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23 Top Travel Essentials: Ultimate Travel Packing List for Backpackers

by Michele
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Ultimate Travel Packing List for Backpackers 2021
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This packing guide includes loads of handy travel gadgets, including durable backpacks, space-saving travel organisers, to clothing and footwear. If you’re about to take a long-term trip, this ultimate travel packing list is for you.

Imagine setting off on a year-long adventure to discover various languages around the world and meeting the people who speak them. That’s what my friend Lindsay Williams from Lindsay Does Languages did. Lindsay’s passion for languages took her from the Americas to Asia with a smarty packed backpack full of the best travel gadgets and accessories. Today, I turn the blog over to Lindsay to share how she prepared, her top travel packing tips and a bunch of tried and test travel essentials she recommends. 

Here is Lindsay:

Travel is an adventure. Always. But sometimes, the challenges before we even get on the plane stall us. Don’t let packing be one of them. After a year on the road, here are my this ultimate packing list is full of travel packing essentials for long-term travellers and backpackers.

For almost a year, my husband and I set off on the trip of a lifetime, part-honeymoon and part-work. We didn’t want to just float around and tick stuff off a list, which would have been so easy to fall into.

Instead, travelling from The Americas to Asia, we created a podcast and video series of language documentaries called Language Stories. Language Stories is all about discovering languages around the world and meeting the people who speak them.

Ultimate packing list 2021 - Headscarf

Casually filming in Guatemala beside a temple

This meant we were carrying a lot more tech than most people would need (or want!) to carry. I won’t be listing all of that here. If you’re curious, ask in the comments and I’ll happily share that side of things with you, but for this post, I’ll be focusing on the practical,  everyday hiking essentials that were invaluable for our trip.

I’ve organised this ultimate packing list into categories. Use the links below to jump around.

This Ultimate Travel Packing List Guide includes items for:

Staying Safe

1. This Water bottle with Built-in Filter

Ultimate Travel Packing List for Backpackers 2021 - bottle with filterI knew before we set off from previous trips that one of our biggest expenses was likely to be water. Bottles, purification pills, trips to the doctor after drinking unsafe water, and some more bottles thrown in for good measure.

As soon as I discovered the LifeStraw bottle with a built-in filter, I was very curious and ordered straight away. I’m pleased to report that they really work.

The bottle I took is 750ml (there’s a 500ml version available too) and has a simple lift up tab on the spout, so it’s really easy to drink throughout the day.

Each filter lasts for around 200 litres, roughly 3 months if you’re filling the bottle 3 times a day.

We loved the bottles so much that we ordered extra filters when staying in Mexico to last us for the rest of the trip. Carrying 4 small filters each was a lot easier than constantly replacing plastic water bottles or adding purification tablets and waiting half an hour each time you’re desperate for some water.

2. This Ultralight Hydration Pack by Camelbak

Ultimate Travel Packing List for Backpackers 2021 - hydration packWe spent many days of our trip on longer adventures, where carrying a bottle would have been inconvenient. Think kayaking into a cave, long bike rides, and interviewing for Language Stories whilst trekking in northern Vietnam.

On those days, our Camelbak was invaluable. Of course, for this, we did need water purification pills, but using a combination of both drinking water solutions (the filter bottle and the Camelbak) saved a lot of time and hassle. When we needed water, it was ready in the bottles, and when we knew we’d be going somewhere a little more adventurous, we could prepare the Camelbak in advance.

Not only that, but the Camelbak has a few pockets and pouches. Some days I just took out my Camelbak with no need for a bag. I could fit my purse, small pot of suncream, snacks, phone and keys in mine. It was so freeing to not have to take my tote bag around everywhere!

3. This Supportive and Secure Backpack with loads of compartments

Ultimate Travel Packing List for Backpackers 2021 - secure and supportive backpackIf there were one thing my husband took that I didn’t and I was envious of during our trip, it was his bag.

