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10 (Weird) Travel Essentials I Always Pack

Where did I put my spoon?

Yeah, maybe I’m weird, but I always travel with a spoon. Eh, don’t judge. How else are you supposed to eat yogurt in your Rio de Janeiro hotel room? Do you know where to find or buy a single spoon? Do you even know how to say “spoon” in the local language? (Good luck with “cuillère” in French…)

With twenty (!) years of backpacking experience, I’ve got packing down to a science—admittedly by trial and error.

The trick? A master packing checklist and adding to it after each trip.

Also, the List (with a capital “L”) is how I deal with a recurring pre-trip nightmare. I usually don’t remember my dreams—just as well, it’s a very boring topic—but right before travelling, I always dream I’m on my way to the airport without my backpack. Another version of it is my in-laws rushing us out of the house and me realizing I forgot most of my gear.

So yeah, I need a packing checklist. Every traveller does, right?

Complete a free printable list you can find online with these essentials you probably didn’t even know you needed to pack.

My clothes: shorts in the light-blue bag, tops in the dark blue bag
My clothes: shorts in the light-blue bag, tops in the dark blue bag
I take packing *that* seriously, Ottawa, December 2019
I take packing *that* seriously, Ottawa, December 2019

A lighter

This is literally a pocket-sized device that produces fire, something our ancestors took millions of years to master—handy during a power outage or simply to light a gas stove. If you don’t have a smoker in your life, get your own lighter. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “Juliette… lighter!” It’s actually a running joke between Feng and I—I’m the chick who masters fire.

Wipes or isopropyl alcohol

I know backpackers are supposed to be free-spirited individuals with little regard for personal hygiene, but it’s actually super important to stay clean on the road, especially considering you spend most of your time outside. It only takes a minute to disinfect beloved items—camera, Kindle, phone—or to wipe questionably clean hot spots in a hotel room.

Fork, knife, spoon and chopsticks

Most backpackers don’t dine out every day. When you assemble a meal with interesting street food and local groceries, you need basic utensils—knife to cut fruits or butter bread, spoon for yogurt… you know the drill. Just pack cutlery.

Ottawa, December 2019
Ottawa, December 2019

Single-serve instant food or drink (tea, coffee, soup, etc.)

You can find boiled water pretty much anywhere. Bring instant coffee, soup, oatmeal, whatever. It’s always good to have your beverage of choice and some hot food backup for these late arrivals, oh-shit-everything-is-closed moments. It’s also strangely comforting to sip or eat something from “home” when you’ve had your fill or exotic delicacies.

Something to keep your hands busy

Remember life before Candy Crush and mobile games? Sometimes, it’s not advisable to use a fancy device—or maybe the battery died halfway through a ten-hour bus ride. Bring a classic pastime like a deck of playing cards, a Rubik’s Cube, knitting or crochet kit, etc. I carry cotton embroidery thread to make bracelets. These activities are also a great icebreaker if you feel like socializing.

Ottawa, December 2019
Ottawa, December 2019

Sugar, salt and pepper

There was a long list of cultural differences between Feng and me when we met but the fact he had packed salt and pepper felt like common sense to me. I had sugar, after all. Never take condiments for granted—at home, there’s always some kind of seasonings somewhere, but when you travel you often have to use your own.

Reusable bags and Ziploc bags

Many countries are banning plastic bags (e.g. Chile). Bring a foldable reusable bag and use it to carry groceries, as a beach bag or as a laundry bag.

Ziploc bags are awesome to organize stuff—for instance cords and chargers, the above-mentioned condiments, etc. Larger bags are great for bottles that may or may not leak after a flight (looking at you, shampoo and lotion…). You can also use them to store souvenirs collected along the way, for instance tickets, receipts, maps, etc.

Notebook and pens

Yes, I’ve heard of that thing called a computer, but I don’t feel like grabbing a device or booting Windows every time I have to record info. Carry a notebook with you to brainstorm, share info and record memories.


I cursed Air Transat for making me pay $10 for a blanket during a very cold flight to France but turned out to be a good investment. A lightweight blanket is great to have during long bus rides. In Latin America and in most of Asia, if there’s air con, it will be cold.


The world is a noisy place with paper-thin walls, especially when you’re trying to sleep. Dogs barking, roosters being roosters, neighbours making babies, enthusiastic hawkers, construction work and crazy traffic… Earplugs saved my life in hostels and on countless flights, train rides and bus trips.

Happy packing and more from Rio as soon as I find the damn spoon! (I have flan to eat, see…)

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