Solo Travel Packing List – The Ultimate Guide for Men and Women

So, you’ve made the decision to go it alone.

You’re going to explore the world as a solo traveler.

As exciting and as life-changing as that choice is (and congratulations for joining the club) there’s still a lot to consider before you embark on your adventure.

Not least is your solo travel packing list.

And you’ll be surprised how much it’s neglected or overlooked as many rookie travelers leave it to the last minute, bung in a load of crap they don’t need or forget some real essentials.

So, with this ultimate guide, I intend to show you what you should be packing for your trip and what you can leave behind, plus plenty of tips, tricks, and advice to maximize your globetrotting efficacy.

We’ll have you joining the ranks of the highly successful solo travelers in no time. And while you’re here take a look at my guide on how to start solo travel for loads more helpful information.

Wheeled Luggage vs Backpacks

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Let’s begin with your choice of luggage.

Entire, full-length articles could be written about this subject alone (and indeed they have been). Which is better for the solo traveler – wheeled luggage or a backpack?

You need to start here because finding the right product to actually pack is important.

They both have their advantages and disadvantages, a few of which I’ve outlined below.

The clear plus point of wheeled backpacks is they’re built to take the full weight of your belongings, with minimum effort to you.

The downside of this is that the floor isn’t always a nicely buffed airport departure lounge. Especially if you’re trying to walk through poorer cities where the sidewalks can be deathtraps.

This is where a backpack will win out – with the ability to go where wheels can’t. However, you’re obviously going to have to be prepared to lug everything around on your shoulders.

Personally, I’d be considering what the trip is all about, where you’re going and how long you’re going for.

As a rule of thumb, I believe that wheeled luggage should be used for shorter journeys, backpacks for longterm.

But that’s not always the case – and you could try these excellent carry-on backpacks that are perfect for weekends away or shorter trips.

Alternatively, these hardshell wheeled carry-ons are also ideal if you really want to protect your stuff. Follow that link if you’re looking for something that offers a bit more durability.

You could always get a hybrid model too, so take a look at these wheeled backpacks that quite possibly give you the best of both worlds. Decide for yourself if they do.

Or, take a combination. A hard shell to check-in and a backpack carry-on. Either way, for a long-term solo trip, I’d recommend two bags maximum.

Size Matters

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You’ve made the difficult but necessary choice of the type of luggage to carry, but how many liters it actually holds should also be considered.

A short cautionary tale for you:

I have a friend who set out on his world travels with a whopping 80 liter mammoth of a backpack stuffed to the very brim – largely with gear he didn’t need and never used.

Over time he learned to whittle it down and ditch the superfluous junk.

Now, even with over seven years travel continuously on the road, he’s still got more than he actually needs, albeit in a pack no larger than 65 liters.

(Which, I believe, is the absolute maximum size of pack you’re going to need.)

Moral of the story – keep your luggage as small as you can – it’ll force you to pack less.

You’ll be amazed at the difference this will make when you’re actually on the go, the ease of storing your gear in smaller lockers, waiting in line without getting jostled about, using public transport without nagging complaints, not being such a target for thieves…

The list is almost endless.

You just need to learn how to pack smart, and one of the best ways you can do this is by utilizing these amazing packing cubes. It’s incredible how anyone ever left on a journey without them.

Why Packing Light is Important

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Before we get into this section, it’s a good idea to make sure you’ve got a good luggage scale – because I can’t stress the importance of packing light enough.

Overweight bags at the airport can be a nightmare – and the fees can quickly add up. Utilizing a luggage scale before you go can greatly assist in your packing prowess.

You simply don’t need as much stuff as you think you do, and this is where smart and thoughtful packing comes in to make your solo travel experience much more enjoyable while minimizing unnecessary luggage headaches.

You won’t have as much gear to repack, your movement and momentum isn’t as restricted as it is with bulky belongings, and you can simply save loads of time, money and effort just by having a lighter, more efficient pack.

You might have heard this piece of advice before – you should lay out everything you think you need, half it and then half it again.

That’s how much you should be taking with you.

Don’t ever take more than a week’s worth of clothes for long term travel.

Location Location Location (and Time Frame)

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Your destination of choice, the season you’ll be visiting in and how long you’re wanting to travel for will all impact how and what you pack.

