The single female traveller’s ultimate packing list for travelling light

In recognition of International Women’s Day this weekend, I thought I’d to write a post around women’s travel essentials, or at least the ones that I can’t live without! Obviously the packing list depends on the location and activities planned, but there are 15 things that come with me everywhere:

1. A sarong (or 2!) – These are invaluable, not least for the traditional role over the top of a bikini. I have also previously used mine as a towel in hostel rooms, a wrap to cover my legs/shoulders when visiting temples or protecting from mosquitos when walking back to the hotel, and as a beach towel to lie on.

2. A fast-dry trekking towel and hair wrap towel – These save so much space in the case/backpack! A large trekking towel is perfect post-shower and they dry so quickly, you don’t have to worry about making everything in your bag damp. The hair wrap towel manages to keep even my long hair up and start it drying, amazing for such a small piece of fabric!

3. A Buff! – This multifunctional headware can apparently be worn 13 different ways, from a bandana to a headband and everything in between. It pulls moisture away to keep you cool when it’s hot and, worn the right way, it will also keep you warm when it’s cold. Plus it helps to keep the hair out of your face in wind or rain, or even underwater (I use mine when I’m diving too). It protects your scalp from burning, keeps sand out of your mouth when running/walking in dusty terrain or offroad driving, or can simply be used as a sweatband – I’ve even used mine in the jungles of Borneo to cover my hair and make sure no spiders or other insects dropped in while trekking!

4. Vaseline – I carry a very small tin with me everywhere, even to work! This comes in handy when travelling as it helps to soothe dry dehydrated lips, to ease and reduce sunburn, and can also be used to help prevent and ease chaffing when walking in humid climates.

5. Wet wipes – I’m always amazed how quickly we get grubby! Whether offloading in the desert, hiking in the mountains,  taking boat or plane trips, or simply spending a day sightseeing on the tube in London!  Wet wipes are a saviour, and I always carry lots of packets of these along with a load of pocket tissues (hate getting caught without toilet roll – and that can happen anywhere!)

5. A pashmina and lightweight scarf – These can be used for a multitude of reasons, similar to the sarongs, but I generally carry a pashmina in the evenings for when it’s cooler, rather than carrying jackets or coats. The scarf can be used day or night, to cover up, absorb sweat, keep warm, or just as a nice accessory to an outfit!

6. Face wipes, a good moisturiser, suncream and insect repellant – This is pretty much the extent of my beauty regime whilst travelling! Taking face wipes stops me from having to take bootless of cleanser, toner and make-up remover, and I find the Boots No. 7 ones really good as they contain moisturiser too. I would always take moisturiser separately, and would also use it as after sun if I’ve been in the sun too long, make up would be kept to a minimum. Suncream and insect repellant are vital for most trips, and I generally try to find the 24 hour versions, and insect repellants which have the soothing balm in the same tube, to save space in the cosmetics bag!

7. Tampons – This may sound obvious, but if you’re anywhere near that time of the month, make sure you’re prepared. I remember being caught plenty of times in Asia in places where they didn’t sell tampons and the alternative was really not very attractive. Say no more.

8. Ear plugs, an eye mask, iPod and good book – These are always good to take away on any holiday, however I do have an ulterior motive for adding these to the packing list. I use this little collection of items (always present in my day bag) as a ‘sod-off’ kit, if I’m getting unwanted attention and want to very clearly ignore someone/something and be left alone, they’re also a great aid to keep calm when stuck in long queues or when transport is delayed, or you’re left to your own devices in the evenings.

9. A simple gold band ring – Following on from the kit above, if the eye mask, iPod and book don’t succeed in getting rid of unwanted attention, or in any situation where I feel a little vulnerable, I would switch a cheap gold ring I wear on holidays to my wedding ring finger and when asked about my marital status, make sure people knew my husband was joining me at the next stop. I discovered this trick by accident really, although I know lots of women who do it often, as I’ve actually only ever needed to create a fake husband three or four times over the years (and it’s actually been good fun!)

10. Shoes and bags – No women’s packing list would be complete without mentioning our favourite items – shoes and bags! However while travelling, these are also kept to a minimum; backpacks are great for travelling and trekking, but I always carry an over shoulder day sack and smaller zip up over the shoulder bag so that I can leave my backpack in the room when sightseeing (I prefer to keep my hands and eyes on my bag by my side). Shoes are limited by comfort – flip-flops, sandals and  trainers that I can walk around all day in.

11. A first aid kit – I have a professional first aid kit, bought from a trekking store with all manner of syringes and bandages, but I also pull together my own kit which includes Aspirin and Paracetamol, plasters of all sizes, Imodium, alcohol cleaning wipes and antiseptic cream, Canesten, cystitis relief sachets, Tiger Balm, replacement salt sachets & Alka Seltzer, scissors, tweezers, eye drops, and my inhaler. A small amount of each means I’m ready for anything.

12. A multi-plug socket and adaptor – Some places I have stayed may only have one plug socket and nowadays I like to charge my phone, iPad and camera at least, and have them running overnight when I don’t use them, so I need to be sure they can all charge at the same time, and that there is an adaptor for wherever I am in the world.

13. Long sleeves and long legs! My travelling wardrobe generally contains a couple of  long-sleeved shirts, a few pairs of combat trousers, and some little cardigans in addition to my usual clothing. These are great as protection from mosquitos or if there are areas where you need to cover out of respect for the local people. I also take lightweight cotton pi’s, even though I wouldn’t normally sleep in pyjamas, so that I am prepared for any eventuality!

14. A couple of cereal bars – These are emergency rations that I keep with me but don’t always eat, as they’re saved for the times when delays or changes to travel schedules leave you stranded and waiting, or when you have early morning trips and don’t have a chance for breakfast, or as additional fuel when trekking and energy levels start to run low.

15. A sleeping bag inner sheet – This final item doesn’t make the case for every trip, it depends where I am going, but if I am not sure of the quality of the places I am staying I would take it. Originally I bought it as a liner for my sleeping bag when backpacking around the world, so that I could wash it without having to wash the entire sleeping bag, but now it’s great as a sheet on its own, especially if you’re not sure about using the sheets provided!

So that’s my list, I’m sure there are probably things I’ve forgotten, and I’d love to know any other items people can’t travel without so please do share. And good luck with your packing!!