We’ve all been there – the first backpacking adventure, the first gap year. What do you take? You don’t want to take too much, but you don’t want to take too little. It can be hard trying to figure out what items not to take. Packing is a learning experience. You’ll get better with each trip. You’ll be surprised how little you actually need. It’s amazing when you suddenly realise you can actually buy items such as toiletries on the road! Yes, other countries generally (but not always) sell what you need too! And it’s easy to make do without some items!
Although what you pack can be dependent on your trip. If you can just take a carry-on bag, I’d advise that. But you also need to think about the weather, the length of the trip and the activities you may do. For some activities you may be able to rent the needed gear. It’s worth checking.
However, there are some items you won’t need to pack regardless. You may need to pick them up, but not initially! Here are my 13 leave at home items!
1. Too Many Jeans
You need ONE pair. Maximum. I know this can be hard to understand, but believe me. I took three pairs on my first trip and now wonder what I was thinking! Then again, 21 year old me wouldn’t have listened and would’ve taken all three pairs anyway.
Jeans are big, bulky and heavy. They don’t pack into a backpack well and take up a fair amount of space. They’re not comfy for constantly walking in and are horrible in hot, humid countries. Not to mention they don’t dry quick, so if you’re caught short you can’t just wash them in a sink for them to be dry the next day.
Take one nice pair, if you must. Only to be used if you are going for a night out. I doubt I’d take a single pair nowadays, I’m more into dresses and skirts now (with the added bonus that these take up so much less room)!
2. Sterilised Medical Kit
Another trap I fell into, thanks to a trip with Uni. I went on a Uni trip to Gambia and was told by the lecturers to have a full sterilised first aid kit, as you can’t be sure of the hygiene standards in developing countries hospitals. And since then I tended to make sure I had one.
Now when I think about it, I have to ask myself, how often is that kit in my day pack and not in the bottom of my main bag? Never. So if something happened as I was out and about would I be able to go to the hospital via the hostel? I doubt I’d even think of it! It’s not as if I can use anything in there myself! So now it’s just the basics for me (if any, I could just pick these up at a pharmacy in the country I go to…)
3. Deodorant Block
My parents bought me one of these before my gap year, and I thought it was quite cool. Years later I still have it somewhere. These are not meant to stop you sweating, but are meant to reduce the smell. I had normal deodorant with me and soon realised that the two did not work together well. I ended up using the block more on my feet after a long day! Don’t bother with these at all.
Especially in developing countries. Nice, expensive jewellery in developing countries will just make you a target for theft. It can in all countries really. It can also make you stand out as a tourist in some countries. Plus, what if you lose it? It can happen.
Wearing expensive jewellery will also make bargaining at markets harder. They can see you have money! You’re better buying local jewellery and wearing it in the country.
Way to be a cliche! Don’t do it! A guitar is just a pain to transport – it’ll cost you extra on flights. And it’s pointless, how often do you really think you’ll be playing it? A lot of hostels have a guitar for you to play with anyway! You don’t need your own! Plus transporting your guitar may end up damaging said guitar…
Take the bare essentials of what you need when you initially pack. Then pick up what you need as you need it. If you’re going on a gap year you really don’t want to be lugging around a year’s worth of shampoo! Many hostels have a place where backpackers can leave their leftover toiletries for others to use – fill up small travel bottles from here.
7. Your Favourite Outfit
Another hard one, and mainly for long trips. If you’re doing a short trip, fine. But a long trip… You really don’t want to take it then! Backpacking doesn’t treat your clothes well. Even if you’re saving this nice outfit for best, being left in the bottom of your pack won’t be great for it! Only take outfits that you are prepared to lose, and not just through wear and tear. Leave your favourite clothes at home, ready for when you get back!
8.Nice Fluffy Towels
Do you realise how much space nice fluffy towels take up? Loads! Don’t bother! I take a microfibre towel – they pack up small, are light and dry really quick. But you could probably get away with not even taking that! Many hostels will rent towels out, or actually supply them.
Funny enough, hostels tend to have pillows and bedding. You don’t need to take one. Think how much more room you have in your bag without that pillow!
On a long trip you’ll need to do washing. Some hostels provide a service, some you have to do it yourself. Detergent boxes are awkward and bulky, you don’t want to transport them. Also, do you really want to take a box of white powder on a plane…? Buy packs of detergent as you need them. But don’t try carrying a big box around, there are better ways, check out
11. Hair Dryers And Straighteners
This is easy for me, as I don’t tend to use heat on my hair. But I understand it may be difficult for some. Even the travel size hair dryers and straighteners take up quite a bit of room. I took a mini hair dryer, as someone bought it me, and I never used it. You’re all in the same boat backpacking, chances are you’re not going to look your best until you’re back home!
Some hostels will rent them out anyway, if you really want to use them. And some hostels have hair dryers available in the showers available to use for free. You really don’t need to take your own!
12. Sleeping Bag
I know this sounds crazy, but hostels do have bedding. And the bedding is clean. I don’t understand why people think hostels may not clean the bedding but always trust hotels! I’ve been in some hotels much dirtier than hostels!
Alright, you may need to rent the bedding (but I’ve rarely had to do this). But sleeping bags are far too bulky for taking everywhere with you. If you do find you need one, because you want to go on a trip that involves camping, there is generally an option to hire sleeping bags.
Take a sleeping bag liner though. These pack up tiny and are all you need in some countries anyway!
13. High Heels/Nice Shoes
Heels are so awkward to get in a backpack. They’re not worth it. And a pair of nice shoes, for only going out, a waste of space. You need shoes that can be walked around in all day and are good enough for going out at night. This can be done. And everyone is in the same boat anyway! Plus, you don’t want your nice shoes to be damaged by constantly being crammed in the backpack!
I still can’t believe I took so many jeans on my first trip! That was a huge mistake! At least I didn’t listen to people that told me I needed a sleeping bag! Believe me, you will make some huge packing mistakes on your first trip and you’ll constantly be learning! As a rule of thumb, if I think I’ll take something ‘just in case’ I leave it. Other countries have shops too!
Is there anything that you wouldn’t take? Do you disagree with any of mine? Feel free to leave a comment below!