pack these things

Pack these things – 41 items to save your sanity

I’m going to assume that you’ve packed your swimmers, your sun cream and your guide book.  That you’ve got your list of clothes ready.    Here’s some advice.  Pack these things that I’m going to tell you about.  It’s a list of 40 items things to take travelling to help you enjoy your trip to Asia, SE Asia, South America or wherever you might be heading off.

We built this packing list through necessity, and despite being on a budget, for the love of a little comfort.   In our 25 months on the road, through 25 countries we’ve slept on buses, on Indian trains, in the back seats of cars and on train platforms (I lie, I didn’t actually sleep, I just laid there with my eyes closed).  We’ve called a 1.5 man tent home in New Zealand as we hiked their Great Walks.  Then, we lived in a Mazda Bongo for 5 months.  Before that, we washed our clothes (and my hair) in a bloody freezing river in Mongolia.  It snowed the next day.

Here you go.  Here’s our list of 40 packing list items (we only carried Osprey Far Point 40 litre backpacks) that will make your life considerably more pleasant.

I’ve separated this into sections to make it easier reading.


Pack these things to keep you clean

  1.  An Elasticated Travel Washing Line that you Can Hang Anywhere

We each carry an elasticated washing line.  We use it mainly for hanging clothes to dry.  It’s easy in SE Asia to get someone to wash your clothes, but sometimes if you just want to hang your bikini etc or if you just want to wash your knickers in the sink.  We also use to string up sarongs, towels, (Check out our guide to buying the best Travel Towels here ) anything that we want to use to get a bit of privacy.  In Nepal it attached my socks and knickers to the back of my day pack to dry while we hiked to Everest Base Camp.

2. Pegs

We have 6 of them. They get used to close curtains that don’t fit properly.  (you’ll find that a lot).  Or we use them to peg a towel up at an open bus window when there’s no shade.  The only time we used them to peg clothes on a line was in Mongolia when we did some washing (tap in the street), and our line was full, so we used our backpack shoulder straps as lines and pegged clothes to them.  Yeah.  Necessity is the mother and all that.

3.  Wet wipes

Just a small pack, because you’re going to get off a 14 hour plane ride, or an overnight bus journey and sometimes you don’t have time for a shower.

4.  A Travel Towel

Ok, so we took two expensive bath sized travel towels with us when we set off.  They were huge and I hated them.  In SE Asia we didn’t use them once.  We only used them when we were camping in New Zealand and Australia.  In SE Asia everywhere you stay will provide a towel or rent you one if it’s not included in the cost of the room.   If you decide to take one, check the texture.  The ones that we took felt like they just moved the water around.  TBH my sarong was more effective.  One thing you must do is make sure it has a loop on it.  So you can hang it on anything!  Since we started travelling travel towels have come on a huge amount.

Read our guide to the best Travel Towels out there

5.  A soap box

Because you don’t know when you want to stand up and tell the world..oh wait, not that type, eh?  I don’t know if you’re a shower gel or soap person, but soap is just so much easier when you’re traveling.  It’s easier and cheaper to buy.  Soap lasts longer and it’s less likely to leak out over all your clothes.

  6.  Toothbrush Covers

If you use an electric toothbrush take it with you.  You’ll be able to charge it.  Regardless of your toothbrush type, take a cover for the head.  So when you drop if when you’re packing, or when you find it in the bottom of your bag, you, well, you know what I mean.

7.   A Wash Bag you can hang up (and sometimes see into)

The wash bags from Eagle Creek are brilliant.  I’ve used them for business travel, for sailing and for backpacking.  They’re waterproof and that little clip on the end?  It lets you hang it up.  Or at least it lets you clip a carabiner clip (see below) onto it and then you can hang it up.

 8.  A plug for the sink or bath

We took one, but actually never used it, but I’ll still take it with me when we move on again.  I think we envisaged there would be no plugs in sinks (there were) or that we’d be washing clothes in a sink.  We didn’t, we used our Scrubba washing bag instead and I highly recommend them as a way to save money.

