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Round the world (RTW) trip packing list

Updated on January 23, 2011

So you’ve decided you’re going to quit your job, or take a gap-year and you’ve planned a round the world trip? You’ve bought your rtw ticket, you’ve organized your backpacker’s travel insurance and the last thing you need to to do before leaving is write your packing list and pack.

Packing for a long-term backpacking trip is very different for packing for a normal holiday. You’ll be carrying all your worldly possessions around on your back for most of the time so it’s essential to pack light and pack well. It’s very tempting to throw in a few extra items for ‘just in case’ but you’ll soon regret the extra weight and end up throwing things away or shipping them home. You can keep the weight of your pack down by buying items that are specifically designed for travel which will be small, light and often have extra features like quick-drying, SPF protection from UV rays and special treatments to stop them from smelling

The easiest way to avoid over-packing for a round the world trip is to buy a decent-size backpack. By decent size I mean big enough to hold your belongings for a year but much smaller than you think. Choosing your backpack is one of the most important aspects of your trip. It needs to be comfortable and light. A 50 liter backpack is big enough, anything over 70 liters is too big.

Shop for backpacks at

After choosing your pack you need to think about what to put in it.

Travel clothing

As a general rule, try to stick to fabrics that are light, quick-drying and wrinkle-resistant. Don’t take any favorite items that you’ll miss if they get lost/stolen/destroyed because guaranteed you’ll be needing to replace your wardrobe after 6 months to a year of travelling. There is lots of clothing available these days specially designed for travelling by companies such as North Face which is expensive, but worth it. Don’t try and pack several different ‘outfits’ – remember you’re carrying all this stuff around with you. Jeans are heavy and take ages to dry but I packed a light pair and wore them a lot when I was travelling. They’re useful on cold nights and when you’re on a night out and don’t want to look like a scruffy backpacker. I’ve included a general list below but don’t feel obliged to stick to it, just be sensible.

  • 2  or 3 tshirts
  • 1 tank/vest top
  • 1 pair shorts
  • 1 pair long trousers
  • 1 skirt (for girls)
  • 1 long-sleeved top
  • 1 micro-fleece
  • 1 light waterproof jacket
  • 2 pair socks (you won’t wear them much but you’ll need them for hiking and they’re useful for walking round cold hostel room floors)
  • underwear
  • swimsuit
  • sarong (can be used as a towel, to sit on, as a skirt, shoulder-wrap and multitude of other uses)
  • 1 pair walking sandals
  • 1 hat or bandanna.
  • 1 pair hiking boots only if you’re going to be doing a lot of hiking. If you’re planning on hiking only in a couple of areas on your itinerary you can usually buy them once you’re there

backpacker’s packing list - other essentials

Travel towel – normal towels take up loads of space, are heavy and take ages to dry. Special travel towels dry quickly, pack down small and weigh a fraction of a normal towel. You won’t regret buying this item!

Silk sleeping sheet. You can buy or make cotton sleep sheets but again they’re heavy and take up a lot of room. Silk weighs next to nothing and packs down really small. You don’t need a sleeping bag, by the way, unless you’re staying in mountain huts or somewhere really cold. If you’re travelling to asia first you can buy these really cheaply in tourist markets or there are plenty of places online to buy them before you go.

Torch/flashlight – essential for blackouts, dark roads and finding things in the dark

Backpack lock – optional but useful for some situations like night trains where you might want to lock your pack to something secure. Don’t bother with those big cage things that go all the way over your pack – everyone I know who’s used them has ended up ditching them

Penknife/ multitool – useful for all sorts of things. I used mine to saw through the lock on my back when I accidentally reset the combination (don’t do this). You’ll probably get most use out of the bottle opener and cork screw

Lighter and candle – for when your torch fails or you need to start a fire

First aid kit – don’t scrimp on this and try to cover for most eventualities. Take 3 times as many elastoplasts as you think you’ll need , lots of insect bite cream and insect repellent, allergy tablets, paracetamol etc, etc.

Travel clothes line – not essential but I used mine a lot

Waterproof bag containing your travel documents – passport, tickets, insurance information, visas etc

Money belt. I gave up on wearing mine after I left the first country on my trip (india) but you need one if you’re carrying a lot of cash

Alarm clock or use your mobile phone. You will need to wake up for early buses etc so you need some form of alarm. A cell phone can also come in useful in emergencies but try and take a cheap/old one and don’t advertise the fact you have it.

Small bag/ Day pack to carry your camera, water bottle etc for the day.

Always bear in mind that your things will get lost/stolen/broken over time and you can usually buy whatever you need once you’re away so don’t be too obsessive about packing for every eventuality. The golden rule is to pack as little as possible and make sure your backpack is as light as possible

Enjoy packing for your round the world trip!


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