We both carried a smaller backpack, which contained our tech stuff we needed for Language Stories and wanted to keep close to us at all times to avoid theft or simply being mishandled when shoved into a bus luggage compartment.

However, of course, we also had a bigger bag each with our more general stuff. Mine was my old backpack I purchased about 8 years before for my first big solo multi-country trip. It almost fell apart in Cuba, just a month into the trip. My husband, however, had decided to buy a new one, and it was amazing.

He got the Osprey Farpoint 40 Carry-On Backpack and not only was it cabin baggage size for most airlines, it was also much more compact looking on the outside than mine, yet spacious inside. It just looks like a slightly bigger regular day backpack!

Perfect for helping to avoid unwanted attention and risk of theft when arriving in a new city in the early hours of the morning, and for saving those travel dollars by not having to pay extra on your flights for hold luggage.

4. These TSA Approved Padlocks

Ultimate Travel Packing List for Backpackers 2021 - TSA approved locksOf course, locks are an obvious one, right? Well, yes. But are your locks TSA approved? Some of mine weren’t. I learnt this arriving in London on a connecting flight halfway through the year when the little padlock I’d added on one compartment of my main bag had been chopped off.

TSA stands for Transportation Security Administration, and although they’re based in the USA, other countries are beginning to adopt the same system. So if you need to update your security situation, TSA locks are a good starting point.

Of course, you can travel with any type of lock on your bags. However, you should know that if your bags are inspected at an airport and your lock isn’t TSA approved (in other words, if they don’t have a special system that allows them to be unlocked and re-locked securely by TSA and other agencies) then the security staff may well cut off your lock like they did mine!

On the subject of locks, we found that combination TSA locks with a short cable worked best for us, but I did carry one padlock with a key, which I had to ensure was never on the bag I would put my handbag containing the key into. Combination locks took away this worry.

As well as the locks for individual bags and compartments, we also took a couple of expandable retractable cable locks, which were really useful for attaching our bags together and tying them to a secure item, such as a furniture leg or rail, if a place felt a little unsafe.

Dressing Smart

5. This Convertible Travel Dress

Clothes were the thing I was most worried about. I like the process of opening my wardrobe each day and getting a little experimental, putting things together in slightly different ways to before. I was worried I’d miss this over a whole year, and surprisingly I didn’t too much.

I took 4 simple quick-dry t-shirts and a pair of trousers which zip off to shorts from Decathlon, a pair of shorts for the beach and wash days, and a smart dress, as well as one set of running clothes and swimwear.

But by far, my favourite item of clothing I took was my Kameleon Rose dress.

The dress is a little bulkier than the other items individually when rolled up ready to pack, but it does count for multiple outfits, so it’s worth its size.

It can be worn tight at the top and flowing downwards, upside down with the tight bit as the bottom half of the dress, as a skirt (you decide the length), as a top, or even as a scarf if you want.

The dress was highly durable and useful too for being respectful and cover my knees when visiting temples and religious sites. On those days, I wore it as a skirt with a separate t-shirt to cover my shoulders.

Another benefit proved itself when we’d be going somewhere a little more upmarket for dinner or meeting someone in a more professional setting for Language Stories. Instantly, I had a smart dress without looking too much like a backpacker. Awesome.

6. These Super Comfy Wrap-around Shoes

Shoes were one area I did a lot of research into before I even started packing. On my last big trip, I took a pair of Birkenstocks and that was about it. However, I knew that this time around, I’d need something to run in, something to wear most days walking around, something for the beach, something to look a little smarter, and something to wear I didn’t want to wear socks but needed or wanted my toes covered (I’m thinking busy, bustling city streets).

My trainers acted as my running shoes and my day shoe, and my sandals (which I’ll talk about below) fitted the bill for beach and smarter wear. But the trainers needed socks and the sandals exposed my feet. My Vibrams filled the gap between the two.

