Packing for a trip is always a challenge. Luckily, over the years I have streamlined my packing and I now have a checklist that I use to make sure that I remember the important items for a trip. If you are unsure what to pack for your solo trip, I share my tips over the last 20 years on how to pack.
Packing Tips for Solo Travel
As tempting as it may be to just buy a cheap bag, this is probably the biggest investment you’re going to make for your travels so it’s definitely worth investing in a decent backpack especially if you’re travelling for a long time. The last thing you want is for it to break when you’re away. Paying a bit more ensures a sturdier bag and one that will last longer.
There are so many bags on the market and it all depends on personal preference but the main feature to look for are a rain cover (essential if you’re travelling during rainy seasons or have your bag strapped to the top of a bus). One with an attached daypack (you can use the daypack during the day or zip it onto your main luggage during check-in on flights to give you an extra bag for hand luggage). One with zips which you can lock together with a padlock for safety. One with the right volume for you (65 litres is a good size).
Backpacks are easy to carry and have comfortable straps for your waist and shoulders and can be easily carried over rough terrain, perfect for places which don’t have cemented roads. If you don’t want to take a backpack then consider taking a suitcase instead which is more suited towards city travel and places with smooth surfaces (difficult for places off the beaten track). Or even better, go for the two in one – a backpack with wheels so you can wheel it or strap it to your back, but it is heavier than a standard backpack, (Berghaus also sell wheeled travel backpacks).
Many backpacks also have a daypack attached which can be zipped off and used separately. If you don’t have a daypack then take a zipped bag for walking around during the day. Material bags can be found practically everywhere but if you’re after something more practical which can be stored in your jacket packet then the Ultra-Sil Day Pack by Sea to Summit is the perfect bag. Strong, practical and extremely compact, this day pack is perfect for carrying anything whether you’re on a hike, shopping at a market or spending a day at the beach.
You can buy backpacks and daypacks from outdoor specialists, hiking shops or retail stores but I've listed all our solo's favourite backpacks in the article below.
* Related post: The Best Travel Backpacks For Women
Suitcases are ideal if you are going on holiday to a beach destination or somewhere where you'll be getting transported to and from the airport (if you're on a tour for example). I prefer to take a backpack for more intrepid travel if I'm going off the beaten track or camping. For city breaks, I take a smaller suitcase that I can take as hand luggage. It's more sturdy and is easier to wheel around. Depending on your budget, here are my recommended brands for suitcases:
- Antler – A British brand with nearly 100 years' experience.
- Delsey – US luggage designed for personal and business travel.
- Karabars – A UK Retailer with unusual curved luggage.
- Samsonite – Known for their quality and free delivery in the UK.
Girly Packing Tips for Solo Travel
So now you’ve decided on your bag, what do you put in it?
You may want to take everything such as a hairdryer, kitten heels and an assortment of handbags which are essential for back home, but practicality is the key when you travel. One of the most useful packing tips for solo travel is – if you can travel light, then do.
Not only will it help reduce your baggage fees on planes but you’ll be more comfortable walking from place to place without a heavy load on your back. The rule of thumb is to get everything you think you need to take and then divide it by two (at the very least). Enough clothes for one week is plenty as you can always do your washing on the road.
As much as we want to take them, we don't really need all those belts, multiple pairs of shoes and pieces of jewellery. When it comes to shoes, go for comfort especially if you're planning to be active on your travels. I take a pair of trainers/sneakers, a pair of sandals, and a pair of flip flops.
In terms of accessories, pick a handful of statement, complementary items that will join an outfit together, or plain items that can go with several outfits. For example, if you like the hippie style, take some chic boho jewellery and coloured scarfs to use every day.
If you can’t afford to lose it, then don’t take it. Take costume jewellery instead of anything expensive and avoid taking a really nice watch if you’re venturing to a less-developed country. This helps to avoid being more of a target.
Think about your hair as well. Highlights may look great but they may be difficult to maintain on the road so consider dying it just one shade and taking extra colourants with you if you’re away longer than six weeks, or just keep it natural. (I've even dyed my brown several times for longer trips!) Take scissors if you can cut your own hair and shampoo bars instead of a bottle of shampoo (they are lighter and last for up to 80 washes).
One packing tip is to take mini toiletries if you’re only away for a short time. You can buy plastic bottles and just pour your favourites into them to take them with you. Don’t forget that you can probably buy toiletries when you’re away too so just take the essentials.