Even professional, long term travelers often struggle with a balance of summer and winter clothing – and you might find that you have to rotate your belongings as you go by picking up extra gear in thrift stores or second-hand shops.

And giving away things you no longer need to those that do.

In colder countries or times of the year, don’t forget you can wear your heavier and bulkier items of clothing rather than pack them up.

Of course, if you’re just going for five months to South East Asia in summer then you don’t need to worry about taking any of these winter jackets for extreme cold. They might be really useful for trekking in Siberia, though.

A balance is possible, and for argument’s sake, the following essential solo travel packing lists are based on a full year on the road in multiple countries and conditions.

Solo Travel Packing List – Essentials for Everybody

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Let’s begin with essential items that both men and women should really be bringing with them on a solo travel adventure.

  • Passport – It might go without saying, but it’s often been left behind in the bedside drawer. Keep a couple of color photocopies with you hidden somewhere safe, too. You never know when you’ll need the backup.
  • Debit and Credit Cards – Consider getting a prepaid card that you load with your own currency and then use worldwide. It’ll save you a fortune in bank and ATM charges.
  • Hidden Cash Stash – Don’t underestimate the usefulness of this tip. Have a couple of hundred bucks in cold hard cash hidden somewhere safe in your luggage. It could literally save your life.
  • Medications and Vaccination Certificates – It’s your responsibility to ensure you have all your jabs at least 6 months before your trip. Don’t forget any ongoing meds you might need, either.
  • Driving License – If you’re planning on hiring cars or any other vehicles, don’t forget your license. Look into getting an international license too as yours might not be valid in your destination country.
  • Microfiber Towel – Yes. Do it. Dries faster and packs smaller.
  • Padlock – If you’re doing hostels, you’ll need one for lockers in the dorm rooms. But they’re a useful deterrent in a variety of situations, regardless. Always handy to keep one around.
  • Water Bottle – Because nobody should be buying plastic bottles of water unless absolutely necessary.
  • Travel Insurance – Okay, so it’s not “essential” but it’s highly, highly recommended. Especially if you’re engaging in winter sports or wing-suit base jumping in Afghanistan.

Solo Travel Packing List – Electronics

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None of the following items are essential, it’s just that most of us would be lost without at least one or two of them in this travel day and age.

I’d also suggest picking up a really good electronics organizer to keep everything neat, tidy and accessible. They can be invaluable when you have cables flying about and can be the difference between a good packer and a great one.

  • Smartphone and Charger – Make sure it has offline GPS capabilities. Most of them will do these days but double-check as it’s an extremely useful tool.
  • DSLR/Compact Camera/Gopro – Only if your smartphone camera isn’t up to scratch, you’re a budding travel photographer or you want footage throwing yourself off a cliff. Otherwise, leave the heavy stuff behind.
  • Laptop – I wouldn’t leave home without it – but it’s up to you. If you do bring one, download a VPN so you can surf the web in safe anonymity and access sites that might be restricted in some countries.
  • Headphones – Essential for long journeys and being courteous to other travelers.
  • Power bank – Believe me, losing all battery power on a long-distance train might be a 21st century, first-world-problem but it’s a problem nonetheless. Pick up one of these excellent power banks and stay connected.
  • Universal Adaptor – Don’t scrimp on this. Get a quality, compact device that covers the planet.
  • Headlamp – Extremely useful when caving in a Thai jungle or trying to get to the toilet in a dark dorm room without stubbing your toe. Pick up a really good camping headlamp here.
  • Extra SD Cards – If you’re not packing a laptop, extra storage cards for photos and other media is highly recommended.

Solo Travel Packing List – Women

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Since I’m a guy, I’m not going to pretend to know best what should and should not be in a woman’s travel bag, that’s why Cynthia will take over from here (on the women’s section).

Cynthia is my girlfriend. She managed to travel for almost a year with a backpack smaller than mine. To this day I don’t know how that’s even possible.

