When I first decided to drop everything and spend a year backpacking, the first question that popped into my mind was “how the hell am I going to pack for this?” I began obsessively reading countless blog posts on packing for long trips and even did a few “trial packs” to get a sense of how much I could fit into my backpack without making it uncomfortably heavy. Based on this and the relatively minimal personal experience I have with backpacking, I learned a few key lessons that helped me finalise my packing list.
1. There is no one size fits all packing list
We all have different needs, preferences, abilities, destinations, and desires so we’re all going to have different packing lists. I love the outdoors, running, and a good workout. That along with my multi-climate/season itinerary is going to determine the clothing and shoes I bring. I want to blog and document my experience via words and photos, so that’s going to determine what electronics I bring. My needs as a trans person are going to have an influence on things like toiletries, medication, and clothes. Bottom line: reading blogs are great starting points, but the only way to figure out what works for you is to try different things out.
2. Don’t bring anything you wouldn’t be willing to lose, break, or ditch
Every single item of clothing, shoes, electronics, etc. that I bring I could do without if something happens. I would be upset and bummed, but honestly the documents and photos on my computer are the most valuable things I have, and all of that is backed up frequently to multiple cloud services. So if the physical computer goes, I’ll be set. I also know that most things I’m taking I would wiling ditch along the way if I decide I have too much stuff and want to lighten my load.
3. Travel insurance is the most valuable thing you can bring
Going off the last point, if something does happen to my stuff or my person, in many cases my travel insurance will cover it as long as I can prove I’ve taken necessary precautions to protect myself and my belongings. I went with World Nomads which is highly recommended by countless bloggers, Lonely Planet, and National Geographic. Also have a backup plan for worst case possible scenario and you lose all your cash, cards, check books, and any other source of money. For me that’s Western Union – anyone can send money to me for pick up at any branch across the world. I’m taking every precaution I can to prevent anything from happening, but I want a plan in place so I’m prepared if something does happen.
4. Ask yourself again and again, “do I really need this?”
No matter how small the item is, ask yourself could you live without this or could you buy it along the way if you end up needing it? Sure there are some things you don’t want to buy along the way because they can be expensive. But do I really need a winter hat and gloves for the first two months of my trip when I’ll be in places with warm weather, or can I buy some cheap ones once it starts to get cold and ditch them again once I’m back in warmer places? Obviously there are going to be things you want to bring that aren’t necessities, but it’s a matter of balancing what you’re willing to carry and what you really need.
With these things in mind, I present to you everything I’ll be taking with me for the next year.
With all my clothing, I tried to pack things that would layer easily so I can be prepared for most climates. I know I'll be in primarily warm weather (December, January, and February will be spent in the Southern hemisphere where it's summer that time of year) but will be in the Baltics in late October so will still need to be prepared for colder weather.
- Hiking books
- Hybrid trail/road running shoes
I had some serious internal debates about what shoes to/not to bring. I love hiking so my beloved hiking boots were a necessity. I love running - as a way to explore a new city, through the mountains for a great view, and just as a way to clear my head - so my hybrid trail/road running shoes were a must. I also knew I needed some kind of hot weather shoe, something I could slip on quickly, and something to wear in shared showers. Thankfully I was able to combine these categories into one pair of Chacos. I strongly considered bringing a small pair of roll up ballet flats to have something a bit nicer and/or a pair of flip flops, but ultimately decided they weren't worth the space and cheap enough that I could buy along the way if I end up wanting them.
- Skinny jeans
-They take up slightly less space and I'm weird and think skinny jeans are more comfortable than regular jeans.
- North Face Convertible Trousers
-Maybe they are "unfashionable" but one I don't care, two they're functional, three they fold up really small.
- Running shorts
-For sleeping and relaxing
- Short spandex
-For running and will also double as swim shorts because I don't own a swim suit and don't want to buy one because gender dysphoria is too real and while there are many trans-positive swimsuit lines, most are expensive and I don't swim enough to make it worth the investment. Plus doubling up on items saves space.
