The Ultimate Packing Guide for Backpacking Abroad

Discovering a foreign country with nothing but a backpack on your back is perhaps one of the most liberating experiences an Everygirl can have. However, that feeling is often accompanied with sheer confusion on how to equip yourself for weeks of travel with just a handful of items at your disposal. We heard many of you were seeking advice on this subject after reading our Weekend Packing post, and we listened! So here it is: The Everygirl’s Guide to Packing for Backpacking. 

In your closet: 

With limited real estate to work with, your wardrobe pieces need to earn their spot in your bag. In other words, items that can be worn for any occasion, multiple ways, and require little care or maintenance. Darker colors travel better and won’t be as noticeable when you wear them over and over again in your travel photos. However, if you don’t want to sacrifice bright colors, opt for a pattern instead. This will disguise wrinkles and hide stains better! Here’s what to keep in mind while you’re packing: 

  • One-piece wonders: Dresses and rompers are your BFF — all it takes is one step, and you’re dressed for the day. If you choose a romper, make sure it doesn’t involve buttons and is easy to slide up and down. Tip: When you’re using the ladies room, you want to be sure the process is an easy one! Additionally, make sure your maxi hits a bit above the ankle— you don’t want to worry about picking your skirt up while you’re walking up steps and uneven ground.  We love these options from MadewellForever 21and ASOS. Be sure to check out more on our favorite one-pieces here.
  • A Scarf: Be sure to stash at least one summer scarf in your bag. They come in handy to disguise unwashed tresses or cover your head in the harsh sun. If you’re planning to visit any cathedrals or religious sites, you’ll often need to cover your shoulders if you aren’t wearing sleeves. You can even use it as a beach bag! See 6 versatile ways to tie your scarf here
  • Jewelry: A great necklace is an easy way to dress up your outfit. Be careful to avoid overly clunky ones though; they add a ton of weight to your pack! Instead, opt for lighter weight, longer necklaces, like this one or this one, from Baublebar. But be sure to stay away from bright or overly gaudy baubles. Less is more when it comes to accessorizing outside of the U.S., and super-sparkly accessories could easily reveal your identity as an American tourist (a.k.a. easy mugging victim! Eek!). 
  • Purse: A cross-body satchel is an absolute must. A purse that is strapped over your body is much harder to steal. Look for one with a top flap and inside zipper, which makes it difficult for a pick-pocket to break open. Choose a neutral colored bag in a medium size so it’s easy to keep your essentials with you at all times. These options from ASOS and Zara are both great options! 
  • Tops: Tees and tanks are a must. We love J.Crew’s vintage cotton tank; it’s one that will keep you looking classy and feeling cool, and comes in any color under the sun. Also, throw in a chambray button down for an extra layer. It will take the place of a light jacket and add an extra layer of warmth if you need it on chilly plane or train ride. With high summer temperatures outdoors, you likely won’t need another warm layer. (Remember: If you do, there’s usually an H&M or Zara around the corner!) Plus, worn on it’s own, the chambray can be a top in itself, pairing great with pants or shorts.
  • Pants: Skip the jeans and opt for a lightweight, more comfortable (and chic!) alternative like linen pants or gauzy joggers. We love these from J.Crew and Forever 21. Choose darker colors, so you won’t worry about dirt. The best part? They look good wrinkled! 
  • Shorts: Include a pair or two that are of moderate length and breathable material (sorry daisy dukes, we’re leaving you at home). Swingy linen and cotton drawstring shorts or culottes are great options, like these from ASOS
  • Bathing suit: You know, it being summer and all, most likely you’ll have some opportunities to take advantage of a beach or a pool. Limit yourself to one bathing suit. For a roundup of our favorite suits, head over here

On your feet: 

Your shoes will take up the most room of any item in your bag, so choose footwear wisely. Your choices should match every piece of clothing you bring, be able to be dressed up or down, and above all be comfortable! Absolutely no new shoes allowed! You do not want to be worrying about blisters when you’ve got so many sights to take in.

  • Keds: If wandering about the city is the limit of your physical activity (i.e. not hiking Cinque Terre or traipsing through the jungles of Chiang Mai) Keds could be the best sneaker option for you. They take up very little space, and these classic little sneaks are a chic alternative to the clunky Nike trainers. Plus, they are a snap to clean. 
  • Gladiator Sandals: If you can only bring one shoe, it should be a leather gladiator sandal. They’re comfortable, provide ankle support for miles of walking, and you can dress them up or down. Metallics are the most neutral options, but brown and black are also solid choices as well. Hint: Whatever you bring, make sure they match your cross-body. 
  • Shower shoes: One of the most fun parts of backpacking are the adventures you’ll encounter in your hostels. One of them is sure to include some sketchy shower conditions (that make for some fantastic post-trip stores, so shoes to wear in the shower are an absolute must. Instead of bringing a pair of rubber flip flops that take up space, just save a pair of your pedicure sandals next time you go to the nail salon. They can be rolled and folded into next to nothing, so you have more space for shoes you’ll actually wear! 


In your makeup bag: 

  • Red lipstick: This might be the best trick of them all. Even if you’re wearing a relatively boring outfit, (say a black tee and jean shorts) a pop of red lipstick is all you need to go from blah to ultra chic. Points if you find one with SPF like this one from Jouer
  • Dry shampoo: Will allow you to extend your time in between hair washes, and make your strands much easier to style in a quick up-do or braid. We love the travel-sized versions from Herbal Essences, or learn how to make your own
  • Sunscreen: With ample time spent sightseeing outdoors, you’ll need to be equipped with sunscreen. Choose a glide-on stick to avoid any spillage in your bag! 
  • Hair products that multi-task: Because you don’t want to be hauling several hair products or hot tools with you, choose one product that will aid in going au-natural, like Moroccan Oil. This powerful serum is a lifesaver for all types of hair — conditioning, mending, smoothing frizz, and not to mention, smells like heaven! 
  • One-step facial wipes: Like these from Neutrogena. Removes makeup and cleanses at the same time, no water needed. Fast, easy, and avoids those inevitable face wash leaks in your bag. 
  • Foundation primer: To ensure your makeup lasts all day and keeps a protective barrier between your skin, makeup, and other dirt and grime you’ll face throughout the day. We love primers from Smashbox, and they come in the perfect travel size!

How to pack: 

  • The bag: Is potentially the most important decision you’ll make, and will take some research depending on your needs. REI has some great options. Head to your local store to try on a few different sizes and styles. See which features are best for you, and use those as a checklist for shopping other online retailers. 
  • Packing cubes: Make your pack easy to organize. Roll your items to prevent wrinkling and store them in a packing cube specific to each category: tops, bottoms, accessories, etc. to avoid having to rifle through your bag each time you want to find something. 
  • Shoe bags: Your shoes will (obviously) get dirty! Bring enough shoe bags for each pair, so you can protect the rest of your items in your pack!
  • Gallon Ziplock bags: To stuff dirty items in and to avoid smelling up the rest of your clothes. 
  • Woolite packets: You’ll need these to wash your clothes (underwear, at least!) in the sink. 
  • Wrinkle spray: This magic solution comes in the perfect travel size and magically eliminates wrinkles in seconds. 

So tell us, what have you found to be especially helpful when backpacking abroad in warmer temperatures? 

Photos 1, 2, 3 via Gary Pepper Girl