My packing lists

Lots of people have trouble deciding what to take with them on any trip.  Yes, your bag will dictate the excesses you can afford to bring but I approach it from a slightly different angle.  I have a basic list that is appropriate for any destination and then I have supplementary items that make life on the road more elaborate and interesting but that can also distract from the ‘now’ and introduce worry to your freedom.  Click on the bold links to see more in depth reviews of items, where I’ve created them.



  • Regatta Survivor 35l backpack – Small, yes. but also ample room for almost any trip.  Only if you are travelling for more than a day or two AND camping need you take a larger pack.
  • Compressor sacs [sic] – They make your clothes tiny and tiny equals a psychological equivalent to less weight.  These sacs are essential to me now.  They are what will empower you in packing smaller and lighter than ever.
  • 2 pairs of trousers – Be they jeans or linen trousers you will only need two pairs.  I tend to take one heavier and hard-wearing fabric like denim jeans and then a lighter and much more quick-drying fabric like linen.
  • A belt – One with a couple more holes than you usually use.  You will be surprised how much weight you lose due to constant wandering and a change of diet.  After 5 weeks in China my girlfriend was stunned with how thin I’d gotten, and I’m slim usually.  Two months in Australia soon fattened me up with junk food!
  • 3 tops – Any combination of t-shirts or shirts, PLUS the expectation that I will buy something extra whilst away.  I just like unusual tees as souvenirs!  Having something with long sleeves is handy both for warmth and for keeping the sun at bay.
  • 2 pairs of underpants – Yes, JUST 2 PAIRS.  You quickly get into the habit of taking travel wash with you to the shower and giving them a damn good scrub each day.  If you invest in Tilley Endurables you find they are extremely quick-drying and therefore ideal for hand-washing.  They are also very comfortable.
  • 2 pairs of socks – This is the one aspect of my packing I’m not completely happy with yet.  I invested in some Tilley travel socks because they have a 3 year guarantee and are, again, very quick-drying.  My relationship with these is not as good as with my pants by the same company because although comfortable and well made they do tend to pong a bit.  Actually quite a lot more than my feet ever do with plain old cotton socks.  Next time I do a city break of more than a few days I think I’ll decide whether to just take 2 pairs of normal socks.
  • Coat with detachable inner – My North Face jacket has a waterproof outer, with loads of handy pockets, and an inner liner that I can use for evening warmth.  The whole thing weighs very little and packs small in a sac.
  • Comfortable trainers – i.e. footwear that you will be comfortable walking large distances in as well as doing the gallery shuffle.  The latter takes its toll on your foot-stamina.
  • Sandals or flip flops – I tend to take Teva sandals as they are comfortable and you can walk in them better than in flip flops.  They are also essential for those diabolical shower cubicles with interesting smells and plughole toupees.
  • Swimming shorts – Good for the obvious dip in the sea but also handy while your other washing is drying, or essential when you go somewhere like Japan with extensive hot springs and lovely public baths.
  • Microfibre towel – They are much smaller and lighter than ordinary towels, dry quicker, and don’t pong out your whole bag if they are packed whilst wet.
  • Sunglasses – Avoid unwanted tout attention by avoiding eye contact or simply shield your orbs whilst sitting in the train’s window seat overlooking a desert sunset.  Plus you look cooler.
  • Sun-hat – I’m of the ginger variety so because I have a predisposition go as red as a boiled lobster, if I’m not too careful, a sun-hat is very important to me.  However it should also be high on your list as well because sun stroke is not fun at all.  This small, lightweight, item can help stave it off.
  • Suncream – USE SUNSCREEN.
  • Aftersun – This is not essential as it depends how much you like the pain of sun burn…
  • Toilet roll – There are still so many places where you discover a frayed inch of toilet roll is all that remains.
  • Padlock – You will need one.  Too many hostel lockers either don’t have padlocks supplied or the ones that are just seem flimsy enough to fall off by themselves.  Don’t forget to keep the key safe!  If you don’t think you can be trusted to keep the key safe then get a combination code padlock instead.  If you still don’t think you can remember a 3/4 digit number then get one of those expensive thumbprint ones and try not to scald your hand…
  • Universal adaptor – I use one that has an attachment for direct USB charging as well.
  • Sink plug – Nothing more than a 4 inch disc of rubber this accessory will let you fill a basin with water when the establishment doesn’t want you to.  Great for hand washing needs when the same establishment is extorting valuable funds from you for the use of their 30 year old washing machine.
  • Travel wash – Stay sweet smelling!
  • Travel clothes line – Sometimes there’s nowhere to hang clothes to dry but this item lets you string its twisted bungee cords around anything and provide a washing line instantaneously.
  • Solid underarm deodorant stick – They last much longer than sprays in terms of effect and number of applications, and they usually smell less intrusive.  They are also quite small and can slip into the airport security control easier than a can.
  • Baby wipes – Been on that train for 6 days?  Undercarriage going ‘off’?  Here’s the solution.
  • Toothbrush – Just bring one.  Please.  For the love of all that’s beautiful in the world.
