How to Design Your Own Travel Inventory (Your Optimal Packing List)

Update: In the many years since I wrote this post, I’ve learned a lot about choosing your inventory wisely. So I wrote a brand new updated article!


One of the more overlooked aspects of travel is the personal travel inventory.

It doesn’t matter if you’re going to the Great Pyramids or only to a local museum, your travel inventory always has the potential to make or break your mood during a given trip. For instance, if you plan a hiking trip and neglect to bring any rain gear, you’re not going to be a happy camper when a thunderstorm comes looming over your head. But you also wouldn’t want to be hauling around 60 lb. (or if you’re cool, 30 kilos) worth of stuff all day if you knew you probably weren’t going to use half of it. The solution becomes obvious: Balance. Just as you are balancing between too challenging and not challenging when you work in the flow or balancing between a huge file size and low video quality when encoding video for a podcast, balance is also key when creating your travel inventory.

Your Optimal Travel Inventory

Striking a balance between too much and too little is what I call your Optimal Travel Inventory. You may have heard of “travelling light”, but there’s a balance. If you travel too light, you may also be leaving behind things that are more expensive if you need to buy them at your destination. Optimal Travel Inventory is finding the happy medium between bringing too much and too little.

Over the course of the past few trips I’ve made, firsthand experience has helped me refine my own Optimal Travel Inventory. To come to the list I have today, I first did some research on the what other travellers have brought on their journeys. Research is a part of my learning process again and again because I see no reason to reinvent the wheel. I am reminded of what Douglas Adams mentioned in his book, Last Chance to See:

Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.
~ Douglas Adams

As funny as this quotation may be, it’s really only funny because of how true it is, but I didn’t want it to be true of me.

Wheel’s Already Invented

Research is how I avoid reinventing the wheel, and through my research I found it very helpful to contrast other’s inventories. A good place to get inventory lists, as well as a cornucopia of other info, is, an extremely helpful resource for travellers, and specifically hitchhikers. Using ToboBear’s packing list as a starting point and incorporating some other lists I came across, plus my own common sense, I came up with my current travel inventory.

It’s worth keeping in mind that the following inventory was written for summer. Travel inventories are very seasonal and your needs will change depending on the season. I’ve put a strike-through line through items in this list that I didn’t bring, but you may want to think about bringing those items depending on the size of your pack. And by buying smart you can save money as you assemble your travel inventory. For instance, under the Hygene category below, I’ve listed Dr. Bronner’s Soap, which is functions as a general soap, dishwashing soap, and shampoo — and amazingly it does all these jobs well. Believe me, I’ve tried all three.

Here’s my Inventory List from my last trip:

Carry That Weight

  1. Pack that is Waterproof or has a cover.
    (I recommend an Osprey pack.)
  2. Outside strap or a place to carry sleeping bag. (Most quality packs, like the Osprey Kestrel, have the straps built-in and are specifically designed to hold a sleeping back on the outside.
  3. Sleeping bag suitable to your climate
    • in the summer this isn’t much of an issue and I actually use a super-soft silk travel sheet
    • in the winter months, do your own research to see how cold it will get. use common sense.

Wide-brimmed Hat
4 t-shirts
2 shorts & 1 pair pants (depending on climate)
Glasses and/or Contacts + Lens Solution (if appicable)

Water bottle
Spoon/ fork/ cup/ bowl/ plate
Spork-type thing
Dry food such as:
• Nuts
• Granola Bars
• Apples
• Raisins

Lip balm
First Aid Kit
Flashlight on AA batteries
plastic bags
Duct tape
Road Journal & pencil
Swiss Army Knife/Leatherman
watch (Used iPod.)

playing cards (Takes up space. Only needed if you’re going to a boring place, right?)

Towel (Every traveller should know where their towel is.)
Wide-brimmed Hat (depending on climate)
3 pairs socks
3 pairs underwear
Shoes, Boots
Pajama pants & Fleece for night time
1 pair Pants
Some pocket money in a Chump Change Wallet
A real stash for your real cash

Multipurpose Soap (Dr. Bronner’s Soap is excellent)
Dental Floss
Clothes line (some twine works)
Universal sink plug
Lip Balm
Ear plugs
Nail clippers
Cough drops
Breath mints or gum
Diarrhea tablets
Needle & thread
Eye drops
Hand sanitizer

The Byteful Travel Inventory

Travel Inventory section previewAs I said above, if you’re ready to get a pack, and you want to get one that will really last, I highly recommend an Osprey pack. I’ve had my Osprey Kestrel for about two years and traveled over 6,000 miles with it (probably closer to 10,000 now) and it still doesn’t show any wear. This thing will last for years.

