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It’s time! You’re ready to head out on the trip of a lifetime but need to know what things to pack for a trip.
You’ve got the basics covered, of course. Clothes, electronics and ways to stay in touch with your loved ones? Check.
But what about the stuff you’d only know about if you’d been around the world, explored extensively, or lived as a nomad? What about items that you might otherwise forget, or, not have thought of?
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Must-Have Things To Pack for a Trip From a Long Term Explorer
After more than two years of full time travel (or, what I call a “citizen of the world”), these are the things to pack that I absolutely, must have in my bag or with me.
A few have caveats, or, you might not need for your specific situation. Others (I hope) will surprise you, and almost all can be found in cheap dollar stores or online; I’ve provided links where I could find them.
Think I missed something crucial in my list of things to pack for a trip? Just scroll down to the bottom and add your thoughts.
Nope, not the ones you’re thinking of! Many North Americans will think “laundry sheet” and assume I mean something about keeping static cling off your clothes. While helpful, I’ve yet to find them necessary things to pack for long-term travel.
Instead, I mean these lovely little sheets of laundry detergent that take up a minimal amount of space.
What do they do? One sheet = one sink full of clothes washing. I’ve also popped them in washing machines, tubs of water, and a bathtub for quick washes. While staying in hostels or travel that spans multiple days, these will earn a permanent place in your pack. One package has lasted me two years (with about 1/4 of the package left), but, I only use them occasionally.
Braided, Stretchy Washing Line With Loops
I use this contraption constantly. No need for clothespins (just use the braid to hold in whatever you need), loops to hang across things easily, and stretchy to fit almost every environment. I’ve used my line for privacy in hostels (just drape over a sheet or towel), to dry all manner of things, to keep my bag or a door closed, and for weight-bearing exercise.
Flat Sink Plug
Why is this a thing to pack? It’s cheap. Flat ones fit everywhere, anywhere, anytime. You can use them to have a bath (it’s a bit surprising how many baths don’t have stoppers in Europe), and to wash clothes in the sink.
A lot of travel companies offer these, along with the laundry sheets in a package deal.
I call them vacuum packing bags, but the ones I use don’t require a vacuum. Basically, I put my clean clothes in one and my dirty in another. Then, I seal them with a zipper (that comes with the bag) and then roll them up. The air expels through a bunch of one-way values at the far end of the bag, and, voila! You’ve more space.
Now, these don’t reduce the weight of your stuff – keep this in mind when you’re flying – but they do allow for big, fluffy items to get packed down into a smaller space. Plus, they keep your clothes dry (even in torrential rainstorms) and easily separated when you have to grab something on the run.
These are one of the few things to pack for a trip that you’ll likely need to go to a specialty travel store to find, or, grab online at the link I provided.
Written & Cloud Backup
I learned this the hard way: scan every single piece of ID, information and card you have, back and front. Use Google Drive’s scan function and keep a copy in the cloud. As well, print off copies of everything – give one to a trusted friend you’re not traveling with, and keep another copy in another baggie and bag separate from your physical pieces of ID.
I also use Backblaze for constant, unlimited backup of all my devices, as well as LastPass as a cloud backup for all my passwords. These two programs have gotten me back up and running quickly and easily after theft, loss, as well as a coffee-on-laptop keyboard disaster.
Why all the precautions? If you’ve got a copy in the cloud, you can contact your local embassy and access the information that way – any time, day or night. If a friend has the information, you’ve got a backup in case local authorities need to contact them to confirm your identity, or, if someone in your home country needs to apply for new ID. As for physical copies in another bag yet on your person, this has come in handy more times than I can remember.
As an addendum to these things to pack, keep a written list of where you’re going along with contact information of everyone you’ll stay with upon arrival. I also include my itinerary, bus/travel information, and any times/places I’ll need to reference (such as where there’s free WiFi). I write this all down on cue cards with permanent ink and put them in my wallet, to recycle when I get to my destination.
Extra Passport Photos
One of the more odd things to pack for a trip? Extra passport photos will come in handy when traveling to countries that require a visa for arrival or entry. Plus, if you do lose your passport somewhere, you’ll have these on-hand with your other documents, ready to go. I also needed them once for an ID card to use a coworking space.
