Worried you might’ve forgotten to pack something for your big trip? Need a holiday gift for your favorite traveler? Check out my list of essential lightweight, durable items every backpacker needs.
- Sleep mask
It’s not easy to sleep on a cramped and crowded airplane, or in a shared room at a hostel. A sleep mask will help you block out light and ease you into sleep. Try this one from Amazon with 4.5 stars. It is a 3 pack for $6.30+, and brags “Fully Adjustable, 3D contoured shape, skin friendly, and soft”
5 star review from Cotton Candy:
“The most comfortable sleep mask ever. I had been searching for them for a long time. My favorite feature about these masks is the design of their nose area. They don’t press against my nose bridges like other ones do. Not only the straps has elasticity, you can manually adjust the fasteners in the back. They are definitely one size fits all type of mask.”
- Ear plugs
Have you ever had noisy roommates? Imagine having a dozen of them in a shared room at a hostel! Ear plugs can be a lifesaver in a noisy hostel or long flight. These babies are $10.99+ on Amazon and come with 5 pairs of reusable, washable ear plugs, 1 ear pick, and a storage box on a keychain so you’ll never lose them. They have a 4.3 star review on Amazon and a 36dB Noise Reduction Rating.
5 star review from an Amazon user:
“Soft squishy material that fits my ear very well! My boyfriend snores and it drives me to the living room, so I got these earplugs just for that reason. I found that if you squeeze the memory foam plug into a small thin rod, then insert in your ear (as opposed to trying to fit the puffed earplug in), the earplug will puff open in your ear and shut out sound. Make sure you get the end of the plus inside your ear (so it doesn’t slide out). It doesn’t shut out all sound but TREMENDOUSLY quiets sounds.“Comfortable and when you have them in your ears, it just feels like a good comfortable pressure.”
- Neck pillow
Every traveler knows we sometimes must sleep in weird places. Whether you have an overnight flight, a long bus ride, or a layover in an unfamiliar airport, you gotta sleep sometime. A neck pillow is worth having on hand. You can get this one from Amazon for $10.95. It is a memory foam pillow with a removable, washable microfiber cover, and a strap so you can attach it to your luggage instead of trying to pack it. It also has a 2-year guarantee and 4.3 stars on Amazon.
5 star review from Amazon user Sharon G Hook
“This pillow is very comfortable because of its softness and [cradling] effect. I use it everyday as I have a neck problem. It seems to give me the support I need. I would recommend this pillow to anyone who is looking for a bit of relief.
If I had one negative it would be that on hot days the composition of the pillow can be a little warm.”
What is a backpacker without a backpack? If you would like to travel light, you can avoid checking a bag by fitting all of your belongings into a backpack. But you must be sure that that backpack is comfortable, or you won’t want to haul it around. Not every style works for every person, but Osprey backpacks are my personal favorite. They have a lifetime, no-questions-asked repair and replacement policy. I’ve carried Osprey packs in all sorts of climates and conditions spanning three continents and I’m still convinced they’re some of the best bags on the planet. Tortuga also makes some really amazing packs that are designed with international travel in mind. If you want some examples, here is a men’s and a women’s backpack from Osprey to get you started. The men’s one is my current go-to pack for hiking and international travel.
Whether you need an adapter or a converter often comes down to the voltage in the country you’re going to, and the type of device you’re trying to use. Most modern laptop and cell phone chargers will convert automatically, while simpler appliances such as hairdryers and electric razors won’t. Do some research on your specific destinations and devices to determine if you need one. If you do, grab this all in one converter. It’ll work in most destinations and one gadget is better than five! It’s Prime eligible, has an average rating of 4.5 stars, and is $19.97.
Four star review from Taylor:
“Honestly, before I went on my trip to South Korea, I was freaking out about adapters and feared that my things would get fried. Thankfully, this adapter worked amazingly well! I used it for my computer and iphone. There are a lot of reviews about other adapters out there and how they don’t work or they worked for a short time. I can definitely say that this adapter worked for me while in Korea.”
- USB travel adapter
For those times when you need a to plug in your phone or camera but don’t want to mess with a converter, travel adapters are a good option. These adapters come in a pack of two, and each one has two USB ports. Offer to lend the second one out to someone in your hostel who forgot to bring one, and make a new friend! At $10.99 for a two pack, these are definitely a worthy investment. They’re also Prime eligible! They average 4.1 stars over 287 reviews.
5 star review from Fred Sandsmark:
“We bought a two-pack of these for a three-week trip to Italy. They performed perfectly for charging two iPhones, a Fitbit, and a Kindle. They also provided a nice green night light. Well worth the price.”
