Packing Your Life in a Backpack

As if packing for a trip isn’t difficult enough, try packing for a trip where domestic flights in some countries (I’M LOOKING AT YOU, AIRASIA) only allow for roughly 14lbs in a carry-on. I’ll admit it, while I’m perfectly capable of packing minimally, I also really enjoy having an extra pair of shoes or an extra “you never know” dress.  Unfortunately, I won’t have that luxury this time around.  The good thing is, you can always buy items as you go and switch out aspects of your wardrobe as you see fit.

Clothing: When it comes to clothing, I tend to lean more towards practicality than style. Black is my go-to color for two reasons. The first is that hides dirt and sweat well – maybe I’m wearing the same tank top two days in a row…maybe I’m not. You’ll never know. The second is that it’s easy to mix and match. I’m not a style guru, nor do I pretend to be, but I really believe black should be a travel wardrobe staple.

3 tank tops (Necessity! Something that is lightweight, dries easily, and can be layered.)

2 t-shirts (Something comfortable, able to be layered, and covers your shoulders)

3 pairs of shorts (I stick to two pairs of jean shorts, and one pair of shorts that are loose and comfortable. This trip, they are jean-esq in appearance but can double as running or lounging shorts)

2 pairs of pants (Jeans are my favorite travel clothing! They can withstand everything, and there are so many options. I prefer ‘jeggings’ as they are lighter, dry quickly, and still hold up well.)

1 pair of leggings (Layer them when it’s cold, or wear them on their own!)

1 hoodie or zip up jacket (I always wear my hoodie when I fly, that way I can stay warm on overly air-conditioned flights, and it takes up no weight in my backpack.)

1 rain jacket (I have a rain jacket that is lightweight and actually folds into its own pocket to take up minimal space.)

1 bathing suit

1 sarong (If you plan on traveling minimally, I recommend you ALWAYS have a sarong. It works for so many purposes – travel blanket, beach blanket, shoulder or leg cover, can be tied as a dress, doubles as a light towel)

1 maxi dress (Make sure it can be worn both daytime/nighttime activities!)

5 pairs of underwear

5 pairs of socks (Or more, because you can never have enough clean socks)

2 bras (One sports bra, one bra that is interchangeable between having straps and being strapless)

1 pair of flipflops (I stay in hostels, so having these for a shower is a must.)

1 good pair of sneakers/walking shoes or hiking shoes (I don’t do much trekking, but I do lots of walking so I get a good pair of sneakers.)

…and my big splurge is my pair of black ankle booties. They’re flat, ankle height, and super comfortable. I can wear them with shorts and a tank top, or with my maxi dress. I know a lot of people who would swap these out for dressier sandals, but I prefer my booties!

Miscellaneous Items:

Global adapter (They have adapters that are one piece with multiple international prongs. Get this!)

Camera (I wish I could carry a really nice camera but those are super heavy.  I have a Sony point and shoot camera with a great zoom that I love.  I also splurged and got an inexpensive underwater camera. Make sure you have WIFI capability on the camera!)

Kindle (I am an avid physical book person, but it’s so much easier when I travel to just have a kindle.)

Compression bags (Space in my backpack is a premium!)

Dry bags (If you have damp or dirty clothing, these are great to separate from your clean clothing.)

Sun Hat (I really like floppy hats, and found one that has a metal frame which you can roll into a small bundle – but it folds back out perfectly. It also has SPF protection in the fabric!)

Travel Towel (Make sure it’s lightweight and microfiber.  They dry very quickly and are an absolute necessity.)

Travel Sheet (I’m iffy on this one.  A few years ago I would have said you must have a travel sheet, but I’ve come to find the vast majority of hostels and hotels provide you with sheets now – always worth checking into though.)

Day Bag (I bought one folds into itself.  It only weighs 3oz’s but turns into a decent sized backpack for day hikes or adventures.)

Portable Phone Charger (Not just for your phone, but for anything that has a USB to charge. The last thing you want is a dead camera battery!)

Small sewing kit (Fix broken buttons etc when it’s necessary.)

Travel sized shower/bathroom stuff. (Never bring a full sized anything with you.  99.9% of the time you’ll be able to pick up that stuff when you land. I bring a travel sized shampoo, conditioner, sunscreen ((2 actually)), bug spray, and body wash.)

Makeup (I’m a travel minimalist for makeup. Sunblock based foundation, a clear powder, eyeliner, and mascara.)

Mini hairbrush, travel toothbrush, travel toothpaste, extra hair ties, and some small hair clips.

Bug spray and sunscreen! (I order 3oz bugsprays in pairs so I have plenty on me, and then bring small tubes of sunscreen as a carry on and upgrade once I’ve reached a destination.)


Anything that falls under the “maybe I’ll wear this…” category.  If you aren’t sure you will wear it, leave it at home.

Too many pairs of shoes. 3 is my magic number.

Things you worry about losing.  Besides my kindle and camera (which I can’t not have), everything else on this list is replaceable.

No expensive jewelry.

Too much of anything. You’re packing minimally here. You don’t need 6 different eye shadow pallets!

Blowdryer, curling iron, hair straightener.  I’ve learned that if you’re traveling by yourself and you find that you need these things, chances are you’ve made new friends that you’re going to be going out with.  Borrow what you need, or just do a simple hairstyle.


I’m sure I’m missing some things that I’m bringing, as well as some items that I wish I was bringing but won’t. I’ll be updating this list over the next few days as I get closer to my first departure on March 30th to Costa Rica. Anyone have items you can’t travel without? I’m always looking for tips and recommendations!


2 thoughts on “Packing Your Life in a Backpack

  1. Woohooo!!! I’m so excited that you’re going to Costa Rica. It is such a special place. Your packing list looks great. I am actually pretty good at packing light, but I don’t think I could do it for as long as you are!! Good job! I’ll probably end up shipping stuff back to myself when we’re in Thailand. I’ve already started packing. I’m just too excited! Anyway, have fun! I know you will!

    xoxo Pura Vida!


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