If you’d rather read a shortlist: I made a list of My Top 10 Travel Essentials here.
Bags & Packs
For if you travel with more than a carry-on
Osprey Sojourn 80 + Osprey Travel Daylite: A convertible backpack/suitcase and an attachable daypack, I only recommend this if you’re traveling with more than just a carry-on you don’t mind lugging across cobblestones or up 6 flights of stairs.
If you ARE traveling with just a light carryon, disregard this – but I travel with about 40-50LBs of stuff. Clothing for every possible weather situation, all my camera gear, toiletries, and other equipment.
This bag is a lifesaver because I don’t want to carry that on my back all the time in the airport or on other flat surfaces when it would be so much easier to just roll it, but then if you NEED a backpack you have the option.
I needed one of these so badly I wound up buying it 4 months into my round the world trip at a shop in Cusco Peru called Tatoo, kinda like a South American REI, my suitcase was on its absolute last leg from being dragged over cobblestones all summer.
2022 Update: After 6 months of use I have NEVER had to turn this bag into a backpack!!! I’ve also never attached the travel bag to the front for extra space.
I would still recommend an Osprey rolling bag though because I’ve dragged this one over cobblestone streets and through sandy deserts and the wheels are still going strong.
Bonus: Even though this was a VERY expensive product ($420 USD for both bags after-tax), Osprey bags have a lifetime warranty, and I read reviews from full-time travelers who used their Osprey Sojourns for 8 years before an element of it broke, and Osprey replaced it at no cost to them.
These kinds of warranties are great if you plan on using (and abusing) your gear to the max like I know I will.
for If you travel with camera gear
Peak Design 20 L Everyday V2 Bag: A great camera/tech bag: I’ve been using (and abusing) my Peak Design 20L v2 everyday bag for the past 8 months and at first I didn’t know how to feel about it.
I had chosen the 20L instead of the 30L because the 20L squeaks riiiiiight under the flight requirements for a “personal item”. If I only had a personal item allowed on my flight, I knew I could keep my most expensive belongings on me no matter what.
Carabiners: These are essential whether you pack light or not, the option to hang something from your pack rather than stuff It inside has come in handy many times.
Raincovers, hand sanitizer, rain ponchos, packable down jackets, water bottles, sleeping bags, sleeping bag liners, and travel pillows are all more useful outside your bag than inside if you need them.
I also use carabiners to attack my Osprey Daylite Travel bag to the outside of my Osprey Sojourn when it’s stuffed.
A Tech Organizer: I actually have two of these, but that’s because I carry a lot of gear in order to create this blog. Having a tech pouch or a tech organizer should be on everyone’s packing list if they’re traveling with more than just a cell phone.
for if you plan to go to the beach
A Waist Belt Dry Bag: I bought a whole set for Mexico which included a big dry bag, a medium one, and a small one but I only ever really wound up using the medium sized pouch.
These are great for if you want to go to the beach with your phone, wallet, keys, and headphones.
I swam in Cenotes and the ocean and everything inside this bag stayed 100% dry without me having to ask someone on the shore to watch my stuff or find a locker.
A Sling Bag: We’ve all heard horror stories about motorcycles snatching purses off of tourists and speeding away, right? Well, I actually saw it happen in Sicily to a girl on my study abroad group.
The cops didn’t care one bit, they actually told her she was lucky the bag strap broke and she wasn’t dragged behind the scooter!
A thick-strapped sling bag can help you avoid this danger. It’s also worn on the front like a fanny pack to deter pickpockets, making sling bags the perfect travel purse.
An Unstructured Tote Bag: I carry a big canvas tote bag I use for two reasons:
- It can work as a laundry bag for my dirty clothes.
- It works as an “overflow” bag at airports if my bag is overweight and I’m allowed a personal item and a carry-on. I can decant some of the heavier items from my checked bag into my tote so I don’t have to pay an overweight bag fee.
Obviously, packing light would just solve this problem but I am NOT a minimalist backpacker and never claimed to be!
My canvas tote folds up and fits into the top pocket of my Osprey Sojourn, but usually, when I’m traveling I keep it out even when I don’t need an overflow bag because it’s good to keep snacks and drinks on a long trip.
