The Essential Overland Packing List

This overlanding packing list is 100% useful and includes everything we usually take with us when traveling. Traveling overland presents its own unique challenges and making sure you have everything you need for your trip is important.  In this article, we will look at some of the essential items you should consider when doing your overland preparation.  Overlanding to us means traveling with public transport without flying, it also means self-driving and includes taking planned overland trips on specially adapted vehicles.   That said, we’ve taken this gear in this overland packing list on repositioning cruise ships, and sailing yachts, and if we fly we also take all of this gear with us too. 

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What Gear do I Need for Overlanding?

I’ll cover in this guide the gear that we take with us, in this list that we’ve been traveling with for the best part of 8 years now.  And if you’d like a copy of this in a checklist format, then you can click here and I’ll email it to you.

A Backpack

A backpack – the most obvious, but a light and well-fitting backpack is essential.  I love the Osprey brand of backpacks.  I traveled for 3 years with a 40-liter Osprey and now have a 45-liter one.  Osprey are great.  The Farpoint series are fabulous – (although don’t use the “zip off day packs” from the Farpoint 70 that I’m currently using).  They not only open all the way up, which makes it easier to pack, but they have a zip cover that covers the shoulder and waist straps, meaning when you throw them in the luggage compartment of a bus or a ferry you’re more likely to get them back in one piece!

A good backpack is key to any overlanding adventure. The size will depend on how long you will be traveling and how minimalistic you are, but I’d recommend at least 50 liters (more liters if you will be traveling during winter/in colder regions).

And while rollaboards are useful sometimes –I find them just a pain for the type of travel that we do.  Most of the cities and towns we go to don’t have sidewalks or pavements, so you can’t roll them.  And you can carry a backpack so much more easily, as well as sit it on your lap if you’re on a bus where you don’t want it out of your sight.

A Document Wallet

Aka somewhere safe to keep your important paperwork such as passports, and visas.  I use this also to keep my “other currency” (i.e. US dollars or Euros that I tend to carry a small emergency stash of). The best way of not losing things when you travel is to always put them back in the same place, so your “moving on” checks are quick and simple.  Everything in its place and “the really important stuff” goes in the document wallet.  Always.

When traveling overland you’ll also find yourself having to take your passport out frequently, and as such it’s easy for it to get damaged. A good wallet is a useful addition to any packing list and can also double as handy storage for other currencies and documentation (don’t keep all valuables in the same place, spread them about).

Local Currency

It always pays to have some local currency in case you can’t get to an ATM.  In the absence of this – for closed countries, like Tunisia and Morocco for instance, where you can’t (legally) take the currency in or out of the country, then take some Euros and US dollars.  Small denominations and clean notes are best.  I always keep this in my document wallet.

If you can get hold of the currencies needed for all countries on your trip before departing, then that is going to be a great help. In the UK the Post Office and High Street banks can order in most of the world’s currencies.  You can obviously also exchange money at ports and airports, but you’ll likely get an awful rate.  However, it’s not always possible to obtain the desired currency and the near-universal US Dollar ($) is a useful backup (the British Pound (£) and Euro (€) are also good options to carry). It’s best to have a mixture of notes (bills) including low denominations.  We always tend to carry at least US$10 in one dollar bills and replenish our supplies whenever we can.

Note: Be wary of changing money at border posts as you will not always get a fair rate! If you have no choice, change the smallest amount possible until you can reach your next destination.

A Money Belt

This is perfect for keeping your money safe on overnight train and bus journeys.  If you don’t have one of these, and you’re in any way likely to go to sleep on a bus or train (especially if you’re traveling solo), then ALWAYS use your daypack or bag as a pillow, that way if someone tries to steal anything you’ll (hopefully) wake up before they get it!

A Filter Bottle/Water Filter

It’s not always easy to find a fresh source of water on the road, a filter will ensure you have a clean supply of drinking water.  And if you really want to be helpful to the countries that you travel in, DON’T BUY BOTTLED WATER. (Many countries don’t have potable (drinkable) water from the tap, and others well it tastes kind of funky, as different countries put different types of minerals in the water (or not at all).  Save yourself a whole world of trouble and keep responsibility for your water to yourself.  Buy a filter water bottle.  I’ve written at length about filter water bottles – here’s my comparison guide, and my review of my favorite type of water bottle, as well as how we saved US$550 a year by using filter water bottles instead of buying bottled water.