It’s so easy nowadays with e-tickets and reservations being sent directly to your phone instead of having to take paper tickets. A good tip is to photocopy all your paperwork and keep the copies in a separate part of your luggage.
Don’t forget that you can buy clothes and shoes as you need them unless you’re going somewhere really off the radar, so you don’t have to take everything with you. To make sure you don’t forget anything, check each list in the columns for what to pack.
Passport – The most important item! You need at least 6 months left on your passport. Most countries won't allow you to enter if your passport expires in 6 months or less so make sure to apply for a new one and allow enough time for it to arrive before your trip. Take a photocopy of your passport and pack it in a separate bag from your original one. That way you have a copy.
Visas – Make sure you have all your visas printed out for immigration when you arrive even if the country only requires an eVisa, just in case. I've used the services of iVisa in the past to help me obtain visas for challenging countries (such as China and Russia).
Flight tickets – You only really need these kept on your phone unless you need to prove how long you are staying to be able to enter the country. I use Skyscanner to book my flights but if you're unsure of how long you want to stay and need proof of a flight out of the country, I recommend OneWayFly to ‘reserve' a ticket for 14 days without having to book it. It's helped me get entry into countries such as Colombia without having to pay for an onward flight.
Booking confirmations – You don't really need paper versions of these anymore unless you are applying for a visa (take some passport photos if you do need visas en route). I keep mine filed in my emails so I can easily access them if I need to.
Travel insurance – This is so important and more so than ever so make sure you have insurance cover even if it's just for medical expenses. I recommend True Traveller for Brits and Europeans and World Nomads for North American citizens.
Driving licence – If you're planning to drive, take your driving licence card or paper with you (or both). Check that you don't need to apply for an international driving licence where you're going.
Debit card/credit cards – Always take more than one card with you so you have a backup just in case you lose one of the cards.
Travel money card – These cards are pre-paid cards where you load up your card and then convert the currency to the country that you're travelling to whether that's Dollars, Euros or even Dirhams. I carry a Revolut card with me which I can use at ATMs and for contactless payments abroad.
Local currency – It's always wise to change some of your money before you go and take some currency with you. Just in case you can't get access to an ATM or have a problem with your bank card when you arrive.
Electrical equipment – Take any cables for your kindle, laptop, phone etc. I pack mine in a cable tidy that rolls up so that I know where there they all are.
Plug adapter – I take a universal plug adapter with me. It covers nearly every country and saves me from taking lots of different plug extensions if I'm travelling to more than one place.
Mobile phone – Don't forget to get your phone unlocked if you are planning to buy a sim card when you're abroad. I didn't do this once and was unable to use a foreign sim card for data. Contact your phone provider before you travel to unlock it.
Camera and charger – Whilst many of us use our phones as our camera, you may prefer to take an actual camera especially if you're into photography. Pack an extra memory card for it too.
Torch and batteries – Even though our phones have torches nowadays if you are camping or planning to be in nature, a head torch or torch you can hang from a tent is a good idea.
Ipod – Being old skool, I use an old iPod for running but you may prefer to use your phone.
Portable Charger – Get a portable power bank aside from the standard wall charger and cable you have in your luggage. They're compact yet enough to power up a couple of your travel gadgets without having to find an outlet. Something is reassuring about the fact that you won't ever have a dead phone while you're exploring the great outdoors.
First Aid Kit
I always pack a small first aid kit with me, and a larger one if I'm checking a bag in. One essential that I no longer travel without is rehydration tablets. During Ramadan in the Middle East, I became very dehydrated and these worked wonders to get my energy levels back up and replace all the minerals that I needed to feel back on track. When you're travelling solo, you really need to keep healthy otherwise lack of concentration can cause a few mistakes.
I also take vitamins to ensure I have all the vitamins I need from an unhealthy travelling diet. I swear by probiotics too. I have used these camping in Africa and hardly ever got sick. In the past, I would pick up parasites and stomach flu but since I have taken these I'm generally fit and well. Here's my recommended list for a first aid kit.
- Medical Card (with all vaccinations)
- Yellow fever certificate (essential for at least most African countries)
- Antimalarial tablets
- Antihistamines & bite cream
- Mosquito spray/insect repellent
- Rehydration formula or tablets
- Pain killers
- Hand bacterial gels
- Sewing kit & safety pins
- Travel sickness tablets
- Feminine hygiene products
Shampoo & conditioner – I take the mini bottles that I decant my shampoo and conditioner into. These can last me for 3 weeks if I wash my hair every other day. Lush sell shampoo bars which are a great alternative to liquid shampoos. Plus they las for dozens of washes.
