This packing list should cover everything you’ll need for traveling on an extreme budget! This means camping, sleeping wherever you can find a spot (which may include some rather out of the ordinary places) and eating from supermarkets rather than restaurants.
First off I’ll cover what everyone should have in their pack. Well there’s something good to start with–a pack. If you don’t already have a backpack, you should check out this really informative video by Matt Kepnes about Picking The Right Travel Backpack. Once you’ve got that out of the way, let’s fill it!
No matter where you’re going or what you’re doing, these things should be with you:
- 2 – 3 Short sleeved shirts
- 1 Long sleeve shirt
- 1 Hooded sweater
- 2 Pairs of shorts- I carry Old Navy Swim to Street shorts which are very lightweight and quick drying, also negating the need to carry swim trunks
- 1 Pair of long pants- ALWAYS, I don’t care where you’re going.
- 6 Pairs of socks
- 6 Pairs of underwear—I usually wear women’s for better mobility—just kidding.
- Rain Poncho
- Flip Flops- Thongs for all you Aussie and Kiwi readers
- Comfortable Shoes- I usually don’t use hiking shoes, just personal preference
- Gym Shorts- For lounging in the hostel or to wear while doing laundry
- Travel Pillow
- Pocket Knife
- Headlamp- A flashlight mounted on a headband
- Small, Quick-Drying Travel Towel
- Small Flashlight- For use navigating dorm rooms at night without disturbing others
- Water Containers- Extra water containers to keep yourself hydrated. These are especially important with extreme budget travel because you’ll be using a lot of water to cook your meals as well.
Sometimes we don’t tend to care too much about this while traveling. However, I can tell you even while I was Living Under A Bridge in Italy for a while, I still tried to take care of myself with “hobo showers” which consisted of brushing my teeth, putting on deodorant and spraying/combing my hair. Believe it or not, little things like that made a difference. This particular part of the list is directed at men, since I would be lying if I claimed to have any idea what a useful shower kit for a female traveler would consist of.
If you’re a female looking for some direction in this part of the packing process, you should check out a great article written by fellow travel writer Cassie Kifer of Ever In Transit: Women’s Packing List for Carry On. She’s a minimalist when it comes to packing just like me, so I think her packing recommendations for clothing and toiletries will go hand in hand with this post.
- Toiletries Kit or “Shower Bag”- I use the The North Face travel canister. I love that little thing. It holds most of my larger hygiene items in the main compartment while also housing smaller pockets for tweezers and fingernail clippers for easier access. It also has a hook to hang it from wherever and a little mirror built into the hook!
- Toothbrush- I use a little foldable one, but there are countless travel toothbrushes on the market
- Toothpaste- If you’re going to be traveling any longer than a month, I’d go ahead and bring a regular-sized tube. The little travel ones are used up rather quickly and then you find yourself on a search for toothpaste in a foreign land. And let me tell you, sometimes the options are rather disappointing regarding taste.
- Shampoo- I bring a small, refillable bottle which I also use to wash my clothes in the shower.
- Fingernail Clippers
- Small bar of soap
- Small pair of scissors
- Contacts/Contact Solution
- Razor and Shave Gel- I don’t carry these, but if you’re a pussy and feel the need to trim off your man-powers then by all means, throw them in your purse—whoops—I mean backpack.
I photocopy and make backups of all of my important documents, which I then email to myself for safe-keeping.
- Passport- Duh.
- Immunization Papers
- Bank Statements- If they are a visa requirement for any countries you’re visiting
- Business Cards
If you’re traveling on an extreme budget, I’d recommend leaving the electronics to a minimum. I made this mistake during my first RTW trip. I was carrying all kinds of camping equipment for budget travel as well as a heavy laptop, Pro Tools interface, microphone, and all this other stuff for running a travel blog. My pack weighed an astounding 65 pounds! A budget travel packing list should hold items exceeding a comfortable weight for walking… because you’ll be doing alot of that. Find something you want to do and stick with it. If you’re traveling on an extreme budget, the biggest electronic item you should have is a smart phone. That said, there are only a couple other things you might want to throw in the pack:
- Smartphone- As already mentioned.
- Solar Charger- This would have really came in handy. A lot of times I’d be camped in an [ahem: illegal] area without access to power outlets and well, it was boring. I did Italian lessons on my phone when I had power, but that required hiking to a nearby campground to charge my phone all while avoiding the uptight manager who repeatedly asked—”Why you no pay yet?!”
- GoPro Hero 3+ Black Edition– Personal preference thing. I wouldn’t recommend a big DSLR camera for budget travel, mainly because of the precarious situations you’ll sometimes be in, but a GoPro would be a good compromise. I’ll put it this way: If you’re traveling on an extreme budget, you’re going to do some interesting things. I wish I could have filmed more of it.
- Small Tripod- For self-portraits
- International Power Outlet Adapter– You’ll need one of these in Europe, New Zealand and Australia; however I found that almost everywhere in Southeast Asia used regular old US standard outlets.
- Phone Charger
Some other things I carry which I feel are worth elaborating on:
- Over The Counter Medications – Antacids, Ibuprofen, Allergy Meds, etc. This is invaluable, trust me.
- Bandanna – So many uses for these things. Perfect if you have long hair like I do for managing your wildly unkempt hair during those days you inevitably go without a shower. Also used very frequently as a sleeping mask to block sunlight. Plus you look like a badass with a bandanna on. Except when you wear them around your neck. Opposite effect, actually. Don’t do that.
- I also bring a Sewing Kit – Don’t underestimate this. If you’re traveling long enough, something will tear. This doesn’t have to be anything too advanced, just a few small rolls of thread that match your shorts (my most popular tearing item) and your pack. Throw in a few needles and maybe a button or two and you should be set.
