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Every vagabond has their own opinion of what to pack in their backpack. For me, my backpacking packing list centers around 2 guiding principles: less is more, and quality over quantity! Aside from the bare essentials, the following items have been by far the most useful to me on my travels.
For reference, I have the Kelty Redwing 50L Medium backpack (actually 49L, the Large is 52L) and I absolutely love it. All of these items fit comfortably along with 1 week’s worth of clothes. The bag top and side loads as well, making it very simple to fit everything inside.
Backpacking Packing List for the Avid Vagabond
Note: This article contains a few links to Amazon where you can get a hold of these items yourself! Although I will receive some small compensation myself, it goes straight back into my travels as well as improving my website, so you can be rest assured it is going to a good place! 🙂
Earplugs (good earplugs, that is)
For the overnight flight, bus ride, train journey, or hostel full of snorers that were too cheap to book their own room, a pack of decent earplugs are an absolute godsend. I ordered these ones off of Amazon for about $9; 50 pairs (100 total) of Mack’s Ultra Soft Foam Earplugs. These babies are strong, fill up the entire inside of your ears and block out just about any and all sound nearby. They’re also individually lightweight, and don’t take up a ton of room in your backpack, trimming down space in your backpacking packing list. Now, $9 might sound a bit steep, but let me break it down for you: each pair can be used about 3-5 nights. I currently am using them exactly 4 nights each. Even at 3 nights each pair, that’s 5 months worth of earplugs; 5 months of serene, nighttime tranquility! There are cheaper brands out there, but believe me when I say that it is not wise to skimp out in this department. I’ve bought cheapies before that failed to fill up the entirety of my ears or that instantly fell apart upon application, so it is wise to invest in some good ones!
Long haul flight coming soon? Check out fellow travel blogger Everything Zany and her excellent tips on how to avoid jet lag.
Comfortable Earbuds (that can be worn while sleeping!)
If you’re not a fan of earplugs, and would rather drift off to the sounds of your favorite tunes, then comfortable earbuds (NOT from Apple!) are definitely for you. The ones above are Labvon Bluetooth Headphones, which means the only cord is between the 2 earbuds, eliminating the possibility of cord twist during slumber. They are also fully noise-cancelling and fill up the entirety of your ears! With nearly all 77 ratings at 5-stars on Amazon (at the time of writing), these are among the best quality earbuds out there.
If you would rather not go the Bluetooth route, but still want super comfy, noise-cancelling earbuds, the Q-Yee In-Ear Earbuds are also worth a look.
Partnered with the items above, the combination of the two can make for a nice nap just about anywhere. The pillow I have here is a Swiss Army one I picked up from Wal-Mart though I wish I would have bought a memory foam one. I’ve used mine on planes, buses, and longer-than-necessary layovers at the airport. When compiling your own backpacking packing list, this in particular should be an absolute must-have! Find one you can attach to your backpack and snooze away when you need it.
(a miniature, light-weight gift of squeegy-goodness from above)
I don’t remember where or how I came up with the idea to pick one of these up before my travels many years ago, but I am sure glad I did. This is a small, ultra-absorbent towel that rolls up and fits in a cylindrical, plastic case. I know what you’re thinking – “How am I supposed to actually get dry with that?” I was skeptical at first as well, but after testing it out at home instead of using a normal towel, I found that it works great. It does take a good bit of drying, and you need to squeeze it out twice by the time you’re finished. It is, however, way more convenient than a normal towel because 1. You don’t have to find a place to hang and dry it (very high on the list of hostel problems) and 2. It takes up way less space in your bag. For beach locations, obviously you will more than likely want a normal towel, but for simplicity’s sake, just rent one out when you need it or buy a cheap one and ditch it when you’re through. For all other drying purposes, track down one of these ingenious inventions and you (and your backpack) certainly won’t regret it!
Power banks are definitely the most practical electronic gadgets out there for travelers. For long lapses between access to electrical outlets, these things are a lifesaver and a truly invaluable piece of vagabond equipment! For small, compact power banks that pack a serious punch, I recommend the Poweradd Slim 2 as it has 5000 mAh (Milli Amp Hour) compared to others with only 3000 mAh for the same price. For more power, the Jackery Bar has 6000 mAh and is only about a few dollars more. Both of these power banks are optimized for quick charging and are currently the highest rated on all of Amazon. For a long haul flight, bus ride, or train journey, these things are a lifesaver and a truly invaluable piece of travel electronics.
