I usually pack quite light when I travel, but there’s always things I forget now and then. The items on this list are things I’ve forgotten at least once, and at times that’s gotten me into trouble somewhere along the way.
If you’re putting together a packing list for an upcoming trip, make sure you add the following items to it – it’s pretty simple stuff, but for some reason it’s always the simple things we don’t remember!
1. Passport Copy
Thankfully I have never lost my passport on the road, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. I’ve found most passports are “lost” because bags/purses are stolen or lost, rather than the passport itself. It does happen often, and it is probably one of the worst possible things you can lose while travelling.
To minimise the chances of this happening and to make life easier if it does happen, make sure you do the following before you leave home:
- Take multiple photocopies of your passport, and make sure you have one copy in each item of luggage and one on your person (in your wallet/purse).
- Take a colour scan of your passport photo page (and visa if you got one) and save it in your email so you can access it anywhere.
- Try not to carry your passport with you on the street every day. Instead, carry one of your photocopies. In the years I’ve been travelling I have not once been asked to produce my passport randomly on the street. I generally wouldn’t carry it around unless you’ve expressly been told to.
2. Passport Photos
Make sure you’re always carrying at least a handful of passport photos of yourself. You might think one or two is fine, but I’ve applied for visas (such as the volunteer visa in Tanzania) which required four passport photos for four different forms. If you’re travelling around the world you can never have too many of these.
Also note the different sizes available. In New Zealand a passport photo must be exactly 3.5cm x 4.5cm, however in Vietnam a visa photo must be 4cm x 6cm. I usually carry around 10 different photos of different sizes. I also get them taken professionally at a photo shop, as many countries are extremely strict about what they will accept and what they won’t. A stack of ten shouldn’t cost you more than a few dollars.
Probably the thing I forget most often, which annoys me a lot once I get to the airport and need to fill out those stupid forms. Even more annoying is when the airport doesn’t provide pens. Take a pen! It will make life so much easier.
You are going to meet a lot of people on the road, and you are going to say goodbye to a lot of people as well. Very often I wish I had something from home to give, like some chocolates or some souvenir, especially to people who have shown me great hospitality, but of course I don’t have room to travel with stuff like that. Instead, what I do is carry a bag of New Zealand one dollar coins, and give these to the good friends/students/hosts I meet around the world. It’s sort of like a souvenir, and also an invitation to come visit me one day so they can spend it. I’ve seen other people carry things like bag patches or bracelets, but it doesn’t really matter what you choose – just make sure you have something.
5. Vaccination Passport
It can be hard to keep track of all the needles you’ve had jabbed in you, especially if you’ve been through Africa or South America. In my travel wallet I keep a “vaccination passport” from the travel health centre which details the shots I’ve had, when I had them, and how long they’re good for. I’ve never had to present it, but if anything ever happens to me and the doc needs to know what cocktail of vaccinations is inside me all I need to do is hand him my little booklet (which is great, because at this stage I have no idea what I do and don’t have).
I’d be willing to bet every backpacker has left home without a lock or found themselves without a lock at least once. It just happens. Plus, it’s only once you’re on the road that you realise how handy they are (hostel lockers, gym lockers, check-in baggage etc).
I’d recommend taking a few locks actually (two or three), because:
- They get lost easily.
- You often need to lock more than one thing (especially if hostel lockers are small and you can’t fit everything in).
Use a code lock rather than a key lock, because having a key just gives you one more thing you could lose. It’s also a good idea these days to use TSA approved locks like this one or the one in my photo above.
7. A second bank card
I carry around three bank cards, and I also have my money spread over 3 different bank accounts. That means if one card gets lost, or my bank decides to shut off my access due to “suspicious activity”, I’m not left broke and starving in the middle of the jungle somewhere.
8. Universal Adapter
I always used to head to the local markets or some cheap hole in the wall electronic store to buy an adapter when I landed in a country. It’s only recently that I discovered the joy of owning a universal adapter, which allows you to charge your stuff in any country in the world (these days they have USB slots as well, which is extra handy). My adapter was purchased in Asia and is similar to this model.
I’ve written about the woes of public wifi security before, but I will mention it here again. If you’re sending/accessing sensitive information online while travelling, especially things like Paypal/Credit Cards/Bank Accounts, make sure your connection is secure. Using a VPN will ensure your connections are encrypted and mitigate the risk of your bank accounts/cards getting skimmed or locked. I use Private Internet Access, but if you’re on a super tight budget there are some free options as well (none that I can honestly recommend, though).
10. New US Dollars
Cash is king. Always make sure you have at least a couple of hundred USD on you, which will come in very handy for visa payments at the airport or staying alive in a town where there are no working ATMs. I usually carry around $200-$300, which should be enough to get you out of trouble if you’re ever in a fix. Also, try to carry newer USD (at least Series 2009 and up). Some countries will not accept your notes if they’re too old – I’ve had 2004 notes rejected once before in Africa.
- For affordable accommodation, I highly recommend using Airbnb. You can get $25 of Airbnb credit, absolutely free, using this link.
- For easy and affordable travel insurance, I always go with World Nomads.
- For more useful websites for cheap flights, accommodation and more, you can check out my Resources page.