Travel Gear

How to Pack for Travel

Knowing how to pack for travel, whether for a few weeks or a whole lifetime, can be quite a challenge.

I spent months myself trying to plan out what I would need, and I even wrote a post about it on a previous blog I had. However, now that I’ve been traveling for a few months and have a bit of experience, I think my information is far more valuable than it was back then.

Nearly every travel blog has its own list of essential travel gear, and many of them influenced my own packing. I won’t say that my list is perfect or complete. It is simply what I have myself or what I hope to get in the future, as well as my recommendations to others of what to get.

You should definitely start thinking about this well before you actually start your journey, as sometimes you’ll want to compare products or test things out. Things like shoes and the backpack should definitely be tried on in the store rather than ordered from a catalogue. If you’ve never traveled before for a long trip, it can be a make-or-break factor to your enjoyment of your journey.

Backpack

REI Grand Tour 85I did extensive research on my backpack, and finally settled on the Grand Tour 85 from REI. I could not be more happy with it. When I did my comparison between backpacks, there were several factors to take into account: comfort, size, durability, security, material, compartments, straps, design, top or side loading, etc. Here’s how the Grand Tour 85 panned out:

The size is just right. While it is advertised as 85 liters, about 15-20 of those are accounted for in the detachable day bag. The pack is side-loading, which means the whole side unzips and anything can be accessed within the bag, as opposed to a top-load with which you have to take out items to get to other items beneath.

In the main compartment are two side pouches and straps to hold in gear. Outside the bag there are water bottle pouches on either side of the bag, and two small pouches on either side of the waist strap. On top of the bag is another compartment. Both the main and top compartments are lockable with double zippers.

The day bag is ingenious. It can either be secured to the back of the bag with three clips, or it can be clipped to the front of the shoulder straps to evenly distribute the weight between the front and back of the body. It has enough space to carry a 13-inch laptop and plenty of other gear for short excursions.

A bonus feature is the bag comes with a waterproof covering large enough to cover the whole bag and day pack together. This feature is also very important when traveling on planes and other modes of transportation where you need to secure all loose straps. For the waterproof aspect, it is designed in such a way as to permit the shoulder and waste straps to be worn while keeping the rest of the bag covered.

While I have only had the bag for a few months so far, the durability is excellent. I have over 20 kg of gear in it, and I can yank it by any of the straps and throw it around without any damage or snapping threads. It has been scraped along surfaces, crammed through small openings and kicked around considerably, and it still looks brand new.

Lastly, it is comfortable, the most important aspect in my opinion. All the straps have considerable padding, and the back also has airflow features which prevent the back from getting too sweaty. As mentioned, I carry over 20 kg. While the first week was quite difficult, with an ache between my shoulder blades and a plethora of blisters on my feet, since then I’ve been able to carry the bag all around towns (walking up to 20 km in a day) and hardly have any discomfort.

This might not be the perfect bag, especially since everyone is different. But it is certainly one of the best. It is very adjustable for different sizes of people, and the simple black and grey color with a couple yellow straps and trim just looks good too. The only disadvantage I can think of is that it is too big for carry-on restrictions on any flight. But honestly, unless you try to squeeze all your gear into a 40-50 liter bag, I don’t think you will find a backpack for extended travel that you won’t have to check in.

The bag is purchased from REI, which is only based in America. The cost at the time of this writing is $189. I would definitely recommend it to other long-term travelers.

Clothing

There are a few things to say about travel clothes in general. First of all, skip pure cotton. There really is just no reason to take it when traveling. Compared to other materials, it dries slow, it smells and it’s bulky. With the exception of a pair of jeans and my underclothes, nearly all my gear are synthetic blends.

My personal favorite clothing store for international travel is Craghoppers.com. While a little pricy, their clothing is extremely good for travel. They have a variety of different brands of clothing, each with different features. Some of their features include insulation for the coldest weather, quick- and solar-dry technologies, high-security with several zipper pockets, permanent non-toxic insect repellent in their Nosilife® clothes, tear resistant, climate control, wrinkle-free, etc.