Soap/shower gel – If you're staying in a hotel you won't need to take this with you unless you have a favourite you use.
Cotton buds – Be sustainable and use Last Swab to replace numerous cotton buds (or q tips)
Deodorant – You can buy this from most countries.
Moisturiser & Night cream – I decant my creams into small individual tubs that I take with me. Make sure to write which is day and which is night on top.
Toothbrush & Toothpaste – If you use an electric toothbrush, don't forget to take spare toothbrush heads with you.
Perfume – Check if you can buy under 100 ml of your favourite perfume if you only have hand luggage. Perfume sticks are easier and lighter to carry than a glass bottle for instance.
Make-up – If you have your favourite make-up, take it with it you. I don't have a large make-up bag as I wear a natural look which is easier for hand luggage. Apparently, even lipsticks should be in your 100ml bag for security! You could consider dying your eyelashes or eyebrows if you'll be away for a few weeks to keep make-up free.
Make-up wipes – You can buy these in so many destinations but you may have a favourite brand or a face wash you prefer to take.
Hairbrush & Comb – I take a hairbrush that I can also use on wet hair to detangle any knots.
Tissues – This is so essential if you are going camping.
Suntan lotion & aftersun – If you are checking in your luggage, take your favourite suntan lotion. I use P20 as I only have to apply it once a day but often travel with a smaller version of any other brand for hand luggage.
Feminine hygiene products – You can usually be these wherever you go but consider taking them if you are camping in Africa for example.
Other Items to Pack
There are so many things to think about when you're packing. Here are those other items that you may need.
Contact lenses/glasses – I always take spare glasses just in case I lose my main pair (which would be a disaster). If you use contact lenses, don't forget to take these too.
Sunglasses – I take a pair of prescription glasses that double up as sunglasses as well as a cheap pair of sunglasses for the beach.
Towel – I have two microfibre towels that I take depending on where I'm going. If it's going to be cold, I take the large one. And if it's summer, I take the shorter one as it's less space. They also come in their own rubber case that I can pack them into.
Books/Kindle – I take a Kindle as it's less to pack than a few books. I also have my audio books on it too.
Language phrasebook – This could also be on your Kindle if you don't have much space but you can buy some great pocketsize phrasebooks to pack too.
Padlock – Combination padlocks are ideal for storing your valuables in lockers in hostels, and also for locking your day pack as you sightsee cities especially those known for pickpocketing. A tip is to keep your bag in front of you too.
Guidebook – Guidebooks are great for insider knowledge about a destination. I recommend Rough Guides but you may prefer Lonely Planet. If you're planning on travelling to more than one country, you can carry an electronic copy of a guidebook on your Kindle if a paperback is too bulky for your luggage. You may want a copy of A Female Guide To Solo Travel too!
Money belt – If you're travelling somewhere known for pickpocketing, a money belt is a good idea to store under your jeans or skirt. I also used one within Latin America. You may prefer to store your valuables in a travel bra instead!
Sealable bag – You can use this to keep any dirty washing separate and also to keep your phone dry if you're planning on going on a boat.
Portable washing line and sink plug (for washing your clothes) – If you're packing light, a clothesline and washing powder means that you can reuse your clothes after a few days instead of carrying too many clothes. It's also less expensive to wash your clothes in a sink that you have access to instead of having it laundered and paying by the kilogram. You can also buy tubes of travel wash if you have enough liquid allowance in your luggage or just buy some washing powder when you arrive.
Notebook and pen – When you travel alone, there will be a lot of times when you may want to journal or take notes in a notepad. Sometimes you just need to collect your thoughts. Sometimes you will need to make a simple to-do list. Other times, you might need to collect the names and contact information of people you meet. In a technological age, pen and paper are still the best. I always carry a notebook and plenty of pens to jot down any notes I want to take on walking tours especially.
A journal – Get a journal so you can record your travel experience and memories while they're still fresh in your mind. Keep tickets and maps and all the beautiful places to paste into your travel journal.
Ear Plugs – I take several pairs with me as I'm such a light sleeper. These are great if you are sharing dorm rooms, or taking an overnight bus, train or flight. I also take a sleep mask with me too to shut out any light in a bedroom and on the plane.
Playing cards – Cards are ideal for when you meet others. They are a really sociable way of introducing yourself to others and spending your evenings. Plus, you can always play Solitaire for one when you're solo too.
When you travel, you can end up on long train journeys, hiking extensively on mountain trails or spending hours on a bus getting to a new destination. The key thing to remember is to pack plenty of comfy clothing that you can wear for any activity.