Power Adapter (one that will work anywhere)
Coupled with a power bank, a universal power adapter completes the dynamic duo of must-have travel electronics. When I first started traveling years ago, the fact that every country uses a different plug was something I overlooked altogether, making for a few very difficult situations early on! The power adapter I recommend shown above is from LKY Digital, and is currently the highest rated adapter on Amazon at the cheapest price. This adapter is good for use in the USA, Canada, UK, all of the EU, Australia, Hong Kong, and over 140 other countries worldwide. The bonus with this particular power adapter is its 2 USB ports on the side, making it possible to charge your phone, tablet, or power bank simultaneously. This cuts down on two more outlets that you would need to use otherwise, which is super convenient if you are in a hostel with limited outlets! If you are traveling somewhere with outlets different than your home country, then it’s absolutely essential to add this to your backpacking packing list.
*Rolls eyes* Obviously every backpacker knows they need a lock.
Right! However, how many times have you gone to store your backpack, put your lock on a hostel locker, only to find that it doesn’t fit? Many backpackers only carry 1 lock and run into this problem. Have 2 locks of very different sizes and you should always have at least 1 that will fit correctly. Also, many hostels have smaller bed-side compartments for your wallet/passport/small electronics; so if you have 2 locks, you’ll be covered for both. I also highly recommend using combo locks only, as keys are way too easy to lose. They are also easy for someone else to pick up by mistake; or worse, on purpose. Use a combo lock and save yourself the hassle later.
I have been using a Logitech wireless mouse for literally years and I can’t recommend them enough. They’re incredibly lightweight, super easy to use, and unbelievably durable given their cheap price tag. Throughout several round-the-world trips, this thing has been thrown around in my bag countless times yet keeps on working. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve dropped mine (from a considerable height!) only to find it working flawlessly after. If you travel with a laptop and need a mouse that won’t let you down, definitely add this to your backpacking packing list!
As you travel, trading with fellow backpackers is a great way to discover new music and movies. If you carry a laptop, filling up its hard drive will prove to be an all-too-easy task! Using an external hard drive with at least 500 gigabytes of storage is the perfect remedy. It’s also extremely useful when it comes to storing photos, which certainly add up over the course of a trip. The one I have is (ironically) called My Passport, by WD. It’s a small, light-weight 1 terabyte hard drive (1,000 gigabytes). Although I was lucky to receive it as a Christmas gift, this particular one went for about $100 a few years back. Now, they are down to about $55! Although backing up all your stuff on an external hard drive is a smart move, I recommend also getting yourself a Google Drive/Dropbox/etc account and backing up everything there too. I’ve met too many folks that lost all their photos/music/movies because they left everything on their iPhone, which was subsequently lost, stolen, or decided to go for a swim! Get yourself a reliable external hard drive with a ton of space and keep your memories, tunes, and movies safe.
A Laminated Copy of Your Passport
Pretty much any website you read online about backpacking will tell you to carry several copies of your passport. They come most in handy when applying for longer-term visas to foreign countries. However, if you have access to a laminating machine, I certainly suggest running through a couple copies of your passport prior to your departure, and trimming some down to wallet/purse size. Instead of carrying around your passport regularly (which you should never do anyway!), carry around a copy. I’ve been able to use my copy when checking into hotels, renting motorbikes, and at the various schools I’ve worked at in the past to have for informational purposes. Also, whenever I go out for a drink or to clubs, it’s slightly more reassuring to know you’ve got some form of disposal I.D. should something go wrong later in the night. Minimizing having your passport on you all the time is of utmost importance when abroad. If you can get to a laminating machine, make use of it and run off some copies. This should definitely be highly prioritized on your backpacking packing list!
And last, but certainly not least…
If there’s one thing that is easiest to forget when you need it most, it’s a pen. It’s ironic how something so simple can be so very powerful in very specific circumstances! As a backpacker, bouncing from country to country every month, or even more likely, every week, filling out visa forms becomes a very common occurrence. From experience, I can 100% guarantee you that flight attendants nor immigration officials will ever be delighted to grant you the privilege of a pen. Why have two? One for me, and one for you. Now look at that – you’ve made a friend.
Even the most prepared traveler runs into ridiculous and often hilarious situations! Have some laughs at the funny side of backpacking with my travel humor articles.
Thailand is by far my most favorite country out of everywhere I’ve traveled, for so many reasons! Check out some awesome things to do and see in the Land of Smiles 🙂
Craig is a 29 year-old, sun-loving, rum-drinking Floridian and Phuketan, and the face behind Vagabond Disposition. He has called the Land of Smiles his home for about 5 years on and off, coming and going between vagabonding journeys throughout East and Southeast Asia, as well as Western Mexico and Europe. He enjoys a competitive game of disc golf when he can find a course, as well as a laid-back match of Bocce with spirits in hand. Craig wouldn’t go anywhere without his beloved ukulele and will jump on a drum set any chance he gets. His odd sense of humor is fortunately often appreciated by his peers, as well as his students.