When I started running a few years back, my running belt was my most essential piece of gear next to my shoes. They expand to fit a phone, change, a few cards and keys, and sit right next to your skin (or anywhere you feel comfortable strapping it on). I brought it with me on my first trip to run with, and then quickly realized it was an excellent way to go out on the town without carrying a wallet or purse.
I find running belts essential for areas where there’s pickpocketing and petty crime, along with (possibly) a fake wallet.
Another trick learned from a fellow nomad: grab a cheap wallet, and put all your cards in it that you never use, like a coffee club card or Monopoly money. Put it in a back pocket or somewhere accessible. Then, if someone tries to steal your “wallet”, it’s no big deal, they’ve got something filled with Canadian Tire money and a coffee card.
Squishy, Leak-Proof Bottles
I thought these were just a cash grab until I found a few in a dollar store. Holy moly, they make a huge difference with the liquids I do need (conditioner, aloe, colloidal silver). The wide mouth is a breeze for refilling, and the best ones lock so there’s zero leaks. Squishy means there’s less chance of them blowing up in your bag, and, silicone equals less smell transfer when you have to swap out products.
Plugs & Cords
In North America plugs cost a small fortune. Grab a cheap one from a dollar store, or, wait until you get where you’re going and find a dollar store there. Cords, however, are a bit trickier – make sure you have a spare for all your big stuff, or, grab a few USB plugs that you can use interchangeably. One of my sturdier baggies carries all my cords and electronics such as spare memory cards and USB sticks, although my next purchase would be something like this to store it all.
Reusable Shopping Bag
You’ll find these everywhere, so no need to buy them before you go. Still, reusable shopping bags come in handy so often (laundry bag, groceries) it’s worth adding it to your “things to pack for a trip” list before you leave.
Solid Bar to Replace Liquid(s)
Where have these been all my life? LUSH makes a host of solid shampoos, conditioners, soaps and massage bars, and I usually have at least two in my bag. I use the massage bars daily – my feet need lots of love! – as well as body lotion and face cream. The shampoo bars work incredibly well (my favorite, although it stinks: Soak ‘n Float). Sadly, the conditioners have yet to work for my hair, which is very thick, coarse and long, but I’ve heard from several others they work great for beards and shorter or fine hair.
Sadly, the conditioners have yet to work for my hair, which is very thick, coarse and long, but I’ve heard from several others they work great for beards and shorter or fine hair.
One more of my things to pack for a trip? One (or a couple) of the LUSH bar tins. They keep everything wet where it should be, and nothing gets crushed in your bag.
It’s a bit silly how much I love my wet wipes. I always have at least one package in both my bags. They don’t count as a liquid when flying, work amazingly in long airport layovers for a quick “shower”, or, to pep yourself up after a long flight.
I keep these in a baggie with earplugs, a sleep mask, a blow-up sleep pillow and some candies to suck on during liftoff and landing – my go-to bag for long flights or bus rides.
Your Own Mini First Aid Kit
Yes, you can grab a pre-made kit, but I prefer the DIY option. I found everything in my first aid baggie in dollar stores: moleskin patches (lifesavers if you plan on lots of walking), band-aids, safety pins, painkillers*, electrolyte/rehydration powder, salve, aloe vera, tampons*, condoms*, and a tiny pair of “smash” scissors.
In the case of painkillers, you may have some issues in some countries. Where it might be in question, I grab arnica instead.
While it might seem odd to carry tampons and condoms in my first aid kit, let me explain. Condoms work beautifully as a tourniquet, to hold ice, and act as a makeshift sling. (I’ve also used them as currency in remote areas where condoms aren’t readily available… like Ireland. No joke).
Tampons absorb better than anything you’re going to find, and I’ve used them or pulled them apart on many occasions to help with bleeding wounds. (Gents: you want tampons without an applicator for this purpose).
How do I know this? I used to compete in first aid as a kid. Really! I won national Improvised First Aid competitions often with only these two items on hand.
