The following 40L packing list was submitted by Rachel of A Map to Anywhere. See all of our packing lists on HPL. Please note that some of the links below are affiliate links.
This packing list is for those among us, who travel wildly. It’s for those who go to destinations where there isn’t air conditioning, where there are cold showers, dramatically changing weather and an itinerary that changes with the wind.
If this is your travel style, you need this packing list.
This is what I packed recently for a trip where I traveled from the tropics of Thailand to the Arctic Circle in Norway.
Did I mention I did this all with what I had in a 40L carry-on-sized backpack?
If I can do it, so can you!
So, without further ado, wayward travelers, here’s what you need for the path less planned.
Bring What You Love
As with most things in your life, if you don’t love it, you need to leave it.
You are paying a lot of money to travel and putting in a lot of effort to hauling this stuff around for weeks on end!
Only bring what you love, and only bring what you can layer.
Let’s start with the outermost layers and work our way in.
Rainshell – This has to be a sturdy, light layer that packs easily. Remember, as you add more layers, this will be the very top and so you may need to go up a size to make sure your other jackets can fit beneath. I’ve used a North Face Venture Jacket for about 5 years now. They come in a ton of colors and hold up and pack down really well.
Packable Insulated Jacket – Think light puffy coat. An insulated mid layer that is either down or down alternative. This will be worn under your rainshell but may be worn on top of a hoodie jacket. Good brands often carry these in packable versions that zip up into a pocket of the coat itself, making for an easily packable pouch.
Extra-warm Hoodie – Usually, I bring a knit hoodie. For those traditionalists, a regular hoodie will do but if you can find one that has a knit fabric or a little more heavy-duty outdoor specialty hoodie, you will often find they take up less room in your suitcase and pack up very small.
Scarf – Never leave the house without a scarf when you’re packing! This is such a great way to tie outfits together and stay warm at the same time! I personally prefer a light infinity scarf. That way, it takes up next to no room and is light enough for warm weather but still reduces wind in the cold.
Buff – Again, this is an item I don’t like to leave home without. They’re just so versatile! I wore mine over my ears in the wind, to hold my hair back in hot yoga classes and as a scarf on several occasions.
Beanie – A good hat is often the key to staying warm. Even though a knit beanie isn’t the biggest space saver, it’s totally worth it when you’re in a windy location or camping in the cold. If you’re traveling to unpredictable climates, don’t leave home without one. Did I also mention it’s great for bad hair days?
Light Gloves – I always forget how much time I spend walking around outside when I travel, and I’m always glad when I remembered I packed gloves for those chilly days out and about. Get a light pair of gloves that won’t take up much space. You’d be surprised at how often they get used. Whether it’s cold morning hikes, windy days near the ocean, or legitimately cold, winter days, these are a lifesaver.
Sunglasses – It’s best if they are both functional and stylish!
Tops are usually the focal point of outfits and should be items that you like and would be comfortable being photographed in, since they’ll make the most appearances in your travel pics. Here are my suggestions for tops that layer, look good and pack well.
Long Sleeves – Typically I bring 1-2 long sleeve tops, max. Remember, you’re also bringing a zip hoodie to layer so you don’t really need more. I choose one that will layer well, again, not too tight and in a flattering color. When going to multiple climates, I chose one that was light so I could wear it at night in the tropics without being too hot, while still providing extra warmth in the cold.
T-shirts – I only brought one t-shirt. This is because if you wear one in the tropics, you will get a farmer’s tan in the cold, you wind up layering it anyway. Choose one that looks cute tucked in to a pair of shorts or with jeans and without anything too distracting on the front so it’s not taking center stage in photos.
Tank Tops – This is one item that you can bring several of; I packed 4. All were in flattering colors that went with my scarf and zip hoodie and all were of a stretchy material. This is ideal since they will be worn A LOT both in layering and alone.
Hiking Pants – Bring one comfortable pair of hiking/outdoor pants that you can use for rougher activities. It can even just be a pair of pants you love that are super comfortable but that are made with a heavy duty fabric. Mine are skinny jean style which is great because I can still wear them around town and out to dinner without that overly outdoorsy look.
Jeans – No matter where you are going in the world, jeans are always in fashion. I brought my favorite pair and I suggest you do too. Bring the ones you would live in if you could. Mine were skinny jeans so they paired well under boots, with sandals and tennis shoes.
Leggings – Where were we as travelers without leggings!? This may be the single most important pant layer you bring because they are so comfy and versatile. Also, bring a pair that can layer under your hiking pants for cold days.
Demin Shorts – Bring one pair that fits great. You will wear them lots in warm climates but not use them at all in the cold so choose the ones that make you feel best and save the space.
Athletic Shorts – Chose a pair of shorts that are suitable for athletic wear, sleeping or atop your swimsuit. These should be a comfy material and don’t necessarily need to be anything fancy, just well-made. I bring the same pair on every trip and they are one of my most worn items because of their versatility.
Shoes are always the biggest conundrum! Luckily, if you have a few versatile and comfy pairs, you will be set for the entire trip!
Hiking Boots – Bring one pair of hiking shoes. It’s best if they are lightweight, go over the ankle for added support and are also as water-proof as possible. I wore my hiking boots (the Vasque Talus Mid UltraDry Hiking Boots) snowmobiling, hiking and on muddy paths in Thailand.
Sneakers – Bring a stylish pair of lightweight sneakers that can be paired with jeans, a skirt or shorts. These should be a neutral color and comfortable enough to wear all day while sight-seeing! The Superga Cotu Classics ones are my favorite because they are, hands down, the most comfortable straight-out-the-box and you can wear them anywhere.
