That one little thing that can make all the difference, what is it?
July 10, 2008 5:30 PM   Subscribe

What was the one thing - gadget, gizmo, piece of clothing, etc. - that made your travels that much more enjoyable?

I'm going travelling soon, for a long time (one year). I have the basic necessities, like backpack, sleeping bag, mini pillow, good shoes, a few guidebooks, etc., and I'm now concentrating on the stuff that will keep me company. I want to know which things I can bring which will make my travelling significantly easier, so I'm asking you lovely mefites for your travel accessory anecdotes and suggestions.

One other thing: I'm travelling on the super cheap here, so a suggestion like "portable wireless keyboard", while very nice and much appreciated, wouldn't really fit my situation too much.

Thank you!
posted by Planet F to Travel & Transportation (65 answers total) 82 users marked this as a favorite
Etymotic ER-6i or some similar earphones which go in the ear canal and seal it nicely. Noise isolation without the need for bulky cans or batteries.
posted by hariya at 5:40 PM on July 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Earplugs. Guaranteed one-way ticket to snoozeville on airplanes (for me obviously). Get a good reusable pair that fits well before you go and you'll be set. Bonus: plausible deniability for 'not being able to hear' your annoying rowmates' asinine stories!

On Preview: Beaten, but mine are cheaper!
posted by Skorgu at 5:42 PM on July 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

A good quality 3" or so straight blade pocket knife. Duct tape.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 5:42 PM on July 10, 2008

Neck pillow
posted by rhizome at 5:44 PM on July 10, 2008

I'm going to hop onto gaucho's answer and say a Leatherman. I use mine just about every day when I'm not traveling. It's even that much more useful when I'm away from home.
posted by phunniemee at 5:45 PM on July 10, 2008

Ooooh, oh. Have you seen these new fangled micro fleece towels they have now? That ought to be pretty handy. They are very compact and very absorbent. And as any good hitchhiker knows, "don't forget your towel", and also, "don't panic".

And phunniemee, yeah, a leatherman is definitely a good choice. Personally, I always have a hard time deciding whether a multi-tool pocket knife, or a slightly bigger, good quality blade is a better thing to have around. Luckily, they are both small, and you can carry both.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 5:49 PM on July 10, 2008

You need a small sharp pocketknife. You know the addage "own a small knife, be happy for life."
posted by Large Marge at 5:50 PM on July 10, 2008

Birkenstock sandals. Maybe there are geekier choices, but I believe when you travel there's nothing better than good sandals.
posted by darkripper at 5:52 PM on July 10, 2008

Chances are, you're going to have spare time to kill, whether in a tent or hostel. So, things to help pass the time should help. Issue is most paperbacks are relatively heavy, but there's thinner ones that might help pass the time, even if they're educational sorts of things. For example, if you like cycling, or would be interested in getting into it, you can find fairly thin but very useful books on the subject. Same goes for canoeing, backpacking, ect. most are fairly lightweight but informative.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 5:53 PM on July 10, 2008

Menstrual cups like the Diva Cup. It takes some women time to get the hang of it, so this may not be for you or you may not have time before traveling, but it would probably save some money over the course of a year.
posted by scission at 5:57 PM on July 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: The pocket knife/multipurpose knife suggestions are great, and I'm kicking myself for not thinking of that! I'm assuming you can get Leatherman knives in Canada?

Gauchodaspampas: I actually have a couple of those towels already! I got them for my last big trip and still use them fairly regularly.

Darkripper: I'm actually going to be based out of Germany, and my first order of buisness is getting at least one pair of Birkenstocks :P
posted by Planet F at 5:57 PM on July 10, 2008

comfortable shoes, clothes that dry super-fast, so that you can pack for four days and not carry your closet around on your back.

Other than that, the thing that will make your travel significantly easier is less stuff.
posted by ambrosia at 6:02 PM on July 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

A neck pillow (the u-shaped ones). They jam into any space in a carryon, but can keep you from eons of pain.
posted by notsnot at 6:02 PM on July 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Speaking of knives: pick up a cheap, crappy, 99-cent folding knife in addition to a quality leatherman/knife/folder/whatever. Never underestimate how useful it is to have an essentially disposable slightly-sharp crowbar.
posted by Skorgu at 6:05 PM on July 10, 2008

On my last trip I was very happy to have my universal drain-stopper-thingy. It's a flat rubbery disk that forms a seal over any kind of drain. Made it super easy to wash the day's clothes in whatever receptacle was available.

When I got to my destination, I bought a small plastic plate, a serrated knife, and a fork. Then I could eat excellent tomatoes, baguettes, and local cheese of all kinds, cheap. I left them in the last hostel before I flew home.

