Five ESSENTIAL Items that You Shouldn’t Travel Without

When you’re packing for a long trip you have to be very selective about what goes into your backpack. Everything you carry is extra weight on your back; and those extra kilos soon add up.

A heavy backpack equals a grumpy (and possibly injured) backpacker. 

Most days you'll wish that your pack was lighter

Having said this, there are a few items that you absolutely must squeeze into your backpack.

Let’s assume that you already have all your important stuff in there: I’m not going to include travel documents, clothing, or medical supplies in this list. My list only includes small, yet infinitely useful, items that serve a variety of purposes.


First up is the old-fashioned eye-mask. Yes, like those ones that you sometimes get given on a plane, or that you see rich people wearing in old movies. Dated they might be, but I can’t tell you how many times I use my eye-mask on my travels. I can tell you, however, that it has been worn on planes, overnight bus journeys, and those days when you don’t manage to get to bed before the sun rises.

It is amazing the difference in sleep-quality an eye-mask can give you.

My eye-mask is vital in the Swedish summer, where we see less than 2 hours of darkness here in the south.

Audrey Hepburn models an eye-mask in Breakfast at Tiffany's

Word of advice: unless you look like Audrey Hepburn, you may have to forego your dignity a little to wear it, and I would advise against getting one of those lacy ones with cute slogans like “Gorgeous but Grumpy”  or “Sexy Lady” written on it. Yes, they are pretty but do you really want to draw even more attention to yourself when you can’t see what is going on? If you are travelling on a bus in a country where it’s wise to keep tight vigilance on your belongings then maybe skip the mask on those journeys—but I suspect you won’t be able to sleep much on those buses anyway.

Duct Tape

Despite my best intentions I didn’t take Duct Tape with me on my last trip, and I rapidly lost count of the times I said: “Damn, I wish I’d brought that Duct Tape!”

If I had remembered it I would have been able to tape up this window in an Uruguayan hostel, perhaps avoiding a sleepless night of near hypothermia…

The gap was not large, but with near-freezing temperatures outside it was enough to cause a sleepless night

I would have been able to secure this life-threateningly dangerous plug socket that was located right next to my head when I was in bed…

Health and Safety anyone?

I would have been able to bind up my case after over-zealous baggage handlers left the zip looking like this…

One of the rare occasions I travelled with a suitcase.

Duct tape will most definitely be in my bag next time I travel.

Zip-lock bags 

Zip-lock bags

Plastic zip-lock bags are hugely useful for separating your items but enabling you to see quickly and easily what is inside, and, handily, they come in all different sizes. The smaller bags are great for putting your liquids inside for a flight, or to separate any potential exploding lotions from damaging the rest of your clothes in your check-in baggage .

I also used zip-lock bags to keep my laundry separate, to store a damp towel on travel days, and to store swimwear in on the way back from the beach. It’s not good to have anything damp loose in a backpack that contains absolutely everything else you own!

They can be used to keep food in while travelling, so no more expensive and crappy bus terminal sandwiches.

A zip-lock bag is also pretty handy to store phones and cameras on rainy days, boat trips, and days at the beach.

Sarong: it’s not just for girls

I know I said no clothing but the merits of the humble sarong are often praised: not only is the flattering garment a great way to hide the cellulite on the beach, but it has a plethora of other uses too: towel, blanket, head/shoulder covering, pillow, bed sheet, scarf, picnic blanket, protection shield from the sun, or to wrap around delicate objects in your bag (I often wrap my sarong around my camera instead of using an obvious-looking camera bag to deter would-be thieves).

Hell, my friend can even tie hers up into a fashionable looking beach bag!

A sarong makes a great head and shoulder covering on a hot day!

The greatest thing about sarongs is that they are lightweight and fold up incredibly small so you don’t need much space to take one with you.

Make-up removing face-wipes (guys, this one’s for you too) 

Face wipes; so simple and efficient

I am a big fan of make-up removing wipes over a bottle of make-up remover and cotton wool. Firstly the packet can’t spill, and it can be squashed into a small space in your bag. I have not yet found them difficult to buy overseas so you don’t need to take more than 1 pack with you when you leave home. For girls: they are a quick and easy way to remove make-up, even in the dark, so you don’t have to wake everybody in the dorm by turning on the lights.

For guys and girls: They are also great to use for a quick ‘clean-up’ on days when it’s very sticky, or you have limited use of a shower. The anti-bacterial ones can be used to clean your hands after a trip to the toilet when there is no wash-room facility, or to wipe cutlery, tables, and anything else that may be of questionable hygiene.

Best of all; as they are designed to remove oily or greasy make-up, I find that they are very effective at cleaning my laptop screen and keyboard when I’m on the move, which is particularly handy as computer screen wipes are not as easy to find on the road.

What are your must-pack items when you travel? Let me know in the comments section below.

If you found the post useful, then spread good travel karma and share. Thanks!

You may also like...


  1. Yes definitely, ziplocks and duct tape. I also like a Swiss Army Knife (with corkscrew), a length of cord to make clothes lines and wire ties.
    Jonathan Look, Jr. recently posted..Cataratas de Agua Azul in Chiapas, MexicoMy Profile

    1. Yes, a Swiss Army knife would be hugely useful, especially as many hostels I have stayed in did not have a can-opener, a cork-screw or knives that were sharp enough to cut anything!
      Thanks for the comment 🙂

  2. We got by w/o an eye mask or duct tape, but I absolutely second your suggestions for ziploc baggies, moist face towelettes, and a sarong! Life savers, all of them.
    Christy @ Technosyncratic recently posted..Stuff on Bikes (Vietnamese Edition)My Profile

    1. It is great when you find something that has multiple-uses, although I honestly couldn’t get by without my eye-mask – I need my sleep 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

  3. I’ll second the ziplock bags, but I’ve never worried about duct tape, since I can pick that up locally in just about every country in the world!

    Definitely smaller bags. My 35 liter is as large as I’ll ever go. I never pack non-essentials and things I can pick up locally.

    And wipes are CRUCIAL!
    T.W. Anderson @ Marginal Boundaries recently posted..Comment on Culinary surprises in Montreal, Canada by T.W. AndersonMy Profile

    1. Thanks for the comment! I need to learn the art of a smaller bag as mine is quite big, that’s my mission for my next trip. Any tips for packing a really small bag when you’ll be travelling through different climates?

      I try to buy locally whenever I can but duct tape tends to be one of those things that you need at completely inappropriate times when there are no stores around/open (like when I almost froze to death in a hostel room because the window was broken).

  4. Great ideas! Honestly, I thought I would have been able to list what you were going to mention but …not true! Duct tape…eye-masks…why have I never brought these things with me! Great tips 🙂
    Jessica Wray recently posted..Meet My Travel Partner!My Profile

    1. Thank you very much! What’s on your list of must-take items?

  5. you forgetting super glue and needles with a thread, super glue is more important when something just breaks up unexpectedly and there you can fix it more comfortably, thanks for the tips

    1. Yes, Superglue is a great tip! I have had to buy that in a few countries now. I must remember to pack some next time.

      Thanks for the comment 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.