What to Pack When Backpacking

What to Pack When You’re Backpacking… and what to leave at home

Perfect backpack for traveling Europe
Vaude Tour 40 Backpack

As a female, choosing what to pack for a weekend getaway can be a task in itself. So what do you do when you have to pack for a 5 week trip abroad and all you have is one travel backpack as a carry-on? Is it even possible??

Before my 5 week trip to Europe last summer, I did a lot of research. And I mean a lot. I found numerous articles on what to pack as a traveling female, and what to cross off the list. Some much info, in fact, that it became a bit overwhelming. So I ended up ditching the internet and packing for myself. Typically I have a problem with over-packing, but this trip I ended up wearing every single item, multiple times.

Skye -1 Packing - 0

Here is what I came up with:

1 lightweight black zip-up sweaterFor those chilly nights
2 sun dressesIdeal for beach days
1 normal tank – Wore this with my shorts (see shorts below)
5 crop top tanksPerfect for mixing/matching with maxi skirts
1 pair of leggingsAbsolutely necessary 
1 pair of shorts – Wore these when I didn’t feel like being girly
3 maxi skirtsPerfect for mixing/matching with crop tops
1 black mini skirt – For going out to da clubz
1 pair of pajama shorts (VS spandex shorts) – For catching those z's
1 pajama shirt (my boyfriend’s large T) – Zzzz
15 pairs of underwear – The more the merrier!
2 pairs of socks – I think I only wore these in the cold airports
1 swimsuit – Only necessary if there’s a beach! (Which there should be)
1 extra bra – Because duh
1 pair of sandals - Versatile for the beach or going out
1 pair of Toms (RIP) – Not the best for walking on cobblestone -__-

Now, I tended to err on the girly side while I was traveling this summer because I found it easier to dress the same outfits up and down. But if you aren’t a fan of maxi skirts and crop tops, you can easily switch them out for shorts and tanks. If you can, avoid bringing jeans. They are bulky and take up a lot of space.

But Skye, how did you pack new clothes that you bought along the way?

During my trip I ended up wanting to wear pants, so I bought some cheap leggings/pants to wear in Barcelona and then threw them out before I hopped on my next plane. If you plan on buying clothes abroad, be sure to pack extra light or prepare to throw some of your current clothes away. For example, I bought new clothes in Rome and threw out some of my old clothes to make room for them. Out with the old, in with the new! While this isn’t the most financially sound option, it’s a good way to keep your pack light if you plan on shopping. Another alternative is to ship your new clothes home so you don’t have to keep lugging them around.

What clothes to not bring abroad

  • Fancy dresses – Don’t get me wrong, I like dressing up just as much as the next fashionista, but fancy attire and cocktail dresses are not entirely necessary when you’re backpacking. One going-out dress might be a good additive, but try to stick to clothes you can mix/match on a daily basis and dress up or down (see maxi skirts above ^)
Bring causal shoes when traveling
Toms for Europe = check. Arch problems and sore feet = check.
  • Excessive jewelry – I’m not a big jewelry person as it is, but jewelry can be heavy and weigh down your pack. It’s also easy to lose. If you absolutely must bring some, limit yourself to one necklace, bracelet, ring, pair of earrings, etc.
  • Toms They worked for me, but they were definitely not ideal for walking around Europe. The cobblestone destroyed them so I had to throw them away before I came home (RIP). A light, fashionable pair of shoes with hard soles would be ideal.
  • High heels – Unless you plan on wearing them out every night, they are useless. Many Europeans and travelers wore sandals, converse and other casual shoes to the clubs. And the cracked roads would make it difficult to walk in heels anyway. *Note: I did not bring heels, nor did I need them… ever.

As a general rule of thumb, if you don’t plan on wearing something at least a once a week, don’t bring it.

Skye - 2 Packing - 0 

What to pack besides clothes

Clothes are an obvious choice to pack, but there are other necessities to bring as well. For example, toiletries, a lock, travel journal, etc.

  • iPad Mini (or small tablet device) – My mini became my best friend. Some hostels will have computers for hire, but my iPad mini came in handy when I wanted to book reservations, train tickets, etc. I also used it to access my Google Sheets doc with my itinerary (see future articles for how I planned my trip.) *Note: I thought I would use it for Netflix at night, but very few European countries have access to Netflix *tear*
Packing bags are ideal for organizing while you travel.
Small packing cubes – sorry for the stock photo, but I actually used these.
  • Small packing cubes – Although these may seem dumb, they were a life saver. I kept clothes in two of them and toiletries in another. Since my backpack was a top-load bag, these kept my bag organized and easily accessible.
  • Money belt – I had heard numerous horror stories about being pick-pocketed in Europe, so I was extra cautious about keeping my money and passport close to me. Train stations, metro stations, and highly populated areas are hot spots for  pick-pocketers, so I used a money belt underneath my shirt in these areas. It may seem dorky, but it’s well worth it. When I was in the hostel, I kept some of my money locked up in my locker and some on my person. Ever hear the phrase: Don’t keep all your eggs in one basket? Well it applies here.
  • Padlock – I rarely used my lock in hostels, but it’s a good idea to bring one anyway. Most hostels will provide a locker for you, but some don’t have locks. So if you have valuables you would like to keep safe during your travels, bring a padlock. I had an average size padlock which didn’t fit on some of the lockers, so a smaller one is more ideal. Also, if you’re able to lock your backpack, that’s a good idea too.
  • Toiletries – Wowzas. Toiletries were the bulky, heaviest part of my bag. I packed mini-everything. Mini shampoo, conditioner, hair spray, contact solution and toothpaste. I also packed extra contacts, bar soap (in a closed case), baby wipes (life saver!), makeup, deodorant, a washcloth, a toothbrush, etc. If you plan on taking planes during your travels, be sure your liquids fit in the required size bag. European flights aren’t as strict on this policy, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Travel journals are essential
My travel journal = love.
  • Travel journal – This is necessary. Even if you aren’t big into writing, keep a travel journal. Let me say that again: keep a travel journal. Almost every single traveler I met had one. It’s a good way to write down your adventures so you can remember them vividly. You may think you can remember them on your own, but trust me on this, you can’t. My trip was only 4 months ago and I’m already finding my journal useful for recalling my travels. If you learn one thing from this blog, it is this bullet point.
Skye - 3 Packing -0

Buying and packing souvenirs

While I was abroad, I wanted to buy souvenirs and gifts but didn’t have much room for them. Some good gift ideas are: postcards (they can be sentimental, yet take up little space), key chains, sunglasses, or other small trinkets. The best souvenirs you can take home are photographs. So be sure to take lots of pictures to remember your trip! This is something I definitely failed at.

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