Last Updated: 10/30/23 | October 30th, 2023
What do you take on your trip? What do you need? As long-time readers know, I’m a fan of packing light. I don’t think you really need much when you travel. As a backpacker, I want to make sure everything I own fits into one bag. I often think people bring too much stuff when they travel.
I went to Costa Rica on my first trip overseas and I took with me the entire suggested packing list my tour company gave customers. I carried around so much stuff I never used. Years later, when I did my first backpacking trip around the world, I still carried so much, I ended up leaving stuff in hostels as I went.
But I also recognize everyone has different travel styles and needs. No two travelers are alike.
As you prepare for future trips and are wondering, “what do I really need to bring?”, I wanted to give you a list of what I view as practical and must-have items. These items won’t take up too much space, are incredibly useful, and will make your trip better.
Here’s my favorite travel gear:
Items Under $25
1. Travel Padlock
Safety first! If you’re a budget traveler and plan on staying in hostels during your next trip then you’ll need one of these. Since most hostels use lockers, budget travelers need to provide their own travel lock if they want to keep their stuff secured. While you can usually rent or buy them at hostels, it’s much cheaper just to buy one before you go.
2. Travel Adapter
As many travelers have learned, it’s incredibly frustrating (not to mention inconvenient) to arrive at a new destination only to realize you can’t charge your phone or computer because the electrical outlets are different. That’s why you’ll want a travel adapter. They’re a simple accessory but a necessary one if you’re visiting different regions of the world. This is one I personally use as it covers every region of the world (and comes with USB ports too). It’s affordable, easy to use, and lightweight.
3. Packing Cubes
Packing cubes are essential if you’re going to be living out of a backpack for a few weeks (or months), or you just want to keep your suitcase better organized. They come in a variety of sizes, allowing you to store items big and small. They’re great for making it easy to find everything in your backpack or suitcase.
Anyone who has ever stayed in a hostel knows that earplugs are a necessity. These earplugs are reusable and work much better than the cheap foam ones, blocking out any distracting noises. From snorers to late-night drinkers to copulating couples — I’ve heard it all. Even if you’re not going to be in a hostel, they’re still helpful for sleeping in buses, overnight trains, and other types of transportation. A good night’s sleep is priceless — travel prepared!
5. Passport Holder
A passport holder is a must-have for any avid traveler. It protects your passport from wear and tear — which is important because a damaged passport might get you sent home early or denied entry to a destination (plus, replacing a passport is an expensive hassle). While there are tons of pricey, fancy options out there, a simple one will get the job done.
6. Toothpaste Bites
Having to travel with liquids is a pain. They’re always a hassle at airport security. And when it comes to toothpaste, there is a lot of waste (you never get all the toothpaste out and the plastic package is bad for the environment). Enter toothpaste bites. These dry tabs of toothpaste come in a recyclable jar (no plastic!). They take some getting used to but they’re an eco-friendly option for the environmentally-conscious traveler. (If Bite doesn’t ship to your area of the world, Lush also sells toothpaste and mouthwash tabs).
7. Moleskine Notebook
I never leave home without one of these. Not only do I use them for work (I’m constantly taking notes and writing down ideas) but I also use them to keep track of my travels so I have something to look back on. They are the perfect notebook for journaling during your trip as well as for writing down travel notes such as directions, contact information, and language tips. Even in this hyper-technological age, I think everyone needs to write more during their travels so they have something to look back on.
8. Exploration Journal
If you want a travel journal that isn’t just blank pages but rather has space for itinerary planning, places to jot notes in the local language, inspirational quotes, and much more, grab our new travel journal. It was designed specifically with travelers in mind, so you can take notes and write down stories and reflections during your travels.
9. Celiac Travel Cards
My friend Jodi from Legal Nomads created these helpful travel cards for anyone traveling with Celiac disease. They are in-depth resources that communicate your concerns to restaurant staff in a way that allows anyone traveling with the disease to have a worry-free meal. If you or someone you love has Celiac disease, these travel cards are a useful resource! (Use the code NOMADICMATT for 10% off!)
10. First Aid Kit
If you’re going to be doing any hiking, biking, or other activities during your trip I suggest bringing a small first aid kit. It just needs to include the basics (band-aids, antibiotic cream (Polysporin), paracetamol (Tylenol), gauze, hand sanitizer, etc.) so that if you get a small cut, blister, or burn you won’t need to worry about infections. Of course, you should always buy travel insurance before you leave home but this will help you take care of any minor cuts or scrapes you get during your travels.
Items Under $100
11. DryFox Quick Dry Travel Towel
Unless you’re only staying at hotels and Airbnbs, you’re going to need to bring a towel. Having a lightweight, quick-drying towel makes a huge difference when you’re on the road since regular towels are too bulky and heavy (and they take a long time to dry). Instead, get a travel towel. They’re a compact, quick-drying solution that every backpacker needs. (Use code “nomadicmatt” for 15% off your purchase!)
Single-use plastics are common in a lot of countries around the world. They’re also polluting our oceans and destroying the environment. But when you’re traveling, they can be hard to avoid if you want to stay safe. Fortunately, you can do your part to help the planet by traveling with a reusable filter. LifeStraw is an awesome brand that sells bottles with built in water filters. The filters last 5 years so you save money on changing them too. You’ll be able to stay healthy and lower your reliance on single-use plastics. Double win!
