Every new traveler thinks they’ve nailed the perfect packing list. My original RTW packing list turned out to be pretty good. But in the first month or so of my trip, it seemed like I couldn’t turn my head without something in my pack getting lost or broken. As soon as the last thing got replaced, something new would fixing. And then there are all the toiletries I had planned on restocking on the road.
So as I rounded the halfway point of my year-long RTW trip, I took another look at what’s inside my backpack. What have I added? Did I get rid of any items I don’t need? Just how often does a traveler have to restock things like shampoo, toothpaste, and deodorant? How often do things get lost and broken? Read on to see how my packing list has changed.
Table of Contents
My beloved Crocs sandals broke a strap not 2 weeks into my trip. I am super picky about sandals and didn’t replace them until I found an exact match at a Crocs store in Dubrovnik. I paid way too much money, but was so pleased to have what I really wanted. So when that pair got lost (or possibly stolen) in Nepal, I was just like FML. I realized they were missing right as I was leaving Nepal, so after I arrived in Thailand I just threw up my hands and bought a crappy pair of flip-flops for 2 dollars. They’re unattractive and rub blisters like hell but there’s just no way I’m spending any more money on shoes right now. They will get replaced again if and when I find a pair I genuinely like and don’t cost too much money.
The verdict: Test your shoes’ quality thoroughly before leaving. Expect one of three pairs to get lost at some point during the trip, and be prepared to come up with a cheap replacement.
After a few months, my jeans proved to not be 100% denim but one of those stretch blends that can only take so much apparently. The inner thighs got torn all to hell and it was downright embarrassing to walk around with them looking like that. Once I got to London in October, I chucked my jeans in the bin and bought a replacement pair.
The verdict: Jeans get a lot of wear in Europe and stretch denim doesn’t hold up as well. Check the tags to see exactly how much denim is in your jeans.
Technically, the cardigan I’m traveling with is not the one I planned on packing. I brilliantly left it hanging on the closet door at home. I bought a new one the first week of my trip.
The verdict: For any items you plan on packing at the last minute, make a list on brightly colored paper and tape it to your front door. Make it as attention grabbing as possible so you don’t swan out on departure day with anything missing.
Short sleeve t-shirt
One of my biggest complaints about hostels in Southeast Asia is the fact that they all offer laundry service, not laundry facilities. I would honestly rather do my own laundry, whether in a machine or a sink, but when the hostel offers a service, you are expected to use it. Usually the worst thing that comes of this is I’m out a couple bucks and my laundry is unnecessarily wrapped in plastic, despite my providing a nylon bag. But on one occasion, my laundry was not all returned to me. The owner did everything he could, but their laundry service was outsourced and there was only so much he could do. Failing the recovery of one of my t-shirts, I went out and bought a new one.
The verdict: Expect to replace at least one shirt along the way. Do your own laundry whenever possible, and if you’re concerned about an item getting lost, ask your hostel what the process for their laundry service is.
PSA: Always turn around and actually look at your seat when you’re getting off a plane. In my hurry to get out of other passengers’ way, I lost my sarong – which also serves as a scarf, blanket, shawl, and even towel sometimes – the first week of my trip. It took ages to find a good replacement, and now I’ve gone and repeated the mistake! As I write this, I am sarong-less. I’ll replace it a second time in Cambodia or potentially Bali.
The verdict: Always, always, always double check your seat before you get off a plane, train, or bus.
I left home with a snazzy pair of folding sunglasses. I was so proud of this little space saver. But all those joints mean the glasses are pretty weak. About two months into my trip, they snapped right in half. I debated trying to repair them, but didn’t have any superglue. Instead, I bought a replacement pair in Ljubljana and they’ve served me well ever since.
The verdict: Folding sunglasses are not worth the little bit of space you save. Stick to a regular pair.
My original bar of Lush solid shampoo got forgotten in a hostel shower in Croatia. I bought a bottle of regular shampoo at a pharmacy once I reached Montenegro, and purposefully used it up by the time I finished my overland travels in Europe. Once I landed in London, I was able to cheaply replace my Lush bar. This second bar of solid shampoo is still going strong after nearly 4 months.
The verdict: Solid shampoo is the best – it lasts for months and months. Just don’t ever leave it in the shower. Any toiletries should stay in your toiletry bag unless they are actively in use.
