Everyone wants to be an “ultralight” backpacker these days – but what are the things worth the weight they add to your bag?
These are the 20 things I was happy to carry, even when it was 100F in Greece and I walked two miles with my bag!
- Sonicare Electric Toothbrush
Yeah, I’m the weirdo in the hostel with the electric toothbrush. But seriously, keeping your teeth clean is huge for your long-term health (and who wants to find a dentist abroad?). The new Sonicares come with a case that lets you charge them via USB and carry an extra brush head. A little crazy? Yes. But worth it!
Also, expensive? Yes, but cheaper than even one filling.
Before I left, I debated about whether I “needed” a GoPro or not.
If you’re taking the trip of a lifetime (whatever that means to you), you need it.
It’s easy to take with you, durable, and I was really impressed with the picture quality!
- Go Pro 3 Way
This is especially critical if you’re traveling alone and want to be IN any of your pictures! It makes it easy to be a tripod to get all of you in, or you can get selfies that don’t totally look like selfies!
If you have a GoPro in general, you’re going to need something to carry it with – this is by far the best, in my opinion. And get the real one! The fakes just don’t cut it.
- Portable Power Strip with USB
Hostel or hotels abroad, you’re frequently going to only have access to one outlet. This travel power strip is AMAZING. It’s got two three-prong outlets, two USB ports, AND a USB-B cord attached that can charge a Kindle or Samsung phone.
It’s a much better plan than one of those block-type adapters – those might seem convenient but I generally ran into people having issues with them (whether or not the had the right number of prongs, etc).
People tried to convince me that because I was traveling in the summer, and because the rest of the world is more formal, I didn’t need to take jeans.
WRONG. I loved having them, though I will admit I didn’t wear them much in Southeast Asia!
- SD Card Holder
If you plan on taking many pictures or a lot of video, you’re going to need multiple SD cards (unless you splurge on the super-expensive ones that have tons of space!). Keep track of them, and keep them safe by getting a case for them!
- Money Pouch
I kept my money in a makeup pouch that I stole from a friend’s Ipsy collection and it was perfect. When thinking about wallets, I didn’t really process that in other countries, cash is differently sized than in the US, and more importantly, you’re much more likely to be carrying a giant wad of it around. My wallets were not optimized for this, so I ended up putting my money in the makeup pouch and it worked perfectly! It collected change well, and when traveling, held my passport too (yes, I constantly worried about losing it!).
I like to think it’s also a bit of a pickpocket deterrent – they’re going to think you keep your money in a wallet, not in a makeup bag…
- Power Bars / Granola Bars
I brought a decent number of protein bars and granola bars with me on the trip, and I was always happy I did! There were times on the trip that I didn’t have the energy to go grab dinner, or I was starving on a bus, or my stomach was upset and I needed something I knew would digest well, etc. But every time, I was glad I had the ability to reach in and have a familiar food!
- Packing Cubes
I cannot recommend packing cubes enough! They kept me sane on the trip.
When I was “test packing” I tried a few options – from the sets with multiple sizes to all one size, and I found that I liked having the four slim ones from the Amazon Basics set was worked best for me. I took a few of the other small ones and used those as well.
I don’t recommend the really big packing cubes – when you put so much stuff in them it can defeat the purpose!
- Eye Mask
A good eye mask is critical, especially for flights and shared hostel rooms!
A good, refillable water bottle was awesome to have with me. I like to think I saved a good amount of money and single use plastic bottles from landfills.
Even in areas without generally drinkable tap water, this was useful. Most hostels and hotels had filtered water that you could use to fill up your water bottle, and then you were set!
- An Amazing First Aid Kit
This one got its own post, but I was very thankful to have my very robust first aid kit! Being able to take care of some basic needs is absolutely necessary when you’re far from home.
- Fouta/Full-Size Towel
I cannot tell you how much I LOVE my fouta. A fouta is a Turkish bath towel that’s made out of cotton, and is not made out of terry cloth.
The differences to me between a normal towel and a fouta are that foutas are bigger, they dry faster, and they’re still very absorbent. And they don’t collect sand! Especially if you’re staying in hostels, a good fouta is incredibly useful. Even if hostels provided linens, I found the towels to be very small! In a pinch or on a flight, a fouta also works well as a blanket.
Even at home, I use my fouta constantly – because it’s lighter-weight than a normal towel, it’s great for wrapping my hair up in after a shower.
And all good inter-galaxy hitchhikers know a towel is a must!
- Lululemon Scarf
I swear, this scarf does everything. My mom bought one too and loves hers! It’s a great scarf, it’s a great wrap, it’s great for wrapping around your shoulders for temples, it’s a good blanket, and so much more!
- External Hard Drive (And Case)
I lost a hard drive of memories once, so I think I’ll forever be in the “do your backups!” club. Abroad, it’s likely you’re not going to have the WiFi to do massive uploads to DropBox or another cloud service, so having a backup on you is huge. But don’t just chuck it in your bag – buy the case!
- Small Luggage Lock
Especially useful when you’re storing your luggage somewhere, and also useful if you’re staying at hostels. If they have lockers, they generally don’t have the room in the lock for a padlock, so a small lock is a great way to secure your stuff.
- 18-200mm Lens
I so strongly debated getting one of these – they’re heavy, and they’re expensive. But I bit the bullet (on the thought that I could always sell it when I got back), and I’m so happy I did. It was so much easier to have just one lens on my SLR, and to be able to really zoom in and out.
I love normal paper books, but while traveling I was so happy to have my Kindle. When I had a good internet connection, I’d load up my Kindle with books from Overdrive through my library and I always had a great selection of books to read.
- Neoprene DSLR Case
I decided to take the risk and ONLY protect my camera with the DSLR case (knowing it would always be in my carry on), because more protection was so bulky. (And, to be fair, my DSLR is 11 years old, so it wasn’t the end of the world if it broke.) I loved having this case – they’re cheap, and I now use it all the time while I’m at home!
- Old Spare Cell Phone
I didn’t end up using this, but I was always glad I had it. It fit nicely in the hard drive case with my external hard drive. I met so many people who were in a pickle because their phone got lost or stolen. Bringing one of your old (but still working) phones with you can be a huge bonus – if you lose your cell phone, it’s at least going to have your contacts, etc in it. (And then you don’t have to buy a new one abroad! Electronics are generally way more expensive outside the US.)
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