If I had one gift I could give my 20-year old past self as he set off on his first backpacking trip around the world, it would be this packing list, developed and honed over years of travel, to over a hundred countries since that day. With this list, your full travel pack will become the size of most people’s day packs. That means you have the freedom to go from place to place without retracing your steps. Your stuff is no longer the number one thing you need to think about. It is just there, with you, when you need it.
Here’s the list, for men:
- 1 nice pair of trousers: often dark wool, tough enough for every day, and nice enough for a hot nightclub
- 1 casual pair of trousers: quick drying fabric (no jeans!), such as the chunky pockets zip-off legs style
- 1 bathing suit: medium-length to long shorts for street wear
- 1 sweater: warm, light, not too bulky; cashmere is excellent
- 1 waterproof jacket shell
- 1 long-sleeved wool top: I’m a fan of the brand Icebreaker
- 1 long-sleeved dress shirt: non-iron preferred
- 1 every-day collared travel shirt
- 1 T-shirt
- 1 top for sleeping: It may be a second T-shirt
- 3 pieces of underwear: Again, I’m a fan of Icebreaker
- 3 pairs of socks: At least one knee-high to help layer for the cold
- 1 pair of ‘perfect travel’ shoes
- 1 pair of sandals or flip-flops
- 1 other piece of clothing you can’t travel without: For me it is a sports jacket; for others it is their running shoes. You get to choose.
- 1 pair of thin gloves if there is a remote chance of mountains/cold: silk is good
- 1 belt
- 1 passport pouch: try Baggizmo
- That’s all the clothing you’ll need.
And then there is everything else besides the clothing:
- 1 small first-aid kit: Band-Aids, disinfectant cream, gauze
- 1 digital thermometer: an important diagnostic tool if you get an infection
- Tylenol or Advil: for handling fevers
- 1 small LED flashlight: to use when packing early, or when stuck in a power outage
- 1 fast-drying camping towel
- 1 mesh bag: to hang wet clothes outside your backpack as you travel
- A 25L backpack: carry-on size
- Needles and threads: including the ones strong enough for backpack repairs
- 1 soft water bottle: Platypus style
- 1 smartphone, with an extra battery pack
- 1 phone charger, with adaptor plugs
- 1 cylinder of toilet paper: roll some up in a Ziploc baggie: there will be that one time you’ll need it
- 1 pen: for those annoying immigration forms
- 3 Ziploc plastic baggies: to keep valuable items waterproof in monsoons or while swimming
- A 3 m length of thin string: to use as an impromptu clothesline
- 1 passport with visas
- Driver’s license: as good as ID even if you don’t expect to drive
- Travel health insurance card with an emergency contact number
- All necessary medicines: and get all your immunizations before traveling
- 2 credit cards: Carry them in different places – e.g. one in a pocket, one in a bag
- 1 bank card: You will be taking money from bank machines around the world
- Business cards: if you happen to need them
- 1 liquids carry-on bag with: a laundry detergent, 2-3 plastic disposable razors, a travel-size shaving foam, toothbrush (cut off the end of the handle if needed), floss, travel-size toothpaste, travel-size deodorant, travel-size container of shower gel that doubles as shampoo
If you are the sort of person who is happy following instructions, you don’t need to read any further. Just pack everything above, and enjoy your trip! If you like to understand how and why, or want to argue for that one more thing you think is essential to add, then read on.
Cold Weather: if you end up trekking to the top of Kilimanjaro unexpectedly, or crossing the Hindu Kush into China (as I did), you put on the T-shirt, long-sleeved wool layer, collared shirt if needed, sweater and waterproof shell on top. Then it’s knee-high socks and your long shorts under your trousers if you need them. And you’ll appreciate the silk gloves!!
Hot Weather: when you’re down in the beach in Goa, you’ve got the same t-shirt you layered in the cold, and on other days the collared shirt with the sleeves rolled up. The dress (wool) trousers rarely get worn out, and you live in your sandals and the travel pants with the legs zipped off.
Sleeping: As a man you can often get away with sleeping in your underwear and a T-shirt. From experience of cool rooms/lack of blankets/over-air conditioning I like to have a long-sleeved T-shirt, or you can always use your wool layer or put a sweater on.
Shoes: I cannot stress enough that given the weight of men’s shoes you should only take one pair. They therefore need to be multipurpose. Black for clubbing. Lace-up for hiking. Tough rubber soles for everyday wear. Boring, black, unobtrusive, lace-ups. If the weather is hot you’ll find you wear sandals a lot instead of these shoes, so get sandals you can wear on city streets.
Weight: If you dress for an airplane, with your shoes, trousers, sweater and other items on, your whole backpack should weigh around 7 kg and should easily fit even Ryanair’s carry-on rules.
Laundry: The secret to traveling light is to pack the minimum, and to do laundry by hand in sinks. Expect to wash underwear, socks and a T-shirt every second day. Other items can be done more rarely. Or you can carry a monster bag full of dirty clothes around the world with you. The choice is yours.
Shopping: you will buy things during your trip. Show restraint. This can be a great way to add to the wardrobe. And remember that every kilogram you add will reduce your enjoyment significantly.
Remember, it is all about enjoyment. Packing light helps to make all moments of your trip – even the travel – relaxing and enjoyable. Just follow the list above.