Traveling is a learning experience, and so is packing for it. We always want to cover all our bases with the items we think we need, but as we get more experienced with travel and packing, we start noticing we are actually hauling more than what we really need.
As a backpacker, I’ve traveled the world long term for almost 10 years now, so I know the importance of being a light traveler. This is especially true when backpacking because you’re carrying that load on your back whenever you move around.
To help you pack light, here is a list of things you should consider not packing for a trip.
1. Jewelry and Valuables
These are unnecessary items to be carrying and which you’ll probably use once or twice on your trip. Not only is it unnecessary but you also carry the risk of losing them.
If you can’t imagine losing your expensive diamond ring/earrings/necklace or your Rolex watch, it’s better you leave them home since flashy tourists can become targets for thieves.
Think of it, it’s better to not have them for a couple of weeks than lose them forever.
Also, if you’re looking to save money by bargaining, it’s best to play the part correctly by not wearing those expensive valuables and looking more like a local.
Lastly, if you have a formal event or night out during your trip, and would like to wear some jewelry, pack only a cheap but nice looking set that goes well with your outfit.
2. Heavy Zoom Lenses For Your Camera
I’m a sucker for good photography, but those zoom lenses are big and heavy.
Unless you are a professional photographer, most of the time you will use your cellphone, point and shoot camera, or your regular DSLR lens/camera (18-55mm, 24-70mm, or similar); simply for convenience and speed.
Unless you’re doing a safari or doing wildlife photography, it is rare (at least in my experience) that those 200-300mm zoom lenses will be an indispensable item.
I guess we can all live without that single zoomed pic.
3. Extra Toiletries
Pack just the bare essentials and buy as you go. Providing you won’t be away from civilization for an extended period of time, you don’t necessarily need to pack any other over-the-counter medicines or toiletries as they are all available wherever you are going.
It’s wise to carry a “sampler” or travel size of the primary toiletries and medicines, for the beginning of your trip. Then, replenish as you go.
When traveling, it’s also good to simplify your beauty routine to the essentials. Have in mind that when flying carry-on, we are limited to the number of liquids we can carry.
4. Too Many Cotton Clothes
When you picture cotton what you see? Fluffy stuff, right? Well, fluffy stuff takes more space, plus they take longer to dry when wet.
Hey, I’m not saying don’t pack anything with cotton, but try to have a variation with a higher percentage of Polyester or other synthetics; they take slightly less space, plus they dry quicker than cotton.
When packing for winter, think of layering with thinner, lighter items and a jacket/sweater, rather than one bulky coat.
Obviously, when thinking of layering, try to not pack more clothes than you need either.
5. More Than One Pair of Jeans
Following the previous point… Jeans take a lot of space, are heavy, and they take forever to dry.
But, I have to admit that one pair of jeans is almost necessary. They can last days without washing, are warm enough, durable, fashionable, and don’t make you look like a tourist.
6. Those Nice Shoes
Maybe you want to carry a nice pair of shoes for when you go out to a party or want to look nice, but it’s not wise to carry your nicest pair of shoes just for that occasion.
Instead, select wisely your day-to-day sneakers or casual shoes. They can be decent enough to fit with your night-out outfit but comfortable enough to allow you to walk for miles.
I personally like using Tropicfeel sneakers as they are the ultimate travel shoe. They are super light, made from recyclable materials, vegan friendly, and use quick-dry technology.
I’ve hiked with them, crossed rivers, and casually walked around dozens of cities with the same pair. And they still look good and in one piece! I love them!
7. Hiking Boots
Unless you are hiking on rugged terrain for days or doing the Inca Trail or something similar, those heavy hiking boots play no part on your packing list.
First, you will only use them for a single day at most. Second, they probably won’t fit in your backpack or take up so much space that you’ll end up hanging them on the outside of your backpack.
Third, a pair of running shoes delivers the same comfort without taking up too much space.
Plus, you don’t use hiking boots just to walk around the city.
