What do I pack?
Jul 02, 2004

The information in here is useful, so I wanted to publish it even in this non-polished form.  I will continue to work on it, and add photos and links to items. 

Please let me know if you have any questions.  I'll answer them and then update the article for everyone's benefit.

This packing list is tailored slightly for traveling in SE Asia, but is applicable for backpacking anywhere in the world. All items with a * are described in more detail below.

Surprisingly, you don't need more for a two year voyage, than for a weekend trip. 

Worn onto the plane:

  • Travel pants that convert into shorts
  • T-shirt
  • Jacket - waterproof windbreaker *
  • Boots *
  • Underwear
  • Socks
  • Watch with alarm
  • Keyring with luggage key
  • Mini-LED flashlight *
  • Wallet
    • Cash
    • Credit Card
  • Security Pouch
    • Passport
    • Vaccination Record
    • More cash
    • ATM card
    • Plane Tickets
    • Travelers Checks
  • 1.5 liters of water (in hand) *
Carry-on Backpack
  • Clothes: 
    • Hat
    • Swimsuit
    • 2 more t-shirts (3 in total - 2 in the pack + 1 you're wearing)
    • 3 more pairs of socks
    • 3 more pairs of underwear
    • nice shirt *
    • small towel *
  • Books:
    • Guidebook
    • A couple of books to read - light in weight and subject matter.
  • Gear: 
    • Mosquito Net *
    • Swiss Army "Climber" *
    • Petzl Tikka Headlamp *
    • Rope *
    • Sunglasses
    • Cable and Lock *
    • Small notebook and pen
    • Lots of passport photos *
    • Sunscreen
    • Insect Repellant
    • Compass / Thermometer *
    • Emergency food *
    • Safety pins *
    • Lighter
    • Bottle of booze *
    • Chess Set *
    • Camera ["To digital or not to digital" - article in progress]
      • For a digital camera:
        • Spare set of batteries
        • Battery charger
        • ~600 megs of memory cards *
        • If your camera accepts filters:
          • UV filter to protect the lens - never take it off
          • Polarizing filter
  • Toiletry Bag *
    • Toothbrush and cover
    • Toothpaste
    • Dental Floss *
    • Razor *
    • Oxy *
    • Deodorant
    • Soap & Shampoo *
    • Chapstick
    • Mirror
    • Condoms
    • First Aid:
      • Pepto tablets *
      • Advil
      • Antihistamine - for hay fever and insect bites
      • Motion sick pills *
      • Band Aids
      • gauze pad
      • medical tape
      • Tiny bottle of iodine *
Buy it there
  • Flip Flops *
  • Sarong
  • Pajamas of some sorts *
  • Amoxicillan *
  • Malaria pills *
Optional items:
  • long underwear *
  • Sweater or fleece *
Things I've stopped carrying:
  • Deck of cards *
  • Jeans *
  • NuSkin *
  • Earplugs *

Jacket - waterproof windbreaker - Think layers, the jacket is just to protect you from the elements - buy a fleece or sweater if you need warmth. 

Boots - Half height trekking boots - not great for serious hiking, not great for going out at night, but they work well enough for almost anything. 

Mini-LED flashlight - The size of a dime and nearly weightless.  They are bright enough so that this is the only flashlight you need.  You might also get a second one and attach it to your pack - get this one in red as it doesn't affect night vision.

1.5 liters of water (in hand) - bring a big bottle of water with you onto the flight.  The air-conditioning dehydrates you and on a long flight and you need more water than the small cups of water provided by the airline.  The flight attendants will also refill your bottle should you finish it.

nice shirt - with only a pair of khakis and hiking boots you'll never be properly dressed up, but you should have something that you can wear out to a nice dinner or to a club. 

small towel - I used to use my sarong as a towel, but I also use it as a blanket.  A wet, dirty blanket is no good.

Mosquito Net - ...Tracker

Swiss Army "Climber" - Scissors are by far the most useful thing on the knife.  Don't get a swiss army knife without scissors. 

Petzl Tikka Headlamp - It is not the best headlamp for hiking as it is not waterproof, and the beam doesn't project at a distance.  The advantages though are that it is tiny and the batteries last for months.  It is ideal for packing your bag in a dark room or reading a book in an bamboo hut without electricity. 

Rope - 20' of lightweight nylon rope to use as a laundry line or to tie things to your pack. 

Cable and Lock - Kryptonite sells short, lightweight cables with loops at both ends.  They're designed to secure your seat to your bicycle, but they work equally well to secure your backpack to the train.  It won't stop a determined thief, but it means that no one can walk away with your bag easily.  I'd recommend against the mesh cages they sell for backpackers.  They just seem to call out "There are valuables in here - steal me!"

Lots of passport photos - It's cheap to get them printed in quantity.  Getting 50 printed isn't much more expensive than printing 4.  You'll need lots of passport photos for visas and such.