I’m linking the canvas bag I got from amazon but I would highly recommend a nylon tote instead because they’re lighter and quick-drying.
Just make sure it’s not a bag with a structured bottom or handles so you can still fold it up if you need to!
Packing Cubes: Everyone talks about packing cubes, but that’s because they really are that great. I’ve been through so many different types (cheap ones I got 10 for $20 on Amazon, name-brand compression ones, and knock-offs of the name brand compression ones) and I have to say this is a category worth the splurge.
I have two big Peak Design Compression packing cubes and one small one, and for most people that should be enough to hold all their clothes, maybe two small ones if you’re like me and don’t pack light.
My personal preference is for compression cubes since they keep your clothes pressed neatly
A truly Universal Adapter: I can vouch for this exact product because I’ve been using it since 2019, both international and domestically (because it’s a very convenient outlet extender).
After over two years of constant use, it’s still running good as new.
The plugs are exchangeable so I can just shove whatever plugs I’m not currently using into my big bag, and keep the one for the current country I’m in on the outlet.
A Power Bank: this lives in my bag and it’s a skinny one so it doesn’t take up a lot of room.
Noise Canceling Ear Buds: These come in handy on an overnight bus where they’re playing an action movie all night, in a hostel room with someone who snores, or on a long-haul plane ride with a crying baby.
I know there are some earbuds made especially for sleeping/canceling noise but I like to go with a multi-purpose one that I also can use for playing music and listening to audiobooks.
I have a Bose Soundsport (that I haven’t reached for in over a year) and AirPods Pro that I use every day, all day. I really didn’t think I would like them as much as a did, and I’m mad I didn’t get them sooner.
GRAYL Bottle: Most important item on this list hands down is my Grayl bottle. I use this 6 times a day, every day, and it’s never failed me. I made a whole post about it but my rule of thumb is to have my GRAYL bottle + 1 filter for every month I plan to be gone.
Travel Pillow: I’ve tried out SO many travel pillows over the past few years. This pillow is not very cheap ($30) and it’s not very small (but it can hang off my bag on a carabiner), but it’s the only travel pillow that’s actually comfortable to me.
I love this pillow so much that when I left it in a hotel in Peru I paid $45 shipping to get another one sent from the US. It’s the best travel pillow IMO!
Eye Mask: I’ve never slept with an eye mask before traveling but they’re actually super helpful if you’re on a bus or a train with lots of different light sources. Also great If you’re in a hostel bunk bed and people are coming and going all night and turning the lights on and off.
A Packable Sun Hat: Make sure you at least have a baseball cap with you! Nothing ruins a trip like a burned scalp.
I prefer straw sun hats, but unfortunately, I’ve yet to find a wide-brim straw hat that’s actually packable, so instead, I travel with a baseball cap that folds down pretty small and fits in the corner of my bag.
for people with longer hair
A BUFF: Buff is the name brand, but I picked up a knockoff in Peru for $3. It’s essentially a thin cloth headband that can be worn a bunch of different ways. I use it to tie up my hair but it actually comes the most in handy when there’s a dust storm and you can put it over your mouth and nose.
Sunglasses: Essential! I’m still trying to find my perfect pair, but really . As someone who doesn’t Lose things I manage to ALWAYS lose sunglasses. I’ve had them swiped by my snorkeling guide (unintentionally) In Gili T, slip off my head onto the subway track in NYC, fall right off my face while peering off a cliff in Italy, etc.
So I don’t put too much stock in getting fancy expensive sunglasses, Just anything that keeps the sun out of your eyes and has UV protection.
Wallet: If you’re traveling in cash countries you’re going to have to carry and keep organized way more money than you’re used to. For instance, 1 million Indonesian Rupiah is only 70 USD.
This wallet, or ones like them that have an area for organizing your bills, card, ID, and a zip pocket for coins are perfect.
Bonus: This wallet actually has a compartment that fits my vaccine card perfectly.
Locks: I usually travel with:
- TSA lock for when I’m checking my bag.
- normal small padlock for hostel lockers.
- cable lock that lives in my backpack for locking my backpack up.
