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5 Things to Bring on a Backpacking Trip

2010 May 25

So you’ve contacted your banks, sorted out your credit cards and taken care of the other to do’s before going on your backpacking trip. Now you’re probably looking at your empty sack and wondering, “This is great but… WHAT THE HELL DO I BRING?” You’ve got to fit weeks, if not months, worth of stuff into one tiny backpack. Fear not my friends, I’ll help you ease the pain.

Let me first start off by saying I’m not going to insult your intelligence and tell you to bring clothes, money and your passport. Who the hell doesn’t know that. It’s like telling someone that shit stinks and roses smell nice. What I will tell you are 5 things to bring that you might have not otherwise thought of (so sue me if you have). Each of these items I’ve found to be very clutch during my travels.

Biggest Swiss Army Knife

No… you will not be needing this.

1. Combination lock – Do you enjoy people stealing your stuff? If not, bring a combination lock. My trusty Master combo lock has proven its worth many times over. If you’re backpacking, you will most likely be staying in hostels which are notorious for having very lax security.

Master Combo Lock

Worth it’s weight in gold.

Fortunately, most hostels have lockers to store your valuables so you’re in luck. Combo locks also come in handy during overnight bus rides. I used them to lock up my zippers and then wrapped the backpack strap around my leg while I slept. I’ve heard stories of people losing everything after leaving their stuff under the bus. With that in mind, I recommend locking up your credit/debit cards, passport and other really important stuff in your day pack and keeping it close to you. Also, make sure you spend that extra $5 and get a real Master lock rather than some $0.50 knockoff from your friendly Chinatown street vendor. When you find out that someone snapped your knock-off lock with a pair of nail clippers, you’ll be wishing you bought the real thing.

2. Quick dry synthetic towel (Shamwow) – The last thing you want is a moldy, smelly, unusable towel in your bag. By using a quick dry towel (or even a Shamwow), you’ll never have to worry about that.

It won’t absorb a bottle of red wine from your carpet but it does work as a traveling towel.

Moving from place to place quickly doesn’t give you much time to air out your belongings and many times, you’ll be in a place that is hot and humid, disastrous for drying things.

I made the mistake of bringing a regular cotton towel to Europe and had to tie it to the outside of my bag to dry. In the process, I also made myself look like some idiot who thought he had a cape. You’re not Batman, bring a traveler’s towel.

3.Waterproof watch – One of the keys to having a successful backpacking trip is good time management: making sure that you don’t miss your flights, boat rides or bus departures. These days, with all of our iphones, blackberry’s, androids and whatever else, the first place we look for the time are our phones. I used to be the same way and only put on a watch when I went running. But while backpacking, you can’t depend on your phone to always have the right time, timezone or even service. A watch, on the other hand, will work anywhere in the world. All you need to do is adjust it once in a while. I’ve also used my watch as an alarm clock and unlike cell phones, I never had to worry about it running out of batteries or charging it. Having a water proof one is key because you can take it everywhere you go, even while diving.

4. Key medicine – The prospect of getting on a 18 hour bus ride with an upset stomach is one of the most terrifying thoughts ever. It’s something you wouldn’t want to wish upon your worst enemy, let alone happen to you. But when backpacking, travelers diarrhea is almost impossible to avoid. You are in such a different environment, eating different foods and drinking different water that your body invariably will have some “growing pains”. Since you’ll probably end up getting it, how you deal with it is the important part (you definitely don’t want to be spending your days on these). I highly recommend visiting your travel doctor (which is a to-do anyways) and he/she will prescribe anti-bacteria travelers diarrhea medicine. Because they go for the cure and not the symptoms like Pepto Bismol, they are incredibly effective. A friend of mine had been making best friends with the bathroom for 2 days and his weak NHS British medicine wasn’t doing the trick. I gave him a pill that I affectionately called “100% America” and within 12 hours he was feeling like a million bucks.

Ibuprofen I’ve also found to be extremely useful. A cold or a cough will slow you down but a fever simply crushes your soul and energy. There’s nothing worse than lying in bed when you could be out seeing new things on your trip. Fortunately, both times I’ve come down with a high fever, ibuprofen was there to bail me out. I was able to bike around Angkor Wat after popping a couple of ibuprofen’s and it saved me again several months later in Banos, Ecuador. Without it, I would’ve missed out on the jewel of Cambodia and some amazing waterfalls in Banos.

This picture was made possible by ibuprofen.

One more thing, bring a small bottle of Listerine mouth wash. No, it’s not for bad breath but rather an old remedy that works extremely well for sore throats, canker sores and mouth sores. Nothing is worse than not being able to eat because a sore throat is making you literally cry every time you swallow. A salt water gurgle helps but I’ve found that Listerine is a lot more effective. It’ll numb the pain points and kill the bacteria allowing you to recover faster as well as enjoy eating at that moment.

5. Flashlight/headlamp – Having your own source of light is extremely handy on the road. You’ll never know when you need to read directions at night or look for your toothbrush after lights-out in the hostel. No one likes the jackass who flips on the light at 4am in a 15 person dorm room; use your flashlight.

Bonus: Ziplock Bags – They don’t take up much space and are useful for keeping stuff dry and organized. I put my passport and cards together into one and if some cream or lotion ever broke, I’d just toss them into one. They are also great for keeping your toothbrush (relatively) clean.

There you have it. These 6 things have served me well and I think that you should definitely include them in your list of stuff to pack. Think I’m missing something (without a doubt I am)? Post it below!

10 Responses leave one →
  1. May 26, 2010

    Thanks for the list! My husband and I are planning on taking a trip next June (we have to save up some vacay days first). And another thing that someone told us to bring was a travel gorillapod or mini-tripod for when we want to get a picture and nobody else is around.

  2. June 2, 2010

    1 and 3 I def carry. I did carry a few basic meds but not much at all and relied on locals mostly, luckily I haven’t had anything too bad happen while traveling… And in lieu of zip locks you can use grocery or shopping bags. I tend to put my toiletries in the white Apple bag you get from the store when you make a purchase… They have a drawstring and are doubly thick (I have been using mine for 2 yrs and it’s still in good condition).

  3. blackwatertown permalink
    June 10, 2010

    Be careful with the painkillers. Some over the counter mainstream drugs are illegal certain Arabian Gulf states and could land you in serious trouble, even if you pass through in transist. Bizarre and silly, but true. Check first.

  4. memoirmadgirl permalink
    June 10, 2010

    talcum powder when in tropical climates – does wonders when you are hiking in boots in places like Chang Mai, Thailand

  5. June 11, 2010

    Since I am planning on leaving home to walk for a year without stopping, something tells me this entry and much of your blog will be worth reading :)

  6. rajeevelkunchwar permalink
    June 11, 2010

    Nice blog you have here. No wonder you are growing fastest.

  7. June 11, 2010

    I disagree. I DO NEED THAT RAD KNIFE!

    Awesome blog, I enjoy reading it.

  8. October 20, 2010

    As a solo traveler on a three month long adventure in Europe for the fall and winter, I can say that the most important thing that I brought with me are a nice pair of brown, waterproof boots I splurged on at REI. Consider your enviornment when packing , how much walking you are going to do, and how much you want to try to blend with the locals…but ALWAYS, ALWAYS have a pair of practical and comfortable shoes!!

    • October 21, 2010

      Hahah good call. I always end up packing two pairs of shoes:

      1. Flip flops
      2. Running shoes

      You’d be surprised how much a pair of Havaianas can go through…

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