I first put together a packing list back in 2012 based on what I expected to need while I was travelling, my packing list back then had some pretty big caveats – firstly I was playing paintball, secondly I was DJing and third.. I had no home base. Fast forward a few years and lots has changed, I’ve got married and I’m now based in the USA, not New Zealand or Thailand. I’m no longer needing to carry everything with me on a long, non stop trip – I’ve also had a few years to learn what is necessary, and what isn’t.
It’s also worth noting that I now usually travel with my wife, rather than travelling solo, and we try to exclusively travel with carry on only unless we can avoid it, or she might go carry on, while I bring a checked in bag that we share. It means we can get away with carrying less and splitting the load.
Things I didn’t need:
- Point and shoot camera – I have an iPhone. I think I used my actual camera for the first month then gave up on it.
- Video camera – I have an iPhone, that said a GoPro (or a cheap knock off) might have been nice.
- Money belt – nothing screams newbie tourist more than this.
- Expensive power adaptors – I’ll normally buy the cheapest one locally and plug my power strip into it.
- Guidebooks – most of the important up to date info can be found on blogs, using the triposo app on your phone or from wikitravel. That said, I’ll occasionally bring one with me depending on how much travel I’m actually doing.
I’ve used World Nomads whenever I’ve needed insurance. The reason, you can extend your insurance without going home, which is handy when the trip doesn’t stop. They’ve got a good reputation for paying out, and aren’t too expensive. Also they cover paintball, which is a plus.
One thing to remember though is NO insurance company will cover you if you crash a motorbike and don’t actually have a licence to drive one in your country of residence. Worth remembering, I had a friend who ended up with $30,000 of medical bills after breaking a leg in Bali. I’m just lucky that when I crashed mine I didn’t cause too much damage.
Mobile Phone: iPhone 6s
You can’t go anywhere without a smart phone these days. When I first started travelling I used an unlocked iPhone 4s, which is still going strong and now lives in my music studio for livestreaming radio shows.
Nowadays I use a iPhone 6s that I got from T-Mobile here in San Diego. I’ve had an iPhone since the 3G came out and I can’t see myself using anything else. I like the iPhone because it just plain works, the app store has a tonne of apps I use when travelling or freelancing, it backs up to the iCloud and plays nicely with the 3 macbooks we have in the house. I use T-Mobile as a provider because they have unlimited roaming in Canada and Mexico, and have pretty good roaming plans everywhere else.
Sarah uses an iPhone SE which is basically a 6S in a iPhone 5 body. She prefers this as she travels to Mexico a lot and feels more comfortable using something that looks more like an “old phone” believing it is less of a theft risk.
Laptop: Macbook Pro
I’m still using an old 2010 era Macbook pro with a solid state drive and a tonne of ram. Now that I’m doing less design work I’ll probably move to something like a Macbook Retina or Air and build a hackintosh desktop for the more processor intensive projects back home.
Power: Lumina/Yoobao Powerpacks
I picked up my first powerpack while living in Thailand in a local mall in Pinklao for a few thousand baht. I must have got the real deal as its a few years later and it’s still going strong and holding a full charge after almost daily usage.
More recently I picked up a Lumina power pack for review and have found them to be great as well. I currently use the Lumina A160I pack which has two fast charging smart ports and 15,000 MaH of power. It’s heavy but it has never run out on me while travelling.
Reading: Amazon Kindle
I still have an old Kindle Keyboard 3G with a leather cover that I purchased back in 2011. I love it because of its large amount of storage for ebooks and never ending battery life. That said I think the 3G functionality is redundant and I’ve never actually used it. I use Calibre to manage my ebooks (think of it like an iTunes for ebooks) and still use it pretty much every single day, especially while travelling. If I was going to replace it I’d go for a brand new Kindle Paperwhite which seems to have a much nicer screen. Sarah still has an older standard Kindle.
I never leave home without a multiplug powerstrip. Its far easier to take one international adaptor and plug everything you have into the powerstrip. It’s even easier when you have a universal powerstrip that takes almost any plugs (EU/USA/NZ) if you have devices from around the world. I picked up a Belkin while I was in Asia, but can’t seem to find branded ones online anymore you can however pick up off brand ones on Amazon.
What luggage I use really depends on where I’m going and how long I’m going. For longer trips I still use my Planet Eclipse rolling gearbag, because I love the fact that it’s a roller with backpack straps. That said it’s falling apart after 7 years of solid use. I’ll probably upgrade to a Push gearbag shortly and use that. For general backpacking I just use a bog standard Kathmandu hiking pack I picked up years ago with an internal frame.
Extra Pack: Kathmandu Folding Pack
I’ve always travelled with a pocket folding backpack. It’s always handy to have that extra bit of storage, whether its for removing electronics from your main pack when going on a bus, needing a smaller pack for a day trip or just extra space for shopping. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve used this while travelling over the years.
Organising: Packing Cubes
It really doesn’t matter what brand you use, I’ve got some Kathmandu ones, but they are all pretty much the same. The main thing is to get a set of them, it helps keep your clothing nice and organised, separates your clean from dirty laundry, puts all your accessories in one place and makes it really easy to unpack your bag if you are ever going through a customs checkpoint or passing through TSA in the airport.