I also got a lot of fun out of a small battery-powered AM/FM radio with cheap earbuds. I enjoy hearing local radio, even if I don't understand the language. I listened every night as I fell asleep.

For airplane travel, I use an eye mask. It both makes it easier to sleep and tells my neighbors that I'm not feeling chatty.
posted by PatoPata at 6:09 PM on July 10, 2008 [9 favorites]

Universal power adapter for charging camera, mobile phone, ipod etc. if you are travelling to other countries.

Pillow case to slip over grotty 20 year old pillows in grotty hotels.
posted by heffalump at 6:24 PM on July 10, 2008

(1) Good socks. You will likely be on your feet a lot, and high-quality, comfortable socks can make your life a lot better by keeping your feet warm, dry, and blister-free. Smartwool or something similar are a good choice - you can get a couple of heavy pairs and a couple of lighter ones for different weather conditions.

(2) A rudimentary first-aid kit. You can buy one at your local drugstore, but its cheaper to simply make your own. If you're going to be doing a lot of walking, include some moleskin.

(3) An assortment of waterproof bags. At very least, get some ziploc bags. These can come in very handy for organizing things and keeping them dry.

(4) A new throwaway email account like, so that you can communicate from dicey internet cafes without compromising your main email account.

(5) A compression sack for your sleeping bag.
posted by googly at 6:26 PM on July 10, 2008 [3 favorites]

Some sort of a sturdy-but-thin large fabric scarf. It can serve a myriad of purposes- towel, sarong, shawl, neckerchief, pillow, sheet. You can tie it things up in it, you can wear it as a belt, you can use it as a window covering, or to give you privacy in a bunk situation on a train or hostel. Of course this is something that you can usually buy cheaply during your travels.
posted by kimdog at 6:28 PM on July 10, 2008

I am positively in love with my REI convertible pants. They're especially handy in the mountains or by the coast, where the weather is changeable depending on the hour.
posted by mudpuppie at 6:34 PM on July 10, 2008

This is for the worst case scenario, but... scan the photo and main pages of your passport (and other ID, if possible) and email it to yourself. That way, if your passport gets stolen or lost then you can find an internet cafe and print off a copy of this. I've heard that this makes getting a new passport considerably easier in an emergency.

Seconding the recommendation for the micro-fibre towels; they're great.

A bike chain and a padlock. This way you can lock your rucksack shut - and attach it to something solid, if need be.

I don't know if you'll be taking an iPod, but you can buy a tiny plastic device that allows you to plug your camera lead into your iPod and transfer photos to it. This is very handy if you run out of room on your camera and are nowhere near a computer.

Some form of anti-diarrhoea tablets. Yes, you can generally buy these abroad, but it does depend on where you're going, and if you need them then you generally don't want to have to search the town for a pharmacy. These should only be used when absolutely necessary, as they slow down the healing process, but if you're about to take a twelve-hour bus ride then they're invaluable.

Plastic bags (grocery bags or 'baggies') always come in very handy. You don't necessarily have to take these with you, but it can be very useful to have a couple stashed in your rucksack somewhere to put wet clothes, muddy boots in etc.

If you wear glasses then keep a copy of your prescription somewhere, and preferably a spare pair if you have room. My glasses broke while I was travelling somewhere and I spent several days pretty much blind. Not fun.

Some form of very well-hidden emergency cash. It doesn't even have to be a lot. But you don't want to be in the situation my brother was in a few years back: while coming home early from Thailand due to a nasty medical situation, someone stole his passport and all his money. He ended up having to beg strangers for money to call our parents so they could send him money by Western Union.

Don't worry too much about clothes, shoes, toiletries or books. (Pretty much every hostel I've ever been in has had a book swap facility.) Just take things from home that you won't be able to get elsewhere.

Anyway, I'll stop rambling on now. Have a fantastic time on your travels!
posted by badmoonrising at 6:39 PM on July 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

Sleeping bag liner - keeps your bag from getting too gross (you get the easily washed liner dirty instead having to clean the bag itself); also acts as your own sheets wherever you go. Silk ones are more expensive ($60 here) but are lovely and can also raise the temp. rating of your bag by about 10 degrees; but a $20 cotton one will do the job too.

As a general rule, anything that doesn't serve at least two functions needs to really justify being taken along.

