If you’re anything like me, you do a lot of researching and reading of packing list posts on the internet before you actually pack your bags and go anywhere. But I find that sometimes it can be hard to tell what items on the list will actually be helpful once you’re on your trip and which things you’ll wish you left at home.
So far my only long-term trip has been a 3-month one through Europe, and there are some things I packed with me on that trip last year that I’d wished I left at home and others that I was so happy that I had with me the whole time. Here are the top five most useful things that I packed with me on my backpacking trip (& some honorable mentions!).
I always thought that packing cubes were bit of a gimmick, a way for companies to squeeze a little bit more money out of you while adding no real benefit: I was wrong. Packing cubes were the single best addition to my backpack on my trip last year and on every trip since. They’re such an easy and effective way to keep your backpack organized when you’re on the road. You don’t need many, I’d recommend one large, and one medium-sized. Most of the time I use the big one for all my shirts and the smaller one for socks and underwear, but you can of course customize their use depending on what you prefer. I have two of these Eaglecreek packing cubes that are incredibly lightweight and take up literally no space when they’re not being used, but they have totally changed the way I pack to travel.
It might seem a bit extreme for a backpacking trip, but if you’re staying in hostels, a headlamp can be your best friend. Most of the time your schedule won’t match up with that of the people sharing your hostel room, so sometimes by the time you get home, an early bird may have already turned off the lights for the night. While some of the more modern hostels now have individual bed lights, many do not. Take it from me: rummaging around in your bag in the dark trying to find your toothbrush while not making any noise is a nightmare, and you should never be that person who turns on the overhead light after everyone else is already asleep. The flashlight function on your phone will work in a pinch, but I tend to prefer having my hands free.
3. Smart Phone
Having a device that can connect to Wi-Fi makes any travel experience that much smoother. While I was travelling in Europe I used my iPad mini for almost everything: finding directions, reading books, booking hostels, sending e-mail, blogging, FaceTiming, storing photos and navigating new cities. Of course it doesn’t have to be an iPhone or an iPad, but something that can connect to the internet and has helpful apps available for download is a tremendous help while you’re traveling.
These might seem more suited for a camping trip and are not the most fashionable items on the market, but they are worth their (not very significant) weight in gold. There is nothing worse than carrying a damp towel around in your backpack, especially if it’s also big and bulky. Look for a towel that is close to full-sized, folds up small and doesn’t weigh much. This is the one that I used on my backpacking trip. You can hang these out on the end of any hostel bunk bed and they’ll be dry by morning. Bringing your own lightweight towel is also wise economic decision because although you can rent towels from almost any hostel, the cost of renting them quickly adds up.
5. Combination lock and/or suitcase lock
I very nearly left my lock at home, thinking that any hostel with a locker would also have locks. I’m so glad I brought it though, because while many hostels have lockers, they don’t always have locks, or they charge you to rent them, which again can add up. I carried both a classic combination lock and a smaller suitcase lock with a key, and was glad I had both. If you only have room for one, I’d probably recommend Samsonite Luggage 3 Dial Travel Sentry Combo Lock, Black, One Size“>a good combination suitcase lock as some of the lockers in European hostels are very small and some can’t even accommodate a classic lock.
- Collapsible water bottle: This was such a lifesaver on my trip. It saved me a lot of money by not buying bottles of water, and collapsed down as it emptied so it could fit in my purse most of the time.
- Ziploc bags: I bring several. Smaller ones to hold things like memory cards and pens, larger ones to protect books or journals from possible water damage, and even bigger ones for damp bathing suits or dirty laundry. I adore Ziploc bags.
- Diva Cup (for ladies): once you get the hang of using one, there’s no going back. Easy, clean, lightweight – perfect for travellers.
What do you make sure to never leave home without? Is there anything that you’ve packed on your travels that have made your backpacking life easier?