A Pen (and writing paper)

They’re essential for filling out registration cards at land borders and making notes.  You’d be amazed at how many immigration forms, hotel registration forms and such you have to complete while traveling.  If there’s a line for the form to be handed in you can guarantee there’s a line to use the pen.  Take your own.  And if you loan it out always get it back.

A Headlamp/Torch (flashlight)

In the same way that many places we visit don’t have great sidewalks, a lot of them don’t have street lights at night.  And when you’re hiking to Everest Base Camp or sleeping in the Laos Jungle there’s no light there either (although the stars in the night sky are pretty damned amazing without light pollution!).  If you’re staying in a hostel or unfamiliar room having your headlamp by your pillow makes it easier in the middle of the night.  Sleeping on a train?  Yep take a headlamp for that too.  We’ve used our headlamps all over the world – from cooking for 40 on an overland trip across the Silk Road, to exploring caves in the Galapagos Islands and finding our way back to our room on Easter Island too.  I’m also writing this from Tozeur in Tunisia, where the light in our room is so gloomy I need a head torch!

A Power Bank

My number one rule of traveling is ABC.  Always be charging.  Because you never know when you’ll not have power.  And for the times you don’t have power, take a power bank.  Whether it’s to charge your phone, your camera, or your steripen, it will also see you through power cuts, long bus journeys, and trips to the desert too.

Multi-Country Travel Adapter

If you’re taking electronic with you (and these days who doesn’t?), then you need to keep them charged.  Different countries have different sockets and different voltages and the easiest way to manage this is to sort yourself out before you leave home. 

Noise Cancelling Headphones

I’ve had a pair of Bose noise-canceling headphones since I worked in corporate great for noisy hostels and sleeping on public transport.  You’ll love them, especially in North African countries, South America, and South East Asia where the concept of people using headphones on buses seems absent.

Travel Towel

A travel towel compacts to a small size for easy packing.  A compact travel towel is an excellent piece of kit as they are fast-drying and pack very small. Great for hostelling and hiking where you might want to cool off in a river or lake!  I hated travel towels when we started traveling and it’s fair to say I’ve gone through my fair share of them to try and find one that I like.  They’ve moved on leaps and bounds.  I now have a travel towel that I love and that fits in the palm of my hand.  Here’s my guide to travel towels.

First Aid Kit

From small cuts and bruises to blisters, a first aid kit will ensure comfort for when you take small knocks and bumps – it’s one of the most important items for your overlanding gear list, especially if you plan to travel off the beaten path or if you have specific medical requirements.  I have an allergy to a few things – so I can’t put aloe vera on, I also can’t use Elastoplast and have to carry micropore tape. 

Make sure your kit contains the following at the very least:

  • Plasters of all sizes
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Disinfectant wipes
  • Bandages
  • Sticky tape/Elastoplast/Micropore/ < whatever works for you
  • Tweezers
  • Scissors
  • Safety pins
  • I also add paracetamol, ibuprofen, hydrocortisone cream (for anti-itch after mozzie bites and antihistamines to my own kit. You can also add any medication you need to take, but be sure to check that they are legal in the countries you will be visiting (Uzbekistan is one country where common over-the-counter medicines may be illegal)!  If you carry prescription medicine ALWAYS take a doctor’s letter and your prescription with you.

Swiss Army Knife

I’m on my second Swiss Army Knife, I broke the main knife using it to lever something that I shouldn’t.  It’s now my screwdriver, my scissors, and my go-to tool for more things.  It’s cut bread and ham on more trains than I can count and the scissors have cut my fringe on several occasions too.

This is an excellent tool when traveling overland, the Swiss Army Knife can be used to prepare food (be sure to wipe/disinfect after use), open bottles, remove splinters, and do lots of other things besides. The Swiss Army knife’s versatility makes it a favorite on my overland gear list!

Check the rules before you travel about whether you can take a knife in, but usually, if you’re overlanding you’ll be fine.  (China not so!)

Travel Wash Kit

Need I say more?  It’s important to keep clean on the road!  I carry my wash kit in a fabulous Eagle Creek washbag.  It has a clip on the end and I have a carabiner attached to it, so in the inevitable situation where there’s nowhere to put your wash stuff other than on the floor, you can at least hang it on something.

