Last Updated on October 20, 2008 by Christine Kaaloa
When I think of backpacking, the thought that surfaces is of rugged adventure and roughing it.
Unlike my business trips, when I backpack, there’s no collecting hotel points, sliding my card for rental cards, working out at the hotel spa, dining at fancy restaurants or calling up a personal assistant when things go awry. None of that.
Instead, I’m popping into budget hotels, entering scary-looking bathrooms, hopping aboard local buses and trains and trodding around on foot. Anti-luxury, anti-porter, anti-ease.
How do I pack so I can gain peace of mind that I’ll survive my backpacking journey?
10 Backpacker Essentials:
1. Baby wipes
I’m not a baby but I can assure you, wipes come in handy for a variety of reasons. I’ll not travel without it. Here’s just some of its uses:
• when you can’t take a shower
• to swab down your berth in a sleeper train
• to refresh yourself after a sweaty day or long hike
• to wash your hands or face before you eat
• women: when it’s that time of the month and you want to freshen up….
2. A silk sleeping bag liner
A light blanket to drape over you on a hot or cold night? Bed bugs prevention?…
A silk sleeping bag liner is the traveler’s best companion, for extra warmth and dirty sheets! Silk liners are light-weight, dry quickly and are better than porous cotton sheets. It mimics a sleeping bag, but in actuality, it’s two silk sheets sewn together, with a place near the head to tuck a pillow in. Being that silk locks in warmth, you’ll be tempted to ditch your sleeping bag. I’ve used mine for years and am quite happy with it.
Cost: anywhere from $40 in the U.S. but sold much cheaper in many Southeast Asian countries.
I recommend the Sea to Summit Silk Travel Liner.
3. A 6″ or 12″ power strip outlet
These days, more and more travelers carry electronic gadgets, mobile phones and computers on their trips. Thus, a power strip (aka charging station) isn’t a far cry as a necessity.
What’s in my charging bag:
• GSM mobile phone charger
• DSLR camera battery charger (which hogs 2 outlet spaces)
• iPod charger
• a hard drive charger (so I can upload and store my photos).
Get a guesthouse room to yourself and your charging station is all yours. But stay at a hostel and you’ll be competing with everyone in your dorm room for those 1 or 2 wall outlets! If you have as many electronic toys as me, do yourself a favor; get a light-weight power strip, because someone’s battery will be without juice and it won’t be yours!
Note: You’ll need to get a travel plug converter for the country you’ll be going to or order to plug your power strip in.
Update addon: An external battery charger (for iPhones, digital pocket cameras, etc…)
I don’t like bad smells, bed odors and head lice so I spray my bed with Febreze. I like to make sure things are dead before I lie on them! They also work for freshening clothes and smelly shoes. I pack two 2.8 oz travel spray bottles.
Click here for a stronger solution to preventing bed bugs and mosquitoes.
5. The Freshette (for Women)
Okay, laugh if you life, but when I heard rumor that some developing countries didn’t have western-style toilets, I panicked. I’m not a natural squatter. Being able to squat on solid ground is one tricky maneuver for me, but on a moving train?
The Freshette is the greatest invention hands down. It looks scary and some may think the idea of a pee cup as gross, but wash it after each use you’re good to go. Initially, it feels weird to pee standing up like a guy, but once you get the hang of it, you have the freedom of peeing almost anywhere. Read “If you were a woman, would you pee standing up?”
Cost: About $24.
6. A Key chain Flashlight
From bunking in a hostel dorm to a trekking homestays, making midnight runs to the outdoor toilet… dark places are still scary and you never know what unpredictable situations arrive with travel.
This item made my list when I was traveling Nepal. Try finding your way up a hill to a your rural village in the dark of night and during Nepal’s infamous blackout periods! Luckily I was carrying a keychain flashlight that my mother gave me from a retired folks health fair.
A key chain flashlight is lightweight, economical to pack and invaluable to have in unpredictable situations!
7. A microfiber travel towel
Is a travel towel really necessary? If I’m traveling for a long time, I might say no (read here). But if you’re going to get one, then these travel towels are awesome because they dry almost overnight and are resistant to odors. These are perfect for when you’re always-on-the-go and don’t have time to spare in waiting for things to dry. The towels can also alternately be used as blankets.
My top microfiber towel brands:
8. Security wrist wallet (or a Jogger’s wristband with zipper pocket)
I want my money accessible to me, but unsuspecting. A jogger’s wristband holds keys and loose change, but some wristbands allow you to store a bit more! For instance, the one I bought holds money and a credit card. Wearing a wrist wallet is pretty nifty. No one ever guesses it’s a wallet. In fact, most locals I’ve met actually think its either a bracelet or a fashion accessory. When I open it to pay for something, they always look surprised.
In Nepal, I was pick-pocketed twice in little under two hours. The thieves went directly into my bag. They found all kinds of junk and candy, but not my money. My money and credit card was around my wrist!
Cost: around $12-20. Get a Security Wrist Wallet here on Amazon
9. Copies of your passport (and a few extra passport photos).
It used to be that making copies of your passports was advised, in the case of an emergency or if your passport got lost or stolen. However, the more I travel, the more reasons I’ve found to carry them. Border crossings, buying SIM cards in a foreign country and shipping gifts and souvenirs internationally… are just some I’ve experienced.
How many should you have? At least three. But in actuality, I never feel like I have too many copies on hand, because I’ve always used them!
10. Peace of mind: aka notifying your credit card company or bank of your travels and keeping emergency numbers for them.
Ever had your ATM or credit card declined when you were abroad? If so, you know how it can be a major pain in the ass.
Having your cards lost or stolen, used to be the reason to notify your bank you’ll be going overseas. Today, it’s so you won’t get your account flagged or frozen when you’re using it. With identity theft being so rampant, banks and credit card companies hiked up their vigilance. The moment you swipe your plastic outside of your country, you’ll get flagged or declined. Although the service is there to protect, when you’re far from home and in a foreign land, the last thing you want is to encounter this.
* Tip 1: Before you leave, let know your credit card company and bank that you will be traveling abroad.
I cannot emphasize this enough. I’ve had my bank flag my credit card and ATM decline me a couple time when I was abroad. Notifying them of your travel plans will help.
However, this not 100% idiot proof. I’ve also had my credit cards flagged even after taking this precaution!
* Tip 2: Keep emergency contact numbers for your bank and credit card company.
* Tip 3: Always carry a bit of your own country’s cash in the case you need to exchange it.
Also, don’t assume your credit card will work everywhere. Unless you’re in North America or Europe, many developing countries don’t accept credit cards easily. Asia and Africa are some examples. ATMs are a more common in large cities than small rural towns. In the end, cash still rules. You’ll always be able to find a money exchange somewhere and in certain countries, people are glad to accept the American dollar.