Ladies, Don’t Leave Home Without It!

By Nomadic Matt | Published November 10th, 2010

female packing cubesThis is a guest blog by Laura, our resident expert on female travel.

I always seem to learn things the hard way, and packing for long-term travel is no exception. I used to pack for every possible situation, for the ‘what if’ moments. Of course if you backpack for a few weeks with all of these unnecessary items, you end up discarding many things along the way that you don’t need. After living in Africa with minimal facilities (like no running water) in the summer of 2008, I quickly realized that there were some items that I was grateful to have with me and helped me realize what was really essential to have with me when I travel. Everyone has their own packing list. But as a woman, there are some extra things we tend to pack that our male counterparts don’t. Here is what I like to keep with me beyond the basic travel gear:

Toilet Paper: In non-Western countries, toilet paper is not commonly provided in public restrooms. Make sure to bring your own and don’t forget to keep it in your purse or backpack for day trips. It’s hard enough getting accustomed to squat toilets, so you don’t want to be stuck without toilet paper, too.

Hand Sanitizer: Like toilet paper, soap isn’t always readily available when traveling. I’m always happy to have it on me after playing with kids, riding on public transport, or to use before I eat.

Wet Wipes: Because I tend to travel in what I would describe as ‘less luxurious’ locations, Wet Wipes have become my new best friend. In Kenya, I heavily relied on them to scrub off the red clay on my feet before going to bed. I’ve also used them for a shower substitute when camping, to clean my hands off after eating, to wipe dust off of my face, and to clean a cut when I haven’t had a first aid kit on me. Wet Wipes are extremely handy!

Packing Cubes: Packing cubes are also one of my favorite items that I purchased for my current trip. I use two of them to organize my clothes and a smaller one to hold cords and small electronics. These packing aids make living out of a backpack much easier. Rather than tugging out every item I own to get to something and making a huge mess, I can easily pull these packing cubes out of my bag and repack them easily.

Pocket Mirror: Let’s face it, ladies. You can leave behind a hair dryer, your huge makeup bag, and most of your accessories, but having a little mirror comes in handy, even if it’s just to put in contact lenses.

female packing gearResealable Bags: I always pack a few Ziploc bags when I travel. You never know when you might need them to store toiletries, protect your passport from the rain, or store odds and ends.

Pillowcase: Maybe it’s not always necessary, but I find a pillowcase comes in handy when I travel. I fill it with clothes, or a packing cube of clothes, to act as a pillow when I don’t have one. I’ve also used it to separate dirty clothes on occasion.

Tampons: Sanitary pads can be purchased in most countries, but good luck finding tampons. It’s best to bring them from home so you don’t spend your vacation time searching for them.

Nail Clippers: I always forget to pack nail clippers and end up borrowing them from other travelers that I meet. With that in mind, you should put it on your packing list. (That way, if I meet you along the way you can lend them to me!)

Solid Shampoo: If you are traveling for an extended period of time and don’t wish to lug heavy bottles of shampoo or you don’t want to worry about refilling them on the way, check out Lush shampoo bars. They last up to six months.

Makeup Basics: I don’t think a full bag of makeup is necessary or practical in many destinations. However, I always bring lip-gloss and mascara with me. It’s tough traveling long term and constantly feeling scrubby; every once and a while I just want to look and feel like a girl again.
female packing gear
Jeans: Although highly debatable, I always recommend taking one pair of jeans with you. It’s an item that you can dress up a bit, and for me, jeans are a comfort item. I don’t wear them very often, but I like to put them on for an evening out or for a nice dinner.

Obviously, what you pack will depend on your destination and travel plans. It’s important to keep in mind which items you may be able to purchase or replenish abroad and which essential items you need to bring with you. However, these are the items that I never leave home without.

