A must read for first time backpackers/travellers.
Know your own strength
Recommended backpack for women = no more than 60 litres
Recommended backpack for men = around 70 litres
Please learn from my mistakes. I brought a HUGE backpack on my first trip when I went inter-railing around Europe. I filled the case and could barely lift it. I didn’t need or use half the stuff I brought, and I ended up making my boyfriend carry all my heavy stuff in his backpack. If I’d been on my own, it could have ruined my trip carrying that heavy thing around each place. DON’T DO IT! The smaller the back pack the better and always pick a backpack over a suitcase. Some roads/streets you will be travelling through won’t be suitcase friendly.
A front loading backpack will avoid you having to pull everything out of your backpack to locate something on at the bottom. I bought a Quechua Backpack recently with a zip to the front as well as the opening at the top. A best buy for your sanity!
Carry on with your carry on
ALWAYS check airline policies for dimensions, weight and second carry-on rules to avoid heavy fees at the airport. Some airlines get really petty over carry-on bags at boarding. EasyJet and Ryanair will only let you have one carry-on, so your handbag must fit in your carry-on bag. One time I had to put my small backpack under my big coat and sneak it onto the plane because I couldn’t fit it into my carry-on case. Get around this buy wearing your biggest clothes (boots, coats, etc.) on the flight to save space in your carry on.
Always wear something with big pockets. The pockets act as your second carry-on or handbag for your passport, boarding pass, etc.
Keep your liquids (100ml or less) for carry-on travel in a clear sealed bag in an external pocket for easy access when going through security.
Use 2 in 1 shampoo and conditioner to reduce bottles and liquids in your bag.
A bar of soap is smaller and lasts longer than a bottle of shower gel. It also won’t leak in your bag.
Roll-on deodorant is smaller and lasts longer than spray deodorant.
Get yourself a wash bag. Using shared bathrooms in hostels and camp-sites means carrying your gear to the bathroom every day. Throw it in a wash bag and save yourself some trouble of dropping everything on your trips to the shower. I use bikini bags from Primark that you can get in the summer season or a TOM’s bag that you get free when you buy a pair of TOM shoes. These shoes are also great for travelling. They’re comfy, feel like slippers and protect your toes like flip flops can’t.
Girls…need to plan ahead. Work out you’re dates and pack tampons/pads, if you’ll be needing them. Bring the smaller, digital tampons instead of the applicators tampons. You could also try the lunette cup, which is an alternative to tampons but takes up less space, and better for our beautiful planet.
If you are on the pill or other contraception, ring your doctor to get a sufficient supply for when you’re away. Remember our contraception is free in the UK, but if you go to OZ it’s expensive, so stock up. Don’t forget condoms (be safe). They are also free from your local family planning clinic.
If you are on any medication, ask your doctor for a prescription that is sufficient for your whole trip.
Perfume is fragile. If you must bring it, place it in your shoes to avoid it breaking, or use body spray. It does the same job but it’s smaller, lighter, and less fragile.
Don’t forget a razor (with a blade cover), if you don’t plan on going ‘au natural’.
Toothbrush (and case) and toothpaste.
Hair + Make-up
Bring BB cream and you can reduce bottles and liquids in your bag. It is sunscreen, moisturiser and foundation combined!
I always put a little gradual moisturising fake tan in a contact lens container for the day time when I don’t want to wear make-up. In hot countries the make-up slides off your face anyway. I put the gradual tan on my face the night before and give it time to develop.
Waterproof mascara is a must, and doubles as eye-liner if you drag the brush along your lash line. Always think … ‘dual purpose’ when packing!
A bright lipstick is a great way to ‘dress up’ your make up in the evenings when your make up bag is limited. It’s small and can instantly make you feel more ‘dolled up’. Something like a bright red or bright pink is lovely with natural, plain eyes.
Bring a comb instead of a brush. A comb is much smaller and does the same job. You can also back comb your hair with it.
Hair bands and kirby grips. I keep thin hair bands on my wrists at all times for whenever I want to throw my hair up. Keep your kirby grips in a ‘Tic Tac’ box.
Don’t forget to remove your nail polish before your trip. There is nothing worse looking than chipped nail polish. If the thought of ‘naked’ nails scares you, you can get Gelish nails done before you go. They last 3-4 weeks depending on how much time you spend in water, and don’t forget to pick a colour that goes with everything.
Bring nail clippers. You’re not allowed scissors in carry-on bags and nail clippers are less likely to stab you when fishing through you’re backpack.
