Backpacking Packing List – Essential Items for Your Travels

You can literally get away with travelling with just a passport and some cash in most cases, however if you’re looking to get off the beaten path, you may want to be a little more prepared in your packing.

A few other essential items:

  1. Bring 2 credit cards and 2 debit cards from different banks, keeping them in separate places. When your bank automatically freezes your account because of suspicious activity in Honduras, you’ll be glad you have another card and can pay the dive shop for your Open Water Course. This is also in case you are robbed – a sad reality of many backpacking adventures.
  2. Have a photo of your passport and flight information saved in your phone and backed up on Google Photos or the iCloud. It is also helpful to have a printed copy so you aren’t held up at the Panama/Costa Rica border when your phone dies and you don’t have proof of onward travel in order to enter Costa Rica because you were relying on keeping all your flight information in your phone.
  3. Local currency and a little bit of your own currency from home. Having a small amount of your own currency allows you to do a small exchange on that final day if you run out of money without paying the withdrawal fees on a bank withdrawal (the last thing you want to do is pay $5 in bank fees for a $5 final meal) but doesn’t require you to change money back and forth multiple times. There are a few (very few) places where travelling with US cash is helpful. If you are on the tourist trail, there should be plenty of currency exchange places happy to exchange your Canadian dollars for local currency in any amount.
  4. Drivers license. I like to empty my wallet and only bring the essential cards. Your drivers license should be considered an essential card to bring with you. Keep this separate from your passport (with your back up debit and credit card) as a back up form of ID should your passport end up travelling without you.
  5. Clean ziplock bags. You don’t know what you will need them for until you need them and are happy you brought them.
  6. A pen. It seems so simple! This is probably the number one thing I forget every single trip and am left bothering my neighbour on the plane to borrow theirs to complete my customs forms.
  7. Hand sanitizer, wipes, toilet paper. Not every country has a fully equipped bathroom like at home. You may find yourself squatting behind a Guatemalan bus station and grateful you brought your necessary items for this from home. Likewise, not every country sells the tampons you might be used to at home.
  8. Extra pair of shoes. I have learned this
    Walking back to Akbol Yoga Retreat in San Pedro, Belize

    lesson too many times while travelling and have left behind many broken soles. Thankfully a kind woman at a yoga retreat gave me her shoes (how yoga of her!) so I no longer had to walk around with a rope tying my flip flop together after a 2 mile walk back to the retreat centre. True story.

  9. Pills. pills. pills. I don’t recommend playing pharmacist when you travel, except when you have to. Due to some of the situations mentioned below, I literally travel with every single one of these pills, every single trip. I have only been hassled once for having them all in one massive pill bottle (Lithuania of all places) but if you have space, you should probably keep them in their labelled containers, especially any prescription medication.
      1. Melatonin. To help with sleep and jet lag
      2. An anti-histamine such as Benadryl. I didn’t know I had any food allergies and I didn’t know Benadryl isn’t an over the counter medication in every country until my throat was swelling up in Thailand and I wasn’t able to get Benadryl at any of the 3 pharmacies we tried. You also never know when you will wake up in a bush of poison ivy in the Amazon, 5 hours travel from the nearest pharmacy or doctor. True story.
      3. Antibiotics. This one is dicey, not all physicians will give you a prescription of antibiotics just in case but when you get a case of Bali belly, you’ll be happy you have them. Make sure to understand proper dosing for the specific conditions or ailments before just randomly popping pills.
      4. Probiotics. After not having a bowel
        If you are going to eat like this, pack probiotics. Carb loading before a night of drinking for New Years eve in Costa Rica.

        movement for over a week while sailing from Panama to Colombia, these are now essential. Because of the change in diet when travelling, you should just take these preventatively rather than waiting until you actually have an issue.