Laura Walker runs the website, A Wandering Sole. She’s been backpacking around the world for seven months by herself and is not afraid just because she is a girl. You can get more travel tips from her website or check back here every other Thursday for more stories by her.

comments 37 Comments

Great ideas! We too are BIG fans of ziploc bags. Their uses are infinite! Wet wipes/baby wipes are FABULOUS and we’ve always traveled with them – long before we had a baby! We love the anti-bacterial ones instead of hand sanitizer – we’d rather get rid of the dirt and germs rather than just coat them in gel. Little travel packs of Kleenex have always worked well for me instead of toilet paper – they’re easy to shove in your pocket. Those packing cubes look like an excellent idea. When our daughter was younger it was easy to keep her stuff separate from mine in ziplocs – now her clothes are a bit big for that. These should help. Not to mention that anything that would help Ian keep his pack organized is a good thing! ;)

This is a great list, and I’ve found myself with a similar one over the years. I’d add one thing: a doorstop. I use it when I’m in a single room and a bit worried bout surroundings; it gives me that extra bit of comfort that I will hear someone trying to get it as they struggle to open the door.

-Jodi

I’ve not heard of solid shampoo – I’ll try to find it sounds like a good idea. Mind you I carry normal shampoo and use it as soap and laundry powder so it can’t be expensive!

I saw packing cubes the other day in a travel shop – they cost the same as a hotel in KL I just booked! What’s the advantage over a plastic bag?

Tampons – totally agree – I’ve given them away so many to other travellers!

Jeans – no way too heavy too hard to wash – unacceptable in many clubs and upmarket bars. I just bought a light pair of black slacks which are way comfortable to do an 8 hour flight in but actually quite dressy – and pack up really small – dressed up they would do for any occasion.

I don’t wear makeup but I would add suntan lotion as essential – particularly if you do care about your appearance

aelle

Great list, although plenty of items seem fairly gender neutral. Guys don’t carry TP or ziplocks?
The one thing I would add would be to buy the morning-after pill before you leave and carry it around just in case (or, of course, be on the semi-permanent contraceptive method of your choice). Figuring out emergency contraception in a country whose language you don’t speak, whose laws you aren’t familiar with… not an experience I want.

Matt, given the list, I’d add tweezers, razors, face lotion w/SPF15, bug repellent, headbands/ponytail holders, space saver bags!

Good list! I’d add a nail file and tweezers. Maybe a few band-aids.

I’d add an anti-friction stick — even if you’ve broken in your dressy shoes, you’ll be grateful for this stuff (Dr. Scholl’s is the brand I know, but I think Band Aid has one now too).

A black skirt and black linen pants, too – cool, yet warm, and can dress up

I also think a little black dress is a MUST.

Meghan

I wouldn’t advocate sharing nail clippers. Ever heard of hepatitis? :S

Nicole

Lush’s solid shampoo is a must–I’m a complete addict. Also, I vote for kleenex travel packs instead of tp too!

The best of the list is solid shampoo. I need to get that. Jeans? No way. Uncomfortbale, heavy and definitely NOt an item for evening or a nice meal. Essential, I have found is a big scarf. Covers you in muslim countries, keeps you warm on a drafty plane, helps on a bad hair day, doubles as a sarong and can glam up any outfit. Doesn’t weigh anything either.

Jim

Great list for the ladies Laura and I’ll be referring members to this from the forum I moderate at Gap Adventure’s wateringhole.
http://wateringhole.gapadventures.com/

Meantime , the only thing I need to add for my wife’s travel list, is … me!

Never used Lush’s solid shampoo (love some of their other stuff) but that’s a new one I’ll have to look into!

Totally agree on everything else :-)

Love the idea of the solid shampoo ! I’d add: a small swiss knife, a silk sarong.

Great list u shared here, Laura. I’m a big fan of wet wipes too. I found one that suitable for face and it become handy ever since. I would also never leave my thin raincoat behind, much convenient than an umbrella :)

Agree on mascara! It simply perks up our look like magic.

