Every new traveler thinks they’ve cracked the code to the perfect backpack. I was no exception, but over the course of my year-long round-the-world trip, I came to realize that living out of a backpack for a year is more of a process than a single, simple formula. Packing for a round-the-world trip is so different to packing for a vacation! Depending on where you go, you may need clothing for multiple climates, and no matter your destination, you will have ongoing needs to take into account. No one can fit a whole year’s worth of shampoo into one case! Packing needs shift and change constantly when you’re traveling for longer than a couple weeks, but everyone needs a place to start. This solo female round-the-world trip packing list is your launching pad — more than a simple checklist, I’ll walk you through how packing for a round-the-world trip works, why certain items make the list and others don’t, and how often you need to plan to restock during your travels. And as a bonus: it all fits in a carry-on!
Disclaimer: This list contains affiliate links. While there is no extra cost to you, I may earn a small commission. All opinions are my own – I only link to products I either personally use and LOVE or have otherwise vetted enough myself to find them trustworthy.
Table of Contents
How to Make a Round-the-World Trip Packing List
Every round-the-world trip is different, so there may be things on my perfect packing list that you won’t need. Maybe you can get by with even fewer clothes than I did, in which case, I commend you! Likewise, there may be some travel gear you want to pack that is not on my packing list. For instance, I chose to save space by renting a sleeping bag for my two multi-day treks (the Annapurna Sanctuary in Nepal and the Inca Trail in Peru). If you plan to camp for a larger portion of your trip, you may prefer to pack your own tent, sleeping bag, and other camping gear.
I can’t pretend to be all things to all people. But what this list can do is provide all the basics for a solo female traveler’s round-the-world trip. It takes into account travel through multiple climates and through multiple cultures. You’ll be able to dress conservatively for a temple visit in Southeast Asia, stay comfortable on a long hike, or look less like a dirty backpacker for a nice dinner out in Paris. You’ll also have all the basic toiletries and go-to gear that make living out of a backpack for a year a possibility. And it will all fit in a standard size carry-on.
Feel free to use this list as a jumping off point and adjust it to your needs. Whatever packing list you wind up with, however, make sure you do a test run before it’s time to leave! In preparing for my round-the-world trip, I did two test runs: one about six months in advance and another about two months in advance. Test runs help ensure everything fits properly, teach you hands-on how your pack will be organized, and can reveal any gaps in what you have. I had a lot of trouble paring down my original packing list until I got in the middle of a test run and saw that everything wouldn’t fit — suddenly it became obvious what I didn’t really need!
How to Choose a Backpack for your Round-the-World Trip
My backpack is the Osprey Farpoint 40L. It’s carry-on size for all major airlines and has all the features I mention below as must-haves for round-the-world trips. Since my shopping, however, Osprey has come out with an even better version of this backpack tailored specifically for women, the Osprey Fairview. If you’re interested in comparing other models, here are the backpack features you need to look for.
Padding is number one. Get padding everywhere you possibly can: the straps, the back, the hip belt.
I also think a front-loading backpack is a must. This is one of the biggest differences between a round-the-world trip backpack and a hiking backpack. If your trip is predominately trekking and camping, a traditional top-loading backpack could serve you well. But if you’re hopping from city to city on a round-the-world trip, you won’t be hiking during the day and setting up a campsite at night. You’ll need easier access to your stuff, so front-loading panels are essential.
Finally, the more internal organization you can find, the better. Mesh pockets, zippered pouches, and laptop sleeves cut down on how many packing cubes or other organizers you have to buy.
Ways to Organize Your Backpack
Many people swear by packing cubes. Personally, I don’t use a full set. I think they work fine inside suitcases, but their large rectangular shapes are too bulky to fit neatly within a 40 liter backpack. Instead, I use my own combination of smaller bags.
Two compression sacks help me reduce the bulk of my clothing. I generally divide my clothes to have cold weather items in one sack and warm weather items in another. You can also find compression sacks that double as dry sacks for holding items during water sports or even doing laundry in a pinch.
