So you are ready for your next trip with your awesome travel backpack. Do you think you have packed everything that you will need?
I am sure you have packed in all the basics: your clothes, electronics, your spare shoes, toiletries, and all other things which you think you will need during the trip. But do you have a feeling that you have missed something? Something which is not so obvious, but you might regret not having with you later on during the trip?
Packing a travel backpack (or any other luggage) is an art that takes time to perfect. Every trip is different, but there are some essentials that apply whatever your destination is, or whether you are traveling for days or for months.
Below are 17 tips on backpacking essentials that will help you make your travel experience a lot more enjoyable and memorable. We will divide this list into two parts, the ‘general essentials’, which every traveler must carry always, and the ‘other essentials’ which are always good to have.
The General Essentials
These are the essential items that will make the life of a traveler a whole lot easier. You may already be using some of them, but you will probably find something which you haven’t thought of yet.
1. Packing Cubes
All organized packers use packing cubes. If you haven’t used them yet, just try them once and you will never pack without them again.
I initially avoided using packing cubes as I used to think they will take some extra space and increase the weight of the backpack. Why not carry some extra clothes instead?
But after two trips with my backpack without packing cubes, I changed my opinion. The reason is, unlike suitcases, backpacks are formless and hence it is a bit difficult to pack them to the full and also keep the items organized at the same time.
Keeping things tight and organized in your backpack is difficult if you don’t use packing cubes. And even though they do take some space themselves, you will be able to pack more since they really help to compress your clothes a lot.
Organizing your items with packing cubes also helps a lot to get quick access to specific things inside the pack. You just need to pull out one packing cube instead of rummaging through the entire contents of your backpack.
These are even more useful when unpacking your backpack once you reach your destination. Just take out the packing cubes and keep them in the drawers. While repacking, you can keep all your dirty laundry separate in a packing cube.
Packing cubes are available in different sizes and colors. Depending on the size of your backpack, you can probably fit in two to four packing cubes inside. Get a set of different sizes so that you have some flexibility while packing.
One thing you should be particular about while buying packing cubes is the quality. My first set of packing cubes didn’t even last two trips. They were of cheap quality as I didn’t want to spend money on something which I was not convinced about.
Then I got the ones sold by Amazon, and these are awesome. The quality of the material and the zippers is great, I have been using them for the last four years, have overpacked them occasionally, and they are still holding up.
If you are using packing cubes, just try them once. It will change the way you think about packing your travel backpack.
2. Small Daypack
This is an obvious choice, isn’t it? But I have seen many people travel without one. I never travel anywhere without a daypack with me.
You can carry it separately while traveling, or if you are an extreme minimalist or like one-bag travel, you can pack it inside your travel backpack.
Once you reach your destination and unpack your backpack, you will need something smaller to carry around your stuff with you every day. Your daypack can be a small backpack that can fit everything including a laptop, water bottle, your DSLR, portable chargers, spare batteries, and whatever else you want always to be with you wherever you go.
Or if you want to travel light, you can have a crossbody shoulder bag or side bag, or even a small waist pack just for your personal items. The point is, you will need a small bag during the day while you are out exploring. Your pockets are not enough to keep everything you need.
Just look for one that is lightweight, sturdy, and comfortable for you to carry all the time. If you plan to carry a laptop also, it should also have adequate padding to keep your laptop safe from that occasional drop. A side pocket to hold your water bottle is also a desirable feature.
There is another important reason why you should have a daypack with you if you travel by air with a carry-on travel backpack. It may happen sometimes that you are not allowed to take your backpack along with you and are forced to check-in the backpack.
This may happen if the airport stuff ‘thinks’ that your backpack is too big to be a carry-on, or if there is simply not enough space in the overhead bin (this may happen if you are one of the last to board the flight). In such situations, you can quickly shift your laptop and other important stuff in your daypack, and then check-in your backpack.
I have faced this situation once and was lucky to have a daypack with me at that time. Since then, I make sure never to travel without one.
