Packing for any vacation can be quite a daunting task. I always want to bring more than I need and I always feel that I need to plan for every possibilities. What if it rains? What if I need to wear long pants to enter churches? What if I need to dress up? What if we go hiking?
There are many checklists out there that can serve as great starting point for packing, especially when going on an extended vacation. I like using them as a starting point to make sure that I am not forgetting some of the essentials. Obviously these lists are not perfect; packing needs to be adapted to where you are going and catered to the activities you will be doing. Still, many items can be rented on the road (for camping, say) and almost anything can be purchased if need be.
I don’t want to duplicate the hard work that others have already done and so this post is not a packing list or anything of the sort. Rather it is a list of 10 items that I never go on vacation without. I feel that these items really come in handy time after time, yet they may not seem as obvious necessities for anyone who hasn’t really traveled off the beaten path before.
1. Bring a Nalgene or an equivalent reusable water bottle. Use it to drink treated water or carry tap water around with you instead of purchasing bottled water. Use it to mix drinks, flavour your water or even as a hot water bottle on cold camping night. I always have mine with me, especially in hot climates. I use the easy sipper to make drinking out of my Nalgene more manageable.
2. Always carry toilet paper. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: you’d be surprised how often toilet paper (or even napkins) isn’t available in public toilets, restaurants or even hotel rooms. You can usually buy it by the roll in any market or corner store in places where this is an issue. Alternatively you could carry a pack of tissues, but those are more expensive and get used up faster.
3. Headlamps are so useful to have. Smaller than a flashlight, they are especially helpful to make sure you don’t walk into furniture at night in new hotel rooms or to check the floor for bugs before getting out of bed. You can also use them to read in dorm rooms without bothering everyone or your loved one. In some places there are no street lights at night, so a head lamp really comes in handy! I recommend purchasing the cover for your headlamp to ensure it doesn’t break in your bag – you’d be surprised how often that happens.
4. Bring locks. I travel with two kinds: a sturdy one (picture) and two smaller ones. I use combination locks so that I don’t have to worry about keys getting lost and can have more than one person access the room / bag if need be. I also carry a lightweight metal cord to lock our bags to furniture in hotel rooms, rooftops of buses or in night trains. Obviously if someone really wants to steal my stuff this will not stop them, but I figure that it might deter someone who isn’t 100% set on my belongings.
5. There are some seriously creepy beds out there so I travel with a silk sheet. It covers the pillow and acts like a really light sleeping bag. It helps repel bugs and you can wash it as often as you want. It’s also quite useful in places where sheets are not included.
6. Sarongs are some of the most versatile items ever. I travel with two. I use the sturdy one as covering in places with shared bathrooms but private rooms and as a beach towel. I use the light one as beach wear, as a scarf and as a head scarf. They also work well as sheets and blankets when need be, like during cold bus rides or in rooms without sheets.
7. I know this is just a pair of socks, but don’t leave home without them. And bring a sweater! It doesn’t matter that you are going to the tropics: you will get cold on the plane, on the bus, in dorm rooms… It also gets really cold at high altitudes and in the desert at night.
8. If sheets can be hard to get sometimes, towels are definitively much harder to find when traveling on a budget. Bring a quick dry towel, you won’t regret it.
9. I always bring packing tape with me. It’s a great thing to have around. I use it to stick souvenirs in my journal, fix hems, tape parcels, mend tears, temporarily block vents in buses, etc. I don’t bring a full roll, just one that’s about 2/3 done.
10. Don’t leave home without a first aids kit. You know what I said earlier about being able to buy anything on the road? Well, medicine isn’t always something that can be found. Some countries have serious problems with counterfeit medication while others just have problems with supply. Furthermore, you don’t always want to have to run around town for a pharmacy or a doctor for something you already have at home. I always end up using things from my first aids kit, and often come to the rescue of fellow travelers with the supply I carry in my backpack. It’s really worth the peace of mind.
So that’s my 10 essentials! They aren’t too bulky, they don’t weight much and they always come in handy. What do you always make sure to pack in your bags?
PS. These photos were taken in Bocas Del Toro, Panama.