10 essential things to pack on your Workaway trip

What do you take with you for a trip around the world? If you’re like me, (a “take everything but the kitchen sink” kind of traveller), the question of what to pack for a life-changing adventure can be very, very daunting. To save you some tears and future frustration, we’ve compiled a list of 10 essential things to pack on your Workaway trip based on loads of experience and trial by fire.

1. A backpack

This should be obvious, but after weeks of trying to haul a rolling suitcase and heavy duffel bag through narrow European cobblestone streets and up flights of stairs with no elevator in sight, I learned why. You’re going to need a backpack. No other form of luggage will be as versatile and allow you the freedom of movement that a backpack will.

Honestly, your backpack will become the single most important item you own while you’re gone. Spend as much time researching your decision as you would what car you’re going to buy. That’s how much it matters.


That being said, here are few things to consider:

  • Pockets. The more the better.
  • Top loading AND bottom loading. You’re going to be packing and repacking your backpack almost daily. If you’re able to get into the bottom of your backpack without taking everything out of the top, this will save you so much time. Trust me.
  • Weight capacity/liters. Backpacks come in sizes based on how many liters they hold. The more the better for long-term trips, but remember liters equal weight and you WILL be carrying your backpack around like a second skin. I’d recommend staying within the 50-60L range. Mine was 68L and when stuffed to the max (when wasn’t it?) it weighed about 16 kilograms, or a little over 35lbs. It’s doable, but lighter is better.
  • Waterproof material. Most backpacks are water resilient. There’s always the option to buy a rain cover to go over your backpack but I didn’t find this necessary. Unless you’re going to be in a tropical location during the rainy season, you can probably do without it.

2. Comfortable shoes

Preferably waterproof and close toed. Don’t try to be fashionable with your footwear here. Whether you’re travelling by plane, train, car, or any other interesting modes of transportation, you will also be walking. Probably a lot. With the added weight of your backpack, you’ll need to take extra care of your feet.

At most, I’d bring two pairs of shoes – a type of sturdy sandal (waterproof) that you could wear in the shower or on the beach and a hiking boot. That way if one pair gets wet you can wear the other. Alternating shoes will also help prevent blisters.

3. Clothes you can layer

If you’ll be travelling to different climates or gone for more than one season, you’ll need clothes for all types of weather. Clothes that are lightweight, sweat and water resilient, and comfortable (not to mention durable) are your best friend. Choose solid colors that mix and match well and can be worn in several combinations.

Remember that some countries have strict social expectations for dress or may be more moderate in how much skin they show. Do your research and be respectful of your host culture (when in doubt, ask your Workaway host). You can always purchase additional clothing if needed (such as a winter coat, extra pair of shorts, etc.) but having the basics will keep you prepared.
thrift store shopping clothes

Think about what accessories you really need and ones you can do without. Will you need a hat and sunglasses? A rain jacket and a hoodie? Jewelry to go with every outfit? Clothing will take up the majority of the space in your backpack so this is the place to make the hard choices. And it is hard. It took me four days to pack and repack my backpack the first time so I get it. You can do it!

4. A device you can connect to the internet

Yes, there are probably internet cafes available where you can pay by the hour to use a computer. However, it may take time to locate them and keep in mind the keyboard may be different or the equipment outdated. When you’re travelling long-term or on a Workaway trip, a lot of planning happens as you go. You’ll need the internet to respond to messages, figure out your route, and connect to friends and family back home. Whether you bring a small laptop, a smart phone, or a tablet, having your own device will make logistics and everything else so much easier.

Don’t forget the chargers and outlet adapters too!

workaway travel group buddies

5. Originals and copies of your passport and other important documents

This is something to double and triple check. Before you pack your passport and Driver’s License (or alternate I.D.) make two copies of each. I also made a copy of my birth certificate and social security card as well as credit and debit cards.

Other documents to bring with you- vaccination records, prescriptions for medication you’ll need, insurance cards, emergency contact information. I had the unfortunate experience of being pick-pocketed when I was travelling. In one fell swoop I lost my wallet that had all of my credit cards, I.D. and passport. Thankfully, in a separate bag I had copies of this information and was able to visit the U.S. embassy to make an appointment for a new passport.

I highly, highly suggest keeping your I.D’s and money/credit cards etc. separated into two bags so that if one is lost or stolen you’ll have a backup form of payment or identification. This is common sense, but after travelling for several months I had gotten lazy and forgotten to do it. Don’t be me!

6. A phone you can “unlock”

I travelled for several months without having a phone I could use abroad. I had a laptop and used Skype credit to make phone calls but there were several situations where I needed to make a phone call and didn’t have my laptop or wifi. I finally purchased a basic travel phone for about 20 euros that allowed me to switch out the SIM card so I’d have a local phone number for each country I travelled to.

This made communication with Workaway hosts 100% easier and made me feel a lot more safe as I travelled. Many phones like this will let you add credit as you go (you pay for minutes and texts) so you don’t have to sign a contract or pay a monthly fee.

group volunteer abroad workaway

7. A microfiber travel towel.

Yes, they are the most amazing thing you will ever own. Not only does it dry quickly but it also compacts and takes up very little space in your bag. Leave the bulky, soft towels at home. You’ll get used to your travel towel in no time and be so glad you have it.

ocean sea outdoors swimming diving

8. A headlamp

This is invaluable. Whether you’re reading late at night to help yourself fall asleep, navigating a pathway in the dark, or setting up a tent after nightfall, having a headlamp is amazing. Whenever I have mine I feel like I can conquer anything. Don’t forget to check the battery life and pack a few extra if needed.
outdoors forest essential travel

9. A journal

No matter how amazing your Workaway trip is, chances are you’ll eventually forget some of the details. The longer you travel, the easier it is to mix up the names and places of people (even if you’ll never forget their beautiful faces!). Keeping a journal is a sure way to capture all of the emotions, revelations, new vocabulary, and daily tidbits you’ll want to remember years down the road.
​​​​​​​If you’re worried about the added weight of multiple journals or notebooks, you can always mail the complete ones back home to read upon your return!


10. A sense of humor

This one doesn’t take up any space at all! No matter how long or how well you’ve planned your trip, things will go wrong. Expect it and you’ll be more adaptable when (not if) it happens. Find a way to laugh at yourself and the situation and bring some light heartedness to the experience. Remember you’re having an adventure and facing the unexpected with a smile is all part of it!

11. Bonus – ​​​​​​​For that time of the month

If there's even a chance your monthly visitor might show up during your travels, seriously consider packing a menstrual cup. This will change your life while travelling. Not only is it reusable, it’s comfortable, lightweight, and will not have you stressing about where to get more pads/tampons in a remote village. There are several different brands out there and I’d recommend trying it at home for a few months before taking it on the road.

women essentials

What about you? What are your packing tips or faux pas? Is there anything you can’t live without? We’d love to hear your recommendations and travel hacks!

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About Mariah

Mariah Friend is a former Workawayer who quit her job to travel the world for fourteen months, embarking on the adventure of a lifetime. Mariah stayed with hosts in France and Ghana, gaining valuable ... show more...

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