We thought it might be useful to put together a list of some of the travel items that backpackers don’t always think to pack. They’re not necessarily the most exciting or even the most used things we travel with, it’s more that we just wouldn’t travel without them because they make our lives so much easier and it would be a pain not to have them!
This is incredibly useful for attaching stuff to your backpack that you need access to or that you don’t want to put in your bag. Think water bottles and dirty shoes. You can spend a decent amount of money on a really good quality carabiner if you need it for intensive activities like climbing or sailing, but something less fancy does the trick for us.
Swiss army/multi-tool knife
One of these can get you out of a multitude of pickles. From cutting food when you’re on the go, to gauging out splinters. Word of advice though, do not leave it in your carry-on luggage. I did that at Kuala Lumpur airport and my beloved trusty swiss army knife was flung into a box of other pathetic abandoned prohibited sharp things.
Do not underestimate your need for a washing line! We have made some crazy patterns across hotel rooms with our handy travel washing line. One end hooked to a towel rail, the other precariously wrapped around a drawer handle. This particular kind doesn’t require any pegs and is also great for creating make-shift curtain rails!
Our Travel Tap bottle was probably our best and most useful piece of gear. This baby can be filled with water from pretty much anywhere as it is filtered as you drink through the straw. This saves on plastic a tremendous amount as you can just fill it with tap water. Or, if you’re out hiking you can fill it with water from rivers. There are other types of water filter on the market, such as the Life Straw. We haven’t used one, but have heard great things!
Often we stay in places that have just one or two working plug sockets, so a charger port is a great way to charge multiple items like your phone, camera, ipad etc. via USB while utilising just one plug socket. Nifty.
Not only are these babies a stylish fashion accessory, they also come in really handy if you want to read at night or if you need to go to the toilet somewhere dark. The torch on your phone can be useful, but sometimes you need both hands free…
Universal sink plug
Rarely do you find a plug in a bathroom while you’re traveling, which can be a pain if you’re planning to do any washing. A universal sink plug does exactly what it says on the tin. Also great for conserving water when you’re washing up.
We’ve had the same Anker battery pack for literally years and it still works a charm. There are loads to choose from and they are fantastic for long journeys or for when you’re staying somewhere without electricity.
Padlock with a combination code
For obvious reasons, a padlock is an important piece of kit to take with you. Lockers, securing your bag, attaching your bag to your bed on trains… But taking one with a code is a great idea, as not only do you not have a key to lose, but when you’re sharing a room and your host only gives you one key, use the padlock and you’re good as gold.
Sleeping bag liner
Instead of lugging a sleeping bag around with us, we each have a tiny little sleeping bag liner. It’s super compact and lightweight and perfect for when you’re staying in a bed with questionable hygiene. Most of the time, we don’t need to use it, but on the occasions we have needed it, boy are glad we brought it. There are lots of different ones to choose from.
I cannot bare the feeling of microfibre towels. They make my skin crawl. Like, I would rather run my nails down a chalkboard than let one of those creeps near my feet.
Instead, we use cotton turkish towels, which are lightweight, super fast drying, really soft and look beautiful! We’ve used ours as blankets, shawls and even curtains!
OK, so you probably have thought to bring these, but it’s so important to get them right, that they needed a mention!
Skimp on everything else, but do not skimp on your footwear. We each travel with a pair of flipflops and a pair of hiking boots/shoes. Shopping for walking shoes can be a total minefield, particularly if you’re looking for something vegan. You’ll probably get conflicting advice from different stores, but leave yourself enough time to get a pair that you can really wear in and get used to. If you get this right, you really won’t need to take more than 2 pairs of shoes, no matter how long your trip is. I wear a pair of Innov8 trail runners and Tom has some Salomons
Some kind of gaffa/duct tape is such a useful thing to have in your rucksack. We use it most commonly for sticking plugs to walls. Yep. Ever tried to use an adapter plug in a plug socket that’s in the middle of a wall? It can be almost impossible to stop the plug from falling out, with sparks flying all over the place. The best solution we’ve found is to use tape.
