When I first began to travel solo in 1998 I didn’t put much thought into what I was packing. Truthfully, I didn’t even think about what I was using as a backpack. I just grabbed the backpack my dad gave me (a PeakOne 75L pack) and shoved all my favourite things inside. Needless to say, within a few days of travelling I started throwing out some of my so-called favourite things as my backpack was way too heavy — I almost toppled over every time I put it on, which involved a swinging motion as I couldn’t pick it up. It was comical.
Thankfully my packing style has changed over the years and I no longer carry a backpack that is too big and too heavy. Instead, I switch between a 55L backpack (I use this one by North Face) and a 32L backpack (and this one by Black Diamond), depending on where I am travelling and what gear I will need.
One’s packing list changes over time, and from sometimes from one trip to another. Over the last six years, I have published a couple of different packing list posts, around seven to be exact. Instead of keeping those posts, I decided to consolidate them into the one page. Hopefully making it easier to find packing list tips that will suit your needs.
Packing, no matter what your weight may be, is all dependent on where you’re travelling. I’m not talking hot or cold, everyone has those challenges, I’m talking about North America vs Asia or Africa or South America.
Finding clothing in North America (including Mexico) can be fairly easy, so packing is not all that challenging. Depending on what you need, it can be a little more challenging in Europe, but there are places you can go to do a little shopping. The biggest challenges will be second and third world countries in Africa and Asia. Places where people are generally small in stature.
Bras & Panties
3-4 bras, and undies for each day of the week
Bras and panties will be the biggest challenge for overweight female travellers, especially if you have large breasts, like me. I always recommend bringing more bras and panties than you think you’ll need. Or become accustomed to wearing granny panties with holes. It sounds gross, but desperate times…
Sure, you can buy new bras and panties online, but that is not the most economical choice. I once spent over $100 to buy two new bras and have them shipped to me in Thailand, opened them and discover that they were MADE IN THAILAND! But of course, Thai women don’t have ginormous boobs, which explains the stares and lack of bra options.
If you’re looking for a comfy travel bra, the Genie Bra is a good option – and not overly expensive.
5-7 Shirts that are lightweight, but good quality
Depending on the size of your boobs, t-shirts may not be as big of a problem. That being said, if you’re not sure, bring a couple extra shirts. I have five that I’m packing into my carry-on backpack, two nice shirts that can be dressed up, and three very casual shirts. I also have at least one long sleeve sweater as some destinations get cool at night.
I have found shirts that fit me in Thailand (after a wash and a wee stretch), but I had to buy them in a store, not on the street, so they were quite a bit more expensive. Another thing you can do, if you know where you’ll be and when, is have a bubble pack at home with two or three shirts inside and have somebody express them to you if you become desperate for new shirts.
I love these food map t-shirts created by fellow traveller (and friend) Jodi Ettenberg.
2-3 pairs of pants/capri pants
To be honest, I pack one pair of long pants, a pair of capri pants, and a pair of yoga pants. That’s it. I use the regular pants for hiking and hill treks, and switch between my capri and yoga pants on normal travel days. If I feel gross, I wear my yoga pants. If I’m out doing photography, I wear my capri pants because I usually need to use the extra pockets for gear etc. ExOfficio is a great brand for travel clothing.
Pants will be very hard to find in places like Asia, so keep that in mind. I have bought a pair of those awful baggy fisherman pants in Thailand when I was in need. They look horrific, but damn, those pants are comfortable; they wash well, and everyone wears them.
If you’re travelling in Vietnam you can always go to a tailor shop and have pants made to fit, and the prices are usually very good.
2-3 skirts of various lengths
I am not a girly girl, but I do love skirts when I travel. I have a knee-length black skirt as well as an ankle-length grey skirt. Both are lightweight and pack very well. Skirts can be very comfortable on the road, and always a good idea for when you’re visiting sacred sights or very conservative countries.
It’s quite easy to find a tailor/dressmaker to make you a skirt when you’re traveling, I suggest going out and finding the fabric you want and taking it to the tailor with you as selection can sometimes be limited.
Toiletries & Personal Items
To be honest, the toiletries are not THAT different from other travelers, but there are a couple of additions that can make travel a little more comfortable. Here’s the thing, most of these items can be found in a pharmacy anywhere in the world, and sometimes they are cheaper abroad, but not always. Having travel sized items is good for when you initially arrive, then buy as you go. Personally, the last thing I want to do when I arrive somewhere is find a drugstore or pharmacy where I can buy supplies.
- Medicated Baby powder – for ladies with bigger boobs, or anyone who has skin folds, this is a must. Boob sweat is real, people, and using baby powder under your boobs can help with this. This also helps to fight rashes and infections that occur when the skin rubs together too much. Using the medicated baby powder will help to reduce the risk of inverse psoriasis which can cause itchy rashes and yeast or fungal infections under your breasts and skin folds. The baby powder should contain menthol and zinc oxide. Never use lotions and creams under your boobs, this traps in the moisture and does not help! Source.