If you’re not paranoid like me you could Just use a TSA lock for your hostel locker, but I carry a lot of camera equipment for this blog and since those locks have keyholes on the bottom used by all TSA agents globally, a lot of people have illegal copies of TSA keys.
Cable locks are great for if you want to lock your bag to something like if you have a bag that’s locked and you need to leave it in the hostel luggage room for a few days you can lock the handle to something to ensure the entire suitcase isn’t removed.
But then again, I wouldn’t really care about someone stealing my stuff if I didn’t carry so many valuables while traveling.
An Electric Toothbrush and Good Floss: This is a recommendation for everyone, everywhere – not just travelers; but developing cavities on the road is no joke and having your plans interrupted by a toothache isn’t fun.
I travel with a Phillips Sonicare toothbrush (that comes in a carrying case) and charcoal-activated floss that expands between your teeth.
A Toothbrush Cap: I’ve seen backpackers just shove their damp toothbrushes into their bags or fanny packs and get goo everywhere, these are only a few dollars and will save you a lot of trouble.
Silicon Travel Toiletry Containers: These are very helpful if you plan on traveling with only a carryon because you can easily show TSA that your liquids are under 3.4 ounces.
Structured Clear Toiletry Packing Cubes: I used to use plastic bags to keep my toiletries but they kept breaking and didn’t pack well into my suitcase.
I have since switched to these square, clear containers that pack like packing cubes in my bag so I can always see what I need.
You HAVE to keep your toiletries in some kind of container in your bag because airplane pressure can make toiletry containers leak or even explode!! I’ve had a shampoo explosion over my whole bag before and it’s not fun!
Hand Sanitizer: Especially in Covid times this is a necessity. I bought a container that can hang off of my backpack, and I’ve been re-filling that little travel container as I go along.
Sunscreen: If you’re going to a popular beach destination or a big city don’t worry about packing tons of sunscreen.
That being said, I really needed some in rural Morocco where the sun was so strong and for the first time in my life I couldn’t find any, the locals simply didn’t use them.
I think bringing a full-size bottle for your face that’s like SPF 100 (I know, overkill, but if you’re going up in altitude the sun isn’t about getting a tan or not it’s about preventing blisters!) and a full-size bottle for your body.
I like to use clothing like rashguards and button-down shirts instead of sunscreen at this point because they just work better.
Note: If you can help it, do not bring aerosol sunscreen. it runs out super fast, and takes up way more room in your bag.
Bug Spray: It’s better to be over-prepared than underprepared so I always bring a full-size of Off!
Backwoods with Deet that also works against ticks, and if going somewhere with a risk of Malaria or Dengue something like Lifesystems Expedition 100+ Mosquito Repellent, anything with a high percentage of Deet.
I’ve seen bug spray with Deet around in Cusco but it’s harder to find good bug spray while traveling internationally than sunscreen. Again, try to stay away from aerosol if you can.
Masks: I like the disposable surgical masks because they work better (allegedly) than clothe ones and also because if you’re somewhere very hot and tropical these are lighter, but just make sure you travel with a mask and some backups.
In Peru, you’re not allowed into any businesses unless you’re wearing two masks, and on buses, it has to be 2 masks and a face shield. Traveling with the proper covid equipment just makes things easier.
for the coffee addicts
Caffeine Pills: I need coffee to wake up and get to work in the morning, but a lot of the time while traveling there’s no fresh coffee available and I’m suffering through a gross cup of instant or Nescafe just for the effect.
If you also drink coffee just for the effects it comes in pill form and it’s way easier than having to mix powdered coffee with hot water every morning you’re unable to have the real thing
First Aid Kit: I recommend buying these individually wrapped pills from amazon (it’s the generic brands of things like Tums, Tylenol, Advil, Pepto-Bismol, and Benadryl) and building from there.
I keep some of these little pill packets in every bag I own so I’m never without a Benadryl or an Advil if needed.
Q Tips: I used to just travel with a handful of Q tips in my bag, but they get really gross really fast – now you can pick up a travel Q tip that comes in a dedicated container for a few bucks and fill it up whenever you need to.
Nail Clipper: Any nail clipper will work, just don’t forget one! I forgot a nail clipper on a trip in 2019 and couldn’t find one where I was (rural Morocco) and had to try to trim my nails with kitchen scissors.
