It’s not easy to simplify your life down into the contents of one bag. Find out what exactly it means to travel the world while you put your whole life in a backpack.
What it Means to Live Out of a Backpack
More and more people are choosing to spend a certain amount of time traveling the world. Instead of a hectic and, at the same time, dull everyday life they’re used to, they’ll get to live out the ultimate adventure, like taste exotic food, meet fascinating people from faraway places, and ride to towns with the names they can’t pronounce. The digital world made long-term traveling even more accessible. Nowadays, if you have a laptop and a good wifi signal, you can work from literally anywhere.
Most backpackers choose to travel for a couple of months, a year, or even a couple of years. Whatever option you go for, the most important thing is to prepare and know what to expect.
How to Plan for Living Out of a Backpack
Careful planning is key when you plan to live out of a backpack. Here are a couple of things to consider:
- Make a plan, but don't stick to it 100%: Do your research in advance so that you know what your next move will be when you land in a foreign country. A basic plan will help you stay on track budget-wise and ensure that you see the major things you want.
- Learn about travel regulations: If you're visiting Europe, make sure you understand the Schengen Zone. Also, make sure you don't overstay your welcome.
- Learn to navigate airports: The most important thing to consider is whether you'll be able to take your backpack as a carry-on. You might need to check your bag and count additional costs into your budget.
- Choose the right backpack: Don't take your old worn-out backpack on a year-long trip. The bag needs to be sturdy, reliable, and resistant. Experienced packers say that padding is important — choose a backpack that has padding on the straps, the belt, and the hip belt. If you'll predominantly be trekking and camping, you can get a typical top-loading backpack. If you're planning to hop from city to city, a front-loading backpack is a better choice.
Living Out of a Backpack - Packing List
If you’re planning on going on a longer trip, it’s natural that you worry about what to pack. You’ll be passing through multiple countries and you’ll have to deal with all kinds of weather conditions. How on earth to pack for such an adventure, one might ask.
Luckily, there are plenty of experienced travelers offering useful advice on how to live out of a backpack. Their single most important piece of packing advice is: keep it simple. Don’t overpack and don’t take stuff you’ll never use.
If you need help figuring out what to pack, take a look at our living out of backpack list.
Jeans are out, capsule wardrobe and lightweight clothes are in! Pack multiple-use clothing — for example, you can use a scarf to cover up in temples or overnight buses, or it could come in handy as an emergency towel. When packing clothes in a backpack, think about choosing a couple of basic pieces that can all be mixed and matched.
- 5 shirts: Try to choose shirts that can be dressed up a bit if needed. Also, choose wrinkle-free materials. If you're going to have access to a washing machine, you can even take only 2 or 3 shirts.
- 2 pairs of pants: The most important thing is choosing pants made out of light materials. For that reason, khakis are among the most popular choices.
- 3 pairs of socks: Look for socks that don't retain moisture. At least one of the pairs should be a warm one — even if you're going somewhere hot, it could get cold overnight.
- Underwear: Pack according to your hygiene standards.
- Light PJs: Bring some light shorts and a shirt. You'll be thanking yourself if you won't have easy access to a washing machine.
- Light jacket: To add another layer when needed, pack a light jacket.
- Coat, hat, scarf, and gloves: There's no way around it — if you're visiting colder countries, you'll need layers to keep you warm.
Minimalist living out of a backpack means you'll pack only two pairs of shoes. If you've ever packed for any trip, you know that shoes take up a lot of space, are hard to pack neatly, and add a lot of weight to your luggage.
- Walking shoes: Invest in high-quality walking shoes. Yes, they can be pricey, but you'll be spending a majority of your time wearing them and you don't want to be unable to explore the surroundings just because you didn't bring the right shoes, right? One more tip: wear them on a plane — they'll probably be too bulky for your backpack.
- Waterproof sandals: Or, if you're not a fan, flip-flops. They're convenient for warmer climates and are a godsend if you come across a shower you don't want to be barefoot in.
Think about finding travel-size packages. You can use little pockets in your backpack to pack the small items, but it could be a lot easier to pack them in a small bag so that you can carry them to the bathroom at once. The list should include:
- Women's hygiene products if you’re a female
- Stain remover: Put this under "extra", but it could get quite handy to have it. Stains can accumulate quickly when you're spending a lot of time outdoors — and you'll want to look clean when visiting fancier places.
Maybe you’re going on a backpacking adventure just to relax and experience something new. And maybe you plan to live like a true digital nomad and work while traveling. If you fit into the first category, packing your technology is easy. Maybe all you need is a mobile phone — to keep in touch with your loved ones, document special moments with your phone camera, and search for all the info you need. If that’s the case, don't forget two additional items:
- Power bank: You don't want to get stuck in the middle of nowhere with a dead phone battery (especially if you're not going as a part of a group).
- Travel adapter: If you're visiting a different continent (like a trip from the USA to Europe), keep in mind that you're going to need the right travel adapter.
If you're planning to work while traveling, you'll need to bring:
- External storage: a USB-powered external hard drive or a flash drive
- Laptop stand: You'll probably end up working from locations where you won’t be able to sit at a table comfortably, so bringing a lightweight laptop stand is a must.
- A mouse and external keyboard: If you have space, bring them for unexpected situations.
It would be smart to divide your documents into two separate places. First of all, keep all relevant documents with you at all times, preferably in your wallet (or in a Ziploc bag). Those documents include:
Just in case your wallet gets stolen or lost, make sure to keep the following documents in your backpack:
For safety reasons, you can also divide your money and keep a certain amount in a money holder. You can get one that will hide your money from potential thieves, like an undercover passport holder or a leg wallet.
First Aid Kit
You hope you won’t have to use them, but need to carry them anyway. Pack a travel health kit for common medical emergencies and keep them in your carry-on at all times.
- Ibuprofen to relieve pain, fever, headaches, or simple sprains
- Antihistamines if you have allergies
- Alcohol-based hand cleaner (with 60% alcohol or more) or antibacterial wipes
- Bandages for minor cuts
- Hydrogen peroxide to clean and disinfect wounds
- Tweezers to remove small splinters or bee stingers from the skin
- Sunscreen (SPF 15 or higher)
Here’s the official “things that are often forgotten, but very useful” category.
- Sketchbook, travel diary, and pens: Even if you don’t consider yourself arty, visiting breathtaking locations could wake up an artist in you. Here are a couple of travel journal ideas that might get your inspiration going.
You’re ready for backpack living, but still not sure where you want to go? Read about these destinations and you might come across the perfect starting point.
- Top 36 things to in Bolivia
- A perfect 5-day Barcelona itinerary
- Ultimate travel guide for the beautiful Havana
- Backpacking routes across Ireland
If you’re planning on visiting the old continent, here’s a packing list for Europe that could come in handy. Wherever you go, please learn how to backpack safely with these backpacking hacks and tips.