Packing for an upcoming trip always gets me excited. It makes everything seem more real and then there’s also the excuse of trying on your whole wardrobe for a holiday fashion show. If you’re anything like me, some things you haven’t worn in years suddenly seem appealing for your trip, and a couple of hours later you’ll find yourself with your entire floor covered in several different ’yes, no and maybe’ piles.
It does depend on the trip – if you’re jetting off on a week’s holiday in the sun and have a whole suitcase to fill, then you won’t have to worry too much about space. If you’re backpacking for a few weeks or months it can get difficult – and if you’re packing your life up for a whole year or two abroad, the task can seem daunting and somewhat impossible.
So after experiencing many short haul and long haul trips, here are my ultimate packing tips and travel essentials:
#1. Invest in a decent suitcase/backpack
It’s going to be dragged through dirty streets, thrown onto planes and heaved onto your shoulders through sun and rain – it’s definitely worth investing in a durable and functional case or if it’s a backpack, one with a waterproof cover and lots of pockets to keep your stuff safe and dry! If I’m travelling with a case, I also always attach a brightly coloured strap which makes it easy to identify among the hundreds of black bags on the carousel.
Also, it’s important to know your luggage restrictions. Most airlines these days have very strict weight limits and even size restrictions too – and you don’t want to be caught out at the check-in desk, so make sure you weigh it at home before you travel.
#2. Flatpack travel ‘cubes’ or compartments
When I discovered these flatpack zip-up plastic compartments for your clothes, my life was changed for the better! No more stuffing your neat, clean piles of clothes to the bottom of your backpack and hoping for the best, only to open it the next day to a screwed up mess. Order some online from eBay or Amazon – preferably assorted colours, as you can then have a colour for each type of clothes (underwear, tops, shorts…) and be able to pull one out of your bag at ease without rummaging around looking for the right one. Trust me – your packing experience will never be the same again!
#3. Travel/day bag
Before you pack up half your life into your backpack/case, I always make sure I have all my essentials in my day travel bag – it will be your companion on long plane journeys, bus rides, boat trips and for long days sightseeing in the city.
#4. The wash bag
We’ve all been there – you arrive at your destination, excited to get out and explore – but first you decide you should unpack a little, only to open your bag to find your shampoo/shower gel/any other liquid has exploded over a nice selection of your carefully chosen holiday clothes! It sounds simple – but putting your toiletries in individual plastic food bags saves all the hassle – and I guarantee, the one time you’re too lazy to do it, it will happen.
Another thing I always do with my toiletries when travelling (and my friends laugh at me for it) is putting all of my face washes, toners, lotions and moisturisers into small, clear plastic travel bottles (sold everywhere these days), as the amount of space you save is so worth it!
#5. Plan a comfy travelling outfit
This is so important! Even if it’s only a few hours on the plane, there’s nothing worse than being uncomfortable when travelling! I have this one go-to pair of black cotton hareem pants which actually look great and are THE comfiest things I’ve ever worn. I also never travel without a scarf. They are so versatile and always come in handy, for example to cover your shoulders if you’re going to be visiting temples or just as an extra layer on planes (which are always freezing) or out and about in your destination.
#6. Your (Lonely Planet) Guidebook (link)
I have to admit – before I came away on this trip, I never really went for the guidebook option. But I can honestly say I don’t think I will ever travel without one now! They can be bulky – but for all its handy tips, local maps, routes, bus timetables and restaurant and bar reviews, it is so worth leaving a bit of extra room in the side of your bag. Or if you’re taking a tablet with you, an alternative option is to download travel guides to that instead, for easy access when out and about!
#7. Mini hand sanitizer and tissues
Whether you’re walking round a dirty city in Europe, stopping off at a roadside toilet, stranded in the middle of the Aussie outback (me recently), or just fancy a quick hand wash before lunch, the amount of times I have been eternally grateful to be able to whip these out of my handbag is too many to count!
#8. A decent camera
When travelling to beautiful places, you want to capture as much as you can – and one of my favourite things after a trip is to relive it through my photos. I use a Nikon D5100, which I would definitely recommend as an amateur photographer! It’s really user-friendly and great for a beginner, like me. I just take one lens, with its UV lens protector, and carry it in a small neoprene case which is probably the least bulky one you can get but which also protects it well – which is of course great for travelling!
#9. An inflatable neck pillow
However geeky these sound, they are a great buy and can be a massive life saver on long journeys…Mine came in particularly handy on my Europe interrail trip which involved 12 hour or more overnight train journeys stuck in a tiny carriage on a rigid upright seat – but that’s a different story! More to the point, once morning comes, or once your plane lands, just deflate and stuff into the bottom of your bag until the next time!
#10. A combination padlock
Always take one of these with you for peace of mind both when checking in your luggage and when leaving your belongings in the hostel for the day. A lot of hostels will have secure lockers to keep your stuff in for the day, but for the ones that don’t – and for extra security – I would recommend one of these. Opt for a combination rather than a key lock, as it’s so easy to lose a tiny key, even if you think you’re keeping it safe…
#11. A Kindle
Essential travel items vary person to person – but a book is always on anyone’s packing list! There is nothing better than settling down on the plane to a good book, or spending a lazy afternoon reading on the beach. But instead of hauling heavy books around and taking up vital room in your case, here is where the Kindle comes in! Lightweight, compact and with battery power which literally lasts for weeks (I have the original Kindle, not the newer Kindle Fires etc), it is the traveller’s dream. And the best thing about it is you can have literally thousands of books at your fingertips, so there’s never the risk that you don’t like the particular book you’ve chosen to take with you. But I always make sure I download all my books at home before I set off, as you don’t know where you’ll have wifi once you’re abroad.
#12. A travel towel from an Outdoors Specialist
I don’t actually own one of these, and it’s one of the things I regret not bringing the most on this trip. However you fold them, regular towels take up so much room in your case and are a pain to dry – and there’s nothing worse than having a damp towel. I will make sure I invest in a proper travelling-designed towel for my next big trip!
So when the time comes for you to jet off on your next trip, try and stick to these packing tips and see how they work for you! Good luck and happy travels!