A Traveler’s Bag
Before setting off on a trip abroad, it’s important to prepare your bag in a way that will allow you to bring all your essentials without it becoming too restrictive. You never know how often you will end up getting lost in a city with your bag on your back after spending hours on a bus (true story), so you will appreciate it if your bag is as light as possible. Myself I made mistakes, but after visiting 40 countries, I think I finally know how to prepare my bag.
For a trip to a warm country, your bag should not weigh more than 7kg. I know that doesn’t sound like a lot, but with 7kg you will have most of the things you will need. Obviously, if you plan to travel to a place where it’s cold, warmer clothes will make the bag heavier. But seeing as I don’t really travel to cold countries, I will not be able to give you any advice for this scenario.
To avoid taking too many things with you, start by purchasing a bag that isn’t too large. For a traditional backpacker bag, 40 liters will do just fine. This should even leave you some space for presents (for your host or friends who you are visiting). In addition, take a small leather backpack or a cross-body bag that you can use for daily excursions. A simple handbag can be an easy target for thieves as these can be snatched away from you, and with a canvas bag you run the risk of it being cut open and its contents stolen.
Items of clothing:
- A change of clothes for 8 days. You will always find a washing machine somewhere. And in warm countries your clothes dry quickly, so there’s no need to take more. This should include 3 bathing suits, 3 pairs off shorts and 2 dresses.
- A cardigan, a sweater and a small scarf for cold evenings and for the air conditioning on buses and planes, which can quickly cause a throat infection.
- A hoody is always practical and helps to keep you warm if the temperature falls below 20°C.
- A pair of trainers or walking shoes and some flip-flops. If you plan to go out in the evenings, maybe take a pair of black shoes.
- Leggings and a pair of wide pants, which are much more comfortable than jeans.
- Only take clothing items that you aren’t attached to. This way, if your bag gets stolen, if you tear a sweater while climbing or if you get mud on your shoes while hiking, there’s no regrets.
- If you have to choose between two dresses, take the lighter one.
- A travel t-shirt. This is a shirt where you sew on a small inside pocket, in the armpit area or the upper back. This pocket should be big enough to hold your credit card and some cash, but at the same time small enough to not be noticed by anyone. I wear this shirt every time I’m traveling from one place to another during which my luggage may be at risk of getting stolen or lost. Like this, I know I will at least always have my credit card and some money on me. Some people also add a pocket on the inside of their jeans along the hip-area.
- A towel, neither too big nor to thick, in microfiber.
- When taking a long trip, make sure to wear your heaviest and most bulky clothes on you.
- Roll up your clothes when packing your bag. This saves space and avoids your clothes getting creased.
- Take everything in travel sizes! Don’t bother with liters of shampoo. Buy small pots/containers which you can fill up before departing on your journey and that can be re-filled while travelling. This will also allow you to take your bag on as hand-luggage when taking a plane, instead of having to pay an extra charge to check your bag.
- You can find travel-size products everywhere you go, so don’t worry if you run out of shampoo.
- Take all those beauty product samples that you have accumulated over the years.
- Don’t bother with face-masks, skin care and other products you regularly use at home. Only take what is essential.
- This also counts for make-up. One mascara, some blush and lipstick will do. After all, sun and make-up don’t mix well anyway.
- Take some pharmaceutical products for emergencies, but know that you can find pharmacies in every city in the world. So there’s no need to take too much.
- Take some hand sanitizer if you want to avoid getting “the runs”.
- Make sure to always put your liquid products in a plastic bag in case they leak, and always keep them away from electrical goods.
- A universal plug adapter.
- A power strip! We never really think about it, but between your phone, your computer and your camera, you will need it.
- A portable battery charger for your phone, because you won’t always find a plug to charge it.
- A plug-in insect repellent. Nobody ever thinks about this, and yet it can change your life. In hot countries, you will find mosquitos, and these can quickly become a nightmare. This product can save your nights. Remember to plug it in about 1 hour before going to sleep.
- A photocopy of your passport and a copy saved on your phone. Should you ever have your passport stolen, you’ll be happy to have it.
- A little notebook. There will be plenty of things for you to note down, like the addresses of where you’re staying, important numbers (other than your credit card or passport number), because you can never foresee what will happen with your phone. Furthermore, in some situations it may be safer to take out your notebook rather than your iPhone. Nonetheless, I would still advise to keep as much important information as possible on your phone as well.
- A disposable camera. You may laugh, but in places where theft is common, this will allow you to take some photos without running the risk of your camera being stolen.
- An inflatable travel pillow. Here I stress the “inflatable” part, otherwise it will take up too much room in your bag. You can find these for a few Euros and they are very practical for long flights or bus rides.
- When visiting countries with a lot of rain, take a small plastic pouch to protect your phone, your passport and other valuable items. Maybe bring a K-Way as well.
- The concept of sound-proofing is non-existent in many countries. Even the most modern condo in Mexico City is not soundproof. And in Asia, on many long bus trips, movies are played in a loop at a rather high volume.
- A book or two written by an author from the country you are visiting, instead of your Lonely Planet guide. You will learn a lot more about local cultures. Travel guides may have been useful a few years ago. But nowadays you can find all the necessary information online, and you can find internet everywhere. So these guides are no longer needed. If anything, they can tell you which places to avoid to not be surrounded by awful backpackers. For those of you who read a lot, think about taking a Kindle or something similar.
- A soft-bottle for water. You can find these in sports or travel shops for a few Euros. As is it forbidden to take water with you through customs at an airport, you can take this bottle and fill it up once you’ve gone through customs. And as its flat, it will not take up any space in your bag. They often come with a little hook with which you can attach it to your belt or your backpack.
So, there you have it. These are the essential items you should take with you in your traveler’s bag. There is no need to burden yourself with useless things. If you are being hosted while on your trip, also consider bringing a small present for your host.
When your trip comes to an end, consider giving your last coins, left over medicine and some clothes to some locals who need it the most. Not only will you be helping those in need, you will also have some more room in your bag to take home souvenirs. Also, keep some space in your bag to take the blankets they hand out on airplanes, as these can be given to the homeless once you arrive back home.
And what about you? Is there anything else that seems indispensable to you to take with you in your traveler bag?