The Ultimate Packing List for Solo Female Travelers
Whether you’ve been on countless big backpacking trips over the years or are contemplating stuffing your backpack for the very first time, packing is never an easy task.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve always found it pretty impossible to imagine what it is I might need when I’m in the depths of an Asian jungle or attempting to climb some South American mountain when I’m standing in my bedroom at home, staring at a backpack and a pile of clothes.
Over the years of travelling, however, through trial and plenty of error, I have managed to get a bit better at packing than I was the first time I headed off on my own.
So, with the benefit of that knowledge, let me share the essentials along with some tips and tricks I’ve picked up, to make sure your packing process goes as smoothly as possible.
After all, the preparation for a big trip can be stressful enough without having to worry about the contents of your backpack.
Let’s start with the basics:
- Passport and photocopies – keep one photocopy on you and one tucked away in your main bag or travel purse
- Credit card/currency card – or two – with the emergency one kept separately (same deal as with your passport photocopies – make sure you know the numbers to call if you need to cancel either card)
- Money belt – to put your valuables in when travelling – something nice and lightweight that ideally doesn’t make you look like you’re pregnant, or you won’t wear it!
- Insurance details and photocopies – kept separately
- Guidebook – yes, a paper one can still be really useful, especially when you’re short on internet signal or battery
- Camera – only if you’re a keen photographer, or you’ll probably be alright with just a…
- Phone – unlocked for international SIMs
- Chargers for all devices
- Power bank – to charge your phone and any other devices you need it to
- Adaptor(s) (if you need multiple – consider an international one)
- Tablet/kindle – or a good old paperback to swap at hostels
- UV Sunglasses
- Daypack – for day trips/overnight adventures when you don’t need/can’t take your whole backpack
- Small bag/going out bag – so you don’t have to lug your backpack around on an evening out
- Laptop – for the digital nomads amongst you
- Sewing kit – whether you get a hole in your favourite top or one of your backpack straps breaks, a few needles and a few different colours of thread are essential.
- 4-5 vest tops/t-shirts
- 1 dressier top/shirt
- 2 over shirts– keep the sun off or add a layer
- 3 pairs of jeans/trousers
- 3 shorts/skirts
- 1 dressier outfit
- 2 sundresses
- 8-10 pairs underwear
- 8-10 pairs socks
- Jacket – ideally waterproof and windproof
- Sun hat/beanie, or both
- Travel towel
- Flip flops – for the beach and for questionable hostel bathrooms
- 1 pair flats/ballet shoes/slightly dressier shoes
- Hiking boots/trainers
- Comfy, casual shoes
Note – unless you’re addicted to heels, there’s really no need to bring them – backpackers don’t generally don’t wear heels when they go out and there’s no point lugging them around for six months if you’re only going to wear them once or twice in that time.
- Coconut oil – doubles as a conditioner, moisturiser, deodorant, aftersun, you name it, just make sure the lid’s on tight as it turns to liquid above 20 degrees.
- Cotton pads for cleansing – I have some reusable, eco-friendly make-up remover pads that I swear by. They’re great for travelling as they don’t take up much space, and great for the environment too. Just wash them after use and leave them in the sun to dry.
- Basic makeup – I generally stick to foundation/BB cream, eye liner, mascara, and a lipstick for special occasions.
- Toothpaste and toothbrush
- Floss – can double as a handy washing line for underwear.
- Soap – rather than a liquid soap or body/face wash, I tend to go for a simple, old fashioned, natural bar of soap that I keep safely in a special box/tin.
- Mini first aid kit – antiseptic, plasters, pain killers
- Sunscreen – at all times! Even if it’s cloudy out there, those rays are still beating down on your skin. I always take both a body sun screen and a special face one, as my face can’t stand up to thick body creams and I break out, not a good look for the photos. I try and use sunscreens that are as ‘natural’ as possible and have minimum levels of nasty chemicals, both for the sake of my skin and the environment if I’m going for a dip in the sea.
- Small bag of washing powder – this can be used both for washing machines when you find one and to wash your socks and underwear in the sink, bath, shower… you name it. Again, try and get something that is nice and natural in case you find yourself having to wash your undies in a river at some point or other. It’s been known to happen.
Tip – I’ve been washing my hair with bicarbonate of soda (shampoo) and apple cider vinegar (conditioner) for the best part of two years now. It’s great for travelling as the bicarb doesn’t count as a liquid for carry-on, and it also doubles up as an excellent exfoliator for that dry, traveller’s skin. Apple cider vinegar can also be used for cleaning, should something be less hygienic than you’d like in a hostel (which is a foregone conclusion), and as a direct replacement for a clothes softener in the washing machine. Neither your hair nor your clothes will smell like vinegar, promise.
Packing for your destination
So, that’s all the basic bases covered. But, as you’ve probably noticed, the world is a very big place, and every traveller will be dealing with different climates and seasons, so you need to be able to customize your packing list accordingly.