A small basic camera case holds all my camera gear, while the rest of my technology uses the built-in organization of my backpack’s front pockets. If you plan on working on the road, definitely get a backpack with a padded laptop sleeve, and a day bag large enough that you can keep your computer on your person during long bus and train rides.
While I don’t use a full set of packing cubes, I do use a small one to gather together all the little miscellaneous odds and ends that I don’t want to have scuttling around loose inside my backpack. I also use a couple small pouches I already had on hand to keep a few basic makeup and toiletry items together, and all my medical and first aid supplies in one place. I, of course, also have a quart-size Ziploc bag for liquids while flying.
Finally, I carry a couple of extra bags that aren’t always in use. My Envirosax tote folds up to nothing while I’m in transit, but once I’m in my destination, it’s a great bag for picking up groceries or heading to the beach. I also carry a nylon sack for keeping dirty laundry separate from clean clothes. Being able to condense everything down to my single carry-on backpack is great, but it’s also important to have the option to spread out when you need to.
The Ultimate Solo Female Round-the-World Trip Packing List
Disclaimer: This list contains affiliate links. While there is no extra cost to you, I may earn a small commission. All opinions are my own – I only link to products I personally use and LOVE!
The Best Solo Female Travel Backpack: Osprey Fairview 55L Backpack
Alternate Backpack: Osprey Farpoint 40L Backpack
I love this day bag. Because I travel predominately in cities, I felt really strongly about finding a day bag that wasn’t a backpack. With a backpack, you have one of two choices: wear it on your back and be more vulnerable to pickpockets, or clutch it to your front like a frightened turtle. Neither option appealed to me. (Note: if you are doing lots and lots of hiking on your round-the-world trip, a backpack style day bag will be more comfortable for you and you can rely on the built-in detachable day bag that comes with the Osprey Fairview!)
Instead, I found this awesome crossbody bag. It is so much less conspicuous than a backpack and it also has a bunch of special anti-theft measures built in. A mesh lining and reinforced cable strap protect against your bag being slashed open on the street. There is also an RFID lining, and a small carabiner you can use to secure zippers.
You’ll see I don’t include a money belt on my round-the-world trip packing list. I find them uncomfortable and conspicuous. Simply being vigilant and carrying a crossbody bag with my hand over the zipper has served me absolutely fine against pickpockets. I have never once been pickpocketed while traveling, even in places supposedly crawling with them like Barcelona.
Alternate Day Bag: TravelOn Heritage Tote
While the above bag is what I actually traveled with on my round-the-world trip, I have since upgraded to this larger tote from the same amazing anti-theft brand. It has all the features I loved about my smaller cross-body, but it’s large enough to fit a full-size laptop.
- Packing cubes
I only use the smallest of this set to hold loose odds and ends. The set also includes a nylon sack which I use for dirty laundry.
- 2 Sea to Summit compression sacks
- Envirosax packable tote
- small camera case
- 2 small toiletry bags
I use one for makeup and toiletries, and the other for medical and first aid supplies.
- quart size Ziploc bag
- 2 RFID blocking wallets
This larger RFID blocking wallet is what I used on an everyday basis, but I also carry a smaller wallet with some small bills, coins and expired credit cards to use as a decoy in case of mugging. Fortunately, I’ve never needed to use it! While we’re on the subject of money, keep an eye on the expiration date of any credit cards you’ll be traveling with and have a plan for getting replacement cards on the road.
- document pouch
This is very handy for keeping boarding passes, visas and other paperwork in order for travel days.
Clothes and Shoes:
- 2 tank tops
One is black and one is light blue. Sticking to a limited color palette ensures you can mix and match all your clothes, making it easy to fit a year’s worth of clothing into one backpack. I actually had over 200 possible outfit combinations in my carry-on!
- 2 t-shirts
I did replace one of my t-shirts once about halfway through my trip. Make sure you factor replacing lost or worn out clothing into your round-the-world trip budget.
