One of the most common questions before travelling is around packing. What to pack? How much of it? Especially if you’re travelling for a few months (or more), the thought of forgetting any essential items can be daunting. Here I’ve put together a list of some of my essential items for a long trip. Let me know at @BordersBurpees what you’d add!
This is my number one item. If you don’t take anything else on this list, take a head torch! A headlamp is superior to a torch, because it’s hard to do things while holding a torch.
The best example of this is dark toilets on campsites – it’s so much easier to get your business done when you don’t need to hold a torch. It’s also easier to read in a dark dorm room with a headlamp than with a torch. You can use the head strap to attach it to anything – hang it from a campervan roof, or tie it around a water bottle (light facing in) to create a glowing lantern. When I was island hopping in Thailand, I would take my headlamp out at night to guide me back to my beach hut after a few (too many) cocktails.
Scarf or sarong
A good sized scarf, pashmina or sarong is a must in any traveller’s kit. You can wrap up in it for a cold flight, or throw it around your shoulders if you’re visiting somewhere that requires modesty. Or cover up sunburnt shoulders! Bunch it up, and you have a pillow. A good sarong can also double as a picnic blanket or something to lie on at the beach.
While travelling, you might find yourself becoming very attached to your rucksack. You might feel like a snail, with your entire home on your back. Your rucksack will go through a lot – airport luggage handlers, motorcycle taxis, boat rides, sandy beaches. Straps will weaken, holes might appear. None of this will be a problem if you’ve remembered to bring your gaffer tape. Just patch it up and keep on keeping on.
Clean your face, clean your body, clean your shoes, clean your surroundings. There are so many uses for wet wipes, I can’t imagine travelling without them. I usually splash out on a pack with a hard plastic lid to save them drying out, and a smaller packet for hand luggage and day bags.
Glasses repair kit
If you’re not blessed with 20/20 vision, you’ll probably want to take a pair of glasses. Depending on how far or long you’re travelling for, replacing them might be difficult or expensive. A glasses repair kit is light, cheap, and might just save your specs. Don’t forget to keep a note of your prescription, though – just in case!
Dual purpose items
If you have to carry your worldly goods on your back for a few months, less is more. For me, toiletries can easily take up half my bag if I’m not careful. I’ve found, though, that I can cut down by getting multi-purpose items. Why take face wash and body wash? Get yourself a soap that can do both.
Similarly, invest in a universal adaptor that takes multiple USB cables, to save space on plugs. And have a think about whether you need a phone and a digital camera – most phone cameras are pretty good now.
Is there an app for that?
Travel guides, maps, notepads, documents … there is so much that can now be stored electronically. Most people will travel with a good smartphone or tablet, where you can store soft copies of essential documents (don’t forget to use a cloud service like Dropbox to back these up too). The Trip Advisor app offers offline downloads of city guides, saving the need for weighty guidebooks. And if you’re a reader, I can’t recommend the Kindle enough. I can easily get through a book or two a week, so electronic copies are invaluable!
Beg, Steal or Borrow
There is almost nothing that you absolutely need, that you can’t buy wherever you’re going – unless you’re going into the total wilderness. Where there are people, there will be items available to meet those people’s needs.
There are a few common items that you can borrow on your travels. Most hostels will have a bookshelf that operates on a system of “leave a book, take a book”, and you’ll often find guide books there. You’ll find wherever there’s a bed, there’s bedding, so keep sleeping bags for camping. If you’re planning any activities that require specialist equipment, the chances are you’ll be able to hire it or buy it when you get there.
And people are nice, really. I’ve been offered a remedy for a dicky tummy by a fellow traveller when the toilets weren’t quite as soundproof as I would have liked. You’re very unlikely to find yourself in a situation where you have a dire need and no-one to help. So pack light, and don’t worry!