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7 Travel Essentials for Backpackers

Backpacking around the world? Spending a gap year in Southeast Asia? Take these seven essential items with you.

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7 Travel Essentials for Backpackers

Backpacking around the world? Spending a gap year in Southeast Asia? Take these seven essential items with you.

When backpacking, it’s often far too tempting to simply buy a bag, stuff it full of clothes and books and hit the road. Over the years we’ve come to learn that packing a little bit of order into your backpack, and preparing for certain scenarios can be a life-saving endeavor. So we’ve put together a little list of backpacking essentials–taking into consideration, of course, modern whimsies and conveniences and space issues.

1. Backpack

All too often overlooked. This is your wardrobe, your storage box, your diary holder, laptop protector, best friend, and pillow. Choose your backpack wisely–do you need lots of space? What about pocket storage and comfort? If you intend to do a lot of trekking for days or weeks at a time, then you’ll need comfort and durability–as well as good suspension. If you’re off to the city make sure you get a backpack with a good locking mechanism. The rainforest? Make sure it’s waterproof!

2. First Aid Kit

One of many essentials that one hopes to never need and so leaves behind. In reality, this should be stuffed in your bag and packed with plasters, dressings, water treatment tablets, rehydration sachets, antihistamines, mosquito patches/ repellents and whatever may be relevant to your trip. Don’t discount this one–we recall a story of how a first trip incurred a broken toe from diving, a mild allergic reaction to an exceptionally amorous mosquito and cuts to various degrees while jungle trekking–a basic first aid kit is a backpacking necessity.

3. Universal Travel Adapter

Universal travel adapters are great lil’ things. Basic but endlessly useful. They ensure continuity of all your devices no matter where you find yourself–making sure you can tweet, type and blow dry your hair no matter where in the world you end up. You’ll even learn a few things. For example, Italian sockets often need plug adapters too as there are several varieties of plugs in Italy…because…you know, Italy. Here in Asia things are little simpler. You’ll just need the European rounded style two-pin plug, the American flat style one, or occasionally even the British three-pin one. We suggest you make life easy and get yourself a universal travel adapter with USB slots for your gadgets.

4. Torch (Flashlight)

The torch is such a simple and elegant device. If I need a light, I use a torch. The most basic of primate needs to be realized in a simple device. Don’t imagine yourself lost in the wilderness trying to build a fire under torchlight–think long train journeys, everyone is asleep and your only means to see your way around your backpack is by shining your torch inside. Thinking of staying in a nature reserve where electricity is restricted to the daylight hours? Then you may well need your torch to find your way back to bed at night. The possibilities are endless…and well-lit.

5. Padlock

The unfortunate truth about travel–from Bangkok to London–is that pickpockets and petty thieves are everywhere. You can either hope not to become a victim or do something about it before it’s necessary. Snap your backpack with a good quality padlock (useful for handbags too when you’re deep in the heart of an unfamiliar city) and use a cable lock on your bike if you’re cycling through Asia.

6. Camera

Whether it’s your mobile phone, a classic Nikon FE or a beautiful new Hasselblad, don’t be afraid to document what you see. This is the world through your eyes and your experience no matter how well-trodden the path will remain unique. Never forget that and never fail to explore what you see. Discuss it and remember it (through photos and words). If you’re new to the whole photography game then get a point and shoot or if you want to learn on the road then get an entry-level DSLR. If you want beautiful photos, without too much fiddling, all in a small box (and budget isn’t a problem) go for a new Leica or a Fujifilm X-series.

If you want the quality of a DSLR without worrying about your expensive lenses, choose a GoPro. You’ll get to shoot beautiful photos and videos (up to 1080p/Full HD resolution) and be safe in the knowledge that your GoPro will make it out in one piece, whatever extreme adventures you’ll find yourself in.

7. Tools of the Trade

A compass and a map are your ultimate travel companions. You’ll need a compass (digital is fine so long as you can promise us that you won’t lose your phone) and a map or two. There is nothing that says “I’m traveling the world” more than a world map. However, a map of wherever you happen to be going will be infinitely more useful.

If you want to complete the ensemble then might we suggest a moleskin (or any) diary and a pen–old school but how very romantic–looking out of the train window as steel steams down steel into the wilds of the land. You sit, lit by nothing but moonlight (or your torch) jotting down descriptions of everything you see, sharing your thoughts silently with diary paper.


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