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Hack Your Pack: How to Pack for Your Backpacking Trip

Embarking on any sort of backpacking trip for the first time can be, quite frankly, intimidating.

What do I pack? How do I pack? Am I packing too much? Am I not packing enough?

The list of questions goes on.

Two years ago, my boyfriend and I booked a month-long trip to Europe. I was fresh out of university and ready to take a much-needed vacation. I had been to Europe a number of times before, but always with as much luggage in tow as needed, as many of my trips had been with family members.

This time around I would be moving cities every couple days through various countries via trains and small planes, and so backpacking became the most logical option to move as quickly and effortlessly as we could.

So, how did I do it as a first-time backpacker, and how exactly did I “hack my pack” to ensure I was bringing all of my essentials across the ocean? Keep reading to find out, wanderlust adventurer!

First, Invest in a Good Backpack

I cannot stress this point enough. Your backpack is going to be your companion for as long as you’re away, and it’s going to hold all of your possessions. It’s best to invest in something that is sturdy and waterproof so you can keep everything protected - including yourself! You want the right kind of support when having to lug 20+ pounds around every few days.

I went with a 40L Osprey backpack. The reason I picked a 40L was because in Europe, that tends to be the maximum size allowed as a carry on for planes. Personally, I didn’t want to check my bag as luggage for two reasons: firstly, it costs extra money. Secondly, that bag had all of my belongings in it, and I wanted it near me at all times, not in the bottom of a plane.

Osprey backpacks have great back support, as well as straps that allow you to harness the bag around your waist. This takes a lot of weight off of your shoulders. Additionally, it had so many extra compartments inside which was super amazing for organizing all of my things. Some other tips I would suggest in relation to your backpack:

  • Invest in a good lock: Again, all of your possessions are in this bag, and you don’t want anything stolen when you’re navigating through a busy train station or leaving your bag for the day at your hostel. Investing in a lock is essential!
  • Invest in a good day bag: You don’t want to lug around your backpack when you’re trying to explore a new city. Make sure you come prepared with a day bag that you can pull out when needed. I opted for a security efficient bag which ensured pickpockets couldn’t steal any of my things when I was out for the day.

Packing Cubes

Before I get into what exactly I packed, I have to mention packing cubes because they are 100% a must-have. When you’re living out of a backpack, you have to make sure that everything is organized and accessible. Packing cubes let you do just that, and allow you to maximize your space.

Dedicate each packing cube to a certain category. For example, one of my packing cubes was just for socks and underwear. Another for dresses, another for shorts. You get the idea. This ensures all of your items remain in easy places for you to find them, and repack them again when you move cities.

When packing your clothes and other items into your packing cubes, make sure you roll the clothes, rather than fold them into squares. Rolling your clothes allows for more overall room in your packing cubes and backpack.

Here are some great options for packing cubes:

What to Pack:

Lightweight, foldable clothing

Less is more when you’re backpacking. Ask yourself: what can you cut back on? What type of clothing pieces can you bring that you can mix and match with, as well as wear multiple times?

I found it easiest to bring a variety of different shirts and cut back on pants and shorts. You don’t need five pairs of denim shorts that all look the same! Limit yourself to two or three similar pieces.

Having multiple shirts (lightweight tank tops, halter tops and t-shirts) allowed me to still look stylish for all my Instagram photos, while my few pairs of pants and shorts were interchangeable.

Another tip? Opt for dresses and jumpsuits. They serve as full outfits that take up much less space.

Of course, your outfit choices are dependent on where you are traveling and if the weather will be hot or cold, but when packing always keep in mind that you want to bring as little as possible. You’ll thank me later. Some other things to pack when it comes to clothing:

  • Underwear & socks
  • Bathing suits (two-three)
  • Lightweight sweaters / rain jacket (one-two)
  • Pajamas
  • Floppy sun hat (my sun hat saved my life in the European heat - I wore it every day!)

World travel adaptor

Wondering how you’re going to charge your phone or plug in a curling iron overseas? A World Travel Adaptor is your answer here, and a major essential to have when traveling to various countries.

Different countries have different outlets, and that means you need to come prepared with an adapter so you can still use all of your plugins.

The essential electronics

Hanging toiletry bag

A hanging toiletry bag is a win-win situation all around. Not only does it allow you to pack all of your essentials (such as toothbrushes, shampoo, etc.) into one compact, foldable place, you will also be able to hang it up on your bathroom door at your hotel or hostel and be able to easily see everything at a glance. Boom!

The essential “basics”

Have you ever ran around a small Greek island trying to find a pharmacy so that you could buy some sort of lotion to ease the atrocious sunburn you acquired over the course of the day at a beach?

Well, I have, and it’s not fun.

These are the basics you need to have in your toiletry bag:

  • Sunscreen: Make sure to purchase some sort of “sport” sunscreen, as well as one that is waterproof so that you’re covered for all your activities throughout the day).
  • Aloe Vera Gel
  • Shampoo: I highly recommend purchasing a shampoo bar. It saves so much space in your backpack, it weighs virtually nothing, and it lasts forever!
  • Moisturizing body wash: Your skin is most likely going to get irritated, tight and dry. Make sure to bring some sort of compact body wash to keep your skin moisturized! Some sort of body lotion wouldn’t hurt either.
  • First aid essentials: Band-aids and Polysporin.
  • Bathroom essentials: Toothbrush, toothpaste, facial wash (I love The Body Shop’s Tea Tree Clearing Facial wash as it keeps my acne away when traveling) and floss.
  • Hair essentials: A comb, Bedhead After Party Smoothing Cream, hair ties.

Water bottle

If you’re headed to Europe or Asia, you can beat it’s going to be hot, and free water isn’t always readily available. Make sure to choose a water bottle that you can easily carry around with you, and won’t take up too much space. This is perfect for those long day trips.

Ziplock bags

The truth is, things get broken, they spill, and they inevitably make a mess. This isn’t super fun when all of your belongings are in a backpack.

My mom taught me this travel trick, and it’s a good one! Pack a handful of large ziplock bags to put things like lotions and spillable items in. This ensures if something does get broken or spills, it won’t ruin everything in your backpack.

Digital luggage scale

This one is super important if you plan to buy things while you’re on your trip. Adding more items to your backpack/luggage inevitably means it’s going to weigh more. Bringing a digital luggage scale allows you to ensure you’re always staying within airline weight limits.

Notebook

I loved documenting every day of my Europe trip with small journal entries. I ended up buying a notebook in Italy because I didn’t bring one with me! If you’re the type of person who enjoys writing, or even just wants to document your trip a little bit, be sure to bring one of these along.

Important travel documents

Last, but certainly not least, it’s important to have all of your travel documents. While everything can easily be saved on a phone these days, you never know if your phone might get damaged while traveling, so I suggest printing everything out.

This includes:

  • Hotel confirmations and addresses
  • Plane and train tickets
  • Travel insurance
  • Passport
  • Money/credit cards

What are your best travel tips when it comes to backpacking?

Related Article: Humor, Humility and Other Things I Learned on the West Coast Trail

Marina Khonaisser

Marina Khonaisser

Marina is a marketing professional, content writer, and Daily Life's in-house Social Media Specialist! From a young age, she always knew writing was her passion (she still has notebooks upon notebooks of fantastical stories and screenplays) and has written for magazines such as YouthIn, and online publications such as Student... Read More

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