Are you desperately searching for the ultimate guide on what to pack and how to pack for your next trip? Finally your search is over: you are in the right place to learn the best way for packing light for travel.
Welcome! I don’t mean to to be presumptuous but this article is probably the most comprehensive guide you will find on the internet.
The guide below that I regularly update is the result of months of doing research, hundreds of hours of watching videos and reading reviews, and most important of all, the experience of two years of traveling in all different weather conditions: from the glacial lakes of Montana to the extreme temperatures of the Death Valley, the jungles of Southeast Asia and the peaks of the Himalayas.
I have seen countless videos to get advise on how to pack lightly and I ended up packing the wrong things. For instance, all the mountaineering gear I bought were useless in Thailand, Bali and Mexico where wearing simple cotton shorts and flip flops were more suitable (vs high top hiking boots and synthetic leggings). So what I’m trying to do here is to share my tips on packing light but making sure you have the necessary things in your backpack to have a comfortable trip (and not to look awkward in the meantime).
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- What to pack for your adventures in the world?
- General rules to pack lightly for travel
- Backpacks: introduction, cabin-size backpacks, checked-in backpacks
- Daypack options
- The essentials
- The non-essentials
- Clothing: introduction and what’s in my backpack
- Recommendations for trekking fans
- Electronics and technology
When the duration of my trips started increasing from one to two weeks of summer vacations to several months spent off the beaten path, I realized that my polycarbonate trolley, jeans and cotton polos were probably not the most suitable gear for exploring the world.
Before, I used to bring lots of clothes with me and use only a third of them. In addition to clothing, I was bringing with me a ton of useless items that resulted in my suitcase getting extremely heavy and me ending up in a supermarket desperately looking for what I needed.
So, how to pack lightly for travel?
Before my first backpacking trip to Indonesia as a newbie, I typed on Google “What to pack for a RTW trip” (Round The World) and discovered the “science” of packing light. In a nutshell, that means building strategically an essential kit for the ultimate traveler: a backpack (or a trolley-backpack), a daypack (a small backpack for day use), specific clothing, and a set of ultra-lightweight gadgets (only the essentials).
Just to give you an idea … on my ten day trip to Turkey in winter, my backpack was weighing 6.5kg (that’s less than my Eastpak full of books when I was in high school!). And during another trip for a few months in SEA, the total weight of my belongings (backpack + daypack + clothes + laptop) was 14kg. Not bad, right?
- Evaluate your needs and travel style before starting to pack
Packing involves personal decisions as everyone has their own ideas of comfort and style. The list of what to pack is designed according to my needs: I’m a budget traveler (I prefer staying in hostels and guesthouses), a yoga enthusiast (I always bring my yoga mat to practice), and a blogger (my laptop is always with me). As a long-term traveler, I move in-between different climate conditions during a single trip, so I change from down jacket and gloves to flip-flops and sunscreen in a short time. What this means is maybe you don’t need everything I recommend in this article or maybe you need more. Analyze in advance your personal situation, where you will go, how long you will go for, what activities you will engage in, etc. and adjust your list accordingly.
- Travel light
The first and most important rule: a light backpack can change the fate of your trip! There is nothing worse than having to carry a sac of potatoes on your back, especially when the heat and humidity leave you breathless. And equally, there is nothing better than the feeling of freedom to lift your trolley as a feather when you have to climb a long staircase or carry it on a scooter.
- Every gram counts
When making your decision about what to pack, remember that the weight of your luggage is not determined by a single object, but by the sum of all of them, including the lightest. So whatever you think of bringing with you, first check its weight (you can use the kitchen scale) and if it’s not super light, consider other alternatives. If there’s not a lighter and more functional solution, ask yourself if you really need it. For instance, do you really need a pocket knife with 20 different functions or can you live with 4 basic functions? Packing light will save your spine and your sanity!
- The more you spend the less you spend
Some of the products I show here are on the expensive side, but you will want to invest your money on a good quality object that won’t give you any problems along the way, rather than a mediocre one that won’t do its job, which you will end up replacing and paying for twice. Also keep in mind that there’s no Amazon or shopping malls in remote areas, so replacing some products will become a heroic adventure (try looking for a pair of sandals in India…). If your destination is not a developed resort town, every object you pack will probably be used intensively, so durability and functionality are the keywords!
For example, some of you probably know Decathlon, the major sports retailer in Europe– I packed a pair of running shorts and a couple of boxers that I’d bought from there before I left home in Italy and I had to trash them after only using a couple of months. So in my opinion Decathlon is like Ikea: concepts copied by other brands/designers at competitive prices. To save a few bucks by buying their products, I carried on me stuff that died on me much quicker than the more expensive alternatives that would have lasted longer. It was fun to look for boxers in the street markets of Nepal and India but my efforts didn’t bring any result.
- You don’t need that. Or that. Or that either. If you are undecided, it means stop! Leave it home!
Guess what? There are stores in the third world countries and most basic things are easily found. You can buy toiletries and medicines while traveling. There are also places where you can rent certain equipment (such as diving gear, snorkels, etc.). Remember, anything you buy, you will have to carry on you for the rest of your trip. Better to be a light as a butterfly than a turtle.
- Keep your backpack in order
It’s important to reorganize the content of your bag after you take something out and put everything back in properly. Just by doing this, you will find what you are searching for easier and faster and you will not lose any objects.
- Practice a bit of discipline
Traveling requires responsibility. Regularly wash/clean your clothes and equipment to make them last longer, save your photos in the cloud to have a back up against accidents, check your credit card statements, trash old receipts, and rearrange your travel notes.
- Before leaving a place, check ten times to make sure you have taken everything (even in the bathroom!)