Sports Tape: I started using KT tape for running blisters and now I’ll never be without it. 100% waterproof, these stay on until you take them off even if you’re swimming in the ocean.
They’ve replaced bandaids in my kit because a little Neosporin and some KT Tape work so much better if you’re out and about in humid environments.
Wet Wipes: I always have wet wipes, one in my sling bag/backpack and one in my big bag as a backup. The reason being not every bathroom in other countries provides toilet paper. I also always have a ziplock bag for my open wet wipes so they don’t dry out.
Tip: If you ever have a multi-day trek or a long journey, a little hand sanitizer on a wet wipe can be used to kill the bacteria that makes armpits stink.
It’s hard to recommend travel clothes because it’s not 1 size fits all, but here are a few brands and general categories I’ve put my trust in.
I also want to note that if you plan on working out 3-4 times a week, you’re going to need to bring double the clothes for a week without laundry as someone who is not planning on working out. Unless you’re cool with wearing your workout clothes all day!
Hiking Sandals • Tevas: These are the ultimate backpacking shoe. They work as day-to-day sandals and also as water shoes.
In Mexico, my friend hurt her foot in a Cenote because she didn’t have a water shoe, it’s better to just wear one whenever you’re going into the ocean or a lake so you don’t have to worry about stepping on anything.
Bonus, if you really want to you can wear socks with Tevas in colder weather, making them a replacement for most shoes.
Note: Tevas are quite pricey, and there’s a ton of knock-offs on Amazon, so I linked a cheaper knock-off as well.
Activity-shoe • Asics Gel Kayano: This is something you’ll wear when you’re roughing it out on the trail, you can either bring hiking shoes or structured sneakers or both if you have the room.
I chose structured sneakers so I could run and I don’t regret that decision because they’ve done pretty well on most treks and when I’ve needed heavy-duty hiking shoes they’ve been provided to me by my tour company.
100% cotton T-shirts: I’ve been wearing and washing 6 Uniqlo Cotton T-shirts for the past 6 months on repeat and they’re great. They can go under my puffer jacket or a sweater for cold weather, be worn as a sleepshirt, or go under a linen shirt for trekking in the sun.
Button-Down Linen Shirt: These go over a t-shirt or tank top if you’re anywhere sunny or tropical. I have 3 of these Uniqlo linen button-downs in Salmon. It doesn’t matter what brand you choose it only matters that it’s 100% linen so you won’t be uncomfortable in hot weather.
Long-sleeve shirts work way better than bug spray or sunscreen so they’re a must-have in my book.
Another important factor if you’re a woman is lots of hot places are conservative and expect you to be pretty covered up.
East Java, Indonesia is a hot tropical environment that is primarily Muslim, and I wore linen button-ups over my sundresses to enter temples.
Tank Tops: I bring a few tanks tops even though they’re not as versatile as T-shirts to wear to bed or in very hot weather in places that aren’t too conservative.
They told up super small and I stuff them into the side pocket on my peak design packing cubes to keep them separate from my T-shirts.
Underpants: I pack 20 pairs of 100% cotton underpants. This is crazy, I’m well aware. But my underpants take up NO room in my bag, and I like to have a clean pair for sleeping and daytime, so it’s really a little over a week’s worth and they all fit in one hand. I can wear dirty clothes the next day but I refuse to wear second-day underpants.
Note: I don’t know of a good paid of guys’ underpants to recommend! Sorry guys.
For the gals
Bras: I have 4 sports bras. I don’t pack underwire bras because the wire tends to get smushed and breaks in my suitcase.
Socks: I’ve had these thick ankle socks I got off amazon for 2 years now and they were super cheap, but even with everyday use they’ve held up well. I pack 4 pairs.
So, I like to have clean clothes and I do laundry while traveling. I don’t like to wear the same thing 2 days in a row without washing it, that’s something that’s important to me that might not be important to everyone, and that’s ok! I
have some very nice (and expensive) shorts from Athleta that are built to last, but because they are so high-quality the material is heavy and they take up a lot of room in my bag.
Before my most recent trip I switched out 3 pairs of Athleta and Lululemon shorts for 5 pairs of $10 Old Navy shorts and that was the best decision.
