10 Things I Can’t Travel Without

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My sample bag - hey, I'm French!

My sample bag - hey, I'm French after all!

In a week, we will be in Panamá. Phew.

I’m still working until Wednesday and my to-do lists don’t seen to get any smaller. I don’t have any big chore to do, it’s mostly a bunch of little tasks I have to complete before we leave. After all, we will be gone for a few months.

I can’t wait to get rid of my winter jacket and to walk bare feet again (on second thought, I might just as well wear sandals). To go out for a smoke without putting my gloves, my scarf and my hat on. Oh… seeing the sun…

I’m looking forward to packing my bag and go. I haven’t practice the art of packing in a while though, and trust me, when you go traveling for a few months… you need to pack right. For example, this is a list of small objects I always carry with me when traveling:

Tiger Balm: a small pot of Tiger Balm doesn’t take much room and it’s very useful for headaches, muscular pains, motion sickness, cold… and to stop scratching mosquitoes bites! Some hate the smell, I like it.

Plastic sandals aka Flip-flops: I never travel without a pair of cheap plastic sandals. First of all, they are always handy to go to the beach or to walk to the corner store. But mostly I use them in communal showers… I don’t mind hostels at all, but I’m not going bare feet. Ever.

A Sarong: a sarong is a large piece of fabric, originally from South Asia and South East Asia. I bought mine in Australia and it is a traveler’s best friend. First of all, sarongs are pretty, usually decorated with bright colors. They are light and easy to wash and to carry. I use mine as a towel or as a skirt on the beach, as a light blanket on the bus or in the plane, as a curtain (especially if I’m sleeping in a lower bunk bed)… heck, I could probably use it as a parachute as well if I wanted to!

A small sewing kit: it sounds useless, especially given the fact that I’m not exactly the best seamstress around, but I like to be able to sew a button back on a shirt if needed. Plus, sewing kits often comes with small scissors, needles and safety pins, all of them useful for quick fixes. I bought a new sewing kit in Beijing this summer, and the little wooden box (on which it is written in perfect chinglish  “friend is people“) that fits in the palm of my hand will be perfect.

A bag full of cosmetic samples: I love beauty samples. I’m French, remember? Whenever I buy beauty products, I always ask for sample from the brand. I keep them all in a big bag and use them when I travel. Because they are so small, I can carry them in the plane and discard them after use. I mostly collect cream, shampoo, soap and cleanser samples because these are the products I use the most. Samples are also great if you run out of a product, you can still use samples as a backup until the next supermarket shopping. It does take some discipline to not dig into the bag before going traveling though…!

A plastic fork & knife or chopsticks: Always travel with either. For these lazy days where we make tuna sandwiches or cup noodles in the hotel room… Cutlery is often available in hostels but rarely in basic hotels.

Tea Bags: you may think tea is available everywhere but I beg to differ. Tea is never available when you really need it, however, hot water almost always is. Tea bags don’t take room and can be a life savior…

A roll of toilet paper: once again, you may think it can be found anywhere. Once again, I beg to differ. I’m not even going to get into details here, but trust me: always carry some spare toilet papers if you are not staying in four stars hotels.

Alcohol: nope, don’t drink this kind. I’m talking about rubbing alcohol, a solvent containing a concentration of 70-91% isopropyl alcohol and water. It great to relieve itches, painful muscles, and above all, as an external first aid antiseptic.

Believing me, despite carrying all that, my backpack usually only weights between 10-12 kilos (20-24 pounds). You will see next week!

How about you? Anything special you carry with you when backpacking abroad?


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. Hmmm…
    A camera + accessories
    A guide book & maps
    Good walking shoes
    An iPod
    Pencil & notebook
    Toothpaste and toothbrush
    Toilet paper
    Cell phone
    Small back pack
    Sun glasses
    Emergency medication
    Small laptop

  2. I never expected that you can buy Tiger Balm in Canada, LOL…

    I always bring along my credit cards. The cheap hotels I stay don’t normally accept credit cards, but I need them to withdraw cash. I am too paranoid to carry too much cash.

    If I travel to warm countries, I need a cap.

    Oh yeah, I also record the money I spend everyday in a small notebook. I mean paper notebook, not computer. In addition to this, I write down important information in it.

  3. In addition to your list, you know what is useful? Dental floss. And not just for flossing teeth, I’ve used it to hang things to dry like a clothesline, a makeshift belt when I’ve lost a button, and to tie things together. Obviously, quality string is much more reliable but in a pinch dental floss is very multi-purpose.

    Also, resealable plastic bags (like Ziploc) that are sturdy. I use it for saving uneaten food, for temporary storage of wet clothes, and just general storage so I can see what’s inside without having to open it. Lots of developing countries don’t use packaging, so sometimes it’s hard to find this simple thing.

    The best thing is that the above two things take very little space and weigh next to nothing.

  4. Oh yes, skin care samples are so handy. I also like to take my own tea bags. And my own blanket. Toilet paper, for sure!! 😀

  5. Hi Zhu,
    WOW; you both will be on the road again; yipee !!
    Let’s see whats in my travel bag :

    2)Meds for the “turista” ( it has happened …)
    3)Prescription Meds
    5)Bandages for the inevitable blisters on the feet/ cuts.
    7)Hand disinfectant ( when you can’t wash your hands)
    8)Face lotion
    9)Travel adapters for hubby’s razor & recharging cell.
    10)Camera( plus all the cords and junk)

    I hope to see you before the departure.

  6. Your list is ideal. I may have to print it for future reference. I travel extremely HEAVY. I carry EVERYTHING in a suitcase that weighs a TON…for a long weekend!

    I need to buy a sarong. I’ll have to google it to see where I can find a nice one.

