What Not To Pack – Keep These Off Your Backpacking Checklist

Over the years, I’ve gotten really, really good at packing efficiently and still maintaining my boho chic style. Whether it’s using the KonMari method, learning how to wash my clothes while traveling so I could pack even less, knowing which packing items to splurge on, or testing out the best, most stylish luggage out there, I’ve packed and repacked my suitcases more times than I can count.

This is my list of what NOT to pack – that you are really going to want to pack – for a short-term trip. Short-term to me is one to six months. Obviously, this is a short list but these are the main offenders.

Remember: take double the money and HALF the stuff you think you need. Keep these 5 things off your backpacking checklist.

My 2016 Journey Plans

flash tats henna

What to Keep Off Your Backpacking Checklist (And What to Pack Instead)

1. Jewelry

First off, it’s heavier than you think. And second, the most obvious, you are going to want to buy jewelry.  When you do, you’ll want to wear it. The old pieces you brought will sink to the bottom of your bag only to be remembered when you unpack.

Instead Pack

Sunglasses that actually protect your eyes! You’re going to wear them every day, so they make the perfect accessory. I am obsessed with these Le Specs and the famous blue mirror Ray Bans, I have so many varieties of Le Specs and they are heavy duty so last forever.

What Not To Pack - Keep These Off Your Backpacking ChecklistHelen Jon Tunic, similar below


What Not To Pack - Keep These Off Your Backpacking ChecklistASOS romper, similar below


What Not To Pack - Keep These Off Your Backpacking Checklist

What Not To Pack - Keep These Off Your Backpacking Checklist

My 2016 Journey Plans

2. Tennis Shoes

Are you really going to work out? Go for a run?  You can do it without tennies. There are so many ways to keep fit, and you can do a lot of them in your room barefoot. The only time this might be different is if you’re planning on doing some major hiking.

Instead Pack

Chacos or Keens. They hold up for whitewater rafting, beach hikes, and dry hikes. I wear them in a city with jean shorts and a tank, and I don’t even feel like a loser. Wearing my Chacos in Bangkok below.

Check here for more of my favorite travel shoes.

hippie in heels bangkok

3. Snacks

You don’t need 10 Cliff bars in case you’re lost on a road somewhere. That’s not going to happen. If you do go on a trek for multiple days while on your trip, buy snacks then, but don’t lug them around. You will end up hoarding them for “just in case” and realize before your flight home they’re expired. I know this because I brought 10 cliff bars on a three-month trip once like an idiot.

Instead Pack

Entertainment! I am obsessed with my Kindle and have been reading non-stop since I got it. It makes airport layovers, flights, and any wait times go by so much faster. If I could do it again I would get the one with the backlight though as I got the most basic Kindle. I have already paid for my Kindle in what I would have spent on airport books I give away.

Here are some of my favorite wanderlust-inducing reads

What Not To Pack - Keep These Off Your Backpacking Checklist

4. Jeans

If you are in a tropical place, you do not need jeans. For some reason, every packing list online always adds jeans no matter where the destination. Occasionally, I think I need to pack jeans and I never get them out of my bag. If you are going somewhere cold then yes, take one pair and ONLY one pair (this pair actually, my absolute favorite because the high waist is so flattering). I have lugged mine to Uganda and Thailand and regretted it completely. It’s hot and no one likes sweating in jeans. If you feel the need to cover up, wear a long flowy skirt, like these:

Instead Pack

An extra bikini. It takes up hardly any space and with lots of beach photos, it will be fun to not have to wear the same one all the time. The most classics are the L*space, which is great for water sports and the LBB (little black bikini) from Vitamin A, which designs with special material to make you look like a supermodel (basically…). I have L*Space in lime green, peach, and blue.


