While every traveler can figure out the traveling basics such as t-shirts and underwear, whether or not they need a fleece and what constitutes appropriate footwear etc there are a few backpacking necessities that no traveler should live without. These packing tricks may not seem obvious at first glance but they are the little things that make traveling that much simpler and can guard you against those moments when you say “I really wish I would have thought about that”.
What to Bring When Backpacking
1. Credit Cards and Valuables
I always bring 2 credit cards with me. One I keep in my main wallet or in my day bag and one I usually put in the inside zipper of my larger bag. Similarly, I always hide some extra money in the inside zipper of my large bag just in case either bag is stolen. Generally, both your day pack and your large bag will not go missing at the same time so its always good to spread out your valuables.
Make photocopies of all important documents. Just in case you lose your passport, having a photocopy of your original will only make the process of obtaining a new one that much easier and quicker. Ensure that you have copies in all bags just in case one of your packs is stolen.
3. Originals of vaccination certificate
When I arrived in Mumbai, India the customs officer requested that I produce a certificate of my yellow fever vaccination which I luckily had in my carry- on bag. Later in my travels, I heard that travelers had been denied entry to the country because they didn’t have a copy of their vaccination on hand. While the customs official in Tanzania did not request that I produce my Yellow fever vaccination, I understand it is also common in both Tanzania and Zanzibar to request such certification.
4. Iodine Purifiers
While I carried these around my entire trip and never used them, they can come in handy in very desperate circumstances i.e. when no clean/ fresh water is around. These tablets are used to purify unsafe drinking water. Again, while I didn’t use them, if you are trekking, these are so small that you might as while throw them into your bag.
5. Toilet paper or Tissue
Make sure you always have a roll of toilet paper or tissue in your carry on bag. I experienced so many broken down bus rides or road side stops where the roll was a lifesaver.
An MP3 or an IPOD is a backpackers must have. Not only does it make excruciatingly long bus rides that much more bearable but it also comes in handy when you want to avoid talking to someone on a long trip. While not necessarily the most effective use of space, I love bringing along a small set of speakers. Speakers are great for setting a good vibe in your room and when you have it on your balcony its a great way to meet your neighbors. A deck of cards is also a necessity. Again, cards are great when waiting in train/ bus station and having nothing to do but stare at the four walls.
Journals or notebooks are important for every traveler as they allow you to write down your thoughts, provide space to write down new friends’ names and e-mails and an area to note down fellow traveler’s tips including where to go and great hostels.
In all my travels I have never been physically robbed. While I have stupidly left behind valuables in cars and had them stolen, never has my bag been snatched or opened. I attribute this largely to my good security system. I always look my day bag as I walk around a city. I usually use a small combination lock which makes it easy for me to access my valuables on an as- needed basis and I almost always lock my big pack in my room if there are any valuables inside. This method deters most thieves since unlocking my bag without me noticing becomes a hassle, one, I guess, many want to avoid. While this may seem frustrating at times, it has served as a fool proof method against theft.
8. Wet Wipes
These moist multi-purpose towels are most often associated with keeping babies’ bottoms nice and clean but they are also great for staying fresh while traveling. Wet-Wipes come in handy when cleaning your face, hands and even body when you do not have access to clean water by avoiding bringing along soap and towel. While it shouldn’t be used as an alternative to soap or washing, wet wipes are great for keeping your pack light while trekking. I go through so many of these that I like to bring two kinds. One regular/ all purpose and one specifically designed for face.
9. International Driving Permit (IDP)
This document allows motorists to drive legally when accompanied by a valid driver’s license from their home country. Several countries require you to show an IDP (such as Italy, Greece, Chili and India) and many other countries strongly recommend it (i.e. Australia, Morocco, Ghana). If you are not sure whether to get an IDP, its better to err on the side of caution as they are surprisingly easy to obtain. Plus, even if you don’t use it, it can double as a second piece of ID.
- In Canada, if you are 18+ just head to your nearest Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) with 2 passport sized photos, a photocopy front and back of your drivers license, $15.00 processing fee and a filled out IDP application which can be obtained on their website (http://www.caa.ca/travel/travel-permits-e.cfm) and your permit can be processed within minutes.