- Packable rain jacket
A good rain jacket is one of those things you’ll forget you have until you really need it. For lightweight international travel, the best thing is a jacket that packs into itself. These jackets usually have a small pocket or stuff sack that allows you to stuff it away into a beer can sized lump. The outdoor industry has made some incredible strides here, with some jackets packing small enough to go into your pocket and weighing only a few ounces. You don’t have to go that high-tech though, a simple one from Columbia will work fine. That’s what I carried in India to keep the monsoons out. It is $54.58+ from Amazon where is has a 4.5 star rating over 47 customer reviews.
Five star review by Brian Baker:
“What can I say. It is a Columbia!! Every Columbia product that I own is a great piece of equipment/clothing!! Hands down some of the best gear you can buy. Love this jacket! I would buy again for sure!!”
- Packing cubes
It may seem counter-intuitive to add items to your luggage to save space, but packing cubes are a lifesaver! They help to pack down clothing and to organize it so you don’t have to dump your underwear everywhere to look for that red t-shirt you just have to wear today. These cubes from Amazon are lightweight with a zipper and handle on each of the 4 bags. They’re $16.02+ and have a 4.8 star review.
5 star review from Deb:
“I love these packing cubes! I got them to help organize my backpack for an upcoming trip to Thailand. They are the perfect size and free up a lot of space! I fit all my clothes in 3 cubes and I’ll use the 4th cube for my toiletries and accessories. The quality seems good, I will add to my review if anything negative happens after my trip. Fast shipping as always. Happy customer!”
- Sink laundry detergent
You gotta do what you gotta do, and sometimes that means scrubbing your underwear in the sink because you don’t have access to/can’t afford a laundry mat. This sink-friendly laundry detergent will be a lifesaver. This one from Amazon comes with 12 packs of Tide for $16.83 total and a 4.1 star rating.5 star
review by Nine Cats Corner:
“This was far more useful than I thought it would be. We recently made a 3 week trip to the United Kingdom, hopping around the country, and staying in multiple hotels. Packing lightly was a necessity. Every night we washed out our shirts, socks and undies, hanging them to dry on cheap plastic hangers we’d brought with us. Having these little sink packs of Tide was easy and convenient. One pack usually washed out 2 shirts, 2 socks, 1 undershirt and 2-3 undies…These Tide sink packs sure beat lugging bottles of anything.”
- Roll-up clothes line
Hey, if you’re washing your clothes in a sink, chances are pretty slim that you’ll be able to throw them in a dryer when you’re done. So, you’ll have to hang them to dry. Please don’t dump them on your roommate’s bed. Try out this clothes line instead! $19 and Prime eligible, with free returns. It’s also solidly rated at 4.5 stars.
5 star review from W3KO:
“I now have two for traveling. Longer trips need more hanging space for two people. The Velcro straps make it adaptable to hanging in a variety of places. Highly recommended for travelers.”
- Microfiber Towel
A lot of people absolutely hate them, but there’s no beating a microfiber towel for its weight and quick drying ability. I never travel abroad without mine. The biggest drawback for some people is that it’s not the warm and soft sensation you’d get from a normal bath towel. If you can get used to it, there’s no better alternative though. They pack up teensy tiny and weigh just a few ounces. So far I’ve used mine on three continents in climates ranging from icy Stockholm to scorching Lucknow, and it’s been a lifesaver every time. This one comes with a hand towel and stuff sack, in addition to being an Amazon’s Choice item at 4.5 stars and $13.35+.
5 star Amazon review by Sam:
“These are amazing for travel! Very small and compact for easy travel that doesn’t take up your entire suitcase. I bought these for study abroad and they are great. The large towel is very big so I can wrap it around my body and it is quite modest.”
- Shower Shoes
Shower shoes are an essential for every traveler. You do not want to catch a foot fungus from a grimey shared shower. Don’t spend your vacation fighting athlete’s foot! Just wear shower shoes. You can get these slide-on slippers from Amazon for $8.99+. They come in 7 colors and men’s or women’s sizes. These are quick-drying which makes them perfect for travelers.
5 star review from YR:
“I took these on vacation to Mexico. I wore them on the beach, at the pool and in the shower. What I liked most about the shower shoes is that they didn’t slip or slide off my feet. They are very comfortable.”
