The flights are booked. You have a reservation for the first couple nights in a reputable hostel. Now you wonder, “what do I pack?!” Here is my ultimate packing list of travel gear that every solo female traveler can get on board with!
(This post contains affiliate links. See my full disclosure policy here.)
Jump to your favourite category:
– Practical Things
If you’re like me, paying luggage fees does not sound appealing at all. Especially as a budget traveller.
But the thought of living out of a tiny suitcase for anything more than three days seems impossible as well.
Hang in there my fellow solo women travellers, I promise it’s doable. Even better is the fact that it’s very freeing once you get the hang of it.
The very first backpack I ever bought was the Osprey Soujourn. It’s both a roller bag and a backpack (because I had no idea which I wanted, needed or preferred).
The Soujourn is an amazing bag, and Osprey is a fantastic brand. If you need a bag this size, this is the one you want. After two months of backpacking through Southeast Asia though, I learned that it was too big for my 5’0″ frame.
Since then, I downsized the eBags TLS Mother Lode Weekender. I’ve been using this bag for about four years now and love it. It fits me well and the shoulder straps are comfortable. Also, the bag opens like a suitcase and has tons of room inside.
The biggest bonus – it’s carry on size. Bye bye luggage fees.
Now, when I see travellers waiting at the luggage carousel, struggling with stairs or cobblestone, I smile knowing that everything I need is on my back and I’ve saved myself a few bucks to boot.
I’ve travelled for a weekend road trip, two months in Central America, and even a month in Europe in the Winter with this bag and have never had an issue fitting everything into it.
So, what do I use to keep my bag organized? Packing cubes of course. I used to use Ziploc bags, but packing cubes are more organized, and less noisy (nee: crinkly) in hostel dorm rooms at night and/or early morning – an important thing to consider!
I don’t think it matters what brand of packing cubes you get, they’re all the same really. It boils down to the size and look you want.
For example, I love bright colours, hence neon pink. But I will point out that I’ve never used the largest cube.
In addition to my main backpack, I also carry a mini backpack that I use as my day bag. I found this little bag just before a trip to Costa Rica. It’s the perfect travel accessory for women on the go!
It’s from Mountain Warehouse, has comfortable straps and holds everything I need for a full day of sightseeing, hiking, and whatever else I have planned.
To keep things simple, I also use my mini backpack as my personal item on flights. This way, I always have my most important items with me, and can put my main backpack in the overhead compartment without worrying.
I’m not the girly girl type. The older I get, the more I think about function than fashion when it comes to choosing my travel wardrobe.
That means I almost always opt for dri-fit sportswear over cute flowery dresses.
Dri-fit is functional, absorbs sweat, dries fast and doesn’t wrinkle – perfect for the solo female traveller who’s travelling light and moving around every few days.
The first staple in my wardrobe is Nike running shorts. They’re cute, practical, and so comfortable that I have them in three colours.
I wear them sightseeing, hiking, as PJs, whatever. When I’m home I wear them running (obviously) or just because. You cannot go wrong with these.
I also always pack a pair of solid black Adidas leggings. Perfect for cooler evenings, early morning hikes, or when you just don’t feel like getting eaten by mosquitos.
In cold climates I wear them under jeans, or I’ll wear two pairs together. That’s exactly what I did on the overnight hike up Volcan Acatenango in Guatemala and was toasty warm.
What am I wearing under all that? I’m either commando (Guilty. Come on ladies, I know I’m not the only one!) or wearing ExOfficio. Whatever your preferred style when it comes to panties, ExOfficio has you covered – literally!
They’re a fantastic brand with great reviews. I definitely appreciate how comfortable these are, especially when it’s really hot and humid and any amount of clothing is too much.
Added bonus – they stay put. Ever try to walk your way out of a wedgie when you’re wearing three layers in January in Prague? I have. It didn’t work.
Won’t make that mistake twice.
What about outerwear? In cold climates, I wear a North Face 3 in 1. But even in warmer climates you’ll likely still need some form of a jacket. Perhaps you’re doing a sunrise hike up Mount Batur in Bali, or are headed to the cloud forests of Monteverde, Costa Rica.
