I was on the road for three years living out of a backpack. Only recently have I “settled down.” Even now, I travel extensively throughout Nepal. Sometimes for an overnight trip and sometimes for month long treks. Over time, I’ve realized that there are things you can live without and things you can’t help but cling to. I wanted to compile a list of my absolute must have items. The things that have made the cut on every single trip I’ve taken in the last 3 years. These are the consistent things that never seem to change. My essentials.
Most of the items I use can easily be purchased on Amazon except for the clothing. I prefer to shop at Eddie Bauer and REI for quality purposes, so my clothes are almost always from those two stores.
What you put inside your backpack will depend entirely on where you are headed. Regardless of where you are going, these storage items are a must.
This is the backpack I used for two years in nine different countries throughout Southeast Asia. Even after being chewed up by a Cambodian rat, it still holds up. 55L was enough to fit everything I needed and kept me from overpacking. Plus, it has a detachable daypack to carry around the city.
Mudder Waterproof Bags
These bags were an absolute lifesaver while I traveled. I kept my electronics and important documents inside them. One held my passport and wallet, another my camera and phone. I got caught in a lot of downpours and none of my stuff was ever ruined.
I’m a huge fan of packing cubes and can’t live without them. Every person in the hostels would look at my bag and say how impressed they were. They would be pulling everything out all over the floor and I’d have a few neat piles making it easy to find everything I needed.
Pacsafe Bag Protector
This is one of those things that’s a little heavy and you hate to carry it, but when you need it, you love it. I used this on the night train in Thailand which was known for theft. I also used it to lock my things up in hostels where there was no locker. I travel with my computer and camera so it’s important for my stuff to be secure.
Waterproof Laptop Case
Since I travel with my laptop, this is a must. The waterproof bags mentioned above are great for small items, but this one is the right size for a laptop and it’s heavy duty. I use this even on day to day business meetings in Nepal because you never know when it might rain.
Luggage locks are great for keeping your stuff safe. Certain locks are TSA approved which means the airline won’t cut them off your bag at the airport.
So this one is going to sound weird, but I always carry a zip lock bag of fabric softener sheets. When I’m backpacking, I’ll put one or two fresh ones in my bag each month. For trekking, I put a few in with my clothes since they get reworn so often. It keeps everything smelling fresh, and I read somewhere that bugs don’t like the smell.
Liquid Free Travel Essentials
The first year I traveled, I didn’t check any luggage. Liquid free stuff was my best friend. It wasn’t always the easiest to use, but it was definitely the easiest to pack. Plus, most of these items are better for the environment. Some of them are organic and vegan as well. The bug balm is truly my favorite thing on this list. I swear by it.
I love this bar because it’s package free which saves plastic, and it’s liquid free and easy to pack. As a girl with long thick hair, it took a little getting used to. If you have hot water it melts into your hair and soaps up pretty easy. If you are traveling to a place without hot showers, it’s a little more difficult to get going.
I’m super picky about hair conditioner. I have thick curly hair that tangles if a breeze goes by. I rub this directly into my hair below my ponytail line and it really does help with tangles. It works better if you have access to hot water. The bar lasts longer if you leave the container open so it can dry out after each use.
Solid Bug Repellent
This is one of my favorite travel products ever. I hate the smell of bug spray and you can’t carry it with you. This looks like a lip balm. It’s all natural, and I actually like the smell. Best of all, it works!!! I rarely get bug bites when I use it, even during monsoon season in the jungle.
I love this product. I hate carrying liquid sunscreen. This fits easily into my purse, and I don’t have to worry about it spilling. It’s easy to apply. The only downfall is that it looks like you are rubbing a deodorant stick all over you when you apply it haha.
On-the-Go First Aid
No matter where you are going or how you will get there, a first aid kit is a must. Some places sell pre-made kits, but I like specific things. In my travels I’ve gotten sick several times. One time I was hospitalized for two nights. Being sick in a foreign country sucks. It’s sad, you’re all alone, and you don’t understand the labels on medicine. I always carry my own stuff now because trying to find cold medicine in Myanmar, anti-diarrhea medicine in Nepal, and hydration tablets in the airport in Hong Kong are some of the worst memories I have while traveling.