One recommendation I must make on clothing is to spend a little extra to get better quality. A pair of pants for twice as much that will last five times longer is worth it. Spending $20 on a pair of compression travel socks will be a blessing. Fabric technology has come far in recent years. With a little research, you can find incredible clothes that will last for years. While you can buy cheap clothing every few weeks or months as you travel, and in some cases will need to, I have learned by experience that higher quality clothing makes the travel much more comfortable and enjoyable. If you do need a special piece of clothing for a different occasion, you can always get it at your destination, and pass it on when finished with it. Plus, every country I have been to so far has cheap thrift stores and street vendors, and you can almost always find what you need.

I admit that my list of clothing is tailored for men. But other than the need of bras, I don’t think women would need to vary from this list very much. I certainly wouldn’t recommend dresses for long-term travel, unless someone can prove otherwise.

Jacket

A jacket, sweater, parka or vest is definitely dependent upon your destination, weather and time of year. It will probably be the most bulky garment you have, and you don’t want to overdo it, or underdo it for that matter. I am still wearing the leather jack I started out with simply because it was what I had. Except for the fact that it doesn’t secure around the neck, it has kept me warm through some cold days and nights in the UK and other locations. However, I’m sure it would not be suited for arctic-type climates, snowy locations, etc. As I move south and the temperature heats up, I will have to pass it on and pick up a thinner, lighter alternative.

Personally, I would recommend a thin-ribbed fleece jacket. These are rated for very cold weather, and compress quite well. Another option to consider is getting a thinner sweater and parka for warm, wet climates.

Shirts

Nosilife ShirtAs mentioned before, don’t get any shirts with cotton. They wrinkle, they dry slow, they smell, they’re bulky, etc. If you need warmth, there are plenty of alternative fabrics. Or just use your sweater or jacket.

Personally, I have three t-shirts and three long-sleeve shirts.

The t-shirts are a polyester/spandex blend, similar to athletic shirts. My favorite is from The North Face. They take up almost no room, are very light, keep me warm and don’t get dirty or start smelling for several days (I’m not a big fan of wearing the same shirt for days, but sometimes that’s not an option when traveling). Three are usually all that are needed for a week of travel between launderings.

The long-sleeve shirts are from Craghoppers.com. One is a Nosilife® button-up shirt with buttons to secure the sleeves when rolled up and a great pouch hidden around the chest for a passport and other large documents. It is well vented in the back, dries instantly, doesn’t wrinkle and has a permanent, non-toxic insect repellent in it. Best of all, it looks really good. I can wear it to semi-formal occasions when needed. The other shirt is from Craghoppers Bear Grylls line. Thin but quite warm, it is a great shirt for constant wear. While it is a cotton/polyester/elastic blend, it has none of the disadvantages of pure cotton.

I do have one other fancy, button-up, wrinkle-free polyester dress shirt that weighs less than an ounce and folds into the size of a baseball which I am saving for warmer climates.

My recommendations for shirts are to have a couple short-sleeves and a couple long-sleeves. For added warmth, you have the jacket as well as base layers (as covered below). But of course, how many you pack, and the types you pack, will be dependent upon where you are traveling to, when, and the type of travel you plan to do. Just don’t overpack.

Pants

Craghopper PantsI have four pairs of pants that I travel with.

The first is a pair of jeans. Sturdy, warm and appropriate in nearly any culture on Earth. While they are the most bulky article of clothing I have (besides the jacket), they simply are the end-all of leg wear. Need I say more?

The second pair is actually my favorite. They are a pair of Bear Grylls pants from Craghoppers. Designed specifically for international travel, they are perfect. I have worn these pants in sweltering temperatures in Mexico while they kept me cool, and I’ve worn them in freezing temperatures in the UK and they kept me warm. They dry instantly and are water resistant. The material is tear resistant and I have had glass driven into them without them ripping. Four of the seven pockets have zippers for added security. They even come with a high-density plastic belt that you don’t need to take off for metal detectors. I have slept in them without them wrinkling. I have run through mud and then wiped them clean with my hand when the mud dried.  Simply put, I have put these pants through many tests for years, and they are still holding up great.

The third pair is similar to the second, but purchased from The Sportsman’s Guide. While they don’t have all the same features, they do have the added benefit of being convertible to shorts. Other Bear Grylls pants from Craghoppers have the same feature, but these were a gift from a friend, so I use them. They just don’t have the zippers or climate technology, so not as ideal as the other pair.