Flip-flops – Another item not to leave home without! You will use these as slippers, in hostel showers, on the beach and everywhere in between. Just make sure it’s a well-made pair that won’t fall apart half-way through the journey! My Teva Olowahu flip flops are amazing and have lasted 4 years. I should probably get rid of them but they still look good!
Backpack – Choose one that is comfortable, around 40L and zips all the way open. You don’t want to use a traditional backpacking backpack that only opens at the top because you’ll always be digging for that one thing your forgot is in the very bottom. I like the Osprey Porter 46. It’s really popular with travelers because it’s suited for travelers rather than traditional, mountain backpackers.
Day Pack – I like to travel with either a small, packable backpack for hikes or a messenger bag during the day. This works as a purse, carries snacks and my camera. I’m currently using the Mountainsmith Adventure Office bag as a daypack. I like the size, but beware, if you bring your laptop everywhere, it’s just barely big enough for my MacBook Air.
Wallet with Wristband – These are perfect for taking out of your backpack and using as a purse while out on the town. Bonus if it’s big enough for your passport, too.
Packing Cubes – I love my packing cubes! They help you stay organized and also add a little compression to your items so you can make sure everything fits!
Fun, Girly, Basics
These are a few things that made my limited packing list more fun!
1 Dress or Skirt – It’s important to have a dress or skirt if you are in warm climates, or need an excuse to dress up in cold climates. I prefer skirts since you can mix and match tops depending on the weather.
Swimsuit – You will need it! Don’t leave home without it! Bonus points if you can find one you feel awesome in!
One Statement Necklace – True, you may be out in the woods for half your trip, but on the days in town, it’s great to feel a little dressed up!
Several Pairs of Earrings – They take up next to no space and can make you feel dressed up with almost zero effort!
>> Check out these tips for traveling with jewelry.
This is awesome stuff! Plus, many of the items aren’t liquid, so they won’t add to your TSA restrictions! Read more about solid toiletries.
Shampoo Bar – It’s shampoo but in hard soap form. You’d think they’d be drying and not very foamy, but that’s not the case. These from Frcolor are awesome! You get your hair wet, run through from the root to the tip several times and then work into a lather (which happens really fast). They are good for your hair and also last me several months! And I have pretty long hair.
Leave-in Conditioner – My hair normally needs a lot of conditioner to be brush-able after a shower. The R&B leave-in conditioner from Lush makes it easy to get a comb through. It’s expensive, but a tub of it lasted me for six months! You only need a tiny amount to work. Plus, it’s under 3 ounces so it meets TSA restrictions.
Dry Shampoo – I don’t know how I got by before dry shampoo became a thing. This is the best for when you get off a long flight and go straight to sight-seeing. A little bit goes a very long way and it leaves your hair looking clean, rather than travel-worn and exhausted. I have brought this on every international trip I have gone on since I discovered it in 2014 and in that time, I have only used two of the small, carry-on sized bottles.
>> See more of Rachel’s favorite hair care products for carry-on packing.
Tinted Chapstick – This makes it look like you put in effort, while hydrating. Fresh lip treatment is a little pricey but it’s like a lipstick and a chapstick in one (Petal is my favorite natural-looking shade). I use mine on flights, windy days and everywhere in between. Make sure you have one that includes SPF protection!
Bug Spray – For so many destinations, this is a must-have! I try to choose products that are less harsh but still effective and also, under 3 ounces so I can pack them in a carry-on.
Deodorant – I tried so many different types of deodorant until I found crystal deodorant. It doesn’t add to your liquids allotment and it lasts forever.
>> Read more about how long travel toiletries last.
Sunscreen – You’d be surprised how often sunscreen is more expensive in other countries. This is definitely one you always want to have with you! A single sunburn can ruin your trip!
Make-up Remover/Face Wash Wipes – You will be so glad you have these; long train rides, overnight busses, flights… Bring them with and carry a small pack in your day pack. You’ll be happy you did!
Moisturizer – All the flying and traveling really can take a toll on your skin, so make sure to pack a great moisturizer with SPF protection.
Toothy Tabs – For me, the travel-size tubes of toothpaste aren’t enough for an extensive trip. I’ve also found, there one of the first items to leak in my bag. Lush’s toothy tabs are a great alternative and they don’t take up the space you could be using for other liquids in your carry-on!
This has been a life-saver to me at times! I always pack a small bag with a variety of commonly-needed medicines such as allergy tabs, ibuprofen, a sleep-aid (for adjusting to time changes), and a few options for when local foods aren’t agreeing with your digestion.
One really critical item is a vitamin C supplement. I take it when I’m traveling during cold and flu season because the last thing you want, is to end up sick on your trip!
Of course, don’t forget any prescriptions you need as well!
Plug Adaptor – This is one item you really, really don’t want to leave home without. Also, it’s one you want to buy in good quality because if you don’t, you’ll end up buying a cheap one at the airport that will break anyway. My Loop plug adapter also includes USB ports on the side so you can plug in several devices at once.
Good Camera – I waited so long to buy a good camera and now I’m not sure why. The Sony a5100 mirrorless camera is available at a great price and is awesome for photo and video! It also has a selfie screen that flips up so you can see the image. This is exactly what you need as a solo traveler without being bulky.
Noise-Cancelling Headset – These will save your sanity on long flights, trains and busses!
I hope you find this list useful! I’ve learned a lot from my travels over the years, and these are the items that I found so helpful I wanted to share them with you too!
About the Author: Rachel Walla is a blogger at A Map to Anywhere.com and digital nomad who has traveled to over 35 countries, mostly as a girl alone. She loves helping others travel and telling the weird stories of her experiences on the road; having breakfast with an emerald smuggler, dressing up like a geisha, studying meditation or yoga and eating grubs in the Amazon.
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