Not all packing lists are created equal, and there will always be things you wish you’d brought and others you wish you’d left behind. And some things you won’t even know you need until you’re on the road.
So here are the 10 most useful things that I brought with me on my ‘round-the-world journey, and a few I’d wish I’d thought of before I left.
Folks will argue in circles about what packs to take for long-term travel, but the best advice I can give you is this: smaller is better. In fact, I think 36L was just about perfect for everything I needed, and as an added bonus, it fits in overhead compartments in planes and left me able to trek up hills and down vales to out-of-the-way hotels and Airbnbs without breaking (too much of) a sweat.
As an added bonus, the bright color is easy to spot on a luggage conveyor. This was easily my most important and most valuable purchase.
This water bottle is like magic. It holds up to a liter of water, and when it’s empty, you can fold it up in and stuff it in your bag. Or pocket. Or anywhere.
It’s super lightweight and was a blessing when I just couldn’t fit another thing in my daypack.
Samsung Galaxy S5 (GSM, unlocked)
I bought a refurbished Samsung Galaxy S5 from Chubbie’s Tech on Ebay before I left the U.S. because I needed something unlocked (and GSM) so I could buy SIM cards and use my phone in the various countries I visited. The Samsung S5 didn’t disappoint, and I’ve used it for so much. Photo quality has been great, and I’ve found apps for everything from searching for New Zealand campgrounds to buying train tickets in Vietnam to getting directions to the corner store in Bali.
Unless you’re going off the grid, a smart phone is a must for international travel. You can find out more on using tech abroad at Too Many Adapters.
Having an e-reader saved this bookworm’s intellectual life. Hostel bookshelves are wonderful, but so are Kindle Unlimited (especially if you’re looking for guidebooks) and my home library’s electronic book selection.
I paid $9.99/month for Kindle Unlimited and accessed one or more guidebooks per month, so buying the subscription made economic sense. As an added bonus, I downloaded a range of other books at no extra cost, which was a lifesaver when I just had to reread the Harry Potter series after Trump got elected.
And if you’re keeping a permanent residence in the U.S., check out what electronic books your local library might have to offer. Even if you don’t have a Kindle, you ought to be able to download apps onto a smartphone or tablet (if you have one) to access e-books.
Not everyone’s an e-reader fan, and I love a good, heavy paperback. But having an e-reader was a tremendous (and tremendously light) piece of tech that helped this booklover keep reading on the road.
Kelty Compression Bag
A friend gave this to me before I left the country, and I’m so glad they did. I stuff all my clothes that I don’t care about getting wrinkled in here, and it practically halves the space they take. What an amazing invention.
This one might surprise you, but zip ties came in super handy for me. Whether storing a couple bags at a hostel for a day or taking an overnight train, zip ties can take the place of locks and chains and are much less noticeable.
Yes, if someone really wants to steal or open your bag, they can cut off the zip tie. (They can also cut your bag, too.) But most folks are looking for quick and easy grab, and the harder your bag is to get into, the less they’ll likely go for it.
Combination Bike Lock
Like zip ties, the combination bike lock helped me rest easy in a lot of situations, from staying in a somewhat sketchy hostel to taking an overnight train. If I was worried my bag might wander off without me, I just used the bike lock to attach it to a metal bar or bed. And when traveling with others, I often used it to tie our bags together, too. Convenient, easy to carry, and useful.
Sea-to-Summit Pocket Towel (Small)
No towel? No problem.
I stayed in a number of places that didn’t provide towels, so bringing my own saved me from either having to drip dry or renting an overpriced one from whatever hostel or homestay I was at. My Sea-to-Summit towel would probably be too small for most Americans (it’s about the size of a hand towel), but it’s the size most folks use in Korea, so I was used to it. But there are larger options, too.
Lightweight, durable, and relatively quick-drying. Would recommend it to any backpacker.
I bought my Tevas in South Korea, and I couldn’t recommend them more. They’re durable, lightweight, and comfy, and they’ve taken me up and down mountains, across beaches, through cityscapes, and even to a wedding (don’t worry, it wasn’t mine). I’ll probably wear them until they fall off my feet.
As a gender non-conforming person, I wasn’t sure about what to do about cutting my hair while I traveled. Would I be able to communicate with stylists/barbers? Would they give me a hard time for cutting my hair like a guy? I didn’t want to deal with any of these problems, so I bought a pair of rechargeable clippers and started cutting my own hair before I left. My look, in particular, makes this easy, so it’s not for everyone. But it was a big time and stress saver for me to be able to take care of my mop on my own.
I picked the Philips Norelco Kids clippers because they’re rechargeable, lightweight, and came with two adjustable combs/guards. Super easy and compact.
What I Wish I’d Brought
Menstrual Cup, Thinx Underwear, and One More Binder
Y’all, I feel pretty good about my packing job, but there are two things in particular I wish I’d thought to buy before I left: a menstrual cup and Thinx underwear. (As a side note, I also resist potentially buying from Thinx because of recent allegations of sexual harassment and workplace bullying leveled at the CEO. Ethical consumerism is
I’m a tampon kind of guy, but you know what? A lot of countries aren’t. I got close to running out in such a country, but luckily I had a visitor from the U.S. who brought me some more, and I stocked up again in Australia.
Additionally, I want to reduce my environmental impact, and tampons (especially with applicators) don’t help much.
Next time around, I’ll probably bring some tampons but also buy a menstrual cup and some Thinx underwear.
However, note that the latter also have their problems. Questionable water quality might affect a backpacker’s ability to sanitize the menstrual cup, and shared bathrooms and laundry services might make washing out Thinx underwear problematic. But I think a combo approach might allow me to not worry about running out of tampons while also reducing my production of waste.
Finally, by the time I almost hit the year mark in my travels, my GC2B chest binders were beginning to wear out. Perhaps I should’ve packed a third one or plunked down somewhere long enough to order another midway through the journey. So when thinking about undies, bras, binders, etc., know that wearing the same ones over and over will wear them out. You might need to get a friend to send an undie care package to you at some point–or stock up in a country where you know you can get what you need and what will fit you.
What are your must-packs when you travel? What do you wish you’d brought along?