How to Pack Your Backpack

Packing for travel always get me excited. It makes everything seem more real and I get to pick out outfits and treat myself to some new purchases. You will inevitably end up with things you never use and other things that you left at home but wish you hadn’t so below are a few tips I’ve picked up along the way:

1. Day-Pack

I have to admit that I’m more of a handbag girl rather than a backpack one but when I’m travelling the latter is definitely more handy. A daypack can be all kinds of useful. Although it’s small, if you’re going on a short trip and you pack efficiently then you should be able to fit everything you need in it and avoid any potential costs for larger checked-in luggage, which some airlines charge. When you actually arrive, it offers more space for all the bits and pieces you need to take out with you, whilst keeping your hands free for all those activities you will be embarking on.

2. Passport Cover

For any seasoned traveller, a passport is like a badge of honour. It will forever be an irritation for me that I had to get a new passport after I got back from my gap year. I am determined to fill up my stamp-pages and that would have gone a long way to doing so. Anyway, back to the point. If your passport is being thrown in and out of your bag then it’s going to get worn and likely covered in whatever junk you’ve got in there. It will probably also get wet at some point. A cover will help keep it nice and safe. Case in point, the coat of arms on my brother’s passport is completely worn off but mine is pristine and ready for another day. My first cover ended up shredded but that was much easier to replace!

3. Coded Padlock

I’ve lost count of how many of these I’ve gone through. I’ve left them unlocked on my bag, where they’ve fallen off, I’ve forgotten the codes or absent-mindedly changed them without realising… you get the idea. Having said that, I will always invest in new ones because they are pretty useful. I don’t think I’ve ever lost anything whilst staying in a hostel but bringing a padlock will give you peace of mind, so you can leave your belongings behind without worrying that they won’t be there when you get back. Many hostels provide lockers which are free to use but require you to bring your own lock. I have found on several occasions that my padlock doesn’t fit all but in those cases I put it on my bag instead. I find it easier to get one with a code as a small key is just one more thing to lose!

3. Document Wallet

When I first went travelling, I didn’t think to get a document wallet, instead it came as a present and I’m glad it did. Nowadays I think you can use apps and emails to store a lot of documents but I’m an old-fashioned girl and like to have things on paper – especially because I have no faith in my phone battery. A document wallet can hold all of your necessary paperwork, such boarding-passes, insurance information, itineraries, travel vouchers etc. It will keep them all together and it will keep them safe, which is particularly necessary if your bags end up anything like mine where things that go in do not emerge in the same state.

4. Anti-Bacterial Handwash

This is a must. When away, you never know what you’ll be doing or what you’ll end up handling. For example, in Egypt, we were warned to always wash our hands after touching money, as it was all so old that it wasn’t going to make you feel good if you, for example, picked up food after you’d paid for something. It may not always be convenient to nip to a bathroom to wash your hands and not all places will provide particularly hygienic facilities but anti-bacterial handwash will act as a good backup so that you can enjoy your time away instead of ending up feeling ill.

5. Ear Plugs

Trust me, this is one you’ll thank me for! Whether it’s on a long plane journey or in a dorm room, there is nothing more frustrating than not being able to sleep when you need to. You don’t want to be exhausted when you have a city to blitz. I can’t say that I particularly like wearing ear plugs and they don’t necessarily cancel out all noise but it’s better to have them than to not and you’ll be grateful for those extra ZZZZs.

6. Sunglasses and Hard Case

One of the most annoying things I have done was buy a nice new pair of aviators when I was travelling and throw them straight into by backpack. They got smooshed and I have never really been able to wear them. The pair I had before that got so scratched up that I could barely see through them. From this, I have learnt an important lesson- buy a hard case for them. This may take up some extra room in your bag but if you’re somewhere particularly sunny then you will need your sunnies in perfect working order.