Clothes

  • Shoes – Ladies, three pairs is truly enough. One general-purpose shoe/sandal (think, every day), a dressier shoe for “going out” and some excellent hiking boots for women. You can always tie them securely outside your pack for extra space. But if you’re going somewhere warm, then sports sandals will also do.
  • Underwear – X 7 (a week’s worth is just enough, plus they’re easy and quick to wash by hand)
  • Socks – X 3 (for warm weather destinations), X 5 (for colder weather destinations)
  • Bras – One or two regular bras (white + black will be the most logical choices) and one sports bra.
  • Pants – One pair of jeans and one pair of sports leggings.
  • Shorts – X 2. Practical and versatile.
  • Dress – One versatile dress or skirt useful on many occasions. I highly recommend getting a flowy over-the-knee dress or skirt. So you can use it when going to sacral places (and not have to pay an extra fee for covering up with a scarf).
  • Tops – Four or five T-shirts/tank tops. They should be interchangeable and be able to go with anything.
  • Cardigan/Sweater/Hoodie – Just one will do – your choice.
  • Water Resistant Jacket – Something lightweight and portable would be ideal. Try one of these packable down jackets that are excellent for layering if the temperature drops or when traveling through winter.
  • Swimsuit/Bikini – Weather permitting.
  • Sleepwear – Pajamas or similar.
  • Hat/Scarf/Gloves – For the wintery regions/seasons.

Toiletries

  • Antiperspirant – A deodorant won’t cut it when you’re dripping with sweat in a chicken bus in South America.
  • Toothbrush and Toothpaste – Small, travel-sized tubes are ideal.
  • Lip Balm – Never leave home without it.
  • Razor – Unless you really want to go “au natural” for a while. Personally, I opted for a good epilator. It’ll save you money on buying plastic razors and/or cartridges.
  • Sunblock – Can be very expensive when buying abroad – depending on where you go that is. It’s worth stocking up before departure. Either that or raid the hostel lost-and-found bins if you’re doing shared accommodations.
  • Moisturizer – Whatever works for you.
  • Perfume – Not “essential” but a small bottle for a couple of squishes on a night out isn’t amiss.
  • Makeup – Firstly, get a quality woman’s makeup bag. Secondly, don’t overdo it. Less is more and remember you can always pick something up if you’re really desperate. Think the bare essentials.
  • Tweezers – Handy when you step on a sea urchin. Also, good for keeping your brows in check.
  • Nail Clippers – Handy for not turning into a witch.
  • Female Hygiene Products – Tragically and inhumanely expensive all over the world, therefore, perhaps consider a reusable product, like a menstrual cup or reusable period pads.

Solo Travel Packing List – Men

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Clothes

  • Shoes – Same rules apply – never take more than three pairs. A comfortable sneaker option or sandal, a smarter shoe for going out and a good pair of lightweight hiking boots.
  • Underwear – X 8.
  • Socks – X 5.
  • Pants – Three pairs, maximum. One pair of jeans, one that isn’t denim and one multi-purpose trekking pant. Try something from this practical selection of travel jackets and pants with hidden pockets. Excellent apparel with added security.
  • T-Shirts – Your go-to clothing choice for much of the year. I’d pack between five to seven. Make sure that one of them is white for layering and one of them is a Batman T-shirt. People love Batman.
  • Dress Shirt – One smart shirt for going out. ONE.
  • Short-Sleeved Shirt/Polo – Either a button-up short-sleeved shirt or a Polo. Just for some versatility.
  • Cardigan/Sweater/Hoodie – Again, just one is required. Make it compatible with your T-shirts.
  • Water Resistant Jacket – If a packable down jacket isn’t your thing, try one of these lightweight hiking rain jackets instead – for men and women.
  • Swim Shorts/Speedos – Depending on your confidence and how “blessed you are.”
  • Hat/Scarf/Gloves – When the weather outside is frightful.

Toiletries

  • Antiperspirant – Make sure it works. You should have a tried and trusted brand by now.
  • Toothbrush and Toothpaste – One of those little plastic hygiene protective heads for the brush is a good idea too.
  • Shaving Kit – Whatever you need to tame the beard. Or, let it grow as wild and free as you are.
  • Lip Balm – Yes, men too. That sun can ruin your lips in a hot country and you won’t be able to kiss the girl at the end of the movie with a huge fever blister.
  • Sunblock – As above.
  • Cologne/Aftershave – Again, a small bottle of your favorite niff is fine. Just don’t overdo it.
  • Tweezers – Handy for the nose hair or removing a Wolverine eyebrow.
  • Nail Clippers – Because biting them is bad.
  • Condoms – You should rather have them and not need them than need them and not have them. Be the gentleman and have them.

