Gap Year Travel Kit

It may be tempting to cram as much as you can into your backpack, but packing too much can lead to problems further down the road, such as a sore back and aching limbs.

However, it’s also important you don’t pack too little, or forget any of those essential travelling items!

Although you may already have a good idea of what you're going to take, we've put together some lists and helpful tips on what to pack and what to leave behind.

What backpack should I buy?

Before considering exactly what you need to take, it’s a good idea to invest in a strong, comfortable rucksack that will last you the whole trip.

When you go shopping, as well as making sure it’s big enough to hold all your possessions, look for one that has all of the following:

  • Wide, padded shoulder straps
  • A strap that fastens round the waist
  • A padded back panel
  • Lots of internal pockets
  • Made of lightweight, water resistant material
  • Room for a sleeping bag or bedroll

For each one you think is suitable, try it on to see how it feels and choose the one you find most comfortable, as you will be carrying it around a lot!

If you can, try to purchase a backpack that has an integral, detachable day-sack on the front.

This is the more traditional type of frame pack with a rigid external frame, where the frame is strapped on the back and supports a cloth or leather sack.

Other items can be strapped on too. The daypack is useful for carrying your daily supplies and taking aboard flights.

Whatever you do, don't consider taking a suitcase to carry your stuff in - these generally weigh a tonne even when they're empty, and you'll struggle to wheel it along the pot-holed road to your hostel in deepest Cambodia.

How do I choose my gap year luggage?

This is the tricky part - yes, you will be travelling rather than holidaying, which means you'll be taking a lot less than you think on your trip.

Whilst you might feel you should take certain items "just in case", in reality you need to ask yourself "will I actually use it?". If the answer is no, it stays at home.

If you are planning on visiting a number of different destinations or travelling on your own, limiting your luggage is important to help reduce the effects of travelling, and will help you keep track of your belongings.

It also makes it easier to pack and unpack things, so will save you a lot of time too.

Unfortunately, you will not always be in a safe environment, so leave any favourite and/or expensive possessions at home.

These include laptops, jewellery, designer clothes, hair dryer and any high-end electronics such as digital cameras, mobile phones and MP3 players (by all means, invest in cheaper versions of these if the ones you currently own cost you a lot of money).

The following can also be put aside:

  • High heel shoes
  • Brand new shoes that will make your feet blister
  • Very revealing shorts and miniskirts
  • Revealing tops
  • Dark coloured summer tops and trousers - choose light colours to reflect the sun
  • Clothing with inappropriate lettering and/or images
  • Perfume/aftershave
  • Body lotions or sprays that may attract insects or wildlilfe
  • Hairspray, hair gel and any expensive hair clips, bands, etc.
  • Makeup
  • Prized or irreplaceable possessions

None of them will be any use to you in the jungle - you're a traveller, not a tourist, so luxuries are not an option!

Besides, who will care what brand of clothing you're wearing or if you smell nice?

In terms of clothes, it's best to cater for every eventuality - tropical storms, freezing nights and hot, sunny days - so pack both short and long sleeved tops for layering.

Go for the "mix and match" approach, and make sure every item can be matched with a range of other clothing so you have a large number of outfits available from a comparatively small selection.

Try to take clothes that are lightweight, loose fitting and comfortable, and remember you can buy clothes wherever you're going in case you're worried about finding yourself in a clothing crisis.

Don’t bring items such as shampoo and sun lotion in heavy bulk packs – you can buy these along the way, so just bring one or two small bottles to start with.

To help you keep your packing to a minimum, read our list of essential luggage items below, and remember that anything else you add to it you will have to carry round with you too.

What gap year essentials should I pack?

We recommend you take:

  • Passport
  • Debit and credit cards
  • Accommodation bookings
  • Insurance policy
  • Flight tickets
  • Traveller’s cheques and cash
  • Medical insurance cards
  • Spare passport photos
  • Sun lotion
  • Insect repellent
  • Sun hat
  • Alarm clock
  • Shower gel/soap
  • Shampoo
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Toilet roll
  • Vaseline
  • Antiseptic wipes
  • Hairbrush/comb
  • Shaving cream
  • Razors
  • Tissues
  • Tweezers
  • Dental floss
  • Deodorant/antiperspirant
  • Tampons/sanitary towels
  • Towel Wallet/Purse
  • Pen and notepad
  • Shoes
  • T-shirts
  • Shorts/skirts
  • Underwear
  • Water purification tablets
  • Plasters and gauze
  • Pain relievers, anti-inflammatories and aspirin
  • Decongestants and antacids
  • Medicines for coughs, diarrhoea and motion-sickness
  • Trousers
  • Scissors
  • Personal prescription medication
  • Mobile phone
  • Camera (plus some extra memory cards!)
  • Adapters, batteries and chargers

How should I pack my gap year kit?

After you’ve found everything on the list, lay it all out on the floor and try packing it into your rucksack. When doing this:

  • Roll things up as much as you can to limit the amount of creasing, and make everything fit into your backpack better.
  • Make sure nothing is sticking out, otherwise it may dig into you when you're walking.
  • Plan to wear the biggest, heaviest items when you set off, but check they will fit into your backpack when you start travelling and swap them for t-shirt and shorts.
  • Spread your stuff evenly so you're not weighed down on one side and end up lop-sided.

Hopefully it all fits in nicely, although if it doesn’t you may have sneaked a few unnecessary items in there, or chosen a backpack that isn’t quite big enough.

You may want to reserve a little room for all those souvenirs you'll return with, too!

If you’re worried you’ve missed something and want to check you have absolutely everything you need, phone your gap year agency (if you have booked your trip through one) for their packing advice, or post on some gap year forums where someone is bound to help you out.

Once you've decided on everything you are taking, you need to consider any travel restrictions imposed by the government and/or the airlines.

It's worth checking the airline's website or calling their help line to find out the most recent information on travel items allowed on flights, as well as the size and weight of luggage allowance.

Where can I buy my gap year travel kit?

There's a good chance there will be at least one thing on the essential packing list that you won't have, such as a pair of sturdy walking shoes or a large backpack, so before purchasing these items it's best to shop around first to find the best deal.

There are price comparison websites you can use on the internet to try and save yourself a bit of money, though be careful about buying something too cheap as it might not be of good enough quality to last you the trip.

Places such Field and Trek, Gap Year Travel Store and Go Outdoors specialise in travel equipment, but your local Argos and Millets stores are also worth checking for a cheaper deal.

Further information

For more tips and advice on planning your gap year travels, please see: