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Essential Travel Packing List for Women

New! Our downloadable travel checklist!

I don't know if you ever made your own books and magazines when you were little, but when we finally worked out how to make a little folding book out of a sheet of paper it brought back lots of memories of long hot summers, dried up felt tips and the agony of having to go and choose a new school uniform (slightly mitigated by a new pencil case).

Now you can re-live all that paper folding fun, by downloading our lovely little GTC pocket guide for travel...... one sheet of paper and a pair of scissors is all you need, then you too can have hours of pleasure with our packing list and travel tips; it even comes with a Sudoku for you to do while you are waiting at the airport!

Click here for the packing list, here for the folding instructions, and have fun!

When I first left home I could barely lift my rucky. Lonely Planet and Rough Guide. Universal sink plug. 30 metres of paracord. Fire-starting equipment. Money belt. First aid kit that would make the World Health Organisation embarrassed at their lack of foresight. Passport wallet. Cagoule. Smart outfit for posh nights out and an extra jumper “for those chilly evenings.” Four sets of photocopies of travel paperwork. Three reading books in case nobody read anything written in English abroad, and, I kid you not, steel toe-capped Caterpillar boots, “in case they came in useful.”

Within a fortnight I’d knocked it down to the essentials, and I thereafter travelled with less than 6 kilos in my rucky for over 12 months; having looked at how much stuff there is available in the shops and on the net for travellers, I know very well that contrary to popular opinion, actually you need to take very little away with you.

As a result we've put together a few ideas for an essential travel packing list for women travellers on a long trip, backpacking or gap year. We've assumed that you will be staying fairly near to the beaten track, whether on your summer holiday travelling round the Greek islands or on a twelve month trip round Oz and the Far East. It is by no means exhaustive, but should give you a few good ideas based on the tips we've found invaluable!

A daysack.

Better for your back than a shoulder bag, take a daysack as well as your big rucksack (or suitcase) for all your day-to-day adventures. A coin purse is also handy, then you don’t need get all your notes out in the crowded market or taxi. If you are walking through a crowded market or suchlike, you can always wear your daysack from front to back, just so no-one can slip their hand in without you knowing; some people find little organiser bags useful instead as they can be worn with the strap over one shoulder so you can keep your hand on it at all times.

Moneybelt 

I have never once actually used a money belt in all the time I’ve been away. When on the move, I tend to split my money, travellers’ cheques and debit cards between my rucksack and my day sack; the latter contains the passport and tickets, photocopies of which are hidden in the rucksack. Should I be unfortunate enough to lose one of the bags then I always have a back up of everything and enough cash to get a room and make some calls. One hand tightly wrapped in the straps of my day sack has always done the trick; in tropical climates money belts can cause a nasty rash where the sweat gets trapped and they can make you all hot and annoyed.

If you do feel safer using one, make sure it is cotton and lies flat against the body under your top rather than the bum bag type for two reasons. Firstly they are obvious a mile off and an easy target for pickpockets, and secondly they are definitely not flattering for one’s figure! If, on the other hand, you are travelling with a husband or boyfriend you can make him wear it.

Another little tip that may come in useful is that elasticated bandage can make a great little hidden money/card safe. Wear a section doubled up round your ankle or calf and tuck your notes in it; it takes a bit of getting used to, and obviously you could only do it if you were wearing trousers but it makes a neat little extra hidey-hole for valuable bits and pieces.

Swiss Army Knife, the kind with the little tweezers.

Absolutely essential for picnics, opening wine bottles, removing stings and stones from boy scouts’ hooves etc., poking new holes in a leather belt when you lose half a stone from food poisoning, and of course sharpening a two-inch long Sisley eye-pencil stub. A little screwdriver function is also handy for trying to put back together things in hotel rooms that you think “oh, I could just mend that,” and then well meaningly exacerbate the problem. Have done this with a number of foreign toilet cisterns, helpfully trying to alleviate ball-cock disorder. (Hasty exit always best in this situation, don’t try and explain what you were doing standing on lavatory seat peering into to tank while water pours on floor in direction of the computers in an internet cafe). N.B. Make sure you pack the knife in your luggage for the hold, not the cabin, otherwise the baggage X-ray staff will take it off you, never to be seen again.

Micropore medical tape.

This stuff is marvelous; not only can you use it for holding used chamomile tea bags over your eyes when you are suffering a particularly bad hangover but should for some reason need to stand up (but still not see), but you can also use it as a small plaster on cuts, blisters and scratches. Also invaluable for taping leaflets and tickets in to your diary, mending small rips in rucksacks, sticking photos on to the wall above your bed, leaving messages on doors..

Dental floss. 