Some trips will mean you’re experiencing similar weather conditions for the whole time, but if you’re on the road for a long time or travelling over large distances, you’ll need to be prepared for multiple climates. Below, you’ll find an idea of how you can adapt the contents of your backpack to suit your destination(s).
In the rain:
There are relatively few places on earth where you’ll escape rain entirely (tour of the world’s deserts, anyone?), but some destinations are rainier than others.
If, for example, you’re headed for Ireland at any time of year, you’ll need to be prepared with a decent waterproof jacket, a travel umbrella, and waterproof boots, as there’s nothing worse than wet feet when you’re sight-seeing.
If you’re going somewhere that’s rainy and hot at the same time, then consider one of those incredibly attractive ponchos. They take up minimal space and are cooler than a jacket.
In the city:
If you’re planning on majoring on cities, then you might want to tweak your packing list slightly. A good example of a trip that’s city-heavy would be inter-railing in Europe, which usually involves hopping from big city to big city.
If you’re planning on going out in the evenings then consider bringing along more than just the one nice outfit, and make sure you don’t forget a slightly nicer pair of shoes (heels unadvisable – cobbled streets are a killer, and they take up a lot of space!)
I generally find that a bit of makeup and lipstick and a fancy top/jeans combo is enough for any evening out.
In the mountains:
If you’ve got a head for heights, then you’ll need to come prepared. Make sure you’ve got:
- A solid pair of waterproof hiking boots that you’ve broken in in advance
- A pair of purpose-made walking trousers
- Comfortable layers that you can strip off/put back on quickly
You’ll also need to bear in mind that high usually equals cold, especially at night. Depending on where you’re going, you’ll need to squeeze in:
- Scarf/neck warmer
- Hiking socks/ quick dry socks
These are also ítems you’ll need to pack if you’re heading anywhere in the winter. Most Eastern and Northern European cities, for example, are absolutely freezing between about November and March, so make sure you come prepared.
On the beach:
Those of you that are planning to hop from beach to beach will need:
- An extra sundress or two
- 2-3 bikinis
- Swap your ballet flats for a pair of pretty sandals for evening wear
- 2 sarongs – I carry two when I’m travelling because they’re an amazing multi-purpose travel item. I use them on the beach, as a towel, as a make-shift sunshade, a picnic blanket, and even a regular blanket on a cold night bus or in an overly air conditioned hostel room.
- Natural sun screen – I know I’ve already mentioned this, but if you’re planning on spending a lot of time in the sea then make sure the products you’re putting on your skin aren’t doing any damage to its inhabitants.
In the tropics:
There’s nothing I love more than being in the tropics, but there are a few drawbacks. Mainly, the rain, the heat, and the bugs. So, come prepared with:
- Mosquito repellent
- Tiger balm for bites
- Lightweight rain jacket
- Light, long trousers and long sleeved shirts
Some of my top tips
- Make sure your clothes match
The main thing I hadn’t figured out when I first set out travelling was that I had to make sure I’d considered what I could match with what. Think about your colour scheme. It’s always a good idea to base your travel wardrobe around a few key colours that all complement each other nicely.
I, for example, often find myself with blues and greys, with a few flashes of colour. Make sure that every item of clothing you take matches more than one other item of clothing. For example, don’t take a top with you that only goes with one pair of jeans, but you couldn’t wear with your favourite pair of shorts. Don’t take a skirt with you that only matches one top.
Make it a matter of pride that no item you’ve got in your backpack be unworn by the end of your trip.
- Half the clothes, double the money
This tip doesn’t ring as true in this day and age of ATMs and contactless payments in most corners of the world, but there are, believe it or not, still places where you need to arrive with all the money you’re going to need for the trip.
So, the rule I’ve always had drilled into me by my well-travelled mother is that I should lay out all the clothes I want to take and halve them, and take the money I think I’ll need and double it.
- You’ll thank yourself if you keep it light – think about your pack
No matter how good the padding on your backpack is, if you stuff a 60L backpack full, it’s always going to be extremely heavy.
You won’t miss that extra sundress as much as you’ll kick yourself when you’re trudging round a city looking for somewhere to lay your head with aching shoulders. Keep it light, and keep it minimal. You need far less than you think you do.
My current backpack for big trips is a 45L with a 15L day pack that zips onto the front, and it’s far, far better than my old 65L backpack. I’m very tall and relatively strong but still really struggle with a 65L fully-stuffed backpack, so just bear that in mind when selecting your pack.
- You can always buy things
Much as it’s always wonderful to come prepared, don’t worry too much about it. Packing shouldn’t ruin the excitement of those last few days before you head off. At the end of the day, there are shops in other countries, so you can always buy new things.
Also, if you realise you don’t need something, you can throw it away, donate it, swap it, or send it home.
Similarly, if you’re going to be spending six months in tropical Asia before heading to a New Zealand winter, don’t carry all the stuff you’ll need for the cold around with you for all that time. You’ll only come to resent it when all you want to wear is a bikini and shorts for weeks on end but have to carry a heavy pack around. Save your money and invest in the gear you need once you get there.
The moral of the story is, pack light, and don’t forget to bring your sense of adventure!