36 Tips from a backpacker

Last updated on May 14th, 2021

What to pack in your backpack 

Kerry is an American Journeywoman who lives in Minneapolis, USA. When she’s not out exploring the world she’s an artist, writer, photographer, perpetual university student, waitress, secretary, an esthetician with a husband and a husky dog named Manfred the Wonder Dog. Kerry lives and breathes to travel the planet with her backpack. Journeywoman is delighted that she took the time to send us her list of 36 tested travel tips. Kerry writes…

In addition to the tried and true advice: “wear black clothes in European cities” and be sure to pack yourself a healthy dose of common sense, adventurous spirit and humility; here are a few travel items and tips I have found to be indispensable. Have fun, everybody!

I always bring

Earplugs and neck pillow…
Several sets of earplugs are a huge must to guard against roommates that snore, noisy neighbours, traffic and screaming babies on a plane. I keep mine permanently in my backpack and carry them on board planes, trains and automobiles. Ditto for a “blow-up neck pillow.” Always keep it handy. I find mine both in travel shops and shops that sell bath equipment.

Emergent-C…
These little packets mixed with water, taste like a lemon fizzy, are full of vitamin c, magnesium and more. They’re inexpensive, found at health food stores and take up little room in your bag. I’m told they’re the best for boosting your immune system which can suffer during travel. Plus, they work wonders for me on a Parisian red wine hangover. I also take one on the plane to counteract all the airplane germs.

Tiger balm…
This is my secret weapon for pain. A tiny tin lasts a long while and a little rubbed on a sore muscle or on my temples warms up the spot and rids me of head or muscle aches in no time. Get the colourless one in the red tin at most drugstores.

Toilet kit…
I carry a toilet kit that has a hook and a mirror. Usually, there’s somewhere to hang your things, but there’s not always somewhere to set supplies down. Plus, you never know when you need a mirror on the road.

Wipes…
Antibacterial wipes. I like the smaller cloth-like sample-sized packet. Easy to carry and easy to dispense.

Journal and crayons…
I always bring a journal and a wonderful German crayons. They come in little, thin tins (for easy storage) that I buy at an art store. When you put a bit of water over your drawing, you get a watercolour effect. Take the time to play!

Packtowels…
You’ve probably heard of these from other travellers, but I’m including it in my list because I never leave home without one. These towels are small, very absorbent and quick to dry. I found mine at a camping store. Regular towels are simply too bulky and they get stinky when you are forced to pack them when they’re still damp.

Cable lock…
Buy a combination cable lock. They’re small, cost about $10 and they allow you to park your pack more readily. (i.e.) Lock your pack to the overhead holder on a train and go get a sandwich. Most thieves are just small-time potatoes, they’ll look for an easy-to-grab bag. I use my lock all the time. Tiny locks on the zippers are great too. Most casual thieves won’t bother to cut your pack. You’ll have peace of mind for only $10.

Lots of extra stuff…
I also carry zip lock bags, large trash bags, a small alarm clock, a little bottle of Woolite and drain plug for handwashing, a small photo album of my family, friends and dog to share with those I meet along the way. My packing list also includes antibiotic cream and alcohol wipes, small sewing kit, bandana, sunscreen, tweezers, glue stick to stick little bits of memorabilia into my journal and my Swiss Army knife (this last only in my checked luggage or it will be confiscated by airport officials).

An Immersion heater…
This little device saves tons of cash when all you want is a cup of tea or a quick cup of soup. And when you may be feeling a bit sick, you can brew a packet of herbal Cold Comfort Tea. Of course, you may need an adapter plug depending on where you are, but they’re small and inexpensive too. These heaters have dual voltage, so there’s no need for a big, heavy adapter.

Tiny notebook…
Carry a tiny, spiral notebook easily accessible in your jacket pocket or daypack. I write notes for myself before I leave the hotel. That way, I don’t have to look like a tourist with my map and guide books out all the time. Someone gives me directions and I don’t have to rely on my memory. I have a quick place to jot new notes; concert times and locations, thoughts that need to be entered into my journal later. See a great place to eat dinner, but it’s only time for breakfast? Mark the intersections and café name to have for later when you can return. I have a whole collection of these little books.

Grapefruit seed extract…
A tiny bottle of grapefruit seed extract will last forever. I use it to keep parasites at bay when travelling where intestinal “critters” are a concern. A dropper in a cup of water is super bitter but can be helpful in protecting your tummy. Ed. note: When it comes to things you ingest, I always advise that you check with your health food store or pharmacist to find out more about the product and whether it will work for you.

Blueberries…
Dried blueberries are great for stomach upset too. The grocery chain store Wholefoods stocks them. Most likely, your neighbourhood co-op will too. Ummm, yummy antioxidants.

Extra eyeglasses…
Bring extra glasses should you lose or break your pair. Take along good sunglasses as well. Wear these to look exotic and to keep your eyes safe while you’re exploring new territories. Best of all – use dark glasses to shield your gaze in macho societies (where even a short eye lock with a man can lead to unwanted attention).

Stuffsack…
I suggest you put all your daypack stuff into a “stuffsack” and secure it well. It will not only stay dryer in a rainstorm, but it will also stay safer. Thieves who think about cutting your bag or trying to get in will have a much harder time reaching your essentials. Ed. note: An outdoor equipment shop would be the best place to find this item.

