Knowing what to pack for travelling can be tricky, so we’ve compiled a list of our top 20 gap year travel essentials to ensure you don’t leave any must-have accessories behind! Some of the entries on this list may seem obvious, while others may be handy add-ons that you’d never even thought of packing!
We may as well begin with the obvious essential that is the travel backpack. The size of backpack you require for your backpacking trip will depend on a number of factors, with the first one being how long you’re travelling for. Here are the sizes of backpack we recommend for different trip durations…
1-3 months: 40-60 litres
3-6 months: 60 litres
6-12 months: 60-80 litres
Another thing to consider is your height, if you’re on the shorter end of the height spectrum you should try and stick to 60 litres or less. Key features to look our for when choosing a travel backpack include lockable zips, internal organiser pockets and an adjustable back system. A backpack with a detachable daypack will save you having to buy a separate bag for daily use.
Ahhh the travel towel, the travel essential that always seems to appear on travel packing lists! Designed to pack down to a fraction of the size of a standard towel from home, travel towels are extremely compact, lightweight, absorbent and quick drying. The end result is less bulk in your bag and their quick drying design means they don’t fester and produce unpleasant odours. You can even get travel towels with anti-bacterial protection, which helps to keep them fresher for longer.
Most backpackers will likely find themselves staying in budget accommodation, such as hostels, during their trip. Having your own sleeping bag liner will help you avoid sleeping on dirty-looking bedding, as well as helping to protect you from bed bugs while you sleep. Most liners come in cotton, polycotton or silk material, with silk weighing the least and packing down to the smallest size…However, it’s also the more expensive of the three!
An essential for most destinations around the world, mosquito repellent will help protect you from painful and uncomfortable insect bites. In some countries the risk of tropical diseases such as Malaria, Zika Virus, Dengue and Yellow Fever makes it imperative that you wear a good mosquito repellent, as there’s a lot more at stake than a few itchy bites! For high risk areas, we’d recommend no less than 50% deet. For the unfortunate times you manage to get bitten or stung, make sure you also have some bite and sting cream or spray in your backpack.
Some accommodation will have mosquito nets readily available, but this isn’t always guaranteed in hostels and other budget accommodation. If you’re travelling to countries with a risk of tropical disease, rural areas or camping outdoors, you should consider packing a mosquito net. There are plenty of lightweight and compact options available, so you can pack one as a ‘just in case’ item without taking up too much space in your backpack.
The money belt possibly has a reputation for being the most uncool travel accessory, but sneer all you want, it’s still a backpacking essential. Even if you’re not wearing it day to day, you’ll find it useful on overnight bus and train journeys where you can’t always keep an eye on your bag. Store your passport, valuables & cash in a money belt and wear it under your clothes to prevent someone making off with your possessions while you get some rest!
You’ll find a worldwide adapter plug to be the best option if you’re travelling to multiple countries, as most styles of worldwide adapters work in over 150 countries. Some countries do have their own unique plug socket, India and South Africa for example, but these adapter types can be bought separately if your itinerary includes these destinations. Of course if you’re only backpacking around a couple of countries, you may just decide to pack a couple of adapters for these destinations instead of a worldwide adapter.
Whether all the hostel plug sockets are in use or you need to charge your phone on the move, a portable power bank is a must have for any trip. Get one with USB connectivity and a re-chargeable battery so you can easily charge your USB enabled devices during your trip.
You don’t have to be travelling during the rainy season to use zip lock bags. Of course you can use them to protect travel documents, currency and gadgets from water, sand and dirt during your trip, but they’re also great for keeping everything organised and easy to find when you need it.
Bring some order to your backpack by using packing cubes to separate and organise different items of clothing. Packing cubes not only make it easier to find your favourite pair of shorts when you need them, they also keep your clothes neatly rolled and as compact as possible, helping to maximise your packing space.
