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Packing tips for a backpacking trip

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So you’re taking the leap. The big trip is booked. There’s nothing standing between you and the unforgettable adventure that’s about to unfold…except, you still have to pack.

Wondering where to start? Avoid backache, ripped zips and other packing nightmares with our essential backpacking packing list.

The right backpack

Before you decide what to take, you need to determine what to take it in. Choosing a backpack can be confusing, and the web is rife with advice from people who insist you can travel for six months with nothing but a postage-stamp-sized carry-on, while others woefully recall their experience of lugging a 90-litre bag around the world. Newbie travellers are often tempted to take everything but the kitchen sink, but limiting your backpack space is the best way to avoid this common pitfall.

Also Read: Tips for winter travel in India

Also Read: Trekking in India’s mountains: Best and most adventurous treks


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The sweet spot lies somewhere in the middle: a backpack between 40-70L is fine for a long-term trip – the trick is not to stuff it full. Remember to also take a good-quality day bag that can be kept inside your backpack or used as hand luggage.

Packing cubes and compression sacks

Stuffing socks in shoes will only get you so far. Believe it – compression sacks are your new best friends. Besides saving considerable space, they can protect clothing from grime and spillages, as well as separate dirty laundry from the clean stuff. Use packing cubes to store individual outfits if you’re going somewhere where it will be difficult to sift through the contents of your backpack – this can be particularly useful when camping or staying in cramped conditions such as a sailboat or camper van. Keep toiletries in a good quality transparent waterproof bag to contain shampoo explosions and allow for easy access.

Versatile clothing

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We know this sounds like jargon, but truly the best way to look half decent on the road is to pack a ‘capsule wardrobe’. Sticking to a neutral colour scheme and packing plenty of layers means you can mix and match outfits easily, conjuring seemingly countless looks for a variety of climates out of a few tops and some cleverly chosen accessories. A large statement scarf or sarong is a great multipurpose item: it keeps you cosy, doubles as a cushion for long bus journeys and can cover your shoulders when visiting sacred temples. When it comes to footwear, choose comfort and quality over style.

Health essentials and creature comforts

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You know you need a first aid kit. But be strategic: unless you’re going somewhere so remote that you’ll have no access to key medicines or supplies, you probably don’t need 12 packs of painkillers and a litre of liquid skin glue. Some plasters and blister patches, (a reasonable amount of) painkillers, antiseptic cream, antihistamine, travel sickness tablets and prescription medications/contraceptives should suffice, along with your soon-to-be-treasured anti-diarrhoea pills and laxatives. For the sake of your mental health, pack earplugs, an eye mask, and if you know you struggle to nod off, a calming lavender essential oil roll-on.

Tech and entertainment

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Digital nomad or not, chances are you’ll be taking some tech. Even if you’re flying by the seat of your smartphone, you’ll need a charger, global adaptor and a portable battery (a life-saver if you’re dependent on mapping apps). Throw in a laptop, camera, GoPro, drone and your inventory suddenly got a whole lot more valuable and heavier. Keep tech in hand luggage wherever possible and, to echo the station announcements you’ll soon be hearing everywhere, never leave your bag unattended.

Do some digital packing too: download crucial apps before you leave home to avoid flaky wifi or expensive roaming charges.

Eco-friendly kit

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It’s almost 2020! The ‘take only pictures, leave only footprints’ backpacker mantra is no longer enough. Pack a reusable water bottle (with in-built filter if necessary), packaging-free or refillable toiletries, lightweight bamboo straws and cutlery and environmentally-friendly sunscreen. As refreshing as they are, even biodegradable wet wipes can clog sewage systems, particularly in less developed countries; take a flannel or muslin cloth for thorough face washing.

Padlocks and backup documents

A mini padlock on your backpack zippers will help deter anyone from pinching whatever you last stuffed into the top of your bag, while larger ones are handy for hostel lockers (they usually sell them at an inflated price if you’re stuck). It’s worth taking hard photocopies of your passport, driving license and insurance documents, or at least a USB stick with the digital versions, in case any get lost or stolen.

What not to pack

Sleeping bag: most hostels ban them anyway due to their bedbug spreading properties, providing clean sheets instead. If you’re fussy about bedding, bring a silk sleeping bag liner – but this is totally optional
Hairdryer and high heels: embrace the laid back look – you can always pop to a salon or buy a cheap pair of snazzy shoes if you have an impromptu glamorous night out
Neck pillow: unless it’s inflatable (others add too much bulk). And even then, is it really worth it?
Anything of true sentimental value: because insurance can’t replace the irreplaceable

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