I travel light but these backpacking and travel essentials come with me wherever I go.
It doesn’t matter if I’m backpacking for six months or going away for a weekend; these are my must haves.
I have compiled this backpacking packing list to help you and save you the hassle of shopping around. I have included useful links to relevant sites so that the hard work has been done for you.
(Scarlet Jones Travels contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through these links, I will earn a commission at no extra cost to you. These commissions are akin to you buying me a cup of coffee and keeping me on the road so that I can continue to bring you articles and information. Thanks for reading!)
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Gap year Essentials – the backpack
Top of the list has to be your backpack, or rucksack. When I first started travelling I set off with a cheap, basic rucksack – not thinking that it would be a very important component of my backpacking kit.
You might be on a budget but don’t make the same mistake as I did.
After just a few weeks on the road I HATED my first backpack with a passion. Yes, it was tough but it was a total pain to find anything in a hurry and it was so uncomfortable to carry for any distance at all.
Twelve months in to my travels I was desperate for a new backpack and luckily a meeting with the director of Nomad Travel at the Travel Adventure Show in London meant that I had the opportunity to trial a new backpack for free.
Paul listened to my requirements and recommended the Osprey Farpoint 55 to me which I have been happily travelling with ever since.
There is nothing about this backpack that I don’t like. I LOVE it and if it ever falls apart or breaks I will certainly be buying another one.
It has a zip which opens nearly all the way around, it is extremely comfortable to carry and it has a zip on/clip on day pack which has been all around the world with me.
And if backpacking is not your scene, the straps zip away and the Osprey Farpoint 55 converts into a neat piece of luggage.
Security while travelling.
Most hostels provide lockers for travellers but they are not always especially secure or large enough. I don’t mind not locking my backpack away but I do need to know that my passport, money, credit cards and laptop are safe.
I don’t use it often but I would never travel without my PacSafe. It’s not cheap bit of kit but for the peace of mind that it offers, it’s been priceless.
I can leave my valuables safely inside it whilst it’s securely attached to my bunk or to any other immobile object whilst I go out and enjoy myself. I also use it for peace of mind in hotel rooms, after all, I have never understood those little metal safes that you get – that can simply be picked up and taken from the room!
You can replace stolen clothing and even your backpack relatively easily and whilst you can claim for your valuables on your travel insurance, the stress of a stolen passport or a lost credit card can totally ruin your trip.
My PacSafe is like a flat duffle bag, made of super strong material and secured with a tough cable and padlock. It fits perfectly in the bottom of my Osprey Farpoint Backpack whilst I am moving around and hardly adds any weight to my luggage allowance.
Taking photographs on your journey.
Lately I have been using my phone to take photographs but I do travel with a Panasonic Lumix camera. It has a wickedly powerful zoom lens but it’s small and compact enough to be slipped quickly into a pocket. In many of the places that I travel I don’t want to be waving around expensive photographic equipment, and whilst I don’t want to lose my camera I would be more devastated if I lost my phone.
So in slightly sketchier regions or when I want to take a close up, I leave my phone behind in my hostel (safely tucked away in my locker or my PacSafe) and I use this neat little camera.
I always struggle with the decision about whether to take my hiking boots away with me. On some trips I have hardly used them, on others I have certainly got my money’s worth. It’s no great hardship to wear them on travel days or hang them from my backpack, and I would rather have them with me than leave them home. My old boots from Karrimor fit me like a glove and are so comfortable even on long, hot hikes. After seven years of hard work which have included trekking through the Cuban jungles, hiking up volcanos in South America and exploring the mountains in Laos they are starting to disintegrate, but I will almost certainly get another similar pair.
Essentials for travel – a decent travel towel
Another travel product that I wouldn’t be without is my travel towel.
These microfibre travel towels are made of a special fabric which enables them to dry quickly and without a musty smell. This means that you can shower and pack it away on a travel day without worrying that everything else in your backpack will get wet. I have experimented with different sizes – for me, a large bath towel is the perfect size for travelling. Not too big and not too small. I get tangled up in a bath sheet and the smaller ones just don’t give you any drying satisfaction
Backpacking and travel essentials – do you need a laptop or a tablet?