      5. Pain killers (Naproxen, Acetaminophen, Advil, whatever you like) – whatever you use at home, bring it with you for headaches and minor ailments.
      6. Pepto-Bismol Pills. Because the liquid would be messy to backpack around and when you’re lying on the floor of your AirBnB in Hollywood, the last thing you want to do is run out to the nearest CVS to buy some.
      7. Gravol or another anti-nausea pill. I learned why the boat from La Ceiba to Roatan is nicknamed “the vomit comet” and wish I had taken the Gravol at least 30 minutes prior to departure (there is no point taking it after you start barfing as I did).
      8. Anti diarrhea medicine. No explanation needed. We have all been there.
      9. Cold & Flu medicine – day time and night time. Because when you are kayaking with seals in New Zealand, it confuses the other kayakers when you sound like a barking seal due to the bronchitis you are fighting.
      10. Vitamins. Because there isn’t a lot of nutrition in beer and the other things we tend to consume on vacation.

If you are going to be travelling or backpacking around, it is important to keep things compact. I’ve seen people with oversize suitcases trying to navigate cobblestone pedestrian only s   treets or water taxis while I walk by with ease with my organized pack. It is painful to watch, and with some simple packing tips, you can avoid being that person.

Do this… a well packed bag in Nusa Lembongan, Bali


The key to packing is to ensure everything you bring will be used, and is an essential item. When you’re travelling around for a month or two on trains, planes and automobiles, you are going to regret bringing those 12 different travel books stuffed between your damp, oversize, cotton, Costco beach towel when you could have just uploaded them onto your ereader nestled in your dry, compact travel towel.

Ciudad Perdida hike
Don’t do this… a stupidly packed plastic bag for a 4 day trek through the jungle to the lost city of Ciudad Perdida, Columbia

You can head out to Mountain Equipment Co-op and purchase the top of the line everything, but for the casual backpacker, Amazon is usually your best friend as it has great products (with reviews) for great prices.

    1. Battery pack. Since our phones are now also our cameras, music players, note pads, etc. a dying battery can cause stress. This is the battery pack I use. It is a bit bulky and heavy compared to some others, however the amount of charges I get out of it makes it worth it.

2. A compact quick dry towel. This can be used for showering if you stay places that don’t provide towels (hostels, campgrounds, etc) but can also be used as a beach towel, yoga mat, pillow, etc. Do not bring your fluffy large cotton towel from home. It will not dry when you pack up and will end up smelling moldy in your first day or two of travel. My favourite ones are from Amazon or Lululemon.

3. Tide Sink Laundry Packets. The inevitable will happen and before you are ready to do a full load of laundry, you will run out of clean socks or underwear. Or perhaps you will fall off a horse into a mud puddle in Ecuador on your first few days of a 3 week trip and will want to quickly wash the clothes you were wearing. These don’t take up much space and have saved me many times.

4. Dr. Bronner’s 18 in 1 pure castille soap. This can replace the tide sink packets and several other things as it has 18 uses. I can’t imagine travelling without this as I use it for a body wash, laundry soap and dish soap (I haven’t discovered the other 15 uses yet but I imagine they’re just as great!)

5. Ereader. I prefer reading books over an ereader however I do not prefer carrying books around so this is a compromise I make. I opted for the Kobo brand of ereader as it syncs with my local library. It is slow, has very few bells and whistles, but it allows me to store hundreds of books for those long plane and bus rides between destinations.

6. Earbuds. Not just for listening to music, but also for killing time on the plane as some airlines no longer provide headphones for the entertainment.

7. Lifeproof phone case. Drop proof, water proof, Dawn proof. I tried taking it snorkelling once without great results (difficult to  press button to take a photo when underwater) but I do feel safer about my phone getting tossed around in my bag when wrapped up in this case.

8. Travel Adapter. Not every country runs on the same voltage as we do and if you want to fry your brand new travel flat iron, you can try plugging it into a socket without an adapter, if the prongs seem to line up, but you’re better off using an adapter when you go somewhere outside of your home voltage.

I do get a super tiny (tiny) kickback from Amazon if you purchase these items through the links on this page but these are all products that I seriously recommend purchasing, and I have purchased myself through Amazon for my own travels.