- 2 long sleeve t-shirts
I started my trip with just one, but purchased a second in London. I had not planned to visit the UK in October, so I needed some more warm clothing options, as well as items that could be dressed up a touch.
- 1 chunky sweater
This was a temporary addition to my backpack. I bought it at the same time as my second long sleeve tee, again for some nicer looking cold weather clothes. I used it for about two months and when my boyfriend came to visit me during my trip, I sent it home with him so I wouldn’t have to lug it around Southeast Asia. Shipping things home, or sending them back with visiting friends and family, is a great way to maximize your packing space. Just make sure you plan to use up bulky or heavy items early in your itinerary.
- 1 cardigan
I recommend a black crew-neck cardigan that buttons all the way up.
- 1 pair jeans
This is a huge debate on every round-the-world trip packing list. Jeans: to pack or not to pack? Some people choose to leave their jeans at home because they are bulky, heavy and take a long time to line dry. But if you’re traveling in Western countries, you’ll get enough wear out of your jeans to make them worth the extra weight. As for any laundry inconvenience, part of the appeal of jeans is that they do not need to be washed frequently. I do recommend that solo female travelers take a close look at the actual fabric makeup of their jeans. I left with a well broken in pair of stretch denim, and within four months, they were too worn out for me to continue wearing. I wound up replacing them in London.
- 1 pair convertible hiking pants
I know, they won’t be the prettiest thing in your pack, but if you plan on doing anything athletic on your trip, these will be worth it. My pair by Prana not only zip off into shorts, but also have roll-up tabs for capris. It’s like three pairs of pants in one, which really maximizes my outfit options.
- 1 pair shorts
- 2 pairs leggings
I started out with just one pair of capri leggings, but when my boyfriend came to visit me in Nepal, I asked him to bring an extra pair of basic black leggings. They became indispensable for layering, both in cool climates and conservative settings.
- 1 pair elephant pants
Yes, I bought a pair of elephant pants. I even bought a pair of elephant pants on Khao San Road in Bangkok. I’m not sorry. They’re conservative but lightweight, insanely comfortable, and the elastic at the ankles keeps mosquitoes from creeping up your legs. There’s a reason they’ve become the quintessential garment of backpacking in Southeast Asia. I typically used mine as pajamas or for very long bus rides. Give yourself a little wiggle room in your pack and in your budget for souvenir clothing.
- 1 maxi skirt
Conservative and lightweight, this is the perfect thing to wear to temples in Southeast Asia.
- 3 sundresses
I love dresses. I originally left with two and picked up a third in Asia. They take up next to no space and help me feel like less of a dirty backpacker. My favorite is a dress by Prana, which has moisture wicking fabric and a built-in sports bra.
- 1 long sleeve dress
I mostly travel in warm climates, but I do occasionally go someplace colder. For nights out in Iceland, France or Japan, this long sleeve wool dress by Prana was my go to.
- 1 fleece jacket
On my actual trip, I wore this very budget-friendly fleece from Columbia. I have since upgraded to this holy grail fleece jacket by Arcteryx. It’s amazing on comfort and fit, plus the pockets are HUGE.
- 1 rain jacket
While I don’t travel anywhere very cold, light layers plus a fleece and this waterproof shell kept me comfortable in Iceland, Nepal and Japan.
- 2 swimsuits
One of my round-the-world trip swimsuits was a basic bikini, but I got more use out of a more conservative, athletic tankini top and swim skort. In a real pinch, I can even wear the tankini top as a regular shirt. These days, I’m more of a one-piece gal and love swimsuits from Summersalt.
- 5 pairs underwear
ExOfficio underwear is a must-have travel item. They’re quick-drying so you only need a few pairs you can wash out in the sink as needed.
- 2 pairs Thinx period underwear
I save space and produce less waste by wearing these specialty period panties when it’s my time of the month. I also now use a menstrual cup. But traveling with period panties on hand is a great backup AND means having an extra pair of underwear around on laundry day.
- 2 bras
- 1 sports bra
- 1 pair gloves
Because I don’t travel in very cold climates, a pair of thin silk glove liners are typically enough for me.
