When it starts to get serious, the date of take off gets closer and closer, it is time to start packing. For me, packing is always the most annoying part about travelling but it needs to be done.
It can be quite helpful reading packing lists, especially when travelling to regions you have never been to before. There are hundreds of them online that tell you about every detail to bring when travelling, from clothes to medication to technology. They are all well evidenced and considered and come with links to make sure you get what you think you need.
If you travel to warm climates like I do coming from the wintery parts of the world you might have your winter jacket, and a scarf and more that you won’t need at all. Sure, if you just travel for a short time, planning to stay at only one place, that should be fine because you can just leave it in the room and forget about it for the rest of your stay. But if you are planning to travel around, being on the road every few days, carrying all that stuff will be annoying.
When a friend of mine said to me when I was afraid of being freezing on my way to the airport in wintery Berlin, “it’s going to be just a short way to the bus, to the metro, to the airport” he was right. So I just put on several layers of all longsleeve-ish things I had. And because I knew that I wouldn‘t return for months to a cold climate I gave my huge scarf, my only longsleeve shirt and my woolly hat to someone who needed it when heading to a ski trip in Japan after travelling for two years in the tropics or I just left them behind in a hostel. There will always be someone who will need what you won‘t.
What to pack depends on where you go – and on your individual needs
First, you will have to make the decision on how big a backpack to take and how many litres do you want to travel with? This always depends on where you are going. When I went to Portugal in winter 2018 I had to pack for colder weather than I had to for Southeast Asia, of course. However, in the end I used only half of it. The thing is when you don’t have a daily „real“ job and you don’t care about dressing up for any occasions (doesn’t mean you have to look crappy) you won’t need a lot. And I mean it!
This is not a guide on how to dress up, I don’t care if you dream of walking alongside the beach in a maxi dress because you already think about the picture you will take in it or which kind of stylish heeled sandals you will wear at the pool area.
I will not go into technology, documents and financials either – certainly think of your passport and credit card and you should know what you need to survive far away from home. What kind of entertainment you need is also up to you! I prefer real books although slowly I get the value of the kindle…
Just an impression
The way I travel is undoubtedly not for everybody, but still it can give you an impression of what is necessary. Whether in Italy, Ireland (in October with different kinds of clothes needed – but mostly loans!) or here in Mexico. Because there are times, when I don’t even open my bag for days or I don’t even have my backpack with me when dropping it at friends’ places so I don’t have to be worried about it. This has resulted in a very reduced list of my daily used items. And that is really not much, although having some of it twice to change can be quite nice.
That’s why here is my ultimate minimalist packing list, proven over several months in Asia, Europe and Mexico – and highly recommended not to follow but to think about!
- Hairbrush – mandatory at least for long hair
- Stuff for contact lenses (although I prefer to wear my glasses while travelling)
- Shampoo that also includes a conditioner can be used for both body and hair – get it as a bar and it will last for months and, yep, no plastic!
- But I still have a nice coconut soap from Bali that is in use and really soft to the skin (I even use it for my hair)
- Either way: I need to moisturise my skin with body lotion or coconut oil (allrounder #1: to be used to moisturise your skin, for your hair, even for your teeth, when you have a little infection, even to cook with! but: only coconut oil that is 100% pure and natural gets hard under 24 degrees, watch out!)
- I always smile when they mention makeup and makeup remover on other packing lists, because at 32 degrees that’s really the last thing I am thinking of! Women, boys, human beings: you look totally fine without!
- Not daily but might be needed: shaver, tweezer, menstruation cup, nail file/ scissors
- Towel – but most of the time you will get them where you stay. Also, I have never needed a mosquito net. And about insects repellent: it has become clear to me that the local stuff is always the best option. For some reason the hard 50% deet repellent from Thailand didn’t work against the Italian mosquitos but the citronella I got there did it‘s job.
What for wearing?
- The most, really most important thing to me: Sarong – the second allrounder. I wear it as a skirt, as a dress, as a top. It is my beach towel and I have even used it sometimes as an emergency towel (when you stay only a night or two at a place and you don’t want to spend money on one), and I used it as a blanket to cover myself (in warm nights it’s totally fine) and it was my scarf when I felt a little pain in my throat. You see, one item several functions. Because of the intense use a second one is quite useful though.
