Packing is never going to be fun, let’s face it you’re going to be able to carry less than half of the stuff you actually want to take. I’m not going to attempt to tell you everything you will need for your trip that depends on you and where you’re headed. You can check out these links to some online packing lists if you want somewhere to start.
I do suggest you write out your own list as a first time traveller, though this will soon be second nature. Packing lists are handy if your luggage goes astray and you have to provide info for insurance, make sure you scan the receipts for big ticket items for the same purpose.
Remember to prioritize, you never need as much as you think. If you forget something, it's unlikely there are many places in the world you won't be able to find a replacement and you can always order things off the internet to be delivered to the central post office.
Remember, you're going to have to carry this; whether it's cross country or just as far as the hotel lobby, so keep it simple. Worst comes to worst, it's an excuse for a shopping spree.
With that in mind, this is a list of weird and not so weird products I never leave home without. I’m not talking crazy travel gadgets with astronaut technology here. That stuff is fun but way outside my backpacker’s budget. These are just a few simple things I find personally make life easier on the road.
Wanna look ‘styley’ without breaking the bank? Want sunglasses that will stay on during adventurous activities? Want something that will fold up small or snap onto your pack when you’re on the move? I love these glasses for all the above reasons.
It’s hard to have an outfit for every occasion when you can only fit one of everything in your pack. Problem solved with these awesome dresses that can be dressed up or down. These and convertible clothing of every description are handy on the road.
I know, I know it’s not the same as a real book but carry a few novels and guide books around in your pack long enough and you will quickly see the appeal of having hundreds of books in one light weight package and we haven’t even touched on the wealth of free e-books available.
Here’s the benefits of this little luxury: great social way to bond with other backpackers, a way to keep busy and active on long trips, something fun and challenging to keep you occupied when the homesickness sets in. Entertaing local children is a surefire way to meet locals.
A little taste of home and something to jazz up even the most basic ingredients that can be scarce in some parts of the world. I have been known to travel with condensed milk, peanut butter, marmite, flower and baking powder. But a few decent tea bags, salt, pepper and chili can go a long way to make ad hock meals more satisfying.
In some parts of the world it’s hard to get the nutrition you need from cheap takeout meals available to backpackers. Taking a small supply of vitamins can help you stay healthy and some supplements such as cranberry pills can help dispel common issues like a UTI which can be a problem for travellers.
Before you judge me this stuff is handy for hundreds of things, it is a rubber tape that sticks only to its self, it doesn’t collect lint or get damaged by water and can be washed and reused multiple times. Great for strapping injuries and creating slings it can also be used to fix all sorts of things, waterproof holes in tents and shoes and even create fancy dress costumes at a pinch.
So it’s handy to have one adapter that will work in every country right, well if you have multiple devices to charge or travelling with a friend a power bar can save some serious fights over power outlets. It seems like a luxury item I know but charging what needs charging when you don’t always have access to power is a serious bonus.
A spork, half spoon half fork is a great tool for any backpacker to have in their back pocket, in fact it’s pretty much all you need in the way of cutlery. You might want to invest in a metal one though. I have a bad habit of sitting on mine, ending up with a separate handle and scoop end.
A total luxury, I’m not talking some naff blow up thing but an honest to god pillow, though this takes up some space, the ability to sleep anywhere, buses, crappy hotel beds even getting a decent night’s sleep while camping out is priceless.
Some hotels and hostels don’t want you washing your unmentionables in their sinks but when laundromats are few and far between there is a way. A universal sink plug turns any basin into a washer and can save you from baths that leak. To complete your laundry combo a pegless elastic washing line can be strung between any two points to dry you gear. I’ve even used them as guy ropes and to hold busted packs closed.
This one took me ages to find but it’s perfect. A reusable silicon bottle won’t leach harmful chemicals, it will fold up small when not in use but here’s my secret for this particular bottle (it won’t work with some cheaper bottles). Fill it up with hot water at night for a cozy hot water bottle that will save you dragging round extra blankets and keep you toasty.
A few drops of tea tree oil sprinkled on a hostel bed will repel bed bugs, can be used as a disinfectant, deodorize shoes or saturating the scalp for an hour or so can kill nits. An all-around good investment in a tiny environmentally friendly bottle.
Music breaches cultural boundaries, whether sharing with other backpackers or showing locals a bit about where you come from, a small set of speakers and some music from home can raise everybody’s spirits and spark interesting conversation.
So everything in my pack gets squished eventually, if you plan on carrying papers a short tube can be a great way to keep them intact. Art pieces I want to send home, sketches, important papers, even used diary sans cover can be preserved in a waterproof, squash proof tube.
Ladies - menstrual cup, get one, get one, get one. If you're a female traveller, I cannot express how much I recommend these. They may seem daunting at first but the benefits are huge. No TSS, can leave it in for 8-12 hours, no dodgy local tampons and you can clean it anywhere and reuse. I could not have managed some of my travels on overnight buses and trekking through the wilderness without my menstrual cup.
Lots of countries don’t have reliable hot water but that’s no excuse to be a smelly backpacker. Always carry some pH natural baby wipes for emergencies and consider some shampoo and conditioner especially designed to work in cold water. Remember though it’s not cool to soap up in streams where locals drink the water downstream. Keep an eye out and wash where they wash and you’ll be fine.
For those who get motion or sea sick motion relief bands work by pressing on pressure point in your wrist. Cheaper and healthier than dosing yourself with pills, these bands have saved me over some pretty gnarly roads.