A good pair of sunglasses will be your favorite travel buddy. If you’re like me, you don’t want to spend any time squinting in the sun, or you’ll end up with a migraine. Trust me, you don’t want to spend your vacation in your room with the lights turned off and the curtains drawn because you can’t face the sun. These Ray-Bans fold up and come with a little leather case, which is perfect for throwing in your backpack. They have a 4.6 star rating and a $150 price tag.
5 star review ByA. Daytonon:
“I’ve bought many Ray-Bans on Amazon and so far have had good luck getting authentic ones each time. This folding pair is my favorite pair I’ve ever owned. I love being able to fold them up and put them in my jeans pocket or shirt pocket, then I don’t have to hang them from the front of my shirt or hold them while I’m inside.”Another 5 star review, by: L. D. Rafeyon
“These are absolutely splendid! As advertised, lenses allow perfect clear vision, looks great on my face and fold-able. I dropped them on a hard surface with no breakage. Worth every cent! Accompanied by a beautiful zip case.”
- Flashlight/reading light
Please don’t be that guy in the hostel who leaves a bright light on at 2am because they want to read a book or write a postcard. Invest in a small reading light and be a courteous roommate! This one is lightweight, USB rechargeable, and has 2 brightness settings. It has a 4.7 star review on Amazon and is $11.95
5 star review from Amy:
“I really like this book light!! Being able to recharge it in any USB port is such a great feature! Two lighting levels and the swivel light gives me flexibility wherever and whatever I am reading. I would highly recommend this light!”
- Passport cover
Passports are valuable, and not just to you. Many passports are stolen. A common scam regarding passports is RFID skimming. Hackers and thieves can “skim” your passport information while it’s in your pocket or bag using simple electronics equipment. In doing so, they can steal your personal data remotely and either sell it or use it to make black market passports. The easiest way to protect from this is to invest in an RFID blocking passport cover. This one also has a slot for credit cards (another common target of RFID skimmers). At $7.99 and Prime eligible, it’s a worthwhile investment. There’s also free returns, just in case you change your mind.
5 star review from DKP:
“Great soft feel. Beautiful color. Passport fits perfectly with room for extra documents, credit cards etc. Glad I bought it”
If you’re traveling long-term, you won’t be able to take the library with you (sorry!). Invest in a tablet or eReader instead of trying to pick your favorite book to bring along. The Kindle fire 7 tablet is available for $49.99 on Amazon. It comes with Alexa and Prime members have access to many books and movies for free.
5 Star review by Julie:
“…[The Kindle Fire’s] small size and light weight makes it ideal for carrying on car trips.”
Another 5 star review, by Tammy:
“Great, just the right size! [The Kindle Fire] fits in my bag. Great product”
- Pen and journal
Write about your journey! Invest in a good pen and journal that you love so much you’ll be dying to put pen to paper and share your experiences. Even if you just keep the journal for yourself, future you will be glad you wrote everything down. Here is a great journal that should serve you well on the road. It’s lightweight, an Amazon’s choice item, and carries a 4.4 star rating. It’s Prime eligible, and affordably priced at $9.99.
4 star review from Amazon User:
“I’m happy to inform you that this note goes above and beyond what I expected. I’m a heavy fountain pen writer and travel in rough environments often, so any notebook I end up using for daily journaling needs to live up to some really high standards most consumer quality paper goods doesn’t seem to be able to match most of the time. This notebook completely surprised me. The quality of the paper is good enough that my thickly laden Lamy Safari with fine-medium nip is capable of writing on them without worrying about smudges or spill over into the back of the page. The spine and the requisite finish and binding are also excellent, with no wiggles or any weakpoints I can identify that could cause earlier than expected damage to the notebook structure itself.”
For a pen, I recommend the Zebra F-701. It’s an all stainless steel pen that’s more than durable enough for traveling. I’ve been carrying one virtually every day for almost two years, and it still works fine. They’re only $6.72, and come with free shipping if you use Prime. They also average a 4.4 star review over 1,185 customer ratings.
5 star rating from Dana Muwwakkil:
“I love this pen! As a writer that still loves pushing pen to paper I am a huge fan of this pen. The ink flows out very smoothly and it’s a joy to write with. There is no skipping or streaking from the ink either which is a plus. I also love the way it looks, being stainless steel, it looks professional and has more weight to it than the average pen, making it feel expensive and luxurious. The clip feels strong and works well. There is a fine metal, mesh grip where your fingers hold the pen and it feels very comfortable. In all I say it’s definitely worth the price.”
Many thanks to David Anthony for all of his help writing this article, for his guidance in picking the perfect products, and all of the IT support he provided. Happy traveling!
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