3. Medical or First Aid Kit
A medical kit is somewhat like insurance, you should always have it and at the same time hope that you never need to use it. It is one of those essential items that every traveler should have, no matter how he is traveling, or where he is traveling.
Note that this is not the same as your prescription medicines. Whether you are under medication or not while traveling will determine if you need to carry your prescription medicines with you. But you need a first aid kit even if you are in good health. And if your travel plan also includes hiking or trekking, it is a must-have.
You don’t need to have everything in your first aid kit. It should be small, something easy to carry, and just have the basic essentials. These include:
- Band-aid, plasters, bandages, anti-septic wipes, gauze and adhesives
- Paracetamol or similar pain and fever relief medicine
- Antacid tablets
- Medicine for diarrhea
- Cold relief medicine and thorat lozenges
- Allergy medicine
The list can be as long as you want. If you are traveling to towns and cities, you will probably get everything you need from the local medical shops. But it is always advisable to keep the basic necessities with you for emergencies during odd hours when local medical shops are not accessible.
You don’t need to buy a ready-made first aid kit. Based on where you are traveling and what kind of activities you will be indulging in, you can design your own. Just make sure to keep it small so that you don’t have a tough time packing it in your travel backpack.
4. Umbrella, Rain Jacket or Windbreaker
Nobody likes getting caught and drenched in the rain, more so when traveling to a new destination. And the best way to tackle rain is an umbrella.
If you are thinking about whether an umbrella will be allowed in carry-on luggage, don’t worry. I have traveled many times with it without any issues. It is perfectly ok to carry an umbrella inside your carry-on travel backpack.
But do you really need it? You will be in a better position to decide if you do some research on the weather before starting your journey.
If there is a possibility of heavy rains, an umbrella or a rain jacket is a must-have. You don’t want to sit out inside your hotel room the entire day just because of rains, right?
An umbrella may have a definite advantage over a rain jacket as it is also useful in hot weather conditions. On the other hand, if you are expecting winds strong enough to turn your umbrella inside out or break it (yes, it happens), definitely go with a rain jacket.
In case you decide to take an umbrella, do select a small folding one that can be easily packed in your backpack.
If you are expecting only intermittent rains, you can get by with a lightweight windbreaker. It will be enough to tackle those occasional drizzles, as well as chilling winds.
5. Spare Prescription Glasses
This is only for people with glasses. Skip this if you are not one of them. I could not ignore this point as this has already ruined my vacation once.
If you wear prescription glasses, always carry a spare one with you during traveling. That way, in case you lose or accidentally break your spectacles, you will have a backup until you get a replacement.
If you are thinking you can quickly get a replacement anywhere in the world, it is not always so.
You will have to go to an optometrist, produce your prescription, and order a new pair. It may sometimes take 2-3 days to get a new pair of glasses.
Think about it, are you ready to remain half-blind for 2-3 days during your vacation in a new destination? Can you afford two trips to the optometrist in this half-blind state? It is as much irritating as it is dangerous.
Just having an extra pair with you can easily solve this potentially critical problem. Also, keep a copy of your prescription in our email for easy access.
6. Travel Pillow, Eye Mask, and Ear Plugs
If you plan to take a good nap during your airplane ride, a travel pillow is a must. Though you will probably be using it only once or twice, it will help you get the desired amount of rest. Get the inflatable one as it will occupy the minimum space in your backpack.
If you cannot sleep in ambient light and need pin-drop silence, then eye masks and earplugs are an absolute necessity. Good thing is that they don’t take up much space in your travel backpack.
7. Water Bottle
Nobody should travel without a reusable water bottle. In addition to remaining hydrated during your travel, it also helps the environment by reducing plastic usage.
If you remember to refill your water bottle wherever you find potable water, it will save a lot of money for you in the long run.
To get around the restrictions on liquid during air travel, you can empty your water bottle just before the security check. Once you are through the security check, you can again refill your bottle before boarding the flight.
I use collapsible water bottles during travel. So when not using it, I can roll it up and keep it inside my backpack. This reduces clutter as well as saves a lot of room.