If you’re the kind of person who dithers over what to take with you, it's a good idea to be a bit strategic. Consider where you are travelling to, what activities you will be doing and what the climate will be like then plan your outfits.
Lay out all your clothes on the bed and make a plan of the outfits you’ll need. From sightseeing to nights out, you’ll know exactly what you’re wearing and won’t spend time debating in front of the mirror. This is particularly useful if you’re planning a winter break away, where you’ll need extra layers, as you can chop and change these for multiple days. If you style them well, no one will know you’ve worn them before.
If it's Autumn or Spring where you're heading to, take different length tops and a pair of tights so you can just layer up if the temperature gets a bit cool. It's surprising how warm you can feel with a t-shirt and top on.
Obviously, this all comes down to personal preference so if you want to pack your favourite little black dress or onesie then do. I generally take enough day clothes for a week (based on wearing everything at least twice), two evening and going out outfits plus one set of sportswear.
Sportswear is great as you can wear it running, hiking or even on the plane or a long bus journey because it's so comfortable. I also pack a few black items too. That way I can wear them during the day, and at night I just jazz them up with some earrings. Plus it is more practical than white which can be difficult to keep clean on the road.
Clothes Packing List
Even though I have been to 141 countries, packing my suitcase or backpack still takes me hours as I decide which clothes I want to take with me. Here is my checklist for the minimum that I take with me in my hand luggage:
Trousers x 1 – Black trousers can be dressed up or down but if you don't wear trousers, take an extra dress or skirt instead.
Leggings x 1 – Leggings are not only great for working out in, I also use them as pyjamas if I'm going somewhere cold. They don't need ironing and they wash up really well too.
Jeans x 1 – I usually wear my jeans on the plane as they tend to be one of the heaviest and bulkiest items of clothing.
Skirt x 2 – I take a long black flowing skirt that I use for covering up if I'm visiting mosques and temples and also for the Middle East, plus a short skirt for the beach or sightseeing.
Short sleeved t-shirt x 1 – This can double up as a sports top for running in, a nightshirt to wear in bed or just a t-shirt for wearing during the day.
Long-sleeved top x 1 – Sometimes we need to cover up at night in case of mosquitos so a long-sleeved top can keep you warm and keep your arms covered.
Going out outfit x 2 – I dress up according to where I am going. If it's Barcelona or Dubai for example then I take my shiny black trousers that I can also dress down during the day plus a black halter-neck top. I also take my black playsuit. For other destinations that I know I won't be partying in as I'll be solo I tend to take just one nice outfit in case I get invited out in the evening. (You never know who you're going to meet solo!)
Day dress x 1 – I always take more than one as dresses are so easy when you're unsure what to wear.
Vest tops / strappy tops x 3 – Vest and strappy tops are so easy to pack as they take hardly any room.
Shorts x 1 – Depending on which country you are heading to, these may need to be below the knee. Short shorts are perfect for beach destinations.
Cardigan x 1 – Ideal for those cooler evenings. I take a long black one with me.
Fleece – Only if you're travelling somewhere that could be cool otherwise a cardigan or a short denim jacket looks great.
Sarong – A sarong doubles up as a towel, a cover-up for temples, and something to lie on at the beach.
Bikini/swimsuit – You only need one of these as you can continually hand wash it.
Bras x 3 – I take a black one, a white one and a nude coloured one which has multi-use straps so I can wear it as a halter neck or strapless.
Knickers x 7 – Take at least enough for a week then wash them in the shower as you go.
Sports bra – Perfect for running, horseriding or wearing on bumpy roads!
Socks x 3 – Take sports socks for walking around cities.
Trainers – Perfect for running, walking and sightseeing. I never travel anywhere without my Loom trainers. They are vegan, waterproof and come in black or white.
Sandals – Make sure they are comfortable enough to wear in the day and dance in at night. Viakix makes comfortable travelling sandals.
Flip flops – These are not only good for the beach but also if you are staying in hostels where you can wear them for walking around in the dormitory and bathrooms.
Hat – Take a warm one if it's going to be winter or a cap for the summer to protect yourself on the beach or if you're sightseeing in the sun for the whole day.
I hope this article and my tips have helped you decide what to pack for your next solo trip. If you're looking for more inspiration on travel products, check out these recommended articles below. Happy packing!
- Sustainable Travel Products
- Best Travel Products For Solos
- The Best Travel Backpacks For Women
- Travel Resouces For Solo Travel