Not everybody will want to work online while travelling but most people now want to take a tablet or a laptop. Last year I recently upgraded from my clunky net-book to a Surface Pro 4 and I LOVE it.
Like my backpack, I don’t know why I waited so long to upgrade, because, like the backpack, this piece of kit has changed my life. It took just a week or so to get to grips with the Windows operating system but the versatility of this laptop is fantastic. I often have to write for several hours when I am working on an article but the keyboard is large enough and comfortable enough not to trigger my previous hand problems. The keyboard also easily pulls apart so that the laptop converts quickly to a touch-screen tablet.
By all means take your tablet when you travel, but if you are in the market for a new computer, travelling or not, certainly consider the Windows Surface Pro 4.
Are you the only person in the world without a Kindle?
Many hostels and hotels have book exchange schemes but because I never want to be without any suitable reading, travelling with a Kindle is simply a no-brainer.
Like many people I do prefer the experience of reading a real book, but there is nothing worse than finishing your current one and then finding that there is nothing suitable or in your language on the shelf in the hostel.
There was a time when my four year old Kindle died that I thought that I could manage reading my e-books using just my phone and tablet. However, I was wrong because the reading experience is nowhere as near as comfortable on either the eyes or the hands and is almost impossible in strong sunlight, so I treated myself to a new one.
Because I do travel with a laptop and a smart phone the basic model Kindle is more than sufficient for me. Books are my weakness and with Amazon One-click set up, it is really easy to add to my library.
Must have travel item – a good quality guide book.
I have tried to download and use travel guides on my Kindle or phone but I just can’t get to grips with them. I usually buy and take one good quality print version of a guide book for my first destination country. My personal preference are the Lonely Planet Guidebooks which I swap at hostels when I change countries or I donate to other travellers.
When I first travelled in South America I even went so far as to rip out sections that I didn’t need just to reduce the weight! At least now my Osprey Farpoint 55 backpack is so comfortable a few extra sheets of paper make no difference, and because I take my Kindle, I don’t feel that it is an extravagance to pack a book.
Protect your valuables while you travel.
I used to travel with a money belt but I got fed up of scrabbling around in my trousers whenever I had to get my passport or credit card out. I thought that it just brought more attention to the fact that I had valuables on me – although what traveller doesn’t have their passport or phone on them.
Nowadays I prefer to wear a small unobtrusive waist bag (I refuse to use the US term fanny pack) and rather than hide the bag away under my clothes, I turn it into a fashion accessory.
Not solely for travel – everybody should carry a personal attack alarm
A personal attack alarm which sits in the palm of your hand could get you out of a sticky situation fast. Hook the ring over your middle finger and lightly hold the alarm while you walk to your hostel in a strange town or when catch the bus back home after work. The piercing shriek is activated by pulling the pin, giving you time to run and/or attract attention.
The batteries seem to last for ages on these models and they don’t cost very much to buy. Don’t put off buying one of these – and while you’re at it, it’s a good idea to get a few and give them away as presents. Somebody might thank you for it.
And for those smaller, yet just as important backpacking and travel essentials, I also carry the following;
And finally, do NOT forget your travel insurance
And finally, whilst not exactly glamorous or fun to shop for, Travel Insurance is a MUST and possibly the most important backpacking and travel essential.
If you can’t afford travel insurance then you possibly shouldn’t be travelling.
I use Alpha Travel Insurance which you can purchase for short trips or round the world adventures. I haven’t yet had to claim (touch wood), so I can’t actually comment on this aspect of it, however the website is very user friendly as are the staff on the telephones. They are competitively priced as well and cover can be extended should your trip be extended.
Disclaimer: This article contains affiliate links to Amazon, Alpha Travel Insurance and Lonely Planet. I use and recommend all of these highly.
Scarlet Jones Travels is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com