8. More Than One Heavy Jacket
Don’t pack that heavy jacket (unless it’s freezing where you’re going); instead, play with layers. Even hot deserts get chilly at night, so it’s always good to have one or two light jackets you can layer on.
Layering is key to keep a light pack while providing the necessary thermal condition for different temperature ranges. If it’s too cold, combine the layers with a windbreaker/waterproof jacket.
9. Bulky Towels
Fluffy towels are very convenient, but just at home. Carrying a full towel just doesn’t make much sense since it really takes a lot of space in your backpack and it takes forever to dry.
Having a damp, stinky backpack is not fun!
Instead, use a small swimmers towel (they are super absorbent) or a microfiber travel towel. These don’t take much space and work as well as the regular ones.
I recommend this travel towel. It is cheap, comes in different sizes and colors, and it’s very durable.
Books are heavy. Period. Why carry a full guidebook when you only need a single chapter or just a few pages. Instead, copy those pages and carry only the information you know you’ll need.
These days, the internet is more accessible than ever, so if you feel like you’ll need more information on the way, a simple Google search will suffice.
Also, guides like Lonely Planet sell their guides as .pdf files and as single chapters too. You can easily store them on your iPhone or smart device and access them on the road.
11. More Than One Book
Reading is priceless to kill those long train hours or just to have some “me” time. Sure, pack a book, but just one. When you’re done with it, exchange it with other travelers who will be more than happy to trade.
Many hostels count with small libraries that allow you to exchange books.
Or, why not discover something new at a local bookshop? One of my favorite books I discovered during my trips was First They Killed My Father, which I found on a street market in Cambodia.
If you’re a flashpacker, a Kindle and other digital book readers are also a good option.
12. A Pillow
I have personally carried my small travel pillow to many places and ended up not using it (or just once). Even though they are not heavy, they tend to take up a lot of space.
You’ll find that many airlines and trains offer pillows for free to use during your flight. If that’s not the case, wrap your jacket and/or some other clothes to make a nice pillow.
When camping, you can also bundle some of your clothes to serve as a pillow. It might not be as soft as a fluffy pillow, but it does the job.
13. Extra Gadgets
Unless you need to use them while on the road for work or other essentials (like me, a travel blogger), I recommend leaving behind all unnecessary electronics.
Each gadget has its own charger, cable, and other extras that can quickly clutter your backpack.
Try to consolidate them to use a single or a couple of universal chargers, if possible (probably USB), to reduce the clutter.
Items like an electric toothbrush, book lights, portable DVD players, coffee makers, etc… leave them at home.
14. If You Think “What if…” or “For this one occasion” When Packing This One Item
If you’re packing something using the words “what if…” it’s probably that it is absolutely not necessary, you will never use it and will end up carrying it all the way.
If you say “…just for this one occasion” it will probably not be worth it to carry it just for one use. At best, try to buy those things at your destination. In some destinations, it will probably be cheaper.
Plus, by buying things after you arrive, you’ll be less likely to waste money on junk that seemed like a good idea before your trip.
Also, keeping your load light will help avoid having to pay that checked bag or overweight fees when checking in on your flight.
15. Things You Can Buy There
Unless you are going to an extremely remote place, it’s pretty sure you’re going to find shaving soap, reusable water bottles, extra toiletries, and pretty much everything or a reasonable facsimile.
Even antibiotics (like ciprofloxacin) can be bought without prescription and way cheaper than back at home. Plus, buying things at your destination is a fun way to practice the language and get to know the area.
A final thought… Pack destination specific, but don’t pack anything you’re not sure you’ll use. Also, this list is not absolute as we all have our packing priorities.
For example, here’s another what to pack and not pack list that gives a similar idea with different items.
Go as light as possible, and remember that almost everything you need can be purchased in the destination country and often at a fraction of the price at home.
Take this strategy to heart and I guarantee every trip you take will become more enjoyable.
