This post is sponsored by The Design Museum’s Moving to Mars Exhibition.
Before embarking on a year long trip of a lifetime around Asia, Australia and New Zealand, I found myself frantically searching for guidance on what to pack; the ultimate backpackers packing list?!. I wanted to know exactly what the backpacking essentials were, what to take to Asia and which backpacker items I could leave behind. I never did find a particularly comprehensive guide then recently, The Design Museum in collaboration with the Moving to Mars exhibition, challenged me to write my own!
Moving to Mars
So what does London’s The Design Museum have to do with the contents of your backpack, I hear you wondering? Well! The latest exhibition ‘Moving to Mars’ is an incredible immersive experience taking you worlds away all within the walls of the Design Museum. It’s conceivable that within the life time of children born today, humans may land on Mars! The multi-sensory exhibition asks all the big questions about exactly what life might look like on another planet, what challenges we – the human race – would face and how we might be able to equip ourselves here on earth.
Obviously when you’re visiting somewhere new one of the first things you have to consider is what to pack. Well, who better to ask than an experienced traveller, who has been living out of a 15KG backpack in all manner of environments for the last 10 months?!
The exhibition opens on the 18th October and is running until 23rd February at the Design Museum. All are welcome; it’s guaranteed to be an out of the world experience for the whole family. Whether you’re interested in the big anthropological questions, want to know what agriculture might be like on Mars or are wondering if Marmite would survive the cabin pressure on a rocket ship (just me?), it’s guaranteed to be an incredible day out. You can even muse over the possibility of other life – what do you think; do aliens exist? Perhaps we are the aliens?!
Backpackers Packing List
The Design Museum have challenged me to share the contents of my backpack with you, thinking about the various harsh climates I’ve faced over the last year and how material items might help or hinder those challenges along the way.
This list is an accumulation of experience: packing was no mean feat and I (thankfully) left a lot I had intended to bring at home due to lack of space. Then, three-ish months in, I sent another load back to the UK with a friend who had come out to Indonesia to visit. Since, I’ve carefully culled and accumulated to reach what is a perfectly rounded backpack, taking me from the intense heat of the Rajasthani desert to the buzzing tropics of the Vietnamese jungle, to the back of a campervan on Australia’s east coast. Here’s my backpackers packing list!
Backpackers Packing List: Choosing a Backpack
I bought the Osprey Fairview 55L backpack.
I knew I wanted one that unzipped all the way and would not recommend buying a top-loader. Osprey come with a 10 year guarantee and although not cheap, are highly rated for comfort and durability.
Tip: do not go bigger than 70L. I’d suggest 55L.The bigger the bag, the more unnecessary stuff you’ll bring.
Packing cubes: An absolute must! I would now never travel without them. These are the ultimate solution to keeping your backpack organised and easy to pack and unpack.
Sleeping bag liner: It’s not a must unless you’re going somewhere cold but a silk sleeping bag liner has definitely come in handy. I was very grateful for it in New Zealand’s chilly Southern Alps, in a budget room with suspicious stains on the bed and on a sleeper train in India! I also use it to protect white sheets if I fake tan but shhh…
First aid kit: I bought a compact but well-equipped first aid kit which included bandages, alcohol wipes and gauze (all three came in handy when a friend fell through a corrugated metal roof in Cambodia…) and various other items, then added:
- Rehydration Sachets (great for a dodgy stomach and one before bed then in the morning is my cure after a ‘heavy’ night)
- Plasters (those ultra-sticky ones we all used to hate the nurse for using at school)
You really can buy anything you’ll need anywhere, so don’t worry too much.
Sterilised needle kit: Not an item I’ve ever had to open, but that’s the hope when you buy it. A palm-sized kit of sterilised needles gives you some peace of mind in the event that you do need emergency medical treatment in a remote area.
Quick dry towel: I bought this one from Dock & Bay
Portable charger: I started with this ruggedised solar panel one, which lasted about 10 months, then I bought a more standard one in an airport.
Universal adapter plug with USB: I bought this one here and it’s been great
Backpack Cover: I bought cheap ones, one of which didn’t survive the first flight! However the second is still hanging in there now…
Luggage Locks: these little combi locks are great for bags but also in hostels etc!
