Travel essentials: What to pack and what to leave behind?

Travel essentials - what to pack and what to leave

Our packs average about 9/10kg apiece – that’s a lot compared to the more minimal RTW travellers out there, but not compared to the average traveller. Even so, I can honestly say that most of the time, the majority of the stuff in my pack does not get touched or unpacked.

So, what’s come in handy thus far?

Sleep sheet

Our sleep sheets got their first outing during our first Thai stop at the minimal Ladda guesthouse in Hat Yai. When you’ve got no blanket, or a blanket with no sheet to go in between, having your own sleep sheet comes in handy. We’ve also stayed in a hostel that required us to bring our own bedding, and slept on two floors where they came in handy again. We also brought one sleeping bag between the two of us, but since we’ve mostly stayed in warm countries, in commercial accommodation (as opposed to camping) and with hosts who usually have bedding or even actual beds, it’s only come out a couple of times.

Bug spray

We actually didn’t use bug spray half as much as we expected to, but it came in handy in Thailand and again in Italy on the farm.

Multipurpose balm

Along with my trusty Trilogy Everything Balm, I brought along a jar of thick manuka honey balm. It’s come in handy on several occasions, usually for moisturising chafed and sunburnt skin.


T’s backpack came with a detachable daypack, complete with Camelbak. SO much handier than lugging around water bottles (though we had one of those briefly, too – till he left it somewhere in Notting Hill, that is).


Convenient, comfortable, great for exploring new cities without having to bust out my bulky sneakers. (They now have holes in the burlap where my little toes have rubbed up and through against the material.)

Extra tops

Even after I ditched two tank tops in Thailand, I still had lots of options. A week later, I used an old work shirt to stem T’s bleeding hand. I then managed to lose another T-shirt somewhere in Italy. I’m now left with one T-shirt and a few tanks and singlets I can layer, which should do me until we get home.


Paying the $12.99 a month for offline access has been so, so worth it. T is the kind who needs music/entertainment during long train rides, and since we’ve started driving across North America, it’s been a bizillion times more useful and we’re both benefiting from it.

For all the advice I read before we left, some of the items that were recommended most often have not come in useful at all. For example:

Sink plug

Maybe we’ve been lucky, or maybe it’s the way we travel, but I cannot think of any instance in which I needed to bust out our rubber sink plug. It’s amazing how many basins have them built in.

Drying line

This has seen the light of day exactly once. Generally, if I’m handwashing stuff on the road, it’s smaller items like socks and underwear, or light shirts (and those usually go on towel rails or similar). Otherwise, we’re usually using washing machines and dryers – in Asia, for super cheap prices, and elsewhere, at hosts’ houses or occasionally (in a pinch) at overpriced laundromats. Sometimes you just need an industrial mechanical wash.

Swiss army knife

Don’t get me wrongΒ  – it’s certainly had its uses, most often for slicing up delicious juicy melons throughout Europe. But it hasn’t been anywhere near as useful as I imagined, particularly when going through security at museums. Turns out bringing it along in anticipation of an afternoon picnic doesn’t work when you’re going to multiple Smithsonian museums in the morning. We had to hide it in nearby shrubs and hope nobody would find it and steal it while we were inside.

What have you found indispensable (or not) while travelling?

13 thoughts on “Travel essentials: What to pack and what to leave behind?

  • Reply Deia October 8, 2013 at 08:37

    Extra tops & undies are always great to have on hand. Lets you go without laundry for a little while longer.

    Never heard of carrying a sleep sheet but I can see how that could come in handy! I’ll look into getting one. πŸ™‚

    Also love the image of you hiding a Swiss army knife in shrubs. πŸ˜€

  • Reply Emily @ Urban Departures October 8, 2013 at 09:24

    I’m probably the worst backpacking travel packer ever. I want to bring everything, including strappy heels, JUST IN CASE. My husband packs for me now; it’s easier that way.

    I agree with the sleep sheet (I’m a bit of a germaphobe…) On my list of must haves is dry fit shirts (for layering, keeping warm, keeping cool), stuff sacks, and scarf (looks great, also keeps me warm and can be used as covering in more conservative places). Strappy heels is dispensable, I guess.

  • Reply Linda October 8, 2013 at 10:22

    I have a large, rectangular shawl that I picked up at a thrift store before going to Spain few years ago. It’s been perfect for so many trips since it is big enough to use as a blanket on the plane, as an additional layer under my jacket, or simply to dress up an outfit. It washes/hang dries very well, too. I also am never without a water bottle. Every single day I carry my Kleen Kanteen stainless steel water bottle and take it with me on every vacation. I also have some of the collapsible water pouch/bottles, too, that I usually pack for hiking days when I’ll need more water. The only other thing I ALWAYS bring traveling is some knitting; it keeps me calm and occupied no matter what. πŸ™‚

  • Reply Genie October 8, 2013 at 12:33

    My pack weighed under 7kg last time I went backpacking. Mine was the lightest in our group. I felt like I packed too little but was happy to buy items on the way.

    In hindsight the only thing I would have added was another 5 sets of underwear and a little bar of laundry soap. They don’t take up any more room. Turns out doing laundry while traveling is not as simple as I first thought.

  • Reply Michelle October 8, 2013 at 14:34

    I always overpack. Always. But, I have a rule that I have to be able to carry my suitcase up 2 flights of stairs. If I can’t do that, then I take stuff out πŸ™‚

  • Reply KK @ Student Debt Survivor October 8, 2013 at 14:50

    It’s funny you mentioned Toms. I love to have mine when traveling. When we’re doing a lot of walking my feet never hurt and never get blisters, plus they are super light and flatten down so they don’t take up too much space. Great list.

  • Reply Jennifer October 8, 2013 at 20:15

    Hiding ur swiss army knife in a bush..lol imagine if there was a murder nearby and the police found ur knife! We took a swiss army knife travelling and found it very useful for making breakfast baps and sandwiches at lunch. We also found a silk sleeping bag liner was great to protect against bed bugs.

  • Reply Budget and the Beach October 9, 2013 at 05:00

    I’m the worst at packing, so I commend you for what you’ve been able to travel with thus far. I always overpack!

  • Reply First Gen American October 9, 2013 at 05:42

    So, again…dating myself, but do you have a camera or do you use your smartphone for all your photos? The one thing I’d add to the list is a good camera and maybe moleskin bandaids for blistered feet, sunscreen and a few extra ziplock bags.

    • Reply eemusings October 9, 2013 at 12:20

      Oh yup, I have my DSLR, but if I didn’t own one, I probably would just use a phone for all my pics. I did also bring my point and shoot as a backup, but forgot to bring the charging cable, so that was a bit of a fail.

  • Reply CF October 9, 2013 at 06:12

    lol lol @ hiding your swiss army knife in the bush. I’ve left little swiss army knives in my bags by accident soooo many times when going through airport security. They are never impressed. :p

    • Reply eemusings October 9, 2013 at 12:16

      Oh yeah, that’s happened to us. STRESSFUL. Luckily it was a flight on a non budget airline and so we just checked that carryon bag instead.

  • Reply Travel Tuesday: 10 questions | NZ Muse May 13, 2014 at 23:43

    […] Top three travel items? Smartphone, Camelbak, comfy shoes. (More on my packing style […]

Leave a Reply

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