Sometimes, we think that everything we have is essential, but in reality, some things are more essential than others. We all know that overpacking your backpack never works out well, but unsurprisingly, neither does overlooking the essentials. Besides having your clothes and toiletries, there are a few items that should make it into your backpack regardless of whether your next destination is a major hub or somewhere far, far off the beaten track. Having these things with you will save you a lot of stress (and money) when you are sorely pressed for time and far from the nearest general store or pharmacy.
You should not only be packing the basics such as flu pills, painkillers, anti-diarrhea pills, antihistamines, and rehydration salts, but also personal meds that you may be hard-pressed to find in another country. These can include your prescribed meds for allergies, maintenance meds, and even anti-anxiety pills if need be.
Have bug spray in your bag at all times. A lot of you may not like the scent of DEET based lotions. Thankfully, there are several brands to choose from these days, and of varying strengths. Mosquito repellant is the most widely used, although a stronger jungle variety concoction is essential if you think you’ll be exposed to other insects. Sand fleas are immune to basic mosquito repellants and are usually the cause of much grief if you unluckily encounter them in beaches, mangrove forests, or in similar tropical locations. As mosquitoes also bite through clothing, consider buying sprays bottles instead of lotions. Spray evenly over shirts, pants, and shorts for protection. Alternately, there are mosquito patches that you can just stick on your clothes and will generally last the entire day.
The first thing that should go in your electronics kit is a universal adaptor. You will find yourself heaving a sigh of relief when you are in a new country and are in desperate need of a charge for your laptop or mobile phone. You’ll find that the different sockets will not be a cause of last-minute-adaptor-hunting because you, smartly, already have one with you. Besides your many cables and plugs, it would be best to bring a power bank that you can use to charge your phone regardless of where you are.
Doesn’t matter what part of the world you’re in, if you’re constantly outdoors, it is a must to put on sunscreen. Contrary to popular belief, the sun is just as likely to give you a mild burn on overcast days as it is on clear, cloudless ones. Slather generously on face, neck, ears, and arms. Don’t forget your scalp, if you’re a skinhead; and feet and toes, if wearing open sandals!
A Hat or Bandana
Useful for when you are under the sun and need some extra protection for your face. A baseball cap or one with a wide brim will shield you from the sun. If you’re not into hats, pack a nice scarf or a bandana. These can be used for the same purpose and more. Use it to cover your face, mouth, and nose from wind and dust. Also, use it to cover your head when visiting religious sites (a requirement for women stepping into mosques and other religious temples), or just to wrap your head when it gets chilly.
A Water Bottle
This is essential. A reusable water bottle will save you loads of money in the long run and you don’t have to constantly worry about where to get your next drink of water or your carbon footprint. Bottled water is widely available but can be expensive (not to mention bad for the environment!). Simply refill your flask up at drinking fountains found in airports or parks, or at the hostel/hotel you are staying in and you are good for the next few hours.
A Small Umbrella or Light Raincoat/Poncho
Umbrellas are generally recommended over the raincoat, unless you plan to be outdoors a lot in wet weather. A good folding umbrella can shield you from a sudden downpour or from the scorching heat of the midday sun. Plus, it doesn’t take up much space and hardly weighs anything.
Very handy when on-the-go and you need to quickly clean the grime off your hands and body. While these can be bought in most cities, it is always a good idea to have a small pack with you. It is also advisable to have a small amount of regular tissue or toilet paper in your bag. These items are light, do not take up much space, and can be a lifesaver for wiping up spills, emergency or outdoor toilet runs, and for general hygiene purposes.
You might already be ticking off a list of other personal travel essentials not mentioned in this list. As with all things, your packing considerations may differ wildly from another person’s idea of what is absolutely essential. As a seasoned traveler, your past experiences will dictate what goes into that backpack and what items you feel you absolutely cannot live without. In the end, you decide what is best for you. Happy travels!