So girls, you’ve finally decided to get in touch with your inner explorer and travel long-term on your own. You kind of know where you’re going, you’ve paid for your tickets, and you’ve said goodbye to the rat-race. Most of all, you feel childishly excited, brave, and free.

If, like me, you have taken a year off to wander around the world, you have probably thought to yourself, what do I really need to pack for one year? After having been on the road for some time now, I have learnt that one needs to keep baggage weight to an absolute minimum. In my case I have capped mine at 15kg.

Why 15kg? First of all, it’s the magic weight for most low-cost airlines, which you will definitely be taking if you’re traveling in Europe. Anything over and you will have to pay a ridiculous surcharge. Also, your back will thank you (unless you have a nifty convertible roller bag like I do). With all this in mind, I have discovered that everything I need, REALLY need, actually does fit into my small backpack, with room to spare. So I have put together the following list to assist you, the solo female traveler.

Clothes

Keep in mind you need clothes for all seasons. You don’t need any super-thick clothing, only different types of tops for layering, even in a freezing European winter. So, bring your most comfortable tops, and make sure the fabric is thin so they will dry easily and won’t add bulk and weight. Personally the only clothes I brought along are:

  • 4 long-sleeved tops
  • 2 short-sleeved t-shirts
  • 3 tank tops/singlets to wear underneath
  • 1 cotton cardigan
  • 1 hooded sweatshirt
  • 2 pairs of jeans
  • 2 pairs of shorts (one light cotton one, one denim)
  • One needs to keep baggage weight to an absolute minimum
  • 1 pair of sweatpants
  • 5 pairs of socks
  • A week’s worth of undies
  • 3 good bras
  • A small warm jacket (a washable one because it gets really grimy!)
  • A light scarf
  • Thermal top and bottom

Two jandals - what more do you need?
The best thing about these items of clothing is that you can wear them in all seasons, hot or cold. Due to them being made out of thin material, they all fold up very flat and don’t take up a lot of space at all.

Shoes

Trust me, you really don’t need that pair of heels. You will end up going to pubs, bars, and clubs that don’t really give a damn about what is on your feet. All you really want in your pack is a pair of sneakers, some flat sandals, and a good pair of boots (which you will probably be wearing so less in your luggage again).

Cosmetics/toiletries

This is going to be a tough one for most girls. Sorry to break it to you, but you will eventually discover that we really can survive on very low maintenance, while still keeping up good hygiene of course! So, this is what I’ve been lugging around with me:

  • Shampoo
  • A bar of soap
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • A good razor (refillable ones, not disposable ones)
  • Deodorant
  • Face moisturizer
  • Lip balm
  • Astringent
  • Acne cream (because skin does suffer while traveling)
  • Cotton pads
  • Tweezers
  • A small pair of scissors
  • Some band-aids
  • Paracetamol
  • Condoms (face it, you will need them at some point during your trip)

Everything is quite light and tiny and should fit in an average toiletry bag. Of course you will notice there is not one ounce of make-up in there. Seriously, you’re traveling, not applying to be in a beauty pageant.

Miscellaneous items

This really depends on you, and what you like to do while visiting a place. For example I liked to spend time drawing, so I carried tools for that. I also allowed myself one luxury item, so my miscellaneous items included:

  • A hairdryer (my luxury item)
  • 2 pencils
  • A small sketchbook
  • A good point-and-shoot digital camera
  • Mobile phone with wi-fi ( I found this extremely useful)
  • A really small bag for going out at night (for purse and mobile phone)
  • A small daypack
  • A Swiss Army knife
  • A mini torch
  • A full ipod
  • Various cables for phone, camera, and ipod, with adaptor
  • A quick-drying towel
  • The smallest fold-up umbrella I could find

packing-backpack-bed-gear-square
And believe it or not, all of the above packed perfectly into my excellent Osprey backpack. I forgot to mention souvenirs, but I figure if one is traveling for a year, souvenirs aren’t really on the list of must-haves. If you must buy something, the rule is it must be tiny and light enough to mail home so you don’t have to carry it. So, the last time I checked, after months of traveling, all my stuff still fit into the 15kg category.