Even better, prepare a list of what you have in your bag and go over it every time you’ve finished packing (did you take your toothbrush? and the cell phone charger?) Trust me, you don’t want to look for a knock off i-phone charger in the next town.
- Avoid buying overpriced souvenirs
Same rule: Whatever you buy, you’ll have to drag it with you for the rest of the trip (or ship it home). Bring home emotions, not the tenth piece of magnet.
- Do not bring paper books unless you plan to leave them along the way
Paper books are are heavy and bulky. If you like reading books or carrying a travel guide with you, consider an ebook reader aka the amazing Kindle solution (check out the electronics section)
- Keep a copy of your docs and equipment in the cloud
In case of theft or accidents, your insurance will ask the models and serial numbers of your electronic equipment in order to file a claim, as well as copies of your ids. So instead of carrying hard copies on you, it’s safe to keep electronic copies on a cloud account, which you can access even if your personal equipment is not available. Google Drive and iCloud are two reliable options.
Your backpack is the most important piece you will have during your travel hence it needs the most careful choice.
There are thousands of backpack options in the market!
Hardcore backpackers will tell you that it’s absolutely necessary to carry your backpack on your back. The shop assistant will insist that you need an 85 liter bag (the bag’s inner capacity is measured in liters). The extreme minimalists would argue that 30 liters would be the limit to pack lightly for travel. But remember, this is not a match, you don’t need to win or prove anything. What matters is the functionality of the bag that will allow you to pack light and smart, period.
This is the reason why I did an extensive research and I’m pretty sure that I found the best possible solutions, which I’m happy to share with you.
While in the past, most of the backpacks were manufactured to cater to mountain sports, nowadays there are endless models specifically designed for avid travelers.
What to keep in mind when choosing the right backpack?
Hiking and Trekking backpacks:
Hiking backpacks have only one opening at the top (like a sack), while trekking backpacks have a top and a lower opening. Drawbacks:
- You will often have to empty out the contents halfway (with trekking) or fully (with hiking) to dig in to retrieve an object.
- Your perfectly organized bag will be messed up from the first day of traveling and it will create unnecessary stress
- It will require more time to pack the entire content each time
- They have lots of straps for different functionalities and they will get ruined on the conveyor belts
Trust me… whoever picks this kind of unfortunate backpack has their stuff scattered all around the floor (in a hostel) as if the backpack just exploded! Even the neatest person has to empty it out fully to reorganize the content. It’s not practical and it’s unsafe since you may easily leave some stuff behind.
Traditional wheeled luggage (aka trolley bag):
They come in soft (fabric) and rigid (polycarbonate) forms. We most have experience using them and know that they are cumbersome.
- They become double in size when opened and not every place you sleep will have enough floor space.
- It is difficult to store them under the bed as they are to tall and/or not flexible to push in.
- They become messy if your stuff is on the flipped side when you to open it as everything will spill.
- Lastly, they are not easy to carry on a scooter or drag them on an unpaved road.
The BEST SOLUTION I found is certainly the “trolley backpack”: What I love about it is that it’s specifically designed for traveling with maximum efficiency: it can be used as a backpack with its hidden straps or trolley depending on the circumstances. It’s equipped with a large, fully openable main compartment, plus a whole range of internal and external pockets to subdivide all the smaller and delicate objects.
I bought two different backpacks (60L and 40L) to use depending on the type of my trips and I chose Osprey, an American brand that produces high quality, functional and durable products.
Here are my detailed reviews about them:
Cabin-size backpack: Osprey Farpoint 40
It fits in the overhead compartment so it’s perfectly fine to take it into the cabin with you (great for cheap airlines like Ryanair and AirAsia). As soon as you get off the plane, you’re ready for your adventure!
It has a fully openable main compartment, a padded computer/tablet compartment and lots of secondary pouches for small items.
The shoulder straps can be zipped away inside the back panel by turning it into a handbag: a great solution to not ruin the straps on the airport conveyors!
There are loops on the zippers of the main compartment to lock your bag.
Checked-in size backpack: Osprey Sojourn 60
Yes, it’s a backpack and a wheeled trolley, both in one! When the game is tough, like carrying your bag on a scooter or a ferry, or when walking in the mud, you just open the back pocket and voilà, two adjustable shoulder straps and a hip belt will come out and turn it into a comfortable shoulder backpack. Needless to say how handy this becomes in places like Southeast Asia, where you will avoid long waits with lots of pounds on your shoulders in temperatures over 35 degrees and it will not end up repeatedly on the ground in the dust.
It’s soft yet super-durable with several internal and external pockets and with large and sturdy wheels to drag it even on the most rambling terrain.
Like Farpoint 40, there are loops on the zippers of the main compartment to lock it, which is important when you share a room with strangers.
Do you think 60 liters is not enough? I assure you that it’s enough and even too much! In Thailand, besides my normal travel gear, I even carried a blender (like Vitamix) in it. Do not believe whoever tells you that you need 85 liters: you would end up carrying an extra-heavy monster full of useless stuff.
Do you think 60 liters is too much? I met people traveling with 35 liter backpacks and that was all. You can do it, but in my opinion unless you’re traveling for a short period of time, it requires too much deprivation: such as going out with running tights instead of pants, using a foldable backpack for the day (not convenient), no appropriate clothes for cold or hot climates. This is also usually done easier by couples who are traveling together and can share stuff like a laptop, speakers, toiletries, etc.
If you’re “carrying your life with you”, like I’m doing, there’s really no need to kill yourself. Especially when you decide to settle down somewhere for a longer time, you will want some comfort.
