Before setting out on my big travel adventure, I spent weeks scanning travel blogs and websites, talking to other long-term travelers about the best gear to pack, and surfing Amazon for the highest-rated items and deals. It was fun in some ways, but also exhausting. I enjoy research, but I spent many a late night toggling between multiple versions of the same item on various websites.
After being on the road for nearly two months, I can say that in most cases, my research paid off. I’m traveling with several items that make my life easier on a daily basis. To help save you some time and headaches before you set out on your trip, here’s my super-secret list of items that are worth their weight and space in my backpack.
My packing cubes compress my clothes so I can fit more into my backpack. They also keep everything organized. I have a larger cube for pants/skirts, a medium cube for tops, a cube for undergarments, and another for miscellaneous items like medications and small gear. Please don’t travel for any length of time without packing cubes, especially if you’re planning to change locations regularly. They’re well worth the money!
A fellow long-term traveler recommended a microfiber towel, and I’m glad I listened! I ordered the extra-large version. It took a little getting used to because it’s so thin, but I love it. It packs up small and dries fast, and can also be useful for rolling up wet clothes to dry them while on the go.
Another recommendation from my long-term traveling friend, a hanging toiletry bag is invaluable. Many hostel showers don’t have shelves, so I just hang this bag on the door and pull out what I need. It also has plenty room for all the essentials, so I don’t have to think about what I’m taking with me to the shower room in the morning. I just grab it and go.
I ran across this item on a travel blog just before I left on my trip, and paid a little extra for expedited shipping. I’m glad I did! This bag allows you to wash a small load of clothes in about 10 minutes. It’s a little pricey, but ultimately saves time and money, as most European hostels seem to charge $8-9 to launder clothes and laundromats require a lot of time.
I didn’t want to walk around all day everyday with a backpack on my back, so I opted for messenger bag. This one is small enough to tote around, has space for my small laptop, water bottle, maps, camera, etc., as well as added protection for my valuables. I carry it across my body with the bag in front of me to further dissuade would-be pickpockets.
If I’m going out for dinner or a quick errand and don’t want to carry my entire messenger bag, I grab this purse instead. It has many of the same safeguards as the messenger bag and plenty of pockets. This photo shows a green purse, but I actually have the black one, which matches everything.
This isn’t the exact change purse I carry, but the concept is the same. I clip the change purse to the interior clips in the messenger bag or purse, providing additional protection against pickpockets. It’s also much lighter to carry around than a full wallet.
8. Bose Earbuds
These headphones were actually a going-away gift from my incredibly generous former boss, and I absolutely love them. The sound quality is great, they stay in my ears when I’m working out, and they have a built-in microphone that I use when I’m talking on the phone through Google Voice. Additionally, the zip-up case is just large enough to hold my old-school iPod 4 along with the headphones and replacement earbuds.
If you’ve ever struggled with a multi-piece set of international adapters, you will love this single adapter as much as I do! I choose the appropriate adapter for wherever I happen to be in the world, and then plug in up to three electronics to charge at the same time. Often, these are my camera battery in the main outlet and my Kindle and phone in the USB outlets. It’s a lifesaver, especially since it’s often difficult to find enough outlets for everyone in a hostel dorm room.
10. Kindle Fire
My Kindle Fire is a constant companion on long bus rides. I use it for listening to podcasts, reading online books and magazines, navigating TripAdvisor city guides on my way to my next destination. The Kindle is also more portable than my laptop, so I often take it with me during the day for booking transportation, catching up on emails, etc. Definitely a good investment!
11. Macbook Air 11″
I write all of my blog posts on my 11″ Macbook Air and often use it for travel research and phone calls on Google Voice. It’s incredibly slim and light. I went back and forth about whether to get the larger 16″ screen, but in the end, I don’t miss having more screen area, and I love the the petite size of this laptop.
This camera takes great photos and is small enough and light enough to tote around all day. I’ve talked with many travelers who end up leaving their cameras in the hotel or hostel during the day because they’re too heavy. Take my advice and bring one that’s portable.
13. Portable Charger
You know that nervous feeling you get when it’s midday, your camera or phone is almost dead and you’re nowhere near your charger? Me, too…it’s scary! Especially for those aforementioned long bus rides, this portable charger really comes in handy! It’s a bit larger than some others I’ve seen, but it has two USB ports – one for a phone and another for a tablet or laptop. It also comes with a short USB cord and a handy case. Plus, it’s super cute. Worth. It.
14. Cord Organizer
This is one of those things I just found while surfing on Amazon late at night. As you see above, I have several devises that require cords/batteries/memory cards and the like. This nifty, lightweight zip-up organizer keeps them all in one place and fits easily into my messenger bag.
Ok, I don’t use this every night, but when it’s awesome to have for those situations when I need it in the hostel dorm rooms. Some hostels have individual lights near each bed, but many don’t. If I’m getting up early while it’s still dark or reading late at night when the dorm room lights or off, this enables me to see without having to hold a flashlight. It’s also handy for hiking, in addition to being lightweight and easily packable.
16. Big Scarf
I swiped my big scarf from my mama’s Goodwill donation bag before I left home, and I wasn’t able to find the exact version on Amazon, but you can choose the right one for you! I have used Mom’s scarf around my neck during cold-weather days in Iceland, around my shoulders in Portugal to protect them from the sun, and around my waist as a sarong to change up my small travel wardrobe. It could also be used as a swimsuit coverup or as a shawl for an evening out. Ladies, big scarves will likely be your most versatile travel accessory. Don’t leave home without one or two.
This hoodie is perfect for bus, train and airplane rides. It serves as a thin extra layer in cold climates and is great for early morning workouts. I have the all-black version of this same sweatshirt, and I love that it’s thin enough for packing but not bulky, has thumbholes and is moisture-wicking. It’s definitely a travel essential.
I bought this cheap-o inflatable neck pillow at an airport during some long-ago trip and kept in a hall closet for years. I decided to pack it for this trip, and I’m glad I did! I definitely wouldn’t have room or the inclination to carry around a plush neck pillow throughout my journey, but this inflatable one can be folded into the pouch and slides easily into my messenger bag. It’s prevented me from sleeping on a stranger’s shoulder on more than one occasion.
19. Eye Mask (and earplugs)
If you value sleep, you need an eye mask as well as earplugs. It’s no fun to spend a day walking all over a city when you’re already tired from getting no sleep the previous night. While traveling, you’ll be forced to sleep with lights on or in places where there’s no shade to block out early morning sun. On airplanes, in dorm rooms, or in hotels with thin walls, an eye mask and earplugs will enable you to rest. I’ve been amazed at what I’ve been able to sleep through with these “travel tools.” I particularly like this sleep mask because it’s large enough to block out all light.
If you’re directionally challenged like I am, you will appreciate having a compass. It makes navigating maps that much easier. I purchased this little gem for about $3 at the Walmart in Rochester, Indiana, and it has served me well! I also appreciate the temperature gauge on the back, which comes in handy for translating celsius to fahrenheit. When the Europeans I meet say things like “Sometimes it gets up to 40 here!” I can actually understand what they’re complaining about.
Though I’m carrying many other items with me, I believe these are most invaluable. I hope this list helps you plan for your journey, whether a quick trip or a longer excursion! If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask. Happy travels!
*Please note that these links are only for the purpose of making this post more helpful. They are not affiliate links, and I will not receive any compensation if you choose to use them to make purchases on Amazon.