May 6

Top 10 Things to Carry in a Backpack When Traveling

45  comments

Backpackers and their backpacks on a ferry from Bali to Lombok, Indonesia

Backpacking can be summarized as traveling made simple, yet some sort of planning should always be done. You’ll find there are many things to carry in a backpack yet what you eventually place in it will be one of the most important decisions you will come across during those exciting pre-trip days. In this section I’m going to list those that always find a spot in mine from the day one and I will explain why they are needed, although some of the items are pretty obvious.

Top 10 Things to Carry in a Backpack

  • 1 roll of toilet paper. When you carry one of these you’re actually carrying Kleenex, napkins, a towel, a plate, a notebook, band aids, a shoe cleaner, ear plus, nose plugs, etc…and toilet paper!! If this is your first trip you will find out how many public toilets in the world don’t have it!
  • See point number 1. I can’t insist enough.
  • Swiss army knife. Make sure you keep it in a pocket of your main backpack when about to fly- I once forgot it in the day pack and the looks of the people waiting in line when seeing that police officers were taking a knife out of a backpack in the x-ray machine was priceless! They were kind enough however to give me an envelope to check it in as another piece of luggage, but this would never happen today.
  • First aid kit and medicines. This can be quite personal, but I always carry some alcohol, proper band-aids, antibiotics (pills and cream), aspirin, malaria pills if needed and an anti-diarrheic of your choice. There may be variations of these, and if you’re a girl there are other  items you’ll want to make sure you have with you, though most of theme can be found [almost]  anywhere today.
  • Money belt. I have never had any safety issues (have I been lucky?) but money belts can be quite useful anyhow. Divide your money in 2 or 3 places and carry part of it in your belt. You will carry part of the money with you, it will be handy if needed, and in a place where a  thief will not consider checking.  Some say they are ridiculous, and sure, they are not one of the things to carry in a backpack because you have it with you, but then you might at some point.They are cheap (around 13$), usually have at least 2 pockets, a large one for passport and tickets, the other for money, and are quite comfortable. I have the Eagle Creek model like the one in the picture, which is soft and comfy, but there are many like this one. Rick Steve’s Silk Moneybelt is made of silk, has a moisture barrier liner in the main pocket and has received a lot of good reviews too.
  • Zipper locks. Can be used when not flying in the USA but should be used whenever leaving your stuff in your room and you are not there. Locking your main backpack when traveling by bus can also be a good idea, although I’ll admit a bit of a nuisance.
  • A rain cover for your backpack. Unless you are going to spend time in the desert or someplace you are sure it will not rain, get one. And even then, I would get one to keep the sand out if it gets too windy. Backpacks are quite waterproof, but not completely if you’re caught in a downpour, and once your clothes are wet it will take ages for them to dry if you’re in a tropical climate.
  • A small flashlight– it will be much easier to find the 20000 kip bill you dropped and save you from getting on your fours while patting the mud in the dark.
  • A few plastic bags. You can isolate your smelly used clothes, keep your dirty boots off your clothes, carry food…don’t worry, you will find plenty of uses.
  • Did I mention a roll of toilet paper?

Wait a second, there are only 8 items in this list! True! This makes your backpack lighter so you should be pleased. Reviewing all the trips I’ve done these are the items that constantly find their way into my backpack and I believe everyone should carry.

 

things to carry in a backpack

 

Other things you should consider


The following are a few items that you might want to give a thought or two on. Bringing them with you or not will very likely depend on where you’re going, why and what you are going there for, what the weather will be like, for how long, expected availability of anything you might need and the cost, the kinds of places you expect to sleep in (sometimes I sleep under the stars at a beach, others I get shelter), and so on.