Daypack – the everyday smaller backpack
In my opinion, when choosing the best daypack, you should consider these three factors: lightness, comfort, and versatility. I, therefore, recommend the Osprey Daylite Plus (20 liters, 540 grams).
It comes with:
- a main pocket with padded computer/tablet compartment
- a top pocket with an organizer and an hook you can attach an anti-theft Pacsafe wallet to
- a small front pocket
- an additional large stretch front pocket that provides space to store the jacket or other objects
- two mesh side pockets for bottles
- compression straps to adjust it according to the content
- hydration bag compartment
Other amazing alternatives: Deuter Speed Lite 20, (20 liters, 530g) or, slightly larger and heavier, but with a much more structured lumbar belt and useful pockets where to put handy objects, the Osprey Talon 22 (man, 750g) and the Osprey Tempest 20 (woman, 700g).
To complete the kit: a rain cover to protect it (the backpack is not waterproof – some of them like Talon and Tempest have a built-in one), emergency whistle (for hiking in the mountains, swimming in the sea or to use in case of threat) and a waterproof luggage tag with your data.
When I’m going to dinner and I don’t want to carry the daypack with me, I use a small Mammut hipbag, perfect for documents, wallet, smartphone and handkerchiefs. It simple, sober and can be worn even sideways. It is also equipped with a back pocket where you can safely store banknotes and credit cards.
What’s inside my daypack? wallet, identity card and a photocopy of the passport, a debit card and a credit card, wet wipes, emergency portable battery, tissues, water bottle, jacket, knife. In the city: umbrella. Tropical climate: rain poncho. Sea: beach towel and sun screen. On the airplane: sleeping mask and pillow, passport, computer, USB charger, toothbrush and toothpaste
What do I think about the all-in-one solutions (backpack + attached daypack)?
As I said, after two years traveling, I can confirm that there is no reason to carry my luggage on my back unless there’s a situation that requires it. And since I drag my bag on its wheels, I have an empty back to carry a multi-functional daypack.
Built-in daypack solutions (such as the Osprey Farpoint 55, Deuter Quatum 70+10 or Deuter Traveler 70+10) have a lot of limitations: the daypack is too small and unsophisticated, often uncomfortable, and since it gets consumed much faster than the backpack, you will end up with an incomplete set.
These are the must-have items that I always carry with me on every trip, regardless of the duration and the destination. They are light, super functional, durable, and make my life easy!
Easy, by using packing cubes: they come in various sizes, are made in Ripstop (the same material as camping tents) and you can use them to store your clothes, underwear, shoes and other objects.
For example I use a cube for sweatshirts and t-shirts, one for pants and underwear, one for socks and boxers, and etc…
There are hundreds of types and brands on the market, but I think the best one is the Pack-It Specter series by Eagle Creek since they are high quality (mine are still like new after two years of intense use), completely made in ripstop, they are the lightest (the biggest one weighs 27 grams) and, when not full, they can be completely folded so they don’t occupy space.
There come in different sizes, but I recommend:
- 2 full size cubes (for trousers, t-shirts and sweatshirts),
- one tube or one half cube (underwear and socks),
- 2 bags for shoes and sandals,
- a set of three sacs of various sizes (or 3 medium size sacs) to store other items like batteries, medicines, electronics, wet swimsuits, etc.
Warning: There are so many different types of packing cubes for clothes including the Amazon products (with the AmazonBasics brand) as well as cheap Chinese products. Avoid them! The zippers break easily, the materials get worn out, but most importantly they don’t fit the “light packing” criteria. Remember that a Ripstop pack weighs an average of 15g versus a pack made of Cordura weighs 100g+. Are we still talking about traveling light?
Tips for organizing your packing cubes:
- Roll up all your clothes: They will take less space and also you can make pressure on the packing cube to remove the air and maximize space.
- For all the small objects use the small zip sacs in different sizes. They have a very affordable price and you can use them to pack, for example, patches and medicines, laundry kit, headlamp, cables.
- For other needs, such as a good stock of tissues, sandy/dirty beach towel, yoga mat, I opted for the Eagle Creek Stuffer Set: lightweight, durable, very high quality materials.
- For your dirty laundry, get this comfortable mesh bag. I also use to take it directly to the laundry and recognize it when I pick up.
I recommend to get a functional toiletry bag to store everything you need for your personal hygiene. I chose the Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter Wallaby Small, a wonderful small bag that weighs 135g and completely made in Ripstop.
It is lightweight, water repellent and equipped with a useful plastic hook to hang it easily in the bathroom, to the bunk bed in the hostel or anywhere else you need.
What to put into the toiletry bag? A natural soap in its waterproof box (body, face, hair, laundry, you can also take those provided in the hotels if you learn how to read an INCI), toothbrush, dental floss, toothpaste, travel size shaving foam (only for shorter trips, otherwise get a standard size when you arrive in your destination), razor, Q-tips, lip balm, nail clipper, a small acrylic mirror (I use it to see the back of my head when I cut my hair or in some places, there are no mirrors at all).
Reminder: step back to the essential! You don’t need a lot of packaged products, soaps, and creams: those products besides being full of chemicals, create extra weight for your baggage and pollute the environment. A natural bar soap covers pretty much all your cleaning needs. If you run out of something, you can find local/less chemical products during your trip. For instance, India’s Ayurvedic products cost ridiculously cheap or in Asia there are good natural coconut products available everywhere.
Are you thinking about carrying a soft cotton towel that takes up one-third of your backpack and takes days to dry? Nope, you don’t need it anymore if you are packing light. The solution is a microfibre towel, like this from Mountain Warehouse. It’s light, occupies very little space, dries very quickly, doesn’t smell if it remains damp and can also be used as a beach towel as the sand doesn’t stick on it.