Have fun preparing, and last but not least, keep a sharp wit, a cool head, and a thirst for adventure!

Your thoughts on "Everything a girl needs in a 15kg backpack"

  • Welcome to Indie Travel Podcast, Stephanie. It's great to have you here. I think it's amazing you can fit everything into 15kgs. I've downsized to a 45+8 litre bag but struggle to get smaller. I am carrying too much electronic equipment though.

    on February 4, 2009 at 8:52 pm Reply
  • This is informative. Although I am not sure about carrying the Swiss knife in the cabin, I had mine confiscated.

    on February 9, 2009 at 7:25 am Reply
  • Good call Chaia -- the scissors and liquids over 100ml would have to go too. At 15kg, your bag would be too heavy to take in the cabin of most airlines anyway; you'd still have to check it in.

    on February 9, 2009 at 8:10 am Reply
  • I've found one of my most useful travel clothing is my shawl. It's my towel, my scarf, and my dress-up clothing (as a wrap-around skirt). It takes up 0 space in my bag because I'm always traveling with it tied around my waist since it works as a light pillow or blanket on the train/plane. If I tie up the corners together I have a grocery bag. And of course, it works as a shawl as well. As an added bonus, I bought it for a few euros in Italy, so it's also a souvenir. Some other thoughts for those trying to pair down the weight. I love my jeans, but rarely take them with me, and never two pairs. They just take up too much room, and often are too hot after full day of walking. Also, they're harder to wash in a sink and take forever to dry. For two months in Hawaii I used the following 4 pieces to keep my bottom half clothed: 1. A pair of light cotton pants with the same cut/style as jeans 2. A pair of what are technically yoga/workout pants (at least that's what they were labeled at the store). Lightweight and loose fitting, but with pockets. 3. Drawstring sleep pants. These are black polyester and look nice enough that they good enough for for a fancy-ish restaurant and double as my dressy slacks. Only drawback is they have no pockets. 4. Board shorts for daily wear and swimming. Oh, and of course, my shawl used as a skirt as well. Both the workout pants and sleep pants are comfortable enough to sleep in, and the workout pants can be worn over the sleep pants. I suppose if it were really cold I could wear all three pants though it would look funny. All 4 are comfortable enough for a full day of walking, hiking or bike-riding. I'm always doing laundry in the shower, (partly because I don't want to carry so much and partly because I don't want to take the time to find a laundromat), so I want things that will dry quickly and the material of what I take with is really important to me. By the time I get back home I can't wait to get back in my favorite jeans though. Any trip longer than two months and I probably would take a pair, but it's nice not to be carrying the weight or bulk and they really don't work well for sink-washing. (Even the cotton pants can push it as far as drying in a reasonable time, but Hawaii is pretty damp/humid). Anyway, that's what has worked for me in the past. Great article. I'm so often surprised at what people carry around with them, (though I carry about 12 pounds of camera equipment that others might think of as overkill). Still, I'm always amazed when I unpack from a trip and look at the stuff I took and never needed.

    on May 26, 2009 at 12:33 pm Reply
  • I agree 15kg is the perfect weight. I only took a fraction of the clothes mentioned but I did haul around a ridiculous amount of books that weighed me down. Now that I got an e-reader I might be able to fit the blowdryer :)

    on April 8, 2010 at 5:16 pm Reply
  • Having traveled and worked with many people across the globe, I must add that instead of denim I have carried a range of tights, that suit the climate I am traveling in. Tights can be worn under dresses, under shorts and can be light weight and or suitable for winter seasons. Denim clothing is heavy and bulky. Tights come in any color and are also suitable for men!

    on April 8, 2010 at 9:53 pm Reply
  • Wow, thanks for this. I rarely find a detailed list of something. Usually the number of items are vague, which means it would be even more unclear for myself. But this helps a lot. Hmm.. I always though 4 pairs of underwear would be enough :D

    on August 19, 2011 at 5:16 am Reply
  • Thanks for providing this great port, it will really helpful.. Viajes En India

    on October 24, 2016 at 6:04 am Reply

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