Lastly, I have a pair of sweatpants, which come in handy for anytime I’m doing exercise in colder climates, which seems to happen a lot. Nothing special about them except that they are a synthetic blend and dry fast.

I would recommend just having two pairs of pants. They tend to be more bulky than other articles of clothing, and can be worn for a whole week between washings. Having two pairs does give you a backup if one gets dirty, or for different scenarios such as fancy dinners, hiking, etc.

Shorts

I have two pairs of shorts. One is basketball shorts for exercise, sleeping and other uses. The other is cargo shorts for daily use, hiking, etc. Nothing special about them, but I would recommend having at least a couple pairs, unless you plan to stay in freezing climates you whole trip.

Base Layer

Base LayerI would consider these as a vital addition to your travel wardrobe. I personally use the NordicTrack line. I have two pairs of pants and one shirt. They are made from polyester and spandex, keep me warm (but not too warm), keep me from smelling, etc. They are light and take up almost no space in my bag when I’m not wearing them. They also offer some protection against insect bites. As they are snug, they act similar to compression technology and thus make you even more comfortable. Certainly worth the investment, and I recommend them to everyone.

Underclothes

I suppose this is the biggest variable in preference. However, there are two rules I would recommend. First, pack several pairs. Personally I don’t like wearing the same pair of socks or underwear for more than a day at a time unless I don’t have an option. If you disagree, talk to your mom. I have nine pairs of socks and briefs, seven for a week between washings, one to wear while washing the rest, and one for backup.

Second, invest in high quality socks. I say that from experience of not having done so and my feet refuse to forgive me. Finding a pair of compression socks with wicking and anti-blister technology is the best thing you can do. They are expensive but worth it. The ones I found are TravelSox®, which you can buy on Amazon.com. There are many other brands to choose from. Get a pair and let me know if “I told you so” works for you.

Shoes

Sketchers ShoesI don’t think there is such a thing as the perfect pair of travel shoes. I tried to find them and failed. I also don’t think you can get away with just one pair of shoes.

I currently have two pairs of shoes. One is a pair of boots which are nice enough to wear with semi-formal attire. However, after walking/running/hiking/biking over 1000 km within two months, they are due for a replacement. They were actually waterproof when I purchased them, but that’s long since gone with their gaping holes. I actually would definitely not recommend waterproof shoes, as your feet need to breathe, and your hosts or hostel-mates at night won’t appreciate feet that haven’t aired out throughout the day. With the proper pair of wicking socks as covered above, you shouldn’t need to worry about waterproof shoes.

The second pair I have is a simple pair of Speedo® shoes. They are thin, light and pack well. I use them primarily for indoor use or beaches. They have no padding or protection, so aren’t suited for long walks or hiking. They are not for everyone.

I do recommend two pairs of shoes, whatever your preference is. Just make sure you try them out before you purchase them, don’t get them from a catalogue, and break them in a little without wearing them out before you start traveling.

Sandals

Get a pair of sandals. Not a pair of Birkenstocks, just the flimsy ones that take up hardly any space. Get a durable, non-plastic pair. I don’t know what brand mine are, but while they were passed on to me from my dad (better than a thrift store) and while they are several decades old, they still look brand new with no wear! These are essential for hostels and other questionable shower locations, beaches, etc. They are not just a recommendation, they are vital.

Gloves

When you travel, having a pair of gloves is not a fashion statement, and not just for the weather either. I use my gloves constantly, whether when helping hosts with various projects, cleaning, running or the obvious cold weather protection.

I personally have just one pair of running gloves that I brought with me. I wish I had also brought my waterproof thermal gloves instead of giving them with my motorcycle to my sister. The gloves I have luckily work in fairly cold weather, and have a feature which I’ve found extremely useful. They have pads on the forefingers and thumb for use on touch screens. That definitely comes in handy when you’re in cold weather and want to use your mobile device. I don’t think I could recommend the perfect pair of gloves for anyone as there are too many styles to choose from. But do have a pair. You’ll be amazed how handy they come in.

Hat

Filson HatThis is one of the places I messed up in when packing my bag. Months before I left, I found what I thought was the perfect travel hat. Purchased from Filson, it was water proof, UV proof and tear resistant. I fitted it with paracord string and a titanium buckle to keep it on my head in strong wind. I figured it would be suitable for any climate or culture.

