Inside My Backpack – Ultimate Packing Guide for Long-term Travel

What’s inside my backpack? After 30-plus-years of long-term travel, I’m sharing with you my ultimate packing guide and throwing in tips on choosing a backpack.

The question of what I pack for long-term travel is asked too often for me to ignore this any longer.

Warning: I’m not a minimalist when travelling. And, have no idea how travellers stay out for a year or longer with just a carry-on. I haven’t yet learnt this valuable skill.


A little background

Catching the travel bug when first leaving Australia in 1985 on a twelve-month solo-backpacking trip around the world, I’ve streamlined my backpack since then but still think I pack too much. It can be tricky knowing what to pack for long-term travel and across all seasons.

Typically, it doesn’t take me too long to pack. No, I don’t have packing cubes, which seem to be all the craze these days.

Packing for long-term travel is a different beast than for a short jaunt. Don’t despair as we can walk through this together…

Dong Hoi, Vietnam, SE Asia, backpacking
This is what 30kgs looks like – ditched the mat after 10 months in SE Asia. (Photo: Neil Lintern)

What’s inside my backpack?

Loads!

Together with my day pack, my backpack holds everything I possibly need for indefinite travel as I never really know when I’m returning to Australia. One year becomes two, three, then quickly, I’m on the road for six years – check out my post for the 4th anniversary.

On to my list…

  • 1 very warm jacket (NorthFace jacket is -15C)
  • 1 light jacket
  • 1 rain jacket
  • 1 cape – invaluable for covering you and your gear
  • 1 fleece
  • 1 thermal base layer (top and bottom)
  • 2 pairs leggings
  • 1 sarong
  • 1 pair of shorts
  • 1 pair of jeans or trekking trousers
  • 1 pair of smart trousers
  • 1-2 evening tops – can’t always look like a scruffy backpacker
  • 1 light long-sleeved shirt
  • 3 light-weight sweater tops
  • 4 T-shirts (long and short sleeves)
  • 3 singlet tops – great for layering
  • 1 pair of thermal gloves
  • 1 dressy scarf
  • 1 beanie
  • 1 wide-brimmed hat
  • 4 pairs of socks (2 thick, 2 normal)
  • 1 bathing suit
  • 1 neck gaiter
  • 12 (or more) undies – never skimp on these
  • 4-5 bras
  • 1 Microfiber fibre towel XL
  • 1 pair of trekking boots
  • 1 pair of hiking boots
  • 1 pair of flip-flops (great for communal showers)
  • 1 pair of smart shoes/sandals
  • 1 belt (my leather money belt with hidden zipper cash pocket perished in less than a year travelling through Asia)
  • 1 Mini Maglite torch – bought the excellent Varga head torch for my partner, which he recommends as it’s hands-free
  • 4 TSA locks
  • Travel adapter
  • Small Swiss Army Knife
  • Feather down -18C sleeping bag
Kanchanaburi, Thailand, SE Asia, backpacking
Looking like a drenched hobo – day pack is beneath my cape (Photo: Neil Lintern)

Bonus tips

  • Take lighter layers that you can mix and match to create different looks
  • I never pack white as it’s too hard to wash, becomes a lighter shade of grey, and always spill something on it within ten minutes
  • Pack a lot of darker colours and brighten these with accessories – scarves, hats, gloves – also great across seasons
  • Don’t take expensive jewellery (gold, diamonds, precious stones) or watch. You don’t want to be a target for theft or depending on the country, a target at knife or gunpoint
  • Wear trekking boots when flying as although a pain to take off at customs, they’re bulky and take up too much space in a backpack
  • Wear heaviest layers and any coats/jackets on the plane to save space and weight in your luggage

Packing tips

  • Don’t overfill your backpack – you only shed clothes along the way as you always buy something new
  • Roll don’t fold – clothes are less-creased when rolled and also take up less room
  • Use every available ’empty’ space – stuff socks and torch in shoes
  • Carry a separate light-weight laundry bag
  • Roll charging cables in separate hanks and store together in a zip-lock bag
  • Carry a couple of recycled plastic bags to pop shoes into before packing in your backpack

Inside my toiletry bag

Seriously, I always pack too much in my Caribee toiletry bag. I’ve owned this bag for over a decade now – it’s tough, durable, and washable.

  • Shampoo and tiny conditioner
  • Face moisturiser, cleanser, scrub, a couple of serums
  • SPF 50+ Sunscreen
  • 3 hair dyes – I’ve had disasters trying to match my colour – remove boxes and stuff bottles in empty spaces but in small zip-lock bags
  • 50ml Chanel perfume
  • Tampons (very expensive in many countries)
  • Brush and comb
  • 1 nail polish, emery board
  • Tweezers
  • Earbuds, cotton face pads

Small netted Kathmandu towel bag inside my daypack as I’ve recycled this for a makeup pouch.