8. Travel Lock and Chain
Suitcases have padlocks for security, backpacks don’t. Even the die-hard backpack fan will admit that backpacks are not very secure.
Most backpacks have zippers that can be attached and locked together. Travel backpacks usually have more than one zipper. So make sure to carry multiple locks to secure your backpack. In some travel backpacks, you can even lock multiple zippers together with only one lock.
Combination locks are better for travel as you won’t have to carry any keys with you.
Even if you are traveling with only carry-on luggage, having a lock with you is a good idea. In the rare scenario when you are forced to check-in your luggage, you will need that lock to secure it.
Also, make sure that your lock is TSA approved if you plan to travel by air. Airport staff has the authority to inspect your luggage even when you are not nearby if they suspect anything. In such cases, they can open any TSA approved lock with the special key they have with them. Otherwise, they will just break the lock open to get access.
Lock chains are necessary if you are traveling alone by train or by bus, more so if it is an overnight journey. It will keep your luggage secure when it is out of sight. This is especially important when you take a bathroom break, or when you are sleeping. Fastening your luggage with the chain to some part of the cabin and locking it will provide enough deterrence to a thief.
You can also use a locking cable for the same thing which is much lighter than a chain. Just make sure that the cable is long enough for the intended purpose.
9. Sewing Kit
Most people ignore this, but the benefits of having a mini sewing kit with you during travel are many. What if you are required to fix a button in one of your shirts, or mend the torn seam of your trousers? Or if the stitches come out in one of the zippers of your jacket, or your backpack?
All of these can be handled by just a needle and thread. If you have these with you, you will be never stuck in your hotel or hostel waiting for the housekeeping staff to get these for you.
The best thing is, a tiny sewing kit takes almost no space in your luggage. Don’t worry, you don’t need to buy a mini sewing kit from the market. Just create one yourself.
You just need:
- A hand sewing needle
- Sewing threads (just two colors, black and white. No need to carry thread ribbons, just roll some threads in a small pen or pencil)
- Scissors (get the smallest one possible to reduce weight and to be TSA compliant)
Keep the needle tucked into the thread wound around the pen/pencil so that you don’t lose it. Keep everything in a small box or a pouch and your travel sewing kit is ready. Just throw it in a side zippered pocket of your travel backpack and forget about it.
10. Duct Tape
Duct tape can be used to fix anything from shoes to backpacks. It will be a temporary fix of course, but good enough to last through your travel.
You can use it to patch up tears and holes in your backpack. If your backpack zippers fail, you can tape close the open portion with duct tape. If you are too concerned about the security of your backpack, you can even wrap duct tape around your backpack to make it harder to get to the zippers. It is not foolproof of course, but good enough to deter thieves to some extent.
You can even use duct tape and some cotton as an emergency bandage to cover up small cuts or other injuries.
To save space, do not take the entire roll of the duct tape. I use an expired credit card to roll some duct tape around it and carry it with me. You can also use a short pen or pencil instead of a credit card. Only take as much as you think will be useful.
I have seen people take nylon ropes and clotheslines with them during travel. Just take paracord instead. It can do everything nylon ropes can do, plus more.
You can use it as a clothesline very easily by tying the ends to something at different corners in your hotel room. I have done this multiple times.
You can wrap it around the handles of your luggage to make a comfortable grip. And if the paracord is colorful, it will even make your luggage more recognizable in a sea of luggage at the conveyor belt in airports. If your luggage is torn beyond repair, you can use the paracord to keep it together for some time till you find a replacement.
And if you plan to go camping, hiking or any other similar outdoor activities, a paracord is a must-have accessory. I have heard people using paracord to trap food, using strands inside paracord as a fishing line, or tying a knife at the end of a stick or pole to make a spear. There are countless uses of paracord in the outdoors.
You must have heard or seen paracord lanyard and paracord wristbands. I am sure you can think of hundreds of other uses of paracord.
In fact, people have written entire books on what you can do with a paracord. Check this book out at Amazon.