  • When on a surf trip (or planning on spending a lot of time at a beach) and on a tight budget I always take 2 towels. Why?  A towel is not only that, a towel, but can be used as a blanket or pillow if folded properly. I do the latter often, even if sometimes I do have a pillow already. If I have been using my towel at the beach to dry myself out, or after a shower, odds are that by the second day it is pretty smelly because of humidity. Fortunately I have the other to use as mentioned. It can also happen that you have been using the towel as supposed to for many days with not a chance of washing or drying it, which means that it will be too damp to use a few days later.
  • Silicon earplugs. These are part of my previous list, but I can understand that a few lucky folks might not need them. However, noisy hostel dorm rooms or 5 am wake up calls by healthy roosters are not my idea of a princess worthy rest.
  • A raincoat. Unless you’re going to the desert, get something that will keep you dry, whether it’s a raincoat, a waterproof poncho, or a large plastic trash bag. Make sure though that a light drizzle is not enough to make it useless.
  • Travel guides. You can certainly find your way around by asking, but they do make life easier and communication barriers will not cause a headache. There are many out there such as Let’s Go, Frommer’s, Fodor’s that are very good, but I prefer Lonely Planet by far because of their simple format and good maps. Make sure though that the one you choose is not over 2 years old because prices and information change quickly, and electronic versions may rule out paper copies (have you checked my free travel guides?).
  • If you’re traveling to a tropical destination I strongly suggest mosquito repellent with DEET as an active ingredient for best results.
  • Traveller checks. I have carried these a few times and even used them eventually, but ATMs are so widespread nowadays that they are not as useful as they used to be. And if there’s not ATM available (can be quite common as well depending on where you are) odds are that the business you’re in doesn’t even know what a traveler check is. If you want to cash it in the local bank you will probably be able to use your credit or debit card anyhow. At least give it a thought or two.

There you go! This is a comprehensive list of the items that consistently find their way into my backpack and have always used them all very often or at least often. There might be others that are important but not mandatory, like a book, pen and paper or others of the sort, but truth is that everyone can survive without them for at least a few days-or weeks.

Did you find this list useful? Are there other things to carry in a backpack that I have not listed yet you always have in yours? Please share them with us, and don’t forget to share this post too!


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  1. If I may add, disposable undies. I know they can be uncomfy at first but you’ll get the hang of it. I really don’t like having dirty undies with me till I get to the next cleaners. And have some in your carry-on too in case the airline loses your luggage. 🙂

    1. That’s something I had never thought of, didn’t even think they’d exist. Are they VERY uncomfortable?

      Federico

        1. Well, I’ll have to think about it! Perhaps carrying dirty underwear is not that bad after all…it’ll keep potential thieves away! haha

          Federico

  2. hey,
    might be practical also (especially if one is from small country which means not so many diplomats around the world) carry two passports or verified copy of passport in case of losing one 🙂 also maybe some other kind of id

    1. Hi Samru

      That is certainly one good tip: a copy of your official ID will certainly help if you loose your official document. Thanks for sharing this with us.

      Federico

  3. You forgot rubber flip-flops! You MUST have these for showering. I have seen filthy shower facilities in hostels and backpackers’. You won’t be sorry you found room for them! See my tips on travel shoes here:
    http://karenregn.com/

    Happy Travels!!

    1. It’s a good tip Karen, flip-flops are a must in any trip, and those made of rubber are quick-dry and thus good for that purpose

  4. All good things to have with you, Federico.
    If you have those things, you can buy cheap clothes and you are ready to enjoy your stay in almost any city.
    Cheers,
    John

  5. Hello Federico,

    Excellent article, perfect for newbies in trips, I found a lot of quality information in this article. Also, taking with you some food like biscuits are a good idea too, or/and lemon for the flight, in case you get sick.

    And now to answer your questions:
    Did you find this list use­ful?
    – I found this list not useul, but VERY useful!
    Are there other items I have not listed that you always carry?
    – Biscuits? lol

    Thank you very much for sharing this great article, from now on I will be prepared to take trips with good backpack stuff.

    Best regards,

    Maria

    1. Hi Maria!

      Thanks a lot for your feedback. It is true, something to eat can be handy too, specially on those long bus rides. Not only is your stomach busy but you distract yourself for a while too.. I did not know that a lemon helps you in case you get sick…how? 🙂

      1. Well, in case you feel like throwing up, just … literally start eating the lemon. It is proved and tested by a lot of persons that eating lemon (NOT ALL THE LEMON) when getting sick helps you very much.