I’d recommend to make sure that one side is at least 150cm, otherwise you will find yourself trying to dry all your body with a handkerchief!
It is important to carry a pair of padlocks with you: you will need them to secure the backpack’s zippers when you are on the move or leave your bag at the hostel, as well as to secure the hostel locker or your bungalow’s door.
In choosing this accessory, I recommend to buy a TSA approved type (so that it can be opened by the airport staff), a good-brand (to avoid problems) and an extremely lightweight one.
My advise is to get two four-digits padlocks. At first I had one with three and one with four, but then I realized that the latter is much safer (ten times more combinations), versatile in adapting to all types of rings, and in case I should close the cabinet or suitcase for a few minutes, I can always rotate just two digits instead of four.
Isn’t this padlock too fragile? It’s useless to buy something more cumbersome and heavy: a professional thief can open any of these in a few seconds, so it’s better to have something practical and light.
However, I recommend that, although there is nothing to protect, never leave your lock in an open position: someone might see the combination and take advantage of it when you are not present.
In addition to the padlock I’d recommend to get a Lewis N. Clark Cable Lock that has multiple uses: to tie the backpack to the bed in hostels that don’t have lockers, to the bench in the airport’s waiting hall, at the table’s leg in a restaurant, or to the seat on the train so you don’t need to drag it with you to the bathroom every time. I’m convinced that there are at least other dozen possible uses if I think harder…
Along with your passport, this is the most important object that the loss of it would cause a big pain. You will not want to find out that someone pulled it out of your backpack when you were not paying attention, right? This happens a lot while traveling.
For this reason, the solution is the Pacsafe RFIDsafe Z100 because it has an amazing feature: the built-in anti-theft chain and the carabiner with a security system that will allow you to hook it to your backpack keychain, to your pants, or to your belt.
It has a zip closure, countless compartments for credit cards, licenses and other documents. For added security, it also has zipped compartments for banknotes.
It is also built using a special material that blocks RFID signal, making it safe from theft of data from your credit cards.
I advise to match the wallet with an RFID-blocking card holder, to leave your backup credit cards in your backpack in the hotel.
Apart from the obvious uses like reading in the bed at night or walking in a dark street, imagine being in a hostel and having to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night or even worse having to wake up at 2am to go to the airport and collecting all your stuff without waking anyone. Or imagine walking in the early morning to reach to the summit of a mountain where you can admire the sunrise.
You may not want to use your smartphone’s flashlight for these since you will need to use your hands. Also it’s not safe to show your expensive phone in some parts of the world.
The winner in this category is Petzl Tikka+ (here in black) is very sturdy, has 4 settings for white light up to 160 lumens intensity, fixed red light and flashing light to signal your position more effectively. It works with 3 AAA batteries, weighs 85 grams and it’s waterproof.
Have you ever experienced being in the middle of a tropical rainstorm without proper rain gear? No? Well, then I assure you that if you don’t want to experience how it feels to be soaked from the top of your head to your toes, it’s better to have your umbrella with you.
Your rain jacket protects your head and bust, but, to be completely “waterproof”, you should also have Gore-Tex pants and shoes… So unless you are wearing all these all the time, a simple compact umbrella would be your savior.
The perfect umbrella, in my opinion, must meet four requirements: compactness, lightweight, wide aperture, durable. Among other features, between a compact umbrella and the other, there can be 100-200 grams of difference depending on the materials used, as, talking about aperture, you can find yourself trying to repair yourself under a handkerchief or under a real umbrella .
Let me introduce you the Fulton Minilite of the famous English umbrella company: aluminum frame, 238 grams weight, closed lenght of 25cm, extra-large aperture of 96cm.
By the way, Fulton has also received the prestigious “Royal Warrant of Appointment” as the umbrella supplier of the English Royal Family 🙂
Going to a tropical country? In addition to the umbrella, go to a bodega (or the first 7/11 you see) and buy a cheap plastic poncho! It’s perfect when you are riding on a scooter or you are on the move with your backpack while there’s a storm outside.
Ultra lightweight, it’s very useful to carry a foldable bag or a foldable backpack. It doesn’t take space in the suitcase and you can use it for shopping (say no plastic bags!), to go to the beach and for any other occasion.
I recommend the LOQI foldable bag, which with its 55 grams weight, can carry up to 20kg and is also water resistant.
It’s available in many different variations, so, have fun!
A quote from LOQI website: “Strong like a man, loyal like a dog. LOQI bags are super-strong, chemical-free, long-lasting, water-resistant and washable. And extremely good looking. No, it’s not too much to ask. You can have your cake and eat it too.”
Buying half-liter plastic bottles, besides contributing significantly to the pollution of the planet, was absolutely dangerous for my health: the normal plastic bottles, especially when exposed to hot temperatures, release Bisphenol A (also known as BPA), a carcinogenic organic compound.
Nalgene’s bottles, made in Tritan, are BPA-free, they don’t bend, break, spill.
They are also a great way to reduce costs, as many hostels and hotels provide free micro-filtrated water dispensers and in many countries you can refill them in the restaurants and supermarkets.
Other small things…
- A USB lamp: the Xiaomi-clone portable LED Lamp is light, stylish, has an on/off switch with five intensity settings. You can use it by connecting it to a USB power supply, to your laptop, or to a portable charger.
What do you need it for? Many of the accommodations, especially the bungalows, don’t have lamps on the bedside table. This smart gadget will be useful to read, go to the bathroom at night, and even create a nice atmosphere. And you can also use it on the plane, train, and bus.
- Eye mask for sleeping on the plane, in the hostel, or wherever there are no curtains.
- Inflatable pillow for sleeping on the plane and on a bus if a long-haul travel is planned.
