My Personal Backpacking Packing List Essentials!

my personal must have carry on items

No matter where I am going or how long for, there are some items that I always pack and carry with me when I travel around the world. These are my own personal travel essentials.

My longer travel packing list changes slightly depending on each trip and where I am going, what I am doing and the terrain and climate I will be in, but no matter what else ends up in my pack there are always some items that I can’t travel without and I have to take with me regardless.

In general I travel quite light when I’m backpacking, most of the time I use up about half of my pack space. The rest invariably gets filled up with gifts, souvenirs or things I pick up along the way depending on how long I’m travelling for, but in general I start off pretty light. Apart from my clothes and toiletries, which to be fair isn’t much, I view pretty much anything else as disposable or replaceable. I can pick up most things I need along the way as I need them, (and yes I’ve grabbed one or two of those traditional backpacker beer logo singlets from a market when I’ve been in need of a laundrette!)

Saying that, there are just a few things that I always take with me regardless of where I am going or how long I am going for, so in no particular order of importance, I thought I’d share them with you. This isn’t my full packing list of course, a more extensive suggested packing list for backpacking trips or gap years can be found here, these are just the personal things I always like to have with me whenever I go away and can’t do without.

A good old paperback.

Yes I know eReaders are lighter, can hold a ton of books and are infinitely more practical, and I do have an e reader app on my phone which does come in handy when I need a lot of  good novels on a long trip. But I still think you just can’t beat a good old paperback!

Call me old fashioned but I still love the weight, feel, smell and experience of a good, traditional book. It’s just an instinctive, visceral comfort thing, I can’t help it. I always have to get a new one before I set off, and besides, I never have to worry about leaving my paperback on the beach with my towel or in the hammock when I decide to go for a swim!

A first aid kit.

I know this item isn’t on the top of everyone’s list, but believe me it is an absolute essential! Even filled with just the absolute basics of plasters and antihistamine cream, one small item can save you a lot of bother and a potentially costly trip to a chemist or clinic! Many basic ones like these are small enough to fit in a pocket and have all the basic essentials, so there really is no excuse not to have one.

My own first aid kit to be fair is slightly larger than average and filled with a lot more than basic kit, but then I am a charge nurse in my working life so I know how to use it and I like to be prepared. I really wouldn’t recommend most people carrying round as much as I do, which to many people would be a load of unnecessary kit they don’t know how to use.

Despite this however, in all my many years of backpacking around the world on various continents, trekking through jungles and deserts, climbing mountains, clambering through cave systems and even braving crossing the road in Delhi, I’ve only ever had to use it on myself once (despite a few close calls!) I’ve used it tending to other backpackers scrapes and sprains more than I have my own!

A pacsafe net or at least a steel cable.

For those of you who don’t know what a pacsafe is, they are essentially a slashproof, tamperproof steel wire net that wrap around your backpack and can be secured to a fixed point with a steel cable and padlock.

This may seem like a strange addition to a must have list from a devotee of travelling light, but believe me I really would not do without it. I know there are plenty of disadvantages to these, they’re bulky, they add weight and they are an absolute pain to get on and off your pack in a hurry, but I think the security and peace of mind that they offer outweigh any of that. I certainly don’t use it all of the time of course, but in certain situations such as transit, or when I need to secure my pack under or to my seat on overnight coach or train journeys, or even as extra security in hostel lockers, they are an absolute essential.

Pad and Pen.

travel packing essentials

I know this is another unusual one and certainly not on the top of most people’s lists, but hey, I’m a writer, and an old fashioned one at that, what do you expect? I always buy a new one for each trip, almost ritualistically really, just to scribble down my thoughts, ideas and disparate chapters for my next novel. This can be a useful addition to anyone’s packing list though, as you are not going to remember the name of that amazing hostel you found or the location of every fantastic little food stall you came across that wasn’t in any guidebook, and quickly scribbling down the name and a few details can come in handy if you need to remember the name later on in your travels or if like me, you want to write about them at some point. Yes I know a stupid iPad does the same, but I already told you I’m old fashioned that way!


Now this is something almost everyone will have on the top of their own lists. I’ve always tried to make a conscious effort to try and not see the world through the eye of a camera lens, but I love photography, and this ideal has always been in constant, bitter battle with my desire for taking photographs. Over the years I think I have got a half decent balance between taking enough photo’s and seeing a place through my own eyes, but one thing is absolutely certain I would never be able to travel without my camera.

I think carrying a good camera is absolutely essential on your travels, it can be the difference between an amazing memento of a treasured memory or just another half blurred snapshot. You don’t need a massive DSLR camera with all the tripods, lighting rigs and other professional equipment, unless you are actually a professional of course. No one wants to be THAT guy (you know who you are) lugging all of that unwieldy, bulky kit into the most inappropriate or awkward of places and advertising to every thief and con artist in a twenty mile radius you are a tourist with a lot of expensive kit! A good spec digital camera that fits into your pocket is often more than enough to suit your needs and get some great pictures!

Did you enjoy this article? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below or on my Facebook or Twitter pages and please feel free to share it with any or all of the social media buttons. If you want to get more great backpacking tips, advice and inspiration, please subscribe to updates via email in the box to your right.


This post is not in any way a sponsored post. Although affiliate links are used to help pay for the upkeep of the site, I received no compensation or incentive for mentioning these products in this article, they are simply products that I have used myself over a period of many years travelling and am happy to recommend them to you.  

Related Articldes

How To Pack A Kick Ass Carry On And Travel Like A Boss.

What to pack for your gap year.



Michael Huxley is a published author, professional adventurer and founder of the travel website, Bemused Backpacker. He has spent the last twenty years travelling to over 100 countries on almost every continent, slowly building Bemused Backpacker into a successful business after leaving a former career in emergency nursing and travel medicine, and continues to travel the world on numerous adventures every year.

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6 comments on “My Personal Backpacking Packing List Essentials!
  1. Nomadic Boys says:

    Some great ideas – but what about clothing, in particular for quantity of trousers, T shirts and type of jacket?

    We are in the process of putting together our packing list.

    • Thanks, this is just my personal must haves that I can never leave behind. My general packing list advice – including clothing – can be found in the link ‘what to pack for your gap year.’ Thanks for stopping by 🙂

  2. Rachel says:

    A fellow old fashioned book-lover 😀 I refuse to get a kindle. It’s not the same as physically turning a page and wondering what adventures the rest of the book holds. Same for writing – I would much rather use a pen and paper than iPad.

    • I totally agree! I do have a kindle app on my phone which comes in handy for longer trips, but I will still always have (and prefer) an old fashioned book too! ;D And I could never use a pad for writing anything substantial! Nice to hear others feel the same way! Thanks for commenting. 🙂

  3. Dale says:

    I’d never be caught dead without a camera now after having our last one break and spending a month without one. During the time we didn’t we saw some of the most amazing places during our two years of travel and we’ve no pictures to share.


    • I feel your pain Dale! I’d be lost without my camera, those memories of those amazing places are just so important I think. I’m a big believer in not seeing a place through a lens, but I also believe in having the camera to take the shot of it first!

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Hi, I'm Michael! I'm a published author, qualified nurse and world travelling professional adventurer! I have spent 15 years travelling over 100 countries and I want to inspire you to do the same! Want to know more about me? Just click here!

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