I rarely pack a hair-dryer or straighteners/curler/tongs, mainly because I never use straighteners/curlers/tongs in general, so I won’t use them abroad. Realistically, you won’t be spending any time on your hair and make-up when backpacking anyway. You also won’t fancy the heat from your hairdryer, when you’re sweaty and sticky in a hot country. You can get hair-dryers in some hotels, hostels, and swimming pools or gyms which is important in cold countries where you don’t want to walk about with wet hair. Bring a small travel hair-dryer if you must (and an adaptor).
In warm countries, let the sun dry your hair. Use a sea salt spray on your hair to get natural beach waves.
If you don’t want to pack another bottle make use of the salty sea and get real beach waves. You can also twist your hair into knots and unravel when dry for tong free curls. There are lots of hair blogs for this kind of stuff on Pinterest.
Clothes + Accessories
Chiffon is your new best friend. It looks expensive (even if you bought it in Primark), and mostly importantly, it doesn’t wrinkle. Roll it, fold it, stuff it, or throw it into your backpack, it won’t matter.
You can get vacuum seal bags for storing your clothes and other items. They are great space saver in your backpack. They also keep your clothes separate and clean, and help keep your backpack more organised.
Instead of folding your clothes, roll them, and put an elastic band around them to keep them in place. It saves space and there will be less creases, (if done right).
Pack neutral coloured clothes so you can mix and match much easier. It will make you feel like you have more outfits. Never pack white clothes, they are too hard to keep clean.
Pack a sun-dress that you can wear with sandals or heels. A little black dress that can be casual or fancy when needed.
Always pack a nude coloured bra. It can be worn under everything. I can’t wear strapless bra’s because I’m too busty, but if you can, make sure you pack a nude one. Good bikini tops double as bras and if you’re lucky enough to not have to wear one, embrace it!
Pack a sturdy plastic bag or a canvas shopper bag to throw your wet bikinis in. You can tie the bag to the outside of your backpack until they dry, to avoid soaking the rest of the clothes in your backpack. They can also be used for carrying your groceries while you’re away.
Leave space in your backpack for the clothes you’re wearing, and for the clothes and souvenirs you plan on collecting throughout your trip.
Always pick comfort over fashion. Test out your new flip flops and shoes before you go. I don’t know how many times I’ve had sore feet while carting about a heavy backpack. It’s just not worth it. You’ll always look better when you’re comfortable and smiling anyway.
Thankfully bum-bags have become cool again, because they’re so handy and comfortable. They keep all your essentials in front of you for safety and easy access. If you don’t like them, or you need something more practical, wear a waterproof money belt under your clothes for your essentials.
If you want to bring a hand-bag, bring something small, durable, with a zip to avoid things falling out. Zips keep your valuables safe from pick-pocketers. Wear across your chest. People have hand bags ripped off their shoulders from passers-by on bikes and mopeds.
A decent pair of sunglasses that won’t break easily, and keep them in a sturdy case. Pick sunglasses with UV protection, otherwise it’s just fashion statement that serves you no purpose. You don’t want to be squinting all day, you’ll give yourself wrinkles.
Always pack something with a hood. A lightweight hoodie (good for long trips and flights) or an anorak. Something that can be packed tightly or tied round your waist. A hooded garment has dual purpose and means you won’t have to pack an umbrella.
“I hate all those weathermen, too, who tell you that rain is bad weather. There’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing, so get yourself a sexy raincoat and live a little.” Billy Connolly
In Budapest we decided if we were going to have to take photos in the rain, we would buy a nice umbrella to brighten up our rainy pictures. We found someone selling rainbow coloured umbrellas in the metro station. By then we were looking forward to the rain so we could use them, ha-ha! Don’t let the weather bring down your mood or ruin your photos.
Don’t waste any space in your backpack. Tie your trainers with a double knot to the front of your backpack so they don’t waste space in your bag. If your shoes have no laces, shove your socks, underwear and smaller items into the shoes. Keep the free shower caps you get from hotels and place your shoes in them. This keeps them from dirtying the rest of the clothes in your backpack.
Never pack any more than three pairs of shoes. In hot countries bring one pair of comfy flip flops, one pair of good runners and one pair of nude/black heels that will go with everything. I didn’t bring heels to Asia (you will never wear them), but I brought a pair of TOMS instead.
My well-travelled friend Joy, suggested sea shoes (instead of TOMS). They’re waterproof and will protect your feet from sea anemone, crabs etc. They are also great for rock climbing and rocky beaches. I got a great pair in Decathlon for £6.
In cold countries bring one pair of heeled boots, one pair of flat snow boots and one pair of good runners.