The old navy shorts take up NO room in my bag, they’re perfect for sleeping or working out in hot weather, they have liners, and they’re super cheap so even if one breaks down (which they haven’t yet) or gets lost at the laundry service it’s not a big deal.
The same thing with pants, I now travel with 1 pair of Lululemon fleece-lined leggings (I’ve worn these on alpine hikes, they’re seriously heavy duty. I slid down a mountain in Ecuador and busted my bum, but the pants stayed intact!
The old-navy ones were $20 each, and probably all 4 of them take up the same amount of room as my one pair of Lululemon joggers.
I would HIGHLY recommend them because they’re so lightweight, comfortable, airy, and perfect for when you need to cover up in conservative countries but it’s hot out.
Coats: The best combo for jackets and coats (IMO) is a down puffer jacket as an insular layer and a waterproof shell to go on top.
Plenty of places make 2-in-one shell/puffer jackets, right now I have my eye on a new one from Patagonia because my Lululemon puffer is getting old.
Even if you’re going somewhere warm I recommend having a puffer and a shell for cold flights or mountain hikes.
A Rash Guard Bathing Suit: I spent $$$ buying cute bikinis for my trip to Mexico, only to never really wear them.
After the first sunburn, I learned my lesson. The sun in tropical countries does not mess around, and I wound up wearing a (much less cute) rash guard bathing suit I picked up on Amazon more than any of my bikinis.
Rash Guards are kind of annoying, they take up more room in your swimsuit than normal bathing suits. But, if you’re someone who wears sunscreen I highly recommend picking up at least one. Especially since a lot of natural locations are now banning sunscreen because it’s damaging the ecosystem.
Pepper Spray: A non-negotiable essential for men and women, I keep mine in my checked bag when I’m flying and it hasn’t gotten confiscated yet. It IS illegal to have in some counties, but I’d rather get in trouble for having it than get in trouble for not having it.
Personal Alarm: You can buy these all over amazon, the name brand is Birdie – they are VERY loud, test yours out to see if it works before leaving
A Retractable Lanyard: Pepper spray and a personal alarm are both useless if you can’t use them, if your pepper spray is buried in the bottom of your bag a bad guy isn’t going to wait for you to dig it out!
I have one of these retractable lanyards I got on Amazon, IDK why pepper spray doesn’t already come on one of these because I’ve run into several other backpackers in South America who had the same idea.
I attach the lanyard to the front of my sling bag or the side of my backpack, and then I always have my safety items within arms reach.
for the gals
for people who get periods
Menstrual Cup: If you think you’ll get your period while traveling menstrual cups are great! Not every country sells tampons, and it’s way better to travel with reusable items you don’t have to worry about running out of than stockpiling mass quantities of disposables.
Tip: Microwave for 3 minutes or otherwise boil your cup before use to sanitize it
Silicon Exfoliator: If you’re someone who likes to exfoliate consider an electric exfoliator instead of bringing a product that can run out. I use a knockoff of a Foreo exfoliator for the past few years and it’s really helpful with getting off sunscreen at the end of a long day.
Heatless Hair Curling Rod: If you’re someone who likes to do their hair this item can help you create overnight heatless curls. It’s only $10 and can fit easily in any bag.
Otherwise Not Listed
Other things in my bag not listed
- My Hair Products: I actually load up on Kinky Curly Gel and Moroccan Oil before leaving the states because I love the way it smells.
- My Skin Products: I’ve been getting into skincare recently since hitting my mid-20s, I really like The Ordinary but the glass bottles the products come in aren’t good to travel with so I usually wind up using ROC or La Roche Posay.
- Eye Care: I have pretty bad vision, but to anyone out there who wears glasses I highly recommend getting contact lenses before leaving. Not only is it so much easier with mask mandates not having to worry about your glasses fogging up, but you also can wear contacts while you’re snorkeling or doing all sorts of adventure-ing.
- I bring bi-monthly contacts because dailies would take up too much room in my bag, a big thing of contact solution, and a pair of glasses for days like today when I’m just writing blog posts on my computer.
- Other Toiletries: Stuff like toothpaste, mouthwash, deodorant – I didn’t list it here, but rest assured I use it!