Extras for Everybody

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They’re unable to be pigeon-holed into a category above, but the following items are also very useful for men and women who are setting out on their solo travel adventure.

  • Money Belt – You can never be too careful these days. Very much advised regardless where you are. But particularly in Barcelona…
  • Earplugs – Because trying to sleep in a dorm room with an Argentinian basketball team isn’t fun. Honestly – it’s like being surrounded by dying animals.
  • Eye Mask – Vital if you really want to catch those valuable Zzzzzz.
  • Travel Pillow – A really good idea for long bus, train or plane journeys where you don’t want to arrive with a twisted neck. Some of those packable jackets double as travel pillows, too.
  • Multitool/Swiss Army Knife – You’ll honestly never know what you did without one. Excellent for odd jobs and picnics. Here are some of the best knives for backpacking and multi-tools. Not to be used for defense. But then you’ll need checked-in luggage (if traveling by plane).
  • Sunglasses – Just buy a cheap pair of knock-offs when you get there. You’re going to lose them anyway.
  • Small First Aid Kit – Again, it’s not essential, but it’s a really good idea. Check out these awesome hiking and camping first aid kits which are just as useful for travel due to their compact size.
  • Reusable Cloth Bag – I’m tempted to move this to the essential section. It’s a godsend for stashing your dirty clothing until laundry day. Remember – not all places have washing facilities on site.
  • Safety Door Wedge – Admittedly, this is a new one for me, but I think it would add extra peace of mind – particularly for solo female travelers. You can’t always guarantee lockable and secure doors, and this inexpensive device solves that problem – and some even come with a built-in alarm.
  • Personal Alarm/Pepper Spray – While I’m on the subject of personal safety I might as well go the whole hog. Hopefully, you’ll never have to use it, but carrying a super-loud alarm or a non-lethal assailant can do wonders for your confidence.
  • A Good Book – Kindles are handy, but nothing beats the feel of a good book. You can swap it out at a book exchange once you’ve read it, too.

Packing Tips and Advice

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Below you’ll find plenty of handy tips, tricks, and advice for being a smart packer, maximizing space and minimizing fuss.

Luggage Weight

I’m not talking about how much it weighs once you have everything in it – I’m talking about how much it weighs when it’s empty.

Whatever style of luggage you decide to go with, make sure it already doesn’t weigh an absolute ton before you’ve even begun to pack the thing.

“Ultra” light models usually come in around the 5-7lbs mark, but you can get lighter than that. It just might cost you, that’s all.

Oh, and give some serious thought to picking up one of these luggage trackers, because nobody likes their sh*t to go missing.

I can guarantee the longer you travel, the more likely it’s going to happen. So, nip it in the bud before you set off.

Roll With It

As well as using packing cubes which have become an invaluable tool for travelers everywhere, the best way to save space in your backpack is to roll your clothes instead of folding them.

You save a ridiculous amount of space just by using this simple technique, and your belongings won’t get anywhere near as creased.

It’s an easy win-win.

It might take a little more effort but it will be an enormous help in the long run.

Watch the really useful video below for some great cloth-folding techniques and skills.

Toiletry Bottles

We all know airlines are super strict when it comes to liquids and the amounts that we’re allowed to carry-on.

Millions of dollars worth of products are thrown into trash bags during airport security screenings every year. I don’t want you to be one of those people who has to throw away an expensive shampoo.

With that in mind, you’ll want to have a look at these travel toiletry bottles that have been TSA approved and are perfect for your journey.

Don’t get caught out again.

Oh, and while you’re at it, your wash bag probably needs an upgrade, too.

So, have a glance over these awesome toiletry bags and treat yourself. Because trust me – you don’t want that falling apart on you when you’re on the road.

Never, ever be cheap with your toiletry bag.

Mix and Match

To get the most out of your chosen travel wardrobe, you need to mix and match the garments so you can have multiple outfits.

Choose T-shirts and tops that go with just about everything. Choose pants in basic colors that won’t clash.

You should be able to get hundreds of combinations out of a very few garments – rather than just concentrating on one “outfit” at a time.