- A pen, a few photocopies of your passport and some passport size photos for visa requirements.
- A sac with band aids, disinfectant and any other medicines/supplements only if vital. If you bring pills or capsules with you, remember to put them in containers with hermetic closure along with “silica gel”, otherwise they will melt with the heat and moisture. Avoid the most common mistake of turning your suitcase into a traveling pharmacy: pharmacies exist everywhere, products cost less anywhere else than in the western world (sometimes even one-tenth of the price)
- Sun protection cream: Nivea or Piz Buin
- A few pocket packs of Kleenex tissues as it’s hard to find good quality ones in Asia.
- A bag with a few folded freezer sacs (wet objects, food, junk, liquid containers, to protect important items, etc.)
The “non-essential” items are the items that I wouldn’t bring with me if I’m on a short trip or traveling to a developed city.
However, that does not mean that they are useless: evaluate carefully because some of them, in addition to making your journey more comfortable, may be vital to you.
Pocket knife and cutlery
A pocket knife becomes useful for a thousand reasons: to open packages, peel and cut fruit bought at the market or on the street, to cook, open bottles, cans, etc. Remember not to put it in you carry-on luggage when flying otherwise it will be confiscated at the security check.
When choosing this accessory I tried to focus on simplicity, portability and weight. So I ended up selecting the Bantam from Victorinox, a small gem that’s 31 grams (1.1 oz), 84mm long and only 6mm thick. It’s so light and thin that you’ll forget you have it until you need it.
I then paired this knife with Spork from the Swedish company Light My Fire: It’s a fork, spoon and knife in a single 29g plastic tool including its protective case. It’s a very useful tool if you want to eat low-cost by buying food from the supermarket or during trekking.
Yoga mats are usually cumbersome. I’ve come across many backpackers with their mats rolled out and attached to their backpack or as an additional carry on luggage (hoping not to pay additional charge when boarding on the plane).
Traveling with a traditional yoga mat means adding 2-3 kg to the weight of the luggage. And since so far I’ve evaluated every object’s weight with a kitchen scale, it’s really too much!
So here comes Manduka eKO SuperLite, the Porsche of yoga mats: It’s 1 kg, 1.5mm thick, 180cm long, natural rubber, PVC and latex free, above all, completely FOLDABLE. Awesome huh?
Hope you won’t need it but I’ve already used it several times.
If the bed sheets are too dirty or sometimes when they are not available, no problem! Pull out your sleeping bag and sleep in it.
There are mainly three types: cotton, silk, and synthetic. Cotton weighs too much, silk is too delicate and dries too slowly when you wash it. Synthetic silk, such as this from TNH Outdoors, is lightweight (8oz, 226 grams), soft, and moisture-wicking.
An important piece in my toiletry kit is indeed a hair/beard trimmer: for travels longer than two weeks, I always carry this rechargeable double-voltage accessory instead of taking the chance at a mysterious local barbershop.
Whenever possible, I prefer to use it outdoor or in the shower (be careful as it’s not waterproof) so that I don’t make a mess in the bathroom, especially if I don’t have a vacuum cleaner available.
It is an ultra-thin and completely waterproof bag in both directions (water coming in and spilling out). What is it for? To protect your electronic gadgets and documents during a hike, rafting or sudden rain.
I chose the Sea To Summit Ultra-Sil Nano dry sac: 4 liters capacity for 19 grams of weight. It’s available in different sizes and in the Ultra-Sil version (not Nano), slightly heavier but even safer and more durable.
How to choose the right size? In the 4-liter size you can fit a video camera + a compact camera + passport + wallet and smartphone, or clothes and sandals or clothes and microfiber towel.
When you don’t have time to go to the laundry or want fresh items daily, the best solution is to hand wash your laundry directly in the hostel/guesthouse sink. To do it you will need:
- A natural white soap (be careful that it doesn’t contain Sodium Tallowate), the same you use to wash yourself
- A travel clothes line
- A universal rubber sink stopper
- Also having a sewing kit like those that are provided in hotels would become handy to repair small rips and tears
Since I’ve been traveling to places with different climates and landscapes, I have to choose a mixture of different materials to suit with these conditions. So my backpack consists of cotton and natural fibers that I buy and replace on the road (in markets, local shops, and low-cost shops (such as Uniqlo and H&M) + some technical items, coming mainly from the trekking and activewear brands.
Technical clothing has many advantages :
- They are extremely lightweight and take up little space in the luggage (forget about cotton sweatshirts and jeans: they weigh a lot, take up too much space and take ages to dry).
- They can be washed in the sink using natural white soap, they dry quickly and do not need to be ironed. Plus, they don’t get wrinkled in your backpack.
Washing tip: Avoid washing Gore-tex with white soap. To be safe, read the instructions on the label before using a soap. When you stay in the same place for a while, get a mild liquid detergent (for delicate items without optical whiteners) since it’s much more practical and cheap.
- They wick away moisture, evaporate sweat and do not retain smells: no more humid and stinky shirts when you are in tropical climates or while trekking! Potentially you could wear the same t-shirt for 3-4 days (but please, don’t do it…)
- They have innovative technical solutions to protect you from atmospheric agents (eg. windproof jacket, UV protection t-shirts, water repellent trousers) and to be more practical (eg. pants with knee zippers that can be turned into shorts)
- They are much thinner, allow you to layer as needed
Keep in mind:
- You really need little: choose a few clothes that you really like, simple colors and styles that match with each other easily. Do not bring more than the amount I recommend below: you can wash it while traveling and you’ll always have clean laundry
- Technical clothing doesn’t mean look like a runner: brands such as Nike, Adidas, Salewa, Patagonia, North Face, Fjällräven also have items that you can use on any occasion without looking as if you just came back from a marathon
- Test them at home: wear your new clothes, test them again and again, and return them if you’re not 100% satisfied. Go for a walk in your new shoes at 4 am with the down jacket and the headlamp. Try wearing your new collection at a restaurant to see if you are comfortable. Once you leave, everything must feel perfectly comfortable and functional.