I haven’t used it once.

The moment I set foot in London, I saw how out of place it would be. It’s not to say I couldn’t wear it. I just have a thing about “when in Rome….” Instead, I use my other two hats. One is a simple cap, which not only is waterproof (treated with Scotch guard), but also has a visor to keep out that pesky sun. The other is my wonderful beanie. I’ve found the beanie has more uses than one. Mine is large enough to pull down over my ears in cold weather or wind. Better yet, I can pull it over my eyes when sleeping in various locations. Coupled with a good pair of in-ear earbuds, and I can sleep just about anywhere.

Scarf

This is the only article that I didn’t initially start out with, but rather purchased later in my travels. It is not necessary for everyone, especially in warmer climates. On the other hand, it made all the difference for me as I traveled through the UK in February in below freezing temperatures with a jacket that didn’t close at the neck. I’m just glad it was only £3 in Brighton.

Toiletries

Towel

To quote one of my favorite authors, Douglas Adams states in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: “A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitch hiker can have. Partly it has great practical value–you can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapours; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a mini raft down the slow heavy river Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or to avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (a mind-boggingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you–daft as a bush, but very ravenous); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough

“More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitch hiker) discovers that a hitch hiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet-weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitch hiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitch hiker might accidentally have “lost”. What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with.”

Microfiber TowelMy recommendation on a towel is a micro-fiber travel towel. You might spend a few days getting used to the feel. Their quick-dry technology, ability to dry you faster than regular cotton and compactness make them far superior to cotton or other towels. I purchased mine from Next Adventure in Portland. It fits into the size of a small cucumber, and comes with its own pouch. Usually it will dry within an hour or two.

The rest of your toiletries are just the usual. Toothbrush and tooth paste, shampoo and conditioner, soap, comb or hair brush, nail clippers, Q-tips, razor or trimmer, etc. One item I highly recommend is a roll of toilet paper with the inner cardboard removed. I don’t need to elaborate more on that, but in some countries… Well, I finally learned what a bidet is. And there are places where all you get is a hole in the ground, and not even a bidet!

I do have to say one other thing, even though this page is primarily for men. Girls, leave your make-up at home. Maybe I don’t speak for all men, but show off your natural beauty. I know I’ll never be able to get you to stop wearing make-up altogether, but do you really need to take all of it?

Electronics

Phone

Phone ComparisonHere is where the controversy starts. Apple vs. Android. Won’t even mention Windows phones. My personal preference is the Samsung Galaxy series, and I’ve read several blogs which say IPhones aren’t good for international travel, but I’ve also met many travelers with IPhones. I personally have the Samsung Galaxy 4 and I love it. I probably won’t upgrade until either my phone dies, or Samsung comes out with the metal Galaxy S6 phone.

Whatever phone you get, make sure you get it unlocked before you travel, or purchase an unlocked one to start with. You will need to research SIM carriers in your destination country, as all are different. Personally, I simply must recommend T-Mobile, which to my knowledge is the only carrier which offers free international data roaming and unlimited texting on their plans. So far I have had almost no problem getting internet access, except for a couple places in the middle of nowhere, such as Touzac, France. But even if you can’t get data, every country in the world has wi-fi. Btw, South Korea happens to be the best internet connected country in the world.

Can you travel without a phone, or just an old-fashioned dumb phone? Yes. Does having a smart phone help? Absolutely. Advanced bookings, contacting hosts, staying in touch with friends and family, Google Maps, etc. all make a world of difference. Also, a phone can double as a music player, a book, a flashlight, a camera, a pedometer, a GPS… Need I go on?

Tablet/Laptop

Laptop and TabletHere’s the next controversy. Which is better, laptop or tablet? Nearly every travel blog I can find swears by their MacBook Air. Personally, I have a 10” Dell Inspiron. Recommended? Definitely not! I can’t wait to trade in my laptop for a lighter option. Personally, I plan to go for the Samsung Galaxy S tablet. I think the only disadvantage I can think of with having a tablet is that I have a 2tb external WD hard drive with all my media files, but the tablet has no USB port. But honestly, I’ve hardly used my hard drive while traveling. Why waste my time watching movies when I’m seeing the world.