Believe me, carrying less, especially in a backpack, is so much more freeing than having to lug around a large, heavy, and bulky pack.
For further tips on packing light, see 12 tips that will help you pack light for long hikes.
What else you think should not be packed?
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Do people actually pack a coffee maker?
Funny enough, some do. I have seen it. Some people can’t live without their coffee.
In order to have good coffee available without the added bulk of a ground coffee and french press (yes, we used to travel with these – we’re from Seattle after all) we started packing starbucks VIA. It works really well and takes up almost no space. from a Technology front, the iPad is a travelers dream, since it has all our books, guidebooks, maps, etc. (you can also load it with a full season of Project Runway or other secret shame if you need a quick fix!)
Ha! Thanks God I don’t drink coffee! I’ve seen the Starbucks VIA and they seem to be a pretty good carry-on solution. But again, I don’t drink coffee, so I haven’t tried them.
I just LOL’d so much with your Project Runway fix… I don’t have an iPad, yet, so for now my quick fixes are via iPhone… which is also a great travelers’ tool. 🙂
I do bring a zoom lens (a compact one) and a second pair of jeans. I might bring hiking boots, but only if they are the only pair of shoes I bring.
Great list! I agree with most of these. I got a Kindle so that I could take more than one book with me, and it has served me very well (it’s so portable and holds thousands of books).
I do disagree on the shoes, though I know it’s very personal, especially with women. I always bring one pair of “nice” shoes. It’s usually a pair of cute black sandals or wedges that are easy to walk in. There have been so many times, even on budget and backpacking trips, where I have gone out to a decently nice restaurant or bar, or gone to a performance where I wanted to wear something a wee bit sleeker than sneakers or walking shoes.
I feel you on the zoom lens one. I have a fantastic zoom lens, but I stopped bringing it along with me since it required me to bring my full camera bag, and it got really bulky and heavy!
Thanks Emily. Well yeah, with women (and with men too, of course) I think there can be a happy medium with the shoes. There is always a nice feeling of being “dressed up” after days of “simple backpacking” outfits.
I personally like to have “stylish” sneakers that are decent enough to go out to a restaurant or bar, but comfortable enough to use them for hiking around the city or just to be around. I love Puma (the brand) and I think they excel in mixing good design with comfort.
I too love the Kindle… It is so convenient and easy to carry. On the other hand, like you said, the SLR camera zoom lenses (and other accessories) get heavy and bulky when you carry them in their respective bags. I have a Canon EF 75-300mm zoom lens and it weights over a pound by itself… ugh.
I agree with most of your post.
1. If I know I am going to be hiking, I pack my boots.
2. I take my camera gear. I bought it to use all the time. I leave other stuff out of my bag.
3. I usually do carry a guidebook. I’m never happy that I do, so maybe I’ll rethink this one.
Oh definitely, if serious hiking is on the menu, then hiking boots should be included. For example, right now I’m packing my hiking boots for my trip to Machu Picchu (Inca Trail). Obviously they apply to this type of trip; but other than this, I have rarely packed them.
As for the camera gear, even though I would love to carry my “heavy” zoom lens (and I know that I could actually use it), I’m deciding to leave it behind because on a trip like this every inch and every pound counts.
Of course, we all weigh the importance/necessity of each item as we see fit for each trip. 🙂
Good tips to lighten the load. Although I do think cutting back varies depending on if you are a man or woman. I don’t think I could take just one pair of shoes ha. As far as toiletries and beauty products, I have found that in some places it is cheaper to bring what you need from home rather than buy at your destination. It is a pain when you have to bring it initially though.
Definitely, total packig load is usually diferent between men and women.
Also, a good research before your trip will let you know what decision will be best; buying it there or bringing it with you.
Funny, today I was walking on a Peruvian market and found some good socks for the Inca Trail for roughly $0.80. In this case I had a “win” because I dind´t have to drag all my socks all the way (though being honest, I needed better socks than the ones I packed). 🙂
I pack a small kettle. It’s a catch 22 situation: I need a coffee before I can speak to another human being to order a coffee.