- If you are in alternative environments (such India and Thailand), you can buy local clothes for cheap and feel more integrated with your surroundings. Just keep in mind not to overdo it with the quantities.
Going to the beach or the mountains?
The list below is suitable for tropical climates and mild winter temperatures. I’d suggest you adjust it according to your travel plans. If you do a beach trip for example, you will probably need a lot less. However, if you plan to go to the mountains, you should know that the temperature at nights and mornings would be much colder hence you will need to cover yourself adequately (for instance in Pai, Thailand, it was 35C during the day and 15C in the evening).
Clothing: what’s in my backpack?
- An ultralight The North Face Thermoball Hoodie: the most important item of all my suitcase, it’s made with synthetic padding in Thermoball, weighs only 375 g (13.23 oz) and it is foldable. Combined with thermal jacket and fleece, it protects me from the most uncomfortable cold. It is also water-repellent and continues to warm me even if wet. Caution: wash it only with water or with specific products such as Nikwax or Grangers.
- 5-6 t-shirts: there are hundreds of products with different technologies to choose from. I personally recommend Icebreaker Merino’s t-shirts for men and the Fjallraven Abisko Trail SS t-shirt for women, that are made of wool or Lyocell: they are comfortable, soft, extremely breathable and, very importantly, they look like normal cotton t-shirts. If you want to bring natural fibers (not to be used for trekking), choose light, viscous or cotton t-shirts that do not need to be ironed. My current kit includes a technical t-shirt and many others in lightweight cotton.
- 2-3 long pants: I have two pairs of lightweight pajama-style cotton trousers and a pair of convertible pants (two if you plan to trek) with zip-off knees so I can use them as shorts or pants depending on the situation. They normally come with their synthetic belt: if they don’t, I suggest you to get one without metal parts, which is lighter and prevents you from getting stopped in security controls.
- thermal tights (for women here) and a termal t-shirt (for women here): you can use them as an extra layer to protect yourself in the cold climate, but also to sleep in when the temperature drops at night. They are so comfortable that I also use them regularly in the city. Available as a set for women.
- Two pairs of shorts in light cotton material, they are great when it’s hot, or being active, doing yoga, running, hanging on the beach, etc.
- A hoodie and/or a sweatshirt: you will need them in the evening and early morning also for protecting yourself from air conditioning. I’m comfortable with Salewa. Tip: Take one lighter and one heavier.
- 4 pairs of underpants: ExOfficio’s boxers, very soft even more than cotton and sweat away, a must in tropical countries.
- 3 pairs of socks: 2 ankle socks (for daily use), one for trekking (otherwise sand and other dirt comes inside the shoes). My recommendation is not to be cheap when choosing socks. Good socks are a fundamental investment: they mean dry feet and no blisters. I chose the Wrightsocks Coolmesh II (wome versione here) double socks that are awesome (as for size, they are the same as a Nike shoe size: I am 42.5 and I got size L.
- Teva Original Sandals: consider purchasing these if you plan to WALK in hot temperatures, otherwise regular flip flops are perfectly OK. Teva sandals are great for the city and the beach. They are fancy, comfortable, and they can go in the water (great for walking on the rocks) and are available in different models. I love this video that shows the versatility of them!
As for the size, I got 40.5 and my Nike size is 42.5. There are also trekking Tevas, but I’m not recommending them to you because they do not protect your foot if you stumble on stones and roots. If you want more secure sandals for trekking, check these out from Keen.
- Havaianas flip flops: when you are on the beach or in warm climates, they’re the best choice. But don’t use them to walk long distances as they are not padded enough and hurt your feet after a while. Tip: avoid the ones with a black base! Why? Everyone buys them in black, so, when you leave them at the entrance of the hostel/restaurant/temple, you may find out that someone else got them! True story…
- Trekking/everyday use shoes (one pair):
- I currently use Merrel Bare Access and I feel divinely: they’re lightweight, extremely comfortable and breathable, and they leave plenty of space in the forefoot. They are good both for trekking and asphalt road and they look like normal sneakers. They are zero drop (height difference between forefoot and heel) and have 8mm support, so take it if you like barefoot walking style in contact with the ground.
- A “trekking” alternative: Nike Air Zoom Terra Kiger: the most stylish trekking shoes ever! You could enter a restaurant without looking like you just came down from the Annapurna circuit. They are beautiful, breathable, have a 4mm drop (height difference between forefoot and heel) and a fantastic grip on rocks and pebbles. They were born as trial running shoes, but I find them much more effective than a lot of trekking shoes.
- A trendy alternative: if you do not plan to trek, the Nike Free 5.0 are colorful and stylish, especially for the city vibe (however, the Merrels are even lighter and more breathable)
- A swimsuit: I recommend the quick-drying models like this from Speedo. A swimsuit that does not dry quickly means irritations on the skin, packing when it’s still damp, and as it has happened to me, finding it with mold spots in countries with high humidity.
- A cap with visor: pick something that’s absolutely not in cotton (it shrinks, absorbs sweat, and is bulky). I would recommend one like the Buff Lite-R: it is lightweight, breathable, does not hold sweat, it’s reversible (two hats for the price of one), does shrink after washing it for the first time and you can down it in your pants’ pocket.