- Diaper cream/Eczema cream – In hot destinations thigh rub can be very painful. I stopped wearing regular panties, and instead, I wear ones that have a little bit of a leg on them. It helps to prevent thigh rashes. I also have some diaper cream on me just in case I get a rash and need to soothe it.
- Handkerchief – this is a suggestion for anyone going to Southeast Asia. It gets HOT, and there will be times when you’ll be glad you have one in your pocket. It doesn’t need to be fancy. Buy some handkerchiefs before your trip or bring a lightweight washcloth, which works well. You can also buy one for cheap at a night market when you arrive.
- Vaseline – it’s one of the best things to pack. Vaseline can be lip balm, helps to clot blood if you have a cut, and can soothe a rash. Pack it, seriously. I get the small lip balm size as you generally need very little.
- Regular toiletry items – of course, you’ll need the same toiletries as everyone else; shampoo, conditioner, soap, toothbrush and paste, deodorant, douche wipes. Don’t bring super size, just travel size. You can refill in destination.
- Large travel towel – buy a quick-dry microfibre travel towel, don’t bring a towel from home (these will get mouldy if they are not dried properly). Travel towels are light and compact. I just get dressed in the shower after I’m done as there is no way I’m walking around in a towel that barely covers me.
- Bug spray with Deet – really, you’ll need it, and in some countries, it can be hard to find bug spray. Trust me on this one, I am allergic to mosquito bites outside North America. If I get bitten I get hot, tight, itchy welts on my legs. It’s torture. I never leave home without a small one in my bag.
- Sunscreen – I learned my lesson after my second-degree burn incident in Jamaica. I always have a small thing of sunscreen in my bag.
Now to talk about all the other stuff. It’s not really a lot, I promise. Most of these items apply to everyone.
- Cross-body bag – I loathe carrying a backpack during the day, it is so awkward. Plus, how do you keep things safe back there?! I have a Pacsafe cross-body bag which I LOVE! It’s anti-theft, has lots of pockets, and carries my laptop as well as my camera equipment. Plus, it doesn’t look as though I am carrying a laptop and camera! This bag also has a nice long strap!
- Good shoes – again, this is advice for everyone. I have runners, flip flops, and ballet flats. This way all of my bases are covered.
- Sarong – as an overweight person sarongs rarely fit, unless you get one from a plus size store. I don’t wear a sarong though, I use them as a towel for the beach, to cover up when visiting temples, or to keep warm on air-conditioned buses. There are so many uses for sarongs.
- Twine or strong cording – if you’re going to be hiking, trekking, or camping bring some twine or strong cord to act as a clothing line, or for tying things off – great when your pant button breaks and you need something to hold them up while you’re in the middle of a safari. It is very hillbilly, but it works.
- Sewing kit – after breaking a flip-flop in the middle of a walking tour in Warsaw, I never travel without a sewing kit!
When packing thinking about multi-use items. Clothing that can be used in different situations. I pack light, as I am a carry-on traveller, but if you’re bringing a full pack you can add more items to round out your wardrobe. The above list is merely the basics.
Packing for a multi-month trip is always a challenge, there are so many ‘what ifs’ that come into play. Sure, I’m going to Southeast Asia, but what if I do a visa run to a place that is cool? Surely I need at least a few warm pieces of clothing. What if there is a party? I really don’t want to look like a dirty hippy. So, what do I pack? And HOW do I pack it all into a carry-on sized backpack?!
I didn’t switch to carry-on out of a need to be better than other travellers, or to prove I can do it better. I did it because I’m lazy. There, I said it. I. Am. Lazy.
Here’s the thing. While I hover at the gate to board the plane so I can test out the seatbelt situation before there are too many people around, I am also one of the first people to stand up to get off the plane, even when I’m way in the back. I love flying, but once I’m on the ground and the plane isn’t moving anymore, I want off. There are simply too many people, and I loathe crowds. Of course, once I’m off I then have to go through customs, and then wait an ungodly amount of time for my backpack. And what if it never arrives?! It’s never happened to me before, but there is always a first time.
Crowds. Lines. More crowds. It makes my head hurt.
So, I switched from a 55L backpack to a carry-on sized backpack, and now I can skip the baggage drop-off line and go straight to security. When I get off the plane all I have to do is go through customs, and then I can smile and giggle to myself as I walk through the baggage area, without stopping, and outside to the nearest taxi or city train. It feels like travel freedom and it makes my skin tingle with delight.
I don’t know about you, but I prefer to walk out of an airport feeling excited, rather than frustrated.
Have you ever packed based on the activities you want to do while travelling?