I agree about more than 1 book, I rarely end up even opening the 1 book!!!
I know! I often get so distracted that I end up not reading anything at all. Well, at least that means the trip is going good! lol
I think it all depends on where you are traveling. I just got back from two weeks in Vietnam and did fine with 3 shirts, 2 pairs of quarter-length pants (no jeans at all), 1 skirt, 1 pair of Teva sandals and 1 pair of flip-flops. It was monsoon season, but I didn’t even use the rain jacket I brought – it was way too hot to put on another layer. I really do think that every trip and every destination is different. My general rule is to pack what you think you’ll need, then take half of the stuff out of the bag. It’s a rule that has served me well.
Hi JoAnna. That rule of taking half of what you’ve actually packed does work. I practice it and have done pretty good with it so far. Though I can get a bit more aggressive with it if I wanted, since I have noticed that I still manage to carry one or two extra shirts/pants I never use.
When you say jeans can last days, exactly how many days are you talking about? I would have said two at the maximum. Jeans are also not that easy to wash if you can not find a launderette with hostel with laundry service. I think two pairs of jeans is better. To the commenter about coffee, i never leave without my nescafe three in one satchets. So SAD!!
Hey Natalie. Well, it all depends on how clean you usually are. In my personal case I can use one pair of jeans for up to a week without washing. I like darker jeans (personal style preference), they help to mask the dirt a bit better than lighter colored jeans. I tend to be fairly clean, even on the road.
Even when I’m at home, my jeans get worn at least 15 days between washes, unless I’m doing something extra dirty like riding my horse, etc. Normal pants can also be worn at least 5 times between washings, unless you are particularly messy.
Yes, jeans a good in that you can use them so many times without having to wash them. Even for the regular day to day I use my jeans more than a few times before washing.
Great tips. Light and swift is the name of the game…
I’m with you. I carry only a Neff backpack. No books, phone, earbuds, 1 long-sleeved shirt, 1pr jeans converse and flip-flops if I NEED something I pick it up as I go. I’ve been all over the world and never regretted the ease of one bag.
Love the not packing list:) The most important idea is what is heavy/too big, u will not need to pack 😉
Thanks Crazy Sexy Fun Traveler! True, that’s one of the most important ideas. Keeping our backpacks light and small is harder than what it looks! 😉
Right! But after a while one knows very well what he needs to pack and what he can live without! It feels so great to have a light bagpack 😉
Depending on where you are going, there are places…civilized, first world countries (like Denmark, for example) where you can’t even get antibacterial first aid gel (Neosporin) or decent cold meds without a script. I lived there for three years and EVERY time I came home I stocked up on OTC meds and I still have friends in DK that ask me to send things like Neosporin. I’m not saying you need a LOT of anything if you’re going for a short trip, but single packs of common OTC thinks is never a bad idea, especially if you are “roughing” it at all. You’ll ALWAYS find toothpaste (even if it tastes weird) or deodorant (even if it’s not antiperspirant) but never, EVER count on what you can and can not get in a pharmacy or even in a doctors’ office. I had wisdom teeth cut out of my face in Holland (again, civilized country and I had top of the line, LOCAL insurance) with a bit of Novocaine and with nothing for aftercare save for some acetaminophen and NO antibiotics. That went well…(well enough I flew back to the States to see a “real” dentist who diagnosed me with an infection so severe he wanted to hospitalize me.)
