extension: Anyone who’s been to a decent amount of hostels will know that in a lot of them socket spaces are a premium, often at the cheaper places you’ll find one socket for 8 beds. Not only does this help you make friends (as you can all charge your gadgets) it also means one socket will charge all of your own. Mine has multiple pin design too so all my stuff plugs in, and I put my adaptor on the bit that connects to the wall socket.
Wallet: I actually carry 2. One with me that has local currency, my card that I use, and ID (UK driving licence). My other stays in my backpack and has alternate currency (typically from a country I just visited that I intend to go back too), spare credit card (in case my wallet goes missing) and other cards I pick up on route.
Umbrella: You can buy these anywhere it rains, and if you buy cheap you’ll probably end up having to replace it. If you are going somewhere dry there is no need to carry one. I find it much better to take than a rainproof jacket. The only time a jacket was superior was when I was jungle trekking so having the spare hand free was handy for stablising myself. But even then I gave up as the rain jacket made me sweat more.
Sunblock + mosquito repellant: Another consumable product, take whatever is suitable for you, can buy anywhere.
Toiletries: Toothpaste, toothbrush, razor, etc you know your favourites, so I won’t recommend mine. Just don’t take excessive amounts, small tubes of toothpaste, small bottle of deodorant, etc.
Water Bottle: I took a bottle called the travel tap. It is a brilliant bottle that has a built in water filter, you can even put in fresh river water and it will come out clear and healthy to drink. The filters are replaceable although as they last over 1000 litres of filtering, it’s hard to imagine getting to that point until after a few years travel and continual use. It also saves a LOT of money over buying bottled water everywhere. It doesn’t work with salt water but is otherwise flawless – a shame no big company like Amazon stock it.
Zip Lock Bag: I use one of these to keep important documents dry (passport, event and flight tickets, etc).
Medical Stuff: I travelled with a way OTT pack (seen in pic) originally. Really you need to cater for your head, your stomach and your bottom. Everything else should be fine, tablets to tackle these areas are more essential as they are more likely to be ‘out of action’ from foreign food. A couple of band aid’s are also wise. Keeping it all in another zip lock bag would be the way to go.
Drying Line: Helps hang your clothes out to dry. I found this more useful in my campervan than anywhere else, most people in hostel dorms hang their washing on a balcony or over bed rails to dry.
Towel: Quick drying microfiber towel type is best, I found mine in a sports shop. Certain ones feel like a car chamois which is horrible against your skin, aim for a soft touch one, they feel like regular cotton ones.
Notepad and pen: I’m a guy who puts faith in technology often, but I’ll admit it’s a hell of a lot faster writing notes, making quick plans or drawing squiggles on paper than it is on a phone. Handy to carry a couple of pens too I found.
Pack of cards: One of the most versatile gaming platforms on the planet. Mine have been used for many games and I have played with a few others too. Great for a bit of social bonding and lightweight to take with you. Even if you don’t know card games, you’ll probably get taught a few on your travels, many will involve alcohol.
Glasses and softcase with cleaner: I wear specs all the time so I need to take them with me, I never wear sunglasses for this reason, but a lot of other people will. Hardcases are way too bulky to consider. Another option is using a sock for your glasses instead of a softcase.
Book: Try to stick with 1 book maximum if you can, they are heavy and bulky, an alternative is to buy a Kindle, which is the best electronic reader available but you wouldn’t want to swat mosquitoes with them!
Sleeping bag: I took one with me. At 1kg and taking up 1/3 of my backpack, you’d think I would have used it often wouldn’t you? But you’d be wrong. I only used it in my campervan when my travel partner left and took the blanket we had. Utterly useless item for the general backpacker. If you go camping a lot then you may have a different opinion.
Duck Tape: Unbelievable amount of uses, and yet when my roll ran out I didn’t bother buying a new one. I did stupid things like tape my netbook power supply up and over a door way due to one socket available in my hostel dorm with it. I also plugged a few holes in my campervan which actually improved things such as stopping water coming in. Not necessary but I seemed to find uses for it when I had it.
Waterproof bag: This folds down small and makes a good spare bag if ever necessary. I bought this when I travelled down the Mekong River via tractor inner tube so I could capture some action and keep my camera and wallet (and a few other peoples wallets) dry. I’m taking it with me. I also used it as a bag to separate my dirty washing from clean clothing when I wasn’t able to wash them.
Other Medication: It goes without saying if you require medication of some sort then you should take that with you too and check certain countries restrictions of importing it. Most pharmacies worldwide will be able to get the more common things though, so it shouldn’t hold you back.
Insurance: Insurance is important if something goes wrong you want them to be there for you. Previously I used World Nomads which a fair amount of people recommend, but when it came to making a claim (I lost my phone) they fobbed me off with excuses saying it wasn’t covered on a technicality – and they often turn out to be the most expensive insurance option too. There are other alternative backpacker travel insurance options so don’t be afraid to shop around – just read the small print.
Extra bits: I took a mosquito net, sleeping bag liner and waterproof backpack cover with me too. I used them so little they were not worth taking in all honesty. Mosquito nets are often provided when needed. Sleeping bag liner I never used. Waterproof backpack cover was something I bought a few months into travelling, but my canvas like material bag was still fine. In fact you’ll find you are seldom out at all with your backpack (to and from airports/hostels really), so being caught out in the rain was never an issue as it was never exposed for a long period of time.
This has got to be one of the longest posts I’ve published on here, I was very close to making it a video entry instead for that reason as I didn’t want it to seem like a lot of stuff. But really, take as little as possible, and then throw half of that away. Things are very easy to pick up on route.
My bag and all its contents you see here remaining minus a few gadgets in my day sack and the clothes I’m wearing typically comes to 12Kg in weight, which is good for getting on planes with. I’ve varied from 11-16kg in my travels (all weighed when I catch a plane) and typically I carried more when I could, rather than when I needed too (such as my campervan travels). Most budget airlines have a 15Kg limit and luxury airlines are typically 20Kg. Carry your heavy stuff in your carry on luggage to reduce your baggage weight.