Vibram are perhaps most known for their Five Fingers range, which are like gloves for your feet and look super weird at first but are actually really comfortable. They can be worn barefoot too.

However, if you’re looking for something that attracts a little less attention or don’t fancy getting used to the different holes for each toe, the Furoshiki range is a better bet.

They simply wrap over your feet and attach behind with Velcro. Oh, and they’re very comfortable. Ideal for hotter days when socks just won’t be comfortable but you’re not sure what the day will bring.

7. These Supportive Sling Sandals

Ultimate Travel Packing List for Backpackers 2021 - comfortable sandalsI knew that I’d also need a sandal I could get away with for smart events and meetings as well as the beach. The Sanuk Yoga Sling passed the test for both those scenarios.

Why Yoga? Because the sole is made from yoga mats, which makes it as ridiculously comfortable as you’d imagine.

The Sling part is simple and wraps nicely around the back of your ankle, keeping the shoes on your feet.

In fact, there were a good number of days over the year when I wore these sandals all day and it was as comfortable as if I’d been wearing my trainers.

If you’re used to wearing sandals and won’t be running or doing anything too active, you could easily get away with just taking the Sanuk Yoga Sling on your trip, perhaps with a pair of Vibram Furoshiki for a chance of shoe.

Both pairs are also really small and take up hardly any space or weight in your bag.

8. This breathable headwear that doubles as a scarf

Ultimate Travel Packing List for Backpackers 2021 - buff headscarfI always thought the Buff was kinda lame. I just couldn’t see the point of it. Surely it’s hotter wearing extra fabric?!

However, for running, I had one before we left that I wore on my head to keep my hair from falling loose, which I packed intending to use it for running only.

Soon, after getting burnt on the back of my neck one too many times, I tried wearing it on my neck.

Not only did it keep me from getting a sunburnt neck again, but I also forgot I was wearing it. It just didn’t make me as hot as I was expecting so was very easy to get used to.

Of course, it still proved useful for wearing on my head when running, as well as lifting up to cover my mouth and nose when riding on a very dusty train in Myanmar, or even as a way to hold my hair up when I didn’t have a hairband handy.

Staying Clean and Organised

9. This Ingenious Shampoo Bar

Travelling long-term doesn’t lend itself well to carrying lots of bottles of lotions and potions with you.

These shampoo bars, however, make the perfect travel companion. It’s also handy as a general hand and body soap, or even laundry soap if you’re really stuck. They even have conditioner bars too!

We started with three bars, which lasted us around 8-9 months. Approximately 3 months per bar if you look after it well and don’t let it sit in water too often.

Ultimate packing list 2021 - Travelling light

Needless to say, I needed that shampoo after this.

10. This Mini Umbrella

Ultimate Travel Packing List for Backpackers 2021 - compact umbrellaI set off with a small packable raincoat, which I very soon sent back home. For a long time, we then didn’t have any rain protection, which wasn’t actually a problem as the weather was great!

That was until we arrived in Costa Rica at Monteverde, a cloud forest. Where it rains. A lot.

We purchased two ponchos on the day we headed up to the cloud forest, and vowed to buy a mini umbrella as soon as we saw one, which we did in Panama. This was a perfect addition to our ultralight backpacking gear we had and proved to be well worth the money as we continued our trip, heading down to Machu Picchu and into Southeast Asia and Japan as their rainy seasons began.

In fact, we used our cheap little umbrella from Panama so much that we needed to buy another in Myanmar. The best thing you can do is get a good quality one before you go.

It’s even better if you can get one with UV protection, as that will come in handy on those days when the sun just gets a little too hot.

11. This Pegless Travel Clothes Line

Ultimate Travel Packing List for Backpackers 2021 - travel clothes lineIf you’re anything like me, you’ll be looking to save money wherever you can when you travel. Of course, one way to do this is to wash your own clothes instead of taking them to a laundrette.

As we expected many of the Airbnb apartments we’d be staying in to have washing machines as well, we knew that having somewhere to hang clothes would come in handy.