- In Australia, permits may only be obtained by RACV or AAA (Australian Automobile Association). You will need to bring along your most recent license, a small passport photo. An IDP application form is only required if applying outside an RACV shop (i.e. if applying abroad). For more information check out RACV’s website: http://www.racv.com.au/wps/wcm/connect/Internet/Primary/travel/driving+overseas/international+driving+permits/
- In the United States, permits can be obtained from the American Automobile Association (AAA). You must complete an IDP application, provide 2 passport sized photographs (with your signature on the back of both of them) a photocopy on both sides of your valid U.S. license and send in a check or money order for $15. For more details visit their website: http://www.aaa.com/ppinternational/IDP_IADP_Apply.html
- For a full list of all participating countries please see: http://www.theaa.com/motoring_advice/overseas/idp-requirements-by-country.html
10. Water Proof Camera/ Case
Oftentimes you want to take pictures on water excursions such as rafting, snorkeling or kayaking trips but are nervous to take your camera out only to get it wet and ruin it. While having waterproof camera case is not full proof it’s a good way to protect your camera while still having the luxury of taking pictures. If you want a more reliable alternative you can use a waterproof camera such as Olympus Stylus 550WP.
11. Fast drying clothes
12. Washing detergent and a Tide To Go Stain Stick
I know we have all had times backpacking when we have worn a dirty shirt one too many times. Carrying washing detergent washing detergent allows you the flexibility to wash your clothes whenever you have a spare moment and staying in one place long enough for the clothes to dry. A Tide To Go Stain Stick is a great alternative if you happen to mess up a clean pair of pants and just need to get a small stain out.
14. Small fold-up bag
This is a great extra if you like to collect souvenirs along the way. If you find something you love and know that you could never find it home, this 3rd bag serves as your security blanket to allow you to buy those desired goods and know that you have a place to put them. My friend and I would usually fill the bag up as much as we could carry it and then head over to a post office and ship the goods home. Shipping goods home by sea from almost anywhere in the world in surprisingly inexpensive, even if you have a bunch of heavy items. While its take sometimes more than 3 months, its generally very reliable. This bag provides a great alternative to missing out on special treasures along the way.
When traveling, you will usually send out your laundry to some sweet old lady who charges you maybe $3 for an entire load and hands you a bag filled with the freshest smelling laundry and the finest folding job you have ever seen. But to get your laundry to this lovely lady, you will generally need a means to transport it to her. While you could use a plastic bag, generally you have to much stuff to fit into one little bag (most travelers, save up there laundry until at least half their pack is dirty). Thus, it’s a good idea to bring a small nylon bag with you. This bag will take up minimal space and can also be used if you decide not to bring a small fold up bag. Similarly, your small fold up bag can also double as a laundry bag. If traveling into a twosome, you really only need to bring one laundry bag.
16. International plug
Depending on where you are traveling to you may only need one plug converter. But if you are planning on moving from continent to continent you should opt for a multi- purpose plug that also functions as a voltage converter. Usually the multi-purpose plugs have all the types of plugs you would ever encounter along the road. While this plus is heavy and bulky it is definitely necessary if you want to charge you camera battery or MP3 player
While most people say to heck with them because they are heavy and take up too much room, I would have deeply regretted listening to those words of advice. While logical and at times accurate, I can’t tell you how many times I had an opportunity to wear jeans. If it was suddenly cold and I needed a pair of pants to keep me warm, if I had to go somewhere semi- fancy I would slip my jeans on or if I just wanted to escape from my loose fitting, cotton, traveling garb and dress up a bit I opted for my jeans. While almost anything you put in your bag it suited to your own personal needs and interests, I couldn’t have lived comfortably without my denim. The choice is really up to you.
18. Passport Photos
Some visa applications require 1-2 passport photos. If you are planning on getting a visa on arrival its a smart idea to carry around 4 extra photos. Countries such as Nepal, Burma and Cambodia require passport photos for visa on arrival so make sure you are prepared.
19. Small First Aid Kit
- Pain killers – ie: paracetamol (Tylenol)
- Oral Rehydration salts for diarrhea
- General infections- a prescription of Cirproflaxacin
- Anti diarrhea medication- i.e. Imodium, flagyl
- Antihistamine Tablets or cream
- Antiseptic cream, i.e. Polysporin, Hydro Cortizone cream
- Band-Aid (blister Band-aids especially), sterile dressing pads
- Eye Drops
- Upset stomach relief- i.e. Pepto Bismol
- Laxatives- if you have something in your system you need to get out
- After sun treatment- Aloe Vera
- Sunscreen Lotion 30+
These backpacking necessities do not need to be packed for every trip but they are a good starting point for any packing list.