SUP varkala

Surf Clinic with nancy emerson

5. Large bath and hair products.

You can find Pantene and Herbal Essences almost anywhere. Or at least Dove. It may not be your ideal and you may spend more money by buying small ones over and over but the space you save is so worth it. If you need a special large bottle from home, then take it, but make it just the one. My first trip abroad the entire overhanging zip of my bag was bath products that were half full when I got home because I was savoring them. Don’t make my mistake! Just the shower products being smaller can prevent you from getting a second bag to carry souvenirs.

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Instead Pack

The little face stick from Sun Bum. This is the brand Hawaiian lifeguards support the most as it’s not bad for the reefs like others. That also means less oil, and it’s better for your own face. As a bonus, it’s affordable and smells like banana candy!

What Not To Pack - Keep These Off Your Backpacking Checklist(Sun Bum face stick)

Read here for more of my favorite eco-friendly products

What will you do with all that extra room?

By taking these simple things out of your bag you will save so much room for the shopping you’ll want to do. The shopping you’ll say ahead of time you’re not going to do… but you will.

It does get easier, the more trips you go, the more efficient looking your backpacking checklist will look like. You’ll soon be able to add little things you “can’t live without”. For some, that’s a hair straightener, self-tanner, or a pair of heels. For others, it’s physical books or a laptop.

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This is a STUFFED full bag (65L), it shouldn’t look like this until you are almost on your way home

For more packing and backpacking checklists, check out the posts below

** REMEMBER: While you’re worried about what to pack and what not to pack, don’t forget you need travel insurance and you might just need a visa. I use World Nomads for insurance and iVisa to check which countries I need a visa for.

Are there any items you would add to this list? Let me know! Check out more on my travel resource page.

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About the Author:

Rachel Jones left a career in nursing and lived on the beaches of Goa, India for the five years. Now she lives in Mexico where she gives advice on the 40+ countries she’s visited in the last 10 years. She’s the author of two India travel e-books: Guide to India and Insider’s Guide to Goa. Her blog, Werkenntwen, like its name, is a contradiction combining off-beat adventurous places with glamorous and bespoke travel. Werkenntwen has been featured in ELLE, Marie Claire, Grazia, and Cosmopolitan magazines. She’s a writer for Bravo TV.


  1. Evelyn November 11, 2013 at 1:39 pm - Reply

    Such good tips! Definitely don’t need jeans and I regret bringing gym shoes on my recent backpacking trip to SE Asia. I think I wore them twice!

    • Hippie-inHeels November 13, 2013 at 3:02 pm - Reply

      sounds like you are not working out enough… ha! jK! i’ll have a post soon about ways to work out barefoot from a personal trainer here in Goa.

  2. Julia November 11, 2013 at 1:48 pm - Reply

    I bought a pair of Palladium boots (http://www.palladiumboots.nl/), stuck some orthopedic support inserts in them, and wore them all the way around the world! They were the perfect meld of hiking boot and actually kinda cute boot. They are super sturdy, and the leather developed the perfect patina; I actually still wear them to this day, even when I’m not traveling. Given the long-term investment, the ~$100 price tag is VERY reasonable!

    • Suzie September 14, 2015 at 3:04 pm - Reply

      Which ones did you get?

  3. Anna | The Blonde Banana November 23, 2013 at 5:20 am - Reply

    Love this! But I always do pack jewelry because I can wear the same top a couple days in the same week, with a different necklace and voila, new outfit. But nothing expensive, obviously.

    Also for shoes / jackets – whatever the clunkiest things are, those are what I wear while traveling (unless I’m traveling in a hot climate, obviously). So if I’m packing boots and a jacket, I’m wearing both to the airport / train / whatever to save room in my bag for everything else!

    • Rachel November 23, 2013 at 6:05 am - Reply

      I do the same thing when I fly, but then I have to make sure there’s extra room in my bag for when I can’t wear the comfy clothes. they take up the most space :(

  4. SnarkyNomad November 23, 2013 at 9:03 am - Reply

    Part of the problem with jeans is that nobody bothers making anything that’ll be suitable for travel. All they’d have to do is make something look exactly like jeans, but out of quick-drying performance fabric. But nope. Nobody wants to dig into this gold mine.

