People often ask me what to pack for a big trip around the world. For that reason I am giving you a small look behind the scenes, showing you what kind of travel tools and gadgets I always bring along. These things enable me to travel more, better and cheaper. And as a bonus they also do not take up much space either!
Okay, it’s not a complete list and there so much more stuff to take with me. But recently I moved to a smaller backpack, leaving my 60+15 liter behind and switching to 50 liters for my future trips. Why? Because it gives me so much more flexibility on the road and makes me think more carefully about which items are really essential when you travel to far flung places.
READ MORE: 5 Easy Steps to Stop Taking Expensive Taxis
This article is the first in a series that will show you exactly what I bring. I hope it can inspire you and make you more aware of what is actually needed on a big trip around the world.
Multi-socket extension lead
These days travellers bring along a lot of electronics. Power sockets in hostels are usually already taken by others, or they are located in really weird places. Also, I don’t like to leave my items to charge without keeping an eye on them. For all these reasons I have had a couple of times when I ran out of batteries on my tablet in the middle of the day because I wasn’t able to charge it properly. And since I rely on it quite heavily for my navigation, I needed to come with a solution.
Therefore, for my future travels I am bringing along this 3-meter multi-socket extension lead so that I can charge everything overnight from my bed while I’m sleeping. This way I can wake up every morning and have everything ready to go.
Because I made the cable myself, I have recycled a lightweight 3-socket with a 2-wire cable because all the stuff I will be charging isn’t grounded anyway. I also added a small light to indicate live sockets because I have quite some experience with sockets in hostels that didn’t work at all. Total cost: €0.
World Travel Adapter
A universal world adapter is quite handy when you don’t know in which countries you might end up. I modified mine by putting a higher rating 10A fuse in it so that I can use it for my travel boiler without a problem. The price for this adapter was not particularly low, around €15. But I can use it much longer than the cheaper ones. In Thailand I tried a few simple ones, but they always gave me problems and broke down quickly.
I think this one was worth the investment even though there are always some cooler ones that also include USB inputs!
Travel Boiler + Coffee & Cup
Dutch people love their coffee more than anyone else in the world. This simple portable immersion heater is my life saver on airports. I can now make my own cup of coffee everywhere where I can find a mains, which saves me plenty of money. Also, being able to have a hot drink at any time of the day also creates a small moment of relaxation when you’re hitchhiking or on the road in general. I really love this thing. Total cost: €2 (bought in Malaysia, but for the same price I also spotted it in for example Ukraine).
Ever since I started travelling, I noticed cheap LED flashlights for sale in literally every outdoor market. Flashlights can be essential when you are staying on a small island and need to find the way back to your hut after a night of partying. Or when you need to pack your bag in a hostel dorm with insufficient lighting (happens a lot!). Of course smart phone these days have flashlights too, but in some cases it is better not to carry one and bring a much cheaper flash light instead. For example when you are planning to go for a heavy night of drinking.
Because I am a sound engineer back in The Netherlands, I now use a professional Felix LD20 flashlight. But the cheaper ones are usually only €2 and can be pretty decent too so I highly suggest any backpacker to get one. Best is to get those that don’t use AAA batteries; AAs are much easier and cheaper to get by, have more power and usually last longer. You can also consider a head lamp, very useful too!
On my previous trips I have always carried an old skool Nokia, combined with an iPad. Now I am making the switch to a smart phone because I felt like even though the iPad was a great travel tool (especially for navigation using CityMaps2Go), I couldn’t carry it with me without a backpack or winter jacket with large pockets. Also my old Nokia was slowly dying, which forced me to switch.
Now I will be travelling only with a cheap Huawei phone, which allows me to do the same as the iPad but with even greater GPS location service. For calling I prefer to use Skype though, so the phone will be there just to take pictures and use the internet whenever there is wifi. Oh, and it can also serve as a flashlight. Bonus!
Hanging toiletry bag
Ever since I bought this bag in 2009, I never lost any toiletries. A hanging toiletry bag, compared to a conventional one, is better organised and provides a clear overview of what’s inside. You can see at an instance if something’s missing. Another great benefit is that in dirty bathrooms I just hang it somewhere and so it will never get dirty or wet. One of the best investments I ever made: around €20.