Here’s some further reading for comparisons between laptops and tablet:

http://thesavvybackpacker.com/best-laptop-for-travel/

http://www.nomadicmatt.com/travel-blogs/smartphones-tablets-laptops-whats-best-travelers/

https://www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree/forums/34/topics/netbook-vs-tablet-vs-laptop-for-travel

If you do plan to go with the tablet option instead of a laptop, get a bluetooth keyboard and mouse. Personally, I have the Logitech K810 Keyboard and plan to get the Samsung S Action Mouse when I purchase my tablet. These make blogging and other features of the tablet almost the same as that of a laptop, with a third of the weight, twice the battery life and all the other benefits of a tablet.

Of course, there is always the chance I’ll get the new 2 lb. MacBook when it’s released, if I can save up enough money by then.

Camera

Canon Powershot ELPH 350What’s better, a point-and-shoot or a DSLR? Well, I can tell you that some of the best pictures out there were taken with a phone camera!

Personally I have a Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, and I am very happy with it. I spent a lot of time comparing different companies and models, and this one came out on top in my own research. It has a great, wide-angle view, takes fantastic low-light shots, is lightweight and compact, and can take nearly 300 shots on one battery charge. It takes great 1080p video, although it’s quite a drain on the battery. I also have two backup batteries ($10 each), screen protectors, lens cloths, a great 5” tripod ($4 on Amazon), battery charger, several SD cards (enough to take about 20,000 photos) and two cases (one for the accessories). While I would love to have a fancy, $3000 DSLR, they are heavy, bulky and I don’t know if I would want to carry a camera worth twice as much as everything else I travel with. I rarely even Photoshop the pictures I do take. The pictures I take show what I see. Why would I want to make them seem otherwise?

There is a newer model of my camera, the Canon PowerShot ELPH 350 HS, due to be released on April 20, 2015. This is the camera I would recommend getting for travel above all others. Plus, the cost is only around $200! I certainly plan to get one myself when mine gives up on me, which might happen before the end of the year with the thousands of photos I am taking each month. In fact, it almost did when I visited Cinque Terre in Italy, and only a crash course in camera repair with a borrow eyeglass repair kit at an optometrist saved me.

Batteries

Anker Portable Charger External Battery Power BankHaving a couple back-up batteries can be important. I don’t actually have any regular batteries myself, but I have two back-up batteries for my camera, and a battery pack for my phone. Now that is one of the most essential parts of my gear. I have the Anker Portable Charger External Battery Power Bank. This pack gives me 3-5 full charges of my Galaxy S4 phone, enough to last me a couple days of travel, and it will charge the phone from 0-100% in about an hour. It is also powerful enough to charge a tablet, and it has two ports. It’s only 10.4oz, which is not that bad.

Essentials

Food

Clif BarsWhile an essential part of travel is trying the food of each location, it’s always good to have backup. What I have in my bag are protein bars, muesli, nuts, dried fruit and beef jerky. Not necessarily all at the same time, but those are light, cheap and filling. I’m certainly not going to say what others need to have in their bag, as everyone has different tastes and diets. But it’s always good to have something in your bag for when you don’t have enough money for a restaurant or street food, the hostel kitchen is closed or you just can’t eat the food your host is serving. I would recommend enough for perhaps 3-4 meals, as this seems to be a good balance between not too much weight or space in your bag, and not enough food for emergencies.

Locks

TSA LocksLocks are vital for travel. While this world is infinitely safer than the media wants you to believe it is, it isn’t perfect, and no country in the world has zero theft. Nowadays, when you fly, you need to travel with TSA approved locks. But as those are designed to be opened without the key, they are not as secure. Personally, I have two sets of luggage locks. One TSA-approved set for when I fly, and another non-TSA set for all other travel. Also, I leave my locks on my bag all the time, except when I am actually in the bag looking for something. This discourages people on the street, in hostels, in restaurants and in other locations. Not that I don’t trust them, but I find that when you prepare for something bad, it usually doesn’t occur.

I have also read in blogs that it’s good to have a bigger lock for hostels or other uses. While I have one, I have yet to find a use for it. Every hostel I have stayed in has had lockers with keys and no place for my lock to fit, or no locker at all. Besides, my large bag wouldn’t fit into a locker anyway. Perhaps other countries will be different, but I would say save the weight and space in your bag and just get the luggage locks described above.