    • Rachel November 25, 2013 at 6:18 am - Reply

      so true! when it’s cold/rainy i sometimes wish i had them, but then the bottoms of the jeans get soaking wet. it’s a catch 22

  5. Rashaad November 30, 2013 at 12:23 am - Reply

    Actually, the last time I visited France (February 2009) on vacation, I bought my running shoes because I was fairly certain that I would train with members of my old running club. And I did, so I’m obviously in the minority.

    • Rachel November 30, 2013 at 6:11 am - Reply

      great! and if you’re a big runner you should take tennies if you’ll use them, it’s also easier to manage on vacation than a backpacking trip for many months!

  6. AL December 6, 2013 at 11:01 pm - Reply

    Can you give an example of what you would pack on a given trip? Anything you absolutely can’t leave behind?

    • Rachel December 7, 2013 at 6:03 am - Reply

      yes i will do that this week actually, I have some photos of my last trip ready to go :) thanks for asking! and the one thing I can’t leave behind is my cotten little black dress from H&M, it’s great for the beach, bars, and can be dressed up for a fancy night- it takes up almost no space, and i don’t have to look like a “backpacker” at night too!

  7. Morgan December 31, 2013 at 6:09 am - Reply

    I am going to Spain (and probably other places) to teach English in January! I am going to Granada first (which is quite cold right now and into May) but then I also plan on going to warmer climates and traveling when I can in the summer. And that’s if I even stay in Spain! I don’t want to bring anything more than my travel backpack.

    What on Earth do I pack for such varied climates?! Boots? sneakers? Chacos? sandals? jackets? pants? ahhhh!

    • Rachel December 31, 2013 at 6:56 am - Reply

      chacos for sure!! they are perfect for everyday wear, then I would take cute sandals like gladiators , if you are going to be in snow take boots, but if it’s just cold maybe try to make due without— since you’re teaching english, if that means you are there for a year you can take a lot more! I always take my north face shell (rain coat) and when it’s snowing I just wear a lot of layers under it and add a scarf! I have more posts coming on packing soon, so stay tuned! have fun in spain!

  8. Kirstie Paul March 20, 2014 at 5:01 pm - Reply

    Do you bring a blow dryer or straightener with you? I always wonder this but I’m not sure how they would work with an adapter.

    • Rachel Jones March 21, 2014 at 2:39 am - Reply

      I never have, but my girlfriends do! They got mini-ones appliances and as for adapters look on amazon for a multi-adapter. They are so small now and you can buy a world one!

  9. Jennifer April 29, 2016 at 4:12 pm - Reply

    Great list – I’d definately add hair dryer and straighteners to this list!

  10. Hollie Gilbert August 29, 2016 at 4:10 am - Reply

    Fantastic! Thank you! You have helped me make my constantly vacillating decision on if I should bring my workout shoes or not. Much appreciation. Haha.
    I’m an aspiring travel blogger, so I love your blog. Keep it up, chica!

    • Rachel Jones August 29, 2016 at 10:40 am - Reply

      hahah, good to know! and good luck with your blog as well! It’s a lot of fun :)

  11. Temika September 2, 2016 at 10:09 pm - Reply

    Stayed for 2 months in North America and I have found that I did pack “just in case” items. A quarter of what I packed, I haven’t used and I could’ve probably survived not bringing another quarter. I decided to bring a swimsuit over bringing my Scrubba Bag and that is my biggest regret. I’ve had access to a pool, but not being much for swimming, my swimsuit hasn’t been used. I’ve wished for my Scrubba Bag quite a bit though.

    • Rachel Jones September 3, 2016 at 10:12 am - Reply

      I’ve been wanting to try out the Scrubba bag. Glad to hear you like it so much!

  12. [email protected] February 11, 2017 at 8:59 am - Reply

    I take black jeans and wash them minimally. Sounds rank but they fit better when you wear them more anyway :)
    And you can wear casually or dress up, especially if skinny jeans.

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