Compass / Thermometer - You can buy tiny combo compass/thermometers.  The compass is perfect for orientating you when you arrive in a city.  You get off a bus, look at the map in your guidebook and see that the guesthouse is only 3 blocks away, but which way is North??  The thermometer is basically useless, but it's fun to have.  How cold was that night in Nepal?  How damn hot was it that day in mandalay? 

Emergency food - I toss some powerbars at the bottom of my pack in case I ever get trapped on a bus or late at night without anything to eat.  Powerbars don't melt and stack well. 

Safety pins - A thousand uses.  Occasionally, I use one for fixing clothes are popping a blister.  Mostly, I use them to attach corners of my mosquito net to the bed. 

Bottle of booze - A bottle of booze in your pack is a great way to make friends. 

Chess Set - A cheap one with a laminated cardboard board and plastic pieces takes up little space in your pack.  Most travelers carry cards - if you want to play cards you can find someone with a set.  I instead carry a chess set. 

~600 megs of memory cards - 600 megs is the same size as a CD.  Whenever your memory cards are full, you burn them right to CD.

Toiletry Bag - the "Full Pack Theorem" applies here too.  No matter what the size of your toiletry bag, you will fill it.  Buy the smallest one available, even that is too big. 

Dental Floss - For the African meat that always gets stuck in your teeth.

Razor - I travel with, and buy along the way, disposable razors.  As for shaving cream, I just use soap.  Try it, it works just fine.

Oxy - Even if you don't break out, traveling with some oxy might be a good idea.  Climate changes can sometimes cause bad acne breakouts. 

Soap & Shampoo - I used to carry only one little bottle of concentrated liquid backpackers soap and use it to wash my body and hair.  Every time I would forget it in the bathroom of some hostel.  Now I just use a bar of soap and individual servings of shampoo.  You don't need a case for your soap, a plastic bag works just fine. 

Pepto tablets - The tablets are easy to travel with and are perfect for minor stomach upset.  Be careful though, for more serious stomach problems don't take pepto - you want the bacteria to be flushed out of your system. 

Motion sick pills - The 3rd world buses and boats might make you motion sick even if you aren't usually susceptible to it.  It is good to bring a supply of these with you as you may not be able to find them at local pharmacies.  Chewing ginger is also a natural remedy to motion sickness.

Tiny bottle of iodine - - It's the perfect tiny size.  Just one drop is sufficient to clean out most cuts.

Flip Flops - Flip flops vs.  Tivas - And the winner is...  flip flops.  They're half the weight, half the size and a tiny fraction of the cost ($1 in SE Asia) of Tivas.  The only place where they really lose out to the tivas is for hiking and rainy days.  In these cases you just wear your boots instead. 

Pajamas of some sorts - I use "Thai Fisherman's Pants" to sleep in.  I also wear them when my only other pair of pants is being washed. 

Amoxicillan - I always carry antibiotics in my pack in case I (or other travelers) come down with a bad case bacterial dysentery or a badly infected cut.  If either of these things occur and you're not near a pharmacy you can get in trouble.  With dysentery you might also not have the strength to leave your room. 

Malaria pills - Malaria pills (SE Asia) - You _do not_ need to take anti-malarials for SE Asia.  I've spent almost 2 years traveling around Asia, and I did not meet a single tourist who contracted malaria in SE Asia and have only heard of two cases in which tourists got malaria.  That is out of millions of tourist who visit the region.  Unless you are going to spend weeks in the jungles of Ko Chang, or Rattiniki, you do not need them.  Malaria pills (Africa) _ You _do_ need to take anti-malarials in Africa.  In SE Asia, all of the tourists are paranoid about malaria.  In Africa no one is very concerned about it.  "Hey, have you gotten malaria yet?" is a common question.  I would recommend taking doxycycline.  It has much fewer and less serious side effects than lariam (Read the lariam info page.  Malarone might be good, but it is very expensive.  Doxycycline is very cheap.  You can buy a 10 day dose here in Tanzania for less than 30 cents.  You should also pick up a dose of Arsumax (or another similar drug) used for the treatment of malaria.  If you're away from a doctor and suspect that you have malaria, start on Arsumax immediately.  Even waiting an hour or two, can turn a mild case of malaria into a serious one. 

long underwear - If you are flying into a cold area then you should take these with you.  Otherwise, wait until you get there.  You should always be able to locally buy clothes applicable to the climate.  You don't want to carry around a sweater for months when it is 90 degrees. 

Sweater or fleece - see above

Deck of cards - a chess set is better, everyone else has cards.

Jeans - too damn heavy, and slow to dry.

NuSkin - useful, but you rarely need it, and it comes in a glass bottle which is heavy. 