Bring flip flops in cold countries too, if you plan on using shared bathrooms. Wear your flip flops into the shower to protect your feet from verruca’s and dirty floors in general.
If you like to sleep naked, remember, you can’t sleep naked in hostels. Bring a long baggy t-shirt, beach dress or summer PJ’s (shorts and tank top). Bring something that won’t take up too much room in your bag, or pick clothes that can double as PJ’s.
Bring enough underwear for your whole trip. Stuff your underwear into your shoes and any other free spaces you can find. Keep dirty clothes and underwear in a separate plastic bag. You can wash it along the way in hostels and laundry room sinks. We got our laundry done in Thailand for about £2, but be wary, we didn’t get everything back. Some lads I know wore boxers inside out to get two days out of them, but I wouldn’t fancy doing that.
Know the dress code of the country you’re travelling too. In Thailand we couldn’t go into the temples without having our shoulders and knees covered. Be respectful of different cultures and traditions.
Pack for all seasons. I packed for hot weather on our South East Asia trip, and when I arrived in Australia in August, it was their winter time. Melbourne was cold, and all I had was shorts and t-shirts.
I have a lovely big fancy camera, but think about where you’re heading before you pack it. Yes, it takes the best photos, but I didn’t like leaving it in my backpack in a hostel when I went to the full moon party in Thailand. I didn’t want to bring it with me, and spill buckets of Sang Som over it either. I left it behind on my second trip to South-East Asia because I spent too much time worrying about it. However, I did bring it with me to Iceland because I knew I could keep it on me at all times.
Get a decent water proof case for your phone. You really should have one anyway and it proved useful when we wanted to take some photos in the Blue Lagoon in Iceland. I felt better knowing that if I dropped it, it would be okay, but I didn’t feel comfortable putting it under the water to test it. You can also buy waterproof cases for your camera if you’re brave enough to use them.
I recently bought myself a GoPro Hero 3+ for this reason. Underwater shots, swimming, snorkelling, scuba diving, surfing, etc. are stress free with a GoPro. I also bought a head strap, so I can strap it to myself when I need hands-free for specific activities.
Selfie-sticks look silly but they are brilliant. You can take shots of yourself in front of your favourites places, without having to hassle other tourists to put down their camera to take your picture. I used a selfie stick with my Iphone 5. The panorama feature on the Iphone 5 is great. If you don’t have an Iphone 5 or 6, get a panoramic app.
Bring a USB pen or hard-drive and back everything up. I have lost two digital cameras on two different trips and lost all my travel photos. It’s still heart breaking when I think about it. You can also put films on your hard-drive and watch films on long journeys, if you plan on bringing your lap top. You’ll will always find people in hostels swapping and sharing the films they’ve collected. I never bring a laptop because I prefer reading to watching movies. I use free Wi-Fi on my iPhone for the internet or internet cafes. I also don’t want another expensive thing to look after, and another big charger to pack, but each to their own.
Remember for every gadget you bring you need a charger and an adaptor. Some people bring a power-strip and one adaptor to charge several things at one time. One power socket might be all you have on trains/buses/planes and hostels.
Keep the cables tied up and organised with elastic bands. Keep the smaller cables, USB, and headphones in a glasses case, so they don’t get tangled or lost in your bag.
I got a 3 in1 USB cable that has the two different Iphone connections and a small camera connection. I got it in Primark for £2.50 and it is worth its weight in gold.
I would also consider packing a solar charger for your phone/camera, for when your out and about. They range in price, starting from £6 on Amazon.
Playing cards are essential for long journeys, killing time, making friends, drinking games.
Travel towels dry quickly, and take up less space in your bag than a normal towel. If you have the space, pack one for showering and one for the beach. I prefer to use a travel towel for showering and a good shawl for the beach, which can also be used as a scarf, skirt, dress, beach towel, blanket, picnic blanket, hair piece, you name it.
When I backpack I like to (and need to), save every penny. I bring a decent sized water bottle and fill it in countries with drinkable tap water, and at water fountains. Keep it in a side pocket to avoid it leaking in your backpack, and for easy access. You could buy a vapour flat pack bottle to save space.
Baby wipes are handy for freshening up on long trips, removing your make-up, and cleaning.
Passport(s), driving license, bank card(s), and student card (most shops and museums do student rates).
Bring some currency rolled up in a vitamin pill bottle with a couple of tablets left in to make a rattling sound. You can’t use bank cards everywhere and you’ll need cash to get a taxi from the airport.
Bring sunscreen. Just imagine carrying a heavy backpack on sun burnt shoulders. Enough said!