- 1 fleece headband
I was surprised by just how warm this thin microfleece headband is! Using this instead of a bulkier winter hat saves space.
- 1 pair sunglasses
I started out with a pair of folding sunglasses, but all those joints make for extra weak spots. They snapped in half within a couple months. Stick to your regular everyday sunglasses!
Scarf, blanket, towel, swimsuit cover-up, bindle… A good sarong is indispensable on a round-the-world trip. Get the largest, quickest drying one you can find.
- 5 pairs socks
I carry a mixture of hiking socks (Smartwool is my favorite brand), regular socks and compression socks for long flights.
- 1 pair hiking sneakers
These are the perfect middle road between walking shoes and heavy duty hiking books. My Columbia sneakers held up for several years until I finally had to replace them with a pair of Altra trail runners. Even though they aren’t full hiking boots, they are still my bulkiest shoes, so I wear them any time I’m in transit. They never actually go inside my backpack.
- 1 pair flats
I have often traveled with Tieks. They have thick soles, they look nice and don’t give me away as a dirty backpacker when I go out to dinner in Europe, and they fold up so they take less space in my pack. Plus they can handle a beating – I am not kind to my shoes! Tieks are an investment for sure, but they are totally worth it. I am also a HUGE fan of Allbirds which are even more comfortable and also highly worth the investment. Their Tree Skippers and Tree Loungers are adorable sneakers and their Tree Breezers are my current favorite travel flats.
- 1 pair sandals
I am personally quite picky about sandals. I dislike how they look and feel on me. But I love this pair from Crocs. I love them so much that when the strap of one broke during my trip, I insisted on finding an exact replacement.
- contacts (with case)
Because this is a prescription item, I left with a full year’s stock.
- glasses (with case)
- saline solution
A travel size bottle of contact solution will last about two to three months.
- solid shampoo (with case)
Solid shampoo from Lush is a godsend! No need to worry about a liquid allowance and you only need to restock once or twice a year.
- dry shampoo
Batiste makes the cutest little travel size cans of dry shampoo, which are really handy for long-haul travel days.
- bar soap (with case)
Plan to restock bar soap once every three months.
- quick dry towel
Invest in a special pack towel, like this one from Sea to Summit. I traveled with a small one, which was absorbent enough to dry off, but not large enough to wear. If you’re attached to wrapping a towel around you, rather than toweling off and getting dressed in the bathroom, you might opt for a large.
You can get sunscreen wipes to save space in your liquid allowance on flights, or Neutrogena makes a nice sunscreen stick. If you’re using liquid sunscreen, buy a bottle in your first destination and plan to restock every three months.
- cucumber face wipes
These make any long-haul flight worth it! They’re super refreshing and you can deplane feeling like a rock star. My favorite brand (Yes to) also makes wipes in coconut and grapefruit scents.
- mini makeup palette
I traveled with a cheap all-in-one palette by e.l.f. but the quality was what you’d expect for $12. I prefer a small Naked eyeshadow palette these days.
- mini mascara
One of my favorite travel size tubes is Tarte’s Lights, Camera, Lashes.
- tinted moisturizer with SPF
- concealer stick
- lip balm
- sanitizing wipes
This was a must-have for me even before the pandemic. Do you really think they wipe down every tray table on a plane between flights? Carry wipes instead of liquid hand sanitizer and thank me later.
Travel size deodorant lasts about three months. Full size deodorant lasts about twice as long AND usually still suits TSA size requirements.
- menstrual cup with travel shaker
Cups need to be sanitized in boiling water so this specific package comes with a travel friendly silicone cup that will keep you from having to explain to hostel-mates why you are putting a hygiene item in a shared kitchen pot.
- disposable razor
Plan to replace this every three months. If you’re worried about being able to find a razor abroad (I have had trouble with that before), pack a few to start out with and rotate through them.
- nail clippers
- toothbrush (with cover)
Toothbrushes are easy and inexpensive to replace every six months. Make sure you get a cover to protect the bristles. It takes up less space than a full toothbrush case.
