Simplicity is making the journey of this life with just baggage enough.
It goes without saying that the passport-money-camera triumvirate are at the top of any “must be remembered” pile, as are copies of passports and insurance documents, a wash-bag, and clothes, but these are some further suggestions…
The toughest little books around, perfect for recording thoughts, emotions, feelings, numbers and addresses of newly made friends, entrance tickets, bird feathers, hand-drawn maps by a friendly local to the post office/hostel/money changers round the corner, and anything else that catches your eye!
DECK OF CARDS
My deeply loved, if a little battered, deck has been with me for years, traversing four continents and as a result suffering the inevitable loses of several cards. The perfect replacements for which, I discovered, are business cards, with the number and suit hastily scribbled on with Biro. Whilst this does make some games considerably easier (once you’ve memories that the Turkish Airlines card is the ace of spades, or the British Embassy in Rabat is the ten of clubs), business cards are a fine and readily available replacement. And, if you think about it, once you’ve lost enough cards, there are so many odd replacements floating around it’s too difficult to memorise them all anyway.
From cutting cheese during mountain top picnics to removing glass splinters after walking barefoot, a Swiss Army Knife (or something similar) should always make its way into a backpack. If you’re only travelling with hand luggage, it gets trickier, although I’ve never had my mini Swiss Army taken off me.
To add sophistication when trying to get yourself upgraded at the airport, a makeshift eye mask if it’s too light in the Indian sleeper carriage, a headscarf for when you’re visiting mosques in Casablanca or Russian Orthodox Churches in St. Petersburg, or to cover up those suspicious looking stains down the front of your top, a pashmina or similar scarf takes up very little room but can make a big difference in a variety of situations.
Hole in your bag’s waterproof cover, shoes falling apart after having splashed you through too many monsoon puddles, or poor travel journal falling apart as a result of too many memories, duct tape is another versatile addition to any backpack. Along the same lines is a travel sewing kit for a quick darning of any rips or tears that you might accumulate on the road.
FIRST AID KIT
Almost goes without saying, but having all your pills and potions together in one place – I use a soft cosmetics case – along with some broad-spectrum antibiotics (amoxicillin, etc), painkillers, antihistamines, Imodium (it will happen), plasters, tweezers, bite and sting cream, and a copy of vaccinations (I keep a second, far more pristine looking copy in my passport cover with a yellow fever vaccination record) will save the hassle of tipping out all your clothes in search of those lose paracetamol you know are there somewhere. TCP is also very helpful to include, as is an antibacterial alcohol hand gel. I often also add some pouches of salt, for those sore throats that just need a little help to recover.
For all that having your stash of money changing into the correct local currencies, or waiting safely for you to use in traveller’s cheques, is an excellent way of travelling, sometimes those emergency dollars will get you out of sticky situations, will bring down the price of haggling, or will provide you with that last bit of money for that rug, lamp, carving, or antique that you just have to have. I keep mine in an emptied and cleaned insect repellent bottle in my first aid kit, because who would think to look there if rifling through my bag stashed in a dorm or the undercarriage of a bus.
LONELY PLANET GUIDE
I would love to just inherently know where to stay, where to eat, which bus to get, what to see, but realistically this just isn’t possible. For all that a certain class of travellers will snort derisively and consider you with haughty disdain for carrying around such an obvious marker of the tourist, I love having The Book with me. It’s easy to use and gives great recommendations, and on top of that, it enables the “Lonely Planet Effect”, so all those with the guides with congregate at similar hostels, enabling much story-swapping, card-playing, and chatting into the early hours. I’m one of those people who actually actively enjoy listening to other people’s travel stories, and looking through photograph after photograph, and given The Book enables this, how can I not include it on a must-have list for wanderings and wonderings. My only criticism would be that the maps aren’t always entirely reliable, and although the cafe/restaurant suggestions are lovely, I sometimes prefer walking the streets myself and settling on whatever I happen across.
SOLID PERFUME BLOCKS
Living out of a backpack for weeks on end can have some rather aromatically undesirable side effects (soap and a shower just never seems to quite do it), my solution for which is three or four solid perfume blocks (found in the souqs in Marrakesh, but I’m sure any Body Shop-esque place will sell an equivalent) thrown in amongst the clothes.
SILK SLEEPING BAG LINER
Far smaller and lighter than a summer sleeping bag, a silk liner is a valuable addition, able to be whipped out in hostel beds, tents and yurts, or when you decide that curling up outside the station to wait for that 3am train isn’t such a bad idea after all.
Not often appearing on anyone’s list of things to include, but when meeting little children is a regular and delightful part of any travelling, it is always rewarding to have something to play with, especially when many games are lost in translation, so to speak. Having realised this, I now make sure to keep bottles of bubbles stashed in my bag.