Written by Emma Mitra

Have you ever stared at your empty backpack, with the contents of your bedroom strewn around you like a crazy person had just rocked up, pushed your door down and rifled through the contents of your wardrobe?

Yep… me too.

That’s why I asked our lovely Travel Experts to tell us which items they absolutely couldn’t live without when travelling. Then I whittled these down, put their suggestions together with some of my own, and voilà! I give you — in no particular order — my Top 20 packing list essentials.

Get ready to say goodbye to packing stress, and say hello to a featherweight backpack, full of stuff you actually need.


  1. TORCH
    Don’t be that person who returns to the dorm room late at night and switches the main lights on; use a torch to make… your… way… quietly. I recommend the humble head torch. Phones can also die, so do not rely on your phone to be your “torch”. As well as being helpful when crossing Dormland, it’s also good for trekking and exploring any caves.
    They may seem a bit “middle-aged woman with a handbag”, but trust me — when you’re travelling, wet ones are a gift from the travel Gods. Use them to clean up scrapes and scratches, mop dust of your flip flops, wipe the sweat off your face (nice), freshen-up if you can’t have a shower (double nice)… the list goes on! As our Travel Expert Ellie says, they are “the duct tape of toiletries”. Speaking of duct tape…
    Use it to patch up any tears in your backpack! Secure your mozzie net with it! Tape that annoying person in your dorm room’s mouth shut with it! OK, don’t do the last one, but the point I’m trying to make is: duct tape is really very useful. Take some with you. Thank you.
    Not only will your memories be preserved forever, you know you’re just dying to be that person on Facebook who makes everyone jealous with their travel pics. Why not go one step further and make strangers jealous by sharing your photos on Instagram and tagging them #StartTheAdventure.

    blogWhatever tickles your fancy. Old school camera, new school camera, phone camera!
  5. MONEY
    Unfortunately, you can’t go travelling without having a bit of money. But instead of carrying loads of cash around with you, stick it on the STA Travel Cashcard. It works like a credit or debit card, but you preload your money on there, and there’ll be no getting into debt because you can only spend what you have. Genius! It can also be topped up by anyone (hi mum), anywhere, and you can also use it withdraw cash, so you don’t need to exchange currency.
    Young, free, single and — how shall I put this? — sexually active? We promote safe sex; so pack some quality condoms. You don’t want to be bringing any unwanted presents home with you, if you get my drift.
    You won’t get very far without your passport, but before you pack it, remember to check that it isn’t about to expire! Lots of countries — including backpacker havens London, Thailand and USA — won’t let you in if your passport expires within 6 months of your arrival date. It’s also worth packing a photocopy of your passport, and other important docs. Or if you’re feeling a bit 21st century, take Travel Expert Meagan’s advice and “Email a copy of these to yourself so you always have them”. Great idea, Meagan! Remember to check whether you need a visa to get into the country you’re travelling to – our Travel Experts can help you out with one if you do need one.
    Are you either a student, under 26 or a teacher? Lucky you! You’re eligible for a discount card that you can use all around the world on up to 40,000 discounts; including things like eating out, guidebooks, and getting around. It’s also worth grabbing a YHA card to save you money at all Youth Hostel Association hostels around the world.
  9. DRUGS
    No, not those kind of drugs – I’m talking about the medicinal kind! First up, you need panadol. Worth taking a stash with you, since your familiar brand is not always available abroad. Secondly, tiger balm it up. If you haven’t discovered this versatile ointment yet, now’s the time. As our Travel Expert Lauren says, it’s “amazing for headaches and insect bites”, and you can also slap some (gently) on your aching muscles. It’s widely available in Asia, so you can even pick some up on your travels. Thirdly, pack some diarrhoea medication. It’s likely that you will eat something… that, err… gotta go!
    Our Travel Expert Maddie sums this one up: “Baby powder… can be used from stopping your bag from rubbing, to soothing your skin, to keeping your hair clean, to stopping your shoes from rubbing… the list is endless!” I don’t think I need to add anything to that, thanks Maddie!
    If you’re travelling on a budget, a sleeping bag liner is a must. It’s essentially a cosy thin sleeping bag, and it’ll protect you from any bed bugs that might be lurking in the slightly more questionable places you stay. Pop one in your backpack, and get a good night’s sleep instead of worrying about the state of the sheets. Pick up a nice silk one, and feel 5-star wherever you bed down.
  12. SIM CARD
    Stay in contact with family and friends back home, as well as your newfound travel buddies. Get a global SIM card and save big bucks on international calls, texts and data use. Get coverage in 180 countries worldwide, free incoming calls in more than 70 countries and free Facebook notifications. Drop into store and grab one quick before you leave, or apply online. A global SIM is also a lifesaver (or at least a phone bill saver) when you want to contact friends you make on your travels about where to meet up with them later.
    Whoever invented ear plugs has definitely spent their fair share of time sleeping in dorm rooms. These nuggets of genius are pretty much essential if you want a good night’s sleep in a hostel. They’re also handy for sleeper trains and buses.
    No one likes to itch, and no one likes to be covered in bright red splotches. Even if you’re one of those really annoying people who never seems to get bitten (I hate you), it’s worth spraying on some mozzie repellent and investing in a net, particularly in Malaria zones.

    packing_post.jpgBook? Check. Scarf? Check. Frilly pink netting? Damn! Forgot that one! Photo by Foxtongue
    I guarantee that despite your good intentions to start a blog, by the time you get round to typing it up, you’ll have forgotten loads. Nothing beats lying on an isolated beach with a notebook in your hand, writing about your latest travel adventures and capturing how you’re feeling. As our Travel Expert Lisa says, “It would be a shame if all those amazing things will be forgotten… and you can’t capture every experience in pictures or remember every detail forever. so I write them down!”. Thanks Lisa!
    OK it’s boring, and yes, I sound like your mum, but it’s so, so important — not least because you can’t get it once you’ve left! Don’t let getting your iPad nicked or having to fork out for medical treatment ruin your trip. You can buy travel insurance for $1.53 a day– especially designed with the young and adventurous traveller in mind. Get covered for over 100 adventure sports and adrenalin activities free of charge — just don’t tell your mum!
    Or a similar smartphone with music-listening capabilities. Travelling without music on long bus journeys is no fun; plus, the songs you listen to will forever remind you of your travels – *wistful sigh*. Plus, you can use your smartphone to access wifi (technology these days, eh?) Take our Travel Expert Amy’s advice: “Google maps was invaluable whilst I was away. Before moving to a new town I would load the map area so when I arrived I could never get too lost! Especially useful when arriving somewhere late at night.” Just remember to turn data roaming off, or risk being landed with a massive phone bill.
    Take a couple of padlocks. They’ll keep your backpack secure, and you can also use them on lockers in some hostels.
    Stick a toilet roll in your bag, particularly if you’re travelling around Latin America or Asia, where the public toilets may be notably void of hallowed roll. On a toilet-related note; start practising your crouching skills, as the public loos will probably be lacking in seats – squat toilets, anyone? You’ll soon get used to them.
  20. SCARF
    No, not the woolly winter kind; I’m talking about a nice big lightweight scarf – we ladies call them pashminas. Gents, why not try a keffiyeh, or a less-politically-controversial-but-still-manly equivalent. Not only will a scarf keep you warm if the evenings get chilly, it can also double up as a beach blanket, and protect you against subzero air conditioning on a bus or train journey.
    Make sure you’ve got your visas fixed up, or you’ll be waiting a long, long, long time at the border. If you have fewer than five days to go, no drama, that’s just about time to visit your local store and submit a fast-track visa service, for any entrance visas!

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