One of the most empowering things about independent travel is the sense of confidence it develops and it may sound strange but learning to pack properly for travel is part of this. My travel packing guide is meant to help kick start your journey towards travelling with confidence.
I remember my first stint travelling solo (in Asia) and realising that I could cope with organising my own transport, accommodation and food on-the-go, not to mention occasional loneliness and the vulnerability that comes with travelling solo, and particularly as a woman.
Another thing that has been empowering and in a funny sense enriching is that over the years I have refined my packing style and tried to travel lighter and smarter. There is nothing like independent travel in the developing world to teach you that you can be very happy with very few personal possessions.
Gone are the days of carting a bulging fullsize backpack around the world – I now carry a 35 litre pack and its contents are carefully considered. Nowadays I often have my daughter as a travel companion and experience has led to an evolution to how I pack for her as well. I need to keep my hands free to keep her safe for a start.
While packing, remember that you will usually be able to buy most essentials in the country where you are travelling. Once the obvious passport and credit card are safely stowed, here is my list of essential items for all types of travel:
1. A cotton scarf, sarong or a wrap (I’ll admit to making a pinched airline blanket do duty during my most budget backpacking days). Apart from its obvious use as a scarf, this can be used as a towel, a wash cloth, a picnic blanket, a sleeping cover in hot climates, a head or shoulder covering when visiting sacred sites, a head cover for the inevitable bad hair days, the list is endless.
2. A first aid kit. The contents will vary widely depending on where you are travelling but first aid kits are a must have. Personal medications are an obvious place to start, as well as a small supply of a pain killer like ibuprofen. Sticking plasters, an iodine solution, rehydration salts are going to be useful wherever you go. For women travellers consider supplies of contraception and I often take a few cranberry capsules to ward off UTIs. From there the travel first aid kit can include everything from insect repellent to broad-spectrum antibiotics to hypodermic syringes. Sometimes my travel first aid kit consists of a few things in a small ziplock bag; sometimes I carry the works. Also consider how you are going to keep topped up with first aid supplies regularly on the road.
3. Comfortable shoes. From standing in line at the airport security to city sightseeing to mountain hiking, travelling involves a lot of time on your feet. Make sure you look after your feet and your joints by investing in a quality travel sandal, or perhaps a black travel shoe like this that can go from day to night.
4. A pocket knife. It’s got little scissors to keep my finger and toe nails short. It’s got a toothpick and tweezers. It’s perfect for everything from cutting off a wedge of delicious French cheese to spreading peanut butter on crackers. Unless I’m travelling without checked in luggage of course – then leave the pocket knife off the travel packing list!
5. A universal adaptor. Sometimes I travel with a good collection of devices – laptop, tablet, smart phone etc – and sometimes I prefer to leave technology behind and carry only my journal and pen. But I always have my camera and a universal adaptor to charge batteries wherever I am in the world is an essential item on my travel packing list.
6. Sun protection. As the proud but long-suffering owner of very fair skin, sun protection is very important to me and to be honest it ought to be for everyone. A high SPF sunscreen is an obvious thing to pack whether I’m city sightseeing or enjoying an adventurous activity in the great outdoors. But I don’t just rely on sunscreen. A broad-brimmed sun hat (also with SPF protection), long-sleeved clothing and good quality sunglasses are also de rigueur on my travel packing list. I also keep a high SPF sun-protection lip balm handy for emergency top ups!
7. A book. Even if you’re not a beach/hammock holiday sort of person you never know when the opportunity may arise for some quality reading time while travelling. I recently made to the move to reading books on an e-reader for travel (and dark rooms) and they are a perfect space saver for travellers. For some people music is more important so a personal music player and earphones or mini speakers will be what you need.
8. Something nice. After years of travelling without this, it is now an item I never leave home without. I just got tired of going out for dinner at night or to a museum or shopping in my tired-looking travel clothes. These days the travel gear companies have designed all sorts of dresses and skirts that are easy to wear, pack and wash. Some even have reversible patterns/colours to ward off that other bugbear of the longterm female traveller – wardrobe boredom!
By Natasha von Geldern
What items do you always include in your travel packing?