So I’ve ranted a couple times about how I only bring a carry-on when I travel now. And not just a carry-on, a pretty small, backpack carry-on. An “under the seat” carry-on to limit it a bit more. This then begs the question, what DO I have in that little bag? Well I’m going to hit you with the 6 travel essentials that I always pack first, and the 5 things I’ve learned I’d rather travel without.
*Note: This isn’t a packing list. I don’t need to tell you that you might want “this many” pairs of underwear and “that many” pairs of socks. You’re smart. I trust you. Don’t let me down!
1) My portable charger
Hands down, this is the number one thing I check the night before I leave in order to make sure it’s charged and in my bag – and for someone who usually packs the morning of my flight, that’s saying something! Although I’m a big advocate of “getting off the grid” when I travel, a decent portable charger can charge my GoPro batteries and my phone in order to take those beloved travel pics and the obligatory selfie here and there. I can charge my gadgets in the air, on the bus, in my backpack when I’m walking around, it’s another level of freedom!
Personally, I use the Poweradd 20000mAh External Battery Power Bank for Smartphones and Tablets. With that whopping 20000mAh, I can usually charge my smartphone 5 or 6 times, or 3 GoPro batteries several times before it gets close to dying! The best part, I can leave it out to charge overnight and if some scoundrel steals it, I’m only out a few bucks instead of the $400 my phone retails for!
2) A Deck of Cards
While languages sometimes present a barrier to communication, card games are often universal. I always have a deck of cards in my backpack, if not in my pocket! It’s a great way to meet new people, and you can instantly bring a group of diverse people together by being the traveler with a deck of cards. Learn a few 2 person games, a few group games, and of course, a couple drinking games and you can be the life of the party at the next hostel you stay at (or airport waiting area, etc.!)
3) My waterproof mid-hikers
I don’t care where you’re going, how warm it’s going to be, or how “on the beaten track” you’re going to stay: I wear my mid-hikers for 75% of every trip. If you don’t know what I mean by mid-hikers, see the lovely picture next to this paragraph, but basically they are your everywhere shoe, and here’s why:
- They’re waterproof. All the way to the top – none of this “just the bottom” BS.
- They have the support of an imaginary team of a thousand angels holding your foot in place
- They’ve kept my feet comfortable and dry walking around every European city, while climbing several Guatemalan volcanoes, and while trudging through a torrential downpour in a Costa Rican rainforest!
- I’ve been using them for 2 years and they still look like I just bought them.
- They are super light despite their durable performance and support
- They make you SPONTANEOUS! You’re ready for any adventure.
But that’s just me. The only pair of waterproof mid-hikers I can recommend are the Merrell’s I own in the picture, but they have been discontinued :(. This is a link to the most recent pair they make: Merrell Men’s Moab Ventilator Hiking Shoe, and the women’s version: Merrell Women’s Moab Ventilator Hiking Shoe.
4) My Wine Opener / Corkscrew
Before you ask, the answer is yes, you can bring a corkscrew on the plane. Yes, in your carry-on. Yes, in the United States, too. The only rule is that it can’t have that pesky little knife attachment that is sometimes used to cut the foil/wrapping at the top of the bottle. If it’s one of the cheaper ones, like this guy, it’s good to go. Plus, that little one doesn’t take up any room in my pack. I list this an one of my essentials because I once spent 30 minutes running around an Italian neighborhood with my brother trying to find a bar that would kindly open our freshly purchased wine bottle for us (without being able to speak any Italian)! Although it ended up being a good laugh, it’s much easier to stow away that wine opener I got for free – plus, that style opener makes you look like quite the wine-opening aficionado (when you can extract the cork without spilling it all over yourself…)
5) My Quick-dry 100% Linen Towel
I know what you’re thinking, “What’s so special about this ‘100% Linen Towel’? I’m pretty sure my towels are 100% Linen, who does this Nick guy think he is?” Well, your towels aren’t 100% Linen. People call towels and other cloth objects “linens” generically, but your towel is most likely cotton, which, as many travelers come to learn, is a material woven by the hands of the devil himself that takes 7 years to dry and smells terrible after a few showers or a damp day in your pack. There are also synthetic travel towels, such as the Packtowl, that many swear by; however, I’ve always disliked these towels due to the odor they usually accumulate after a few uses.