Earplugs - unless you sterilize them constantly they can lead to ear infections.  Better to use is balled up toilet paper.

ray - Jul 23, 2004

Well done, will take your advice on board.  If I see any starving travel writers on my journey I will shout( aust for buy) you a meal.  Regards raybo


Thanks Ray.

And a note for everyone - you can now shout me a beer from anywhere in the world through the donation links.


Philip Coggan - Jul 24, 2004

Nice article - how useful I can't say, not having anything to measure it against, but seems to cover everything (and based on experience, which I respect).

george - Aug 28, 2004

So ho do you manage to stuff all of that into a 40L pack?


All the gear and toiletries are tiny, and most of the clothes I'm wearing.


james - Nov 02, 2004

More essentials:
I like nu skin liquid bandage cause it works when bandaids wont and it isnt heavy.
tube of neosporin or generic antibiotic ointment.
earplugs DO NOT cause ear infections and work FAR better then toilet paper.  plus their light, cheap and tiny.
cards with your email, websites and phone number to give out.
language phrasebooks.

Mark - Nov 08, 2004

Another tip:
A small heater for boiling water, they are the size of a marker and very light!  it saves you the costs of buying water. 


Hmmm...  it seems like a good idea - but what do you put the water in?  I don't want to carry a pot and it seems that the heater would melt plastic water bottles.


Eric - Mar 24, 2005

I gave up on Tivas as well.  I like my first pair but quality has declined while belts and whistles increased.  I carry black jogging/hiking shoes that double as formal wear.

Robert - Jul 22, 2005

Ditto on Tevas, I dig soccer sandles, wear what locals do.  Good list.  Try a coke can alchohol burner.  My bro made one, real small but ya gotta carry fuel. 


"wear what locals do" - very good advice.


Patrick - Aug 30, 2005

Great list!  Only things I would add/modify:
- take levofloxacin rather than amoxacillin:  much better gram negative activity and first line therapy for the broad range of infections you might acquire on your trip ranging from respiratory complaints to traveller's diarrhea (exception - SE asia has had some quinolone-resistant campylobacter so doxycycline would be a reasonable backup antibiotic).  brings meds from home if you can as manufacturing standards overseas may or may not be up to snuff
- clothesline made of braided surgical cord, travel clothes soap, and a universal drain plug:  though you can usually find a place to get your laundry done, it's liberating to be able to wash your underwear and a few items while on the go
- with that in mind, synthetics tend to dry out much faster, can wash 'em at night and wear 'em in the morning.  i tend to avoid cotton underwear and socks when traveling
- 1 or 2 personal checks can be incredibly useful for acquiring that painting or item you just don't have the cash on hand for; also great for verifying identity and facilitating passport replacement should it get stolen
- 2 extra passport photos

good luck with the travel writing!

ron cobley - Sept 22, 2005

strange but i too carry of all things a chinese plastic water bolier which i fill with clothes to keep the space useful and a cup.  It is bulky but it is so wonderful to have hot coffee every morning and drinking water if you need it.  Also good quality ear plugs light and save your brain on a bus or sleeping in noisy places but nothing drowns out the pounding bass beats of south america or thailand.

phillippa - Dec 30, 2005

i use a shampoo bar when i leave the U.S.  last for months and no mess.  when i run out, i just use whatever bar of soap i have.

Justice 4 All - Feb 19, 2006

I would add:

* Silk sleep sack (almost weightless and compressed is the size of a fist) for those nights when you need a little extra warmth or don't trust the bedding.
* air-inflatable neck rest
* extra pair eyeglasses
* tweezers (unless included in swiss army knife) for removing splinters from fingers
* fork/knife/spoon/chopsticks + tiny pots for cooking.
* Ziploc bags (great for storing random small stuff or containers of liquid that can make a mess if they spill)

Stuff I found a total waste of space:
* laundry detergent
* laundry line

Jugger - Nov 29, 2006

Ive taken a quick look at your postings, which are very interesting.  Lots of material and ideas!  Congrats on being so focused! 

The advice given in your blog is fantastic and very complimentary to my site, check it out http://onwall.org

Andy - Feb 27, 2007

You mentioned about burning photos onto CD's, but I wondered how?  Do you carry a laptop and CD's, or just use internet cafes or whatever you can find?

Nely Fudro - Apr 16, 2007

cheap thai fisherman pants
emantra.biz recommended

Jessica - Feb 25, 2008

for soap/shampoo you should try Dr.  Bronners.  it's organic, fair trade, not tested on animals, etc.  plus you can use it for just about everything possible

- Mar 04, 2008

Finally - someone who agrees that Malaria is NOT an issue in SE Asia, at least where medication is concerned.  In fact, I was reading an article about someone who was taking meds, but instead of preventing malaria they DISGUISED it.  This caused severe problems because it took so long to diagnose.

I would add those little sachets of Emergen-C to your list, they're tasty as well as re-hydrating as well as an unbeatable hangover cure!

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