- Long spandex
-Great for running, sleeping, and pseudo-long underwear when it's cold.
- 2x t-shirts
-One that's slight nicer so I don't always look like a complete slob.
- 1x tank top
- 1x long sleeve t-shirt
- 1x spandex tank top
-For running and swimming.
- 1x long sleeve (thin) spandex shirt
-For running, an under shirt in cold weather, and a light, loose, shirt to protect myself from bugs in hot heather.
- Light raincoat
-Thank you Bucknell Admissions. This puppy can be folded up really small which is great to just stick in my day pack.
- Fleece flannel
-Versatile (for example, it can be layered with my two long sleeve shirts for cold weather or worn with a tank top for slightly unpredictable weather that's cold one minute, hot the next) and if you know me at all, you know I can't live without one. Plus the way this one fits me makes it good for hiding my chest when dysphoria is particularly bad.
Again, some major debates happened here. Originally I was planning on taking a Merino wool jumper instead of my flannel, but changed my mind while making this blog because one, I like that it buttons up (as opposed to a pull over), giving it more versatility, and two, it is my fashion staple. I also really wanted to take my nice Timberland raincoat that can also work as a wonderful outer shell coat for winter. But decided it took up too much space and wouldn't get enough use to be worth it. Once the weather starts to get cold (and I won't be in any massively cold weather like that time I went to Siberia and the world's coldest capital city in the dead of winter), I'm going to buy a cheap heavier jacket that I'll ditch once I'm back in warmer weather.
Sorry but I'm not giving you a picture of my undies so here's a picture of my packing cubes instead.
- 4x of panties
- 3x bras
-One of them does a decent job of compressing my chest, making it almost a binder which is great for me.
- 2x Merino wool socks
- 1x short running socks
Okay I know this doesn't seem like a lot, and it's not. But backpacking isn't supposed to be glamorous and you're going to end up doing laundry along the way regardless. The more underwear you bring, the less laundry you have to do but the more weight/space it takes up (and the longer dirty, possibly stinky underwear will be chilling in your backpack). The panties I'm bringing are quick dry, so I can bring them into the shower with me at night, give them a decent washing, hang them up overnight, and in most cases they'll be dry by the next morning (unless it's really humid). Of course real laundry will also be done, but this is a great way to keep the stink away when you're on the move with not a lot of time. Merino wool also dries really quickly and doesn't retain smell. Fun fact I didn't blog about while it was happening - but on my European Easter Expedition I did a stink test with my Merino wool socks to see how many days I could go of wearing them before they started to smell. That trip I averaged 10+ miles of walking a day and they still didn't start to stink during the two weeks.
- Baseball hat
-For sunny days, and when I don't feel like washing my hair
-For when I almost inevitably lose weight. My spandex pants ended up being too big after a 3 week trip.
Once it starts getting cold, I'll be picking up a cheap beanie and gloves if I need them.
- GoPro Head strap
- GoPro with monopod
-Not pictured is the adjustable strap I made out of paracord so I can secure the camera to my wrist, neck, backpack, or whatever else.
- MicroSD card reader
- 2x USB to micro-USB splitter
-2 USB ports turn into 4 charging stations. All of my devices except my computer can be charged with micro-USB so these are really handy, but remember that the power will be split so devices won’t charge as quickly with these, which isn't a problem for overnight charging.
- 2 Micro-USB cords
- MacBook Air charger
-Small thing but I decided to take my US charger instead of my UK charger because UK plugs are bulkier than US plugs
- 2x spare camera batteries and charger
- Micro fibre lens cloth
- 13” MacBook Air
- iPhone with extension battery case
-Not only does this significantly extent my phone's battery life, it allows it to be charged with a micro-USB, meaning one less kind of cable to worry about
- Canon EOS 100D
- Universal travel adaptor
-One electrical plug, two USB plugs, and is significantly smaller that most universal adaptors I’ve had.
- Apple Watch
- USB splitter
-One USB plug turns into three.
- Bluetooth headphones
- 64 GB flash drive
-Useful for backing up photos when no internet connection is available.
