When it comes to packing for your gap year, it can be difficult to know where to start! Of course the items you need to pack can differ depending on your destination, but there are many travel essentials you should make sure you pack no matter where in the world you’re headed. Here we’ve put together our recommended gap year packing list to give you a starting point when packing your backpack for your trip…This is by no means a compulsory list, feel free to interchange items to suit your personal preference and requirements depending on the countries you’re visiting.
Passport – For obvious reasons!
Vaccinations & record of these – These should be arranged several months before departure, depending on the vaccinations you require.
Travel Insurance – Never travel without insurance, and make sure you’re covered for the activities you’ll be taking part in during your trip (sky diving, snorkelling, bungee jumping etc)
Visas – Again, these will need to be arranged in plenty of time prior to departure.
Photocopies of important documents – It’s always wise to give a copy of these to a relative, just in case!
Currency – Don’t put all your eggs in one basket as the saying goes, store cash in different places throughout your backpack. Storing some cash in a safety deposit box or locker at your hostel would be a good idea.
Credit Card – Another way of getting cash, we’d recommend having a credit card for emergencies
Driving License – A must if you plan on renting a car during your gap year
Passport Photos – Bring 4-6 passport photos with you, these may be needed for Visas in some countries.
Travel Backpack – We recommend a side opening backpack, preferably with a detachable daypack. However, these can also be bought separately if you decide to go for a traditional top loading rucksack or travel pack without a daypack
Daypack – A daypack is a must for day to day use during your gap year, get one around 15-30 litres in size to make sure you have enough space for daily essentials such as water bottles, sun cream, insect repellent, sun glasses, towel, snacks & guide books.
Packing Cubes – Cases for storing your clothes. They may seem pointless, but they help keep clothing organised by compartmentalising them (you can have a cube for t-shirts, a cube for underwear etc etc) They also keep clothes folded or rolled up, so they won’t unravel and take up space inside your backpack.
Vacuum Compression Bags – Another space saving trick, store your clothes inside vacuum compression bags to minimise on the space they take up in your bag
Rain Cover – This one doesn’t just apply to the outdoorsy types, a rain cover is a must when travelling to countries with a varied climate and weather conditions. If you’re visiting a country during its rainy season, make sure you have one of these to keep your backpack and its contents dry.
Flight Cover – We’ve heard of more than a handful of backpackers ending up with damaged shoulder straps, snagged material and broken buckles on their backpack during their trip. Our advice to you is to always store your backpack inside a transit/flight cover for flights, this keeps everything enclosed and significantly reduces the risk of damage to your bag!
Travel First Aid Kit – Make sure you get a first aid kit containing plasters, dressings & bandages. A thermometer is also a useful addition. You can add more specialist items to your kit to suit your destination.
Anti-Malarials – This will depend on where you’re travelling to, but if you’re visiting countries with a risk of Malaria, you should speak to your GP a couple of months before travelling to discuss which anti-malarial medication would be best suited to you.
Diarrhoea Relief – Don’t travel without some anti-diarrhoea medication. Even travellers with the strongest of stomachs can find themselves suffering with travellers diarrhoea at some point.
Oral Rehydration Salts – These help to get you back on your feet after a case of travellers diarrhoea, or even after excess sweating on treks by restoring essential body salts lost through sweating, diarrhoea & sickness.
Sterile Needle & Syringe Set – Maybe it seems excessive, but if you’re travelling to developing countries, remote villages or countries with poor medical facilities, you should always pack a sterile needle kit. This can be handed to a medical professional if you require emergency medical treatment and will ensure that you are treated with sterile equipment.
Paracetamol – Pack some of these just in case you get a headache, it won’t necessarily be because of a heavy night at a full moon party but it’s always good to be prepared.
Travel Sickness Pills/Bands – Even if you’re a seasoned traveller, motion sickness can sneak up on you! Ever been on a boat when the sea is rough? Then you’ll understand why these have made our packing list.
Anti-histamines – Good for any allergic reactions you may have, hay-fever can also be an issue for travellers.
Medication – Make sure you have an adequate supply of any medications you’re taking and if this isn’t possible, ensure you have a note from your doctor so that you can visit a doctor and obtain medication during your gap year. Ladies, make sure you have a good supply of contraceptive pills (if you take them, of course).