13. Travel Headlamp
This is a handy tool for both backpackers and anyone looking to do any hiking or camping. If you’re going to be staying in a hostel, having a headlamp is helpful when you need to check in or out but don’t want to disturb your fellow travelers by turning on the lights. They’re also helpful in emergencies.
14. Trtl Travel Pillow
Travel pillows are perfect for those long-haul flights, delayed buses, and airport naps. Every avid traveler should have a travel pillow. They just make being in transit all the more comfortable. They help prevent jet lag and make even the longest, most uncomfortable trip a little more bearable.
15. External Battery
We all travel with numerous electronic devices like phones and tablets, but it can be hard to keep them all charged. An external battery solves that problem. Three high-output USB ports make this external battery incredibly convenient, as you can charge three devices at once. Plus, it can charge most phones up to six times and tablets at least twice!
Items Over $100
16. Suavs shoes
Suavs shoes are versatile and durable. They’re perfect for traveling because they’re comfortable for exploring a new city all day, while also looking a little fancier so you can dress them up if you want to at night. They are flexible, light, washable, and breathable. I love them!
17. Travel Backpack
If you’re a long-term traveler, your backpack is your home away from home. A reliable, durable travel backpack is a must for budget travelers, minimalists, and backpackers. A well-made bag will last for years and through dozens of adventures. Having a reliable travel backpack is one of the most important items for a traveler and is worth investing in.
My favorite bag is the Flash 55 from REI (I actually prefer the slightly smaller Flash 45, but it’s been discontinued). Other companies worth checking out for high-quality bags are Osprey, Nomatic, and MEC (for Canadians).
Some other bags worth checking out are:
For more backpack suggestions, check out my guide to finding the right backpack!
18. Travel Clothing from Unbound Merino
These travel clothes are some of the most versatile on the market. Made from merino wool, Unbound Merino offers clothing that can be worn daily for weeks without getting smelly. They are super light (great for carry-on only travelers) and they look stylish too. I really love the material, they’re comfortable, they hardly ever need a wash, and they last forever!
19. Luggage from Samsonite
Personally, I’m a backpack guy, but if you’re looking for a suitcase instead, Samsonite has been a go-to brand for durable, quality luggage for ages. Not only that, it also comes with a limited 10 year warranty in case something goes wrong.
Personally, I prefer physical books when I travel. However, I can’t argue against the convenience and simplicity of the Kindle. I’ll admit, hauling around physical books is a pain. It’s old-fashioned and inconvenient. With a Kindle, you can pack thousands of books into a single device, ensuring you always have something good to read when you’re in transit.
I’m not much of a photographer myself, but even I’ll admit that every traveler needs a camera. If you want something better than your phone but still easy to use, get a GoPro. They’re durable and take incredible photos and videos without a steep learning curve. They’re waterproof too and work well for both everyday exploring as well as adventurous activities. It’s the most versatile adventure camera out there.
22. Noise-Canceling Headphones
These headphones block out background noise so you can read, work, or sleep without being disturbed while on long flights, trains, bus rides, or just hanging out in the hostel. The wireless Bose QuietComfort 45 headphones are fan favorites and my go-to brand. They are comfortable, rechargeable, and do an amazing job at removing background noise. If you’re on a budget, consider the QuietComfort 25 instead.
These days, you don’t need to carry a big camera with you to get great photos while traveling. All you need is a smartphone with a quality camera. While not a cheap phone, the iPhone has such a high-tech camera that you don’t need to take a traditional camera with you when you travel. It has a solid battery life, a great lens, beautiful screen, and, overall, is just awesome. True, I’m an Apple fanboy so I might be biased but hey, it’s my list!
For a non-Apple phone with an equally excellent camera, check out the Google Pixel series.
24. Travel Insurance
While not technically a piece of gear, travel insurance is something you need on the road. In fact, it’s the MOST IMPORTANT thing you need, because it protects all your other gear. While most people think of travel insurance as covering health-related incidents (and it should), it also covers the gear you take on the road (sometimes with caveats, so always check the fine print before purchasing a plan).
It’s not just about being able to see a doctor on the road — it’s about making sure that if you fall into an ocean (like I did), your camera can get replaced at no cost. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. A good budget traveler is a smart budget traveler that is prepared for anything to happen!
Read more about choosing the right travel insurance for you or use the widget below to get a quick quote:
Whether you’re heading out for a two-week vacation or a full round-the-world adventure, this list of travel gear will help you get started. You need a lot of stuff when you travel but the right stuff can make a world of difference.
Book Your Trip: Logistical Tips and Tricks
Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner. It’s my favorite search engine because it searches websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is being left unturned.
Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use Booking.com as it consistently returns the cheapest rates for guesthouses and hotels.
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:
Want to Travel for Free?
Travel credit cards allow you to earn points that can be redeemed for free flights and accommodation — all without any extra spending. Check out my guide to picking the right card and my current favorites to get started and see the latest best deals.
Ready to Book Your Trip?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel. I list all the ones I use when I travel. They are the best in class and you can’t go wrong using them on your trip.