  • Toothpaste – Just a small tube, it can be bought almost anywhere in the world if you need a replacement but the feeling of being able to brush clean after a 23 hour flight is wonderful.
  • Compass – Very handy when you come out a subway station and the signage just says ‘Exit 13e’ (I’m looking at you Osaka Nanba).
  • Small torch – Because turning on the main light in your dorm past midnight is inexcusable.  Or, if you are staying somewhere less developed and need to be able to spot where the path through tropical trees is taking you – dangly monsters included.
  • Money pouch – I used to have one that hung inside your clothes off of a shoulder strap but that chaffed.  Instead I now pack a waist pouch and use it when I’m not taking my coat out for the day.  If you bring a coat with enough internal pockets then I don’t believe you will need a money pouch for 3/4 of the year, in temperate climates.
  • Painkillers – Bear in mind the laws of the country you’re going to but I would say that paracetamol and ibuprofen are universally acceptable hangover cures.  You don’t need to bring loads, but some are advisable for alcohol or excessive sun conditions.
  • Stomach pills – While I’m on the subject of medicines, Imodium is very handy for the squits…
  • Bug repellent – With DEET.  I bring a small spray bottle and that will last for a long time.  Squirt a little around cracks in window frames if that seems to be the only way the blighters are getting in.  Which brings me to:
  • Immunisations, certificates, and special pills – You don’t want to catch malaria.  You also don’t want to be refused entry to a country because you’ve come from somewhere on their list requiring a certification of immunisation against Yellow Fever.  Read up about the shots and pills you might need and familiarise yourself with how long you will have to take them before you arrive and after you leave.  By all means top up your stock from reputable local suppliers but don’t be ignorant and put yours and others lives at risk from infectious diseases.
  • Plasters – I always damage my feet.  Somehow.  Sea urchin spikes – whilst not wearing my sandals.  Broken glass on a Thai beach – got into some Crocs – blood EVERYWHERE.  Blisters from diving fins.  You might suffer too.  They’re light and tiny so why not pack half a dozen?
  • Earplugs – Bad sleep turns me into a wreck over time.  Earplugs won’t dispel a sweaty climate but they can block out unruly dormers and that evil mosquito noise will be blotted out effectively.
  • Shampoo – Sea water, sand, smog.  All will make you look like a tramp in a day or two so bring a small amount of shampoo.  It can be bought everywhere so no need to travel with loads from the off.
  • Playing cards – How else can you indulge in a lovely game of Shithead with a multilingual party of drunk backpackers?  Or learn completely indecipherable, unwinnable, but beguiling games from excitable Japanese women?  Plus, if you learn a couple of solitaire games then you could amuse yourself when you’re the only tourist staying in a hostel and everywhere else is shut for the night.
  • Book – Some might say this isn’t essential, but then they’re not me.  I like to bring a couple of books, a guidebook and a reading book.  The paper guidebook will continue to be handy because of how easy it is to leaf through and come across an interesting sounding location not far from your current position.  Novels are essential when everyone else has gone to sleep in their train bunks, it’s dark outside, and you’re not sleepy.
  • Camera – I love taking photos of the things I see, eat and meet.  I have a good Lumix point and shoot designed for travelling, with 12x optical zoom, so that’s perfect for me.  Carrying a couple of memory cards means you can take a lot of snaps in two or three weeks.  As you’ll see below, I would bring a netbook if I were on a longer trip because backing-up those photos to Picasa is very important to me.  I brought a DSLR to Mauritius and that was excellent but we were based from one point for the whole time, rental cars taking us elsewhere meaning carrying it was not a problem.  I would never take a DSLR on a bigger trip.
  • A ‘Bag for life’ – One of those higher quality plastic bags you can buy from supermarkets.  Sometimes things get absolutely soaked and need to be segregated from other items.  If you’ve got no spare compression sacs then a bag is very useful.
  • Passport – Um, duh…
  • Photocopy of your passport – to give to any ‘officials’ you meet in a non-official location, like a street.  Obviously in a police station or at border control you present the original.
  • Printout of your travel insurance – It may be boring but it could save your life or get you flown home in an emergency.  In a disaster there will likely be no internet for you to check that emailed PDF so take a hard copy.  Equally good would be storing the emailed version on any peripheral devices you bring with you (or even on your camera’s memory card).  Sometimes you will find that documents demand you keep them with you at all times.  This is the case with the European Health Insurance Card where sometimes the stipulation that you have to carry the card with you leads to refusal of treatment until you can present it – keep it in your wallet!
  • Money – How you bring your money with you will often depend on how long you are away.  I’ve never used a pre-paid card and tend to bring a mix of cash, debit and credit cards.  Bringing a small emergency cash reserve is very important for those times when a country just rejects your cards.  All your cards.  As happened to me in Malaysia.  My bank couldn’t fathom why it was happening but it couldn’t help me withdraw money either so I had to use my cash reserve and borrow from friends.  Always try to make your card charges known to yourself before you depart too as they could be quite hefty.  Nothing is cheaper than bringing cash wads but nothing is more likely to put you on edge.