No more than 7 days worth of outfits! I would suggest:
- 2 x shorts
- 2 x summer dresses
- 3-4 x t-shirt/vest
- 7 days underwear
- 3-4 swimwear
- 1 x leggings (Lulu Lemons, alway! I swear by these ones. They better sell those on Mars…)
- 1 x jumper
- 1 x thin foldable waterproof (I bought a ‘North Face’ *wink wink* one for £5 in Vietnam)
- 1 x gym shorts/sports bra if you’re that way inclined
DO NOT BUY ANYTHING NEW TO TAKE BACKPACKING! Trust me, everything you’ll need is already in your wardrobe and you will want to shop along the way. You can easily replace items at low cost, buy pretty dresses from the market and invest £2 in a rite of passage pair of elephant trousers.
For the first 7 months, I exclusively wore flip flops. I sent my Converse home in March as I had barely worn them. I later bought a pair of trainers in Korea because there was a lot of walking involved! Since, I’ve bought a nicer pair of heeled sandals for going out in Sydney, knowing I’m heading back to London in a few months and will wear them at home.
Flip flops (thongs, jandals): ESSENTIAL
Trainers: A good idea to have a comfy pair
Hiking shoes: Only if you’re planning a ‘proper’ hike! Depending on the nature of the terrain, trainers might do
- Small cross-body bag
- Hairbands and brush
- Hair scarf if it makes you feel fanccccccy
- Jewellery: I chose to leave all of mine at home and have picked up some market-stall costume jewellery along the way
Take as little as you possibly can and only take things that are vital to you. You can replenish anything you need along the way! They’re heavy, bulky and awkward to pack.
- Shampoo bar
- Conditioner bar
- Deodorant bar
- Hair oil (trust me, it will dry out)
- Face wash/cleanser (I buy Cetaphil all over because it’s great for combatting the pollution, sweat and humidity-driven dermatitis a lot of people – including me – get in Asia)
- Facial moisturiser
- Hand sanitiser
- Flannel/bamboo cloth
- Menstrual cup (make the switch – best thing I did!)
- Reef-safe SPF (try Stream2Sea)
- Avon dry oil body spray as mosquito repellent
Originally I took a make up bag, then I sent it home after not using it for months. Instead, I found just 3 items great if you do fancy making an effort –
Contact lenses: this was one of my biggest, bulkiest items and in hindsight I should have taken monthlies and bought saline solution along the way. Instead, I packed 8 months worth of daily lenses, had my friend bring out another load, and need to buy some more in Australia too.
- Small sewing kit
- Super glue (my flip flop broke on the streets of Old Delhi)
- Bamboo straws
- Canvas tote bag/s
- Water-purification bottle: try LifeStraw or Grayl
- Corkcicle 24 hour cold/12 hour hot canteen
- Metal keep cup for coffee, juices etc
- Slip silk eye mask
- Hooded travel pillow
- Dry bag (for going on boats, to the beach etc!)
- Scrubba bag (on the go laundry bag that you can wash stuff in!)
Think about what you might miss, then see if there’s a way you can take a small slice of that with you. For me, I took
- The White Company cashmere socks
- A small bottle of perfume
- Marmite (yes really!)
Entertainment and Tech
AN UNLOCKED PHONE: Cannot stress this one enough! Your best bet by far is to buy local SIMS in each country. Most of the time they’re super cheap (£5 for 30 days unlimited data in Vietnam) and readily accessible but you will need your handset to be unlocked.
- Kindle: I know, I know, it doesn’t ‘feel or smell like a book’ but instead of sniffing the pages you’ll have an entire, instantly-downloadable library in your pocket
- Mavic Pro 2 Drone*
- Go Pro Hero 7 Black*
- Go Pro Super Suit and red filter (for scuba diving)
- Wireless external hard drive*
- Uno or a deck of cards
*You may not need these items, but they were essential to me
Things I left behind, didn’t use, sent home or donated along the way
Weirdly, the main thing I haven’t used is my mosquito net. I bought this one and haven’t even opened it once! Everywhere has either had one or been secure, even in budget places.
- Excess clothes beyond the above
- Excess make up or toiletries
Things I regret not bringing
- A water filtration bottle
I hope my backpackers packing list helps you pack for your next big adventure, whether on earth or in space! Have I missed anything that you found useful? Comment below!