It’s a new tactic for me, but an incredibly helpful one. Over the last five years of blogging and travelling, I have learned a few lessons about packing and the way I travel.
- I like to go out, but I hate looking like a dirty backpacking hippy girl.
- At times I get so tired of wearing the same damn t-shirt that I start to fantasize about burning it.
- I am spontaneous and there is a good chance I’ll end up in China, in winter, and will need a sweater of sorts.
- Flip flops are fabulous, but sometimes ballet flats are best. See number 1.
- I enjoy straightening my hair (it’s naturally curly) and looking nice.
- I want to be able to do a hike or hill trek, and flip flops are not acceptable for this.
- Bus can get cold, as do planes and sometimes trains. I don’t like getting colds in places like Thailand because the air conditioning on a bus was too cold. It is not fun, not fun at all.
Packing Multi-Use Clothing
Keeping the above in mind, I started throwing (literally) clothing and other items onto a chest in my room, items that generally have multiple uses like a mid-length skirt, as well as an ankle-length skirt, both lightweight.
I tend to visit a lot of temples and other sacred sites when I travel, so skirts are perfect. The ones I chose are neutral in colour so I can wear them with anything, plus skirts can be dressed down with flip flops, or dressed up with a pair of ballet flats.
I’ve used the same tactics with my shirts. I have a nicer looking black t-shirt, as well as a blue one, both of which can be casual, or I can dress them up with a scarf or lightweight cardigan. I also have a couple of t-shirts that are strictly casual.
When I pack clothing, I use the rolling technique and separate items into packing cubes. It’s easy to pack, and keeps the inside of my back in control. I like things to be neat and tidy. It’s also part of my anti-theft plan. Say what?! You see, on travel days my clean clothing is in packing cubes, usually toward the bottom of my pack, and my dirty, smelly clothes are on top. It’s my hope that someone won’t rummage through nasty clothing to steal something. Not that there is anything of value in there.
I’m a woman, shoes need to be discussed. I generally don’t pack a lot of shoes when I travel, in fact I use to travel with one pair of flip flops. Which worked great, until I was in the middle of a walking tour in Warsaw and my right shoe strap broke. As we were a rather large group, I didn’t want to hold things up, so I borrowed a sewing kit from someone in the group and walked with a flip flip on my left foot, and nothing on my right as I tried to mend the strap. I finally got it to hold, and the rest of the tour was great, but I got a lot of weird looks as I walked around Warsaw with one bare foot.
Naturally the next afternoon the strap broke again and I found myself spending $30 on a pair of new flip flops at the mall.
Did I mention it was October, and that it is really hard to find flip flops in Warsaw?
So, now I am more prepared. I have a pair of black plastic Havianas, plus a slightly nicer looking pair of black flip flops made with cloth straps.
I am also packing a pair of running shoes as I hope to do some hiking and hill treks while I’m in Asia, and I have a pair of lemon yellow patent ballet flats from Tieks that I’ll be using for nicer occasions. Yay!
The beauty of this is that I have four pairs of shoes and they take up very little room. It’s perfect. Plus I can stuff things into my running shoes. More storage space!
Ah, yes, now the fun stuff. As a travel writer, blogger, and photographer (and possibly a vlogger in the near furture) I tend to travel with a little more tech gear than most travellers.
- Compact Manfrotto tripod – I absolutely love this tripod by Manfrotto, it’s lightweight, for a tripod, and easy to stow in a backpack, or my cross-body bag when I’m heading out to shoot photos that require a tripod.
- Mini Manfrotto tripod – This little guy is super easy for packing around and a great little addition to my kit. It’s good for getting really low, as well as setting up my camera on some rocks. Basically, I use it for shots that won’t work with a regular tripod.
- Fuji X-T1 – After a couple years of dreaming, I have finally bought my dream camera and I am so stoked to be taking it with me to Asia. I need to get a couple extra lenses at some point, but for now, the kit lens will do! Love the wifi connectivity as I can quickly send a photo to my phone to edit and share on the fly.
- Macbook Air – I switched to a Macbook Air as it’s the perfect weight for travel. I loved my Macbook Pro, but it was really heavy and on travel days it was a pain to carry it around. I love the size of the air as most people don’t realize I’m walking around with a laptop in my bag. Yay!
- Portable charger – I use my phone, a lot, and the battery dies fast. I always carry a charging cord and plug with me, but having the charger is a lifesaver, especially when I’m on the go and need to be on social media a lot during the day, or have photos to edit.
- WD My Passport 1 TB Wireless External Hard Drive – I never travel without my external hard drive, especially now that I have a Macbook Air. I put all my photos on here, once they’ve been backed-up to the cloud and imported to my online portfolio. The great thing about this hard drive is that I can connect to it wirelessly (without internet) to my laptop and transfer files. It’s a beautiful thing.
