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To Pack (or Not to Pack): A List for Travellers

Posted by on March 2, 2014

Packing my bag for what could be many years on the road, I thought I’d share some of the lessons I’ve learnt over the years when it comes to packing light.

French brandy in airline liquids bag

Shampoo, conditioner…French brandy. In hand luggage, put all liquids in 100ml bottles in clear plastic bag

People always pack too much – I did when I started out, and sometimes even now I catch myself making the same mistakes – but it can be infuriating to watch others. So I dug out my time-honoured list and decided to air it on the web for the good of humanity.

I’ve called it the “to pack (and not to pack)” list because there’s more crossed off than there is still on there.

If I’ve missed anything important, let me know in the comments and I’ll either add it, or, much more likely, tell you why you’re an idiot.

In an ideal world this list, give or take a box of tampons, should apply to both sexes, but I’m not going to get into a debate with anyone who thinks make-up and deodorant are “essentials”, so it might be safer to say it’s a list for guys, or even safer, a list just for me.

Optionals (and things I didn’t actually take) in italics.

The “To Pack” List

Clothes

You’ll be wearing some of this, so don’t worry if it seems a lot.

  • 2 x jeans/trousers/shorts
  • 10* x pairs socks
  • 10* x boxers
  • 5* x light tops (I usually have a couple of t-shirts for sweaty bus rides and just generally being in transit, and a few nice shirts for nights out once I get to my destination and a shower.)
  • Something warm**
  • Something waterproof**
  • Boots
  • Flip-flops (can easily be picked up along the way and hung from the outside of your bag)
  • Swimming shorts
  • Hat
  • Gloves

*Could be more could be less. The more you take, the less you have to stop to wash them.

**These can be combined to form something warm and waterproof, but can also be separated for hot, wet days. They also double as a blanket when someone turns on the air-con on a night bus.

Toiletries

  • Toothpaste (100ml bottles)
  • Shampoo (100ml bottles)
  • Conditioner (100ml bottles)
  • Soap
  • Toothbrush
  • Sun cream (100ml bottles)
  • Malaria medication
  • Travel towel

Essentials

  • Passport
  • Wallet (cards and cash)
  • Boarding passes, hotel confirmations, copy of a recent and generous bank statement, passport photos, visas, vaccination certificates, EHIC card and any other important documents
  • Watch, phone or other time-telling device

Misc

  • Water (acquired on arrival, so leave room; cheaper in larger containers, so it’s not uncommon to see me cradling a 10 or 20 litre water bottle – the kind you turn upside-down and slap on a water dispenser – which often costs more or less the same as a two litre bottle.
  • Snacks/dried foods (can be good idea to have a bag of biscuits or something just in case)
  • Bowl (acts as both plate and mug, as required)
  • Spork (or similar)
  • Money belt (Something like this is advisable so you don’t have to worry about being robbed while you sleep.)
  • Waterproof matches (I’ve never used them. It’s my little peace of mind thing, and because I’m not about to try and make fire by rubbing two sticks together.)
  • Sleeping bag (You may well never use it, but you should at least have some kind of sheet to wrap yourself in should you end up stranded in the cold, in a Nepalese, mountainside hut, or just at a friend’s who doesn’t have any spare bedding.)

Leisure

  • Camera
  • Chargers
  • Plug adaptor
  • Pen (maybe two. Don’t go overboard. You can always borrow one.)
  • Paper, notepad or compact diary
  • Two books (I’ve actually taken more than 10. You can’t underestimate how many books you’ll get through waiting for buses, trains, planes, etc, and book-exchanges in most hostels mean you’ll have a constant supply of travel reads.)

All this fits into universal hand-luggage specifications. If you need proof, I’m not paying for hold-luggage at all on my travels. This means no-one can lose it and I can also walk straight out of the airports without having to wait at the baggage carousel for an hour.

The “Not to Pack” List

Here’s the part where I get to act condescending and take the piss.

Obviously if you’re specifically going camping, or travelling by motorcycle or other vehicle, you may well need extra materials, but if you’re travelling on foot (in other words, by public transport and/or hitch-hiking) then you’ll never be too far from a transport hub, or some form of settlement, and therefore all the amenities you’d expect to find in places where there are people. Sorry if it’s depressing, but it’s true. People are everywhere. Everywhere you are going to go anyway.

Pots and pans. Why? Because if you can buy food to cook, you can just as easily and cheaply) buy food that doesn’t need cooking. Think breads, tinned fish, fruit, vegetables, cheese, cold meats, etc.

Tent? I know, when you picture travelling, you think of the great open road, the wilderness, with no-one else for miles around. But trust me, unless you’re planning on going into the Mongolian wilderness to die, there’s always a hostel, a hotel, a kind local or at the very least a tree to kip under.

Compass? Swiss army knife? Ball of string? Just stop being a twat.

Pack of playing cards? We’ve all made this mistake, and our intentions are good – you meet some strangers, crack out the cards, and before you know it, you’ve made an unbreakable bond, friends for life – but the truth is you can make a game out of anything. Use your imagination. And if that fails, just ask the fool who didn’t read this and did bring a deck of cards.

Anyway, packing light is not an exact science, and it’s different for everyone, but I hope this helped you spot some things to drop.

2 Responses to To Pack (or Not to Pack): A List for Travellers

  1. Anne

    A scarf/shawl could be used as something warm (blanket) and as a hat (wrap around your head and face when trying to avoid the sun)!

    Great list. Couldn’t really think of anything else to add. :-)

    • Roy Duffield

      Nice! Ingenuity! :) You can also use a spare shirt as a scarf/shawl – Might look a little stupid, but hey, when you’re backpacking… ;)

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