There is nothing more freeing than adopting a backpack and leave your worldly possessions behind.
I have been asked what to pack when you’re taking off for a whole year. What do you need and what should you leave behind? In my experience having less (which has been well thought out) is more. If you find you’re one who is packing a lot don’t worry most people arrive with several suitcases and drop a bunch of stuff at the free shelves in various hostels (pay it forward). You can also pick up some awesome free stuff you didn’t know you needed there. It’s truly no big deal. But if you want some guidance I suggest some of the following.
Before you begin
Buy a backpack that fits you well. The one thing I absolutely regret was not buying an internal framed backpack that fit me. Instead I used an aunt’s (basically new) backpack that she had bought 15 or 16 years prior but never made use of. Though the price was right, I did a lot of walking with all my stuff on my back and the weight distribution would have been better with a proper fitting backpack. She was a size medium I should have been an extra small.
Don’t let your backpack become heavier than one third of your weight. This isn’t something I personally struggled with because I am an experienced hiker and knew about this rule. It will also save you money to know exactly how many kilos your bags are because budget airlines will charge you by the weight.
When thinking about clothes I tried to make sure every single piece of clothing could be paired with everything. It really paid off that the pants (except for the cargo) dresses, shoes, etc. were interchangeable.
- Pants (4)
1 Grey and 1 Black Corduroy (appropriate for work)
Cargo Style (not super stylish but the lightweight pants to shorts option is great if your hiking or just want to reduce the clothing items you want to take.
- Shorts (I bought a pair for less than $5 at Kmart)
- Undergarments *note* you can save room by buying moisture wicking underwear quick dry underwear garments that you can wash out each night in a sink and dry overnight. The packaging will tell you only one pair is necessary, but I disagree. Otherwise determine the number you need by thinking about how often you plan to wash your clothes (I did about once a week) and use that number +1.
- Bras I packed regular and sport because I was planning to do some hiking and cycling while abroad
- 4 T-Shirts (I packed nicer shirts I could use for work) -learn the t-shirt roll technique here.
- Sun Dresses: I packed my two nicest sun dresses that could be used in a casual workplace and were made of material that didn’t require ironing.
- 2 nice Dresses (a polyester/spandex combo (95%/5%) doesn’t require ironing even after being rolled up in a backpack).
- Scarf to class up what I’m wearing (I’d bring an infinity scarf if I had to do it over again)
- Broken in hiking boots (I wore mine on the plane as they were heavy and took a lot of space). Make sure your boots are clean with no clumps of dirt in the soles to keep Customs happy.
- Comfortable walking shoes (mine were leather ballet flats with washable soles) appropriate for work and comfortable to walk 14 kilometers in a day around the city
- Sneakers (called trainers or runners in Australia)
- Flip Flops (called thongs in Australia)
- GSM enabled unlocked mobile phone. You can get a pay-as-you-go plan to SIM on arrival. Major phone providers in Australia are Optus and Telstra. Alternatives are Boost and Lyrica Mobile. Don’t forget your charging cable or buy one that works locally upon arrival.
- Camera: I opted for a mid-range point-and-shoot-camera over a DSLR. Read about why I think that was a fantastic choice here.
- Laptop/tablet: I am so glad I took my laptop with me as I enjoy typing with a keyboard. It was a bit bulkier than I would have liked (and got beat to heck and back traveling with me all around Australia). About Charging: most laptop AC adapters are 100/240V capable and have a detachable cable connecting the transformer bock and the wall plug. If yours is like this, you can purchase an Australian Cable for ~ $15 AUD.
- Small power strip: if you’re going to stay in hostels they may not have adequate amounts of plugs to charge your devices while you are there.
- Use a Flash Drive or a set up a cloud based solution with your travel arrangements, visa authorization letter, a copy of any and all prescriptions you have. Leave a copy of these documents and copies of your passport with a trusted contact.
- Universal Adapter: my universal adapter was bulky, heavy, didn’t fit securely and broke shortly after I arrived so I bought a cable I could plug into my battery pack for my computer and a little wall plug. I still recommend having something you can use upon arrival to charge your devices.
- External Battery Pack (optional): I relied heavily on my phone for various applications including GPS. Sometimes I needed a charge before the end of the day.
- Clothes pins and line to dry clothes on (most hostels have a clothes line but don’t provide clothes pins. Note these are usually called washing pegs in Australia.)
- Lock: use either a combo lock (which you can’t see well with in the dark) or a lock and key. If you plan to stay in hostels, LOCK YOUR STUFF UP!
- High Quality Camel Pack or a few Platypus Packs (these are cheaper if you buy them in N. America)
- Smaller Backpack to put camel pack/water in because you should have a way to carry 3 liters with you at all time (you will probably walk around with it on your belly). I used mine as a day pack to hold water, snacks, my wallet and other personal products.
- Reusable bag to hold your shopping in. Use something durable that folds down easy like canvas.
- Insulated bag to keep in hostels refrigerators – in general people are less likely to go through your food and steal it if pack it in one of these. It also allows you to slip a small lock on the outside of your food. If the hostel doesn’t allow these, you can still group your food using the heavy plastic or lightweight carry bags.