I found this rain jacket by Marmot and love it! When I’m not using it, it packs down nice and small in the bottom of my bag. It’s not something I need every day when I’m exploring the world, but when I do I’m certainly appreciative that I have it!
I also always pack a hat. Perfect for keeping my notoriously unruly curly hair under control and out of my face. Also perfect for keeping the sun off my face and scalp (both of which like to burn easily).
Turns out, I apparently have a tiny head. Hats are always too big. Then I found this one by Nike. I’ve had it forever and it’s the only hat that doesn’t fall down over my ears. It’s really lightweight, wicks sweat and is easily washable.
If you are a hat person at all, this is THE hat of hats!
I used to be really particular about swimwear, but there was an obscene price that came with that.
Instead I now look for neutral colours in the cut I like (Brazilian) that I can mix and match.
For example, with this black bikini from Shekini I can easily switch out the top or bottom for a different look. With this approach I can pack two tops and two bottoms and have four different bikinis.
Here’s what the Chilean desert taught me – always bring a linen button down to protect your skin from the sun!
I now have one very similar to this on by Camixa and it comes on every single trip with me.
Added bonus: it’s the perfect cover up for cool mornings or visiting religious sites.
I’m not one for a sarong so this lightweight button down is a definite go to when I’m making up my packing list for a trip.
Plus the one I have is purposely wrinkly so I can just toss it into my day bag without worrying about it.
Let’s be real if your feet aren’t comfortable, YOU aren’t comfortable and you can’t enjoy much of anything. That means socks and shoes need to be spot on.
As a backpacker, you already know to never leave home without a pair of flip flops for the beach, but also because…hostel showers.
Am I right?
By far the most popular brand out there is Havaianas. I’ve been carrying the same pair for many years now and have no complaints at all.
Sandals on the other hand, are trickier to recommend because we all have our preference when it comes to style, colour, etc. For example, I just can’t deal with anything between my toes. I always get blisters.
Also, I have a high arch and will fall on my face if a shoe doesn’t have at least a 1″ heel. This basically eliminates all cheaply made sandals.
Instead, I have to spend a good chunk of change to get proper support and comfort. On the upside, that means I get good quality shoes that last.
I’ve taken the same pair of black sandals from Naturalizer on a few trips now and they are still in perfect condition.
Naturalizer is absolutely fantastic in my opinion. I’ve worn these sandals all day in sweltering heat, walked all day on cobblestone, and even hiked in them. They have excellent cushioning, the perfect arch and heel support.
Highly, highly recommend looking at Naturalizer as a brand overall. I will definitely go back when I need a new pair.
I’m a half marathon runner (if I may toot my own horn here for a second), so I’ve definitely tried my share of running shoes and socks.
We are all different of course and different shoes will fit people differently, but the market for running shoes is vast so I’ll tell you what I wear and you can decide from there.
When I travel, I take an older pair of runners that have reached their limit in half marathon training but still have lots of life left. That way if they get ruined I won’t care.
My top two brands are Saucony and Asics. I’m currently onto this line of Asics and really like them:
Inside those running shoes, the socks are just as important as the shoe itself.
I can’t wear really low cut socks because they end up bunched down in the bottom of my shoe after five steps. Annoying.
All socks I wear have the tab at the back of the heel to prevent this. My favourites are Balega athletic socks because they feel so light it’s like you have nothing on.
What about those evenings when it’s a bit cooler out or you want something a bit dressier? I’m always cold, which means every night is cooler to me so I always travel with black booties.
I’ve had these Soda booties for years and they’ve seen me through a number of trips, including a month in Europe in the winter, and a month in Central America.
No matter where I am, I wear them every night with pants because as soon as that sun goes down I’m cold.
I hardly wear any makeup. For multiple reasons, but the main one is that I’m allergic to almost every product. Needless to say this makes it much easier to be a minimalist travelling.
For moisturizer, the only thing I wear is Aveeno. If you have ultra sensitive skin like me, I definitely recommend this lotion for both body and face. I always have a couple small bottles ready to go in my travel bag.