- dental floss
Fun fact: a full tube of toothpaste is still just 100 milliliters. If you can manage to squeeze it into your quart-size Ziploc bag, you don’t need to worry about replacing travel size tubes. Travel size tubes of toothpaste last a month or two tops. A full size tube can last almost six months.
- tissue packet
You may also want to leave some room in your pack for a roll of toilet paper, which can be hard to come by in public restrooms in Asia.
- cotton swabs
Depending on how many Q-tips you leave home with and how often you use them, you may need to replace your stock once or twice during the year.
- hair clip and/or ties
You may prefer to pack a full or travel-size hairbrush, but a small bamboo comb was enough for my personal hair maintenance. If you’re a curly haired traveler, Wanderlustingk has an excellent round-up of curly hair care tips.
My camera is a Fujifilm FinePix S4300. Not as bulky or expensive as a full DSLR, this bridge model still has manual settings to make it more powerful than your basic point-and-shoot. It’s an excellent camera to learn photography on. I find myself using it less and less these days though! I get great photos and video on my smartphone.
- extra memory card
I travel with two memory cards and switch them out regularly. That way if one gets lost or damaged, I don’t lose all of my photos with it.
- SD card adapter
Laptops don’t always have a full SD card slot. This adapter lets me upload photos through the USB port.
If you’re going to work on the road, you have to have some sort of laptop. Most digital nomads swear by their MacBooks. I took a different path. On my round-the-world trip, I traveled with the ASUS T100 Chi. It is closer to the size of a tablet with detachable keyboard, but more powerful. Mine was just $200, so if it got broken, lost, or stolen on the road, it wouldn’t feel like the end of the world. It doesn’t have much storage space, but I got around that by carrying a few flash drives and regularly moving files to cloud storage. At home I later upgraded to the ASUS ZenBook and even later to the Acer Swift. All of these are much more budget-friendly than the latest MacBook.
You can get a pair with a mic to make Zoom calls from busy cafes and hostels easier, or go with my current wireless Galaxy buds.
- Kindle Paperwhite
I’m a more recent ebook convert but yes, it turns out that having a device this size just for reading, especially on long flights, is really nice.
Ask any long-term traveler their number one must-have travel essential and they will probably tell you it’s their smartphone. I am a long-time Samsung stan and currently use a Galaxy S21. Just make sure you get your phone unlocked before travel!
- waterproof phone pouch
- USB charging cables
My USB charger worked for both my phone and my computer, but travel puts a lot of wear and tear on charging cords. Make sure you always travel with a backup cord or two, and be prepared to replace the cord as needed during your trip.
- external battery
Long-haul travel days are not kind to my smartphone battery, so having an external power source is a must. This battery from Anker is about the size of a tube of lipstick and can give my phone an extra full charge. Anker also makes larger magnetic power banks and even solar panel chargers.
- travel adapter kit with surge suppressor
You may encounter a few outliers, but most countries in the world will be covered by a solid universal travel adapter, with North American, British and European style plug converters. I traveled with a separate surge suppressor and small adapter kit but you can find kits that include surge protection.
- rechargeable AA batteries with charger
Better for the environment and a space saver, rechargeable batteries are worth the higher upfront cost.
- mini pill case
- your preferred everyday painkiller (such as Advil or Tylenol)
- decongestant (such as Sudafed)
- Pepto Bismol tablets
They might taste like chalk, but they’ll cover pretty much any low-key digestive complaint without having to carry liquid Pepto.
- cough drops
I keep vitamin C and zinc on hand to help nip colds in the bud.
- birth control
Because this is a prescription item, I carried a full year’s stock with me.
- malaria pills
Consult a doctor before deciding what kind of malaria pills you might need, if any. The most common types are doxycycline and malarone. If you’re concerned about side effects, ask your doctor to prescribe a small trial run to be completed before your departure. I tested malarone for about a week and found that the only real side effect for me was fatigue, but every body is different.