9. A Washing Machine for Travellers

I kid you not.  We knew we were going to be moving on quite quickly in a lot of places and that there wouldn’t always be a sink we could wash our clothes in  (we only took four T-shirts and four sets of underwear), so we bought the Scrubba, which was brilliant.  This is how we use the Scrubba.  We used it in each of the 25 countries we travelled through in this initial 25 month trip.


Pack these things to eat more comfortably

10.  A Chopping Board

A chopping board. Its lightweight and sometimes, you just want to cut some fruit or something.  And you don’t want to use the bed, your knees or board in the hostel.   My chopping board made sandwiches on a Japanese Train much to the amusement of other travelers.  You can pick up cheap and lightweight ones here

11.  A knife to go with the chopping board

We managed until we got to New Zealand with a Swiss army knife, but, well, then we bought one with a cover on the blade and I’ve carried that since.  It’s a pain as in you can’t do hand luggage only on flights but we always have too much shampoo for that anyways.

12.   The best travel mug for long term travel

We did a lot of train travel through Russia and China and they have boiling water kettles on those trains, so we drank a lot of tea and ate a lot of noodles made in our mugs.  We searched for ages to find the ones that we got.  They’re from GSI Outdoors.  They’re big, but we also use them for beer, wine, anything, making noodles, we’ve even eaten pasta out of them (we forgot bowls when we went camping, so they were our only way – apart from direct out of the pan – to eat for three days.). Ah, yeah we also keep a pot of instant coffee (mine) and tea bags (Nige) inside the mugs, which also have lids with sealing drinking hole < necessary for bus and boat journeys unless you like wearing your drinks.

13.   A Spork

Most places you’ll go in SE Asia you’ll get knives and forks.  You might find some chopstick places, but someone will generally have a knife and fork you can use.  If you’re going to do any form of self-catering (like fruit/bread etc for breakfast), then a spork is a handy small thing to carry around.

14.  A hot water boiler

If you fancy a cup of tea, a pot of noodles or whatever, then unless you’re staying in a hostel with a kitchen you don’t have access to boiling water.   We bought our hot water boiler in Sri Lanka and it’s a faithful companion now.  Here’s our recommendation for buying 

15.   Filter Water bottles

We like hiking and if we’re in a city we prefer to walk most times too.  We have 750ml water bottles.  Bottled water is EASY to buy in SE Asia, it’s everywhere and it’s cheap.  It’s cheaper if you buy a bigger (5litre bottle) and then decant.  It’s also better for the environment not to be buying 500ml plastic bottles and chucking them away every 10 minutes.  You are going to drink a lot more water because it’s hotter than you’re used to.

We’d recommend a bottle with a filter included so that it’s possible to drink tap water > read more about how we do that.

You can also find out HOW we selected our filter water bottle – in our buying guide to the best filter water bottles available.  

16.   Hand sanitiser

You can buy this in country, but it’s a simple thing and you’ll likely be eating with your hands and not have access to soap and water.  So pop some in, so you can eat as soon as you get there.


Pack these things to sleep more comfortably

17.   A silk (or fake silk sleeping bag)

Chances are when you’re sleeping in budget accommodation that there’s something else in the bed with you.  They usually bite and leave you scratching for days.  You’re always sleeping in other people’s beds.  A silk (or fake silk ) sleeping bag liner removes much of this risk.  You can take cotton too, but cotton is heavier, takes ages to dry and isn’t as effective as keeping out these nasty bed bug critters.

Oh, and PS, they’re always too small.  We bought two doubles and sewed them together. (well we had someone sew them together).  Now we have what feels like a sleeping tent, but it’s amazing.

  18.  Anti Mosquito/Pest Plugin Repellent

It doesn’t matter how good the nets are at the window. The door opens.  And in the little buggers come.  And they bring their mates.  We didn’t buy our plugin until Shanghai.  If you are prone to getting bitten.  Buy yourself one of these.  And plug it in in your room.

19.  Mosquito Net

This was another Shanghai purchase for us.  Mosquito nets are great.  They’re lightweight, squish to nothing in your bag and ensure that you get a decent nights sleep, regardless of how many times you shove the sheet onto the floor.  We slept inside our mozzie net on a boat in Indonesia when we went to see Komodo Dragons.

