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Oh no,! I forgot  to pack…..Did I pack  my…..? .Do I have my passport?..Do I have my ID?…..Where is my yellow fever card? Did I carry my toiletries? This and more is the common mental anguish that I face on every trip….every. As backpackers, we  have to ensure that we carry all our essentials yet keep our luggage light , as we will be the ones to carry it around. I also prefer to keep my costs on the road low so any unnecessary costs are avoided. In addition, I also have to factor in acceptable, products that I can carry  in my backpack because I may not always have control over my transport option. There are also technicalities that have to be considered in the weight of some products especially on flights, where in most cases I prefer to have my backpack as my carry on luggage.  I have thus narrowed down my list of essentials for essentials for backpackers as below:

  1. All forms of Identification:

When travelling either locally or internationally, always ensure you have some form of identification like an ID or passport. While travelling internationally, I do not always walk around with my passport but instead a copy of it leaving the original in safe keeping in the respective destinations except in countries that require I always have your original identification on me.

kenyan passport
My Kenyan passport-very important identification

2. Dressing

This is a very personal affair, as outfit preference varies. When back packing, I highly advise carrying clothes that will make your travel as hassle free as possible. You do not require many clothes, you can easily play around with a few clothes to develop various looks. I try to carry clothes that are easy to wash as I hand wash mine enroute, do not need ironing, are light and can be used for various weathers. I also carry “safe clothes” for those areas that I may venture into but have female conservative dressing as a norm. Most of the clothes are casual but I always have a dress/outfit that can be worn on special occasions packed, just incase.


On the banks of Ewaso Nyiro in Archers Post, Kenya


3. Towel/Shawl

I used to prefer to carry a shawl to act as my towel while travelling due to ease of packing and washing. I however now have a  “travel towel”  that is made of highly absorbent microfiber and I highly recommend it. It is super soft, is light, rolls easily into a small size, easy to wash and best of all it has high absorption and dries very fast.

Travel towel that is micro absorbent and fast drying

4. Bed sheets:

YES, I carry them but in a form best known as a camping liner which is a form of bedsheet made in a design similar to  a sleeping bag.  While backpacking, I will not always stay in the best of accommodations as is the case with some backpackers or even hotels. This helps me sleep better at night knowing that it is clean and fresh.  I however do not lay it out when I am in a good/great hotel 🙂

bes sheets
Camping liner

5. Swimsuit and Snorkeling glasses

If you have been following my travels, you may have noted I enjoy water activities like swimming, snorkeling and cliff jumping.  Water has a way of both relaxing me as well as enabling me to venture and make friends with marine animals via snorkeling. I am currently planning to take up a divers certification so I can venture even deeper. I thus never travel without a swimsuit or my snorkelling glasses.

Swimsuit and snorkeling glasses
Swimsuit and snorkeling glasses

6. Shoes: 

I  always have a pair of closed shoes, sandals and slippers in my back pack and wear them as needed. I previously used to always walk/trek around with sandals, but experience has taught me comfortable sneakers are better. I thus keep my sandals for short distances or hot weather while closed shoes are for average weather and functions.If you plan to hike, have a pair of hiking boots. I also insist, do not carry your favourite, most fashionable pairs, invest more on comfort and practicality.

backpacking shoes

7. Medical kit:

This can be an official medically approved kit or a collection of basic, important medical items like painkillers and band aid. Accidents and incidences occur so it is always safer to have “first aid” items at hand which includes anti diarrhoea medicine-thank me later.

Medical kit
Medical kit

8. Electronics

This includes mobile phones, cameras, laptops and their accessories like chargers. When I started travelling, I was very pro “analog”, which meant I travelled with a basic phone that only called and received messages(lol). This was due to the fact that they kept charge long, had torches and did not attract thieves. However, times have changed and smart phones are changing travel for the better. One can easily navigate with their phones, research destinations enroute as well as share travel stories on the go. Ensure you always keep what you carry safely and you may not always need to carry all-substitution can work.

9. Toiletries:

These are personal items that are used to care for one’s body.  I tend to carry my own as sometimes they are an unnecessary expense or I may not find the brand I like while I travel.

Toiletry bag
Toiletry bag

a) Shower gel:

I used to travel with soap but now highly recommend shower gels as they are easier to pack and are less messy. Depending on your accommodation option, these may be provided by the hotel.  However, be very careful as airlines  do not allow bottles larger than 100ml to be carried on carry on bags.


Always have your personal favourite brand with you even if in a small bottle as flights will not allow you to travel with anything more than 100ml.

c) Toothbrush & toothpaste

No one likes a foul smelling mouth, yes, including the guy sitting next to you on the long haul flight or bus ride. I advise one to  always have these in their carry on bag so that you can easily freshen up in any of the washrooms enroute.

d) Body lotion/body oil

A good body oil in my view is one that lathers well and is adapt to your skin type. Always consider your mode of transport as even in this case, flights will not allow you to carry anything more than 100ml in your carry on bag.Do not also forget your deodorant.


An African using sunscreen, really? I can see you rolling your eyes. I have travelled to extremely hot temperatures where the sun was so hot, I was sure I was sweating even from my appendix. I have returned home with sun burn so bad, I was peeling my black, African skin like a snake shedding.  Do not be deceived, even African skin appreciates sunscreen. I also discovered this is also very important when also in extremely cold conditions like atop mountains. Though the air around you feels cold, you are closer to the sun and this will help protect your skin.

e) Petroleum Jelly

This is a multi-purpose item that you should always have. It can be used to soften the skin either alone or while combined with body lotions or other products. It helps sooth and prevent drying skin and chapping lips, acts as an aid to healing injuries and also as a beauty accessory.

f) Underwear

This is very very very important and includes all forms of inner wear like bras, panties and sanitary wear. I would however highly recommend that you consider materials that are comfortable and friendly to both your skin and nether regions. I recommend having  a few cotton pieces as well as black pieces.


While travelling, I prefer to carry bare minimum as I prefer more of a natural look out of habit and it is easier to maintain on the road. My bag would have lipbalm, lip gloss, lipstick, eye liner and a moisturizer. Feel free however to carry what best meets your needs, though not too much.

10. Backpack

The backpack you carry is very, very very important as a backpacker. When I started off, I travelled with a computer bag that was thus converted into a back pack. This bag was light, strong, had several pockets, could be locked with a padlock and had a rain cover. I have now invested in a “legit” backpack which is light, strong, cushioned for extra comfort, has adequate pockets, can be adjusted into either a smaller bag or a larger bag, has a rain cover and security features. I also recommend you to always have a safe and secure day bag that carries basics amenities like money, your sunglasses, spectacles etc.

As backpackers, always start with the the “compulsory items” and then move on from there. Kindly, do not carry all your worldly possessions as both your back and whole body will punish you for it. The above list is not exhaustive, but ensures you are covered on most of the general essentials. Most of my travels have been via backpacking and I have mainly used only two backpacks, yet they fit all my essentials. Thus, its not the size of the bag that determines what you should pack as essentials but your necessities a backpacker.




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    • Wangechi Gitahi Reply

      Hey Annmercy, happy you enjoyed it. I hope you will get a chance to travel with us soon. We apologise for the delay in response as your mail erroneously went into spam.

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