This is another talk to your doctor thing. My doctor prescribed me this as an all-purpose antibiotic. If you travel long enough, you will have traveler’s diarrhea at some point. Most cases clear up on their own within 24 hours, but if they don’t it’s good to have an antibiotic on hand.
- altitude sickness pills
Another talk to a doctor. There are a lot of ways to treat altitude sickness. In fact, I never actually needed to take the pills I packed, opting for more holistic local remedies like garlic soup in Nepal and coca tea in Peru. Like the azythromycin, these are here as backup.
- Cocoon silk sleep sheet
Just in case you wind up stuck in a hostel with questionable linens, it’s nice to have a sleep sheet. (To that end I also carry a pillowcase from home.) This also works as a sleeping bag liner and can add a little warmth.
- eye mask
I learned the hard way on my round-the-world trip that I cannot sleep with ear plugs in. (My apologies to whatever hostel buddy I accidentally pelted with silicone upon tearing ear plugs out in my sleep and throwing them across the room. Oops.) So I now travel with this eye mask that wraps all the way around my head for a little sound muffling. It is sooo soft and comfy.
- inflatable pillow
- laundry detergent
I think it’s worth carrying two kinds of laundry soap. These travel soap sheets dissolve for quick washing in the sink. But nothing can truly replace a good machine wash. I always take advantage of a laundry room in the hostel when it’s available, but they rarely have soap, so I started carrying a little ziploc bag with some laundry powder.
- sink stopper
You can get specialty travel clotheslines, but simple paracord works just as well for drying clothes and it’s more versatile.
This is easily one of my top three travel items period. Several of the countries I visited on my round-the-world trip did not have potable water, and being able to sterilize tap water myself in a reusable bottle saved lots of money and plastic over constantly buying bottled water. My version is an old, bulky one powered by AA batteries but newer SteriPens are sleeker and USB rechargeable.
- Birdie personal alarm
- mini LED flashlight
- whistle with compass and thermometer
- TSA-approved multi-tool
Be careful with this. Even though it is marketed as TSA-approved, airport security is always at the discretion of the individual security agent. My multi-tool was confiscated in Bali even though it did not have a knife. (The same agent in Bali also tried to confiscate tweezers from a woman in front of me.)
- mini Sharpie
- duct tape
A full roll might be too bulky, but you can still make sure you have duct tape in your pack for emergencies. Wrap a few feet around a flat piece of cardboard to save space.
- super glue
- rubber door stop
If you’re a solo female traveler, you need this in your pack! Putting a rubber door stop under a door with a faulty or nonexistent lock will give you major peace of mind.
- collapsible spork
- notepads and pens
To save space, instead of a full sized journal, I stuck to mini Moleskine notepads for much of my round-the-world trip. These mostly serve to help me keep track of expenses during the day, while I diary on my computer. If you want a full-size notebook, I love the Leuchtturm 1917.
- collapsible water bottle
I carried a couple Platypus bags during my round-the-world trip and love that they are totally flat when not in use BUT they are an awkward shape when full and the openings were too small for my SteriPen. I now carry a Nomader collapsible water bottle. You can find a very similar one here.
- rain cover
Protect your pack from inclement weather and make would-be thieves have to deal with yet another step to getting to your stuff.
- TSA-approved travel lock
It might not stop a determined thief, but it will sure deter an opportunistic one. Not all hostels have lockers large enough to hold a full backpack, so having a lock on your pack is – pardon the pun – key.
Tips for Living Out of a Backpack
This packing list will get you started on a round-the-world trip, but remember it’s just a starting place. Living out of a backpack for a year means you’ll need to be flexible and adaptable. Leave room in your budget for restocking toiletries and replacing items that get lost, broken, stolen, or just plain worn out. Be kind to yourself and know that you’ll forget some stuff. Be ready to let go of the things you aren’t really using. And make sure you slow down at a few points during your trip. Not only is slow travel healthier, safer, and more fun, having one address for a while will make it easy for friends and family to send packages with items you left at home or can’t restock properly on the road.