- Power bank/Apple Watch charger
-I wanted to bring 2 power banks, and this is great because it takes away the need for a separate Apple Watch charger.
- Power bank
- VPN (not pictured)
-A VPN is not only nice if you want to watch US Netflix abroad (or any other country for that matter, but let's be real, nothing compares to US Netflix), but also creates a secure connection by hiding your location and encrypting your communications. This is so important when using public wifi (especially for things like online banking), which will be pretty common while travelling. I use Express VPN and highly recommend it. If you use the link provided to purchase it, we'll both get 30 days free :)
- Face/body wash
- Tooth paste
-I honestly might end up ditching this because I don't use lotion that often, but it's nice to have.
-Okay so periods. I've been on hormone replacement therapy for a little over two years. Because of the nature of travelling and dealing with flights and international boarders, continuing my weekly injections wouldn't be an easy task (and probably just end up stressing me out more than benefiting me), so I'm temporarily stopping HRT for this trip. I considered getting testosterone gel, but it's not as effective, it's expensive, it doesn't address the issue of testosterone being a controlled substance and the differing laws around it globally, and would just be another liquid to worry about (not actually a liquid, but for flight carry-on purposes gels are typically classified as liquids). As I discovered on a nearly 42 hour long train ride, going just 3 weeks without the injection is enough to convince my body to start having a period again so I need something. Any kind of menstrual cup is great because it has less environmental impact and it is just one thing to carry as opposed to having to buy pads or tampons once a month.
- Panty liners
-That said about the Mooncup, I want to have a few backup panty liners in case I'm in a rush or don't have access to a sink to clean it (which will certainly be the case in a lot of countries outside of the western world). This is particularly true because I honestly have no idea what my cycle will be given how long I've been on HRT for.
-Probably one of the most important things I'm bringing.
- Hand sanitiser
- Wet wipes
-For when you don't have time or energy to shower.
- Nail clippers
- Body spray
-Possibly the tiniest bottle of it that came as a sample with some deodorant I bought. Could be nice to freshen up with and basically takes up no space.
- Toilet paper
-I don't have this yet because generally Europe (my first destination) is pretty good about supplying toilet paper, but once I'm in a lot of Asian countries, I know not to expect toilet paper.
- Floss (not pictured)
- Bug spray (not pictured)
-Yes, plural. My old passport had to get renewed because I was almost out of pages for visas and stamps. However, my 10-year, multi-entry Chinese visa is in there and I can still use that as long as I also have a currently valid passport. So I have two passports to keep track of.
- Drivers license
-I don't anticipate renting any cars (mostly because it costs SO much more if you're under 25), but it's good to have just in case I do (though not all countries recognise US drivers licenses). Plus it's a nice backup form of ID in case your passport is lost or stolen as you'll need some form of ID to get a new one from an embassy.
- Student IDs
-Get them discounts. I still have my Bucknell one (with no expiration date but the picture doesn't really look like me anymore) and my Sussex one (looks like me, but has an expiration date at the end of September; I might try to doctor it to change the year or just hope no one notices...)
- Debit cards
- Credit cards
-Note about debit and credit cards: it's smart to have at least one (along with some spare emergency cash) kept separately from your main wallet. That way if your wallet is stolen you still have backpack. Money belts are great for this.
- Vaccination certificate
-Thank god for the NHS covering the vast majority of my travel vaccinations. At this point I don't know if I'll be going to a country where I need a yellow fever vaccine, but since it's good for life I figured I'd go ahead and get it.
- Travel insurance
-I have a small card with the key information (i.e. policy number, name, and emergency/non-emergency contact numbers for the company) printed in my wallet so it's easily accessible if something happens.
- Extra passport photos
-Both in 51mm x 51 mm for US standards if I need to renew my passport and 35mm x 45mm for most other countries if I need to apply for visas
- Electronic copies of everything
-Encrypted and saved in a secure cloud server so even if I don't have my phsyical computer, I still have access to the copies.