At the minimum, your travel wash kit should include:

  • A toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Soap
  • Mini shampoo (or go for a bar shampoo)
  • Deodorant/Anti-Perspirant
  • Comb or Brush

I wrote about the best eco-friendly toiletries to travel with – you can read that here.

Hand Sanitizer

Even before Covid we carried Hand Sanitizer – we love street food, but there’s not always somewhere to wash your hands before eating.  There’s also rarely soap in public toilets in a lot of places, so take care of it yourself.

Mosquito Repellent

Depending on where you travel, mosquitos can ruin a good night’s sleep so ensure you have protection.  I’ve also got a small mosquito net that goes with us too when we’re traveling to places like the Colombian Amazon, or the Lao rainforest.  Nige feels pretty safe traveling with me, as I am the original mosquito magnet.

Depending on the destination and time of year, it’s highly likely that on any road trip you will encounter mosquitos. If you will be traveling to places where malaria and other such diseases are present, then you will want a repellent containing DEET.

Camera/Go Pro/Drone

Many people simply use their phones to record their trips, however, if you want to take amazing pictures/videos then consider taking a good camera or drone with you.  As far as cameras are concerned, DSLRs are bulky and do take up space and weight.  There are many fantastic compact cameras on the market such as Nikon’s Coolpix range.

If you want to take some fantastic aerial footage of your trip then the Mavic Mini 2 is a fantastic small drone that weighs just 249 grams and can fold down to fit in the palm of your hand. And for under US$300, it’s an absolute steal.  The Go Pro is another great travel camera and has the added bonus of being able to film underwater!

Consider Travel Insurance

I’ve been sick in India for 6 weeks after trusting someone else with my water filtering (never again!!) and ended up in the hospital, and while my bills didn’t even add up to enough to the minimum claim for our insurance it can do.  We’ve had two emergency return homes that would have cost us nearly US$10,000 if we’d had to shell out ourselves, but our insurance covered us both times.

Sun Screen

Depending on where you plan to travel, sunscreen is another good item to have on your packing list

Packing Cubes

These are now an essential for me, it’s so easy, especially if you’re traveling quickly, to make sure that everything goes into a packing cube and then the cubes go into your backpack.  They honestly revolutionized my packing.  Get yourself some here.

Small Carabiners

These are another really simple thing to take with you.  I have one always attached to my day pack and if I’m walking through a crowded area with my backpack and daypack on I attach them together.  Especially if they’re also attached to me it’s a lot harder to steal! 

You can also use carabiners to attach your day pack to a chair or table when you’re eating lunch.  Or to your washbag to let you hang it when there’s no shelving other than a wet floor in a shower room.

A VPN (Virtual Private Network)

We carry our entire life with us when we travel – most of what we do is saved in the cloud and we access our bank accounts from public WiFi.  We’ve booked travel in Turkmenistan, and we’ve booked buses in Cuba.  We’ve paid people while sitting on a bus in Tunisia.  A VPN lets us do this safe in the knowledge that no one is spying on or stealing our personal data.  And we’ve used ExpressVPN to protect us for more than 12 years now. You can read more about VPNs in my guide here.  It works in China, Turkmenistan, Cuba, Uzbekistan, and Turkey, some of the world’s more untrusted places when it comes to digital presence.  Get your VPN here, before you travel, and get three months for free with ASocialNomad.

A Portable Travel Safe

We travel with laptops, cameras, passports, and spare currency.  And you know what?  You can’t be on your guard 100% of the time.  We leave our valuables in hotel rooms, in hostel dorms.  We’ve left it in overland vehicles, in the trunks of cars, and in left luggage offices in Indian train stations. But, it’s always been locked away in our portable travel safe.  We use it when we camp (and lock it to a tree), we use it when we go diving and snorkeling, we lock it around bed frames, toilets, and metal loops in car trunks.  You can read more about how we use our portable travel safe and why you should too here.

Final Words on our Overland Travel Packing List

Our overland packing list has come together after 8 years of travel.  It’s tried and tested and pared down, so we rarely carry anything we don’t need.  This isn’t hardcore camping, we stay in hotels, and hostels, we camp sometimes, and we overnight on buses and trains occasionally.  We stay in apartments often.  These are the items that make it easy to travel and stay sane!

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