What to pack for Gap Year Travels

Featured post by Chris Grint

I recently spent 4 months of my gap year travelling through Central America, Thailand and Bali. Travelling was never something I had particularly thought about or hoped to do, however, I now feel that it was one of the best decisions of my life and I can’t recommend it enough. 

The only thing that could have improved the experience for me was more advice on what to pack for gap year travels. I could have done with advice specific to the backpacker lifestyle, especially items you may need that you wouldn’t usually pack for a holiday. In this blog I will provide advice to help other gap year travellers have an idea of what to be prepared for and give them some confidence before they set out on this life changing experience. 

What to pack for gap year travels
Photo by Stephen Leonardi on Unsplash

How to pack for gap year travels

I’ve separated the list into 4 groups: Clothing, Technology, Toiletries and General Equipment. It helped me a lot when physically packing my backpack to try and keep the contents divided up into these groups. 

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Clothing

  • A general tip for clothes is that it’s best to bring cheaper items. Choose clothes that won’t feel like a disaster if you damage or lose them in a laundry service, but that are nice enough for all the photos you want to take.
  • Having one smart outfit can be useful, though, especially if you are travelling with a large group for part or all of your travels. If so, there are probably going to be birthday celebrations and you don’t want to be wearing an old T-shirt and shorts to a nice meal out while everyone else is dressed up. 
  • Comfortable hiking shoes or trainers you are willing to ruin are so useful. You do lots of walking when you are travelling and you don’t want to be constantly worrying about destroying your good shoes. 
  • I found taking lots of underwear and socks to be helpful. They’re small, so don’t take up lots of room in your backpack, but are also easy to lose or forget when leaving a hostel/hotel. They are also the clothes that you get through the quickest as you don’t want to wear dirty pairs and living without them would be even worse (I hope).
  • A set of laundry wash bags can be useful for packing different types of clothes together for ease.
  • A slightly embarrassing one for me to write about is that I wish I had more tops that didn’t showcase my sweat stains so well. Especially on travel days where you can’t get changed and are moving around a lot with a heavy bag, a nylon sports top can be a lifesaver.
  • In hot countries, hostel rooms with air conditioning go from being refreshing in the day to arctic in the middle of the night. Definitely bring a thick tracksuit or outfit comfy enough to sleep in, otherwise it can be unbearable and you’ll get no sleep, especially as the bedding is usually lightweight. It will take up a significant amount of space in your bag compared to other clothes but it will definitely be worth it.

Technology

  • Bring lots of spare chargers and adapters as they are pretty much necessary as well as being very easy to leave behind plugged into the wall of a hostel. When leaving in a hurry, it’s easy to remember to take your phone, as you always have it on you, but it is much harder to remember the thing that you need to use it!
  • Although it may be harder to forget a phone, I would strongly recommend bringing a spare if you can afford it. The honest truth is that I knew people who had it stolen off them at big parties (so please be wary of that) or broke it beyond use. Having said this, I was never worried about losing my phone as if you’re sensible you should be fine. Accidents can happen though and a spare phone to depend on if needed can be a lifesaver. 
  • There are smaller airports which do not like very big portable chargers. I had a friend who had a very expensive portable charger (about the size of a brick) who had it taken when going through security. For that reason, I would take more than one average size portable charger to be safe. Portable chargers in general are very useful. We found ourselves on journeys lasting over 24 hours, and so without them we wouldn’t have been able to check into hostels. 
  • I found that the best place to store all my technology was a small dry bag inside my backpack. This way I knew no matter what happened to my bag, or how wet I got, I knew that it all would be dry. Also, a small dry bag is good in general for rainforest hikes or activities you may have not even heard of before you try them, like Tipsy Tubing in Pai island (exactly what it sounds like)! 

Toiletries

  • Bringing a spare toiletries bag to put shampoos/shower gel bottles in can be very useful. I found that they often leak and can ruin other essentials like toothbrushes or hair brushes. 
  • Bringing a spare toothbrush can be also very useful especially if you plan to volunteer or stay in a rural area. Nobody likes the feeling of having unclean teeth and they are often not as easy to find in shops as you would expect. 
  • Bug spray is very useful and I would recommend bringing as much as you can as they are often extortionately expensive in countries where you need them. The same goes for sun cream, as they know only tourists will need to buy it and so they can charge a lot for it. 
  • For the girls, bring tampons/pads. In Central America, the girls I was travelling with had a real dilemma when their period came and they couldn’t find tampons anywhere in Costa Rica or Guatemala. This is due to the tampon tax over there, so even if you find some, they tend to be extortionately expensive. So bringing your own is the best option!
  • The last thing I would bring which I wouldn’t think to bring on holiday is nail clippers. You are probably going to be travelling for a while and so your nails will grow and if you can’t cut them not only are they unappealing but can be painful when wearing shoes. 

General Equipment

  • A sleeping bag liner or light duvet cover is an essential. Whilst I didn’t use it a lot, the times when I did need it, it was a huge help. Lots of websites will tell you to take sleeping bags but in hot climates this extra weight and space is simply not necessary. An old, lightweight single duvet cover works as a sleeping bag and is so useful if a hostel doesn’t provide sheets or the sheets aren’t as clean as you might like!
  • Buy a backpack with a central opening. Lots of backpacks have only a top opening. This tends to be really inconvenient and frustrating when it takes you ages to get something from the bottom of your bag and then have to pack everything back in again. A central opening makes it really quick and easy to access everything you need. Especially in hostels where space is sparse, this is a necessity. 
  • If you buy a backpack with more than one large compartment, use one of them to store your dirty clothes. You probably won’t wash your clothes or send them to the laundry that often. With the dirty clothes spending all day every day in your backpack, there is no number of plastic bags that will stop them from making your other clothes smell too. Having them separated by the bag itself is the best way to stop you from always smelling like you could do with taking a shower.
  • A mosquito net with a hook on the top rather than string is very useful when you’re staying in accommodation that is not a hostel/hotel. I used mine a lot when volunteering or doing multiple day treks with local guides. After a long day in the sun setting one up with string can cause a lot of unwanted hassle compared to simply hooking it onto a bar above the bed. 
  • I took a snorkel, as I was recommended to do so, however I would say only take one if you are the type of person that would use it a lot on beach days. We went on lots of paid snorkelling trips where I used mine so I feel like I didn’t waste money, but in all honesty snorkels of good quality will always be provided for you on organised trips. 
  • A pack of cards is a must. I learnt so many new card games travelling and not only does it serve as a great source of fun at any time but it’s also good for easing the tension when meeting new people (not to mention drinking games…)
  • Don’t forget a couple of padlocks for hostel lockers. If you take a couple of sizes, you’ll always have one that will fit.
  • And lastly, bringing a disposable camera was something I’m very glad I did. You will meet so many amazing people and go to so many amazing places. Your phone camera roll will already be flooded with pictures of them, but it was nice when coming back to see some I hadn’t seen before. It helped me to cope with the fact it was all over until I pick up my backpack again (which will be as soon as I can). 

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