Doorstop…
Carry a plastic doorstop. Stick it under your door anywhere (including your train compartment) and, of course, your hotel door (with an iffy lock) and no one will get in except Superman.

Flashlight…
Carry a little flashlight plus, I always bring this bigger one made by Ever Ready (I believe). Go to the flashlight section of your department store. This model is yellow with kind of a flared out thing around the bulb area — you can’t miss it. It’s small enough, it has a wider beam and it doubles as a lamp. You pull on the base and the middle becomes this nice, soft light that will be very welcome should the power go out, or in your tent, or if you just plain want to read and everyone else in your hostel room is sleeping. Cost: About $6.00 P.S. Always carry a spare bulb and batteries.

Travel documents…
Make copies of all your travel documents and leave then with someone reliable at home. Carry the original plus one set of copies with you. Record numbers of all your credit cards and traveller’s cheques.

Compass…
Get a compass and pin it on to your daypack or whatever you carry around every day. Even a little, cheap, pin-on number will save you endless blocks, even miles wandering out of your way in the wrong direction.

Water and food…
Always carry water and some food. Trail mix, energy bars etc, dried soup packets, tea bags are cheap and small to tote. I’ve learned the hard way that every train does not have a dining car and that sometimes there are unforeseeable events in a day that will leave you hungry and crabby, etc. Not fun! I try to be prepared for (almost) anything.

Water and food…
Always carry water and some food. Trail mix, energy bars etc, dried soup packets, tea bags are cheap and small to tote. I’ve learned the hard way that every train does not have a dining car and that sometimes there are unforeseeable events in a day that will leave you hungry and crabby, etc. Not fun! I try to be prepared for (almost) anything.

Money belt…
I sleep with my money belt or travel wallet in my sleeping bag if I’m staying at a hostel. Don’t leave these ultra-important documents for even a minute while you go to shower. Take them always and keep them on your body always. On a train, keep your bags locked and nearby.

Yogurt…
Local yogurt can help avert traveller’s diarrhea by initiating healthy bacteria into your system. It’ll work to gobble up the bad guys in your tummy. Just be sure the yogurt is packaged, pasteurized and safe. Eat a cup every day and, to start you off right, don’t forget to begin eating yogurt with live cultures before every trip.

Ginger candy…
If you have trouble with motion sickness, eat a piece of crystallized ginger. It really helps me to ease nausea. I buy these great ginger chewies that are wonderful at the Chinese grocery store. They’re sort of spicy – I share them on the road – a great way to meet people.

A sarong…
A sarong doubles as a table cloth, a picnic blanket, a curtain in a room or train car without one, a cover for your hair and shoulders should you need a cover-up, a way to change in/out of your swimsuit, a blanket, a bandage, to cover your knees for modesty in a cathedral. It hardly takes any room in your pack and, you can even wear it as a skirt!

Roll-less toilet paper…
Have you heard about toilet paper (without the roll) that comes in this tiny, thin plastic case that acts like a dispenser? You’ve got to have them in your purse, no matter where you go. They’re called “Travel Buds”, I think. I bought mine in a Target store in the USA. Find them in the area where the sample shampoo and stuff is kept. They’re sold for under a dollar there.

Dental floss…
Dental floss is extremely small, takes up no room and it’s useful for many, many things. Think improvised washline, flying a kite, sewing your pack, and even cleaning your teeth.

Bandaids…
I don’t leave home without an assortment of bandaids – all shapes and sizes. I hope I don’t need them but one never knows. Ed. Note: Cute guys (both young and old) very often need bandaids – it pays to keep your packet where they’re always accessible.

Silk sleepsack…
This item weighs almost nothing, takes no room, is warm or cool as it needs to be, is easy to wash, keeps between you and questionable bedding. Use it on a train, right in your sleeping bag or anywhere. They are the greatest!

Pants with zip-off legs…
Presto, you have shorts when the sun comes out. No need to buy expensive gear – check out clothing chains like Old Navy and the Gap. They offer much less expensive options.

Socks…
The brand, “Smartwool” makes great, comfy, breathable socks. They’re a bit expensive, but they dry quickly, will save you blisters and they last for years. Buy black silk liner socks for your European city wear, then use them as liners inside your cushier socks for hiking, etc. An added thought – it’s frequently colder in hostels so if that’s where you will be staying, bring those little running and tennis footies to wear in bed. They make a world of difference.

Little treats…
I bring little treats to give to people who are nice to me along the way. Since I live in Minnesota, I carry a little ziplock bag of tiny, inexpensive loon pins (our state bird). My new friends love ’em. In Canada, I’m told that if you call the office of your member of parliament, they often have Canadian pins for you to give away.

A radio…
Buy a little portable radio and listen to local music on the beach or from your tiny Paris balcony, etc. Set the mood, learn the language, know the news and weather, dance up a storm!

A toned body…
Get in shape before you go. On the road is not the place to do it. Take the stairs at home and you’ll be without surprises when you find there’s no elevator in your Amsterdam, 13-floor-walk-up, very quaint, attic room.

Bring an open mind and friendship…
Finally, let’s all watch out for each other on the road. Let’s always be sure to step out of our proverbial boxes and ask questions, speak to new people, learn something special every day and go the extra mile. Hope my hints will help. Carpe diem. Seize the day, ladies!

Best regards from another JourneyWoman… Kerry in Minneapolis

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