I had no idea what to bring my first time abroad. It was scary, so I consulted the internet. As you know, the internet tends to give you a lot of stupid answers (do people really use neck pillows? or money belts?), so I thought I’d do the world a favor and share my list of essential crap to haul around, in case anyone else has pondered the wisdom in carrying around bungee cords for 2 months in Europe.
15 Items I’d Never Leave Home Without
In the BACKPACK:
I found out the annoying way that other countries typically don’t have as huge of a tampon selection as the US. Not that I’m picky, but only being able to find pads on the way to a gorgeous beach in Costa Rica isn’t on anyone’s agenda. As a result of that incident, I tend to pack way more tampons than necessary.
2. Comfortable Underwear
Everyone’s definition of comfortable is different. I didn’t wear thongs until I was in my 20’s. Just didn’t see the point. But there is a pair of comfortable underwear for everyone. Unless you go commando. Anyway, I’ve found mine, and pack 7-10 pair in my bag before I leave home along with my least annoying bra (I hate bras, too). Sexy underwear has no place on 9 hour bus rides.
3. Tinted Moisturizer with SPF
Foundation is stupid. Especially on horseback. What’s not stupid, particularly if you’re going to be outside for extended amounts of time, is foundation with SPF. Tinted moisturizer is even more casual, and actually has a purpose besides vanity. I usually bring mascara and eyeliner along too, because I have creepy pale Irish eyelashes. Any more makeup than that when you’re traveling is just slutty.
4. A Cardigan
I wear these every day. Even in the summer, I have these super light cardigans that I layer over tank tops. It’s adorable. No matter where you’re traveling, at some point it’s going to be cold getting there, and a little cardigan that can double as a pillow or eye mask (yeah, I’m that person in the hostel: the one that obviously left her comfort object at home and sleeps cuddling an article of clothing) is much less of a hassle than hauling around a bulky hoodie or blanket.
5. Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soap
It’s amazing. This shit can be used as body wash, shaving cream, toothpaste (I buy the peppermint kind), and shampoo. My hair didn’t know how to act at first, but after a few days it looked great. Bonus: detergent. I used this stuff in random washing machines along the way, and to hand wash in sinks or the shower (this is very handy for bathing suits). There are probably dozens of other brands that do similar things, but for now this is the all-in-1 for me.
6. The Basics: 5 Shirts, 4 Shorts, 3 Dresses, 2 Bathing Suits, and 1 Pair of Hiking Sandals
The shirts are long or short sleeves depending on where I’m going. Maybe trade some shorts for some pants if it’s going to be chilly. But typically, this is what works for me. The hiking sandals are super butch and scary, but I wear a size 11, so most shoes are on me. What’s the point in bringing multiple pairs of sandals, anyway? Hiking sandals can be used to climb a mountain or walk down the street to the bar. Fuck flip flops. I don’t bother with tank tops when I travel anymore because they’re frowned upon in a lot of random places-temples, museums, cathedrals, nice restaurants.
7: THE Shoes
Okay. I haven’t found THE shoes yet. But I have them in mind, and that’s what matters. In my mind they are ballet flats, or something similar that offer plenty of support. They are comfortable, and can be walked in all day. They are versatile and can go with any outfit, socks or not. And they breathe really well, because my feet sweat like CRAZY. (If anyone knows which shoes these are, please help me out. I just can’t find any that are comfortable AND cute. Whoever says being a girl is easy obviously doesn’t wear size 11.)
8: The Other Basics: Vitamins, First Aid Kit, Deodorant, Razor, Earplugs
I have this thing, I think, where I take a shit ton of vitamins to try to ward off typical travel ailments. I have no idea if it works, because I don’t know how sick I would get without them, but it’s comforting. Also I don’t have to shave much because my hair is really thin and pale, like I said, and it generally causes me a lot of grief but in this case rocks because only having to carry 1 or 2 extra razors is awesome. Earplugs are a MUST for hostels. Even if I get passed out drunk, there’s always someone drunker and louder.
9: A Crossbody Bag
Because having to cling to a purse is awful, sometimes painful, and generally retarded. Crossbodies are hands-free. You can keep them in front of you in a crowd. Or comfortably behind you and out of the way, on a bicycle.
This is the most important thing of all. Unless it’s locked up at the hostel, I keep it on me all the time. If I do lock it away, I keep photocopies in both my backpack and my purse, just in case.
Mine is really compact, and saves me from having to carry a brush, and I can make sure I don’t look awful, and is generally convenient in a lot of ways.
The key to packing light is to pack stuff that works in a number or ways-the soap that doubles as shampoo, the mirror that’s a hairbrush. So buying a camera was a struggle for me-I wanted a tough waterproof that wouldn’t break, but I wanted good pictures. I didn’t want to spend very much money on something so easy to steal, but I wanted good pictures. You see the dilemma. But with the help of my boyfriend, who is an expert on everything, I eventually settled for a Kodak Easyshare Sport. It’s a tough little fucker, cheap, and the pictures do turn out pretty good.
4. Baby Wipes
Seriously. These come in handy in the weirdest ways.
Before I leave home, I fill up a notebook lot of it with information about the places I’m going. I write important phone numbers and addresses for sending postcards. When I’m on the road, I keep a journal, scribble down notes, and write down people’s information or tear out pages to give them mine.
6. (Then) Alarm clock flashlight
I don’t think I’ll bring this next time, because of the iPhone that does everything, but I was very fond my little alarm clock that doubles as a flashlight. I could check the time at any time, and use the light to find things in the dark. Yes, that sounds really obvious, but judging by the people asking me the time/turning on the overhead lights at 4 am/stumbling around in the dark/asking front desk people to wake them up, most travelers could benefit from one.
6. (Now) iPhone
I mean…really. It can do everything.
And there you have it. Traveling lightly isn’t hard. Just bring multiple use objects, and if you lose something, it’s not a huge deal. In Panama I left my favorite dress on a clothes line but bought a way cooler one for $10 a week later. The only downside for me to packing so lightly is having to do laundry frequently, but I prefer that to being weighed down and uncomfortable all the time.
I think this list will do nicely on my trip to Thailand and Cambodia in April but if anyone has any suggestions, I’m all ears.