I’ve had food poisoning so many times I’ve lost count. A friend told me about activated charcoal. It can absorb the bacteria in your stomach that makes you ill. My friends and I found that it cuts down the recovery period of food poisoning significantly. Please note, this can negate some prescription drugs so check with your doctor before using it.
Stomach issues are pretty common in Nepal. I carry these on hikes and treks as a way to boost my immune system. I think of them as preventative vitamins. The only thing I don’t like is how big the packaging is, so I always move them to a smaller container to save space and weight.
I love Nuun electrolytes because they actually taste good. I buy the sports ones for dehydration but they also have immune boosting ones. These come in handy during physical activity, when you have diarrhea, or in areas where it’s crazy hot and you need to rehydrate quickly.
Travelers Diarrhea isn’t a pretty topic, but it is reality. I’ve used this on numerous occasions including the time I got dysentery in India. It tastes disgusting, but it’s a life saver!!!
You would be amazed how many people forget to bring band-aids with them when they travel. I’ve been in countries where finding a pharmacy was really difficult, so I always carry the basics.
You never know when you’ll get a cut or a blister. It’s always smart to have an antibacterial cream with you. I’ve had to lend this to many other travelers because they forgot to pack it.
I don’t actually take any form of Advil, but I always carry a small travel pack with me in case of an emergency.
If you come down with a cold, finding throat drops in another country can be a challenge. I always have these with me and even carry a few on the plane in case the air is super dry.
Having cold and flu medicine on hand is also helpful. I tend to get sick when traveling, especially after being on a plane, landing in a different time zone, and running around sightseeing. Reading cold medicine in another language is no fun when you feel sick and want to stay in bed.
My Trekking Must Haves
I’ve completed several high altitude treks. There are a lot of things I’ve stopped taking with me, but the items listed below have stayed tried and true. The items below are the ones that I wouldn’t buy somewhere else or cheaper. A great pair of shoes, coat and backpack are so important when you are walking for 20 days straight at high altitudes.
I have the 40L Alchemist Bag from Eddie Bauer. It’s water resistant, has a tough outer shell that doesn’t rip easily, and is big enough to hold everything I need for a 4-12 day trek. I don’t recommend taking a bag over 55L because typically when you have more room, you fill it up with unnecessary stuff.
I am obsessed with my La Sportiva boots. As someone who hikes a lot, I invested in these as they will last years. They have great ankle support and good traction. Any hiking boots you get should be treated with Nikwax once a year to ensure they are waterproofed. These shoes have already been with me on several high altitude treks and they are holding up great!
You will need a warmer layer at night and I talk about how much I love this jacket so much that you would think I invented it. I wear it ALL THE TIME. It’s insanely warm and packs down into a pocket. I wore this above 5,000m a few times, and as long as I was hiking or moving, it kept me super toasty. I just got Suraj one and he couldn’t believe how warm it was.
Buff / Scarf
Buffs are a great alternative to scarves because they take up very little room and keep you warm. You can also use it as a mask for protection from dust. I like this one because it is thin enough to breathe through and keep you warm at the same time. I wouldn’t recommend a fleece one as they are too hard to breathe through.
When I first started trekking, I didn’t understand the purpose of trekking poles. Now, I don’t think I could do a trek without them. They take weight off of your back and knees if used properly. These are lightweight, sturdy, easy to collapse, and are inexpensive. They often list them for half price online as well.
There are certain items I always have on the road with me. My laptop is one, but I assume most people already have their own laptop. If you need a travel friendly one, I recommend my MacBook Pro 13″ which is super lightweight. Other than a laptop, I always have my power bank, camera, Kindle, power adapter, and head torch with me.
I used to be a “real book” fan but carrying multiple books on a hike, trek, or traveling takes up too much room and weighs too much. I also love the Paperwhite because it’s easy on my eyes, and I don’t need a light on to read.
I’ve had a few different travel adapters over time, but this is my favorite for trekking because it’s so lightweight. You can also change it to fit tons of different outlets making it very versatile.
Power outages are common in Asia, so this is great in a pinch. I use it during hikes and treks. Sometimes we have early sunrise hikes so I need it to walk. It’s also great for late night bathroom runs when camping. I don’t go anywhere without a headlamp now.
Electricity isn’t always a guarantee in Asia, so I have this fully charged at all times. It’s also great for hiking and trekking. I can charge my phone several times from it when I’m off the grid.
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