There’re a lot of lists out there for traveling “essentials” that vary a lot in usefulness. So I’ve put together our own list of things we truly found helpful on our 12 month backpacking trip around Europe to help out fellow travellers and friends/family of travellers looking for helpful gifts. Obviously other key items would also be needed if you’re going camping in the country or traveling to areas where basic modern facilities aren’t common. But aside from that you’ll be surprised just how little you truly need and how big a difference a light bag makes to your journey (most of the time we traveled with 10kg packs).
I’ve included approximate prices and shops where I’ve found these items. Please keep in mind that stock and prices will change and that I’ve included some sale prices I’ve seen too because sales in travel stores like Kathmandu and Macpac in NZ are quite regular
NZ$15-30 (on sale) from Kathmandu
This one has a well earned place on any travel pack list. We reccomend the XL size (normal towel size). Also doubles as a nice travel pillow in its case.
Travel Sink Plug
NZ$5-10 from Kathmandu
Uses water pressure to create a vacuum, sealing itself over any sized plug hole. Great if your accomodation doesn’t have a plug and if you need to do some emergency laundry on the road!
Airline headphone adapter
This handy little adapter lets you can use your own comfy, reliable headphones on your crazy long haul flights! Such a game changer!
Multi-box/powerboard (from home)
NZ$3-$12 from Bunnings
Only 1 power point in your room? No problem if you bring along one of these to charge your phone, laptop, camera, power bank, everything! You’ll also only need 1 adapter per country! #genius
A (very) Basic First Aid Kit
Unless you’re planning on going hiking etc and your trip is mostly going to be centred in/around cities then you just need the bare basics. I’d reccomend just putting together a kit of your own; a pack of assorted sized plasters (bandaids), antiseptic cream, tweezers, painkillers. Just the basics you’d need to sort yourself out until you can get to a pharmacy/doctor if you need further medication or help.
Small Lightweight Travel Sewing Kit
NZ$8-15 from Kathmandu
Wardrobe malfunctions while travelling are unideal at the best of times and a serious problem at the worst. A small sewing kit like this one will save you a lot of time, money and stress on the road.
Lightweight retractable cable lock
NZ$10 (on sale) from Kathmandu
Have peace of mind while travelling! The adjustable length of the cable makes this handy lock very versatile. A great way to keep your backpack locked up while wandering around the city and to secure your luggage to the rack when taking a nap on the train.
Power Bank/charging cell
NZ$18+ from electronic stores like Harvey Norman
Keep your electronics charged while one the go! Absolutely essential for your smartphone!
You’ll never pack more efficiently than with packing cells. They make a huge difference to keep your things organised and packed in tight! For our 12 month trip we used 2 x large cells and 1 x packing tube each
We reccomend Howard Leight Laser Lite’s or 3M soft foam disposable earplugs. They make a HUGE difference to sleeping while traveling or in noisey or shared accomodation. A pair of these can be the difference between an awful or amazing day traveling
Solid Shampoo Bar
NZ$15-$17 from Lush
Save space and most importantly weight in your luggage! Book those cheap carry-on only flights with confidence (and awesome smelling hair thanks to Lush!) These things last absolutely ages!
NZ$3.95 from Macpac
Eat cheap supermarket food for on the go! There’s often cheap ready-to-go meals/deli food and no utensils. Now you’ll be ready!
Additional things that are also great to buy for traveling friends and family:
Online Storage! This is a great gift because it’s both helpful and a good security measure to be able to store your photos and copies of important documents securely online. We reccomend Dropbox for its ease of use but there’s also Google Drive, OneDrive and Box
Airbnb gift cards (currently only available for purchase by US residents but watch this space)
Airbnb has exploded on the international scene as a fantastic alternative to hostels and hotels. This is a great gift for anyone going on a big trip who won’t have already pre-booked their accomodation. We used Airbnb all through Europe.
Money. Literally, money is the best option if you can’t think of something that you aren’t sure will actually be useful. Grab a card, job done.
Things we also tried but didn’t find helpful or just ok and not essential:
Swiss Army Knife
This might seem like a travelling staple but unless you’re going to be doing something that might require a knife like camping etc this isn’t necessary. It also can’t be taken in carry-on so if you’re planning on grabbing cheap flights without checked in baggage you’ll need to leave this at home.
Disclosure: I didn’t buy a travel scarf like this one with a zip pocket that’s been going around on Pinterest/Facebook. But I did gradually lose a normal scarf, hoody, two t-shirts, and a number of other items over the 12 months we travelled (all due to human error, not theft). It’s just a reality of regular travel over a long period, often in a tired state. With this in mind I think it’s a really silly idea to put your passport, phone or anything of great value in a scarf. I personally think it’s significantly more likely that it will accidentally be left behind (and not given proper attention if found) than it is to be deliberately stolen from you while being kept somewhere safe i.e. in your bag.
Ostrich Pillow Light
US$45 from Banana Studio
It’s not really sturdy enough for neck support but does provide head cushioning and act as a eye mask at the same time. But for the price and its volume to carry around I thought it was an unnecessary travel item.
£4.40 from Sainsbury’s in the UK
Definitely a plane-friendly space saver but Dave found normal liquid hand soap better in the end
Pegless travel clothes line
NZ$10-15 from Kathmandu
Probably great if you’re camping but really not essential when backpacking.
Travel Shampoo & Hand & Body Wash Paper
NZ$5-10 (2 pack) from Kathmandu
A nice idea but really not that effective. The papers just end up clumping together in a gooey mass. Dave’s top hated travel item.