Whilst I obviously don’t need to stress the importance of basics like a waterproof, windproof jacket, some comfortable shoes and plenty of clean knickers, I’ve also discovered a few less immediately obvious things that have (or could have) made my trip all the better.
This list is by no means all-encompassing. Sadly, try as I might, I couldn’t find a way to pack several key things I missed from home: my dressing gown, my dog and a substantial supply of salt and vinegar crisps. But, the following came a substantial way to satisfying my other needs. Whilst I don’t claim to be any sort of travel guru, here are some personal pearls of wisdom, should you care to peruse them:
Penknife- common amongst all Bear Grylls types, a penknife isn’t solely for the intrepid. Scissors are always useful, but beyond that, often hostel kitchens don’t provide tools such as a corkscrew or tin opener; hence, the ubiquitous Swiss multi-tool. Also useful for making avocado sandwiches on the go!
Water purifying torch (SteriPen)- ignoring its unfortunately phallic appearance, this gift from my Mum was a magical surprise. Stir the UV light into undrinkable tap water for about a minute and voila! Saves money, plastic and avoids the slightly off taste of water purifying tablets. (Of course, remember to check if the tap water is already drinkable first, because then you can save on batteries and hassle!)
Sleeping bag (for buses)- whether you’re planning to camp or not, a small, lightweight sleeping bag can be a godsend. Often night buses blast the air conditioning to Arctic levels and, whilst others struggled to get comfortable, I was smugly cocooned in my sleeping bag. Slug chic.
Rucksack that opens sideways- all the practicality of a backpack, teamed with the ease of living out of a suitcase. Whilst top-opening bags tend to be the norm, they leave people only wearing the top layer of their packing and neglecting all that lies beneath; with a side-opening bag however, almost everything is visible and easy to find, without sprawling across a dorm room floor.
(Alternatively, I’ve met many people who rave about their ‘packing cubes’- bags within bags that enable ease of finding, with minimal sprawl.)
Portable charger- not only for use on the go! Often hostel dorms don’t have enough plug sockets for the number of people they’ve crammed in there, thus having a separate portable charger enables you to charge your phone without hogging the power supply. Beyond that, you’ll probably feel more comfortable leaving a battery pack to recharge unattended than having your phone further than arms length at any time!
USB or spare SD card- something I didn’t have, but wish I did. Not only did my phone not have enough memory on it, but there’s always the fear of it being lost/broken/stolen and all your months of memories going with it. Whilst using the Cloud or Dropbox was commonplace, that relies on the assumption of decent wifi- which is rarely available. Thus a physical backup device would have been really useful for stashing my photos. Also, when doing excursions like diving, rafting etc, often the tour company will get snap happy and then want to give you the photos at the end of the day; I however had no means of taking this kind offering, thus left with an email address and a promise!
Small sachet of your favourite spices- whilst I wouldn’t recommend whipping it out and risking offence to any restauranteur, a small spice kit takes up little to no room in a bag but can make the difference between ‘yet another bowl of pasta’ and ‘ooh, what are we cooking tonight?!’
Small roll of sellotape- I stumbled upon this by accident, but necessity is after all the mother of invention! I bought a pocket-sized roll of tape when the pages started to fall out of my journal and then discovered it had so many more uses. Not least, for resealing the aforementioned spices! And for scrapbooking- if you are so inclined.
Vaseline- without meaning to be a total brand snob, basic lip balm simply won’t cut it. At high altitude, your lips inevitably become uncontrollably chapped; Vaseline will become your new best friend at times like these.
Needle and thread- yet another thing that I didn’t have but found myself in need of. If, like me, you attempt to be a prudent packer, then it can be devastating when you rip your only sensible pair of trousers. A needle and thread takes up a lot less room than the extra layers you may need to prevent draughts from your newly holey clothes.
Silicone ear plugs: having always hated the expanding sensation of foam earplugs (I can only imagine it’s akin to drowning) I didn’t pack any defence against snorers. They are everywhere: in dorms, on nightbuses; you can’t escape sleep-deprivation! That was until a lovely woman in Colombia gifted me a pair of (unused) silicone earplugs. They mould to your ear, are remarkably comfortable and block out almost all annoyances.
Teaming these with an eye mask to block out light, I may have looked ridiculous, but boy was I well-rested!
Padlock: I personally like to believe that everyone in a hostel is in the same boat, thus they won’t rob me if I don’t rob them. Adhering to this philosophy, I didn’t even own a padlock for the most part of my trip. But, if you do have valuables you want to ensure are safe, most hostels offer lockers, provided you bring your own lock. Thus a small padlock can provide some peace of mind, if you’re not yet quite ready to sign up to my hippy, hope-for-the-best ideology!
Optional: The Rough Guide- for me, it’s the Bible; yet I know other travellers prefer to follow Google, or simply word of mouth. Admittedly it’s an added weight to carry, but undoubtedly aids with planning on the go, local knowledge and, if nothing else, gives you something to read on buses! (Largely identical to its more established brother, Lonely Planet, I personally found Rough Guide to be a little more youthful. Lonely Planet tends to attempt to cover every single place, however briefly; whereas Rough Guide will streamline, so it can give more info on certain highlights.)
Pack several pens, for filling out piles of triplicate immigration forms; pack enough insect repellent to last a lifetime (deet doesn’t tend to exist anywhere I’ve searched!); and try to pack some handwash solution, for when the laundry pile gets unmanageably desperate!
Clothes, toiletries and which medicines to stash are of course your prerogative (but do bear in mind that toiletries are often cheaper at home than when you arrive, despite everything else trending the other way.)
Other than that, check you passport, tickets, money, and you’re good to go! Buen Viaje!