The things that proved the most useful during my travels aren’t products I bought in shining moments of brilliance. I’d love to say I was born with an innate ability to pack a perfect backpack. But the truth is, packing is an art. And it follows the ‘practice makes perfect’ rule just like any other life skill. Here are the items I ended up thanking the travel gods for while I was on the road:
Okay, so you’ve thought of this one… your backpack is obviously the most important thing you’ll bring with you. But there is one feature that truly matters on it: where you load your stuff. A front loading bag will make your life exponentially easier than a top-loading one. Make sure your backpack has a U-shaped zipper to the main compartment so you don’t have to constantly dump out your entire pack to find what you’re looking for.
2. Portable Charger:
You’re not going to be on your cell phone while you’re abroad nearly as much as usual. You’ll actually be amazed at the battery life that sucker has when it’s on airplane mode (i.e. you can’t hop between Facebook/Instagram/Twitter at will). But you will have days without access to an outlet and that little red bar will eventually creep back into your life. You probably won’t have an adapter handy in that dire moment and you’re almost guaranteed to need that phone for directions or photos.
It is so much easier to have a compact portable charger that you’re able to keep on you for these moments. I prefer something with about 6000mAh which has the ability to fully charge a new iPhone over two times (faster than an outlet) and it’s still small and light enough to keep with you. It’s also less nerve wracking to leave a portable charger plugged into an open outlet in a Hostel dorm than your expensive phone, so just make sure your portable is always charged when you have a chance and you’ll never have to worry. I probably only plug my phone directly into a wall outlet once a month, which should give you a good idea of how often I use my charger. That being said…
3. An Extra Adapter:
When you do have the time and the outlets to charge your electronics you’ll want to be as efficient as possible. I happened to have an extra set of adapters prior to my trip so I just threw them both in my bag. I find it incredibly helpful to have the ability to charge more than one thing at a time (this generally means my portable charger in one and my kindle or phone in the other). I met a couple backpackers who brought surge protectors from their country to eliminate this problem, although they tended to have laptops, curling irons, crock pots, etc. with them, so weigh your electric needs and decide what’s best for you.
4. Laundry Bag:
Watch any long-term traveler get dressed on the road. I promise you’ll witness them smell every item of clothing before they put it on their body. It’s the cold, hard, dirty truth. A friend got me this travel laundry bag as a gift before my last big trip and I got way more use out of it than I anticipated. To be honest, it seemed like a prissy luxury item to me until I was 5+ wears into all my pants with no ability to do laundry. I was forced to pack still-wet towels and bathings suits many times and said a special shoutout to my fore-thinking friend as I shoved the soon-to-be ratchet items in my smell proof bag.
The bag keeps your filthy socks from bumping and grinding your clean sweatshirts, which keeps you from having to wash everything in your pack once you eventually do a load. It may seem superfluous, but plastic bags aren’t abundant in many countries and the sturdy design and drawstrings on this bag help you easily carry your stuff to wherever that magical washing machine may be. Besides.. if you’re using it, great! If not, you haven’t lost any space in your pack.
5. Random Medicines:
Benadryl (antihistamine). Neosporin (anti-bacterial ointment). Bandaids. Ibuprofen. Anti-itch cream. Bug Spray. Pepto Bismol (upset stomach) etc…
If you’ve ever used it at home, you’re likely to need it abroad. The longer you plan to be gone the more likely this becomes (obviously) so I’ll let you make that judgment call. You also need to consider the places you’ll be and the accessibility of the meds you might need. I was hesitant to bring my mini pharmacy with me for space reasons (little bottles add up) but as soon as you have an allergic reaction to flea bites and can’t read the language on the meds at the pharmacy, you’ll be thankful for the doctor’s office in your front-loading backpack.
6. Nutrition Bars:
I prefer Clif Bars because they actually manage to help subdue my hunger but, whatever your favorite portable snack may be, make sure to throw a couple in your bag for emergencies. Preferably your carry-on, because it tends to be on low-budget flights that don’t serve food or in airports with bank-breaking, subpar sandwiches that your body decides it needs to eat now. It’s not as easy as you would think to find snack bars abroad and it’s never at the top of your priorities to remember, so save yourself the trouble and just throw a few in before you leave home. Besides, you’ll go through them quickly enough and then you can fill the empty space with useful foreign purchases.
Check out this Clif Bar Variety Pack from Amazon 🙂
These are just some of the things I originally hadn’t thought to pack and was overwhelmingly grateful to have had when the times came that I did need them. Packing is a live-and-learn experience. So don’t worry too much in advance. Thankfully, all you really need is that passport (and it’s okay to quadruple check you have it before each and every departure).
Share your tips! What is the most useful thing you bring on your travels?