I only bring my Leatherman Wave when I have check-in luggage because carrying a knife on board of a plane is a stupid idea of course. Leathermans are a bit more expensive than other multi-tools (mine was $75 in the US) but it will never ever break, unlike the replicas. I use the Wave to prepare my sandwiches when I am on the road, opening up cans of tuna (noodles & tuna = backpacker diet in Australia), cut my nails, fix cars, etc.
I always use my own pad lock when I stay in hostels with private lockers. The one I carry is not too big (because it might not fit on some lockers), but also not too small to be easily broken open. Keep in mind though that when someone really wants to steal your stuff, he or she will. Best is never not to flash around with expensive stuff in hostels to begin with. If lockers look a bit dodgy, then don’t assume your stuff will be 100% safe. In those cases I sometimes prefer to keep some expensive things with me.
I carry simple, cheap and compact headphones with a microphone so that I can have Skype sessions even in noisy environments like restaurants, common rooms or other public areas.
You never know what will come on your way, so I always bring an empty USB stick with me. Before I go I make sure it’s empty so that I don’t share anything private documents like passport copies when I loose it for whatever reason. I also bring several HDD of 500GB or larger but that I consider part of my photography gear, which I will not go through in this article.
Earplugs are handy when you want to sleep longer in noisy dormitories. Also, I often travel to countries where there don’t seem to be any limits on sound pressure levels in bars. Because I am a sound engineer I have custom made ear plugs, which are actually a bit too expensive to bring on my travels. In fact for travelling it doesn’t matter which ones, any protection will do. Just make sure they don’t stick out too much so that can still lay your head on a pillow without discomfort.
Recently added to my gear, a (free) eye mask is a great thing when you want to sleep longer in a busy hostel dormitory. Watch out with using it in public places though, because once you fall asleep your stuff can get stolen even more easily (especially when you are also wearing ear plugs!).
Notebook + Pen
When I travel I keep all kinds of notes. Not only language shortcuts, but also regular thoughts, random ideas, travel schedules, quotes from interviews and contact details of people I meet. For phone numbers I always code them in case I get searched over by corrupt police or soldiers. For example you can add an extra (false) number somewhere in between, or write them from right to left without saying it is actually a phone number.
A notebook is also very useful in case some school kids come running to you and want to be your friend on Facebook. You just write down their names in your book and tell them you will add them. I learned this the hard way myself. When I was in Bangladesh at first I was always trying to explain to those kids why I couldn’t be friends with them on Facebook. I hated letting them down each time and sometimes even lying to them that I don’t have Facebook. I feel that writing down their names is a less painful option since it will not immediately hurt their feelings. In fact, it gives them some kind of self confidence because they see that a foreigner is actually interested in them.
The yellow card, better known as the International Certificate of Vaccination is needed in specific countries to proof that you have been vaccinated for yellow fever (mostly African countries). I always bring it with me (like my passport obviously), just because it doesn’t take up much space.
I always bring a black marker, which is for making my hitchhiking signs obviously.
Packing everything, you can see that all the things above don’t take up much space:
I have several ‘free’ pouches that I have collected over the years. The pouch on the left is the one I always have in my hand luggage, which I call my airport pouch. It includes my padlock, passport, earphones, earplugs, yellow card, notebook, pen, marker and boarding passes.
Apart from my photography gear, clothes and a small sleeping bag there is not much else I bring with me on big trips. A few empty plastic bags always come in handy though, for example to organise your dirty clothes and separate your socks from the rest.
Some items I am considering at the moment, but never carried before, are:
- Short rope – To hang my clothes to dry since I am not planning to bring much and thus need to hand wash more often
- Cutlery set – At least it would be nice to bring a spoon and fork, because a knife is already in my Leatherman
- Extra backpack – An extra, very small day backpack can come in handy when I go on short day trips and only need to bring an extra shirt and bottle of water or so (max. spent ±€3)
When it comes to money, there are certain backups I am carrying wherever I travel. To find more information on this topic, have a look at how I keep my travel cash safe.
To learn why I don’t travel with a Lonely Planet, please read my list of 5 must-have offline apps. By saving wikipedia pages, wikitravel and other websites I don’t need to carry any guide books.
Do you have any suggestions of what to bring as well? Leave your comments below!