There’s no shortage of packing list articles on the Internet today — and the amount of information given can be overwhelming for a new traveler. The majority of these articles focus on everything that you should bring with you, so we’re going to write about what you should leave behind. With so much conflicting information out there, how do you know what’s worthwhile packing and what’s going to end up being a waste of space?
With four years of backpacking experience, here are the items that haven’t worked for me.
A money belt
Money belts are nearly always included in packing lists as en essential item to keep your money safe and secure when you travel. I read these articles and dutifully packed my shiny new money belt the night before leaving.
On the very first day of my trip, I proudly took it from my backpack, strapped it under my clothes and began exploring.
It took less than an hour for me to really start to despise it. It was large and uncomfortable, and made of material that sticks to you when it’s hot outside. It didn’t fit to the shape of my body, instead rubbing against me. Walking into a store and paying for something involved an awkward process where it looked like I was rummaging around in my underwear for change.
What to take instead: Act how you would at home — put your money in a pocket, a wallet, a purse or your daypack. There is, however, one exception: if you’re going to be traveling somewhere where crime rates are high (think much of South America), then it’s worth getting one of our recommended money belts.
For most places in the world, however, it’s completely unnecessary.
A Silk Sleeping Bag Liner
With visions of hostels being dirty, bed bug infested places, I paid almost $100 for a silk sleeping bag liner that I have never used in four years. Hostels are clean, cautious of bed bugs and bedding is changed regularly.
What to take instead: Nothing. Make sure to check the reviews beforehand and don’t stay anywhere that sounds dirty or bug-ridden.
Dedicated Travel Clothing
Dedicated travel clothing, such as $100 t-shirts that keep you cool or zip-off pants that prevent you from looking cool are simply not worth what you pay for them. The biggest problem with travel-specific clothes is that it makes you look like a traveler — and by looking like a traveler you’re an attractive target for thieves.
Dedicated travel clothing is expensive, ugly and makes you stand out in the countries you travel through. If you wouldn’t wear it back home, you won’t enjoy wearing it on the road.
What to take instead: Pack the kind of clothes you’d wear at home. After a year of looking like I was an extra in an outdoor store commercial, I returned home and replaced all of my outfits with the clothes I used to wear at home. Yes, even jeans. I found it helped me fit in and draw less attention to myself.
An Entire Cupboard Worth of Medicine
We all do it. We want to prepare for every single incident that could possibly occur on the road and so pack our backpack with dozens of different pills for every ailment. I left to travel with 200 x motion sickness pills, 100 x paracetamol, 100 x ibuprofen, 100 x Imodium, 5 months worth of anti-malarials, 50 x rehydration sachets, 50 x Benadryl, 50 x congestion relief tablets, 2 courses of antibiotics, 100 x bandaids… the list goes on.
Most of these I’ve barely touched; half have since expired. Every single thing I’ve mentioned above I’ve been able to buy in every country I’ve visited. In fact, a lot of the time when I’ve felt ill I’ve actually been outside and popped into a pharmacy to get supplies, adding to what I already had back at the hostel. Now, I travel with antibiotics, a few packets of painkillers and some Imodium, and I still rarely touch any of them.
What to take instead: By all means, take everything mentioned above, but you don’t need to take hundreds of everything. Take one packet of each and replace them as you run out.
Another item that always pops up on travel packing lists is a big roll of duct tape. After reading about how this sticky tape would save me more times than I could imagine, I splashed out on the strongest type I could find and shoved it to the bottom of my backpack.
That’s where it remained for three years.
I have had zero need to use duct tape on the road that I eventually decided to leave it behind — and I still haven’t found a use for it. When I ask travel buddies what they use it for, they reel off a whole list of items — fixing shoes, waterproofing shoes, mending backpacks, covering up holes, rolling it up to use as a bookmark…
I’m of the belief that if my shoes/backpack/anything are so broken that I need duct tape to repair them, I should probably just replace them instead.
What to take instead: Maybe take the smallest roll you can find for emergencies? I’ve found a sewing kit to be far more helpful on the road.