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What to pack for our trip was a questions that puzzled me for weeks. It’s tricky enough when you’re going away for a couple of weeks, let alone when you have no fixed time and your journey is likely to traverse all seasons from -30 to 40 degrees. On top of that, I was really keen to keep my backpack light and ideally be able to take it on buses with me or even as hand luggage on flights. I searched everywhere for tips on how to pack a backpack.
The big question: how to pack a backpack?
I was inspired by the couple from Never Ending Voyage who travel with just a 35 and 45 litre backpack. At first this seemed impossible (in the past my bag was 60 litres) but slowly, and with a bit more research, I realised I could do it. I tested putting all my luggage into an old rucksack, which was about 40 litres, and there was still room for more. So out I went and bought a 38 litre backpack. This was a much trickier endeavour than I first realised so I have written a separate post on choosing the right backpack. Unfortunately, as comfort was my number one priority, I had to compromise on the shape of the bag. This means that it doesn’t lock and it looks bigger than its volume, meaning it’s harder to sneak onto buses and planes as hand luggage. It is, however, the perfect fit.
Steve bought his 58 litre backpack the year before, which packs down quite small, so he wasn’t keen to buy a new one. Ideally, he’d have bought one about the same size as mine. Steve also had to bring a second bag for all his filming equipment. This bag is horribly heavy but necessary for his work. On the bright side, it has proved very useful as the bag locks securely so sometimes we use it as mini-safe for our valuables in hotel rooms.
The best thing I picked up when researching online was the idea of packing cubes that can compartmentalise your luggage. This has proved incredibly useful, not only for saving space but for keeping everything organised – we’re not sure how we coped without them!
So what did we pack in those bags? Definitely more than we strictly need! I have a few frivolous items that I might lose along the way, but I decided to see how I’d get along with all I wanted, some luxuries included. I was tempted to use the extra space in Steve’s bag, but couldn’t bring myself to add the extra weight, especially as he has the camera bag. As it is, we carry our own stuff, and I take the toiletries and Steve takes the medical kit.
Here’s the complete packing list with photos.
- Osprey Kestrel 38 Litre backpack for women
- Osprey Kestrel 58 Litre backpack
- Thinktank Shapeshifter backpack
- Oh Comely tote bag (hand luggage/day bag that packs down small)
- Small day bag (Steve’s day bag, which also packs small)
- 1 big packing cube each (Victoria’s has two compartments so you can separate different types or dirty/clean clothes)
- 2 small packing cubes for small items
- 1 compression bag each (we’ve used these to store our warm clothes at the bottom of our backpacks)
- 3 combination locks (2 for Steve’s bag and one for Victoria)
- Kathmandu cable lock
- Small Kathmandu travel wallet for cards, passport, camera and important documents.
- Some local currency for Rio, our first stop
- Debit and credit cards – I spent quite a bit of time working out the best ones to use abroad to avoid high fees. A great resource for this can be found on Money Saving Expert.
- Driving licences
- International driving licenses – we nearly didn’t realise we needed these, but got them very easily at the Post Office (takes about 20 minutes).
- E-ticket for first flight
- Spare passport photos
- Photocopies of passports
- Photocopy of birth certificates
- Money belts
- We also emailed photocopies of all our important documents to ourselves and Steve’s parents.
In my big packing cube
- 3 pairs of light cotton trousers – these pack up tiny and are really airy. You can also put tights under them in cold weather.
- 1 pair lightweight jeans – good for when you want to look a little more smart
- Long sleeve top – handy when it’s a bit chilly or you want to avoid mosquitoes
- 2 light cardigans – I probably only need one but it fitted so I brought two
- One smart top
- 3 t-shirts
- 2 vest tops
- 1 dress
- 1 skirt
In my vacuum pack
- All of this is for when we hit the colder climates and is tightly packed in a vacuum pack at the bottom of my bag.
- 2 pairs of leggings
- 1 pair of footless tights
- 1 pair of thermal leggings
- Baselayer merino top
- Lightweight rain jacket
- Light Northface fleece
In my small packing cube
- 3 x socks
- 2 x tight socks – these a ugly little things but my feet get cold and I won’t wear socks with sandals so these are ally useful for spring nights.
