Your packing list has to support how you will travel. The gear you find useful on the road has to make your life easier, otherwise it’s just more stuff to weigh you down and complicate your daily routine. Understanding your personal preferences and how you will travel allows you to decide what is useful and what isn’t.
Consider your trip:
Think about your personal preferences:
If you’re new to traveling and don’t have the experience to make informed decisions, do your homework. Online and printed resources are a great place to start, but your best bet is to find experienced travelers who can answer specific questions. Keep in mind the choices you make are personal, it’s rare to find that travelers overwhelmingly agree on which type of travel and gear is best.
However, there is one point that every experienced traveler has come to realize...
No matter how you travel, bring only what you need. Traveling light is always more enjoyable. Less stuff means less stress on your mind, your back and your wallet. If there is even the slightest doubt in your mind, leave it at home or be prepared to get rid of it on the road.
For newbies, the saying goes: Before you leave, lay out all of the gear you think you need and then get rid of half of it. Give it a shot and see how you do. You might not get down to half, but the process of deciding which half of your gear is most important will help you decide what to get rid of when your back starts to ache.
When choosing gear for a backpacking trip, size and weight are your biggest concerns. Cold weather and camping or hiking gear make the situation worse. For cold weather gear, plan on dressing in thin layers. Try not to bring clothes you’d never wear in milder weather.
Camping gear is bulky, heavy and expensive. It’s best avoided unless your trip specifically requires it. And the odds of you needing a sleeping bag or gas stove are slim if you stay near populated areas. Refer to our article To Camp, or Not to Camp? for more information.
There’s no difference between packing for five days and packing for five months. Traveling long distances means you will be relying on local services for things like laundry, groceries and gear repair/replacement - much as it is at home. This can be a bit scary at first, but everywhere there are people, there are ways to eat, sleep and fix a shoe.
Don’t buy gear for every eventuality, you can’t afford the space in your pack. If you’re worried, research what services are available locally and plan your travels accordingly. We only do this when it’s really important, otherwise travel wouldn’t be much of an adventure. You will have more fun making do with what you have than you will with your nose in a book or 50 pounds on your back.
Having a vehicle gives you extra space and added flexibility. At the same time, you’ll need more stuff to support your vehicle. Camping is a great option if you’re driving your own vehicle. You still need to worry about how bulky the gear is, but weight (and therefore price) is not a big concern. Spend your money on quality camping gear. Your tent, sleeping bag, camp stove and cookware will be heavily abused during your travels.
Avoid bringing gear that serves a single purpose, especially when it comes to camping. Simple items like plastic bins, resealable bags, a pocket knife or a quick drying camp towel can replace dozens of things you normally use at home and can be reused until they disintegrate.
Vehicle gear such as spare parts, emergency equipment and tools should be heavily researched before you decide what you’ll need. Some countries require that you have a basic set of emergency gear: safety triangles, flares, a jack, a full sized spare tire, an extra gas can, etc.
The availability of parts and repair services for your vehicle will vary greatly depending upon your where you travel. When in doubt, bring a service manual in your home language, and translated versions if available. Refer to our articles on Choosing an Overland Vehicle and Vehicle Modifications for more information.