10 More Things I Can’t Travel Without

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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 did not know about the laundry in tubes! I’ll look for it when I am authorized to travel again!

    I store my clothes in mesh bags as to being able to shape them, I found them for 1euro 🙂

  2. You should get yourself an e-reader instead of books because it takes up a lot of space in your luggage.

    I have a Kindle now and I absolutely love it! Unfortunately the Kindle is back order now even for Canada.

  3. By notebook you mean those paper one? I also carried a notebook to record my spending.

    I never Flickr makes business cards. Wondering if they can ship to my country…

  4. Hehe, I travel with my clothes in separate plastic bags as well, but i never thought to use garbage bags! I’ll keep that in mind for next time. XD

  5. Salut Zhu,

    I know too, how important it is to pack the strict essentials! We are in the era of more expensive rates for excess lugage & less bags per person.
    We are not with backpacks like you two, but scaled down rolling suitcases. Really scaled down… no useless clothing and everything mixing with other pieces.One pair of sneakers(on my feet),& one pair of nice shoes.

    But,I feel “naked” without a small backpack. Inside, I have in flight essentials; meds,books,sweater,inflatable neck rest,munchies, to name a few.So useful for the return. Once when we went to San Diego, my cousin gave me two of grandmother’s plates.I took my sweater and folded them in the back pack. No problemo!

    Bises 🙂

  6. A rope? Genius! That’s what I should have got in Canada when I found myself stuck to dry my clothes as I didn’t want to use the dryer.

    So you have the Ipod but still carry books? E-reader next?

  7. @Cynthia – Look for that Génie thing, it’s awesome!

    @Margaret – We are working on that… but laptop or not, I’ll update the blog. I did it just fine in Latin America two years ago!

    @Poem – I’m not a huge fan of e-readers, even though they are practical. They are still expensive, and so is downloading books. I think I already spend my days in front of a computer, I like reading on paper.

    @khengsiong – I’m pretty sure they can. They ship from either London or the U.S. but as far as I know, they ship worldwide.

    @Lizz – It’s a useful tip 😉

    @London Caller – Oh you have no idea 😆

    @shionge – It was Feng’s idea actually, he always carries it.

    @barbara – I always have a small backpack for stuff I can’t check-in, such as my camera and passport. But rules are so restrictive these days, I check-in almost everything.

    @Em – I have an old iPod nano so I can’t use it as a reader. I still like reading paper books best… plus I can use book exchange and discover new authors.

  8. the garbage bags are a great idea! I’ll try that on my next trip.

    I like to slip a dozen or so large zip-lock bags into the pockets of my suitcase. i use them to store cookies or seashells or whatever.

  9. For me it has to be Ziploc bags. They’re perfect for keeping small items in one, easy-to-find place, stashing snacks, or organizing receipts. And I always bring a bunch of them with me when I move to France because they just don’t exist over there. My American friend who lives in Paris always brings some back with her after visits to the U.S.

  10. E-reader has e-ink and it doesn’t hurt your eyes like a computer. I used to think I’ll only read books but kindle is awesome. I got over 300 books and I only paid for one so far.

  11. Love your idea of making the mini business cards. Definitely I will check into the Moo minicards. Thanks for sharing! I always find and learn something new from your posts!!

  12. Your kind of travel is long past for me but I love your list. I never go anywhere without a diary and pen, ipod, and my Kindle. Also, I discovered the usefulness of garbage bags a long time ago.

  13. Wow, that’s a list that reveals that you travel a lot, and is quite travel-savvy! Garbage bags are definitely necessary, but watertight bags like Ziploc are good too, because sometimes you never know whether you need your stuff to be waterproof or not! I used one when I was caving in the Philippines, and there was a section underground where it was only passable by swimming, and I had a camera with me.

  14. Definitely agree with you on the hand sanitizer, notebook and pens! I also need my sketch pad and pencils for long trips! Drawing makes the time go by faster! 🙂

  15. @Seraphine – I really should take Ziploc bags as well, these are very useful. Thanks for the tip!

    @Tanya – Yes, come to think of it I don’t remember seeing these in France!

    @Poem – I see… well, maybe another time. I’m old-fashion, I know! I just like holding books 🙂

    @micki – You are most welcome! You should have some cards done, I’m sure it would be useful for you.

    @Yogi – Ah, another Kindle lover…! Don’t you miss books?

    @Linguist-in-Waiting – You are right, I should take some Ziploc bags for my camera, batteries etc. OK, I’m sold, I’m adding it to my list!

    @Pauline – I used to carry my pencils with me as well, but I don’t draw much these days.

  16. I’m looking into buying one of these e-readers instead of transporting books. I’ve been reading reviews for weeks and still can’t make up my mind. I’ll let you know if I ever decide on one.

  17. I prefer paperbooks as well, but I can see the advantage of an ereader when travelling. I must admit that I am not 100% opposed to the idea of getting one, although this is not on top of my list.

  18. 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.

  19. 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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