Travel Smart – What’s in my Backpack?

17 Mar,2016 By Jagabond

As I stuffed my backpack for a recent Spain trip I was reminded of how ritualistic travel became for me. In regards to deciding what to bring, I developed a routine array of items that made the logistics of most trips second-nature. I thought I’d share my ‘don’t leave home without it’ list below. Of course, different travelers will have different needs.

duck and crocodile


1. Space-saving packing cubes

Before I had these, I would throw all my loose stuff in my backpack wherever, and oftentimes it took a long while to dig out. I use the Eagle Creek brand, and always pack two – one for electronics and one for hygiene. I always pack the hygiene one last so it can be quickly removed for airport security.

2. The right backpack

I started my journey using an Osprey messenger bag-style pack. The best thing about it was its ‘skinny’ look, so you could maneuver through crowds without bumping into things and people. There was only one main pocket, however, and when you packed a lot it was so deep you’d need to dig everything out to find something. I changed to a slightly smaller backpack by Swiss, and still use it to this day. There are two side pockets that I use for socks and underwear (can hold about 4-5 pairs of each), an inside pocket for your smart phone and accessories, and a separate compartment that holds laptops of most sizes. The size meets the carry-on requirement for all major and most European budget airlines (most meaning all but WizzAir).

3. Extra camera memory card

Sometimes I learn the hard way, as in the case of this essential item. On a trip to Dubrovnik, I took amazing pictures of the Croatian coastline and multiple outdoor excursions my friends and I had, then the memory card locked up and was unusable. Luckily I had a backup camera with me that also had a memory card, so I was able to switch them out so I could take more pictures the remainder of the trip. Depending on where you are at, camera memory cards may be hard to find…so put an extra one in your camera bag.

4. Packable day pack

Probably the most essential thing on this list…these day packs fold up into a small, squishy and easily-packable square. Especially for those with back issues, who wants to lug around your full-size backpack when you’re exploring a new city? The day pack is made of ultra-light material, and the one I’m currently using has multiple pockets and enough room to fit a small laptop. For mega-travelers, don’t be surprised if you go through a few of these during your years of travel…because the material is so light they tend to wear out quicker than expected, but with the reasonable price it’s well worth the investment.

5. Portable spare phone charger

This is a great idea, but it only works if you charge it. The type I use needs to be charged for a few hours through a USB connection. Once fully charged, it provides around four hours of battery power to a smart phone. For phone addicts like myself, this can be essential for time-wasting at airports or long train rides when other forms of charging aren’t available.

6. Re-usable clothing

So long as you change your undershirt, a couple of hoodies, zip-ups or pullovers can last you a week or longer….but try not to wear the opposing football team’s jersey (e.g. wearing Juventus in Milan, Real Madrid in Barcelona, etc.). If you couple the hoodies with quick-dry undershirts (see #13), then you can save a lot of room in your backpack. Make sure you pick a style you like, as you’ll likely be wearing them in most of your pictures. I think my Juventus zip-up was photographed in over twenty countries!

Lake Annecy in France

7. Power adaptor(s)

This seems like a no-brainer, but depending on where and for how long you are traveling this is an important consideration. If you have multiple electronic devices, and are traveling Europe for a month or longer, you may consider purchasing an iPhone charger with a European plug. If you also bring a power adaptor, this will allow you to charge two items at the same time…otherwise you can also bring multiple power adaptors. While on a multi-country European trip, be mindful of the different plugs for the UK and Ireland…and Malta, since this used to be a UK territory.

8. Lens cleaner

I bring these nifty microfiber wipes that last for multiple uses. If you’re out on a walking tour, or especially a hike or boat trip, your camera lens can often get dust or moisture on it. I’m a perfectionist when it comes to pictures, and even though you can photoshop out smudges later I’d rather get it right the first time.

9. Drugs

We all have our preferred over the counter meds, and these may be difficult to find in certain countries/cities/towns. The exception might be Pseudofed, which is a lifesaver for me when I’m congested. Although the U.S. treats this as a controlled medication now, many European countries still sell it over the counter.

10. More than one credit/debit card

I’ve done two trips where my travel-mate had their ATM card eaten at ‘weird’ ATM machines. By ‘weird’ I mean machines that don’t appear to be associated with any local bank. Further, if you don’t have a chip in your credit card some restaurants and cafes can’t process the payment. Always have at least two plastic options in case disaster strikes.

11. Paper clip

This is for smart phone users with an unlocked phone. One of the great advantages of unlocked phones is purchasing a local phone plan then switching out the sim card. This gives you a data plan so you’re not reliant totally on WiFi, and it also provides you with a local telephone number. Most of these local sim cards can be bought directly from the airport you fly into (at the airport Vodafone shop, for example). For the iPhone at least, you need to pop open the card slot by sticking something firm and thin through a hole on the side…the only thing I’ve found that works 100% of the time is a paper clip. I tried a wooden toothpick once and it ended up breaking off in the hole and stopping it up.

12. Head to toe wash

This ‘baby wash’, made by Johnson’s and Johnson’s, is the perfect alternative to soap/shampoo, as it can be used as both. This is for hostel-goers especially, since hygiene items often aren’t provided. The bottles are small enough that they meet airline requirements for liquids.

13. Quick dry clothing

This too works well for hostel-goers, or anyone traveling to locations where laundry facilities may be difficult to find. They make quick-dry underwear, socks and t-shirts that you can easily wash by hand in a hotel bathroom. If available, setting them on the hotel room heater quickens the process even more. This is why I could bring five pairs each of socks and underwear for my recent ten-day Spain trip.

Sherlock Statue in London

In reality, always remember that the only true travel essentials are the clothing on your back, passport, wallet with cards, and hard-to-replace electronic devices…my suggestions just make travel life easier, in my opinion.

One final note on things you DON’T need to bring. I’m trying not to advocate stealing, but the two most commonly left-behind items in hotels are umbrellas and phone chargers. If you lose one of these items, just ask the front desk if they found a “mini black umbrella” or a “white iPhone charger”, and chances are they have a closet full of them. This isn’t really stealing, as most of the people who left these items are gone and likely won’t return to claim them…that’s how I rationalize it, at least.





2 Responses to “Travel Smart – What’s in my Backpack?”

  1. Joella Says:

    I totally love the day pack you mentioned in the post. I am trying to justify buying another backpack. And I would kill for that Juventus jacket. This was my dad’s team and it just brings back memories of him. Great list of true essentials. Happy Roving!!!

  2. jagabond Says:

    The day pack is amazing, easily the best purchase I ever made.

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