What should you take with you when you travel? It’s a surprisingly hard question and most traveller bloggers are happy to answer it. But this is often different for everyone. It can change depending on your trip and even who you are going with. However, there are certain backpacking gear essentials that you should never forget when backpacking.
Some items are vital to your trip, some just make backpacking easier. Though as I’m pretty certain no one is going to forget clothes, I have not included them on this list. So here’s my list of what I see as essentials:
1. The RIGHT Backpack
Obviously, you need a backpack when backpacking, but it is vital to get the RIGHT one. You need one that fits comfortably on your back and that you can easily walk with. Don’t just grab any bag out of the back of the wardrobe and definitely don’t just buy the cheapest.
Think about size, how much do you need to take and how much can you carry? It’ll happen at some point on your trip where the train/bus station is a good 15-20 minute walk from your hostel. You don’t want to spend some of your already tight budget on a taxi, so walking it is. If you have a heavy, uncomfortable backpack, you’ll struggle on the walk and it’ll ruin your first impression of the destination.
Lots of different pockets are also good, so you can know where, for example, all your chargers are without having to pull out your entire bag. Also, make sure you can easily condense your straps, I found out the hard way that airlines don’t like straps that can get tangled in the hold, but luckily for me I was able to use some of the smaller straps to tie down the main straps.
2. Travel Documents
Another obvious one, but travel documents really are essential! Even when I’m travelling in my own country I’d still take my passport, as some places prefer ID as a key deposit. Check what Visas you need and if you need a Yellow Fever Certificate.
Make sure you have your documents and tickets downloaded or printed. If you download them, make sure the device you have them on is fully charged when you travel too.
3. Guidebook With Map
I never travel anywhere without a Rough Guide. There are plenty of other travel guidebooks out there, like Lonely Planet, but the Rough Guides are what I personally prefer. Whatever guidebook you choose, try to get one with a map of where you are going (although some smaller towns tend not to have maps). It’s good to get ‘the lay of the land’ before you get to a place, so you know how to get to the hostel, the nearest station etc. I know google maps is a big help for this, but it’s no good if you loose signal, can’t get data or even worse loose your phone.
It’s also good to have a rough idea of what you want to do there – although don’t set out a definite plan and use the guidebook as gospel. I like to remain flexible and ask other backpackers what is good to do and what is ‘not to miss’. Use the guidebook as just that, a guide.
Just be sure to pack it in a way that it won’t be damaged (or have an online version).
4. Money Belt
An important one for when you’re on a journey. One of the worst things that could happen is losing your money/passport. You could have them tucked away safely in your day bag when on a bus or train, but you’re likely to stop paying attention to your bag. You may even be on a overnight bus and plan to sleep. What if you wake up to find your bag gone? A money belt for your important items is a good safety aid – at least if your backpack disappears you still have those vital bits.
I’d only really use a money belt on on public transport, but still use it to store my passport in the safe when at my destination. I even use the money belt to store my passport in back home – that way I know where it is and we never have the mad panic of “Oh No! Where’s my passport?” before going anywhere.
Yes, hostels do have lights, but please take your own torch. There is always THAT PERSON who has to leave for a bus or early flight, gets up at 3am and turns the light on. You do not want to be that person, believe me, you won’t make any friends that way.
A torch will be your best friend in these situation. A head torch is even better, as it leaves your hands free to grab what you need to grab and means, if you want, you can easily read late at night when everyone else in the dorm is asleep. Even with a torch, try to make any early faffing around as quick and quiet as you can, otherwise you’ll be know as ‘Russell’ or ‘The Rustler’.
Treat the others in your dorm how you want to be treated. Would you like to be woken at stupid O’Clock by someone turning the light on and faffing around? Don’t do it to anyone else, have a torch and you’ll make friends.
6. Packing Cubes
Another easy way to lose friends and become ‘Russell’ or ‘The Rustler’ is to use plastic organisers to organise your backpack. Although ziplock plastic organisers may be convenient, being woken by the crunching of plastic in the night is not a good bonding activity between roommates. Compression sacks or packing cubes are what you want to organise your gear.
Packing cubes are great, even on small weekend trips I take at least one for used underwear and socks. On longer trips having everything organised makes finding what you’re looking for so much easier. They also help to fit more into your backpack. But please remember, don’t buy plastic organisers.
7. Microfibre Towel
One of the best inventions ever. I love my travel towel a little too much if I’m honest.
Hostels rarely supply towels in the dorm rooms, so you will need your own. Obviously a normal towel would take up far too much room in your backpack, so a microfibre towel is essential. These are highly absorbent and dry really quick, just hang them over your bed after use and they’re generally dry within a few hours. I’ve used mine in the morning and been able to pack it for a early afternoon bus completely dry.
They also pack away very small, so don’t waste that all important backpack space. Just don’t use them as a ground sheet – they pick up every bit of dirt.
I would always recommend an international adaptor that works world wide, as you never know where you’ll be heading next or you might get ‘the bug’ and want to go somewhere else once you finish your trip. You don’t want to be paying out for an adaptor per trip. It’s also a good idea to get an adaptor that has a surge protector and acts as a converter to avoid blowing a fuse.
Personally, I like the Twist Adaptors. You literally just twist them to get different plugs. They have USB charging ports and a Macbook port, so it’s perfect for me. There are a few different sorts that have different numbers of ports, but I like this one.
9. Pen Knife
I always try to take a pen knife (or Swiss Army Knife) with me on a trip (although this is not possible when flying with only hand luggage. Me and Dave have renamed it the ‘Anti Shit-Hostel Device’.
There’s nothing worse than getting to a hostel and thinking ‘I’m actually going to cook something proper tonight’ only to be disappointed by the equipment. You get all your gear for what you’re planning to cook, go down to the kitchen and find the sharpest knife in the kitchen wouldn’t even go through warm butter. Hostel kitchen fail, it happens now and again. This is also why it’s important to check out the kitchen before planning your meals.
My penknife includes extras like a corkscrew (you may splash out on wine with some new friends ,then get back to the hostel to discover you accidentally bought corked wine…) It also has a tin opener (old style, not the easiest thing to use, but saves waiting for the one tin opener in the kitchen) and scissors (very handy).
We also find the pen knife great when out and about; it means you don’t have to make your sandwiches in the morning. Just take the gear with you and make them fresh, this also means that you can put moist items on and your butty won’t be soggy by time you eat it. Great for walks or when you’ve had to get up for an early bus ride.
Just ensure it’s never in your hand luggage on a flight.
Last but not least, the camera. Whether you like taking pictures or not, when you get home people will want to see pictures of your travels. Indulge them. I don’t really like being in the pictures, I spoil the view. But sometimes it’s fun. Group pictures of tours make great memories. With all the social media networks you can let people back home know you’re ok and having a great time with pictures (and show off…) You may even realise you have a skill at photography and want to develop it further, who knows? Or you may get an amazing picture to blow up and put on the wall.
So there’s my top ten essential backpacking items. These are the items I miss if I forget them (or if I’m going hand luggage only on a plane and so can’t take the pen knife…)
This is my personal list, you may have something else you’d rather take. Feel free to disagree (or even agree) and point out anything you would rather take in the comments below.