  7. I usually start writing a list of things that I need to bring a week before I travel because from past experiences, I always forgot to bring one or two things that are needed. One of the things I use to carry is fever and cold medicine for my children just in case they fall sick during the travel.

    What you’ve written in your list are things that aren’t common to everyone unlike money, credit cards, cameras etc. I’m surprised that you use and like Tiger Balm, its very well known here and never thought that it could be found over there. Sarong?! I’m impressed 🙂

    Wish you a pleasant and safe journey.

  8. Hahaha. I definitely agree with you with regard to the toilet paper thing. I always bring one roll with me, even if I am just taking a road trip here in the continental USA. I guess, after seeing the restrooms of Bogota El Dorado International Airport, which does not have toilet paper, then yes, I bring one roll all the time.

    I don’t do big-time long-term backpacking itineraries like what you have, but my Amazing Race-style backpack is filled with the following, aside from clothes:

    passport, insurance, yellow fever card
    Lonely Planet
    nail clippers
    sun block
    a bath towel
    camera, memory cards, and a battery charger
    the appropriate phrasebook

    So there. I am vicariously excited due to your impending trip!

  9. Nice! That’s so neat list! I am impressed…………You asking me to what I pack? Believe me I take all useless things and forget all important once….Hang on I never meant Passport 😉

    One more Imp thing that I always carry (does not matter if Im travelling or not) is Hand sanitizer (Purell or smthng), Pen and scribbles. It saves me many times; believe me.

  10. Salut Zhu,

    So this is what you meant by going to spend winter in summer weather….you are going to Panamá :D! You lucky girl!!

    Girl, I also use “sarongs” (only I wear African ones, they are gorgeous – bought several in different countries; and have my family in Mozambique sending them to me too) when going to the beach, they are lighter and plus you can wear them around your waist.
    A sewing kit is essential!
    I see that you like Shiseido! Aaah, on est vraiement pareil lol…

    Hmmm, I never thought of that…indeed tea is not available everywhere…
    LOL “A roll of toilet paper” LOL…yes, this is also crucial!

    Alcohol is also a must…

    Darling, call me snob…but I never backpack…Imagine one of those women who don’t know how to travel light….that’s right…it’s me! I travel heavy, always. I need my clothes, I need to have shoes options, my cosmetics, my accessories…I have to have options!

    Great post! And if you leave before we talk: have a great trip!!! Make sure to give news!


  11. I always pack my notebook, my tour guide books, bathroom essentials, ipod, some clothes (can always buy more), etc. I will start packing soon myself too.

  12. An excellent list — especially the sarong. I have one with me wherever I travel. And the plastic sandals – a life saver sometimes. I also have a little Swiss Army knife that has scissors, a nail file, cork screw, a couple of knives. And I never travel without my toothbrush, toothpaste and dental floss (the latter can be used for so much!) Water and a mixed bag of nuts and seeds in case you get hungry.

  13. Your list is very practical. I can’t add much to it except that I always carry a few bandaids in my wallet. I don’t know that I have ever worn a sarong but will give it some thought. When does your odyssey begin?

  14. @Sidney – I take all of that except for the laptop and cell phone, the first one because it would not be practical for a long trip and the second one because… I hate cell phones!

    @Agnes – I bet you have some tales on why you carry toilet paper as well 😆 We all learn that pretty quick, don’t we!

    @Khengsiong – I also take notebook + credit card and debit card of course.

    Shionge, a blogger from Singapore, sent me the Tiger Balm 😉

    @Gail at Large – Dental floss, checked. I use it a lot anyway. Ziploc bags… never thought of that, thanks for the tip!

    @barbara – We don<t have prescriptions but I will take Advil and Tylenol of course.
    I don’t carry a cell because for a few months of traveling it wouldn’t be practical.

    @Scarlet – Sarongs are great. You can usually buy send anywhere near the beach… Florida is a great place to locate one! 😆

    I travel light and I always have a backpack. I have to be able to walk with it so…

    @zunnur – I also have a list including very small items because it helps me shop beforehand and so that I don<t forget anything.

    I love Tiger Balm, I could find it in France and of course China but this one was sent to me by Shionge, a blogger in Singapore. I love sarongs… best invention ever!

    @Linguist-in-Waiting – Same here. I bring all of these items. Toiler paper does come in handy, doesn’t it! 😆

    @Annie – Hand sanitizer is a really good point, I’m adding it to my list. Thank you! See, you are more practical than me!

    My mum would always tell me to not forget my head so I learned to make lists 😆

    @Max Coutinho – I don’t call you a snob, just a… virgin. I mean a backpacking virgin, of course! 😆

    Trust me, backpacking is extremely addictive and I’m still a woman who like basic stuffs like cream and make up, but you can indulge just fine on the road. It’s a matter of organization!

    I love Shisheido because the products are alcohol free and they do great to my skin. I’m posh 😆

    @Bluefish – Ipod, I’m taking that too! They are awesome for traveling…

    @XUP – I used to carry a Swiss Army knife and I stopped because of airport security etc. I know I can pack it n my checked luggage, it’s just sometimes through the USA they open bags and last time they took my small knife. Stupid.

    Anyway, thanks for visiting! I already subscribed to your blog so you will see me around 😉

    @Tulsa Gentleman – Begins next week! Bandaids are very useful, I also carry some in my bag.

  15. I didn’t know that it was possible to ask for samples. I’ve bought so many beauty products but never asked for samples. Yikes. Then again, I doubt that they give out samples in China.

  16. Backpacking anywhere I always carry my Swiss knife with me. Traveling to South America, apart from toilet paper, I always get a small bottle of liquid (alcohol) soap/ gel to clean hands when there’s no soap around.

  17. Pingback: 10 More Things I Can’t Travel Without | Correr Es Mi Destino

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