Every traveler has their preferred method of packing, whether it be lean and mean, bringing everything but the kitchen sink, or somewhere in between. I prefer to pack light and do laundry along the way. It allows me to take only a carry-on and, hopefully, not check a bag. No matter what your ideal packing situation is, however, there are certain items every traveler should pack to make life a little easier on the road.
(1) A couple of foldable grocery bags will come in handy. You never know when you will have groceries to buy or souvenirs that need carrying. I have a really cool one that folds up into itself. It has a carabineer that can attach to my backpack or belt loop when not in use. I end up using it when I stop for grocery necessities or bottled water on my way back to my hotel or apartment. It can also double as a bag to store your dirty laundry.
2) Pack sunscreen, and then use it. Sunburns are no fun and you don’t want to ruin your travels sitting in the room suffering. Sunscreen does no good if it’s sitting at home in the medicine cabinet or in your bag back in the hotel room.
3) Bring any medication (prescription and non-prescription) you think you might need. I have a Ziploc bag stocked with medicines for all kinds of stomach issues and headaches, Neosporin, Band-Aids, and blister remedies, and allergy medications. I’ve had stomach maladies on trips when I’ve forgotten to pack meds and it was miserable. I will never make that mistake again. If you don’t feel well, however, get thee to a pharmacy to obtain what you need and/or ask your host or front desk to recommend a doctor or clinic. You don’t want to ruin your trip or anyone else’s for a medical condition.
4) Make sure to bring an adaptor for electrical plugs and all the necessary cords you need for your phone, camera, etc. I also recommend bringing an extra cord for your phone just in case you misplace the first one or, heaven forbid, you leave it at a hotel or apartment. While other countries have similar electronics, you will be hard pressed to find a charger for an iPhone 8 in a small town in the Andes. Backup chargers also come in handy. I tend to need to recharge my phone a few times during the day because I use it as my camera and I take a lot of photos. When I’m renting a car, I also bring a car charger that has an extra USB port so that phones and cameras can be charged as we drive through the countryside.
5) In most places outside of North America, you will walk everywhere. Make sure you break in whichever shoes you plan to wear prior to leaving on your trip. Blisters are no fun and can slow you down a lot. I usually bring 2 pairs of shoes with me – heavier “hiking” shoes I wear on the plane (if you are carrying on your luggage, don’t weigh it down by packing your heavy shoes) and a nicer pair of flats I can wear out to dinner or on days I know I won’t be walking as much. Depending on the destination, I may also bring a pair of Teva-type sandals which are great water or shower shoes, but also sturdy enough to wear on lighter walking days or days on the bus/train.
6) A good pair of quality earplugs will be your friend. Whether you are bothered by someone who snores, the church next to your hotel/apartment that sounds off every 15 minutes, or your bedroom sounds like you are sleeping in the middle of a traffic circle, you don’t want to fall victim to a bad night’s sleep. Just remember, if you are using earplugs, the likelihood you will hear your alarm in the morning is diminished.
7) Bring a travel towel. Many hostels don’t provide a towel for free – you’ll have to pay for it. All hotels and most apartment rentals will have towels. However, if you get ones as I’ve had in some hotel rooms in Europe, which felt just this side of sandpaper, you will be glad you had a travel towel. They are quick to dry, chamois-soft, and can double as a picnic blanket or a beach towel.
8) Pack several large and several small Ziploc bags – they have many uses. If you are in an apartment, you can use large Ziplocs to store open bags of bread or crackers. You can also use them to carry wet swimsuits or wet laundry if not dry before traveling. Either size bag can be used to store miscellaneous loose souvenirs, coins, or things you think could spill in your suitcase. Or, throw a few in your daypack in case you have leftovers from a meal you want to keep for later (many places in Europe don’t have to go boxes).
9) If you are following the pack light/do laundry formula, bring a couple of packets of laundry detergent and a few fabric softener sheets in a Ziploc bag. You can usually pick up individual sizes of detergent and softener at your local CVS or Walmart. You can use the laundry detergent for laundry in your hotel’s sink or at the laundromat. Buying detergent at a Laundromat is usually expensive. Fabric softener sheets can be used in a dryer, or even to release static cling from clothes (rub them lightly on the affected clothes). Softener sheets thrown in your dirty laundry bag also help with odor. I even throw a few medium-sized binder clips into the laundry Ziploc – they can be used as clothespins to hang small items up to dry, hold curtains together so the morning light doesn’t wake you too early, or they can even hold loose pieces of paper together so they don’t get lost.
10) Bring a notebook and a pen. While you don’t have to keep a journal of your travels as I do, a notebook will come in handy to jot down places you want to see, restaurant recommendations given by your hosts, locals or other travelers, instructions given by your hosts on how to run the washing machine, directions given by a local on how to get to that little known interesting sight, or even keep track of expenses. A little spiral wound notebook thrown in your daypack can be invaluable.