Ditch the Hair Dryer

Or the hair straighteners for that matter. You don’t need the excess weight and space-hogging.

Most decent hotels, guest houses, and even hostels will have one in the room already – or you can ask to borrow the appliance from the nice people at the reception desk.

And if you’re a curly person, just buy a universal foldable diffuser that fits almost all hair dryers.

Divide and Conquer

I’ll let you in a little secret – I actually really enjoy packing up for my travels.

Once you have it down to fine art and you’re not lugging the kitchen sink with you, it can be a real pleasure when you’re making sure everything has its own home.

With that in mind, you should endeavor to separate your belongings out in a logical and organized way.

Have a section for your underwear – perhaps in a side pocket.

Keep your electronics together – which I recommend you store in your day pack/front pack/carry-on. Try one of these anti-theft backpacks as a great alternative to regular packs.

Place items you use the most near to the top of your luggage for easy access. For me, this is usually my wash bag and towel.

With a little bit of thought, you can have everything safely and neatly tucked into its own space ready to be called on when required.

You’ll be amazed how an organized backpack can help with an organized mind.

Bulk Up

This little trick isn’t always possible – most notably when it’s 113 degrees outside – but when and where you can, you should always try to do your actual traveling wearing your bulkiest clothes.

Wearing your hiking boots, for example, is both great for your feet if you’re walking long distances, and great for improving the space and weight in your backpack.

Likewise, hoodies, sweaters and other such items of clothing.

Leave the Laundry Products

Some travelers might disagree, but I think you can save yourself a fair bit of hassle if you don’t bother packing washing detergent and portable washing lines.

They have these new-fangled things called laundromats around the world these days. For next to nothing, you can have a quality machine do the cleaning for you. Most of them come with detergent and softeners as part of the cycle.

Failing that, it’s rare you’ll stay in a decent hostel that doesn’t have access to laundry facilities for a small fee.

There’s no need to be spending hours in a sink trying to get that suspect stain out of your boxers…

Consider Taking a Tent

Many solo travelers decide to go this route to make their budget go further. The prices of hotels, guest houses, and even cheap hostels will soon take a heavy toll.

Have a look at these great camping tents and see if it’s something you’d like to try.

Of course, this will throw up a whole host of other issues – but it will be the ultimate freedom if you can pull it off.

Fill Your Boots!

No, literally fill them!

You have to maximize every available space in your backpack when you’re traveling super-light and so sometimes you need to think outside the box a little bit.

There’s valuable space inside your shoes that you can easily stuff with smaller items, such as socks, underwear, and gloves.

Not just there either, there’s plenty of untapped space within your luggage if you look carefully. Utilizing it is the key to packing like a pro.

And speaking of pros, watch this video for more tips on space-saving from airline cabin crews.

Don’t Bother With Guide Books

Ooooh, controversial. Many travel blogs will tell you to pack your guide book – but you really don’t need one – that’s what the internet is for.

Most guidebooks these days are ridiculously outdated within seconds of being run off the printers.

That and they’re often not very well written by people who have never actually set foot in that country.

Save yourself some money and space. If you want to know something about a particular destination – a search engine is your friend.

Or, you could do it the old fashioned way and ask a local.

Plan Ahead

Whatever you do, don’t pack the night before you’re due to leave. You will almost certainly make a myriad of avoidable errors.

For any solo trip (or any trip for that matter) you should really be planning well ahead so you’re totally in control and on top of things when the day of departure arrives.

This is particularly true for when it comes to packing light. It’s not easy and it takes some practice – so have a few trial runs before you’re actually setting foot out of the door.

When in Doubt – Leave It

Ask yourself the same questions you would ask when you’re doing a spring clean of your closet.

Would I wear it?

Is that going to realistically get any use?

Does this bring me joy?

Etc.

If you’re in two minds about something when you’re packing for your solo travel adventure – leave it behind.

You can always buy a new one when you’re on the road, anyway.

Summary

Right, there’s suitcases full of information here about your solo travel packing list and how you can achieve the ultimate smugness of traveling light and free.

And don’t forget to download my free eBook on solo travel safety for loads more tips and tricks to keeping yourself and your belongings in one piece.

Happy packing people!

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