Other situations where tape has been invaluable is when I’ve used it to stick my shoes back together mid-hike, to attach torches to the middle of tents and for all manner of repair jobs. (It’s hard to get hold of biodegradable tape, so try to re-use as much as you can)
Whether it’s in a bar or in liquid form, we always have some Dr Bronner castille soap with us so that we can wash our bodies and our clothes without having to use any yucky chemicals that make your hands feel like sandpaper afterwards. We used to just buy packets of washing powder when we needed them, which is a terrible use of plastic. It’s also likely that a lot of these washing powders are not vegan-friendly. Castille soap lasts for ages and has so many uses. It’s a no-brainer.
We like to carry a tupperware pot with us for a few reasons. Firstly, it’s great for storing leftovers when you eat out and allows you to forgo the excessive plastic bags that so often come with shopping in markets (especially in Asia). We also use it to take packed lunches out with us. Most crucially however, we use it to make overnight oats which has saved us a tonne on buying breakfast, especially in slightly more expensive countries.
Essential oils and a natural medi-kit
I’ve written about our natural medi-kit in detail in this post, but since I basically don’t leave the house without peppermint and lavender essential oil, I thought they deserved a special mention here. Peppermint has a wonderful cooling effect and I’ve found it to be incredible at stopping migraines. It’s also great at settling nauseous tummies, clearing sinuses, repelling insects and soothing itchy skin. Lavender oil is calming, so it’s great to have on hand if you’re feeling a little anxious or having trouble sleeping. It’s also a lovely perfume! When we hand wash our clothes I throw a few drops of each in to keep our laundry smelling fresh.
We each carry a Manduka Eko Superlite yoga mat with us. They fold up really small (the size of a newspaper!) and weigh just 2.2lb. They’re also sustainably made from natural rubber. It can be surprisingly difficult to keep a fitness routine going while you’re on the road, but at least by having a mat with you at all times, you can whip it out when the opportunity arises. Ahem.
We’re a bit split on this one. Tom finds earplugs really useful for getting a good night’s sleep. I used to use them until my tinnitus got really bad. Now when I put them in I just hear really loud whooshing and whistling. That said, if you don’t suffer from ringing in the ears, earplugs are a great idea, especially if you’re planning to sleep in dorm rooms.
It goes without saying that we load up on listenables whenever we travel. We have spent hours and hours listening to podcasts together on long bus journeys, watching films during epic airport layovers or just having our own little silent disco together in the back of taxis. Our trusty little headphone splitter came with our headphones, but you can easily pick one up online for not very much money.
This is a new addition to our essential packing list. Since travelling to Norway where, during the Summer, it never really gets dark, we have realised the value of eye masks. We really struggled to sleep for the first few weeks until we got hold of some eye masks, which were a real game-changer. We’ve since thought how useful they would have been in dorm rooms where other guests don’t turn out their lights until late or in rooms where you have a window into the hallway. From now on, we won’t be going anywhere without a mask!
External Hard Drives
Naturally, we accumulate a lot of photo and video files while we’re travelling, so it’s essential that we carry external hard drives. We use them to back stuff up from our laptops, but also as storage space. Even if you aren’t carrying a laptop around, it’s never a bad idea to carry some kind of portable drive like a USB stick. This has come in handy when we have needed to print stuff out, like boarding passes. On occasion, we have had to prepare documents first and then take them to a copy shop so they can be loaded onto the shop owner’s computer.
Passport Photocopies and Passport Pics
On a number of occasions, particularly in India and other parts of Asia, we have been required to provide photocopies of our passports and visas, as well as passport photos. We’ve needed them for obtaining certain permits, buying SIM cards, booking onto tours and hiring mopeds. You can always find somewhere to get photocopies or photos taken abroad but in our experience it can be a real faff. Best to have some with you.
Would love to hear what other people wouldn’t travel without!