The Gap Year and Backpacking Travel Guide & Checklist

If you’re off backpacking for several weeks to some exotic locale, a carefully planned and packed rucksack is crucial to your once-in-a-lifetime experience. Streamlining what you carry is key, as everything will need to be sitting comfortably on your back for hours at a time. With these tips for travel and backpacking essentials, you’ll be able to collate a pack that will cover a range of experiences and conditions.

This checklist includes a tent and camping equipment, but if you’re going to be staying at hostels instead, you can cut most of these items out (and save room for more souvenirs instead). Make sure to alter this guide depending on your chosen destination, working out what extras you will and won’t be needing.

Backpacking Tips

Don’t overpack. You’re going to be lugging everything on your back, so make sure you don’t overdo it. Take time to think whether you need everything you’re bringing along, as chances are there will some things you can leave behind.

Buy locally. You’ll be able to pick up a lot of items at your destination, which will save you space in your pack and make flights easier. Guidebooks, food, extra clothing and toiletries are all examples of things that can be easily acquired later on.

Leave valuables at home. While you may find it tough to go without your favourite watch or your laptop, these items are high-value targets for thefts and can easily be lost or broken. It’s usually best to leave them where they are safe: at home.

Hide money. Find some way to hide your cash and cards. Many people use seemingly invaluable items, such as dental floss packs, to keep cash stashed away safely. We recommend investing in a bum bag to keep on your person at all times.

Research. Make sure you’ve done a Google search of the places you’re hoping to go to with enough time to get any injections or the necessary travel documentation, such as Visas, before you go. It’s also a good idea to look up any culture-specific laws, such as indecent exposure or public displays of affection, to keep yourself out of trouble.

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The Basics

Passport. You won’t get far without this. Naturally, it’s a must-have on any travel checklist.

Rucksack. Your best friend on any backpacking trip and your mobile home for the duration of your travels, make sure yours is a rucksack you are confident and comfortable with carrying. There aren’t always people around to help – not trustworthy ones, anyway. Depending on the duration of your travels, we have rucksacks that hold up to 85 litres of storage.

First Aid Kit. You should always have a basic first aid kit with you, just in case. Check out our First Aid Kit Packing Guide for more help, and make sure you’ve got enough of any personal medication you require with you, as this could be difficult to get a hold of once you’ve left the country. Insect repellent clothing is also a must, unless you really want to be eaten alive…

Travel Documents. These include tickets, maps, visas and any other essential documents. We recommend printing off everything that you can, as you might not have enough charge, signal or even a mobile phone itself to access them if a petty thief gets in your kit… It’s also advisable to bring some passport photos and several photocopies of your passport, in case the need arises.

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Underwear and Socks. If you’re washing clothes regularly, five pairs should be more than enough. Aim to bring walking socks that are sturdy enough to keep your feet protected when walking for long periods of time. It’s also worth bringing a couple of pairs of trainer socks for warm days in the city.

Trousers and Shorts. You want to pack comfortable, lightweight summer trousers that allow air to circulate and prevent overheating and sweat. We recommend hiking trousers with zip-off panels which provide for a 2-in-1 trouser shorts combo. Three or four pairs of bottoms should be adequate.

T-shirts. Quick-drying and high-wicking activewear is best to keep the sweat and discomfort at bay. They are breathable too so you’ll stay cool and fresh. Like underwear, if you’re washing clothes regularly, five days’ worth of T-shirts will be more than enough.

Fleeces. Even in warmer climates, temperatures can drop steeply at night. It’s advisable to take a fleece to keep you warm.

Rain Jacket. You don’t want anything to put a dampener on your backpacking experience, so it’s best to be prepared no matter what the weather. A packaway jacket will do the trick and save you from many a discomfort, hassle and extra weight in your rucksack.

Hat. To keep the sun out of your eyes, keep your head warm or protect your scalp. Whatever your needs might be, a baseball cap is an excellent, versatile choice.

Neck Warmer or Buffer. A multi-use neck warmer is great for more than just that. It makes a great sweatband and sand scarf, too.

Sunglasses. For sun protection, Trespass sunglasses are crucial. Don’t go for a super expensive pair, as there’s a good chance they may get broken, stolen or simply lost. But don’t buy too cheaply, as the UV protection will be practically non-existent.

Walking Boots. It’s best to opt for a sturdy pair of Vibram walking boots or lightweight trail runners for your main shoes. But if you’ve got room, it’s always nice to take a pair of flip-flops or casual wear trainers for downtime or inner-city exploration.

