Ever get overwhelmed by packing?
I’ll be honest – I’ve witnessed some absolute packing meltdowns. People literally crying while trying to rush for a plane. I can’t say that’s ever happened to me, but I’m far from perfect myself. Even though I pack lighter than most and have a very short packing list, there are still things I always seem to forget.
Below is a list of things I’ve forgotten at least once on my trips, and usually that’s gotten me into trouble somewhere along the way. If you’re putting together a packing list for an upcoming trip, make sure you add the following items to it – it’s pretty simple stuff, but for some reason it’s always the simple things we don’t remember!
1. Passport Copy
Thankfully I have never lost my passport on the road, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. I’ve found most passports are “lost” because bags/purses are stolen or lost, rather than the passport itself. It does happen often, and it is probably one of the worst possible things you can lose while travelling.
To minimise the chances of this happening and to make life easier if it does happen, make sure you do the following before you leave home:
- Take multiple photocopies of your passport, and make sure you have one copy in each item of luggage and one on your person (in your wallet/purse).
- Take a colour scan of your passport photo page (and visa if you got one) and save it in your email so you can access it anywhere.
- Try not to carry your passport with you on the street every day. Instead, carry one of your photocopies. In the years I’ve been travelling I have not once been asked to produce my passport randomly on the street. I generally wouldn’t carry it around unless you’ve expressly been told to.
2. Passport Photos
Make sure you’re always carrying at least a handful of passport photos of yourself. You might think one or two is fine, but I’ve applied for visas (such as the volunteer visa in Tanzania) which required four passport photos for four different forms. If you’re travelling around the world you can never have too many of these.
Also note the different sizes available. In New Zealand a passport photo must be exactly 3.5cm x 4.5cm, however in Vietnam a visa photo must be 4cm x 6cm. I usually carry around 10 different photos of different sizes. I also get them taken professionally at a photo shop, as many countries are extremely strict about what they will accept and what they won’t. A stack of ten shouldn’t cost you more than a few dollars.
Probably the thing I forget most often, which annoys me a lot once I get to the airport and need to fill out those stupid forms. Even more annoying is when the airport doesn’t provide pens. Take a pen! It will make life so much easier.
You are going to meet a lot of people on the road, and you are going to say goodbye to a lot of people as well. Very often I wish I had something from home to give, like some chocolates or some souvenir, especially to people who have shown me great hospitality, but of course I don’t have room to travel with stuff like that. Instead, what I do is carry a bag of New Zealand one dollar coins, and give these to the good friends/students/hosts I meet around the world. It’s sort of like a souvenir, and also an invitation to come visit me one day so they can spend it. I’ve seen other people carry things like bag patches or bracelets, but it doesn’t really matter what you choose – just make sure you have something.
5. Vaccination Passport
It can be hard to keep track of all the needles you’ve had jabbed in you, especially if you’ve been through Africa or South America. In my travel wallet I keep a “vaccination passport” from the travel health centre which details the shots I’ve had, when I had them, and how long they’re good for. I’ve never had to present it, but if anything ever happens to me and the doc needs to know what cocktail of vaccinations is inside me all I need to do is hand him my little booklet (which is great, because at this stage I have no idea what I do and don’t have).
I’d be willing to bet every backpacker has left home without a lock or found themselves without a lock at least once. It just happens. Plus, it’s only once you’re on the road that you realise how handy they are (hostel lockers, gym lockers, check-in baggage etc).
I’d recommend taking a few locks actually (two or three), because:
- They get lost easily.
- You often need to lock more than one thing (especially if hostel lockers are small and you can’t fit everything in).
Use a code lock rather than a key lock, because having a key just gives you one more thing you could lose. It’s also a good idea these days to use TSA approved locks like this one or the one in my photo above. You can click here to check out some good, affordable locks on Amazon.
7. A second bank card
Bank cards get lost easily on the road – wallets are common targets for pickpockets, ATM machines sometimes swallow them, and they’re small and fall out of bags and pockets pretty easily.
I carry around three bank cards, and I also have my money spread over 3 different bank accounts. That means if one card gets lost, or my bank decides to shut off my access due to “suspicious activity”, I’m not left broke and starving in the middle of the jungle somewhere.
Another good tricks, if you have multiple cards, is to leave one of these cards at home. Save the credit card number in your cellphone or in your email. That way, even if you lose all your cards, you still have an active card at home that you can use to book flights and hotels online with.
Obviously, be discrete here. Don’t save it in your phone as “Credit card number”. Otherwise you might as well save it as “PLEASE STEAL MY PHONE AND USE THIS NUMBER TO BUY A CAR”. Just save it as Sally or John or something.
8. Universal Adapter
I always used to head to the local markets or some cheap hole in the wall electronic store to buy an adapter when I landed in a country. It’s only recently that I discovered the joy of owning a universal adapter, which allows you to charge your stuff in any country in the world (these days they have USB slots as well, which is extra handy).
The adapter I am currently using is this GearIt model which has been awesome – super lightweight and you can charge three things at once on it (this usually just means all my dorm mates start charging their crap on it too). You can check it out here on Amazon.
I’ve written about the woes of public wifi security before, but I will mention it here again. If you’re sending/accessing sensitive information online while travelling, especially things like Paypal/Credit Cards/Bank Accounts, make sure your connection is secure. Using a VPN will ensure your connections are encrypted and mitigate the risk of your bank accounts/cards getting skimmed or locked. The VPN I use is Private Internet Access, which is awesome value for money and has always worked well for me.
If you are travelling and plan on using free wifi in hostels and cafes, I highly recommend travelling with one. The VPN I use is only around $3 per month and is worth every penny. You can check out the plans for Private Internet Access by clicking here.
10. New US Dollars
Cash is king. Always make sure you have at least a couple of hundred USD on you, which will come in very handy for visa payments at the airport or staying alive in a town where there are no working ATMs. I usually carry around $200-$300, which should be enough to get you out of trouble if you’re ever in a fix. Also, try to carry newer USD (at least Series 2009 and up). Some countries will not accept your notes if they’re too old – I’ve had 2004 notes rejected once before in Africa.
- For affordable accommodation, I highly recommend using Airbnb. In many cities you will be able to find high quality apartments and guest rooms at much cheaper rates than hotels. You can get $25 of Airbnb credit, absolutely free, using this link.
- I highly recommend travelling with travel insurance. Many things can go wrong when you travel, and it’s important to get covered so you’re protected and reimbursed for any missed flights, hospital bills, lost baggage and so on. For a beginner’s guide to travel insurance, why you need it and where to buy it, check out my post Travel Insurance 101: Everything You Need To Know.
- Looking for more packing tips? You can check out some of the things I carry on my trips by checking out my post, What’s In My Backpack. Safe travels!