I’ll have to check out the solid shampoo. Thanks for the helpful idea! I agree with Andi, I always have to bring a dress! Even over bringing jeans. But to each her own! :)

Good tips. I definitely second wet wipes! And for curly-haired ladies, I say conditioner is a MUST. I don’t shampoo my hair on a daily basis as it dries it out in humid climates, but I do condition my hair everyday & use the same conditioner as a leave-in. Saves me the hassle of having to lug around anti-frizz gel/mousse/spray/what-have-you. Oh, and hair clips for those days when no amount of conditioner will help!

Totally agree with the ziplock bags and toilet paper (I used regular kleenex). I even carry kleenex in modern cities, just in case the washroom I’m in run out of toilet paper. It’s a disaster!

I need recommendation on Lush shampoo. My first backpacking shampoo was Karma bar from Lush, which smell heavenly, but dried up my hair so much. The solid conditioner from Lush didn’t help. Which one are you using?

jaq

Lush’s squeaky green solid shampoo is my favorite. Its scent is not overwhelming, and I haven’t found it too drying. 2nd choice is Lush’s blue oceany one, its more moisturizing for my hair, but I’m not crazy about the scent.

Good list. Instead of packing cubes (which I have never seen in Korea) I use net laundry bags to organize my clothes. They work like a charm.

richardtede

i don’t think that only pair of jeans . it would be lots of jeans when traveling any where in the world . it feels like easiness not in any other dress. :)

I totally agree with the wet wipes and toilet paper! I found a product at Target in the trial/travel-sized section–it’s a mini roll of toilet paper in a little plastic package–fits great in a purse or small bag. I always bring one along when traveling abroad, and it has definitely saved me in places with little or no paper!

pillow case is a great idea!! so are the others, but this one , I never thought of.
wait, so is packing cubes. but wouldn’t it kinda reduce a little bit more space in your bagpack?

Amanda

If not packing cubes, I have used compression bags by Ziploc and they are a wonderful space-saver!

Rouillie Wilkerson

The solid shampoo is a new one too me. I wonder if conditioners come the same way? In either case, I’ll have to check this one out. Thanks for the tip!

I agree with those who suggested adding a sarong and a scarf or pashmina. They’re small yet very versatile.

I’ve never even heard of solid shampoo bars! Thanks for the tip–that will really free up room. The only thing I’d add to the list is some sort of self-defense item–you can never be too prepared :)

thalia

even better than tampons is a diva cup (or something similar). it totally reduces packing space and saves money while on the road!
i highly recommend it. i love having that bit of extra space left over from where tampons would be in my bag!

glassgirl

Uh, skip the tampons, just pack a Diva Cup! Yup I said it!! Check it out ladies, best travel trinket and you only gotta pack one!

GlassGirl

uhh… skip the tampons and go for the Diva Cup!! you’ll never pack another bulky box of tampons again!

Yes for Diva Cup too!

Great blog. I got packing cubes from Katmandu in NZ, they are fantastic! I would possibly add a script of antibiotics to that list. Easy to get at home, expensive when you are traveling. Especially if you are a woman prone to UTI’s this would be a life saver.

Kat

I’m surprised women travel with pads/tampons and not menstrual cups. Switching to the cup was the easiest decision I made when it came to travel!

Pl

I just roll up some toilet paper at home. I can roll several packets and have some in my purse, my suitcase, day pack, pocket. I like the idea of Kleenex but find them bulky.

sandymom

I always carry Charcoal capsules for the occasional stomach upset. Loperamide (Imodium) is a must in case of diarrhea.

Claudia

Last year I made my first big backbacking trip through Thailand and even though I thought I packed light, I still had too much stuff…
My favourite items, which I’d pack again next time, are definitely the outfits I wore. I made dresses – basically a long, belted t-shirt in different prints – and black leggings, so I could mix and match yet still looked nice (some longer leggings for temple visits) and I brought a scarf which can be used as a wrap and comes in handy on the cold planes. I also brought a headlight; came in handy when there was no electricity or if I needed to find something in my backpack in a dorm room (as not to disturb others by turning on the lights). I found that I needed to pack smaller underwear next time as drying them in my room without windows was a horror.

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