If you take all of the above and pack it properly then you will find you can live indefinitely with this small load and there will be a lot of extra room for the…


  • Mobile phone – This almost made the essentials list because of how useful they can be.  My Android has provided me with endless resources whilst exploring, and when you put it on airplane mode you’ll soon discover that you can go days without needing to charge it.  I don’t buy overseas data plans or roaming packages because of the cost but there’s so much free WiFi in the world that you can get by quite easily.  Music is something you can store on a phone quite simply so that’s a big plus, just don’t forget your headphones.  You can also read ebooks on a mobile so you could quite feasibly do away with the physical book.  The reason book remains in the essentials is down to the fact that losing a book is less psychologically damaging than losing a phone.
  • Netbook – This is debatable even for the non-essentials.  I had to bring mine to Japan as I had an essay to write but ordinarily would I need it?  Perhaps not.  However, If I were travelling for more than a few weeks I would probably bring it along.  Not having to queue for a static terminal in a hostel (often WiFi is free but using a terminal is not!), being able to back-up photos, being able to access WiFi through any open Hotspot, having access to films and TV shows, renew the music stocked on your phone, being able to compose large emails off-line and send them when you get a connection, all these are strong reasons for bringing one.  The major downside is the attachment to your possessions.  I could cope with losing almost anything else in my pack quite easily but losing a netbook, even if it only cost me £130 would be upsetting.
  • Swiss Army Knife – Cutting that salami and brie into smaller chunks, before sawing a baguette down its centre, and then popping open a bottle of wine.  Yes, one of these can be very handy but of course that means you have to check your bag into the hold of the plane.  Sad times for this compromise. Or you can try to board a plane with it in your pocket and get a frisking from Swedish police.  Like my friend Martyn.  Being Sweden they just said ‘Don’t worry, we’ll post it to you in London’ – and they bloody well did too!
  • Umbrella – If your coat is good enough you won’t need one of these but in tropical countries where you probably haven’t got a proper coat it’s essential.  So again, context and research before you go.
  • Shaving kit – I’m a wet shave man.  That means there’s quite a bit of paraphernalia required to get a smooth face.  My choices then are either grow a beard, bring razor, brush and soap stick, or get a local barber to do it for you.  I tried the first two choices but I’ve never had the confidence to let a stranger scrape a razor across my neck, hell I don’t even like going to my own barber at home.  Again this one comes down to personal choice, destination and length of trip.  You also need to bear in mind that your razor may not be acceptable for hand luggage – mine’s a ‘safety razor’ but that means large double-sided replaceable blades!
  • Notebook and pen/pencil – I always have grand ideas about sitting down and sketching where I am.  Sometimes I do, usually I don’t.  Nevertheless having paper and a writing tool can be really useful for getting locals to sketch a map, write down addresses or phone numbers, or to keep a journal – something I enjoyed doing in the past.
  • Sleeping mask – Good idea, but they rarely stay on my eyes! Sometimes they do, but often I’ll wake up confused and strangulated.

So, all these things may or may not make it into my trip but bear in mind that I can easily fit every one of these items into the 35l pack and still have room for souvenirs.

Shoot the breeze...