Backpacking essentials to take on a world trip

Yep, you guessed it.. we over-packed. Planning for a round the world trip is stressful. There is so much info out there on what to take, that we (like most) decided to pack everything. Not quite the kitchen sink but you get the idea. And only two weeks into our travels, we already found ourselves with a trail of unused items in our (very overloaded) wake. So, what are the backpacking essentials to take? Keep in mind that we started our trip in Southeast Asia, so these recommendations are very geared towards the availability of items in that region, and the weather! Anyway, here goes:

All James packing laid out on bed

Related: What are the best gifts for backpackers?


It really is incredibly cheap to buy clothing at markets in South East Asia. So make sure you leave some room in your bags when you leave. Or you’ll be questioning whether it’s worth buying a pair of cotton travel trousers or a new t-shirt, without the space. So many people are wearing them as they’re super comfortable and you can find great quality for way cheaper than you’d get back home.

Toiletries and medication

Gone are the days when you’d struggle to find brands that you are used to at home. You’ll find all you need in most supermarkets and pharmacies so there really is little need to bring more than a week’s worth with you. Maybe that will change when we get to Myanmar, but so far so good. And if you do need any simple meds (think paracetamol or Imodium) then the pharmacy will help you out. However, make sure you bring the medication that you need if you have a more serious condition. James was recently diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis (an autoimmune disease) and knowing that we have enough of his medication for the trip keeps our fears at bay and provides that sense of security.

Remember: If you are travelling with lots of medication, make sure you get a doctor’s letter beforehand. It can really help with customs. And definitely do some research into hospitals that specialise in your condition. We found that the IBD Passport, a special website for his condition, was a great help!

Check out our recommended list of what should be in your first aid travel kit. Just make sure that for any conditions that you have, ask a Doctor for their advice.

Our essential backpacking items

Before we get into the slightly long list of essentials, actually the key item to consider when planning a backpacking trip? The backpack itself! For us, there is honestly nothing better than an Osprey. Well-made, tough as nails, incredibly comfortable – what’s not to love? Plus the Osprey warranty is second to none; and you can get it repaired in most countries in the world, entirely for free!

Now, once we’ve finished waxing lyrical over the Osprey, if there was one thing that we wouldn’t leave without (apart from the medication) it would definitely be the Pac Safe. Such a simple concept. This is a portable safe made of reinforced fabric and a flexible locking system, gives us huge peace of mind every time we leave our room. We’re not staying in dorms, where I could see this being even more beneficial. But even if you’re in a room with a safe, often it’s too small to fit everything in. We went for the 12 litre version, which easily fits both our laptops, Go Pro, camera, wallets and passports. The size also fits well in a standard carry on backpack and as it goes pretty much flat, taking up hardly any space.

It is a must and no 1 on our list of essential things to pack!

Pacsafe bag on a shelf


An obvious one, but having a mobile these days is essential to get around, book taxis, traverse maps (remember to download the offline maps for each city, so you don’t need to tap into your data bundle), you name it. However, what’s not obvious is getting a quality screen protector for that expensive smartphone of yours. After just two weeks we both had scratches on our protectors and we’re not that clumsy (well maybe Lee is) or careless. Although we treat our things well, it happens way more easily than we ever expected. It’s also definitely a bit of a trial and error approach since phones with a curved screen, like the Samsung S8, are more difficult to find ones that fit well without being tricky to use in the ‘corners’ of the screen. Head over to Amazon to find your size.

If you’re planning on diving, spending time on the beach or want to do any water-based activities like waterfall treks or kayaking, then a dry bag is a great addition. One of us has an older iPhone that offers no water protection. So knowing that it’s safe during the outings is a relief. Since we’re massive Osprey fans, we have their 12 litre dry sack which easily fits our phones, money and camera for a day out.

Related: What’s the best drone to use while travelling?

Keep it simple

It’s the simple things that can really add to the enjoyment of a trip, and we both love playing cards. So get a good pack with a waterproof case. It’s a great way to meet people, keep you entertained during long journeys or downtime and learn new games. Thanks Matt from The Stray Mile for the introduction to Thirteen. We are so addicted!

So they may not be the sexiest thing you’ll wear (far from!). But both of us pretty much now live in our hiking sandals. We both invested in a decent pair of Teva’s. And we wouldn’t leave home without them. Flip flops are great, but when your day at the beach turns into a jungle hike to find that elusive waterfall that you’ve been told about, these things definitely come into their own.

I know it’s on most people’s list already, but a special call out to the simple head torch. And don’t think that you need to be going on early morning mountain treks to get use out of one of these. James found it a real help with shaving in a bathroom with very low light. Rock ‘n Roll people!

Staying connected

And last, but by no means least, GlocalMe. Yes, wifi is everywhere. And if all else fails you can usually find a little café that will provide you with internet in exchange for a cheap coffee. But this little gadget is brilliant and one of the best gadgets for remote work! We hadn’t really heard about the GlocalMe before receiving it as a leaving gift from a friend (thank you Stefan)! But it has on numerous occasions been super useful. Whether it’s when you land and want to grab a taxi or want to quickly check TripAdvisor recommendations on a cute little place that you stumble across, this thing delivers. You can buy data packages that are good as getting on a local sim, and load it up. It also has the option to add a local Sim if you find really good prices. It’s pretty handy as a power bank too, since you can get three full charges out of it. So definitely on our list of essential things to pack.

Read next: Do I need a GoPro when I go travelling?

Beach Life

Anyone travelling knows that space is at a premium. But in most hotels and hostels you don’t get the luxury of a beach towel, making life a little difficult if near the sea. We originally bought cheap quick-dry towels for our trip – they worked okay but if they got a bit damp, they were just covered in the white and gold stuff. So, what to do? A few months ago we worked with an Australian-based towel outfit, called Tesalate and we are now huge converts to their product. Their towels keep you totally dry, don’t attract sand (really – they are totally sand-free) and come with some pretty neat designs. Having tried and tested these in the rainy season in SE Asia, we wouldn’t pack an alternative again.

What would you suggest taking or leaving on a round the world trip? Have you ever just needed to pack a carry on bagHit us up here or on Instagram.

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