A small camping torch is useful for reading at night in a hostel or on a bus/train/plane. They are also good for finding things in the bottom of your backpack.
In certain countries, a mosquito net is a must. Especially if you have 0 negative blood type like me, (mosquitos will love you).
On my first trip to Thailand my friend Judy (who is now a nurse) made me a Mini first aid kit. It included plasters, painkillers, antiseptic cream, anti-histamines, insect repellent, diarrhoea Imodium tablets, rehydration sachets, safety pins etc. All of which came in handy (thanks Jude). You can do this yourself on the cheap by buying Amazon/Tesco/Asda/Superdrug home brands that work exactly the same but a little cheaper.
If you can’t stand the smell of Deet, (like my friend Jordan) you can buy bug bands, to keep the pesky mosquitos at bay.
Rescue remedy ‘night sleep’ or kalms. Herbal sleeping aids for long bus/train journeys.
dioralyte rehydration sachets helps me survive hangover free in Asia and Australia on my travels! Drinking heavily in hot countries does terrible things to your body!
A padlock (or two) for your bag is essential when staying in dorm/shared rooms or leaving your bags on buses. in Thailand we were robbed on both occasions. A tag for your bag is also handy when dumping your backpack on boats/buses with 100’s of other backpacks. We tied mini flags and other items we found along the way to our backpacks. It’s up to you how you want to personalise your bags.
Notebook/journal/sketch pad and pens. If you have memory like me and can’t remember what you do one day from the next….this is an essential! Write one line a day or as much as you like, describing what you did that day in as much detail as you see fit. Note down any funny memories or funny things people say on your trip. You’ll need pen and paper for noting addresses, directions, phone numbers, and names of people you met along the way to add on Facebook later. Sketching/doodling is a great way of killing time on long trains/bus/plane journeys. If you can’t draw, who cares! No one will see it, if you don’t want them too!
Books. If you love reading like me, this is an important section that needs attention. You’ll want to bring plenty of reading material for your trip. Bring one thick book that will last the whole trip or several thin books. Only bring books which you don’t mind leaving behind as you finish them. Don’t waste space in your backpack for your finished books (they’re heavy). Or you can just read books you find along the way in hostels.
Kindles are another option. They are light, thin, and they can hold many books. But don’t forget it does need charged and will need to pack the charger along with it. I bought a kindle for backpacking and I never ended up using it. There’s something really lovely about reading paperback books, but each to their own.
Audiobooks are great! Pre-download some books on your phone, but don’t forget your headphones. Audible offers 30 day free trial.
My sister Jenna, told me this trick. Photocopy your passport, driving license, travel insurance, visas and other important identification and documents. Email the photocopy and any other information you might need to your personal email address. Keep a copy in a thin plastic folder and keep in your backpack in case of emergencies. I also emailed my account numbers and other important usernames and passwords to myself.
I splashed out one year and bought a new backpack. Two weeks into my South-East Asia trip, the metal from the bag support pierced through the material and was cutting into my back. I couldn’t use it and had to buy a new one. I contacted the shop only to be told I couldn’t do anything without a receipt. Keep receipts at home, photocopy them, and email them to yourself for times like this.
Not essential but nice to have
I like to pack plastic utensils, one fork, spoon, knife, plate, bowl and cup. They’re really good for trips that include camping. They’re also really handy for hostels that charge for cooking utensils, (sometimes £5), and really nice to have in dirty hostels.
A pillow case and sheet are also good for hostels that charge for bedding, and dirty hostels were you don’t want to use their bedding. Put your clean clothes in the pillow case to keep them in one place, and use the sheet as a blanket on long journeys.
Bring washing powder in an empty vitamin/pill bottle. You might want to freshen up your dirty clothes in a sink, or use the washing machines in a hostel without buying a whole box of powder from the supermarket, that you’ll have to leave behind. In one of the hostels in Oz they sold a cup of washing powder for a dollar.
Travel pillows are nice for long journeys on trains, buses, and planes but they’re bulky and awkward to carry. Bring an inflatable one that you can deflate and put away. You can get inflatable neck pillows with hoods attached too.
My mum always brings her wine with her wherever she goes, because she knows she won’t be able to get it where she’s going. We normally wrap the bottle in her towel, but I read a blog online where someone had put the wine bottle in a child’s inflatable armband. I think it’s a great idea!
http://www.cocooninnovations.com/cat_info.php. Follow this link if you are a lover of organisation. You will need these products in your life.