Our washing line bag contained shoelaces and an elastic cord for the line, pegs, carabiner clips, and two suction cup hooks. It was put together with a mixture of things my mum had from a previous trip and things we already had at home.

You could definitely take a smaller set like this pegless one. I wish I’d known about this before my trip!

12. These Nifty Packing Cubes

Ultimate Travel Packing List for Backpackers 2021 - travel organisersI have to be honest, I thought packing cubes were a weird travel fad. I really couldn’t understand how they would be useful or why I needed them…that is, until I used them.

I had one large packing cube full of clothes with a small one containing underwear and one with dirty laundry inside, and then one large packing cube containing everything else, with a smaller cube inside that holding my first aid kit and toiletries. And that was it. That was my bag.

This made things surprisingly easy to get out quickly and pack away. It also made it a breeze to find things that would otherwise have buried themselves deep within the depths of my bag!

Eating and drinking on the road

13. These Space-saving Collapsible Food Containers

Ultimate Travel Packing List for Backpackers 2021 - collapsable containersWe spent a lot of the year self-catering in Airbnb apartments. (If it’s your first time using Airbnb get US$65 OFF here or get £50 OFF your first stay here, when you sign up using my unique reader referral link.)

When we weren’t in our own spaces, we were looking for hostels or hotels with a shared kitchen, which we mostly found on Booking.com in Latin America or Agoda in Asia. Wherever we were staying, these fold down tubs were essential. For carrying food in between accommodations, for storing other things in our bags, for taking picnics out for the day, for eating meals in hotels with just a fridge and a kettle. Perfect.

If you’ll be spending more time in places with shared kitchens, be sure to write your name on the lids and tubs in permanent marker, just in case.

14. This Handy Spork

For those same mornings and evenings in hotels with just a fridge and a kettle, carrying this spork was a great way to make sure we always had a way to eat stuff.

I also carried it around in my day bag so I was ready to eat anytime. If you’re travelling in East Asia, look out for those sets of chopsticks and cutlery in a little box. These were super cute and I was desperately hunting for the perfect one in Japan! I didn’t find one I wanted so my spork remains top of the list.

15. These Nifty Resealable bags

Buy a box of resealable bags and store them somewhere safe in your bag right now. Trust me.

Keeping food dry and edible, putting liquid bottles and cream pots somewhere safe to avoid leakages, storing your phone during a water festival. Resealable bags will come in handy for so many situations – some more unexpected than others.

I bought a box and put them loose in the top zip of my main bag and they lasted me the entire year.

16. This Coffee Sock for the coffee addict

I’m not a coffee drinker, but my husband loves it, and I imagine you like coffee more than I do too because I really can’t drink it at all.

In Costa Rica, my husband picked up a chorreador, which is a cotton “sock” attached around a metal wire circle at the top.

It’s the typical way of making coffee in the country, and Singapore and Malaysia as well.

However, it’s also a very simple way to make a pour-over coffee on the go too, without having to carry any bulky coffee-making equipment.

The only thing to note is that it does take some time to dry after use, so not one for the morning before that early long bus ride.

Handy Tech Gadgets and Accessories

17. This Super Slim, Travel-Friendly Laptop

Ultimate Travel Packing List for Backpackers 2021 - lightweight laptopAt home, I work on a desktop computer so I had to buy a laptop especially for the trip to ensure I could keep working on the go. I needed something light and portable, and the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 fitted the bill.

It’s a great laptop and super slim and flexible, with a touchscreen and the keyboard being detachable. I loved working with this over the duration of the trip.

18. This Incredible Canon Camera

The main camera Ashley used for filming Language Stories was the Canon EOS 5D Mark III. It’s a great camera that captures everything beautifully.

It’s a little on the heavy side, so if you’re not going to be filming or doing photography professionally during your trip but you still want good quality photographs, then the Canon 60D would probably be a better option as it’s a little lighter to carry.