Another cracker this one. Yes, you can use it for cleaning your teeth, but it also makes an ingenious emergency shoelace or cunning device for hanging a mosquito net from the ceiling or light fitting. Brilliant for sewing up holes in mosquito net or rucksacks when medical tape is no longer doing the business, and makes a good washing line for knickers when strung across the bathroom or verandah. Can also be used for making comedy trip wire.

Tiger balm.

Keep this in your day sack to treat insect bites, muscle aches (especially sore shoulders from over-heavy rucksacks), and headaches. A great decongestant.

Silk or cotton sleeping bag liner.

Most hostels provide bedding of some kind for free or hire, but lugging a sleeping bag around the world can be a pain and isn’t necessary if you’re staying in the tropics. A sleeping bag liner is just a bit nicer than sleeping on hostel sheets; some have the added luxury of a little section in to which the hostel pillow slips, meaning you don’t have to dribble in your sleep where others have dribbled before. They come in handy little drawstring bags, and make quite good pillows for long coach journeys in order to stop your head banging against the window. Silk ones are more expensive but are incredibly light and squash up into a ball the size of a large apple. (The silver foil bags inside wine boxes make quite good travel pillows once they’re empty, I have discovered, you just blow in the valve to inflate them. Sadly you have to drink a couple of litres of wine first).

Mosquito net.

A pain in the neck to carry about, but very necessary in certain regions where the mozzies are the size of pterodactyls and sound like 633 Squadron. You will regret it if you don’t when your legs are covered in bites that look like glace cherries and the itching makes you want to scream like Janet Leigh. A good insect repellent is also necessary (GTC sells one that contains no DEET and is made simply of essentials oils; it is so effective that it is used by the Forestry Commission in Scotland, whom we are assured suffer mightily from midges).

Citronella oil

This is one of the first items we pack when travelling. Most insect repellents contain DEET, which for those of us who are trying to reduce the amount of chemicals we put on our skin is an absolute no-no. As it's an oil it could theoretically damage fabrics etc., but we just dab it on the tops of our sandals and here and there and it seems to do the trick. And it'll make you smell wonderful! However it may cause irritation if applied directly to the skin so please see the GTC Natural remedies section for more information.

Tea tree oil

Fabulous stuff, don't leave home without it! Tea tree oil was used by the Aborigines for thousands of years as an antiseptics, and is now widely used as a popular treatment for cuts, bites and fungal infections.

  • Five drops in your bath water may help prevent you getting athelete's foot or thrush.
  • Rinsing your hair in water to which a few drops have been added may help prevent dandruff.
  • Put a few drops in water and use as an antiseptic on cuts or grazes.
  • Put two drops in a bowl of steaming water and cover head (and bowl!) with towel, then inhale to help ease congestion and fight infection.
  • Add 5 drops to 30ml of base oil (sweet almond, olive or even vegetable) and massage into body to ease aching muscles and rheumatic pains.
  • Please note: use with caution as essential oils can be very strong. Dilute before use and do not use neat on skin.
  • Please take a look at the GTC Natural remedies section for more information.

Lavender oil

  • A GTC travel essential, lavender oil is just the perfect treatment for many of life's little knocks and bruises.
  • A natural antiseptic, it's wonderful for burns; soak the burn (having run it under a tap for at least ten minutes) in a bowlful of water with a few drops of lavender oil. Supposedly prevents scarring.
  • Brilliant for insomnia and rumoured be one of the best ways of helping prevent jetlag; smudge a couple of drops on your pillow at night.
  • Add a few drops to a warm bath to aid relaxation and sleep.
  • Use on insect bites to prevent itching and infection.
  • Use on spots.
  • The scent of lavender is apparently repellent to insects, so dab some on at dawn/dusk!
  • Add a few drops to a cup of cool water and sponge over sunburn to soothe and relieve pain.
  • Please take a look at the GTC Natural remedies section for more information.

Travel Journal and Pritt stick.

Writing up the varied joys of the day can be one of the highlights of the evening when backpacking. The thing is, you think you’ll remember all the places you go and the names of the people  that you meet (this is starting to sound like a Simon and Garfunkel number) but memory is fleeting and you’re better off committing it all to paper if you want to share it with your friends and family when you get home. Leaflets and tickets fall out all the time so the pritt stick comes in handy for gluing them in; I always take a little pocket box of watercolours as well for those nights one can’t face another beer-fuelled riot of drunken fun, but would rather dabble hopelessly in trying to create a paint the glorious landscape of the day.

A Good Book.

Flights get delayed, coach trips can be tedious, you might end up poorly in bed for a couple of days or just have a blistering row with your travelling companion about whose turn it is to buy more loo roll and end up sulking for forty-eight hours. A Good Book is essential as actually the days are quite long and hard to fill when you’ve been away for a while. I never feel safe unless I’ve always got one in reserve, but pretty much everywhere there are backpackers there will be somewhere you can buy English books. Heavy novels such as A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth or anything by Dickens are also handy for propping open your door to let some fresh air through. See the GTC website for some great book reviews of tomes to take away….