You will never wear the jewellery you’ll pack. I wear one necklace and a couple of bracelets 24/7, and I don’t wear jewellery that needs removed to take a shower. Trust me, when you’re in these beautiful places the last thing you’ll be thinking about is what earrings to wear. Jewellery is also really easy to lose or tangle and break. If you must bring your jewellery, thread your necklaces through a straw and fasten to avoid them tangling on your trip. You can also pack your jewellery into a weekly pill box.
If you place your phone on full volume in a cup it works like a speaker. This way you don’t need to pack speakers and a yet another charger.
You can wrap delicate clothing items in tissue paper, but I would suggest not packing delicate items at all. Keep your special clothes at home where they can’t get destroyed.
On my first trip to Thailand my friend Lou brought a huge bottle of cooling spray for her face. You will never use this and if you did, it would last two days in a place as hot as Thailand. We still laugh about it now.
Exercise fanatics! Don’t panic!!
If you hate the thought of no gym/workout time on your trip….don’t fret! You don’t need the gym to stay trim. You can do yoga anywhere (in your room, or on the beach), and you don’t really need a mat. If you are camping, pack a lightweight yoga mat and attach it to the base of your backpack. It doubles as a camping mat. You can use your own body weight solely for weight training. Bring some good runners, (you will probably pack these anyway) and then you can run/jog/briskly walk anywhere. Make swimming your temporary gym in pools and beaches. The sea is free 🙂 You will probably be packing a swimsuit/bikini/swim shorts anyway.
Before you go
Do your research. There is nothing worse than going to a country, coming home, and realising you missed out on something because you didn’t know about it. I always buy the lonely planet guide books for the country I’m going to and I read it cover to cover.
Read blogs about each place you’re going to. Search on Pinterest and see what images and blogs you can find. I always find hidden gems this way. I have many boards for various countries already and I pin good blogs and travel tips I find on my ‘thewanderingboomerang’ board.
Make a list of things you want to do and see when you’re there. If you’re stuck for time, draw up a rough itinerary and plan your days and nights. I always google ‘random things to do in …’. This is how I found out about a medieval tavern bar in Prague.
Email/call your bank to let them know where you’re going so you can use your bank card abroad without them blocking it. Include dates and different countries you plan on going to.
Transfer or delete all your existing photos and videos on your cameras, phones and memory cards to free up space for the new photos and videos you’ll take on your trip. I forget to do this almost every time, and get a ‘memory full’ pop up when I’m trying to capture something (very annoying).
If you’re northern Irish or of dual nationality it could be worth getting multiple passports. In Australia you get free Medicare (GP doctor appointments) with a British passport (normally 70 dollars per appointment). With an Irish passport you get free hospital care. Getting an Irish passport is cheaper (about 70 pounds sterling) than a year of travel insurance (budget insurance 300 pounds sterling). Look into your passport entitlements before you go.
Stock up on medication and contraception before you go. Don’t leave it until the last minute.
Speak to your doctor about which vaccinations (if any) are required for the country you’re travelling too. Be organised. This needs to be done 8 weeks before you leave. Sooner is better, to be on the safe side.
Learn from my mistakes. I was busy and asked my mum to collect my vaccinations while I was at work. She dropped it to my work and I put it in my handbag. I went to the doctors’ treatment room after work to get my vaccination to be told, that the vaccine had to be kept re-fridgerated. She wasn’t allowed to give me the vaccine and it was put in the bin. The vaccination cost me 150 pounds. Ask your pharmacist how to store your vaccines.
Panorama app if you don’t have an Iphone 5 or 6.
Currency converter app is vital if you don’t want to get ripped off.
Online banking app. Keep tabs on your account while you’re away.
Pinterest is great for sussing out places and things to do in your country of choice.
Instagram. I use Instagram like a photo diary of my travels. Much better than a journal in my opinion.
Facetime/Skype for free video calls.
Viber/Whatsapp for free calls, texts, picture messages, videos, audio messages etc.
Facebook. Keep in contact with friends you make along the way.
Been app. Tick off all the countries you’ve been to.
Heads up app. Great for drinking games and killing time on long journeys.
Meditation apps. Andrew Johnston’s apps are my favourite. We found these incredibly useful on long bus journeys through Asia when we were struggling to get to sleep.
GoPro app (if you have one). Makes it possible to share pictures and videos from your GoPro without a laptop or computer.
Audible/Ibooks/Itunes for all your audiobook listening.
Spotify/Grooveshark for music streaming.
Don’t stress! If you forget something, or run out of something you need, you can usually buy it there.
Check out my other blogs you might need when planning your next trip.
Please add any comments or packing tips below.
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Enjoy your adventure, and return safely,
The wandering boomerang 🙂