Soap and soap case
My first bar of soap met the same fate as my solid shampoo in Croatia. I purchased a bar at the same pharmacy in Montenegro, stored it in a Ziploc baggie, and used it up over the course of the next 2 months. Boyfriend brought me 2 bars of Dr. Bronner’s and a new soap case when he joined me in Nepal in November. Nearly 3 months later, I’m still working on one of the bars of soap and haven’t touched the other.
The verdict: Restock bar soap approximately once every 3 months.
I used up my sunscreen wipes quickly, and knew I would. I just needed enough to get me over the Atlantic. Once in Barcelona, I bought a bottle of spray on. It lasted me through about 3 months. I didn’t really need sunscreen in London, and bought a new bottle of lotion in Nepal. I’m still using that same bottle as budget airline restrictions have forced me to check my backpack more frequently in Asia.
The verdict: Restock sunscreen approximately once every 3 months.
I used up the last of my sanitizer wipes and bought a replacement pack in London in October. I bought a second replacement pack in late January in Vietnam.
The verdict: Restock sanitizer wipes approximately once every 3 months.
My travel size deodorant lasted roughly 3 months. I bought a full size stick at a supermarket in Dubrovnik and am still using it.
The verdict: Travel size deodorant lasts 3 months. Full size deodorant probably lasts twice as long.
I just replaced my toothbrush at the 6 month mark, as recommended by my dentist.
The verdict: Toothbrushes are very easy and inexpensive to replace. Restock every 6 months.
I’m not sure when I used the last of my Kleenex exactly. But it was certainly by October as I was saddled with a cold and had to buy more tissues at a Boots in London. These days I often travel with just a wad of toilet paper in my purse and tear off bits for the bathroom and nose blowing as needed.
The verdict: Buy tissues and/or toilet paper as needed. Alternatively, you could just pocket a wad whenever you’re someplace that provides tissues or toilet paper. In Asia, I’ve found you have about a 50/50 chance of there being tissue in the bathroom.
I generally rely on Thinx underwear for my menstrual needs, but on heavy days I do still have to use a tampon. I left with enough tampons to cover my first cycle or two, and have replaced the supply three times.
The verdict: Restock tampons every two to three months, if you have another means of feminine hygiene. If you rely solely on tampons, expect to replace them every month. Bear in mind, in some parts of the world, tampons are less common.
At home, I replace my razor every three months. So far, I’ve only replaced it once on my trip because I’ve been lazy about it, but as ladies’ razors typically come in packs, I now have replacements lined up for the rest of my trip.
The verdict: Do as I say, not as I do.
My travel size toothpaste lasted about six weeks. I bought another travel size tube, and six weeks later restocked that with a full size tube. Fun fact: a full size tube of toothpaste is 100 ml and therefore abides by TSA regulations.
The verdict: Travel size toothpaste lasts one to two months. Full size toothpaste lasts less than six months.
One of my credit cards was due to expire while I was traveling. Fortunately, it expired the month I knew Boyfriend would be joining me. I had it mailed to the house and he brought it to Nepal for me, along with another card that had updated to a chip.
The verdict: Keep an eye on any expiration dates and put a plan in place for receiving the replacement. Or, plan to use a different card.
I went through so many charging cables in Europe, it’s not even funny. To save space I thought I’d use the same cable for my phone and my laptop. Typically this works fine. But it puts a lot of pressure on the single cable – if it breaks, I’m screwed. My first charger cable stopped working entirely after 1 month. (I’d had the cable for a little over 3 months at that point.) I bought a second and found it was defective, so bought a third nicer one the same day. That cable lasted about 6 weeks when it started charging much more slowly than usual. I bought a fourth charger cable and hung onto the weak cable as a backup for about 2 months. When Boyfriend joined me in Nepal, I had him bring me two new cables. I’ve used one of those for the last 2-3 months, and keep the others in my bag as backup. If I never set foot in another phone store again, it’ll be too soon.
The verdict: Pack more than one USB charging cable from the get go. You probably have more than one at home anyway and it’s not like an extra cord really takes up that much more space. If you travel frequently, expect to replace your charger cable approximately once every three months.