Most of the time I’m staying in pretty cheap accomodation, couch surfing, airbnb or a hostel. I always feel much more comfortable knowing my electronics and passport are locked away safely and attached to something heavy. I’ve travelled with this Pacsafe since I left New Zealand and haven’t had anything stolen yet! You don’t need the huge ones that go over your backpack (they are far too heavy and a waste to of space and weight), just one thats big enough to fit your laptop and valuables in it. It looks like they’ve updated the design since I purchased mine as well, changing the lock to a combination one that is TSA compliant as well as adding carry handles.
Clothing: Icebreaker Merino Wool Products.
I did the first 6 months of my trip on just 4 pairs of underwear and two pairs of socks. I absolutely swear by Icebreaker Merino wool products for travelling. More recently I picked up a shirt and more socks when I was back in New Zealand in 2014. Socks and underwear are something you really don’t want to skimp on when travelling long term, and getting a good set will save a lot of space, make washing in the sink really easy and prevent a case of crotch rot.
Sure it’s expensive, but it’s light weight, easy to wash, stays warm when wet, is naturally antibacterial and doesn’t smell, which is a bonus for those long plane/bus rides.
Ultralight Rain Jacket
I purchased one of these back home in New Zealand. It wasn’t cheap, but it hasn’t let me down and rolls up into a very small ball and lives in its mesh bag when not being used. Get a neutral colour if you don’t want to stand out as a tourist.
Plain T Shirts
Grab a pack of cheap plain T Shirts in neutral colours, that way you can wear them with Jeans and still look reasonably tidy wherever you are. Leave the printed T’s at home.
Jeans generally look reasonably tidy with a T shirt, or can be dressed up with a collared shirt. You can wear them to death and they still don’t seem too bad between washes. Jeans are always preferable to shorts when you first go to a country, I wore jeans every day even in the heat of Bangkok, and got treated with a lot more respect than tourists in tank tops and shorts. It’s especially important when in a capital city.
Casual collared button down shirts.
Are casual enough that you can wear them hiking, while the same time will mean you don’t look too scruffy when you go out to dinner somewhere.
I just tend to buy knock off Ray Bans at whatever local market I’m in (I’ve had no trouble picking them up for a few dollars in Thailand, Malaysia, Sicily and Mexico City). I tend to lose/break them fairly often so treat them as a disposable item.
Right now I’m a fan of Response Gear desert boots that I started wearing at work. They are lightweight, comfortable and don’t look terrible with Jeans. I also pack a pair of flipflops when I need something lighter weight or with shorts. I end up with a lot of foot pain if I don’t wear the right shoes, and had a trip in London almost ruined because of the Nike Air Force Ones I insisted on wearing.
A good hat for the sun and a beanie for when it’s cold (or you need a haircut). A boonie cap and a plain black beanie do it for me.
Quick drying travel towel
I’ve got a couple of these, the first one I purchased was a sea to summit one, that while really small, and really light tended to get really wet quite fast and STUNK very quickly after a few uses. I’ve since been given another one (from Kathmandu) that is smaller, but doesn’t seem to have the problem with stinking up after use. I’ll always try and grab a normal towel as quickly as possible, but having a microfiber travel towel is really handy if packing light and staying somewhere where there isn’t one.
Silk sleeping bag liner
These are without a doubt one of the most underrated products out there, I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve used mine, and practically lived in it for at least two years. Either used on its own in hot climates, or to give you a barrier against nasty hostel sheets, a good quality silk sleeping bag liner is a must have travel accessory for anyone going on a trip that doesn’t involve hotel beds. My wife and I both have a Cocoon Mummy each.
Something I’ll only take if I know I need it, this mattress is tiny and blows up in under 20 breaths and is smaller than a 1.5l bottle of soft drink. I’d use this if I was backpacking our couchsurfing, something I’m far less likely to do these days now that I no longer solo travel. If you are travelling on the cheap however, its a great piece of kit. I picked mine up in Munich for a ridiculous amount when I had money to burn, but you can get them far cheaper online.
Combination padlocks are a must, whether its for locking up your bags while travelling on an overnight bus or a padlock attached to wire to stop your bag from going walkabout, or even for padlocking the door shut on an overnight train out of Bosnia to prevent robbery from bandits – you need a few padlocks. I still have a cable lock I purchased from a hardware store in New Zealand in 2012! Nowadays you’ll probably need a TSA approved one, which are available fairly cheap online – my personal preference is for Master Brand.
Another one of those items that I never thought would get much use, but I ended up using all the time. A tactical shemagh is handy for using as a scarf in cold weather, for protecting against the sun, as a beach towel, as a sling when you drunkenly crash a motorbike and hurt your shoulder, as a bag when shopping or even a gas mask when facing political unrest and tear gas while walking to the 7/11. Don’t leave home without it.
Defiantly a must have when backpacking. Chances are the cheap hostel sink you are using won’t have a plug, which will be a problem when hand washing your clothes. Make sure you get one of the cheap universal ones that will fit all sizes of drain holes.
This comes in little sheets and dissolves in water. Perfect for washing laundry in hostel sinks if you don’t have the time to do a full load. I’ve still got the original pack of Sea to Summit Soap I purchased a few years ago, but it came in really, really handy when I needed it and lived in my toiletries when I didn’t.
Perfect for fixing basically anything. Carry a small roll, I guarantee you’ll end up using it for something.
The poor mans dry bag. Trust me – these come in really handy when you get caught in the rain somewhere.
Photocopies of Important Documents
Make sure you have a photocopy of your passport, your drivers licence and any other important documents. Make sure you scan it and keep a copy in the cloud as well, just in case they are lost or stolen and need replacing. I always have a laminate copy of my passport and green card with me, just in case.