19. This Durable & Travel-Safe Hard Drive

Ultimate Travel Packing List for Backpackers 2021 - back-up hard driveAs you can imagine, when you’re filming in HD and recording audio for hours of interviews and footage per episode, that adds up to a lot of terabytes of data! As WiFi wasn’t always going to be reliable to back up such big data files to Cloud Drives, we knew we’d need to carry hard drives with us.

I took the LaCie Rugged, which comes with a bright orange rubber edging to keep it safe from bashes and dents – perfect for travelling.

Having a hard drive on you means you can back up all your photos on the go. Unfortunately, memory cards fail so always have a backup.

20. This Travel Adapter and Power Bank

Ultimate Travel Packing List for Backpackers 2021 - travel adapter and powerbankAlways a fan of travel gadgets that serve more than one purpose, I was a big fan of my adapter and charger I took, as not only did it plug into any shaped plug socket across the world and charge things by both plug and USB, but it also held power and worked as a handy power bank.

This came in very handy when we were stuck on long buses without chargers, or sat for hours at airports away from plug sockets. Hooray!

Ultimate packing list 2021 - GoPro

Capturing the sheer beauty of Machu Picchu with my GoProsha

21. The One and Only GoPro Hero 5

As a backup camera, we used the GoPro Hero 5. When Ashley would be filming interviews focusing on me and the interviewee, the GoPro Hero 5 would be sat on a small Joby Gorilla Pod nearby capturing a ‘safe shot’, so we always had a backup shot if one of us said something when Ashley was filming the other person, for example.

As well as that the GoPro Hero 5 is a wonderful travel camera as it’s waterproof, super solid, and really light and compact, making it an ideal travel camera for adventurous types who don’t want to worry about carrying too much gear with them.

22. This Extension Lead with USB Ports

Ultimate Travel Packing List for Backpackers 2021 - extension lead with usb portsMy mum had spent a year travelling herself not long before we set off. One of the tips she shared with us was to take an extension lead. I couldn’t help but think it sounded bulky and unnecessary, but we used it so much more than I expected. In fact, I’d go as far as to say we used it every day we were staying somewhere.

Some places just don’t have plug sockets where you need, others don’t have enough. Either way, you’re set if you’ve got an extension lead in your bag. The size will depend on how many devices you’ll be taking.

For example, if you’re travelling light with just a phone, camera and/or tablet and you’re not working, you might be absolutely fine with a simple USB adapter.

Alternatively, some extension leads now also come with USB charging ports built-in like this one. The thing to really look for is that it has a built-in surge protector.

Oh yes, and don’t forget the adapter for the plug, which is another benefit as you’ll only need to carry one adapter rather than one adapter for each plug for every device. So our bulky extension cord surprisingly becomes a space saver!

23. This Genius Headphone Splitter

Ultimate Travel Packing List for Backpackers 2021 - headphone splitterWhether you’re travelling solo or with others, at times, you may well be sharing your audio with someone else…or you might want to tap into theirs. Take a headphone splitter.

Mine fits really nicely on my keyring on a stub from an old headphone splitter I had before this one. They can be tricky to find abroad if you don’t know where to look or don’t speak the language, so this one is best to buy before you leave if you can.

Plus, you never know, the person next to you on your first flight may have great taste in music!

And that’s it!

I hope you’ve found this ultimate packing list useful. Here is my own comprehensive guide full of brilliant travel accessories and travel gadgets.

If you’d like to find out more about what I did on my trip, you can listen and watch season to Language Stories now. Enjoy!

Planning a trip and need travel insurance? Get a free quote from World Nomads here.

Want more travel tips? Don’t miss these

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Ultimate Travel Packing List for Backpackers 2021

Over to you!

Do you have a question about any of these awesome travel essentials? Ask me or Lindsay below!
Let us know using the comments section below or join me on social media to start a conversation.

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