The Art of Packing

One month to go until the Vietnam trip I have been wanting to do for over 10 years and I am too excited! The new backpacks have been bought. Now it’s time to decide what to fill them with. 

Backpacks from my RTW adventure. Not all mine!
Backpacks from my RTW adventure. Not all mine!

Packing for backpacking travel is not as simple as chucking a few things in a suitcase. If you get it wrong, you may well face some uncomfortable days on the road. Lugging unwanted kilos on your back just isn’t fun for anyone.

My first backpack was a blue, 65 litre home that I carried on my back. I took it island hopping in Greece, where I camped in various places, hauling it on and off boats, buses and into taxis. It was well made, comfortable and I loved it, but it was so heavy, I could barely walk for a hundred metres with it on.

On an adventure, the absolute key thing in my opinion is to keep your bag small and light. There are at least three benefits to this – you can:

  • Walk to hostels or between buses with a spring in your step!
  • Keep your bag with you on a bus so you don’t have to strap it to the roof, or put it underneath. Vital for safety and not having to worry about your precious possessions
  • Happily walk around with your bag on days where you don’t have a base to store it. Want to explore a town? Fancy a museum that day? No problem. It’s not heavy, so it’s not a burden.
This is what I took originally around the world. I got rid of a lot of it on the way! This time, I’m taking a lot less!

I’ve met many travellers on the road carrying bags that were twice the size of them. They heave them onto their backs and waddle down the road, often pretending to enjoy themselves, but their strained faces give away how difficult it is. It doesn’t have to be that way!

Before my year abroad, I too used to carry the heaviest suitcase. I couldn’t resist filling it with shoes that I was convinced I needed, but wouldn’t wear once I’d reached my destination. Travelling long term helped me learn to live really minimally and not need ‘things’ – the adventure is enough.

Here are some things I’ve learnt that I just don’t need:

  • Pretty shoes. I love to look at them, but I’m never going to wear any kind of high heel or fancy shoe while I’m backpacking. Flip flops and walking shoes is enough
  • Sleeping bag. It’s too heavy, and the quality of hostels I’ve experienced have generally been fine for sleeping in their linen. When spontaneously camping, I borrowed or hired a sleeping bag, which is better than always carrying one.
  • Fluffy towel. You may have days where you miss the home comforts, but really this is very heavy and unnecessary.
  • Dresses or going out clothes. I did take some nicer dresses originally, but I ditched them in El Salvador as when backpacking it’s just not necessary to get dressed up in the way you might at home. You can always pick something up on the road if you need it.
  • Jeans. Debatable. I took them as I wear them a lot at home, but I don’t think they are necessary. They are hot, really heavy and don’t dry quickly enough after rain.

My favourite travel packing advice online comes from Travel Independent. It’s a long piece to read, but it’s full of top tips for keeping your bag light, so it’s worth it.

My new backpack is 45 litres and if anyone is interested in an example packing list for this, here is what I am currently planning to take on my trip to Vietnam:



2 x t-shirts
2 x vest tops
1 x long sleeved top
1 x fleece
1 x waterproof jacket (or a poncho – not sure yet)
2 x thai pants
1 x quick dry trousers
1 x leggings
1 x bikini
1 x scarf/ sarong
1 x shorts
3 x walking socks
1 x walking trainers
1 x flip flops
1 x gigantic quick dry towel
1 x headscarf


1 x spork
1 x mini bottle opener (Vital!)
1 x sleeping bag liner
1 x plug adaptor
1 x phone charger
Smart Phone
DSLRCamera, memory cards and lenses (Undecided on which lenses yet!)
Memory Sticks
1 x headtorch
Mosquito repellent plug in
Travel Guide + Phrasebook
Padlock and chain
Money belt
Fake Money Belt
Sun glasses

Medical Type Kit

Diarrhorea tablets
Lip salve
Antiseptic cream
Bite cream
Hand sanitiser
Rehydration packets
Vitamin B1
Cold/ flu pills
Olbas Oil

Wash Kit

Olive oil soap (Can be used to wash me and my clothes!)
Nail clippers
Wet wipes
Sun cream
Coconut cream


When you’re travelling… what is the one thing you can’t go without?


  1. Once the list is compiled, I actually put the items IN the backpack or bag, then check them off one by one, then check them off again when its time to GO. Then I finally learned to take only what I will actually use…and not “what-if” stuff that can be bought at the destination. And good on the shoes…no one goes to a formal ball on a backpacking trip, but IF necessary strappy shoes and filmy gown will be available there. I never got to Vietnam…be sure to enjoy it. I would stuff a handful of plastic bags in too. 🙂

      1. this stage is a good time to add a new toothbrush and paste…I forgot them a couple times even when they were on the list. 🙂 ( a comb, too) sometimes I even had these items “live” in the suitcase/backpack.

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