        1. Ooohhh…I didn’t know this Maria! Thanks for sharing, I will share this tip too with maitravelsite’s Facebook friends! If you have any others, please let me know!

  6. What about clean drinking water or a way to obtain it? Without that, you may need even more toilet paper 😉

    1. I find that unless going into the wild, it is very easy to find bottled water nowadays. Yet if you know you’re going to far from civilization your point is a must consider!

  7. In addition to your list, I usually carry candies and alcohol with me. Obviously that if there’s not available soap anywhere, I can make use of alcogel or plain alcohol. I find myself irritated having dirty hands. Whenever I feel dizzy or hungry, mint candies will be enough for me.

  8. Great list and I have a tip for USA fliers: Get yourself TSA approved locks for your luggage! They have a universal key and can/will open them without breaking them. I have only ONCE had someone cut the lock – probably a newbie. They are great for peace of mind and once you’re on your travels. No, I don’t sell them 😉 Cheers and happy travels! G

  9. This is a wonderful list, however with today’s airport checks I wonder if it’s easy to pass a Swiss Army Knife. I have never tried to travel with one, but with the tightened security checks it may be a bit complicated.

    Also I Agree with Elijah using baby wipes can be useful, both for cleaning yourself a bit and as toilet paper. Maybe one of those disinfectant gels could be useful too, some countries lack a bit on the water services.

    1. The army knife can be brought in the checked-in luggage. I had disinfectant gel with me in my last trip, and although probably useful I didn’t really like the gooey feeling it left, but as you say it does its job when there’s no water

  10. Forget that Money belt and but yourself 6 pair of the Stashitware Pocket Boxer Briefs. Bob Arno will steal that money belt right off of your *** but he won’t be able to touch your valuables if they are stashed in your pocket boxer briefs from Stashitware. Thieves know about belts but they don’t know about Stashitware and even if they did they could not get at your money or valuables without you knowing it. Federico, if you let me know i will send you a couple of pair free if you agree to blog about them good or bad. Thanks

    1. Hey Philip, I don’t think forgetting about the money belt is a good idea, as there are many female travelers too! I do agree that your product can be more effective, but I can’t imagine sticking my hand down my underwear before paying a supermarket attendant! It is best for hiding things you simply don’t plan on using soon I’d say…

  11. I appreciate your post. I’ll be soon traveling to Canada and I will make sure that I keep all the things that u have mentioned in my bag to avoid any kind of problem but most part of my trip is going to involve trekking. Could you please suggest me some safety gears that I should be carrying along.

    1. Frankly, I never carry anything Jordan. You might want to carry a money belt with you, but other than that there’s not much to carry. Somebody once suggested to carry a whistle, which I found pretty smart- if in a dangerous situation you can blow the whistle with all your might to get people’s attention. A flashlight will also come in handy. I will be giving away free ebook with many tips on global travel, stay tuned if you’d like a copy!

  12. I have a suggestion for anyone going on a trip. Dental floss. It’s small, light and other than keeping your teeth clean we have used it to repair mosquito nets and to fashion temporary washing lines. Relative to its weight a reel of dental floss is one of the more useful things in our packs.

    1. Andrew, this tip is awesome! I had never heard of it before, but it makes a lot of sense. Thanks for stopping by!

  13. What’s up i am kavin, its my first time to commenting anyplace, when i read this post i thought i could also make comment due to this brilliant post.

  14. The best info about how carry in a backpack when traveling. This is the best ideas for my traveling plan in the next two weeks. I really happy to follow the ideas in this web. Thanks!

  15. Very usefull!!!
    I just have a random question, is that the Deuter traveller 80 in the picture above?

    I was just watching your video on youtube and thinking of buying one 😀

    1. Hi Lulu! I got back to you via email, but just in case I wanted to make sure you’re aware that the backpack I review is the 90 L one. As a female I would recommend a smaller one (the 80 L would be fine) if it’s a big backpack you’re after. I’m in Homer (Alaska) as I’m typing this and the backpack is with me!

      Thanks for dropping by 🙂

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