7. Travel Toothbrush

If you’re travelling around then that will probably mean that you’ll be having some early starts. That, in turn, means that you’ll be throwing your toiletries into your bag straight after you’ve got yourself ready in the morning. Lets face it, you don’t really want to throw your wet toothbrush into your bag, along with all your other stuff. A travel toothbrush is great way of fixing this. My first one worked so that the top and bottom came apart and the brush head could go inside the handle. Since then, I have used a toothbrush case for my regular toothbrush, which works just as well. It’s a good, and cheap, investment and has kept all my other toiletries toothpaste free!

8. Scarf

I have found that a big, thin scarf can be handy in many a situation. It can act a thin blanket when you’re experiencing a bit of a chill, as a shawl to cover yourself up, if you’re in the sun or visiting somewhere like a temple, or even as an umbrella if you’re caught out in the rain. Then there’s the regular round-the-neck choice.  Either way, whether you’re in the desert or the North Pole, a scarf can be useful and should always find its way into your backpack.

9. Travel Journal & Glue

I’m probably more of a travel-in-hindsight blogger. Since I’m working 9-5 in England, I have to write about my past experiences more than my current ones. I can do this because I’ve kept journals of my trips. Going over them years later is an adventure in itself. I’m surprised by the all the things I’ve forgotten and smile at all the stories, receipts, tickets, wristbands and photographs that I have stored in there (it is also worth bringing some glue so you can store your random paper keepsakes that you feel the need to hang onto in here). At the end of the day, a picture can tell a thousand words but that doesn’t mean you can’t use a few to remind yourself in the future of all the things you experienced.

10. Clothes You Actually Like

The first time I went backpacking, I decided I was going to need a lot of stereotypical, lightweight (typically beige) travelling clothes that packed down small, acted as a mosquito shield and had many pockets for storing lots of things. The Gap Year Buddy and I went to various specialist clothing stores to get our goods but were generally uninspired by a lot of it – because we didn’t actually like the clothes. Eventually, however, we realised that we weren’t going to be trekking or even exploring any particularly tricky landscapes. All we really needed was multi-purpose clothes that didn’t take up too much room, so instead we bought jeggings, multi-way dresses, linen trousers and baggy T-shirts (and a handy micro fleece as my token specialist clothing) – not quite what we’d wear at home but we felt more comfortable in them (and even then we ended up buying more clothes out there). Nowadays I just bring useful clothes I actually like to wear – if I’m going somewhere hot but full of bitey insects, I bring my harem pants and lightweight baggy tops, if I’m going to be active I bring my gym leggings and trainers and if I’m going to be… anywhere at all I bring jeans. Because I love my jeans.

11. St. Christopher

Okay, this might not be a necessary item for all, but I can’t go travelling without it. St. Christopher is the patron saint of travellers and can often be found on a pendant, hanging around the neck of many a backpacker. I’m not a superstitious person but my brothers bought me a St. Christopher necklace for my 18th birthday, ready for when I left on my gap year travels. Taking him with me isn’t just for good luck but so that my family don’t feel too far away.

12. Wheels & Straps

The best thing I’ve learnt about packing from my travels is that if you don’t need a backpack then don’t bring one! On my first big trip, I had a wheelie bag as I was essentially going on a string of city breaks. Whilst others in the groups I ended up in lagged behind, dragging their bags across town, I was at my leisure to take in the sights. My bag actually had wheels as well as zip-away straps which I highly recommend. In places like Vietnam, I found a wheelie bag could be problematic. The roads are packed with scooters and the pavements are filled with parked ones. This means that manoeuvring is much easier with your bag on your back. But for places like New Zealand, Australia, America, Europe etc. wheels were the way forward. There is a kind of stigma attached to ‘flash-packing’ and something about backpacking that’s credible, but I got the straps out at some point, so that counts.

16 thoughts on “How to Pack Your Backpack

  1. I can definitely second the ear plugs! Really I hate them, but when I’m in a hostel room with someone snoring like a chain saw, I love them unconditionally. True lifesavers!

    B x


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