20.   An eye mask and ear plugs.

Like the ones you get in the free packs on the plane.  If you take any overnight buses in SE Asia, or even some places you might stay it can be noisy.  Asia is noisy as a whole, so it might take a bit of getting used to.  I can’t deal with ear plugs, but Nige used them a lot initially. They’re useful on transport in Vietnam.

21.  An inflatable travel pillow

Get either an inflatable one or the folding neck support one.  Buses and trains are NOT comfortable places to try and sleep.

Pack these things to make your digital life easier

22.  A Power Bar – Power Adapter

A three-four way adapter to charge your electrical stuff. If you’re taking phone/ipad/camera etc that needs charging, then think about where you’re going and manage your “power converter appropriately”.  We bought a chunky huge, SK Ross converter that covers all countries apart from NZ and Aus” and used it not very often.  What we used every day was the 3 socket, extension cable.  We change the plug on in each country we go to.  It’s WAY easier.  Most sockets that you come across in Asia can’t deal with the weight of a heavy converter, and so it falls out.  Or the socket is on top of the wardrobe < true this happened in Sri Lanka there were two sockets in the room.  One was under the bed and the other was on top of the wardrobe.

23.   Headphones

Because there will be a point when you want to listen to something.  Or watch a movie.  Or call home on Skype. And the volume on your mike on the phone/laptop/tablet won’t be loud enough.  Then there’ll be the audio guide that you want to rent at a museum.  That comes complete with the ear wax of the previous 100 renters.   Take your own headphones.  Use our Budget Hack too.

24.  An audio splitter

This is relevant if you’re traveling with someone else and if you want to watch the same movie (they’ll of course need their own set of headphones too).  Or this is relevant if you want to travel hack your budget and save some money – like we explain here in our Budget Hack – Audio Guides.

25.   A way of backing up your photos

Either flash/memory cards or an online backup service like DropBox.  (we have a LOT of data)  Or both.  We do both.  We use SD cards because they’re tiny and store loads.  Sure you can take an external hard drive with you, but they’re usually quite heavy.  I prefer the cloud services because I don’t have to carry them around.  Check out our other recommendations on how we select technology for travels here.

26.  A VPN

A Virtual Private Network.  Because I like watching some stuff from the BBC.  Or because I need to move money between bank accounts.  Or pay a credit card bill.  I use it when I try and get a cheaper flight.  Or when I want to get on Facebook in some countries.  Or even google sometimes.  Want to read more on why you should have a VPN on your travels?  Read our Common Sense Guide to VPNs – includes links to free ones, and ExpressVPN that we use.

We recommend ExpressVPN, which we’ve used in some of the world’s most difficult countries to access the internet – check it out here.  This link will give you up to 49% off RRP or 3 months for free!


Pack these things because shit happens

27.  A small sewing kit

Like a tiny one.  Needles, thread, safety pins.  Because something will break.  At the wrong time.  I know you can buy new stuff easily, but to be honest, I really like my walking trousers, even if the back pocket was ripped and now sewn up.

28.  An umbrella

A small one.  Not just because it rains, but because it’s really sunny.  I used mine LOTS in China, India, SE Asia when walking around, because I don’t like wearing a hat and neither do I like sun stroke.  Oh and when it rains, it REALLY rains.

29.  Sugru Mouldable Glue

If you have an iPhone or an iPad buy some sugru. Because you’ll be folding and unfolding that cable a zillion times.  And it’s going to break.  And it’s going to cost you $5 for a cheap fake that probably won’t work or $25 for a real one.  Sugru will fix the cable.  It’s brilliant.  And it fixes other things too.  It’s mouldable glue and it has currently saved my iPhone cable, my iPad cable, the broken plastic drawer in my fridge.. – buy your Sugru now 

My iPhone Cable lives another day, or 6 months so far!

