You’re about to head off on the trip of a lifetime. Maybe you’re Interrailing across Europe this summer, taking a gap year in South East Asia, or like myself, you’re a digital nomad roaming around. Whatever your travel adventure looks like, these backpacking essentials will become your must-have items on the road.
After you’ve found the perfect liter backpack and stocked up on mini first aid kits and sunscreen, it’s easy to think “I’ve got the essentials, I’ll just pack my clothes and toiletries on the day”. At least this was my travel newbie mindset a few years back.
Well thank goodness for bloggers and YouTubers with their wisdom, sharing the backpacking essentials I had no clue you needed! I headed off for a 6 week solo trip through Europe feeling like a pro.
Years later these items are still on the packing checklist and I hope this list of backpacking essentials is as helpful to you as it is me.
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5 Must Have Backpacking Essentials
These fabric zip-up storage cubes will seriously change your packing game forever!
Whether you care about having an organized backpack or not, you won’t regret ordering a set of packing cubes. Trust me.
Personally, I like to separate day clothes into one cube, pyjamas and gym wear in another, and so on. They’re also great if you’re packing one case between two people or a family to stay organised. Plus packing cubes come in all different colors and sizes so you can find exactly what you need.
But by far, this is the best benefit of packing cubes…
Picture it. You’re about to check out of your hostel or hotel and head to your next destination. Sure, you got a souvenir or two for the fam, but now your backpack is bulging and just will not zip up. You end up leaving behind an old t-shirt and a shower gel you can buy in the next city. Hot and flustered you’re now running late to catch your flight.
…yep, this is a backpacking reality. But it CAN be avoided my friend.
Packing cubes are my holy grail. I know exactly how they fit together in my backpack and by the last stop in Europe, could pack at super speed.
You can fit so much more into your luggage with packing cubes, you simply have to try them.
This one sounds a bit random, but trust me, buying a flexible cable padlock was one of the best decisions for traveling solo. Having the ability to secure you bag to the luggage rack on a train, or to the zippers on my daypack in a busy city brings peace of mind. You’re not constantly thinking about your belongings and what would happen if they got stolen.
Choosing a small lightweight combination lock (see above left) may be perfect for your individual needs. Have a look at your backpack and travel situation. You may choose to use a key padlock or require a longer cable to secure your stuff.
Cable padlocks are an inexpensive way to add a lot of security and peace of mind on the road!
You may be thinking “why on earth would I need to take that?”. This was my thinking too. But, these tiny washing lines are so handy.
Firstly, and most obviously, a washing line is perfect for when you hand wash clothes in a hostel or hotel. Most places have a laundry room or laundrette nearby, but there are always times when you’re out of underwear or need to dry your swimsuit. Just hook your washing line from one end of a hotel bunk to another, or from the towel rack in your bathroom and start getting those clothes dry.
It also make a great curtain rail for your hostel bunk (for the bottom bunk at least). Drape a scarf or sarong over and create your own little den. While it’s great to be social and chat to others in your dorm, sometimes you just need time to recharge or take a nap.
I would recommend getting one with hooks and about 2m in length, like this one from Amazon.
You don’t want to be hauling around a big fluffy towel on your travels, and unless you’re at a hotel or Air BnB, it’s likely that you’ll need to bring one. Hostels often offer towel rental at a charge, but who wants to pay for that? Travel Towels are a fab answer to this traveler predicament.
A friend who frequently goes camping told me about these microfibre towels. They dry quickly after use and fold up into a tiny bag. As with all towels, you can find these in a million different sizes so check the measurements you need before purchasing.
Multi-functioning as a beach towel, gym towel and yoga mat, these microfibre towels take up no room or weight in your backpack.
Slightly off topic, they’re also great for drying off your dog after a rainy walk or day at the beach.
Now, this is something that I hadn’t thought about before backpacking. But, several hostels later, and I think about how much easier it would have been if I’d started with food storage containers!
Unless you’re on a short break or money is no object, it’s likely that you’ll be doing some cooking and food prep on your backpacking adventure. It’s actually so nice being able to wander around foreign supermarkets to see what’s different, and then to go and cook ‘at home’ and relax. Often the kitchens in hostels are where you’ll meet the most people. Cooking is a fun social occasion and you always get chatting effortlessly with other travelers making their own dinner. And, if you’re staying in a home, such as an Air BnB, you can relish in the homely feel of cooking a meal and catching up on Netflix shows.
With cooking often comes leftovers. If you’re on a budget or conscious of the planet, you hate to throw food away. Some hostels have containers in the kitchens (if you can match the lids!) but if not you’ll need to take your own.
A simple set of containers or a small lunch box means you can have yummy leftovers the next day. Just remember to label your food in a shared fridge.
Another handy use is for snacking.
When you’re exploring all day or on the road, keeping your energy up is super important. Nuts, fruit, and cut up veggies are the perfect healthy snacks but you need something to put them in. I was using the produce bags from the supermarkets but taking your own lunch box is much better for the environment and more hygienic.
Of course, the best part of all this? You save so much money! When backpacking on a budget I set aside a few places I know I want to eat at, but for breakfasts, lunches and snacks, I enjoy shopping and cooking like a local.
So there you have it, 5 backpacking essentials to help make your next travel adventure the best it can be.
Do you have any other travel hack or essentials that have revolutionised your travel? I’d love to hear about them.