Packing Tips from a Longterm Backpacker

Backapacking Tips

Are you considering a vacation, a month away, or even long term travel? Living out of a backpack may seem daunting at first, but once you learn how to pack up everything you need, it’s actually pretty easy. Furthermore, living with less is so much more simple than having a closet full of things. It simplifies decision making and makes cleaning up a breeze!

Backpacking Tips
My backpack and I when I first started, my 3rd day in China.

There are two things of equal importance in my book when it comes to packing for backpacking style travel, both short and long term. One is packing what you need and needing what you pack and two: your bag itself.
1. When choosing what will become your shell, your home on your back, comfort is key and a good design is helpful. Choose a backpack that suits your body. If you are small, short stature, or petite, a small bag is best. Don’t get something that towers over you and weighs you down. And even if you can carry a larger bag, ask yourself if you will want to, or even need to. I’m 5’3” (160 cm) and carry a small/medium 44 liter Kelly Redwing pack and it’s perfect. It has a sturdy waist strap, a chest strap, and best of all, perfect compartments. Choose a backpack that can zip open in the front, not a stuff in from the top style bag. That way, you can unzip it and take out what you need without making a mess.
2. Organization is essential. Use packing cubes and small bags to organize specific items. Of all the things in my bag, I actually have more bags than anything else! You can order packing cubes on Amazon or pick them up at some markets if you’re in Asia. They typically come in a variety of sizes per set and mine came with a laundry bag as well. I chose the largest cube to hold all of my pants/shorts/leggings, the medium for shirts and tops, and the small one for undergarments like underwear, my bathing suit, bras, and sports bras. I have a smaller bag for socks that I stick inside of it. All of my clothes fit into three small cubes and they go in the main compartment of my pack.

Backpacking Tips
What I’m currently carrying.

3. Keep essential items close by and non-essential, but necessary items in a lesser accessible area. I keep all of my toiletries in a toiletry bag in the right side pocket and a make up bag in the left. It’s always been like that and I never have to fumble around looking for some basic items like my toothbrush and toothpaste. In an even smaller bag that I picked up in Mongolia, I have some hair elastics and barrettes. They stay at the bottom of that outer pocket. The items that I use less frequently, like medicines, a poncho, and my headlamp, are at the bottom of my bag or in the top pocket.
4. Don’t overpack. Before you head out on your adventure, consider the activities in which you will participate. Ensure you have what you need for those main things, like hiking boots if you will be hiking, but if there’s something you won’t need often, don’t take it. There may be certain things that are a must have for you, but weigh the pros and cons and determine if lugging it around will be worth it. I wish I had my own mask and snorkel because I have some quality gear in my small storage unit back home, but carrying it around is cumbersome and space consuming. Although I enjoy snorkeling, it’s not a main focus of my trip so I make do with the cheap equipment available on the different boat and island hopping tours I’ve done.
As you get further into your travels, you will develop a system that’s quick, easy, and works for you. I always allocate a ton of time to pack up before I go somewhere, but the reality is, it usually only takes me a few minutes. I don’t know why I think it will take a long time, I do it regularly and with all the same stuff!
I just wanna delve a bit deeper into my own organizational skills! I do like to be organized, but because I don’t buy souvenirs, (space is an issue, of course), much of what I do buy is functional, if I do buy anything at all. Here’s a breakdown of my bags:
1. New “laundry bag.” I left my original one back in the States for some reason, so I bought a cloth bag in Laos that I can use as a grocery bag when I go home. Sometimes it’s empty, sometimes it’s full!
2. Embroidered toiletry bag from Thailand. I love these bags, they fit perfectly in the side pocket of my pack, and I love the colors and designs that you can find them in. I have bought many for others as gifts as well!
3. Hair elastic drawstring bag. My only souvenir from Mongolia, it doesn’t take up any space and holds all my hair ties, which would have otherwise been lost by this point.
4.Blue mesh zip bag. I picked this up in Vietnam to hold some “emergency” items, medicine, band aids, and that sort of thing. I never use them, but have them if I need them.
5. Textile half oval shaped zip bag: my one souvenir from Bhutan. I bought it to house my electronic accessories: my power bank cord, iPad plug, and my Vivoactive charger.
6.Green embroidered bag: another souvenir from Laos. I just couldn’t pass it up. I loved the colors and embroidery. I even bought one for my Bangladeshi host, Humaira. I put a bunch of misc. items in it like my head lamp, a small flashlight, and the chest strap to my heart rate monitor that I never use. (It won’t connect. Sad face).
7. Blue elephant coin purse. My cousin bought a buttload (official term) of these in Chinatown in Thailand for less than $2.00. I took one to replace the Lululemon one I used. I keep small bills in it and only use that for cash transactions. That way, I’m never pulling my wallet out in public and if something ever happens (God forbid), nobody would gain much from stealing it.
8. Water bottle holder. Yet another souvenir from Laos. That thing is so handy. You gotta keep hydrated in humid Southeast Asia and holding a bottle all day is annoying. I wish I could have bought 100 to give away to friends and family!
9. Plastic make up bag. Just a run of the mill, durable toiletry bag. It came with a suitcase I bought back in the states a long time ago.
10. Multicolor zip bag: my mom gave me this before I left, before I perfected my packing system. It currently holds my Diva burn sample packs. I just like it so I still have it.
11.Eddie Bauer Stowaway Bag. This 21 liter bag is actually pretty awesome. I bought it this summer at an outlet and it’s handy and compact. I use it for day trips, beach trips, and sometimes as a carry on.
12. Eddie Bauer three zip over the shoulder bag. Another handy bag. I don’t like carrying much with me so I use it while I’m out. It fits my phone, wallet, sunglasses, and a few other small items.
13. Eddie Bauer tablet over the shoulder bag. Perfectly fits my iPad.

Backapacking Tips
Your pack can always doble as a weight. Doing squats at the train station in Ella, Sri Lanka.

Oh my goodness! I have a ton of bags. I’m a bag lady! I even have 3 more small ones I gained while in the Philippines. One from a hotel and two from a survey I completed while at the airport in Manila. Crazy thing is, I want them and even think I can use them. 😂🙈 But guess what? All of these things simplify my packing and make the process like a game of Tetris. I’m a good player, it all fits!
What about you? Are you a bag lady? Have you perfected your art of packing? What’s your favorite souvenir to collect while abroad? As for me, I think I need a few more bags! Next up, I need to do a post on what to pack for long term travel.

Author: Tiffany Batsakis

Registered Dietitian Fitness Fanatic World Traveler Food Lover Weimaraner Owner

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