- 7 knickers
- 4 bras
- 1 bikini
- 1 sarong
- A big hair band
- Vivo barefoot trail runners – I’m not a big hiker and hate hiking boots so was delighted to compromise with these trail shoes. They are super lightweight, quick drying and have excellent grip – perfect for shorter hikes. I also like the philosophy behind them about walking barefoot being better for you.
- White summer brogues – these are a bit of a luxury item but they are really light weight and good for when you want to look a little smarter than flip flops/trainers.
- Flip flops
- 5 x normal socks
- 1 pair of super-thick socks
- 5 x boxer shorts
- 4 x t-shirts
- 1 pair of jeans
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 pair of cotton trousers
- 1 zip-up hoodie
- 1 waterproof jacket
- 1 merino vest
- 1 fleece top
- 1 set of thermals
- 1 smart shirt (for fancy occasions)
This all fits into two small wash bags.
- Argan oil – my luxury and miracle item that stops my hair frizzing in humidity
- Mooncup – it can be hard to find tampons so this is brilliant. It’s also much better for the environment.
- Travel facewash, toner and moisturizer – I know I could use soap but these things fitted so I thought why not. Perhaps I’ll get rid of them later, but for now a little luxury is good.
- Travel shampoo
- Travel conditioner
- Body wash
- 2 100ml Riedman all day sun tan lotion – very useful and a brilliant IDE but it does run out quickly. We’ve kept one to use on our faces but otherwise buy sun tan lotion along the way.
- Razor and spare blades
- Mascara, glitter, lipstick and nail polish – this is completely unnecessary, but agin it fitted and I’ve been enjoying using them occasionally for a night out. I am get rid of them at some point.
- Nail scissors
- Dental floss
- Lip balm
- Hand sanitiser
- Malaria tablets – an annoying bulk especially as we’re unsure when we’ll need them, but they are essential.
- Antiseptic wipes
- Travel sickness pills (dimenhydrinate)
- Bite cream
- Antibiotics (ciprofloxacin) – these are a lifesaver if you get a bad dose of travellers’ diarrhoea
- Batroban antibiotic cream – great for it you get a cut somewhere like the jungle
- Cystitis sachets – just in case
- Small Canestan – just in case
- Levonelle – my doctor suggested I bring this just in case. I don’t foresee needing it but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
- iPad sleeve
- Ipad charger
- Kindle with case
- Kindle charger
- Kindle light
- iPhone – I switched to pay as you go before I left but can still use this phone in an emergency. It has been unlocked so I’ll be able to put different sim cards in it. it also doubles up nicely as an iPod.
- Headphones splitter – great for when we both want to listen to the same thing
- Camera battery charger
- Dictaphone (for interviewing people)
- Travel power adaptor
- Apple MacBook Pro 17″
- Canon 5D Mk ii
- Canon 50mm 1.8 lens
- Canon 24-70mm 2.8 L lens
- SmallHD DP4 + EVF
- Proslider camera slider 1m
- Benro A1691T travel tripod
- Manfrotto 701HDV tripod head
- 3 x 32GB Compact Flash memory cards
- 4 x camera batteries
- Battery charger
- Filters: UV, circular polariser, ND filters
- Memory card reader
- Zoom H4N audio recorder
- Lapel mic
- 3 x Western Digital 1TB passport drives
- Various allen keys, screwdrivers and other nick-nacks
- 1 travel towel each – Steve’s is a trek mate towel. Victoria’s is from Kathmandu travel shop, and is softer and more like an ordinary towel than Steve’s.
- 1 sleeping sheet each
- 1 spork each – good for picnics
- 1 headlamp each – excellent for navigating in the dark and having your hands free
- 1 set of ear plugs each
- Small amount of toilet roll – for emergencies
- Gaffa tape – excellent for fixing anything from shoes to backpacks
- Universal plug – small and useful for hand washing
- Zip locks bags – handy for separating things
- Mini sewing kit
- Prescription glasses + case for both of us
- Sunglasses + case for both of us
- Pocket size notebook each
- Playing cards
- Jungle speed – an excellent card game which is brilliant for playing with the people we meet.
- Travel Scrabble – we’re geeks and we love Scrabble
- One book – I bought a kindle for its lightness but really I’m a lover of books so decided to bring one book, which I’ll swap along the way
- One magazine for the flight
What’s your take on how to pack a backpack? We’d love to know what you take when you go away.