Water Purification Tablets/Water Filter – In many gap year destinations you will find that water is unsafe to drink. Always ensure you have a supply of water purification tablets (Chlorine or Chlorine Dioxide) or a water purification bottle to remove contaminants that can lead to illness and water-borne disease.
Condoms – If you decide to have sex when travelling, make sure you’re safe. Pack some condoms!
Anti-Bacterial Hand Gel – Hand gel should always be in your daypack, ready to clean your hands after toilet visits and before meals. Hand washing facilities aren’t always available when you’re out exploring. In some countries, it’s wise to use hand gel after handling currency, as this can be dirty and lead to stomach bugs.
Sun Cream & Aftersun – SPF30 sun cream is a must, make sure you buy sun cream with UVA & UVB filters and also pack some after sun for use after a long day in the sun.
Sunglasses – Protect your eyes from the sun with a good quality pair of sunglasses. Make sure you get a case for them too to prevent damage.
Mosquito Repellent – For most parts of the world, we recommend a repellent with at least 50% DEET. If you’re travelling in Europe, you can use a lower strength of DEET or natural repellent. For countries with a risk of Malaria and tropical disease, use 50-95% DEET for optimum protection. You should also take anti-malarials if you’re travelling to countries with a risk of Malaria. As a general rule, we recommend 60ml of repellent per person, per week.
Mosquito Net – Not essential in all parts of the world, but certainly in Asia, South America & Africa. Choose a net which has been treated, as this will prevent mosquitoes and other insects from landing on it. There a number of styles available, which hang in different ways to suit different sleeping set ups!
Bed Bug Sheet – Bed bugs are a problem in many hostels around the world and can leave you with painful and unsightly bites on your body. Prevent this by using a protective bed bug sheet, which will create a barrier between you and those pesky little bugs.
Plug-in Mosquito Killer – Plug one of these into the wall socket in your room and it’ll help kill mosquitoes that enter your room.
Insect Bite & Sting Relief – Just in case you get bitten or stung, have some bite & sting relief in your first aid kit.
Money Belt – Not the most fashionable of travel accessories, but wear one of these under your clothes for a discreet and safe place to store bits of cash & other small valuables when you’re out and about!
Personal Alarm – Hopefully you’ll never need to use this, but a personal attack alarm is a good ‘just in case’ item to have to hand, especially in countries with a high crime rate.
Backpack Locks – A couple of good quality locks for your backpack, preferably combination style so that you don’t run the risk of losing your keys!
Cable Lock – A versatile security accessory for travelling. These can be used to secure luggage zips as well as for locking bags and other equipment to fixed objects such as railings to prevent theft.
Wash Bag – A way to keep your toiletries and wash accessories organised.
Travel Towel – Step away from the bath & beach towels from home! Travel towels are a much more compact, lightweight and overall more sensible option. Get a larger sized travel towel and you can also use it as a sarong down at the beach.
Travel Clothes Line – Washing your clothes during your gap year will help limit the amount of clothes you need to take.
Travel Sink Plug – Until you’ve tried washing your clothes in a hostel sink, you probably wouldn’t understand the need for one of these…
Travel Detergent – To use with the above travel laundry accessories!
Travel Tootbrush & Toothpaste – We all love a travel mini, so take advantage and pack a travel sized toothbrush & tube of toothpaste. When the toothpaste runs out you will be able to pick up some more locally pretty cheaply.
Shampoo Leaves – Save heaps of space and forget worrying about shampoo leaks.
Shaving Leaves – Shaving foam is bulky, and again there’s the risk of leaks. Get shaving soap leaves instead.
Razors – Unless you’re planning on going au-natural during your gap year, you may want to pack some razors!
Lip Balm (with SPF protection) – Chapped lips don’t just happen in the cold, the sun can be just as damaging.
Tampons/sanitary products for women – in some destinations around the world, tampons can be hard to come by. Make sure you have an ample supply with you.
Deodorant – stick/roll-on – We would recommend roll on/stick forms as they last longer, take up less space and are better for the environment.
Small brush – Get rid of bed hair in a morning, unless you’re going for the wild look…
Flannel – For trips to the hostel showers.
Wet Wipes – Good for wiping down toilet seats & cleaning your hands when wash facilities aren’t available.
Nail File/Clippers – Keep your hands and feet in top condition with a nail file and or clippers!
Make-Up – Pack any essential make-up and beauty products you can’t live without…but keep it sensible, you can’t fill half a backpack with your beauty arsenal.