As for actual makeup I wear pressed powder by CoverGirl for shine and to even out my skin tone. This is not an expensive brand at all, which proves you don’t need to spend a lot to get a great product that works for you.
That’s it. That’s all I wear. It’s quite freeing actually if I look at the positive side of having severe makeup allergies. 🙂
The importance of sunscreen cannot be underestimated as we all know. Like other products, I can’t just throw anything onto my skin. My skin decided Neutrogena was the way to go and that was that.
If you haven’t tried Neutrogena I highly recommend it. On top of being water resistant it’s not greasy at all, doesn’t leave a film, and doesn’t feel really heavy on your skin. It also won’t stain your clothes and has almost no smell.
I can’t see much at all without contacts or glasses so another travel item that is always on my list is my preferred brand of contact solution.
I’m quite particular with the solution I’ll use because…well…it’s my eyes. Why wouldn’t I be particular?
Nothing is worse than getting ready for a day out in a new place and having burning eyes from solution that doesn’t agree with you – a lesson I learned in Vietnam.
This is where Bausch + Lomb comes in. Their solution is not hydrogen peroxide based so the risk of burning the eye is eliminated and it does a fantastic job of cleaning daily debris and build up off your lenses.
As an added bonus their travel size bottles are under 100 mL, making this solution the perfect option for us women with less than 20/20 vision who travel with carry on luggage only.
Have you ever found yourself in the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia and spilled something all over your hands while eating lunch out of the back of a truck?
No? Ok how about finding yourself in a public bathroom in Italy with no toilet paper?
I’ve done both. What did I learn? Always travel with wet wipes.
I like wipes that come in smaller packages, like these ones, because I can toss a package in my bag and not have to worry about carrying around hundreds of wipes.
The obvious usefulness of this didn’t occur to me until that time in Cuba when I wanted to bring wipes on a day trip, but only had a single package of 250. Lesson learned!
How great does it feel to have a shower after a long day of sightseeing, hiking or swimming? As a backpacker though, we know that many hostels don’t provide towels.
Enter the infamous microfibre towel. A guaranteed essential for any traveller.
I have this towel by SYourself and am quite happy with it. I got the bigger one and also use it in dorms as a privacy curtain.
It’s also mold and bacterial resistant, which is really important if you are headed to humid climates such as Asia, and Central and South America.
I am a believer of the saying “better safe than sorry“. Though I don’t wear it religiously I do travel with a money belt. It’s one of those items that you’ll be glad you have if you ever need it.
If I’m ever in a situation where my intuition is telling me to listen – like a hostel with no safe or a questionable roommate, or on an overnight bus by myself – I have peace of mind knowing my most important things are with me at all times.
I chose a belt by Peak because it fits snug to my body. I purposely chose a neutral colour so as not to draw any attention to it and to make it easier to hide under clothing.
Let’s be real, sleeping in dorms can be tough. Even more so if you are a light sleeper, like me. People arriving late, leaving early and of course, there’s always that one roommate who doesn’t understand dorm room etiquette and will crinkle plastic bags at 4am.
How do I ensure I get a good night’s sleep? I’ve never gone into a hostel dorm room without good earplugs and a well fitting sleep mask.
I have tiny ears and really sensitive hearing. I need the ear plug of all earplugs if I’m going to get any sleep in a hostel dorm. Enter these foam earplugs by Stanley.
I find them comfortable because they mold to my ears so they don’t hurt, even though I sleep mostly on my side.
If they’re still too big for you, cut the tip off. They work just as well but won’t stick out of the ear so much.
As for sleep masks, I can’t sleep in a hostel dorm without one. People use their phones in the dark, turn lights on and off, use flashlights to get around – no.
I can’t deal with that much stimulation when I’m trying to sleep. This Eagle Creek sleep mask is a lifesaver.
It’s adjustable so it fits snug to any head and the eye coverings are domed so it doesn’t sit flush against your eyelids. I had no idea how uncomfortable other masks were until I tried this one!