- Carry bags. Some states don’t allow stores to give you a carry bag but the supermarkets will sell you a reusable heavy plastic bag. This is a great option to. I found I ended up taking two of these bags back with me to the states.
- One soft shelled small duffle bag. I never used mine except when flying on airplanes. I’d stuff my heaviest and/or most delicate items in this bag (and my day pack) to make my checked pack lighter to save money. I started noticing that some of the budget airlines became much less relaxed about the 7 kilo limit on hand luggage though it was mostly vocal near the end of my travels (I never had issue).
- Sarong it’s the perfect item for many different applications. Use it as a cover up, impromptu beach towel, ground cover for picnics and so much more!
- Swimming Suit(s) I took a one-piece racing suit and a bikini I was grateful for both as having only one would have never survived the amount of salt water, chlorine, and sun mine were exposed to. Others I met traveling simply bought new/replacements when theirs wore out.
- Towel– I bought a cheap one at Kmart I eventually replaced it with a microfiber towel that was much more absorbent and smaller.
- Fleece jacket– I brought an old mid weight jacket. Not by any means stylish but it was adequate for almost any temperatures I was exposed to.
- Wool beanie hat I bought mine at a market.
- Toiletries: Emory boards, nail polish, shampoo/body wash (I bought a one-in-three), toothpaste (small)sun cream (roll-on), Bug Screen (roll-on), Deodorant (roll-on), Razor’s (the most compact packaging I could find to buy were marketed to men), toothpaste, and toothbrush.
- Nail polish – I’m not a girly girl but I bought a bottle of nail polish mid trip. I found that even though I was living out of a backpack that having polish on my nails was an inexpensive way to feel less like a homeless person
- Make-up: I was very pleased to see that the local pharmacy, usually called the chemist, had my brand of makeup and I was able to buy more mid trip (though I paid twice as much AUD for the same product as I would have in USD). Check to ensure your brands are available, bring enough, or swear off makeup for a year. National shops include My Chemist, Chemist Warehouse, and Priceline.
- Rain Slicker I had an experience where mine ended up using two of mine to shelter our packs from a downpour through the night while camping at a campground with no covered shelter. I would totally bring a waterproof pack cover next time I go backpacking.
- Sleep liner—Sometimes I borrowed sleeping bags from one hostel and took it to another. Other times I rented a sleeping bags from the tour operator, and on one occasion it was less expensive to buy a sleeping bag from Big W (local box store) and leave it behind at the hostel when I was done with my tour. Whatever the case, it’s great to have a silk sleep liner to put between you, your rental bag, or your swag, or a particularly suspicious looking set of hostel sheets. I didn’t use mine often but was grateful for having it.
- Plastic(light) Carry bags I would save these when I could get them and toss out the old. I used them to wrap my shoes in before packing and hold dirty clothes.
- Contacts/Glasses/Hard case/Sunglasses: I ended up purchasing two pairs of Sunglasses (or sunnies as they’re called) in Australia because mine broke. I was grateful I had my prescription for contacts so I could order more (I had the luxury of a mailing address I could send things to but you can also go into the store location and have them sent there) and that same prescription came in handy when my normal glasses got stepped on and I bought a replacement (the woman in the shop was very unhappy my prescription was good for two years consistent with the state my eye doctor is in but legally had to honor it).
- Big Floppy Hat: Forget fashion and buy yourself a washable big floppy had to beat the heat.
- Head lamp or small cheap flashlight
- Laundry Powder: Some people buy it as they need it from hostel to hostel (they usually charge $1-4) I found it worthwhile to purchase some at Coles/Woolworths and repackaged the powder into zipper-top bags. It saved me a bunch of money even when I left half the powder behind on the free shelf at the hostel.
- Zipper-top or press and seal bags are useful for all sorts of random applications. I wrapped any liquids I had in them, etc. I found. I bought a store brand that wasn’t super durable so I changed them often. I’d probably buy brand name Ziploc next time.
- Medicine: Depending on how remote you may go, it’s probably best to carry with you anything you might need in case of emergency. Below is what I had in my medicine bag which was perfect for my type of traveling. You may also wish to reference the Center for Disease Control (CDC) which provides very comprehensive list here.
- Pain/fever reducer
- Anti-Congestion medicine
- Mild laxative
- Antidiarrheal Medication
- Hydration tablets
- Water Purification Tablets
- Motion Sickness Medications
- Band Aids
- Anti-bacterial ointment
- You can buy all these things in Australia without a prescription though the Tylenol and Ibuprofen are under different brand names Paracetamol and Nurofen respectively.
- You have to decide what is essential for you based on your goals and pet peeves. The following became things that we took with us on our own way. Here are ours.
- A sharp knife for cooking, we had originally brought just a sharpening stone, but after spending time making one knife in our hostel sharp it was nowhere to be found 24 hours later. We also had a small cutting board we were packing with us. We checked these in our luggage for flying.
- Baby Wipes or Hand Sanitizer are useful for hand washing purposes when you’re away from a sink with fresh running water.