12. Travel Adapters
I am sure you have already packed your mobile chargers. But do you have the right adapter with you? This is extremely important in international travel. Every country seems to have standardized a different kind of power socket. Having the right adapter with you is essential if you don’t want to go hunting for an adapter after reaching your hotel.
You can sometimes be able to buy an adapter at the airport, but it will be much pricier. Better to get one before you start your journey.
Whether international travel or not, always make sure that your adapter has multiple outputs. Many hostels and even hotel rooms have only one socket which you will have to use to power all your devices. You will need a multi-plug in such cases.
Make sure your multi-plug has surge protection, as you don’t want to damage your electronics during travel.
A multi-plug like the Allocacoc PowerCube is very useful in such situations. I used this one to power my laptop while charging my mobile and Kindle at the same time in my hotel room.
Now that we have covered the basics, here are some extras which are useful no doubt, but may not be applicable in all types of travel. These have very specific uses, hence planning ahead is extremely important.
13. Multi-tool, or Swiss Army Knife
A multi-tool or a Swiss Army Knife is a super useful tool. The only problem is they are not allowed in your carry-on luggage during air travel. So if you are planning to travel only with a carry-on, you cannot carry one with you.
These are some TSA approved multi-tool which you can carry along with you. These are either too small or are missing some important tools making them almost useless in a real-life scenario.
However, if you have check-in luggage, or don’t plan to travel by air, don’t forget to pack a multi-tool with you.
If you don’t like full-fledged multi-tools, a medium-sized Swiss Army Knife will be the best option. These have good built quality, easy to use, and also looks good in your hand.
14. Dry Bag
If your travel plan includes adventure water sports like rafting, kayaking, etc. a dry bag is extremely useful. It gives you the option to keep all your important accessories with you while you take part in these activities.
Just keep everything that needs to be protected from the water inside the dry bag and close it. You can roam around in heavy rains with the dry bag on your shoulders.
It is guaranteed to keep its contents dry even if you take a dip in the pool with it.
15. Backpack Raincover
Some backpacks already come with a rain cover, some don’t. But if you are traveling with a travel backpack, it is always better to keep a backpack cover with you.
Most travel backpacks are water-resistant to some extent. But if you really want to keep everything inside your backpack dry, a rain cover is a must. I have walked in the rains for more than an hour with a backpack on my back, covered with a rain cover. Everything was kept dry inside the bag.
If you ever need to check-in your travel backpack, putting on the rain cover will save the bag from wear and tear. A torn rain cover is easier to replace than a torn backpack, isn’t it?
A rain cover that can be clipped on the inside to keep it in place is more secure. It will not come off or get blown away by the wind, especially if you are riding a bike wearing your backpack.
16. Tripod For Your Camera
If you love shooting photos with your mobile or point-and-shoot camera during your travel, do carry a mini tripod with you. If you use a smartphone for clicking photos, get a smartphone holder that can be attached to the tripod.
This arrangement will open up a lot of photo opportunities for you.
Selfies are great, but if you want to take group photos from a distance, you will need a mini tripod. It is also very useful while shooting slow-motion and time-lapse videos.
A tripod, like the Joby Gorillapod, will be an excellent choice. You can set it up in interesting positions and angles with its flexible magnetized legs.
I have been carrying this with me everywhere for the last four years, and have shot countless photos with it.
17. Amazon Kindle
If you like reading books during your journey, Amazon Kindle is the best device you can get nowadays. Apart from all the advantages of an ebook reader, Kindle being an Amazon product probably has the largest collection of ebooks in the world.
So if you have a certain book in mind, chances are it is available in Amazon in Kindle format.
I haven’t bought any physical book since I got a Kindle Paperwhite three years back. It is my companion during all my journeys. You can also read pdf documents in Kindle.
That’s all folks. I think I have covered all the things that I have found essential some time or the other during my traveling expeditions. You may already be familiar with some of them, and some may be new to you. The trick is to plan beforehand, analyze your requirements, pick all the essentials, and pack your travel backpack accordingly.