A second long sleeve tee
When I left the United States, I expected to be sticking to warm weather destinations. The Mediterranean in summer, Southeast Asia in winter. But when I decided to spend October in London instead of Istanbul, my packing list was not prepared. I needed clothes that were both dressier and warmer than what I had with me. I took a mini shopping spree on Regent Street after arriving and bought my replacement jeans, a chunky pullover sweater (which was sent home with the boyfriend after he met me in Nepal), and a nice long sleeve tee. I still wear this extra long sleeve tee a lot when I’m in conservative countries.
The verdict: If you make big changes to your itinerary, don’t expect your packing list to meet your needs.
A second pair of leggings
I knew I’d need a base layer for trekking in Nepal, so I had Boyfriend bring along a set of silk thermals (which he took right back with him after the trek) and an extra pair of leggings when he met me in November. I’ve hung onto the leggings. They make good pajamas and add extra coverage to dresses when I need conservative clothing.
The verdict: Leggings are great for layering and multi-purpose wear. It’s worth having more than one pair in your bag.
Yes, I have a pair of elephants pants. I have a pair of elephant pants on Khao San Road. Haters gonna hate. Elephant pants are a backpacker’s rite of passage. I bought these when a friend joined me in Bangkok one night and wanted to go shopping together. They were an impulse souvenir purchase and I actually do wear them quite frequently. They’ve been great for overnight buses and trains in Southeast Asia.
The verdict: Don’t be afraid to buy souvenir clothes. Just limit it to one or two pieces.
A third sundress
The chronicles of Danielle’s laundry woes continue. This one is my fault though. At the end of my trek in Nepal, we had dinner plans with our tour group to go out to a nice-ish restaurant. I took literally everything but the tank top and leggings I was wearing to the hotel laundry service and didn’t check on how long it would take to be ready. In need of a change of clothes for dinner, I just stopped into a shop and bought myself a dress. I love dresses for travel and so the purchase hasn’t been a waste.
The verdict: If you’re using a laundry service, ask beforehand what time you can pick up the goods.
Duct tape and superglue
As detailed above, I’ve had items break on the road. Why I didn’t have duct tape and superglue with me from the beginning I’ll never understand. I asked Boyfriend to bring me some of each in November. They don’t see a lot of use, but it’s good to know they’re there!
The verdict: Pack duct tape. Pack super glue. If you have to buy them on the road, you may have to do some digging.
My laundry soap sheets are okay for doing laundry in the sink, but sometimes I’m in a hostel that provides a machine. The only catch is you have to bring your own soap. I can’t exactly drag one of those massive laundry soap boxes with me all the time, so I asked Boyfriend to bring me a Ziploc bag with just a little laundry powder in it. Bless his heart, he filled a quart size bag as full as it could be. It’s a bit cumbersome to pack, but preferable to not having any laundry soap.
The verdict: Pack a small baggie of laundry soap. Do not trust anyone else to understand what you mean by a small baggie.
I’ve tried to rely on apps like Kindle and Scribd for my reading, but it’s just not the same. When I had a two-day boat trip down the Mekong River planned in December, I knew I needed proper books. I bought 2 paperbacks in a bookstore, and a proper journal at a market in Thailand. The journal is still in use. The books were both finished within the two days. I’ve hung onto them in the hopes I might meet someone I can swap with, but the opportunity hasn’t arisen.
The verdict: Don’t pack books unless you’re ready to commit. Once they find their way into your bag, they’ll never find their way out again.
No Longer in My Pack
I love Wisps for long flights and layovers, but they got used up fast and they’re not as easy to replace as a toothbrush. I do not restock these, but would still recommend them for a short trip.
The verdict: If it’s a short trip, bring as many Wisps as you need. On a longer trip, just don’t bother.
I only intended to use this for treating Blue Lagoon hair in Iceland. I wound up not going to the Blue Lagoon and just left it behind in the hostel so I wouldn’t have to take up any more space in my bag.
The verdict: Special toiletries are only worth packing for your first stop.
I know I should use it regularly, but I don’t. I only packed conditioner for Blue Lagoon hair, and left it behind with the clarifying shampoo.
The verdict: If you use conditioner, you will likely need to restock on the same schedule as your shampoo.
Click through to see my full RTW packing list.