Water bottle

Nalgene Water BottleI’ve heard there’s a limit to how much water you can drink in a day. I personally don’t believe it, although I wouldn’t want to spoil my travels with too many trips to the bathroom. I do, however, believe that most people don’t drink enough water. No matter what your lifestyle, where you are, your eating habits, etc., you should always have at least one water bottle with you and drink from it regularly. While there are countries where tap water is not only safe to drink but delicious too, there are also places where water sources are unhealthy. When I was in Barcelona, I was told not to drink any tap water. In England the tap water was fine to drink. In Italy there are public fountains in many cities with water dispensers to fill up your bottle. But you need to have a bottle. Invest in a good one. My two favorite options are a metal bottle that won’t rust, and a BPA-free collapsible bottle which rolls up when empty. If you are going to go with a plastic water bottle, Nalgene and Camelbak make the best BPA-free bottles. And along with the bottle, you should get a filter as covered below.

Water Filters

Sawyer Water FilterThere are many water filters on the market, but two stand out most for me. The first, which is the one I have, is the Sawyer water filtration system. This is a small water filter which gets rid of particles down to but not including viruses. I have seen documentation of this product actually taking murky water and making it clear and clean. Might not taste that good if you start with muck, but there are cleaner water sources around. If you think the water source is questionable, or if you are out in nature, this is simply a must for travel.

SteripenThe other product, which I plan to get when I save up the $100 for it, is the SteriPen. This handles the bacteria too. All you have to do is put the pen in a .5 liter water bottle and 48 seconds later it will have killed any bacteria and viruses. Used in combination with the Sawyer water filter, you can create drinkable water in any country in the world.

Passport

I don’t even know why I’m including this on the list, it’s so obvious. But there are some extra tips about it. First, make sure your passport isn’t going to expire soon. Some countries won’t even let you in if it will be expiring within a few months. Next, take photos of your passport and save them on your phone, email them to yourself, put them in Evernote, print out copies for your luggage, etc. This step is VITAL! It should also be done with your driver’s license or ID card, birth certificate and any other valuable documents you have. The reason for this is obvious enough.

First Aid Kit

Medical KitHere’s a great variable in your travel gear. How much do you really need in a first aid kit? Some kits are huge and others are tiny. Hiking would require more items while having travel insurance (something you should definitely get) would negate other things in the kit. What I’m trying to say is that this is probably the hardest item for me to recommend specifics on. Personally, I have a tiny kit from Adventure Medical Kits, which I purchased for $10. It contains some gauze, a few types of bandages, antiseptic wipes, antibiotic ointment, Ibuprofen, sting and itch relief wipes, Natrapel® wipes, splinter picker/tick remover forceps and safety pins. In several months it is still unopened. The only thing I have used is a tube of Neosporin, and I’ve used that quite a few times (I definitely recommend that too).

And then there is Tiger Balm. Tiger Balm is wonderful and can be used in so many ways. Primarily it is great for sore muscles. You can also use it on bruises, burns, stings and bites, etc. I haven’t been able to find it on sale in Europe, but I hear it’s available in Asia, and definitely available in the US, as well as on Amazon.com.

Utility tool

Key Utility ToolSecurity restrictions these days make it nearly impossible to travel with knives or multi-purpose tools. However, there are some cheeky ways around this. I have found a few utility tools which are great, and still come in quite handy even though they are small. One is shaped like a key and fits on a keychain, but opens into a tiny knife, a screw driver, a file and a can opener. The other is a small titanium device the size of a credit card, but with gauges, bottle and can openers, screwdrivers, a saw, a knife, etc.

Non-Essentials

Sunglasses

These aren’t technically essentials, but they certainly are for me. Not only are they protection from the sun, they are also protection at high speeds. Personally, I would recommend skipping the $5 pair from Sunglass Hut and getting a decent polarized pair that is durable enough to last on your travels. Personally, I like to invest $50-$100 in a dual-polarized pair that is scratch and shatter resistant, and made from an indestructible material. My favorite pair was one I got from Bolle. They lasted me 10 years and survived being run over with my motorcycle without a scratch (don’t ask).

