How To Pack Your Life Into A Backpack Or Suitcase

The time has come to pack my bags again, and with the great uncertainty of not knowing how long I will be away for, it makes it even harder to pack my life into a backpack. I will be living, working and travelling thru Brazil and Europe for at least the next 7 months, but with different ideas always popping into my head, who knows how long I will be carrying my life around with me to explore the world.

So, in the process of me organising my things, I thought it may be useful to share how a 23 year old female who has a slight obsession with clothes and shoes actually packs. Let me tell you, it’s a daunting process of elimination and favouritism of your belongings.

First things first, you must decide what you are going to use to store your precious items…

Backpack vs Suitcase

As frustrating as carrying my backpack can be at times, I really truly do love it. I think it is so exciting carrying your life around with you on your back, knowing it goes whatever direction your feet will steer you. Personally, I am not a fan of suitcases when it comes to long periods of travel. Sure, I’ll take a small case on a trip to Byron Bay or Melbourne or a nearby city, or a destination where I will have stability in the one spot, because I think it’s easier to keep your suitcase organised on the inside.

However, with the following examples based on my past experiences in Europe, regardless of whether you have a backpack or suitcase, you must be prepared to tackle the following day to day scenarios-

  • The cobblestoned streets of most European cities
  • The countless flights of stairs in the metro in Paris that includes stations without lifts and escalators
  • The fact that you must sometimes walk through 1-10+ sail boats to finally reach yours when sailing Croatia
  • The hectic rush hour of businessmen on the tube in London
  • The excessive amounts of people and bikes on the footpaths in Amsterdam
  • The corridors on the Eastern European trains that barely allow room for 2 people to pass one another

I can say with confidence that it has always been much easier for myself to carry my belongings as opposed to pulling them and avoiding running over someone’s foot / dropping them into the Adriatic Sea.

So, due to my past personal encounters, the Backpack wins. I recently bought a new backpack (and sadly had to replace my 5 year old backpack who has travelled to 17 countries with me..) from Kathmandu with full support to carry on your back, but with 2 wheels at the bottom, giving you the option to also pull it along.

I must admit I would expect myself to be somewhat of a skilled packer by now, but, as the years go by, my packing skills only increase a fraction per trip. All in all, I can say I am finally understanding that my problem is I overpack. What you pack is totally your choice, there are no set rules. I know I should pack less clothes, but let me be honest, that ain’t gonna happen. Regardless of how many clothes I pack, I always leave room for the essentials.

The General Essentials

Power Adapters

UK, European, etc. I own double adapters because I try to charge my things at the same time. If you are in a hostel, it’s not so wise to leave your valuables charging in the rooms whilst going out and exploring.
But don’t worry, if you happen to lose them on the road, I was surprised that they are quite easy to find in electrical stores through out mainland Europe (Germany, France, Netherlands, Switzerland, etc).

A small towel

Hotels will provide towels but most hostels won’t. Usually its a few extra euros to hire, and in the long run it’s much cheaper to have a light weight towel to travel with. You can double it as a shower towel and beach towel, but if you are spending a lot of time by the sea it would be a better option to buy a local towel when you arrive to the destination.

A comfortable pair of shoes

Essential for those days you are constantly moving around whether it be hiking up a hill to get the best view of the city or wandering Rome for hours on end, you really do need a pair of comfortable shoes.

A cheap pair of Thongs / Flip Flops

Thongs (Aussie term for flip flops) are like my personal rule for showering in hostels, and my $2 pair from target are perfect for this purpose.

Plastic bags & Zip lock bags

Bring a couple plastic bags to put in your dirty laundry. You will no doubt accumulate more bags over time, which if I’m organised I assign to different items- Dirty shoes / Washing / Clothes that crinkle / Toiletries that often leak.

Pack some zip lock bags for a few extra benefits

  • To store some sneaky croissants or pastries from breakfast
  • For girls to store their constant disappearing supply of hair ties and hair clips
  • An easy to find jewellery holder
  • Electrical chords / Usb

Stock up a little

When travelling long term, its inevitable your are going to run out of a few things. To prevent spending extra money on necessities when you would rather be spending it on flavoured shots of Polish Vodka, I’ve learnt to take some spare items of things that I most need and tend to run out of. A small tube of toothpaste and a spare toothbrush, Panadol, extra sunscreen in a small tub, paw paw ointment, an extra mascara and back up sanitary items. These are items that are sold everywhere but if you find yourself lost in Prague, or in Italy and Spain during siesta , they can be harder to find than you would think. Trust me, I’ve been there too many times. It’s better to have a back up of lightweight essentials.

A 2 in 1 Shampoo / Conditioner

It makes the communal shower process that much quicker.

Ped Egg or Emery board

It’s the ugly truth, but if you’re travelling long periods of time, your soles will start to wear down and gradually become sore and in many cases, cracked and unattractive, especially after numerous trips to hostel showers. Maybe its a pet peeve, but I really don’t enjoy the whole smelly feet situation with them dangling over the bunk above me in the hostels. Ped eggs and emery boards remove dead skin and keep your feet feeling soft and clean, so everyone wins.

Hand Sanitiser / Wet Wipes

Clean hands to attack your italian pizza with.

A Pen and Notepad

I wish I wrote down more memories from things I’ve thought of on the road. Alas, this blog came to life but I still need something to jot down ideas.


I put small locks on each of the zips on my backpack and carry a large lock to make use of the lockers that accompany most hostel dorms. My laptop got stolen in London a few years back because I didn’t lock up any of my things, due to thinking I was in good company in a 12 bed dorm. Lock up everything valuable, but even the most random items will occasionally suddenly disappear if you leave them lying around.

Essentials for Girls

Baby Powder / A dry shampoo for hair- This is my saving grace. Having natural blonde hair, I can fortunately get away with not washing it all the time. I always pack a small tube of baby powder to apply to my hair each morning. This way it doesn’t get greasy and I don’t have to wash it every day. I can literally go for a week without worrying about my hair as it looks fresh and clean from my morning 5 second application.

Perfume & body lotion- It’s the little things in life… Having a nice scented perfume will automatically make you feel more refreshed and I have found it is a great way to remind myself of past adventures. I have a few favourite scents, but when I smell Gucci Envy Me, it transports me to back to my first time in Italy. As they say, scents can be a powerful reminder of your memories, and that scent can also leave an imprint on other people and their memories of you.

And for the Aussies

Vegemite and TimTams.

In the end, you know better than anyone else what you do and do not need. Your heart might want you to pack one thing but the logical side of your brain might know it’s not really best.

You live and you learn. Packing takes practice and although I would like to pack much lighter, I can personally accept the fact that if I pack 16-18kg of clothing and essentials, I am the one who will be carrying it, and after a few weeks it really truly does get easier and easier to lift it, due to the extra use your muscles get (I like to think of it as a work out from over indulging in everything.)

As for now, I’m off to finish packing / eliminate some of the 10 pairs of shoes I want to take with me…

Written by: Georgia McGrath

Georgia McGrath

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