Packing tips

  • Tighten screw-top bottles before packing
  • For clip-top bottles, run cellophane tape over the top and down on both sides – stops from popping open
  • Place toiletry bag in another non-porous bag in case of explosion/leakage whilst in transit

Inside my day pack

I used to use this pack as my everyday pack although now it’s when travelling from A to B or on treks. If I’m stationed somewhere for a few weeks, I unzip my backpack’s smaller pack and use that for every day, or steal my partner’s Crumpler Camera bag.

  • MacBook Air and charging lead
  • 1 Seagate 2TB External drive
  • 1 Seagate 4TB External drive
  • Flash drives
  • 3-port USB Hub
  • Reusable 1L water bottle – fill up before airport, drink before customs, the flight attendant can fill during flight or find the on-board tap and re-fill yourself – excellent for long-haul flights.
  • Mobile phone
  • iPad Mini 2
  • iPod (old tech now so take your preferred musical device)
  • Sudoku (paper copy)
  • Small Notepad, pocket-size year diary (for budgeting), pencil, and pen (to complete entry/exit cards)
  • Polarised sunglasses
  • Neck pouch for a passport (and copies), cards, cash, valuables
  • Small bottle hand sanitiser
  • Day pack cover
Kanchanaburi, Thailand, SE Asia, backpacking
Detachable Caribee day pack (Photo: Neil Lintern)

Inside my First Aid Kit

Depending on the country you’re in, first aid items can be very expensive and hard to find.

  • Eye drops, eyewash
  • Ear plugs
  • Plasters and wound pads
  • Savlon antiseptic cream or antiseptic powder
  • Anti-bacterial powder – for chafe and also trekking boots get very smelly
  • Paracetamol, Ibuprofen
  • Rehydration salts – read about my partner’s awful experience in Lima
  • Water purifying tablets
  • Foil blanket
  • Rid mosquito repellent
  • Vitamins
  • Monopod

Backpack vs. Rolling luggage

Never owning rolling luggage before, these are my observations over the years when helping travellers, friends, and family.

Rolling luggage

I’ve seen travellers dragging these over cobbled stones, through sand, over rough terrain, and up or down stairways – the latter can be dangerous. It’s funny to watch and think to myself, why would you?

You can’t take rolling luggage on treks so sooner or later you need some sort of backpack in addition to a rolling suitcase.

Maybe a rolling suitcase is better for people with back issues. Although I do suffer from a back problem but still find a backpack comfortable if it’s well-fitted.

Backpack

For me, the cons of using a backpack are few. It’s only tough when walking two kilometres with twenty kilos on my back and a ten-kilo-daypack at my front.

My problem is that The Beast (my camera) weighs three kilograms, which usually lives in my daypack with my laptop, cables, and stuff – weighing ten kilograms.

Genoa, Italy, Europe, backpacking
Stealing the Crumpler camera bag again… (Photo credit: Neil Lintern)

Choosing a backpack

Remember, the bigger the backpack, the more stuff you’ll pack, so the more to lug around.

My favourite backpack for decades is a 65-litre Caribee. I’ve owned two of these as this pack ticks all the boxes. The last Caribee I inherited from my sister lasted almost 15 years of not-so-delicate travelling. My current Caribee is six years old and still looks pretty decent.

Not in any order, these tips are what to look for when choosing a backpack:

  • Choose one that you know you can carry but also hoist on and off your back on your own, when fully ladened
  • Choose the right backpack for your body length and make sure an adjustable height for your body is included
  • Padded adjustable straps for shoulders, chest, and waist belt (sits on your hips, not waist)
  • Durable material
  • Side opening – I’m not a big fan of the top-opening hiking packs as everything falls to the bottom so you need to take everything out to find anything
  • Separate bottom compartment for shoes, dirty clothes, or heavy items
  • Strong zippers with locking points – don’t use a key lock as too easy to pick – read my story on robbed in Peru – always use a combination TSA lock
  • In-built rain cover
  • In-built harness/strap cover – avoids snagging on other luggage or airport luggage conveyor belts
  • Removable zippered day pack
  • Top and side grab handles – easier to manoeuvre on transport

Choosing a day pack

If your backpack doesn’t come with a removable day pack, then these are a few tips for you:

  • Padded adjustable straps for shoulders, chest, and waist belt
  • Durable material
  • Separate bottom and top compartments (if you carry camera gear)
  • Strong zippers with locking points
  • In-built rain cover or buy a separate cover
  • Top grab handle
  • Side pockets for a water bottle and other bits
  • Inside pockets

I carry a large camera, heavy zoom lens, plus a MacBookAir so quite weighty. Throw in an iPod, phone, iPad, cables, a few extras, and it’s not long before you reach ten kilograms. I always carry spare underwear when flying in case my backpack is lost, which did happen from Morocco to Argentina.

My Mountainsmith camera backpack is 35-litres and don’t have a problem filling this pack. Although these days, I tend to carry a little less in the pack as airlines are becoming stricter on size and weight.

This is also the second day pack of this type as my first was covered with human excrement during a scam in Quito, Ecuador. The faeces smell just wouldn’t go away – revolting.

Inside My Backpack, Siem Reap, Cambodia, SE Asia
Day pack in Siem Reap (Photo: Neil Lintern)

What are you waiting for?

Note: Never before have I put together a list of what’s inside my packs. I’m surprised that I carry so much stuff – time to minimise?

Whether you decide to buy a backpack or go for rolling luggage, the best tip that I can share with you is to buy something that’s slightly under what you think you’ll need.

Don’t go too big as you’ll always overpack and have issues – trust me, I’ve learnt the hard way.

I’m eager to hear your pros and cons for using a backpack vs. rolling suitcase. What are the packing must-haves that you simply can’t go without?

Leave me your comments below as I’d love to start a discussion.


My must-haves

If you decide to buy something from any of the links below or inside my post, then I may receive a small commission (for which I’m grateful) at no extra cost to you. These are items I’ve purchased.




Visit Nilla’s Photography for global images with more still to upload. Weekly updates of new travel and photography destinations at Image Earth Travel.

35 thoughts on “Inside My Backpack – Ultimate Packing Guide for Long-term Travel

Add yours

  1. I shall never forget to go to your page next time I’m off for a long term travel! I currently have 70L bag but I feel like downgrading it. The bigger the bag, the more you are obligated to stuff it with things 😅 Trying to be minimalist ✌🏻

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha, ha, made me laugh Gary but no, everything stays in neatly and nothing pops out, even on opening my pack. 😉
      Sometimes I do feel like a packhorse…
      Many thanks for taking the time to comment today.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow…That’s such an extensive list. Very helpful. I try to pack minimalist though essentials including a pair of black and blue jeans with couple of tops and some ethnics. I enjoyed reading your post.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thank you for the feedback and need to learn from you on how to be a minimalist! 😉
      I usually only pack one pair of jeans as they’re heavy and if hand washing, take a while to dry.

      Like

    1. Hi Christie, glad I brought a memory back for you and I’m sure if you put your mind to it you’d be able to hike most of that on your back again. 😉
      Thank you, all is well here and hope the same for you.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Great tips Nilla! When i went travelling and if I remember rightly, I started out with a rolling suitcase and then when my friends came to visit me in Thailand I swapped with one of their backpacks because it was easier to lug around, but GOD was it bloody heavy! xx

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Hi Carol, 12kgs sounds like a standard that many travellers use and I really should do the same but need to ditch The Beast and my laptop first.
      Yeah I know, I’m a sucker for lingerie and can never have too much with me! 🤣

      Like

    1. We are well, staying in. Our kids and grandkids are at different levels in the fray. Our granddaughter is studying to be an EMT, so she is in several medical facilities throughout the week! Keeping them all in prayer! Hope you and yours are well also! ❤❤❤

      Liked by 2 people

  4. You really do pack for every possible type of weather! That’s like packing for Alaska in the summer. Could be 75, could be 25.

    We have rolling luggage for 2 reasons: 1. We travel as a family, and when my kids were little, they rode on the rolling luggage through the airports. When they got bigger, they could handle their own luggage if it was one backpack and one rolling carry-on. 2. We’re just not especially intrepid people. We tend to fly somewhere, then ditch the suitcases at the hotel.

    I like the freedom of being able to carry everything on me, so I wouldn’t be surprised if I switch to a backpack when my husband and I travel alone when the kids are grown and independent.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Hi Amy, indeed I do and think sometimes I really need to cull.
      I’ve never travelled with children but can see the pros for rolling luggage. From what I’ve seen, just find rolling luggage awkward over many terrains.
      I’m sure you’ll ditch rolling for a backpack eventually.
      Many thanks for the great feedback and your comment.

