What’s In My Backpack: 10 Essentials for the Off-the-Beaten-Path Traveler


Take what’s necessary. Image by Flickr user Sarah.

Whenever I step out my front door (or tent flap, or hostel bunk, or…), there are a few essentials that I always have with me.  Being a self-sufficient traveler, even if off the beaten path, actually requires very little to get by.  Here are 10 essentials for the intrepid traveling Wanderful woman.

1. Medical Go Kit

An emergency kit: for care when needed. Image courtesy of Hannah Harrison.

As a past EMT and someone who is prone to pulverized toe nails, smashed fingers, and sunburns, having a medical kit with me at all times is a must. Health and safety while traveling are usually top priority, and I have found that there are a few essentials that any travel med kit should always have. I carry mine in a retired makeup bag and never leave home without: oral rehydrating salts (especially in the tropics), Band-Aids, gauze, anti-diarrheal tablets, a painkiller tablet, an antacid, iodine tablets (for treating water), and a general antibiotic.  Here in Peace Corps, I also carry a thermometer, anti-malarial tablets, a roll on bug repellent, and a few other Peace Corps-issued medications for emergencies.

2. Water Bottle + Treatment

Two words: Dehydration kills.  A water bottle is an essential piece in any traveler’s repertoire, no matter if the trip is to the store or to the next time zone.  I also always carry an extra water treatment method for countries with unreliable water sources (read: most countries, even in the US).  Iodine tablets, water filters, and chlorine are all effective to certain degrees and come at varying costs and availability.  Choose something you like, and pack extra.

3. Goal Zero Solar Panel + Battery Pack

A solar panel and battery pack mean energy anywhere. Image courtesy of Hannah Harrison.

I love my Goal Zero solar panel and Guide 10 Plus battery pack.  I can charge any NiMH rechargeable batteries, and it’s a small, compact setup that packs easily into my backpack.  With this simple energy source, I can charge batteries for my headlamp, a phone, an MP3 player, and just about any other small electronic device.  Solar panels are available in a huge variety of prices and sizes and come with all sorts of accessories.

4. Headlamp

Because it’s never nice to be caught in the dark.  Throw some rechargeable batteries in it, and you can cut out buying more in the future.

5. Knife

People ask me why I carry a knife, and I always reply, “It’s the most useful tool I own.”  A good solid knife with a strong blade and easy opening mechanism (Avoid anything spring loaded; they’re illegal in many countries.) can be used for a seemingly endless list of purposes.  This week I’ve used my knife to: cut up fruit, scrape peanut butter from the bottom of a jar, pry a rock out from under a toenail, whittle a piece of wood, cut through tape and rope, and remove a tick from a friend.  And, of course, the world is not always as safe as we’d like it to be.  Physical violence should always be a last resort when caught in a bad situation, but a knife in your pocket may someday be the one thing that dissuades an offender.

6. Toilet Paper

It’s rare to find a public toilet already stocked with toilet paper.  TP is light, cheap, and pretty easy to find no matter where you are.  Stay clean, stay fresh, and stay prepared: Pack your own.

7. Notepad + Pencil/Pen

As someone who loves to write, having a pen and paper around is sometimes just a great way to pass time.  Aside from personal hobbies, though, you never know when you might want to jot down directions, a new friend’s email address, or just a passing thought.  Carry something small and lightweight, and remember that regular #2 pencils never freeze or run out of ink.

8. Scarf/wrap

This may sound like a really superfluous item, but I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I have been grateful for mine. A good scarf or wrap, preferably thick, large, and soft, has endless uses.  Case in point: They can make a nice backdrop when photographing your med kit for a blog post!  I often use mine as a pillow, a shawl when in conservative places (to cover shoulders or hair), to keep me warm on chilly nights, to shield my face from dust, or sometimes just to throw a little fashion into my weary traveling wardrobe.  Find something you love and can wear comfortably, and you may find your daily look just isn’t complete without it.

9. ID (Passport)

This is a no-brainer, but I’m always surprised by how many travelers I meet who don’t carry ID with them at all times.  I like to carry at least two forms of it, and make sure one of them is easily replaceable and disposable in case it gets stolen, taken by corrupt officials, or I lose it.  Think of carrying a spare drivers license, or even school ID just to prove your name matches your photo.  A passport, of course, is essential. Just make sure you store your passport separately from any other ID in case the worse should happen and you find one has gone missing.

10. Phone

I’ve always been a believer in a simple travel style; the less stuff, the better.  But a recent trip to Thailand with a friend who was carrying a smartphone has converted me to an appreciation of the benefits of today’s technologically connected world.  A smartphone, even if it doesn’t have voice service, is a great tool.  It’s easier to carry than a laptop or tablet, easier to replace if it’s lost or stolen (or ruined by jumping off a boat without checking your pockets…), and is a great way to access wireless opportunities wherever they arise.  A phone may sound like an extra expense, but a good set of directions, reliable weather forecast, or ability to book tickets early can save a lot of money in the long run.  Essential? Maybe not. But a great tool for even the most remote Wanderful woman!

These are just the 10 items I carry with me, but there are easily a dozen other things that make traveling a whole lot easier.  Did I miss your favorite travel essential?  Let me know in the comments!  Want to know what else made my Peace Corps packing list?  Check it out over at Hannah Goes Fishing.


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