No, 100% Linen towels are just that, linen. They drive ridiculously fast and although mine is a full 52″x 25″, I can roll it up to fit in my shoe if I want! Mine never smells, even despite a damp day in the pack. Now, before you go searching and accidentally buy a “linen towel” that’s not actually 100% linen, allow me show you how to search it on Amazon to automatically sort out the fakers: “100% linen bath towel”. The one I use is typically the first search result – it can be a bit rough initially, but multiple washes help break it in. If you have particularly sensitive skin, opt for a “waffle weave” one as they are much softer albeit a little more expensive.
6) My Dry-bag
If there’s one thing I rely on when I travel, it’s the ability to go wherever, whenever, without any worries. Whether it’s swimming across a lake to go cliff-diving, walking under a waterfall, or simply walking around the city in the rain, I want to do it knowing that the only consequence will be wet clothes! My dray bag only weighs a few ounces and with 10L of space I can fit just about any electronic, passport, map, money, keys, etc. inside! Mine was pretty cheap ($15.99 on Amazon), and it came with a free cell phone holder!
5 Things I Wish I’d Left at Home on My First Trip (and Second…and Third)
1) The Extra Pair of Shoes
Shoes are one of the heaviest items you can bring with you (with the exception of flip-flops or some women’s flats). Ideally, you’re going to want to travel with one pair of shoes and flip-flips, butttttt since I already swore by my mid-hikers, I’ll admit that I usually tuck a pair of boat shoes in my bag for going out at night if I’m traveling Europe. However, if you’re thinking about packing your 3rd or 4th pair of “real shoes,” take a minute to think if you’re really going to want those!
2) My Wash Cloth
Every time I shower at home, I’m used to grabbing the washcloth hanging in my shower and using it… so I thought, why wouldn’t I want it to travel with me? Turns out, I can give you several reasons why not! Mainly, it’s the drying time. I’d take a shower at night and the darn thing would still be damp when I went to pack it up in the morning! Or worse, if I wanted a morning shower: double the trouble. Additionally, it’s pretty unnecessary. I can achieve the same affect by scrubbing soap on with my hands, AND many hostels have free washcloths that come with your room!
3) My Nalgene Water Bottle
Don’t get me wrong, when I saddle up my larger backpacking pack and hit the U.S. backcountry for the camping, I live and die by my Nalgene bottles. When I’m lightweight traveling around the world? Pass. All the things that make a Nalgene great (stiff and indestructible, large volume – 1L) are also what make it terrible for lightweight travel. You can’t compress it as you drink the water, it take’s up a large chunk of your pack, and you can’t just throw it out if you need more room.
While I’m an advocate for being environmentally friendly, I almost just use one standard, disposable water bottle for the entirety of my trip. You can find them anywhere in the world, they don’t take up much room, and if you really need to toss it, you can recycle them wherever you are.
4) My Full-size Shampoo Bottle (and Toothpaste…)
If you haven’t noticed a trend here, I’ll point it out for you: check your toiletries/bathroom “essentials” and think about what you actually need. There’s no chance I would blow through 20 fluid ounces of shampoo, but there my bottle of it was, hitching a heavy little ride along in my pack – plus, you can’t travel with just a carry-on if you do this! Pick up a few 3 oz refillable squeeze bottles from the dollar store or Walmart and fill ’em up before you leave. One filled with shampoo will last a surprisingly long time!!
5) My Sleeping Bag
This one is #5 because I’ll admit that it’s a tad controversial. On one hand, some hostels charge for bed linens. Sometimes it’s just nice to have one for the layover/wait at the airport, on a long bus ride, or perhaps you’re planning on doing some form of camping. However, I’ve found that rarely could I justify carrying it around with me when I could just layer up my clothing if I wanted to sleep in the airport; the same if I were cold in a hostel and didn’t want to pay for linens.
Remember, You Can Always Buy It There
Although this goes against the frugal nature of my blog and travel style, this knowledge is the true travel essential that you need. Unless you are really off the beaten path, you can find any travel essentials fairly easily. I once bought a pair of pants on the streets of Guatemala when I planned on impromptu overnight camping expedition on a volcano the next night at 0ºC (I hadn’t packed any pants for a trip to Central America!). That being said, this is the ONLY time I have ever felt the need to buy something that I didn’t bring, but I’ve had countless times where I wish I hadn’t brought something.