The drinking water abroad is often unsafe to drink, so water purification is often necessary. Of course you could buy bottled water every day, but this is an added expense and also contributes to waste plastic which eventually ends up in landfill. So the most cost-effective and environmentally friendly option is to treat your drinking water. The Water-to-Go bottle removes 99.9% of harmful bacteria, viruses, cysts and protozoa found in water using an in-built filter in its lid. A much easier option compared to using chlorine and chlorine dioxide treatments.
You’d be surprised at how often travellers become ill due to poor hand hygiene on their travels. Avoid this by carrying a bottle of anti-bacterial hand gel around with you. Hand washing facilities aren’t always readily available and if you’ve just been handling some dirty looking currency or need to wash your hands before tucking into a meal, you’ll be glad you have some to hand. A pack of wet wipes is another hygiene essential for travelling, great for cleaning your hands, freshening up after long journeys or getting dust off your feet and legs after a day of exploring.
Save space in your luggage by packing multi-purpose travel soap. Multi-purpose soap can clean your body, hair and clothes, so you don’t need to pack separate bottles of shower gel, shampoo and laundry detergent. It’s also more concentrated than standard body wash and shampoo, so a little goes a long way.
Whether you tailor your own kit to your specific destination, or opt for a pre-made travel first aid kit, you should definitely pack a medical kit for emergencies, minor cuts, scrapes and mishaps! If you’re travelling to remote areas and developing countries, you may also want to consider a sterile needle pack to accompany your first aid kit, or choose a comprehensive first aid kit that includes a set of needles and syringes. Key first aid items for travelling include; diarrhoea relief, rehydration sachets, paracetamol, anti-histamines, plasters, bandages and dressings.
A wash bag is essential when it comes to keeping your toiletries and wash gear organised. Depending on the length of your trip you can opt for a smaller wash bag or upgrade to a multi-compartment design for stashing more toiletries. In most destinations you’ll be able to easily replace toiletries once they run out, so there’s no need to go overboard on lotions and potions!
It may not seem like an essential, but a torch can prove pretty handy when travelling. Nobody wants to be the person who wakes the entire hostel dorm room by turning the lights on during the night. If you need to find something inside your backpack after dark, using a torch to find your way is a fool-proof way to ensure you don’t become enemy number one amongst your fellow backpacking buddies. Torches are also a must have for travelling in remote areas and in countries where blackouts occur frequently. Choose a head torch if you want to keep your hands free.
One of the key ways to reduce the amount of clothes you pack is to do laundry regularly during your trip. Granted laundry facilities aren’t always cheap or readily available, so another option is to hand wash your clothes using travel soap or travel detergent. Rather than hanging your clothes over balconies and hostel bunk beds, invest in a travel clothes line to hang your clothes out to dry. The twisted elastic design means that you just tuck your clothes in, so you don’t need to use pegs!
Security is a key concern for travellers, so make sure you can always lock your backpack with a combination padlock. Get a couple of locks if your backpack has two lockable compartments, or use one for your main bag and one for your daypack. If you’re travelling to or transiting through the USA, choose a TSA approved lock as this will allow airport security to inspect your bag without causing damage to your lock or luggage through forced entry. Cable locks are popular with travellers as they can be used to lock backpack zips and hostel lockers, as well as to lock your gear to fixed or hard to move objects.
If you’re sleeping indoors or travelling in tropical climates you’ll most likely only need a sleeping bag liner, but for camping and travelling in colder climes, you will need a lightweight sleeping bag. Make sure you choose the right season rating for your destination, weather conditions and chosen activity. You can also add a sleeping bag liner to increase warmth and keep the inside of your sleeping bag clean!
Rachel has worked for the company for 9 years and as one of our buying team, has a wide knowledge of travel gear. She has travelled in Europe and Southeast Asia, but her dream destination would be South America to experience Carnival in Rio, unleash her inner Attenborough in the Galapagos and sip on Colombian coffee in colonial Cartagena.