Top 10 Things to Carry in a Backpack When Traveling

Backpackers and their backpacks on a ferry from Bali to Lombok, Indonesia

Backpacking can be summarized as traveling made simple, yet some sort of planning should always be done. You’ll find there are many things to carry in a backpack yet what you eventually place in it will be one of the most important decisions you will come across during those exciting pre-trip days. In this section I’m going to list those that always find a spot in mine from the day one and I will explain why they are needed, although some of the items are pretty obvious.

Top 10 Things to Carry in a Backpack

  • 1 roll of toilet paper. When you carry one of these you’re actually carrying Kleenex, napkins, a towel, a plate, a notebook, band aids, a shoe cleaner, ear plus, nose plugs, etc…and toilet paper!! If this is your first trip you will find out how many public toilets in the world don’t have it!
  • See point number 1. I can’t insist enough.
  • Swiss army knife. Make sure you keep it in a pocket of your main backpack when about to fly- I once forgot it in the day pack and the looks of the people waiting in line when seeing that police officers were taking a knife out of a backpack in the x-ray machine was priceless! They were kind enough however to give me an envelope to check it in as another piece of luggage, but this would never happen today.
  • First aid kit and medicines. This can be quite personal, but I always carry some alcohol, proper band-aids, antibiotics (pills and cream), aspirin, malaria pills if needed and an anti-diarrheic of your choice. There may be variations of these, and if you’re a girl there are other  items you’ll want to make sure you have with you, though most of theme can be found [almost]  anywhere today.
  • Money belt. I have never had any safety issues (have I been lucky?) but money belts can be quite useful anyhow. Divide your money in 2 or 3 places and carry part of it in your belt. You will carry part of the money with you, it will be handy if needed, and in a place where a  thief will not consider checking.  Some say they are ridiculous, and sure, they are not one of the things to carry in a backpack because you have it with you, but then you might at some point.They are cheap (around 13$), usually have at least 2 pockets, a large one for passport and tickets, the other for money, and are quite comfortable. I have the Eagle Creek model like the one in the picture, which is soft and comfy, but there are many like this one. Rick Steve’s Silk Moneybelt is made of silk, has a moisture barrier liner in the main pocket and has received a lot of good reviews too.
  • Zipper locks. Can be used when not flying in the USA but should be used whenever leaving your stuff in your room and you are not there. Locking your main backpack when traveling by bus can also be a good idea, although I’ll admit a bit of a nuisance.
  • A rain cover for your backpack. Unless you are going to spend time in the desert or someplace you are sure it will not rain, get one. And even then, I would get one to keep the sand out if it gets too windy. Backpacks are quite waterproof, but not completely if you’re caught in a downpour, and once your clothes are wet it will take ages for them to dry if you’re in a tropical climate.
  • A small flashlight– it will be much easier to find the 20000 kip bill you dropped and save you from getting on your fours while patting the mud in the dark.
  • A few plastic bags. You can isolate your smelly used clothes, keep your dirty boots off your clothes, carry food…don’t worry, you will find plenty of uses.
  • Did I mention a roll of toilet paper?

Wait a second, there are only 8 items in this list! True! This makes your backpack lighter so you should be pleased. Reviewing all the trips I’ve done these are the items that constantly find their way into my backpack and I believe everyone should carry.


things to carry in a backpack


Other things you should consider

The following are a few items that you might want to give a thought or two on. Bringing them with you or not will very likely depend on where you’re going, why and what you are going there for, what the weather will be like, for how long, expected availability of anything you might need and the cost, the kinds of places you expect to sleep in (sometimes I sleep under the stars at a beach, others I get shelter), and so on.

  • When on a surf trip (or planning on spending a lot of time at a beach) and on a tight budget I always take 2 towels. Why?  A towel is not only that, a towel, but can be used as a blanket or pillow if folded properly. I do the latter often, even if sometimes I do have a pillow already. If I have been using my towel at the beach to dry myself out, or after a shower, odds are that by the second day it is pretty smelly because of humidity. Fortunately I have the other to use as mentioned. It can also happen that you have been using the towel as supposed to for many days with not a chance of washing or drying it, which means that it will be too damp to use a few days later.
  • Silicon earplugs. These are part of my previous list, but I can understand that a few lucky folks might not need them. However, noisy hostel dorm rooms or 5 am wake up calls by healthy roosters are not my idea of a princess worthy rest.
  • A raincoat. Unless you’re going to the desert, get something that will keep you dry, whether it’s a raincoat, a waterproof poncho, or a large plastic trash bag. Make sure though that a light drizzle is not enough to make it useless.
  • Travel guides. You can certainly find your way around by asking, but they do make life easier and communication barriers will not cause a headache. There are many out there such as Let’s Go, Frommer’s, Fodor’s that are very good, but I prefer Lonely Planet by far because of their simple format and good maps. Make sure though that the one you choose is not over 2 years old because prices and information change quickly, and electronic versions may rule out paper copies (have you checked my free travel guides?).
  • If you’re traveling to a tropical destination I strongly suggest mosquito repellent with DEET as an active ingredient for best results.
  • Traveller checks. I have carried these a few times and even used them eventually, but ATMs are so widespread nowadays that they are not as useful as they used to be. And if there’s not ATM available (can be quite common as well depending on where you are) odds are that the business you’re in doesn’t even know what a traveler check is. If you want to cash it in the local bank you will probably be able to use your credit or debit card anyhow. At least give it a thought or two.

There you go! This is a comprehensive list of the items that consistently find their way into my backpack and have always used them all very often or at least often. There might be others that are important but not mandatory, like a book, pen and paper or others of the sort, but truth is that everyone can survive without them for at least a few days-or weeks.

Did you find this list useful? Are there other things to carry in a backpack that I have not listed yet you always have in yours? Please share them with us, and don’t forget to share this post too!

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