      Like

  5. Lovely tips on backpacks Madam.. 😊 I shall incorporate these tips the next time I go backpacking (which I mostly do)
    However the 30 kg load you seem to carry is a bit worrisome. I mean doesn’t it reduce your flexibility to cover long distances using such backpacks?
    I usually prefer walking or taking public transport for commutation wherever I go. My light 12 kg backpack (though bulky), yet it helped me traverse across Russia (in thick snow) and many other European countries. But a 30 kg one is something I feel will hinder your ability to travel in public transport or walk even for 1 km. What do you say?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you Abir for your great feedback and questions.
      Tell me about it, 30kgs is a heavy load but usually only carry this in-between accommodation. On treks, I strip this down to a day pack, which is typically my camera bag. Think I need to learn from you how to travel with 12kgs only! 🤣
      I’ve walked 2+ kms with my 30-kilo load, it’s not easy and only do this when necessary.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. You re welcome Madam. I think we both need to learn from each other in that case.. 😉
      Let me list out what I carry in my 12 kg backpack.
      1. Camera (Don’t have a heavy DSLR with tripod, yet. Once I have that, the weight will increase)
      2. Shaving + Toiletry kit
      3. Thermal base layer (for Russia / Colder places) – Don’t carry it elsewhere
      4. 2 pairs of jeans
      5. 2 pairs of shorts
      6. 2 pairs of Shirts
      7. 2 night suits
      8. 2 Heavy Jackets (1 has to be worn; again valid for Cold Places)
      9. 2 Sweatshirts (1 has to be worn; valid for Cold Places)
      10. Mobile Charger
      11. Adapter
      12. Power Bank (Min. 10,000 mAh)
      13. Swiss Knife
      14. 1 L / 2 L Water Bottle
      15. Travel Related Documents
      16. Antiseptic Liquid and Cream
      17. Hand Sanitizers
      18. Emergency Medicines
      19. Electric Mosquito Repellent Machine with an extra refill
      20. A pair of slippers
      21. 1 Toothbrush + Paste
      22. 1 Deodorant and Perfume

      Many of the items like Shampoos, Soaps, Handwash, Towels, hair dryers are available in the hotel. So carrying them becomes pointless.

      Also, as you can see, a significant weight of the baggage depends on the weather. If I am traveling during summer, the backpack doesn’t even cross 10 kg weight. Of course, the trip duration I considered here is 15 days.

      Washing / Drying of the clothes is best left to the laundry services of the hotel. I know it is expensive if the accommodation doesn’t have a washing machine or dedicated self service laundry. But it reduces the weight by a large extent.

      I don’t carry cash. I am mostly cashless while traveling. These days there is even Google Pay available in many places, so I don’t even need to touch my cards.

      I refill the water bottle from my hotel (usually offering free drinking water). If that’s exhausted or I predict that I will end up consuming more, then I go for purchasing water bottles from a Supermarket.
      Why I am a bit skeptical carrying a heavy backpack or even a heavy rolled luggage is simply because of the fact that it drastically reduces my mobility. See, if I need to travel in a plane, I have to keep my luggage below 15 kg conservatively. Plus, if I am changing accommodations, I definitely have to use a Metro or a Bus. Here lies the real pain of using a backpack. The heavier it is, the more problematic it gets. Rolled luggage is a bit more convenient in this case. But again, rolled luggage gives you real pain when you have to roll it over the cobbled streets or thick ice.

      Of course, you might be using 30 kg backpack since you travel for a longer period of time, say more than 30 days. I might as well use that if I am traveling for a longer period of time. However my maximum travel period so far has been only 21 days.

      What do you say? What should be the ideal backpack according to you?

      Liked by 3 people

    3. Thanks for sharing your extensive list. I never use slippers so that’s something I don’t take and substitute flip-flops instead.

      I don’t think there’s an ideal weight but my Caribee goes with me everywhere. Of course on shorter trips I pack less at around 12kgs. I also remove the attached daypack from my Caribee pack, otherwise I just fill that with more stuff.

      The majority of my travel is long-term and the reason I shared such an extensive list. Travelling across seasons and continents means taking more clothes to accommodate different climates.

      I always carry some local cash on me as markets and remote villages don’t usually accept cards or apps. 😉

      Like

    4. Nicely summed up Madam. Your points are equally valid if you consider traveling for a longer duration, or traveling to different places with different climatic conditions.

      I carry some local currency, but never much. I mean, I use ATMs if I feel the need of getting some cash or if I anticipate that the destination won’t have any ATM (like in Teriberka, Russian Arctic)

      Well explained Madam. There isn’t any ideal weight. It depends on several factors, the length of travel and the climatic variations being two of them.. ☺️

      Liked by 2 people

    5. Please, call me Nilla as madam sounds much to formal. 😉
      Since being robbed in Peru, which was the only time I had too much cash on me returning from the US, I don’t carry a lot of cash.
      As I mentioned in my post, I’m not a minimalist packer when travelling long-term but hope to improve this along the way. 🙂

      Like

    6. Sure Madam, oops, Nilla.. ☺️🤗
      You are right. The threat of being robbed is very much real. That’s one major deterrent for me when it comes to carrying cash. I don’t trust any country in that matter, not even Europe.
      Well, I don’t claim to be a minimalist packer either 😅 but hope that I learn and improvise upon that.. ☺️
      I am sure both of us will improve in this field. Cheers..!!

      Liked by 1 person

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