25 Top Packing Tips for the Intrepid Backpacker

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Intrepid travellers are lured by the uncertainty and excitement of the road so luggage and packing choices are crucial for a successful trip. Backpacking means you’re wandering with a temporary home – a backpack – strapped to you so it needs to be packed sensibly. Here are my top tips to help you pack your backpack.    

Layers help while on the road as they can be peeled back when the weather requires it.

Layers help while on the road as they can be peeled back when the weather requires it.

Invest in a backpack that matches the length of your trip
Investing in luggage that’s bigger than the length of your journey is just inviting an over-pack situation. Think about a smaller capacity backpack for shorter trips and a larger one for a lengthier journey.

Embrace packing for practicality rather than quantity
Think about the weather conditions or terrain you’ll encounter and cultural considerations then mould your packing around these parameters. Items that can be layered work best.

Be brave and try packing the day before
I’m always planning what items I need to pack in my mind then I pack the day before departure. I am naturally an organised person though I’m more ruthless when I pack this way.

Decorate your backpack with a distinct ribbon or tag
Tying a noticeable, colourful ribbon or tag to your backpack will ensure you can see it on the carousel. Better yet, consider using a backpack cover that’s a different colour to the norm! 

Choose clothing that can dry quickly
There’s nothing worse than wet clothes festering in your bag. Choose robust items that dry quickly and launder easily.

…and coordinate your clothing choices with a colour scheme in mind
This will ensure you can mix and match your clothes to create new outfits for each day.

Always pack a durable scarf
Choose packing a light-weight, absorbent scarf that can be wrapped around you to keep you warm or dry, shield you from hot weather or cover you in a cultural situation. Amazingly versatile and my favourite travel item!   

Pack one item of clothing to wear for a special occasion
I stash an uncrushable black dress that can be used for an unexpected special occasion. You never know when you may need to look nice! Choose an item that can fold down small. 

Consider compartment packing
Clothing can get lost in a backpack so consider packing like items together in smaller luggage packs. Keep an empty pack in reserve for keeping dirty laundry separate.

Clothes rolling versus folding
When you travel, are you a clothes folder or roller? I sometimes prefer to roll bigger items and fold the smaller pieces but it’s personal choice, really, and what you want to be as crease-free as possible.

Leave the hair-straightener at home
I’m guilty of packing that one item I never use. Case in point? My hair-straightener. I now leave it at home to save on space.

Ensure your backpack is lockable
Secure your backpack during transit with compartments that are lockable. Always check with your airline if there are any restrictions, like type of locks to be used.

Pack those sensible items that are suited to the climate you're travelling through.

Pack those sensible items that are suited to the climate you're travelling through.

Pack an emergency change of clothes in your carry-on
In all my years of travelling, I’ve been lucky to not lose my luggage. But as a precaution I always pack a change of clothes, just in case this happens.

A bed liner is your skin’s barrier
I was attacked by a swarm of bedbugs in southern India a few years ago. All because I failed to line my bed with my bed liner! I recommend investing in a bed liner and use it every time you sleep.

Use your carry-on as your day pack
Invest in a small and light carry-on that can double up as a day pack for your daily essentials. Choose a bag that’s lockable too.  

Hoard loose change for laundering
When you start accumulating coins while on the road, hoard the ones you’ll need for laundering. Dedicate a small compartment in your backpack to house them; your go-to stash when all you have is a sea of notes.   

Pack a mix of money for the journey ahead
Anything can happen on the road so it’s best to be financially prepared. Pack a credit card, bank card for withdrawing cash and a mix of local and easily accepted currency for whichever situation arises. Think about hiding a small, emergency portion of notes in your bag.

…and don’t forget your documents
I’ve always believed that the most essential travel items are your travel documents, money and your passport. If you forget anything, you should be able to buy it later.

Keep your valuables safe on you
I keep my valuable documents on me rather than my main backpack for security.   

Minimise souvenir overload and maximise on travel memories
It’s tempting to buy up big on souvenirs. Just remember that your backpack can only hold so much and your airline may penalise you if your luggage is overweight.

Check for weight restrictions and pack less
Remember to check with your airline for weight and size restrictions. Then aim to pack a few kilograms under to allow for any unexpected purchases.

Keep a compactible shopping sack in your luggage
You can then pack this with any items you may need to declare to customs on your return. Nothing is more time-consuming than unpacking your bag to find those “declare” items. 

A scarf is the most versatile item I ever pack, as it doubles up as a shawl.

A scarf is the most versatile item I ever pack, as it doubles up as a shawl.

Invest in a water-proof pouch
These come in really handy when you embark on an impromptu water-based daytrip. They keep your valuables dry and undamaged.

Pack a light pair of slides or sandals
Slides, thongs, sandals…There are so many names, and they all lead to one destination – dry feet at the beach or shower cubicle or a cooler option on a hot day of easy walking.

Don’t forget to pack an open mind and an open heart
Backpacking travellers constantly encounter new experiences and customs while on the road. Packing an open mind and open heart will help you enjoy your new experiences while helping to minimise culture shock.    

Do you have an amazing, fool-proof packing tip you’d like to share? Or, have you ever regretted not packing something? I’d love to hear your advice or travel packing stories in the comments below.