Universal Cleanser.

This was developed especially for GTC as we couldn’t find an all-in-one product that was suitable for face, hands, body and clothes. Brilliant for backpacking or a weekend away, you can even wash your sarong or knickers in the sink with this stuff. Originally we used solid shampoo bars but they can leave your hair dry and in desperate need of moisture; this stuff will leave you silky soft and smelling like a dream. Combine with our Universal Moisture and also our Travel Balm for the ultimate in face and body treatment.

Little packet of tissues

Much better than carrying wodges of stolen loo roll around in your daysack, which tends to get grubby and unravel embarrassingly all over the place when you’re trying to look casual. That antiseptic hand sanitizer stuff is very good as well; you just rub it all over your filthy little digits without the need to find water, quite handy for long bus journeys.

Earplugs, travel pillow and an eyemask.

Now many people feel like a bit of a womble using all this lot on a plane or a bus, but trust us, they can make your journey a lot more comfortable and you’ve got a much better chance of actually getting some sleep on a long-haul flight if you can’t hear or see the man in the seat next to you blowing his nose repeatedly. If you plan to backpack, the chances are that sooner or later you’ll end up in a hostel dorm, and it can be incredibly annoying when all your room-mates keep coming in and out and switching the light on when you’re trying to sleep….. these just make life that little bit more comfortable.

First Aid kit

The best piece of advice we can give you is to seek out the advice of a travel clinic, also check out the FCO Travel Health pages, wherever in the world you are off to.

As to the kit itself, there is no need to go loopy about this if you are sticking close to the travellers’ routes. Even in rural Java it is possible to buy medical supplies, and at a much cheaper price than at home, although use your judgement, as in many places in the world pharmaceutical products can be fake. Take a couple of doses of cold and flu remedy, some plasters, painkillers, and a little sewing kit plus some sort of diarrhoea treatment for emergencies, and you’ll be able to stock up with all these plus anything else you need at a pharmacy just about anywhere. Anti-travel sickness tablets can be handy. Also useful is that plastic film dressing; cut to size with your penknife scissors it makes an excellent dressing for burns, blisters, cuts and bites.

With regards to syringes and giving sets and dental needles, once again take the advice of your travel clinic; many hospitals abroad are cleaner and better equipped than some in this country, but it is always better to be safe than sorry. I lugged a very well equipped sterile set around the world for many months and never needed it, but who would risk not taking one? Better to be smug than a pub horror story...

A sarong or kikoy.

Another invaluable bit of kit. Use it as a skirt, towel, blanket, pashmina, beach mat, scarf or beachdress; make an innovative sunshade between trees, an unusual turban, or tie all your laundry up in it, Dick Whittington-style. Brilliant as a cosy wrap on planes when the air conditioning is on.

5 useful ways with a sarong...

How to wear a sarong as a dress; hold the top two ends of the sarong behind your back in the horizontal position. Wrap the upper two ends in front of you. Cross and twist the two ends, cinching them comfortably against the body, and tie them behind your neck.

How to turn a sarong into a beach bag. Lay the sarong out flat. Take two opposing corners and tie them in a knot, then take the two remaining corners and tie again, to make a great emergency beach slouchy shoulder bag.

How to turn a sarong into a sun shelter. String a piece of dental floss between two trees. Tie the two corners of one short end to the the floss, and weigh down the other two ends with rocks or in the sand to make an improvised sun screen

How to wear a sarong as a shrug to protect burning sholders (did this last week in Malta, wearing strappy sundress with no shade, shoulders started burning!). Place sarong over shoulders like a pashmina,then grasp both ends and tie in a knot behind your back, thus making emergency shrug cardigan.

How to wear a sarong as an emergency sun hat. Place over the forehead  bandana style and pull back like a ponytail..... twist and keep twisting until it is long enough to wrap once round the head, then tuck the tail through under the start of the wrap, leaving the tail hanging down to protect your neck.

Bits and pieces.  A few other things we have found useful include;