Mobile Phone – You may decide you just want a cheap mobile phone for your gap year, as taking a state of the art smart phone may attract unwanted attention.
Camera – You’ll need something to capture all those unforgettable travel moments, just make sure you don’t forget your memory card if you’re taking a digital camera.
Head Torch – Good for navigating your way around a dark hostel dorm room without waking anyone & for areas where blackouts can be an issue.
Travel Cutlery – When you get to the hostel kitchen and find all the cutlery is dirty, you’ll be glad you packed a set of your own cutlery.
Sewing Kit – Make any emergency repairs to your clothing, backpack and other equipment on the road.
Duct Tape – As above, but it has a plethora of uses…you can even fashion your own bowl out of it if the hostel kitchen has run out, make a travel clothes line or create a temporary sink plug, to name a few of its many uses.
Zip Lock Bags – Great for storing documents and valuables to keep them dry inside your backpack.
Portable Charger – If you’re out exploring and your phone dies or all the plug sockets are in use in the hostel dorm, a portable charger is a great way to power up your phone and other devices.
Travel Adapters – Generally a universal adapter will come with plug types to cover most countries around the world. However, some destinations such as India & South Africa have unique plug types, so you should always check which plug types are in use before travelling.
Water Bottle – Save money on bottled water and refill your own bottle daily. We’d recommend a water purification bottle, as the water in some countries can be unsafe to drink!
Multi-Tool – Each multi-tool is different, but they all come loaded with useful tools such as scissors, nail files and tweezers, which can come in handy when travelling.
Sleeping Bag – Not essential in tropical countries, as many people will opt to use a sleeping bag liner instead if they’re sleeping in hostels. However, depending on where you’re sleeping and the climate of the countries you’re visiting, you may decide you need a sleeping bag. For destinations such as South East Asia, a 1-2 season sleeping bag would suffice. For cooler climates, you may want to consider a warmer 2 or 3 season sleeping bag. Research the climate of your destination before you choose your sleeping bag.
Sleeping Bag Liner – A popular sleep gear item, which not only adds warmth to your sleeping bag but also protects its lining from sweat and dirt. They are easy to wash and will dry quickly too. In tropical climates, many travellers choose to take a liner instead of a sleeping bag to minimise on weight and space taken up in their backpack.
Travel Pillow – Maybe you don’t want to use the hostel pillow or you want a more comfortable flight or overland bus journey, either way, a travel pillow is a good call.
Ear Plugs & Eye Mask – Great for blocking out noise and light during flights, train and bus journeys. Also a must have if you’re in a shared hostel dorm.
This one is tricky, as it depends on the climate of your destination. For the purpose of this packing list, we’re going to recommend clothing based on travelling to a warmer climate…
Underwear – At least a weeks worth (you can keep washing them!) Ladies, bring a couple of bras!
Socks – Bring a few pairs, again, you can wash these. So there’s no need to bring a backpack full.
T-shirts/Vests – Loose fitting basic t-shirts & vests, you don’t want anything too tight in hot climates – We’d recommend 5-6 x t-shirts.
Shorts x 2
Bikinis/Swim Shorts x 2
Trousers – Go for something light light linen or cargo style pants. You can also get trousers which zip off at the bottom, so you can convert them into shorts too. Lots of women are now opting for the loose fitting ‘harem’ style jogger trousers.
Leggings – Great for wearing with a t-shirt or for throwing under a dress on cooler evenings
Dresses – Pack 2-3 and go for light and summer style options.
Long sleeve top – 2 x long sleeved tops are a good addition to your backpack, especially for evenings when mosquitoes come out and play! They’re also good for covering up at mosques and temples.
Sun Hat – Keep the sun off your head and neck with a good sun hat
Pack Away Waterproof – Hopefully you won’t need this one much, but a pack away waterproof jacket can come in handy for unexpected rain showers and won’t take up much space in your daypack.
Sandals/Flip Flops – Staple footwear for any traveller and also great for avoiding fungal infections from the hostel showers
Shemagh scarf – Whether you’re going quad biking in the desert of need to cover up at a temple, a shemagh is a great piece of clothing to have to hand.
Sarong – Use it as a beach cover up or as a make-shift cover up when visiting temples.
Jumper/Hoody – Some days are chillier than others and temperatures can be cooler on a night, so make sure you have a hoody or jumper in your backpack.