- Money belt
- Luggage locks
-I have three; one for my day pack, one for my large backpack, and one for the cable/hostel lockers
-I almost got a large PacSafe so I could secure my entire bag, but the weight and size seemed excessive. With this I can lock one or both of my bags to a sturdy and secure pole (or whatever else) if needed. It's certainly not as secure, but most thieves or opportunistic and this would be enough of a deterrent in many cases.
- Compass bracelet with whistle
-My friend Melissa had a compass on a bracelet when we were on the Trans-Siberian trip together, and I thought it was brilliant. Even with smartphones and Google maps, it's useful to orient yourself so you don't start walking in the wrong direction. And there are these things called physical maps that are good to be able to read and use for navigation if you're in an area with no internet, or if *gasp* your phone dies. And a compass is pretty useful for those things. The one I have is made out of paracord which might come in handy, and has a whistle built in so in an emergency I can bring attention to myself.
- Wallet with chain
-So you can clip it to a belt loop to reduce risk of having it stolen.
-Altitude sickness medication that I have leftover from Tibet. I don't know if I'll need it, but it can't hurt.
- Travel bottle with aspirin, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen
-I don't get motion sickness often, but have a few times in my life so thought it would be good to have.
- Earex pain relief
-I get earaches fairly frequently, and I don't know if it actually works of it it's just a placebo effect, but this stuff is great.
- Cough drops
- Elastic gauze and tape
- Bandaids in various sizes
- Alcohol wipes
- Gauze pad
- Osprey backpack rain cover
- Ear plugs
-I've tried reusable ones before, but I have yet to find ones that I like and work, so biodegradable single use ones will do for now (though I do end up reusing them a lot anyway...oops).
- Eye mask
- Inflatable neck pillow
-I love this thing because it is so small but so comfortable and easy to blow up.
- Packable tote bag
-Something I may ditch along the way, but might be useful for grocery shopping.
- Collapsable water bottle
- Sleeping bag liner
-I'll be doing a lot of Couchsurfing, and in my limited experience with it thus far, you never know what your host will have so it's good to have something that can be used as a blanket. Also handy for hostels with questionable bedsheets.
- Collapsable bowl
- Playing cards
- Micro-fibre towel
- Small washcloth
- Resistance bands
-Because I am a slight workout junkie, I thought these might be an easy way to get a decent workout in while travelling. I've already gotten a lot of use out of them and they were only £5 so if I end up not using them or decide it's not worth the space, then I'll just ditch them along the way.
- Arm band for my phone
-The one time I went running without this thing, I dropped my phone and cracked my screen...
- Tiny sewing kit
-Probably won't end up needing it, but it's so small that it can't hurt.
- Extra zip lock bag (not pictured)
In the past, I've used a cheap but decent Eurohike backpack. It's done the job and is still functional, but I had a feeling it wouldn't last for a full year of travel and the last thing I want to happen is my backpack to fall apart while travelling. So I did extensive research and ultimately decided on the Osprey Farpoint 70. The biggest reason is its detachable daypack. I knew I wanted a small daypack, but I also knew I might be doing longer hiking trips and would want something that could be combined into one pack. The Farpoint gave me the best of both worlds. I don't like that it doesn't have all of the features traditional hiking backpacks, but this still provides good enough support and is sufficient for me. Like basically all packs that were going to be big enough for this trip, it's too big for a carryon with some budget airlines and smaller airplanes, but for long-haul flights it's fine. I also like this pack because you can zip up the back panel so the straps and waist band are contained which is good for when you do have to check it because then you aren't worrying about anything getting caught on conveyor belts or anything.
These pictures show my backpack with everything I'm bringing inside. It's ultimately going to be slightly smaller because I'll obviously be wearing clothes and shoes that were inside for this picture, but it was useful to get a sense of how much everything weighed together. I did a few 10-30 minute walks with both arrangements of the backpack to make sure it felt comfortable. It's a little heavier than I would like, but still manageable and comfortable. I'll either get used to the weight or ditch stuff along the way to lighten the load. The large pack weighs 22 lb (16 kg), and my day pack weighs 13 lb (6 kg) and that's mostly weight from my camera and computer.