  • a squash ball. Handy for using as a sink plug (the reason we don’t rate universal sink plugs as any use is that they tend to float away as soon as you try to do anything in the water – squash balls however can be squidged into the plughole to make a good tight fit, and can also be used for playing games on the beach).
  • a plastic lunch box. Keeps all the little bits and pieces safe, dry and easy to find. Can also be used as a lunch box!
  • teabags, immersion coil, enamel mug, powdered milk.  Can’t go anywhere without teabags. Immersion coils are those things that you put in a cup of cold water that heat it up very slowly but satisfyingly, and make you feel like an explorer in a tent at Everest base camp; they don't seem to be available in the UK anymore but you can get hold of them in India and Asia. Few things are more pleasurable in this life than getting to a hostel, having a shower and making a nice cup of tea. The enamel mug is handy for brushing your teeth (yes, I know it is easier to use a toothbrush, ha ha, very funny), when using bottled water, or rinsing your new piercing in salt water.
  • booklight. Great for on the plane or in a hostel dorm, but can also be used as a torch or freestanding lamp. Handy for trying to find the loo in the dark. Headtorches are also exceptionally handy,though you might look like an extra in Doctor Who.
  • ziplock plastic bags. Can be used for wet swimming costumes, leaky suncream bottles or to keep your passport and photocopies nice and dry.
  • elastic bands. Keep your flipflops neatly together, keep your clothes rolled up and all your postcards and bus tickets tucked securely into your journal.
  • hand sanitizer. Invaluable to prevent poorly tummies.
  • an compact travel umbrella. In Asia particularly, downpours can be sudden and soggy, but when it's really hot and humid the last thing you are going to want to do is to clamber into a hot and sticky waterproof cagoule. Umbrellas are much more versatile, as you can whip 'em out quickly, shelter more than one person and they dry really quickly; you can also use them to shelter from the sun.
  • travel insurance. Yup,  we all know we're supposed to get it, but we've found a really good website that will help you choose from all the different companies out there. Go to www.travelinsuranceguide.org.uk , "an impartial guide, designed to help you save money on travel insurance and to make the process of choosing an insurance policy as easy as possible!"
  • Photocopies of all your documentation. Keep a set spare in your bag but also make sure you leave a copy at home, so someone can let you know all your passport, ticket and policy numbers if you are unfortunate enough to lose everything.
  • pack of cards and some dice.  Everywhere there are travellers there will be card games; the instructions for some well known games are available to download from GTC.

The trick to a well-packed rucksack is to not fill it up. You need much less than you think, and you can buy anything anywhere, generally for less than you can get it here. By all means take toiletries from home with you, but you don’t need three of everything. In Asia in particular many shops sell mini bottles of Western toiletry brands and these are brilliant for cutting down the weight of your bag.

Tired of soggy soap when travelling??

Take a beer bottle cap and squish the serrated edge into the base of the soap; now when you put it down cap side down, it will dry nice and quickly ready for you to put back in your wash bag!

Alternatively, get one of those little washing tablet bags (Persil non-bio have good ones), and put your soap in that. Use it as a great exfoliator, then simply hang up to allow your soap to drain and dry and quickly!

As for clothes, you don’t need that many either; I generally end up wearing the same two vests and sarongs in rotation (one to wear, one to dry), and a decent pair of those trekking sandals. Hiking boots are useful if you plan to do any proper trekking, and a fleece for the evenings; also take a pair of cargo trousers and a long sleeve top for dawn and dusk and when the mozzies are biting.

I'm a great believer in rolling clothes up and then securing them with an elastic band.... it saves lots of room and I don't think they crinkle too badly at all; you can always hang them up in the bathroom while you take a hot shower and let the steam take the crinkles out. Compression sacks are great for stowing away jumpers and cardigans that take up lots of room. Also a couple of stuff sacks come in useful for organizing dirty laundry and keep your clean socks away from your dirty ones!

Don’t go overboard spending money on clothes before you go though, it’s much more fun to buy clothes abroad anyway as they are more likely to be suited to the local climate and etiquette, and they make nice souvenirs when you get home. How else are you going to sit in the pub on your return wearing a Cambodian headscarf, kurta pyjamas and a New Zealand Swan Dry jacket, regaling the locals of how you bartered for fabric in a remote hill tribe village with an opium smoking nonagenarian?

Packing list

Paperwork  

tickets

  • passport and visa
  • medical details
  • vaccination history
  • driving license
  • travellers’ cheques
  • cash and credit cards
  • insurance details
  • photocopies of all of the above

Health and Safety

  • sunglasses
  • suntan cream
  • hand sanitizer
  • water bottle
  • insect repellent
  • tiger balm
  • padlock
  • Swiss army knife
  • travel towel 

First Aid Kit

  • painkillers
  • dehydration salts
  • diarrhea treatment
  • plasters
  • antiseptic
  • micropore tape
  • tweezers and scissors
  • anti-travelsickess tablets
  • dental floss
  • essential oils
  • tissues

Basic Clothing 

  • swimwear
  • sunhat
  • sarong
  • 2x vests or t-shirts
  • shorts
  • long sleeve shirt
  • fleece
  • long trousers
  • sandals or flip-flops
  • walking boots if necessary

Accessories  

  • mobile phone
  • camera
  • guide book
  • reading book
  • playing cards
  • journal and pen
  • torch or book light
  • daysack
  • moneybelt
  • ziplock bags
  • coin purse
  • knife, fork, spoon
  • plate and mug
  • earplugs and eyemask
  • sleeping bag liner
  • mozzy net
  • sewing kit

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