Hi Jackie, thanks for stopping by. It’s always good to have a first point of view account on the other side of packing little. I guess proper research about the accessibility of these common medicines on you destination country can help prevent those desperate moments of need. But still, like you said, it is always good to take a small amount of common medicines you commonly take on any given occasion. Ouch! So sorry to hear about your wisdom tooth experience. 🙁
Oh, trust me, I’m not on the other side of packing light. I have and will again wash out clothes in strange places. If I don’t have to carry it, I won’t. I don’t, ever, pack check on bags anymore. It’s all about efficiency. There is nothing worse than being ill while away and not being able to get what we take for granted back home though. I was amazed at what required a script elsewhere and what didn’t in other places (like Retin-A in Mexico). (At least a) Five day supply of cold/sinus meds, allergy medicine (even if you don’t normally have allergies, you can find out the hard way you’re allergic to something local), your favorite pain reliever/fever reducer (ibuprofen is best if you may be drinking…perish the thought, plus is an anti-inflammatory if you have a minor injury), small tube of neosporin and things to stop any digestive perils you might encounter. I can fit all of this into a small plastic bag in the smallest pocket of my pack with room to spare…which I usually shove in a disposable heat patch or two into. (Hey, I’m not as young as I used to be!)
Oh, my bad, I didn’t mean the “overpacking” other side… I meant the “not so smooth experience” of trying to go as light as possible. Whether healthy and young, or not, it is always good to carry a small amount of meds. Like you, I always carry allergy, pain relief, antibiotics, and common medicines that I might need while on the road. I always take the travel size packs or take just a few pills of any prescribed pills to occupy less space. Feeling good and being healthy is more important to me than saving a few cubic inches in the backpack. 🙂
A great pillow tip in case you really think you need one
I travel with a pillow case that my sister put a zipper on the end. If I’m ever stuck somewhere and need a pillow I just stuff my clothes in it and voila!
Ayngelina, this tip is priceless! I usually use whatever jacket I have and roll it, but your zipped pillow case is way better and more convenient. Thanks! 🙂
I do something similar: I take a shirt, stuff it with clothes, and tie off the ends. Voila! Pillow.
Yes, That’s a pretty good technique. I’m used to stuffing my jacket and using it as a pillow.
Great list, I agree with all of the above (although I’m guilty of always bringing some cheap jewelry along!).
Thanks Sofia! Well, it’s nice to accessorize every now and then. Plus, you won’t feel so bad if it gets lost or stolen while on the road since it’s cheap jewelry. 🙂
While traveling, the most I accessorize is with a watch… and rarely… lol but then, I’m a guy. 🙂
Traveling is definitely a time when I’m glad I’m atypical among women in that I own neither jewelry nor makeup. Makes packing easier!
I bet it does make packing easier! I don’t use jewelry at all, not even watches (unless it is an extremely special occasion), but some times I do use sunglasses… but those are somewhat useful and don’t take any space.
When I’m traveling I try to pack clothes that work well together so I can mix and match items. Keeping your clothing options in similar color families is really helpful. I loved the comment about packing the pillowcase with a zipper. Smart thinking!
That’s something that helps a lot in reducing the amount of clothing that is necessary to pack, since you can mix and match almost everything. Yes, the pillowcase comment is a pretty smart technique! I love it too! 🙂
Hiking shoes was probably the hardest decision on whether or not to bring on a few of my trips.
I did three months in South America, and I knew that most of my trip wouldn’t necessitate hiking boots, so I ended up deciding not to bring them. I was mostly glad because I saw a lot of people lugging around these bulky extra boots, often hanging off the back of their bag begging to be stolen, or wearing them around and looking ridiculous in the middle of Buenos Aires or something.
I did end up doing three pretty big hikes in Peru, and some smaller hikes in a few other countries. I did them all (including three day trek to Machu Picchu) in Skechers sneakers. All that really mattered was having good grips. However, I do understand the need for boots because I did skid and almost roll my ankle a couple times hiking down into one of the deepest canyons in the world… my guide said he’d never seen anyone do the hike in little sneakers like mine before, but I was fine and I was actually by far the fastest hiker in my group. The only other downside is having to wash cakes of mud off your sneakers and socks after some hikes… ick.