To make it easier for you to find some of the essential travel gear that I’ve outlined in this article, I’ve taken the time and created a special “What I Bring on Every Trip” section over at the Byteful Shop that contains the main items I bring with me on my travels. (UPDATE: this section has been shut down as of 2017 due to Amazon discontinuing this feature.) I’ve added a preview of this special section to the side of this text; and, as you can see, I’ve written a short description under each item to explain why each one is so incredibly useful. After using these products for years now, I’m excited to share the results of so much trial and error.

And remember, by purchasing something through the Byteful Shop (or any link on this article), a small percentage of your purchase goes to Byteful Travel which allows me to continue providing all of Byteful Travel’s content completely free of charge.

Remember, it’s people like you who allow Byteful Travel to continue to exist. So thank you for your support!

It’s All Up To You

For me, the inventory outlined in the list was a good place to start, and it was within my 48 liter pack’s optimal weight range. Every pack has an optimal range of weight, so within that range the pack will work best. If you go above that range, wearing the pack will probably be dangerous to your health, and if you go below that range, the pack will probably not fit as well.

However, this list is only meant to be considered a starting point for you. Your own Optimal Travel Inventory will be different from mine. In any case, the longer you travel and the more trips you take, the more refined your Optimal Travel Inventory will be.

At the end of the day, use common sense, and don’t bring something if you won’t use it. Be really honest with yourself. Above all, get out there and travel!

Life’s too short not to.

UPDATE: To learn how to pack your travel inventory into your pack as efficiently as possible, you don’t want to miss: How to Pack Your Bags like Chuck Norris

12 bits on How to Design Your Own Travel Inventory (Your Optimal Packing List)

  1. Designing your travel inventory BEFORE you go is a good idea 🙂 I recently learnt this during a weekend hiking trip I made to Kent, a beautiful county just outside of London.

    I went o the Friday, stayed overnight and planned to go hiking the next morning. I woke up early and it was a gorgeous sunny day, but then as I was packing my stuff it occurred to me that my stuff was way too heavy to take hiking with me – doh! I couldn’t believe this hadn’t occurred to me earlier. And I couldn’t leave it at the guest house. I had to go home instead because my bag was too heavy to lug around and there was nowhere to leave it.

    Won’t do that again…

  2. It’s great to hear from you, Anna!

    I’m sorry to hear about your weight woes. Sounds like lesson learned though. It’s a pity you couldn’t leave it at the guest house.

    Have you ever tried Dr. Bronner’s soap? I recommend it to every traveller I meet because it’s so versatile and it smells amazing. Usually they have it at health stores. The stuff is pretty unique.

    So did you have to call off your entire holiday? I like a happy ending. 😉

  3. Hi!

    I was only doing an overnighter, but still it was a bit annoying that I missed out on my hiking trip! Definitely a lesson learned

    Anna Conlan ~ Healing and Insight´s last blog post..Overcoming a fear of the spirit world

  4. Great inventory! And like Dr. Bronner’s, which rocks out loud, I like to take a 1/2 and 1/2 mix of baking soda and cornstarch. It’s good for a dry shampoo, foot powder, deodorant, scrubbing, and oh my, I can’t remember what else.

    ivory´s last blog post..Links—in no particular order

  5. By dry shampoo, do you mean a shampoo that you would sham into your hair without water?

    I’d love to hear more about this.

  6. Your blog was superb and you really explained it well.
    Thanks for sharing.

  7. I learn this in the hard way. If you take prescription medicines, make a list of the medicines you need for your travel and pack them as per your requirements. Apart from these, carry some over-the-counter drugs that will come in very handy in case of an emergency.

  8. such a great tips here. I always failed when it comes to make an inventory list for traveling. 😉

  9. Yet again a great article with very useful tips on it. Thanks for sharing this and I really like your blog. Thanks!

  10. Very cool. The torch is a ‘must-have’ even tho it’s only a ‘may need’ 🙂

  11. Fantastic. Great post for travelers to design own travel inventory. All the points are notable. Thanks for sharing.

  12. Thanks to everyone who is leaving positive feedback!

    To be completely honest, I still consult this list each time before I leave for a trip, and I’m glad that so many other people are finding it useful, too. 🙂