- iPhone 6S – My phone is still in good condition, so I don’t plan to upgrade anytime soon. It’s also unlocked, which allows me to buy a local SIM card and data plan – a cheap task in Asia.
That’s it, that is all the tech I am taking to on my multi-month trip to Asia this year, which is quite a bit less than my past travels. I use to have a GoPro with all the accessories, but I wasn’t using it very much and it took up space. My old camera was a Nikon D3100, which was a good camera, but heavy. Basically, I’ve downsized a little bit, but I think this year’s kit will be perfect for what I hope to accomplish.
Toiletries, Make-up, etc.
I’m a no fuss type woman, but I also have naturally curly hair which needs decent shampoo and conditioner. So, I pack a travel size of my favourite Kiehl’s shampoo and conditioner, as well as some hand salve. I also have deodorant, and a razor, toothbrush and toothpaste. And that is it for the toiletry pouch.
I do have a basic make-up kit for this trip. Black liquid liner, mascara, copper glittery eye shadow, lip gloss, and hair ties. That’s it. If I need something else, I can buy it in Bangkok, same for the toiletries (there is a Kiehl’s in Siam Paragon shopping mall). I hardly ever wear make-up, mascara and lip balm are generally my go-to, but if I’m going to an event or party, I want to look nice.
As an overweight traveller,my clothing has more material, but it doesn’t mean I cannot travel with just a carry-on for a multi-month trip. I’m a down to earth person as it is, and I’m good with the basics, I don’t need a bunch of fancy clothing. I don’t have it at home, so I don’t see the need to have it on the road either. And complaining that my clothing it bigger is just lazy and lame. Skinny girls have packing issues too.
The key, in my opinion, is packing multi-use clothing and some accessories. Look for things that offer variety. If you’re bigger, pack a couple extra t-shirts, and if you’re a woman, bring a couple extra bras.
Packing a carry-on for a multi-month trip is not for everyone, and that is okay. I know plenty of travellers and bloggers who use rolling suitcases or large backpacks. Kate from Adventurous Kate wrote a great post on why she is not a carry-on only traveller.
As I said in the beginning, my choice is based on laziness, and I am cool with that.
I travelled for 45 days from Kenya (Nairobi) to Cape Town with Intrepid Travel, and during my trip, we went on several safari adventures. In some respects, my packing strategy was spot on, but there was definitely room for improvement. The following list includes the things I packed, as well as some extras that I wish I had — and will be sure to bring the next time I’m in Africa.
- Deet Insect Repellent: At least 40% Deet. Seriously, bring it!
- Silva Pocket 10×25 Binoculars: Not everyone is lucky enough to see the animals up close. There are many times where you will see a lion or leopard in a distance and binoculars are the only way to view them properly.
- Fuji X-T1 Camera: Going on a safari without a camera is pure torture (I know, mine was stolen and I had to endure three safaris without one). If you don’t want to spend the money on a high-quality mirrorless camera, then something like the Nikon 1 J5 is an excellent choice.
- Extra camera battery: Whether you have a charger or use AA batteries, bring extra as your camera will be steaming from overuse by the end of the day.
- Suncream SPF 30+: The sun can be hot at midday and it’s easy to go back to camp at night with a sunburn.
- Burt’s Bees Beeswax Lip Balm: My lips got real burned (wind and sun) and ended up swollen and sore by day 3. Bring a natural lip balm with beeswax to help protect and heal your lips.
- Toilet paper: There are bathrooms in some of the national parks like the Serengeti, but don’t count on toilet paper being inside! Carry a couple rolls with you.
- LED Head Torch: Essential if you’re camping out during your safari. If you need to use the facilities you’ll need to see where you’re going and whether there are shiny eyes near by — nobody wants to see a lion on their way to the potty.
- Sunglasses: I didn’t use mine as much, but if you don’t like squinting, bring them.
- Fleece jacket: Depending on the time of year, it can be very cool in the morning or at night. If your game drive starts first thing in the morning then you’ll get chilly standing up in the truck.
- Bandana or Buff: There is a lot of dust and dirt in Africa, and on safari your hair will be disgusting in a manner of minutes. Wearing a buff can help keep it a little more manageable.
What not to Bring
- Jeans! OMG, you do not need jeans on a safari. Trust me, they will be awkward and hot.
- Mosquito Netting –chances are you will never use it in your tent. Seriously.
- A book –you’re on a safari! You will not have time to read a book. If you do, you chose the wrong safari company.
- Reading glasses – same as the book.
- Make-Up -Why are you worried about make-up while you’re on a safari? The Baboons will still chase you if you don’t have make-up on.
- Hiking shoes are not needed on a safari. Most safari companies will not let you step onto the seat with your shoes on, so flip flops are easiest (or other comfy sandals).