We are backpackers and experienced travelers. Over the years, we learned that little ordinary items can make life much easier on the road. Every time we are going away, the ritual is the same. We gather our life and put it in a bag. I love that process. I get rid of everything that is not absolutely necessary and clear out my mind in the process. We start fresh again.
The first list I made was by no means the last one. The more we travel, the more we learn. Times change too: up until our Latin America trip two years ago, I carried… a Walkman and a few homemade tapes. I finally bought an iPod nano and it literally saved my sanity during these long bus rides!
So here is my 2010 list of 10 Things I Can’t Travel Without!
Garbage Bags — Once you get past the psychological effect of putting your clothes in a large sturdy garbage bag (am I homeless??), you realize how useful it is. First, it’s great to separate tops and bottom in the backpack. I usually put the warmest clothes at the bottom (sweat-shirt, a pair of jeans) since I mostly wear them for long flights. Then, all the bottoms go in another bag (shorts, skirts) and finally the tops (tank tops, t-shirts etc.) for easy access. I also take a couple of spare bags to put the dirty clothes in until we do the laundry.
Hand Sanitizer — I carry isopropyl alcohol, mostly for cuts and to disinfect whatever needs to be (tweezers, for instance). Hand sanitizer, now very popular after the H1N1 outbreak last year, is a new addition to my backpack. Small bottles cost about $2.00 and are very handy when you can’t wash your hand!
Notebook and Pens — At home, you take pens and paper for granted. When you travel, these simple items can be hard to find and yet, they are extremely useful! I always have a pen along with my passport to fill out entry/exit forms as well as custom declaration. Notebooks are great to jot down itineraries or hotel names, do some math (for instance currency conversion) and to set up a budget. Old notebooks are great memories to keep too.
An ISIC Card — Along with a passport and a debit card, the International Student Identification Card is a great card to have. It cost about $20 (depending on where you buy it) and is widely recognized. Holders gain access to tons of discounts, particularly on travel-related services. ISIC Card are fairly official looking and can also be used as a deposit when renting something (i.e. when renting sheets in a hostel) when you don’t want to leave your passport. You don’t necessarily have to be a student to get the card, it is also available to those under 26 and to teachers.
A Rope — Such a simple item, and yet so many uses… I usually use mine to quickly hang laundry in hotel room, to secure my backpack or to tie my tightly-rolled sleeping bag.
Laundry Soap — I’m a huge fan of this French laundry soap, Génie lessive à la main. I’ve been carrying it since my first backpacking trip to China in 1999. It’s a small tube so it’s easy to slip in a bag, it smells great and the gel detergent is very efficient. We usually go to the Laundromat once in a while but this is perfect to quickly wash underwear and t-shirts.
Podcasts — Like I said above, I now entered the 21st century and carry an iPod instead of a walkman. I love music and have thousands of songs but during our last trip, I discovered podcasts. Tons of great programs are available for free on Itunes. One of my favourite is The Story from American Public Media. I also enjoy BBC Documentaries and How Stuff Works.
Tylenol — I don’t take much medicine but I always carry Advil/Aspirin and Tylenol (paracetamol), which I discovered in Canada. I find it pretty efficient for cold, fever and sinus pain.
Books — I’m an avid reader and when you travel, you usually have plenty of time to open a book, especially when in buses/trains/planes etc. I usually carry a couple of books and rely on book exchange in hostels to renew my stock of novels. Never assume you will be able to buy books abroad: books written in English (or whatever language you speak) can be very expensive!
Business Cards — I made some mini-cards with Flickr a couple of years ago. On the front, there is one of pictures I took (100 cards, each with a different picture), on the back, there is my name, email, the url of this blog and my cell number. This is great to quickly exchange email with other travels (spelling emails can be painful!). I also use these cards as bookmarks in books I leave behind in hostels. I had people emailing me just to say “hi” when finding them, it’s fun!