You’ve decided that you’re going – maybe for a month, maybe for a few years. You may have picked a few countries to see and play things by ear, you might have mapped an exact route that you’ll follow day by day. Now the big question comes – what should go in your backpack and get hauled along with you for the next few months or years? Here are a few ideas to help get you started and ensure you don’t miss out on any essentials.
The first step to getting your gear in order is to choose an appropriate backpack and figure out how much space and weight you have to work with. The size of your bag can be a bigger choice than you realize and plays into how much it can potentially weigh, how awkward it is to fit on a crowded public bus, and what other travelers think of your traveling style. Too small of a bag can mean a miserable trip (we climbed a 3,700 meter volcano with a guy who didn’t have a jacket, it was just below freezing), too large of a bag can mean very awkward squeezed onto public transportation and bags that are too heavy with things you’ll never use.
Every person and every trip is different, however for a long trip, 6 months+, it’s best to limit your bag size to 70 liters or less. We’re two years into our current trip which has had us camping in deserts in Sudan in 50 degree C heat, hiking in the shadow of Everest in -15C cold, and across six continents – we would have been able to do this comfortably with 65 liter main bags and a small bag for our valuables (worn on the front, 20 liters or so). I opted for a larger bag and realized a few months in that it was unnecessary and made some cramped situations awkward (crowded bus in Laos and Tanzania among others). While we traveled for six months through Africa with a guy who used a tiny Jansport school backpack the entire time, he also didn’t hike, swim, or do anything else that would’ve required more than his two t-shirts and two sets of pants. Ensure your bag has hip straps, zippers to open the sides, and a rain fly to keep your things dry!
Another personal choice will be your clothing, both for style and functionality. Will you be going to warm places like the majority of southeast Asia, east Africa, or parts of South America or cold places like the Andes, Himalayas, or closer to the poles? In general five pairs of underwear, three pairs of socks, four or five shirts – one or two dressier for guys, they can be handy even in Uganda, Myanmar, Peru, etc, girls substitute a dress if you’d like – one good pair of jeans, and two pairs of shorts should be enough for a long trip. A rain jacket, set of hiking pants with removable legs if you’ll trek a lot, a thin long sleeve if you’ll go somewhere cold, and a sweater should round out your ensemble. We’ve found it easier to buy or rent cold gear while you’re in the cold area – for us Kilimanjaro, Everest/Khumbu Region, and the Peruvian Andes – unless the beginning and bulk of your trip will be in freezing or subzero temperatures, which would require you bring cold gear.
Don’t forget the small things that keep you feeling comfortable at home such as earrings and necklaces for some women, and a nice watch and shirt for men. Even if you’re wild camping in Malawi or spending half a year in Asia’s cheapest accommodations, it’s nice to clean up and feel civilized again from time to time.
Flip flops are great and likely the main footwear you’ll be in if you’re on a round the world trip, however if you intend to explore a bit and aren’t extremely lucky with the weather, you’ll need other shoes as well. Most travelers can get away with a pair of flip flops and a pair of running shoes, which double as both city shoes during the cold/rain, and hiking boots on easy enough hikes. If you intend to do some serious trekking you may have to sacrifice some of your extremely valuable space and weight in your bag and bring a set of hiking boots, as we have. They’re heavy, often dirty, and can subject you to extra inspection in some countries (Australia and NZ, we’re looking at you), but for any harder hikes they’re invaluable. Two pairs of hiking socks should also be included, smart wool or similar is ideal, if you’ll be going on one week+ long treks.
Toiletries and Medicine
This should be an easy one, deodorant, tooth brush, sunscreen, contact solution/contacts if applicable, retainers if you wear them, etc. While an electric toothbrush can be heavy, there are travel brushes made by Philips like the Sonicare Diamond Clean that charge in their case via USB and don’t weigh much. Don’t forget a travel towel, which dries fast and is lightweight, since most hostels and campsites won’t supply them. You don’t need to sacrifice hygiene completely, especially not if you’ll be years on the road, only for the sake of saving weight. If you’re going for a long time, consider how much ibuprofen or Tylenol/paracetamol you take in an average month and then multiply it by the months you’ll be gone plus one (if you know how long that will be). In many developing nations you can pick up good quality prescription medications at low prices, but it may be good to bring an antibiotic like Ciprofloxacin with you if you have access to it before leaving for those nights in Bali when you get Bali Belly or those times you eat the meat in Nepal that wasn’t cooked long enough. Charcoal pills or pepto-bismol if you have access are great over the counter medications to have on hand for the minor upset stomachs that you’re bound to experience while abroad.
It may sound silly to the uninitiated but entertainment can be as important as the right medicine and clothes on a long trip. Sitting on 20+ hour bus rides, laying in a tent in 40C+ heat for a few days, or waiting out the rain for days in a camper van in New Zealand can drive you a bit loopy without something to pass the time. Paper books are great at home, but a Kindle Paperwhite is a travelers best friend. They can hold a thousand books or more, have a soft light that can be used in the dark, and weigh less than a single paperback. A lightweight laptop like a Macbook Air or Surface Pro can keep you connected and help with booking flights – Google flights works best on a computer – and watching movies and TV when you have internet and just need to relax. An external battery, especially a solar one, can keep your phone and some cameras charged when you’re away from power for days on end. Earbuds are small, lightweight, and can make a long bus ride or sleeping next to a snoring dorm mate much more tolerable. Don’t forget a foreign power adapter, with the all-in-one versions being the most handy.
It goes without saying that you need a passport that will be valid for the duration of your journey, and generally at least six months after. If you’re planning a very long trip you may ask to see if your country offers larger passports so you don’t run out of pages. Many countries require visas to enter, and some countries require these to be arranged long before your trip. Make sure to go the website for the embassy of each country you’ll visit to see what the visa requirements are a few months before you plan to leave. Getting an Ethiopian visa for example generally takes a month or so depending on which country you are from, and this has to be done before entering the country or you’ll be turned back at the border.
These are the basics that you should need for your trip, and the size of your bag and clothes you’ll need will be the biggest potential variations. Avoid bringing too many clothes at all costs, however make sure you have something nice regardless of where you’ll travel since months of wearing t-shirts and hiking pants gets old, even for the most basic traveler. If you like the watch pictured then make sure to check out the lineup of awesome wood watches made by Jord, and sign up for our giveaway, which gets every one of our followers a $25 certificate to use on their website and one lucky winner a $100 certificate! Check it out here.