Packing Your Life Away

Next to the flooding in of questions about how I funded my year abroad, I have had many women (and a few men) reach out to me asking how I knew what to pack for a year abroad.  “How could you possibly plan for a full year with just a backpack?  Didn’t you feel like you’d forget or miss something?  What about the weight on your back?  

The simple (and very honest) answer to these questions: I did NOT plan very well.  In fact, let’s just go over both what to do, and what not to do.

First things first…

This is how I fit a year’s worth of travel gear in one Backpack

Packing List (for women)

  • The Backpack (or as I call mine: Big Red Mother Fu*%er) 
    • I am torn on this one. I purchased mine at REI for $320, which I do not necessarily recommend.  Depending on where you are going and for how long, you may actually want to bring a suitcase.  For example, in Europe many travelers carry suitcases as it’s fairly easy to get around; versus Asia where you will be getting on and off Tuk Tuk taxis and will need to be quick and mobile with a backpack.  In addition, it is much cheaper to buy a backpack abroad instead of home in the states.  I have seen them in Spain and Portugal for no more than $150 (less than half what I paid in the states!)  If it’s possible for you to bring an old suit case you are ready to get rid of and switch over to a backpack while in Europe, that’s what I would do if I were to do this over.  Save money, get rid of something old and battered…double win.
    • Here’s the backpack I would get if I could do it over again.Here’s the link to where you can buy it for the best deal on Amazon.  (The convertible option would have been better than the one I have below.)
  • Packing Cubes!  
      • These are a life saver and were recommended to me by another solo female traveler.  They keep you organized and sane.  These ones are from REI and cost about $20 each.  I use the red one for all of my shirts (to give you context regarding size) and the white one for all of my work out/comfy clothes (ie. yoga pants).
      • I recommend these ones on Amazon –>

    Packing cubes on Amazon

  • Socks, Shoes, Undies
    • 5 pairs of socks
    • 8-10 paris of panties
    • One pair of running/hiking/walking shoes (I brought my Nike frees)
    • One pair of sandals (flip flops or something else that is easy and comfortable)
    • One pair of flats/nicer sandals for dressing up (just a bit)
    • ZERO high heels- Yep you heard me.  They weigh too much and are unnecessary.
  • Electronics
    • Phone charger (x2 because you may lose one- like me!)
    • Converter/Adapter
      • I recommend getting one that can convert in all countries.  The best ones I have seen on other backpackers came from Amazon.  I originally got one from Target for $35 (which I do not recommend) and it broke.  Then I bought a replacement in the Netherlands for 10 euro. Moral of the story here?  Wait until you are abroad to buy this if you don’t get it on Amazon in advance.   
    • Phone/Camera
    • Computer (Depending on what you do- I need mine because I write)
  • Clothing
    • Don’t overdo it like me.  Trust me you won’t wear half of what you bring if you do.
    • A good rule: First pack what you think you’ll need then cut that in half.  Then cut that by a third and THAT is probably what you will actually need.
    • Here’s what I brought:  10-12 shirts (variety between cold/warm weather options)
      1. 2 long maxi skirts
      2. 4 lightweight dresses (2 short + 2 long)
      3. 1 jumper- easy one piece outfit that can be dressed up or down.  See pic below of me rocking mine at the Palace of Versailles in France.
      4. 2  pairs of pants
      5. 3-4 work out outfits

        This Forever21 jumper has seen me through palaces, airports and the occasional night out.
  • Toiletries/cosmetics
    •  This depends on you.  I am a cosmo girl.  I worked for years in the industry and have loads of product which did notIMG_5562.JPG
      make it in the backpack.  I brought what I
      considered “the basics,” but this is what I actually have needed (the rest I have thrown out or given away).

      • Moisturizer with SPF
      • Eye Cream
      • Exfoliating wipes
      • Facial/Body Wash
      • 2 Razors
      • Toothbrush and toothpaste
      • Mascara
      • Eye liner (waterproof)
      • Bronzer/Blush
      • Lip Liner (Waterproof)
      • Lip balm
      • Leave-in hair treatment
  • Miscellaneous  
    • First aid items
    • Sleep aid (if you’r
      e like me and need that)
    • Sleep mask and headphones (this will get you through sleeping in dorm rooms).

In addition to the above list, perhaps the most important thing you pack is your courage.  Adopt the attitude “I can get through anything!” and you really will be able to- regardless of what you prepared for (or didn’t) through your tedious packing process.  One of the biggest shockers for me has been the realization that I really don’t need much to get by or to be happy- and this is coming from a former product-designer-shoe junky.  

Trust me, If I can do this, anyone can.  


12 thoughts on “Packing Your Life Away

  1. Good list – similar to mine! When I came back I was shocked by how many cosmetics I had at home – I survived with moisturiser, SPF, mascara and blusher for 7 months!


  2. I’ve been backpacking for more than 20 years and I still over pack. This time we actually moved to another country to live and not to be travelling around a lot so I felt justified in most of what I brought with me. I’ve always been a backpacker and always will be I think. But my partner hates them and he uses a suitcase. I bought a good quality one in Australia and had it fitted properly to fit my back and my shape, so I’m not sure about buying one overseas.
    I read a lot about the packing cubes before I came away but I’m not really sure how they are that much better than having separate bags or compartments to put things in. Perhaps I’ll have to try them one day to see. I did bring two jumpers that I haven’t used since I stepped off the plane… And I have very little in the way of cosmetics. But ladies if you are going to Asia – take tampons. Very hard to get here.


  3. I love this backpacking advices!! Will need them for my next interrail. Since I’m new in this virtual world I would like to present you my blog. I write about the two cities I love most: Lisbon and Rio de Janeiro. The posts are all in Portuguese and English. If you’re interested of discovering more about this two amazing places, start following my blog and it’s posts =)


  4. Hi, I am wondering which moisturizer with SPF and eye cream you brought with you. I am going on an eight-month backpacking trip and I am really worried about properly taking care of my skin. I’d appreciate your advise since you were in the cosmetics industry. Thanks!


    1. Hi Jay! I brought Perricone MD Face Finishing tinted moisturizer with spf 30, Clarins anti aging spf 50 moisturizer and a Tarte cosmetics eye cream. I recommend just bringing a full size (versus the travel sized) so that they will last you all 8 months. What an exciting time for you!! Where are you headed?


      1. Sorry for bombarding you with so many posts, ha! I thought my comment hadn’t been posted – I also reached out through FB, so please disregard. Thank you so much for replying so quickly! I am heading to Brazil at the end of January (right on time for Carnival!), covering most of South America for about 4 or 5 months and then heading to Europe for another 4-5 months! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Hello, I am wondering which Moisturizer with SPF and Eye Cream you brought with you? I am going on a ten-month backpacking trip through South America and Europe and I am worried about taking proper care of my skin. I would really appreciate your advise since you were in the cosmetics industry. Thanks!


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