Pack these things to make your travel safer

30.  A torch

A head torch is generally better than a hand held one. I know you’re probably not camping.  But seriously.  If you’re walking back somewhere at night, the concept of street lighting isn’t the same in Asia as it is at home.  Neither is the concept of pavements.  So even if you don’t want to see where you’re going, use it to let the drivers know you’re there.  And to go to the toilet in the middle of the night when there’s a power cut.   Batteries are easy to buy, but go rechargeable if you can.  There’s enough trash in Asia, best not to add to it.

31.  A portable safe

Seriously.  There are times when you’ll want to lock your items away – and who’s laptop ever fits in any safe that’s ever provided by the hostel or hotel?  Our pacsafes go everywhere with us.  It means we can lock our passports, wallets, or even just the camera to a tree when we go snorkelling or diving.  It means we can leave our valuables in a hostel or hotel room when away for the day.  And all the time feel a lot more secure!

32.  A padlock for your bags

Just one that will lock the zippers on your backpack or rollaboard.  It won’t deter the determined from getting into your back and getting your stuff.  But it will allow you to leave it at an Indian Railway station, where they won’t accept your bags in left luggage unless there is a padlock on the openings.  It’s much easier to get a padlock that doesn’t use keys.  Because that’s just one more thing to lose.  Here’s what we use to lock our backpacks up

33.  A door stopper

We took one and used it occasionally.  I suppose we should have used it more.  The doors didn’t fit so well in the places we stayed.  I think there’s a lesson in that. Buy a door stopper here

Pack these things because you’ll thank me later

34.  A Sarong

A sarong or wrap or bit of cotton. You can buy these cheaply in SE Asia, or just grab some material.  Useful for covering up when going into temples etc, for putting up at the window in a hotel room/bus/train to escape from the sun.  You’ll wear it in your room when its too hot for anything else.  It’s a cover when you’re kipping in the overnight bus air conditioning chill and it’s a towel if all else goes wrong

35.  Ziplock Waterproof Cheap Plastic Bags

Just because they’re useful for everything.  Like passports.  Or passport photos.  Or your phone/camera when its really raining and you need to keep it dry.  Electric cables etc also useful to be kept together.

36.  Passport photos

We usually have about 10 in our packs.  Some places need them for the visa on arrival stuff that you get.  It’s not that you can’t get them pretty much anywhere, its more than it’s a pain in the arse to be running around trying to get them.  And then looking like a hot sweaty convict for the next 10 years.

And you’re out of your mind if you think I’m posting our passport photos here.  The stock we have was done when we were were in a hot sweaty mess in India.  Just. No.

37.  Passport Covers

When you’re getting the passport out a lot the cover gets wrecked. Buy a cheap cover and protect it a bit longer.  You won’t just be getting it out at border controls, but in some countries at every hotel, hostel or dorm you check into.


38.  An ereader

A kindle or an ereader if you’re a reader. Seriously books are HEAVY things to lug around and the shared libraries in hostels are only any good if you want to read Danielle Steel.  In German.  There’s also the point that if you decide further down the road to buy one.  It’s not necessarily easy.  I’m a Kindle fan.  You can’t buy them in ANY country.  In Thailand a US$99 Kindle costs US$273 because of import duties.

Pack these things because I say so

39.  A pen

Maybe a small notepad. Definitely the pen.  And sure you can make notes on your phone, but you can’t fill in a form with it. Or complete a visa application.  Guard your pen with your life.  If you loan it out, make sure you get it back.  Just a cheap one.

40.  A shower squeegee

This will save your sanity if you’re in budget bathrooms in SE Asia.  Truly.  I’m still too pained to talk about some of them, but this guide to Budget Bathroom Survival will tell you more.

41.  Carabiner Clips

These are my duct tape and WD40 all in one.  Seriously  They hang up my washbag.  They connect the two ends of the elastic washing lines.  They connect my day pack to my big pack when I’m worried that someone might steal them and I’m trying to sleep on a train platform.

So there you have it.  The things to put in your backpack before you set off.  Or collect along the way.  They’ve certainly made our lives easier and help us to maintain some sanity along the way.

What do you take with you when you’re travelling to make life more comfortable?

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