But mostly I agree it’s definitely not worth bringing the hiking shoes. I lived in Oz for a year and knew I was soon going to be getting out to the Outback and some other rough terrain, so I had my parents ship me my lovely hiking boots that are super comfy but just so huge and heavy. I stressed about sticking them into my carry on for the fee-obsessed Tiger Airlines flight to the Outback and then never used them because it was just too hot, proceeded to lug them with me all the way across Australia when I moved to Perth and never used them once. Then had to add those extra pounds to my luggage when flying back to the States…ended up having to buy some extra lbs. Ick.
And in response to the jacket suggestion… I’m also a huge believer in layers. Sleeping out on the alitplano of the Salar de Uyuni was FREEZING. I was wearing a t-shirt, thermal long-sleeve, running jacket, fleece sweater and, except in the bed, rain/wind jacket shell… plus tights, long underwear and jeans. Basically almost everything I packed. And I was still a little cold 😉
Hey Rachael! Wow! Love your adventurous spirit!! I too have found the boots decision hard a couple times when I know I’ll be doing long hikes, but most of the times I don’t take them if I know the hikes are going to be a minor part of the overall trip. Although my boots are relatively light, they still don’t beat my light Pumas that are super comfortable and have gone with me through long hikes, caves, and what not. The kay really is to have a good insole that works with your footing.
It just fells so good when you feel so light while walking.
Wow… so cool you did Salar de Uyuni (even though it was freezing)… I want to do Salar de Uyuni some time in the future, so now I know it can get a bit cold. 😉
What a great post! People do pack far too much stuff on their first travelling trip but learn to take fewer things the more they go. Thanks for sharing!
Thanks Emma! True, even I try to go even lighter after every trip… it is a learning process. 🙂
Great post – I always have a hard time deciding what to leave at home!
I tend to end up having one heavy coat i am left lugging around with me and a few spare books in case i finish one – i must invest in a Kindle.
Thanks for sharing.
Thanks, Lucy! A kindle has been great for me to be able to read on the road without having to carry a lot of books. 🙂
People may consider it silly, but I treasured my travel hair dryer. My hair dried quickly, it dried damped clothes and I used it as a heater on cold nights!!!!
Silly or not, if you consider it essential for your trip, then by all means, take it! 😉 By the way, it sounds like you have several uses for it, so it might be more useful for you to have it.
Awesome post it is just what you need but not being to bulky. It is about having fun and not about struggling with what you pack. Awesome Post. Thanks For sharing.
TIm Potter Texas
I agree with you, Tim… it’s about having fun!
Well, this is a great post and I am one of those guys who don’t pack enough. I totally agree about the jean. I used to pack 3 but ended up not wearing anything. People pock everything when they want to go on vacation because they are excited about it.
I know how that goes. I’ve done that too. Pack things I think I’m going to wear and end up carrying them all the way and not wearing them.
wow the tips are very cool.
Nice list and some very unique things you have put in there!
Great post. I totally agree, and I would go even further with t at some points. I usually travel hand luggage size (for +1month trips). Inca trail and volcano’s: I did it on Allstarts, so no need to pack heavy trekking shoes. Coffee machine: I met some Kiwi’s in India last month who were carrying one too! I couldn’t believe it at first!
The thing that shocked me most about this page was (never mind what one should or should not pack) is that you can buy antibiotics anywhere? Even if that is true, it is totally irresponsible for anyone but a doctor to prescribe antibiotics as they (a) simply do not work unless it’s a known bacterial infection and (b) are so overused in the world that new strains of diseases that were once cured e.g. TB are now antibiotic resistant – in the case of TB this occurred in New York. So please, whether at home or abroad, lay off buying antibiotics. Very, very few people ever need to take them (and if you have the sniffles or diarrhoea – that’s usually a virus and ABs are NOT going to help)
an oppinion pleaseee… how does it looks??
It’s really tough to decide what you don’t want to take that what you want to take on a backpacking trip. Your article has made it very easy to avoid unnecessary stuff while travelling on a backpacking trip. I also agree with your point that it is not important to carry any jewellery or valuables while on a backpacking trip. Thank you.