RFID Protectors

RFID WalletRFID stands for radio frequency identification device. Nearly all overseas credit and debit cards have them, as well as many passports. The problem with them is that they are not secure. Products exist which can steal the information off of them just by being in their proximity by a few feet. So I have a slim, metal wallet for my cards and cash, and a foil-lined passport case. The wallet has the added benefit of being water-resistant.

Tent

I need to buy mine ASAP. While not essential for all traveling, it makes travel so much more fun. There are some destinations, like Wales and Scotland, which should only be done with a tent and sleeping bag. Plus, with websites like CampinmyGarden.com, camping around the world is becoming even easier, and is a very cheap alternatives to other forms of lodging. As soon as I get my own tent, I’ll put my recommendation in here. Until then you’re on your own, but feel free to comment on your own recommendations for my purchase.

Sleeping Bag/Mummy Liner

Mummy LinerAlong with a tent, you will need a sleeping bag. I need to get one of these too. I know there are very small and light versions available which still keep you quite warm. In addition to a sleeping bag, there is what is called a mummy liner. This is a single layer of material which is usually for a marginal amount of added warmth to your sleeping bag. However, I would recommend getting one for other purposes. In warm climates, it can be simply used in lieu of the sleeping bag. It is also handy to have in hostels and other locations where you are not sure of the bed quality, or want to have a little extra protection from critters. Personally, I plan to get the silk one from Sea to Summit, as soon as I save up the money for it. They usually cost around $70 for this premium version, or $40 for the cheaper cotton or synthetic versions.

Mosquito Tent

This is simply a very fine mesh net for keeping out not just mosquitoes, but any other critter as well. I mention it here as it can be useful for non-camping travel as well. Once when I was in Mexico, the room I was sleeping in ended up having a mosquito nest in it, and it took months for all the bites to fully heal. I really wish I had had one of these nets for that night.

Hammock

In all honesty, there is actually a whole other range of products you should get for travel via camping. But one thing you could get even if you don’t plan to camp is a hammock. You can find ones which are light-weight and compact. They are very comfortable in my opinion. Not every place can support them, but if you do find a place to hang one up, it’s fun to have it available.

Inflatable Pillow

Inflatable PillowThis isn’t vital either. I meant to get one before I started traveling and never did, and now I’m kicking myself each time I ride a bus. A small inflatable pillow to put around your neck is just what you need for a long or overnight ride if you don’t want a nasty crick in your neck when you wake up. They usually run about $10-$20. There are also versions which don’t inflate, but simply compact really tightly. I’ll be getting one very shortly myself, and I’ll update this page when I do.

Plush Blanket

I say plush blanket only because that’s what I have. It doesn’t have to be plush, but they are certainly the yummier ones. Mine fits into a 2 liter compression sack. This comes in quite useful in a variety of circumstances where provided bedding is inadequate, or not provided at all.

Flashlight

Having a flashlight could be handy. I just have never used the one I brought. Most smart phones nowadays have a flashlight option. I use my flashlight app dozens of times each month. If you don’t have that option, I would highly recommend having a flashlight.

Tape

Specifically, duct tape. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read how essential this is in other blogs. The only reason why I included it in the non-essential part of my list is that I don’t have it myself, and I have yet to find a use for it. But for the wilder treks, I’m sure it’s much more useful. Just watch the movie Wild!

Sacks and bags

Compression SacksHaving lots of different bags and sacks is really helpful, if not technically essential. I always have a couple plastic bags handy for food, wet clothing, etc. Much of my clothes and articles are in compression sacks and smaller pouches. Having some Ziploc bags should probably be classified as essential, both for food and keeping things waterproof. I’m sure you can think of many more uses for keeping a few extra bags when you travel. The best part is when they’re not in use, they take up hardly any space.

Just remember to put things back where they go. And if you don’t want to pay the extra penny for compression sacks, you can buy Velcro straps as I did and make your own.

Grid-It OrganizerAnother similar item to these is the Grid-It organizer. This is for all your earbuds, cables, phone, battery and all other objects to keep them in a flat plane, instead of letting them all jumble at the bottom of your bag. Perfect for long, flat compartments in a backpack, such as the one in the Grand Tour 85 backpack mentioned above.