Oddly, I’ve only found zip-top, locking, disposable baggies easily in parts of the Americas. In Europe, for instance, most baggies tie at the top in various ways.
I use top-locking baggies extensively to pack items down, keep clothes dry, sort my bag for quick packing, hold receipts, manage pills, and keep stock of my tea. (Yes, I allocate 1/4 of one of my bags for tea. I’m addicted. It’s worth it).
Split Key Rings
Another safety item. In a pinch, these work well for keeping bags closed. Not necessarily for the airport, but, if you’re walking in an area with one or two backpacks known for pickpocketers, these work as excellent and cheap deterrents.
Sure, you can use mini padlocks, and I do carry a few with me at all times. I also have two split key rings as well, and they’re pretty much constantly in use, and, small enough that it doesn’t matter if I have two in my bag “just in case”.
Another handy and surprising use? Pretending you’re wearing a simple wedding ring. As a woman who (usually) travels solo, saying I’m married or that my boyfriend is on his way has gotten me out of a tight spot often.
The most ingenious suggestion I came across early in my travels was the cheap door jam.
Use it in airplane bathrooms that just won’t close properly, or, that open suddenly. It’ll safely lock any door behind you – just close the door and then stick the door jam under the door so that no one can come in – even with a key. I’ve even used these to keep mice out… definitely things to pack for a trip.
Get the biggest travel towel you can find; I find the best (and cheapest) place to find these is in military supply stores.
Dry off in an instant from a rainstorm, use to wrap more delicate items, bring it to the beach or park for somewhere to sit – these things are invaluable. Plus, they don’t take days to dry in wet climates; I often just wring them out and put them in a baggie.
A combination fork, spoon and knife, I grab plastic sporks at the military supply stores – although mine has lasted me well over a year now with zero wear and tear. I’m always shocked how often I need cutlery and there isn’t any available.
Silk Sleeping Bag Liner
My first trip, I carried a silk sleeping bag liner around me everywhere… but rarely used it. They’re helpful in hostels and rooms where you only want a light sheet, but I would forget that I had one. When I took it out of its package and kept it with my clothes, suddenly, I started using it for all sorts of reasons – a sarong, towel, sun shield, mosquito repellant, and blanket.
Somewhere along the first trip, I misplaced my liner. I’ll eventually replace it. I still highly recommend it, especially in very dry, hot climates or if you’re hostel jumping.
I’ve carried around a few LUSH tins of salve and balm for years but rarely used them. While in Aberdeen, Scotland, I found something called Hay Max that changed my views on its uses. Yes, lip balm/salve is great for bug bites, dry bits, unruly eyebrows, sunburns and split ends… but did you know it can also help with airborne allergies?
When you smear one of these “sticky” items around your nostrils and the bones around your eyes, they capture the allergens and stop the watery eyes and sneezing. I was shocked at how effective this is! I rarely react to allergens, but, occasionally when I’m housesitting I’ll react to a cat or cut grass. Two seconds later with a bit of salve or wax and I’m golden.
Coconut oil also works in a pinch, so to combine items (and, again, reduce the amount of liquids in my bag), I use a tin of solid coconut oil hair defrizzing balm for this purpose if I can’t find any Hay Max or Ultrabalm.
Things To Pack For a Trip Bonus Item – Shaving Oil
This little gem was a godsend, a gift from a fellow explorer in rural Ireland. Another one of the things to pack that you’ll likely need to buy online, or, find at a travel store. It’s a tiny (and I mean really tiny – think the size of your thumb) bottle of oil that you use to shave any part of your body. I found one lasted me a few months with daily shaving.
A few months!
The only downside to shaving oil is that it clogs up your razor quickly, so, you’ll need to clean it and buy new razors more often. If I’m really strapped for space (i.e. won’t have access to new razors for a while), I use a solid shaving bar instead.
I hope I’ve given you a few gems in this article, and some ideas as to what you can use to keep your bags small and your trip juicy and fun.
Did I miss something? I’d love your tips and tricks about things to pack for a trip, including ideas, questions and links to products in the comments.