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Travel Towel. A lightweight travel towel packs to a small size and is designed to dry off quickly. Microfiber towels are great for showering, the beach, towelling off sweat on hot days and much, much more.

Shampoo. Unscented is best as fruity flavours are more likely to attract bugs. Shampoo can double up as shaving foam or body wash, and you can even use it to give your clothes a quick rinse, too. We suggest buying this locally.

Deodorant. Rock deodorant is a particularly solid (pardon the pun) investment, as it lasts for years and will help prevent excess perspiration.

Hand Sanitiser. Different cultures deal with handwashing differently, so if you want to feel a little more hygienic, it’s best to bring your own sanitiser. You might want to wait and buy this locally.

Toothbrush and Toothpaste. You may be off on a wild adventure, but maintaining good oral hygiene is always essential. Some places sell nifty travel packs with smaller toothbrushes to take up less room. Leave the toothpaste to purchase when you arrive, or share a tube with your travel partner to save on space.

Toilet Paper. Depending on your destination, toilet roll might not be very plentiful. Remove the cardboard roll and keep toilet paper in a freezer bag to keep it dry. If you’re camping, make sure to dispose of toilet paper appropriately.

Wet Wipes. These can be a quick and easy alternative to a shower when one isn’t available over a couple of days on the move. Just make sure to dispose of them properly.

Sun cream. Unlike most other toiletries, it’s best to bring sun cream along with you as locals will typically forgo the use of SPF, meaning they will be pricey if you need to buy some on your travels.

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Tent. As stated above, this is only for those who are camping on their trip as it adds a fair amount of weight. However, tents offer the benefit of cheap as well as portable accommodation.

Sleeping Bag. Similarly to the tent, this only really applies to camping. Make sure to choose a sleeping bag suitable for the climate you will be in.

Sleeping Bag Liner. This one isn’t just for campers and doesn’t even require a sleeping bag. Not all hostels will be up to the cleaning standards you might expect, so climbing inside a sleeping bag liner will help protect you from anything unpleasant.

Roll Mat. This may add some bulk to your backpack, but a camping mat is essential for tough ground camping.

Pillow Case. There’s no need to bring the pillow itself, as you can just stuff the case with clothes. Alternatively, many travellers just choose to lean on their rucksacks.

Cooking Set. You’ll be able to do without this if you’re not camping, but it’s often handy to have a bowl, some cutlery and a mug, as well as other camping cooking equipment, on hand in case you stop for an impromptu meal.

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Ear Plugs. Hostels are noisy: people come and go all night, and there’s a good chance you’ll be near a bar or club. Earplugs will help you block out the background noise and get a decent night’s sleep.

Camera. Whether this is simply using your phone or you’ve brought a digital camera, make sure to keep it safe. As these are probably the most targeted and stolen items from tourists, we suggest investing in a waterproof disposable camera, instead.

Torch. If you find yourself outdoors when it’s dark, a camping torch will come in handy. Plus, if you’re sharing a room in a hostel, people won’t appreciate you turning on the lights in the middle of the night.

A Notepad and Pen. Whether you’re attempting to summon your inner author or just jotting down important information, pack something to write in and endeavour to record special moments from your travels or as a means of self-reflection. They also provide for hours of entertainment.

Duct Tape. It’s a well-known fact that duct tape can fix anything, and you’ll definitely be in need of it at some point. One space-saving tip outdoor enthusiasts often use is to wrap strips around pencils or lighters instead of bringing the whole roll, saving on space.

Water Bottle. This is another item you should always have anyway but it’s worth remembering to bring enough water to keep you hydrated. Hot climates can dehydrate inexperienced travellers fast, so it’s always better to overstock on water. Grab a thermal flask to keep your liquids cooler for longer.

Paracord. Whether you use it for replacement laces, as a clothesline or a repair tool, a paracord is extremely practical and incredibly compact. You can even use it to leash your bag to your arm or leg when sleeping on transport.

Dry Bag. Bring along a couple of waterproof stuff sacks to keep your washing, toiletries and other items you don’t want leaking or dirtying the rest of your pack separate.

Electronics. If you do decide to bring along any electrical devices, make sure you have the correct chargers and replacement batteries as they will be useless otherwise. It’s also a good idea to invest in a multi-way plug adapter, so you can use power sources in different countries.

Lock. This will keep people out of your backpack, but may also signal that there is something worth taking in it, so it’s good to keep concealed.

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Check out our How To Choose A Travel Backpack guide to kick-off your next adventure with Trespass

Written by: Natalie Green