You don’t need the newest, fanciest, most expensive gear to enjoy your travels. I’ve met plenty of nomads who made due with very little, including one Slovenian guy who rode a motorcycle through Central Asia wearing one pair of pants.
Having said that, you could make your travels more hassle-free and enjoyable by investing in the items I’ve outlined below. These are things that I consider essential travel gear:
1. Your Brain
Didn’t think I was going to get all intangible on you, did you? Well, the very first thing you should pack before going on a trip is your brain. Do research beforehand. Be aware of your surroundings. Know yourself and what situations trigger you. Lastly, keep an open mind to the adventures awaiting you.
2. Travel Backpack
I 110% recommend you get a travel backpack. Not a duffel bag, not a rolling suitcase, but a travel backpack. This keeps your hands free and greatly improves your mobility. I remember being in Philadelphia and Chicago back in 2017, and having my rolling luggage bounce awkwardly over the cobblestone sidewalks on my way to the hostel. Never again. A good travel backpack is a serious game-changer.
If you’re in the market for a travel pack, look for one that has the following features:
Opens like a suitcase
Get one that zips all the way around and opens up flat, like a luggage, NOT from the top like a hiking backpack. This ensures that you can easily access all of your belongings at any time.
The Rule of 45
The Rule of 45 refers to either 45 liters, or 45 linear inches, whichever is bigger. Let me explain why this is important. Airlines restrict carry-ons based on linear inches, that is, the length plus the width plus the height of your bag. Virtually any airline I’ve ever flown allows up to 45 linear inches (some budget airlines do 44, but I’ve never had a problem either way). It just so happens that 45 linear inches tends to match up to about the size of a 45L backpack. So if you pack your bag well, you should be able to go for a two-week trip with just a carry-on. That’s right, you’ll be able to bring your pack aboard the plane without having to pay checked bag fees.
The hip belt allows 60% of the weight of your bag to rest on your hips, instead of your shoulders. Will it look a little nerdy? Yeah, maybe. But you really won’t care once you notice how much lighter you feel. Just make sure that the hip belt is adjusted to sit high up on your hips, and cinch it good and tight.
It fits your torso
Lastly, always make sure you get a pack that fits your torso. Anyone at an REI or other sporting goods store can help you with this.
Bonus: Stowaway straps
A lot of travel packs have this cool feature that allows you to tuck the straps into the bag itself. This is great to do before you board the plane, so that you’re not smacking other passengers with the hip belt. Also makes it easier to fit into the overhead compartment.
So, what travel backpack do I use? I actually have an old Tortuga V2 44L that I got on Craigslist for $50. It’s not the most up-to-date pack out there, but it’s been serving me well for over a year, and it has all the features I mentioned above. Tortuga offers newer, more advanced models such as the Outbreaker and the Setout, in 35L and 45L versions. These backpacks have actually won various awards for best travel pack. If I personally were to get a brand new travel backpack today, I would get the Tortuga Setout 45L.
Kristen uses the Osprey Fairview 40L, which is the women’s version of the Osprey Farpoint 40L. It’s sturdy, very well-designed, comfortable, and has plenty of space for her things. She loves it. The Fairview and Farpoint are priced a little more competitively than the Tortuga packs, and they are some of the more popular models in use today. You can find affiliate links to both these packs below:
3. Packing Cubes
Another game-changer. These simple little nylon pouches keep your clothing compressed, so you can fit more into your pack. They also keep things more organized. It’s not a bad idea to keep an extra one for dirty laundry.
4. Packable Daypack
Once you get to your destination, you’re probably not going to want to take your travel pack on all your excursions. Rather, you need a smaller daypack for holding your water, camera, and other essentials.
I personally use one from REI Co-Op that fits into its own pouch. It’s about the size and thickness of a small disc golf disc when packed. There are ones that pack even smaller, but keep in mind that the smaller you go, the thinner the material is going to be, especially the shoulder straps. I like mine because it packs decently small, while still being durable, with slightly padded straps. You can find an affiliate link for an example of this kind of pack below:
Another advantage of this kind of pack is that, if you’re on a long trip and just couldn’t fit every little thing into your travel backpack, you can use your packable daypack for extra space. It will count as your personal item, so still no checked bag fees.
Super Bonus: Want to travel even lighter? Revelar Workshop Kickstarted their line of CubePacks, which are packing cubes that double as daypacks. As of May 2019 these are not being shipped yet, so I haven’t been able to review them, but it could be a piece of equipment to keep your eye on.
5. Collapsible Water Bottle
There are many different versions of this, from pouches that fold up to bottles that compress into a spiral. The idea is that you have an item that does not take up much space when it’s not in use. I personally use a Vapur water pouch. It folds down nice and small, stands up on its own, and holds 700ml. Also made in the USA and comes in cool colors.
6. First Aid Kit
You always want one of these with you. Be sure to move it from your travel pack to your daypack whenever you’re ready to go out exploring, even if you’re not going into the wilderness. On top of the usual contents, I would add some water purification tablets and extra headache and allergy medicine.
7. Combination Lock
This one’s for those of you planning on sleeping in the dormitory rooms in hostels. You definitely want to bring a lock to secure your belongings in the hostel-provided lockers. For sure err on the side of having a smaller lock, as some hostels I’ve been to have tiny latches for their lockers. And get a combo lock so you don’t have to worry about keeping track of a key.
8. BONUS: Travel Insurance
I might get a lot of negative feedback for saying this, but I personally have never found it necessary to have travel insurance. If you do want to opt for it, then by all means check out World Nomads. They’re the undisputed industry standard, and they even run a cool podcast. However, as a budget traveler, and as someone who doesn’t typically take trips longer than one week, I would not say this is absolutely necessary. I would recommend it if you are a fan of adventure travel, where there is a lot more risk of injury involved, or if you are traveling to some legitimately high-risk areas. Most of the time, though, don’t worry about it.
With this equipment, you should be able to tackle most any adventure out there. Is there anything else you never go overseas without? Let me know in the comments!