- A Small First-Aid Kit – This is something everyone should have without a doubt. It’s nothing too crazy–although I do tend to get a little fancier if I know I’ll be doing a lot of camping and stuff like that. Bring some antibiotic cream, gauze, band-aids, hydrocortisone cream, and if you want some really great peace-of-mind, throw in a packet of Quik-Clot in case you happen to gash yourself open somehow. I use the Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight & Watertight .5 kit. I keep a small lighter in it as well, since it’s waterproof.
- Small Notebook or Journal- I carry both a small journal as well as a composition notebook. The notebook I use for work notes, and the small journal I keep in my pocket wherever I go. I find that writing in a journal is one of the best ways to combat homesickness as well as catalog your journey. Whether I’m sitting on a bus, relaxing in the evening with nothing to do, or waiting on a flight, I’ll pull out the journal and do some writing. Either little snippets of what I’m thinking, favorite travel quotes, or just writing down some interesting events of the day. Plus it’s really fun to go back and read it later once your back home and missing the travel life!
Here is where the packing differences between “Comfort Travel” and “Extreme Budget Travel” really come into play. When I define “Budget Travel” I’m referring to staying in hostels, eating at supermarkets instead of restaurants most nights, making every available effort to find the cheapest trains or buses and not buying too many souvenirs. When I use the term “Extreme Budget Travel” I mean just what I said: Extreme. This means you pay for a place to stay maybe once a week or so just to get a shower and wash your clothes. You almost never eat at restaurants. You hitchhike or illegally hop trains and buses to get around. You’re trying to Couchsurf most of the time, or staying with friends. This means in the event that you don’t have a free place to stay then you’re probably going to be finding a random spot to sleep. Trust me, I’ve been there. And then some. Here’s my list of camping items you’ll need to try and stay comfortable on the road when you’re quietly slipping into the trees in the middle of a huge city to sleep without getting arrested, laying out your sleeping bag under a bridge somewhere or even just spending the night on a bench in a train station.
- Sleeping Bag- A lightweight, backpacking-style one. That means absolutely no more than 3 or 4 pounds. Preferably more like 1 or 2 pounds. Try to find something rated to around 45 degrees F.
- Fleece Liner- I carry one of these for two reasons: One, it adds about 10-15 degrees of warmth to your bag for those extra-chilly nights in the mountains or desert. Two, it doubles as a beach blanket!
- Backpacking Stove- I highly recommend the Optimus Crux Lite stove. This little guy has served me well over 5 years now and has no signs of stopping anytime soon. It runs off of iso-butane/propane mix which is the fuel of choice nowadays and can be found in just about any outdoors store. The best part is that it comes with a cooking pot set that also stores the stove and its fuel! It also helps that it’s the lightest and smallest backpacking stove in the world as of now. I love this thing.
- Lightweight Nylon Hammock- These things weigh next to nothing, especially compared to a tent. Also, they are very comfortable in my opinion. (Although some will disagree with me) With a hammock you won’t have rocks poking into your back or have to worry about uneven, lumpy ground. I bought one with a built-in mosquito net which was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. There are some downsides, though: One, they can get cold at night if you’re in the mountains. Ground insulation is one of the most important factors for staying warm throughout the night. Two, sometimes you’re in an area where there’s nowhere to set it up. This is the problem I had most frequently. And three, you have to worry about rain. You can buy a rain cover, but they have to be pretty big to cover the whole hammock and they usually just take up valuable space in your pack. Which leads me to a second option.
- One-man Backpacking Tent or Bivvy- I used the hammock on my last trip. Often—because of the cons of hammock-sleeping listed above—I found myself wondering if a tent would have been a better option. First, the upsides to tent-sleeping: You don’t need a rainfly like you would for the hammock. You can set it up virtually anywhere. It would be much easier to get into your sleeping bag at night (doing this in a hammock is a battle in and of itself). There are still some cons though: Weight and space. This is the reason I opted for a hammock. The tent just took up too much room in my pack. Admittedly if I’d done some shopping around I could have found a much lighter tent, since my backpacking tent is a two-man. Also as mentioned before, I like the comfortability of a hammock. It’s still really a toss up in my mind. The only thing making me lean towards a tent anymore is the rain factor. Even then, I think I’d still go with the hammock overall. I can’t tell you how many times I’d be stuck waiting somewhere and end up setting that thing up for a little nap. The only thing I’d change would be to bring a—
- Backpacking Sleeping Pad- I almost brought mine on my last trip. Man, if I could go back there’s no doubt in my mind I’d strap it onto the bottom of my pack without a second thought. There will be so many times on extreme budget trips where you’ll be forced to lay out a sleeping bag behind a building or on a train station floor. A comfortable sleeping pad is invaluable. Plus if you spend the extra money you can grab one that’s tiny and weighs next to nothing. If I were going out for another round of extreme budget travel I’d go with a hammock, light rainfly, and a sleeping pad.
- Lightweight Eating Utensils
- P-38 Can Opener
- Larger Knife- For prying, whittling or doing camp-chores
- Small Bottle of Dish Soap
- Some Type of Firestarter Kept in a Waterproof Container- Whether it be matches, a lighter, hotspark, whatever.
- String- A nice-sized roll of string for camp-chores, etc. I used it to make a bunch of tables when I was camped out in a nature preserve outside Rome for three weeks.
As you’ve noticed, there’s quite a bit of extra equipment here once we’ve added camping into the mix. That’s why I think it’s imperative to either travel this way OR work from a computer abroad. Never both, as I did. It just weighed too much and took up too much space. Don’t forget that the extra salt in the wound of doing that would be all the walking you’ll be doing when traveling on an extreme budget. There’s no taxi rides for you! Free or cheap is your motto.
Have I left anything out? Or do you have suggestions or comments for this list? Leave them in the comments below!