- Something to sleep in at least for the dorms 😉
- 1 pair of shoes – probably the hardest for most of you, but since march 2019 until now, January 2020 (only with a break during my time in the beginning of winter in Europe) I have worn only one pair of shoes every day. That’s why it is important to invest sometimes in good quality (>> Birkenstock) Of course it is advisable to have walking shoes, especially when you want to do real hikes, but when only used for little walks, or even little ‘hikes‘ you definitely won’t need heavy and professional equipment. I even hiked to the top of Pha Daeng Peak in Nong Khiaw, Laos, in my Birkenstocks (which are finally starting to fall apart). Check what your needs really are.
- 2-3 Tops, there is really no problem to wear one for a couple of days!
- Bikini/ swimsuit
- Underpants – mandatory!
- 1 lighter cardigan/ gilet/ kimono what ever you prefer to cover when it get’s cold-ish after sunset or for being protected in the sun.
- 1 bag – a dry bag is practically useful or having a sack is good because you can fold it and it doesn’t need a lot of space in your bag but you will use it every day and it’s perfect for doing groceries so you won’t need a plastic bag!
- Also not daily, but definitely needed at some point: Sweater (only for the journeys, or for surprisingly cold nights)
- Yoga leggings and top – when you skip classes and do it on your own at the beach you won’t need them at all and do it in your bikini.
Have all your clothes in matching colours – or you don’t care because you’re travelling and there is more important things to think about! – you have with a minimum of stuff a maximum of choices. And if they are all kind of the same colours you can even wash them together if needed!
In my 40 litre backpack there is, indeed, more than just this list, because I am living like this for… I don’t know for how long… but that is practically what I can deal with for weeks. At least in Asia and in Mexico you can get your laundry done for just a few dollars. But be aware it can and will happen that they mess up with your stuff so don’t give them delicate textiles or your favourite things, wash them by hand.
Some lists tend to recommend more clothes the longer you travel. But to be honest the longer you travel, the less you need. For example, I have one more dressier outfit and I don’t even remember when I wore it last, same with the only dress I have. I am totally fine with my sarong for the nights. I don’t change just because it is a different time of the day.
How about medications & co.?
I haven’t needed any medications in 14 months, except for 2 or 3 times when having bad PMS, or the famous Bali belly, only one time in all these months that I needed a thermometer to check my temperature. But you know your body the best.
Another topic is adapter: should I get one for each country, or a multi plug-in? All I can say: the German plug-ins work perfectly for southeast Asian countries, so there is no need. I needed an adapter for the UK although in the one hostel I’ve been to in Edinburgh they had usb charging points at each bed so adapters weren’t necessary for me and afterwards I bought one for about £4. Same in Mexico where I bought one at a telcel store on my first day for only 30 Pesos!
In terms of sustainability it is required to have a reusable drinking bottle and cutlery to avoid all the plastic solutions. Thanks to a friend I got my own chop sticks brought originally from Japan!
How to organise your backpack?
Some lists recommend using packing cubes or compression sacks to keep things organised. I practice instead to pack my suitcase like backpack using the principal what do I need often?, what only from time to time?
What I still haven’t found out for myself is how to pack toiletries in a more satisfying way, I like them all together instead of filling holes in my bag and although there isn’t much inside it is kind of bulky and takes a lot space
Try to restrict yourself
So, if you are travelling for only a few weeks or less than 3 months, don’t think about preparing for all eventualities you might experience, you will find out when needed. You‘re still on planet earth and thanks to globalisation you will find most things. But, please for the environment: don’t think about leaving stuff at home as you can buy them so much cheaper at your travel destinations. I have read that advice often in travel groups but it is just too short term. There is a reason why it is so cheap – have you ever thought of that?! And if your wardrobe is already overcrowded with all the things you never wear, save the money, save the planet.
Restricting yourself to a minimalistic packing may be strange to you if you are used to having everything there, ready to grab. Having the daily choice seems to be nice. But, honestly, doesn‘t the choice pressure you also? How much time do you waste every day because you can’t decide? My advice for reduction: take your favourites, what you would miss, and what you used in the weeks before heading off. That’s what you really want to have with you.
My list seems strange to you? You are worried about my smell?! Because of healthy way of living my smell is fine without chemical products, thanks for your interest. And a daily shower is mandatory 😉