Earlier today, as we were trying to avoid walking through a thick stretch of tourist market in Ubud, Bali, we were talking about how light we feel without the need to have all the ‘stuff’ that we regarded as essential for our daily lives when we were in NYC. Our priorities have obviously shifted, and as such, our essential items have also shifted.
When we began to gather our gear for this trip we spent a lot of time thinking about what would suit our needs best. Our packs can only hold so many things, so we wanted to make sure that we weren’t filling the space with frivolous items. We searched other long-term travelers’ packing lists and made lists of our own. We bought, and returned what seemed like a million different items of quick-dry clothing. We were even running around on the last day before we left trying to gather those last minute items that we had forgotten about.
A few months ago we finished posting our own packing lists in the hopes that others might find them useful. Today we’d like to narrow those items down into a list of little things that, as long-term travelers, we have found to be the most useful over the course of the last year.
Cheap flip-flops – This might seem obvious, but if you plan on staying in dorms these are essential for avoiding foot plague and other nastiness in the common showers.
Packing cubes – I never really understood these, but now that we pack up and move every few days I see that they are a huge lifesaver. Nearly everything in our packs goes into a cube, and then the cubes go into our bags in a jigsaw-like manner to maximize space. It makes it so that we can each get packed, empty to full, in just a few minutes.
Small combination lock– Again, this might seem obvious to some, but we’ve used our locks for everything from hostel lockers, to just locking our bags every day when we leave our rooms (we lock the laptops, etc inside them). Sure, people could slice the bag open to get to our stuff, but it prevents opportunistic theft. We also carry a little package of zip ties that we’ve used to secure smaller bags when we’ve had to leave items with a hostel (like when we go on multi-day treks).
Quickdry towel – This is not my favorite item (it’s like drying yourself with a chamois), but has been one of the most useful. We’ve stayed in many places, mostly in S. America, that didn’t provide towels, so these were essential. In addition, when we hand-wash clothes we find that they dry more quickly when you wring them out in a towel, and these towels not only absorb tons of water, but they dry in only a few hours.
Smartphone – We brought Justin’s phone with us, even though we cancelled his plan (and it doesn’t use a SIM card so we can’t use it for calls), because we use it for an alarm clock, emergency wi-fi, and GPS. If we connect to wi-fi we can download maps of our destinations, which is incredibly helpful when you arrive in a new city and aren’t exactly sure where to go. It was also essential in India where they don’t always announce train stops…without this we definitely would have missed some of our stops!
Multi plug thing – This is one of those plugs that allows you can charge 3-4 things at once. With two laptops, two I-pods, two kindles and two cameras this allows us to make sure we’re always charged up and ready to go, even if we get a room with only one outlet. It’s important to just get a two-pronged plug unless your voltage adapter allows for grounded plugs. No need to go fancy with this, we picked ours up at a hardware store for less than a dollar.
Sleep sheet – We never would have expected it, but this has turned out to be one our most useful, non-clothing item on this trip. They are made to be used when a place lacks sheets, has questionable cleanliness, or to put inside a rental sleeping bag. We’ve used them for all these purposes, but also for loads more, including – warmth on long, cold, bus rides; as sarongs when we need to enter temples in Bali; as beach towels (they are huge, so your whole body fits on them!); and as a laundry bag.
As a counter to our favorite items, we figured we should include some of the crap we didn’t need after all:
Money belts – Justin doesn’t carry a wallet, so that solves his pick-pocket problem. We do have an Eagle Creek money belt that we really like, and he used to wear it on the long bus rides in S. America, but honestly, we haven’t used it in at least 5 months. We keep it around just in case. I had a more traditional money belt, and again, I used it once or twice on overnight bus rides, but other than that it just sat in my pack and wasted a little bit of space. I got rid of this after 6 months.
Pacsafe – We got it ‘just in case’. We NEVER used it. We sent it home after 6 months..
Ethernet cord – In some places this might be a good idea, but we’ve found that most places have wi-fi, and if they don’t, they don’t often have wired internet either. Not a huge waste of space, but totally unnecessary.