- A Buff Headband. Thousands of uses for this item: scarf, bandana, cap, hair band (check this Youtube video), but above all to protect your skin from various itches when you rent a scooter (with a helmet that’s been used by hundreds of other people). There are so many different options that it will take you hours to choose. Have fun!
- Just for women: 2 sports bras (synthetic or cotton version if you are going to the tropics).
For trekking fans
If you plan to make intensive hikes or trekking, such as Camino de Santiago I can speak to my experience at the Annapurna Circuit. For intensive treks, in which you carry your backpack with you all throughout the trip, your packing strategy will change radically. You will want to pack the minimum necessities with the lowest weight possible.
Here are my recommendations:
- The light trekking backpack: the backpacks I’ve recommended above are great for traveling, but absolutely not suitable for long walks. I would recommend a backpack like Osprey Exos 38, Osprey Talon 44 or Osprey Exos 48. Do not overdo with the liters and the amount of items you carry with you: you will wear your backpack all day, so every single gram counts!
- North Face Men’s Venture Jacket: a fantastic jacket with Dryvent™ 2.5L soft-shell exterior and weight of 400 g (14.11 oz), it protects you from wind and sudden rain and, at the same time, it offers breathable materials. Caution: wash it only with water or with specific products such as Nikwax or Grangers
- A pair of Goretex pants. Same instructions for washing the jacket.
- A pair of technical pants with zip-off legs that convert pant to short.
- 2 technical t-shirts like the Icebreaker Merino’s.
- Gore-tex boots (or similar waterproof material).
- Trekking in winter? Do not forget gloves, such as these amazing ones from North Face.
- No need for sandals, just a pair of flip flops for the shower.
- Minimize your toiletry kit!
Welcome to my world! As a former IT professional, I know the topic very well and surely these are the items I spend most time on to better evaluate all possible choices. Let’s get right into it!
I’ve used various kinds of Microsoft and Apple products and softwares in the past due to my job and hands down, my favorite is Apple MacBook. It is fast, secure, comfortable, extremely reliable, has a complete and functional software ecosystem and a lot of amazing technical solutions you will never find on Windows systems (beginning with a really usable touchpad) … well, I could write pages about it, but there’s really no need. For different needs and budgets, I’d recommend:
- 13″ MacBook Pro if you want to do video editing
- 12″ Macbook Retina if you want the top in weight and portability
- 13″ MacBook Air if you want to save a few bucks and you do not have any particular needs
- 11″ MacBook Air if you want to go for the smallest
A must have is the three-year AppleCare warranty extension, which is valid all around the world.
As for peripherals, I chose Eagle Creek’s Pack-It Specter Laptop Sleeve. It’s a soft, lightweight, and water repellent case that protects my jewel (the neoprene cases are sponges for moisture). If you want extra protection, you may get the semi-rigid Thule case. For power supplies, wires and USB keys, I use the Eagle Creek Etools Organizer Pro.
To wipe the monitor, I carry with me specific disposable wipes. If you have any sticky residue because of some stubborn sticker you had once put behind your laptop, the WD-40 is a fabulous solution (I already used it, so go on with it without worries).
Do you hate Apple and absolutely want a Windows system? That sometimes happens and I can’t judge you. If you want a Windows operating system, get the Microsoft Surface 4 (it’s a tablet and you need to order the keyboard separately) or, if you have minimal needs and you really want to spend very little, a HP Pavillion with 10 inches screen might be your new buddy.
My advice is that you get an Apple iPhone. It doesn’t have to be the latest and fanciest model. You can find one older model for less on Craigslist or Ebay. Same as the MacBook: zero reliability issues, zero blocks, an infinite software ecosystem. Moreover, you can communicate and exchange info between other Apple users without an internet connection (via Airdrop).
Which model? Depends on how much you are willing to spend: you can get the latest iPhone 8, the iPhone 7, but in my opinion a refurbished iPhone 6 64GB is a great deal and, if you don’t have particular needs, even the iPhone SE. In any case, be sure to get an unlocked version.
A smartphone is extremely useful while traveling especially if you are traveling light! Let’s look at some of these functions:
With a local sim-card with a data plan, it can be an internet router (hotspot) to navigate on your laptop, camera, calendar, reminder, alarm clock, music player, flashlight, bank, map, satellite navigator, flight updates, currency convertor, translator, Skype, messaging, notes, password management, and thousands of other functions.
Do you want to spend a lot less, but still have a quality product? The Samsung Galaxy S5 mini is small, beautiful, powerful and supports 4G LTE networks.
Do you want the best Android phone? Get a Samsung Galaxy S8
Two tips for the iPhone:
- Go to Settings -> Battery and turn on Power saving. It’s a very useful feature that significantly extends the battery life: it reduces app updates in the background, switches off the screen quicker. Remember that battery saving function must be switched on every time the phone starts and after recharging it.
- Go to Settings -> Cellular -> scroll till the end and disable Wi-Fi assistant. You’ll avoid consuming your data plan when the wi-fi works badly and the connection drops.
I guess you already know what it is … anyway … it’s an e-reader/an electronic book: its screen looks like plain paper, you can read it in the sun, you can load hundreds of books on it, guides, PDFs, weighs very little, and its battery lasts weeks.
Why do you need it? It would be crazy to fill your backpack with bulky books and guides (did you see how big and heavy the Lonely Planet Thailand is?!). This awesome gadget that weighs from 150-200g is super convenient to carry in your bag and take out to read on the beach, on the plane, in bed, or in the museum. Plus you will have hundreds of books in your fingertips.
How to upload books? You can buy them on the Amazon store or use the fantastic free software Calibre to upload them via USB. You can also use Kindle to read the PDF format (print your favorite web articles in PDF using Chrome) and save a copy in your Kindle.