My favorite “pouch” is my KangaTek. This has four zippered pouches which fit around my chest, and gives me easy access to my phone, wallet and other essentials. I also keep some food, my phone battery and such in it, so that I can wear it and have my essentials without needing to take my day bag.

Packing

Packing for travel also includes knowing how to pack your bags. There are some basic tips for this to keep in mind.

If you followed all the recommendations above, you should have lightweight items which don’t take up a lot of space, clothes which don’t wrinkle and a good bag to put them all in. Hopefully your bag is side-loading, so you can access anything in it when you need to. If not, you will have to pack in order of importance, with the most used stuff at the top and the non-essentials at the bottom.

I recommend grouping your stuff as much as possible. Not only is this just neater in your bag, it will also make it easier to keep track of. Personally, I have all my camera gear in one sack, other electronics in another, locks in a small pouch, my water filter in another pouch, etc. My clothes are also kept strapped together, with season clothes squished into a compression sack, and extra socks and underwear pushed into my spare shoes.

A trick with clothing (aside from filling your shoes) is to roll up your clothing. Laying your clothes flat in your luggage is for business trips. You should have wrinkle-free clothes which you can roll up and squeeze into your bag. Altogether, all my clothes only take up about 10 liters of room in my bag.

Kangatek BagAnother key action is to ensure your gear is protected. Things that can be damaged by water should be in a plastic or nylon bag or otherwise sealed. Electronics, such as a laptop or gadget, should not be packed at the bottom of your bag (duh) and should be surrounded by clothes or next to the padding of your bag. Personally, I keep my most valuable gear in my KangaTek, which I almost never take off.

Finally, you will want to consider weight distribution. This will help distribute the load you carry, and also assist with weight restriction on flights. I would recommend putting a couple of your heavier items in a day bag or other small bag. If you purchased my recommended Grand Tour 85, you will be able to attach the day bag to the chest straps of the backpack, thus balancing the weight on your body. That’s actually very comfortable, and I can walk all day now with my 20 kg (45 lbs.) without any difficulty. If needed, you can also set down the extra weight if you need a rest. And finally, you will have an advantage when it comes to the weight restrictions of checked-in luggage on most airlines.

Summary

So that’s what’s in my bag. There are a couple other things I didn’t mention, only because I don’t use them and I plan to get rid of them soon. Currently, my bag is around 40 pounds. I would recommend 30-35 pounds as an ideal weight, both for men and women. I should be able to achieve that myself as soon as I switch my current laptop for a tablet or the new MacBook, and get rid of the things I don’t use, like my extra padlock. Just realize that when you carry everything on your back, the ounces really start adding up.

Many travelers carry more than one bag. Technically I have two myself, if you count the detachable daypack, but I usually keep it secured to my backpack. If you are thinking of more than one bag, consider what you need it for, what you will keep in it, security, carry-on dimensions and weight for flights, etc. It might not be the best idea to walk around with an obvious laptop bag when traveling abroad, but many do. Or you might need a separate bag for your photography equipment if you’re a DSLR buff. My recommendation will always be to get the Grand Tour 85 and keep it as compact as possible.

Finally, realize that you don’t need to spend a lot on your gear, but some things should definitely be better quality. As covered above, things like the backpack, clothes and other essentials should not be skimped on. You also don’t want to travel like a walking advertisement wearing $1000 jewelry just asking to be robbed. I think everything I travel with would total less than a couple grand. While I would definitely not be happy if I lost it, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. Just don’t get any ideas!

To end, I was thinking of writing this for an e-book, as it is such an extensive article. But I would rather provide it for everyone. If however you feel that the information is worth something, please consider making a small donation for my travels. To be honest, I don’t like asking others for money, but there’s nothing I would want to do more to make my living than help others achieve their dreams by traveling the world. Please use the form in the sidebar.

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One comment

  1. Interesting tips.
    I leave you mines:
    FOOD: canned mackerel fillets (cheap, light and energetic)
    WATER: my parents were used to potabilize water with iodine caps, cheap and light but not perfect solution
    Check also this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_water_disinfection just a PET bottle, some hours and lot of sun.
    GEARS: dental floss can be used in much more ways than the dental care, ask to google… Also safety pins are useful.

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