10 More Things I Can’t Travel Without


Escap­ing The Winter

In Decem­ber 2008, shortly before we headed to Latin Amer­ica, I made a list of items I always take when back­pack­ing, 10 Things I Can’t Travel With­out.

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!


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. I always carry an instant hand san­i­tizer travel tube, espe­cially con­sid­er­ing all of the pub­lic restrooms I use when trav­el­ing. Hand san­i­tizer gives me peace of mind and allows me to focus on my work and not the chances of catch­ing any germs or bacteria.

  2. We do not do back­pack­ing but lots of camp­ing. I have a laun­dry rack that has a per­ma­nent home in my camper. It seems like we always have some­thing that needs to be dried. We have also used it to hang pasta and the grand­kids art work on days that it is to rainy for them to play out in the campground.

    I totally have all the other things on your list as well.

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