Flights. New climates. Long travel days. What do they all have in common? They’re all very dehydrating.
Plastic water bottles = bad.
Reusable water bottle = good!
I got this one from Simple Modern based on the large number of positive reviews and now I can confirm how great it is. It is stainless steel, well insulated, and leak proof. And it’s the same price as most other reusable water bottles!
Choose one of the many – many – designs and you can’t go wrong.
It’s 3:00 AM and the bunks in your dorm room don’t have individual lights. The only light is the main one. Hostel etiquette says you do not turn that on in the middle of the night. What do you do?
You get a headlamp, of course. Why not a flashlight, you ask? Because the headlamp will also come in very handy on that sunrise hike you have planned and you’ll need your hands free for climbing.
This one by Litom is awesome. The strap is adjustable and it’s LED so it’ll basically last forever. And it’s even waterproof so if it rains on that morning hike, you don’t need to worry.
One of the most important rules experienced travellers will drill into you is this – lock up your valuables!
Hostels have lockers for a reason. You are asking for trouble if you don’t use them. I lock everything up, even if I’m just going to the showers.
It’ll take a shady individual only a few seconds to swipe your expensive phone, money, or worse…your passport. PLEASE don’t be naive.
I have this one by Master and have never had an issue. They’re sturdy and not expensive at all so there is no reason not to protect your valuables.
Many of us don’t even bother carrying a camera anymore when we travel. It’s one thing if you have a DSLR or mirrorless, but for anything less than that the cameras in the latest and greatest phones easily compete with point and shoot cameras for photo quality.
I used to carry a point and shoot camera but now I have a Samsung S8+ and my photos are better than they ever were on my camera.
A common question I get asked is ‘what do you do with it at the beach?‘ Simple.
I got this waterproof case by Mpow and take it into the water with me. This case is hands down fantastic!
I was nervous at first but it has never failed me. My pictures come out great and you can’t even tell I’m shooting through a plastic screen.
Here’s another thing I always get asked – ‘how do you take photos of yourself if you travel alone?‘ Easy.
I got a Blitzwolf selfie stick / travel tripod.
Best. Investment. Ever.
I love it so much that I wrote a full review on it. You can read all the juicy details here.
In short, this is my favourite travel gadget by far. It’s such a sturdy little piece and it even has a Bluetooth remote. I’ve taken some of my favourite travel photos with this mini tripod.
I absolutely recommend that every solo traveller get one!
Traveling for an extended length of time usually means you’ll need to do some work at some point. Travelling with a laptop is becoming the norm nowadays and I am no exception. I travel with a MacBook Air.
I like how light and compact it is and much prefer Apple’s operating system over Windows. Also, the battery life on this bad boy is really impressive.
Eventually, there will come a time when I need to charge all this stuff. I do that with an Anker power bank.
It weighs about as much as a can of Coke, and it charges my S8+ multiple times and my mini tripod many more times. Just remember that any power bank you have must be in your carry on when you fly.
*** Note that this specific portable battery won’t charge a laptop. For that, you’ll need a bigger power bank.
Sometimes you need to tune out everyone and everything around you. It happens to all of us. For that you need a great set of headphones.
I’m not at all a fan of big bulky, sound cancelling headphones. I much prefer earbuds because they small and easy to travel with.
I bought these Anker Bluetooth SoundBuds on a whim and love them! Gone are my days of getting tangled up in headphone wires.
They come with various sizes of both the ear hook and the ear bud so you can customize it to fit your ear. Very comfortable and a snug fit, I definitely like these!
Plugging in, in foreign countries can get tricky. And if you’re visiting multiple countries, who wants to carry multiple converters? Ya, me either.
Luckily, I found this universal adaptor by Mibote and have been converted forever. Pun intended. You’re welcome.
It has various outlets for most countries, 4 USB ports and even a type C port.
Note that it does not convert electricity so it won’t help you with your curling irons and straighteners.
And that’s my list of things that every solo female traveller should have in her bag to ensure a successful backpacking trip to anywhere in the world you. What items do you always carry with you on your backpacking adventures?