GoPro Action cam
GoPro Hero4 Session is the winner for me in this category. It’s lightweight, super compact, and unlike the other models, it doesn’t need to be put into a waterproof case for rain and underwater shooting. This model doesn’t have an LCD screen but after having owned a GoPro Hero4, I can tell the LCD screen was useless, because when I used the camera with a stick, on a helmet, or on the backpack, I couldn’t look at the display and viewed it on my smartphone’s screen via bluetooth connection anyway. For all other regular shots, I used my smartphone.
You don’t care about the price and want the best? Then you can get the GoPro Hero5 Session, which, for a hundred more bucks, offers you 4K resolution, 1080p double frame, voice control and video stabilization.
You can pair it with a stick to film yourself and your friends.
Chargers and adapters
Almost all of the devices today are rechargeable via USB and the hostels/guesthouses usually provide one power outlet to each guest. So it would be wise to travel with one good quality charger with multiple USB ports and 2.4A intelligent charging capability. Check out iClever BoostCube 4.8A 24W that offers all of the above. If you’re traveling as a couple and you need more ports, the 5-port Anker Multidevice would be an excellent solution.
When I’m out during the day, I always have with me the RAVPower 6700mAh, a portable battery that allows me to recharge my phone, fully, twice. It is not super crucial but if you use both the camera and social apps often, your battery will be drained quickly and you probably won’t want to look for an electric outlet during your excursion.
If you plan to rent a car and use your smartphone for navigation (a vampire for the battery!), you will need a car charger: this by Aukey is tiny, weighs 22 grams and is backed by a 24 month warranty.
As for different power sockets and plugs in different countries, there are two solutions: a bulky universal adapter or small specific travel adapter plugs. For the latter, which is much more practical and light, make sure you check what type of plug is used in your destination and just get that one instead of a full set.
After dismissing bulky headset options, I started a lengthy search reading reviews and asking for help on specialized forums to find the best in-ear earbuds in the market.
My ideal earbuds had some basic requirements:
- Allow commands for my iPhone and microphone: the ability to adjust volume, stop and playback music + make phone calls
- They shouldn’t be 100% soundproof: when I’m on a scooter, I need to hear the noise of the cars around me. Also I don’t want to take them off when I have to talk to someone
- Sound quality: Deep and clear sound
I’ve found many great models for all budgets, with commands for iPhone, Android or without.
The best ones around $100: Bose Soundsport: they are comfortable and ideal for sports- thanks to the innovative rubber grips that keep them in-place while active and sweat resistant. They are acoustically great and aesthetically good-looking.
To spend little and have a great product, try the super-economical and fantastic Panasonic TCM 125: they don’t have volume control but the sound quality is great. I chose them because they were in the top 5 in the reviews of the most authoritative sites.
Other recommended models: GGMM Cuckoo (with iPhone control or with universal play/stop button), Sennheiser Momentum In-Ear (iPhone and Android version), RHA MA750i (with or without iPhone remote control).
Portable bluetooth speaker
I often like to listen to music when I wake up in the morning, before I fall asleep at night and while in the shower..or to simply create atmosphere in the room. So I need to have music around me all the time! It would be ideal to use the smartphone’s or laptop’s built-in speakers but unfortunately, as you also know, they are not powerful enough and don’t give the same effect even when you crank up the volume.
After days of in-depth research, I decided to go with the JBL GO bluetooth speaker: it weighs only 136 grams and super easy to pack even in a small bag (going to a long trip or to the beach or camping), has 3W of power and the battery lasts 5-6 hours.
iOS and Android compatible, it can be paired with both the smartphone and the computer, it has buttons to adjust the volume in sync with the music player (ie. if you lower the volume from the speaker, it also lowers the volume on the phone), aux-in socket to connect a cable device, microphone, and an answer button to make handsfree calls.
While I use my smartphone mostly to check the time but in some cases when my phone is inaccessible (on a plane, at a meditation ashram, doing physical activities, for alarm, etc.), a good old wrist watch becomes handy. I chose this Casio STR-300 to accompany me during my travels. Here are my reasons:
- Size and weight: it’s small but not too much. Surely smaller than a bulky G-Shock. You can keep it on while doing physical activities and with its 30 grams weight, you won’t even remember you have it on
- Design: it’s beautiful, well designed, and available in different colors
- Materials: plastic, resin and metals are minimized. You do not need to take it off at the airport security checks and it does not heat up in the sun
- Battery: why spend a lot on a solar charger when this Casio’s battery lasts for 10 years? Yes, 10!
- Led light: a fundamental feature to see the time even in the dark, like at night in the hostel
- Alarms: it has 5 programmable alarms. I’d like to remind you that the smartphone alarms only work when your phone is on, which means, especially in a hostel, your phone must be attached to the power (if you find the battery full in the morning) and next to you to turn it off when the alarm goes off. You don’t want to be that guy that woke everyone up. Much more convenient, right?
- Durability: the display is made of convex material that’s scratch-proof and is water resistant up to 50 meters
- Price: it’s so low that even if I break or lose it, it won’t be a big deal
Don’t you like the style? Looking for something bigger? An excellent alternative is Timex Ironman, which you can choose from various versions or the infinite range of Casio watches, starting from ten bucks.
Wow! Congratulations! I’d like to thank you if you have read this far. It’s been my pleasure to share with you the products that made and continue to make my journey much more fun and easier. Hope they will help you too in your next adventure!
Have a wonderful trip and don’t forget to share your comments below.
Disclaimer: The product links on this page allow me to receive a small percentage of the purchases made on Amazon by the readers. This lets me buy new testing equipment, continue traveling, and sharing more awesome tips.
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