Thursday, February 5, 2009

Top 10 Things to Always Pack

One of the best things leading up to any trip, aside from watching as your friends go from sounding interested, to pretending to be interested, to simply nodding and occasionally grunting the odd syllable as you talk endlessly, is planning what you’re going to take.

But what should you take? What do you need to take? Allow this guide to help you. This is a list of the top ten things you should never leave home without.

1. Compass

This is one thing that so few people think to bring with them. And in this day and age of cell phones, GPS units, pocket guides, maps, and all sorts of other things that make us feel slightly superior, it’s no surprise. However, when you’re getting off the London Underground, with directions to simply head South, how will you have any idea where to go? And that’s in a well marked city. The worst that could happen is you reach a corner and a sign points you elsewhere, as if the city was one giant amusement park. In other parts of the world? This is a must. For five dollars, you can’t go wrong.

2. Pillow Case

Not a pillow. Just a pillow case. A pillow can take up a lot of room in your pack, room that you need for other, more important things. You need room for the latest travel guide, that darling Mexican blanket, or - let's face it, few people can resist - a six dollar bottle of rum. Not only can a pillow case act as a sac to contain items, preventing them from shifting, but if you stuff it full of your clothes, it also doubles as a great place to rest your head, for when your arm won’t do, and you just don’t trust the weird stains on the linen that the hostel is offering you. A couple of bucks here and you’re set.

3. Day Pack

As much fun as it is to lug around your eight liter backpack all day, so you have your camera close and your travel guide handy, after about thirty minutes the sweat will start to build, and you’ll curse everyone and everything around you. A day pack, in the twenty liter range is optimal. And while a backpack is more comfortable, and harder to swipe (due to the two straps) I prefer a messenger bag. Not so much for style, as for convenience. Although the style is a nice bonus. It’s hard not to look like you missed the bus home from school when you spend all day with a small pack securely attached to you. You might as well just wear your key on a string around your neck while you’re at it. These can run from twenty to a hundred dollars. Your back will thank you in the long run.

4. Notebook

“I’ll remember this night forever!” “Man, you guys are the best, how could I ever forget you?” “O.K. so it’s three blocks north and then one block south?” Do any of these lines sound familiar? You know, those moments you have committed to full long term memory the moment you experience them... but are somehow missing by the time your trip ends? It’s for this reason that you always need a notebook. Travelogues can be just as engaging as a photo album. They also work as great Mnemonic devices later on when you want to remember the name of the guy you met in Tokyo who made swords in Oregon. Having something on hand to write directions, e-mail addresses, and phone numbers on is just an added bonus. Any dollar store will have these.

5. Sleeping Bag Liner

If you’ve ever been to a hostel, this needs no explanation. While some countries have great standards, where linens are washed all the time, and you never need to worry – others are not. Think of a sleeping bag liner as the flip-flops of night time. You wouldn’t stand on that shower floor barefoot for ten minutes, but you’d sleep in the bed all night? I don’t think so. They also help against bedbugs. Which is nice. These can run thirty dollars for cotton, to eighty for silk. Silk is lighter, and packs smaller – aside from that, they’re mostly the same.

6. Loop Wallet / Money Belt

Girls can stuff money in their bras, and look sexy doing it, but if you ever think of reaching down the front of your pants to grab a twenty from your crotch then you are doing it wrong. Get yourself a money belt to be worn as high up on your chest, under your shirt, as you can or a loop wallet to attach to your belt and hang down your pant leg. This is where your money and passport will live for the entirety of your trip. Remember to always have some quick cash out of the wallet for easy access, and never reveal this item in public. These can be purchased for under ten dollars.

7. Novel

There will be days when you are bored. If you’re on a week long tourist blitz, you might be alright but if your travels involve train rides, airport stopovers, bus rides, or just nights sitting in your hotel alone a novel will become your best friend. Or perhaps more like an undesired lover; you don’t want to make the call, but when you’ve had a long day and you’re unable to sleep at two aye em, it’s nice to have something there. Prices vary from free to expensive.

8. Pens

You will need many. The cold will make them stop working. The heat will make them work too well. They will die on you. They will explode on you. But you need them. How else will you get that cute person’s phone number? Or more alarmingly, how will you let them know how they can get in touch with you? Ten cents. That’s all these cost - though I am of the mind that no one actually buys pens. They all just get stolen in a large communal circle. Honestly, when was the last time you paid money for one?

9. Flash Light

It’s three aye em, you’re in your hostel dorm, and you need to grab something from your pack. What do you do? Do you turn on the lights and face the wrath of a dozen angry travelers? No you do not. You blunder around making noise until you wake up a dozen angry travelers and then face their wrath. Why? Because you have no idea where your urgently needed item is. I prefer a crank flashlight, so you never run out of batteries but they can make some noise if you need to charge it up. I’ve also known some people who swear by head lamps. Fifteen dollars and you’re good to go.

10. First Aid Kit

You may think that you know how to heal wounds with plant extracts, and bandages made of palm leaves, but that’s the heat and alcohol talking. You have no real survival skills. The small quantities of painkillers, bandages, creams, and other much needed items are there to literally save your life. Do not skimp on this. Create it yourself for about forty bucks.

Bonus: Sewing Kit
Your pants will rip, your buttons will come off, your mosquito nets will have holes in them. With this precious tool? All will be ok.


  1. Share your travel stories in :)

  2. All great ideas! I tend to have all of those packed in my bag all the time. Not so sure about the choice of book though... ;)

  3. Never thought of a compass before. When you think about it, I have often come out of a tube and wondered which direction to take.

  4. Thanks for sharing. I love the pillow case idea! Good travel pack is for backpacker!

  5. Ohhhhh that book is fantastic. Excellent demonstrative tool.

  6. Sleeping bag liners do not necessarily protect against bedbugs - at least not against those I met at the NYC YMCA I stayed at last summer (Greenpoint, in case you'd like to know). They *are* a good idea in general though.

  7. i never would have thought to bring a pillow case. thanks!

  8. It's so simple, and oh so helpful. The compass too - I really can't stress enough, how important it is.

  9. I would of never thought to bring a pillow case. You don't know ho has been sleeping on the pillows they might have lice.

  10. Really great tips! I had never thought to just bring a pillow case with me--and it would definitely come in handy. Thanks for sharing.


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