And I know it's expensive, but I found the universal electronic travel gadget to be a Palm TX: it's an MP3 player, a movie player, an internet device, holds the complete works of Shakespeare (or whatever e-book). games, an address book, and intinerary/planner, all smaller than a paperback. But you do have to recharge it every couple days.
posted by bartleby at 6:40 PM on July 10, 2008

Silk sleeping bag liner. Much easier to wash than a sleeping bag, increases warmth if it's chilly, can be slept in on its own if it's hot, and feels so much nicer against your skin than the nasty synthetic stuff sleeping bags have inside.

Also silk shirts (which can always be optained super-cheep at thrift stores, albeit in ugly colours). They're compact, light, very warm for their weight, and quick drying.

Seconding googly on the good socks. I love Bridgedales myself (they're thinner, comfier, and sturdier than smartwool in my experience).
posted by Emanuel at 6:47 PM on July 10, 2008

I have one of those little, thin, cheap rain jackets that folds up into its own pocket and fits in a day pack pocket. That thing has been so awesome, be it rain forrest downpour or high altitude mountain pass. It is great for keeping much of the rain off of you (at least enough to be less uncomfortable) or keeping you just a few degrees warmer or at least the wind from cutting through your clothes so badly. (like this one but I think mine is a Helly-Hansen)
posted by Pollomacho at 6:59 PM on July 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Kevin Kelly's Cool Tools web site is a great source of compact goodies (with suggestions for socks, hats, packs and the like) that can come in handy. He does lots of ultra-light camping so you will find a lot of good ideas there. Actually, his whole site is pretty awesome, he's a thoughtful, intelligent guy who only recommends things he likes/finds useful.
posted by Scoo at 7:03 PM on July 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

A few cheap things I have loved while travelling

- Bungee cord with clips. Good for impromptu laundry, hanging pieces of paper for a todo list or postcards, keeping a bag closed, keeping a bag attached to something else, hanging shoes from your pack, keeping your pants up, etc.
- film canisters for pills, earplugs, tiny cords and misc stuff. a few different colors, easy to toss into a toiletry kit, easy to find in the dark.
- one wallet with spaces for passport, itinerary printouts and whatever other important papers you have. there will be times when you are half awake having to catch a bus/plane/train and not having to worry about where your documents are because they're always in exactly the same place can be very calming.
posted by jessamyn at 7:05 PM on July 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

My sleeping bag liner wasn't real silk and I think I would splurge for an expensive silk one next time.

Ziplock bags... some sandwich bag size ones and a few larger freezer bag types.

If you have prescription bottles with the label as a sticker on the outside cover them with clear tape so the writing doesn't rub off.

You don't need a leatherman, you can use any kind of swiss army knife. I like a blade that's at least 3 inches long. I find real leathermen to be much heavier to carry around.

In my day pack I carry a knife, a small compass and a USB drive. It comes in handy when you're in a cafe in Africa and the waiter offers to copy the song you like playing for you.

Bring a few printed photos of home to show to people you meet. It's a great ice breaker when you don't speak the same language. Locals will love to see photos of your family, you house, holiday celebrations etc. I've had my photos passed around entire buses, it's amazing to see the little details they're interested in. I also bring a postcard of my home city. Some people say they bring enough to give you but on a long trip you will never have enough. About 10% of people will ask if they can keep it but you'll just learn to say no.
posted by Bunglegirl at 7:09 PM on July 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

simple little sewing kit. When you need to reattach a button, nothing else comes close.
posted by amtho at 7:18 PM on July 10, 2008

Thirding the passport comments, and its crucial that you have copies of your visa, too. Replacing a passport is no biggie, replacing a visa can be a nightmare if the country is at all hostile or not a fan of your nationality/race. You're also going to want the address of your embassy in every country you visit.

In addition to diarheaa, you may experience the opposite kind of gastric distress so prepare for that, since it can be hard to find familiar medicine abroad.

I also like having stuff to wear and carry that occasionally allows me to go out without sticking out like a touristy sore thumb. Given space constraints this may or may not be plausible.

I also bring a tiny compact mirror, since bathrooms can be mirrorless/pay/gross/nonexistent. Helps keep you on top of your hygeine.
posted by acidic at 7:22 PM on July 10, 2008

I never go on a trip without my guayaberas. The four easily accessible pockets make traveling (especially by plane) much easier. Plus, you will be the best dressed person imaginable.
posted by Uncle Jimmy at 7:23 PM on July 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

A pencil, permanent marker, and a notebook. You can get water resistant notebooks if you want - Rite in the Rain is a brand I've come across, although I haven't tried them.
posted by minus zero at 7:39 PM on July 10, 2008

Response by poster: scission: I've been thinking of getting one of those for a while now, and I think I probably will.

googly: good suggestions. My sleeping bag is already tiny (since my mum thought ahead enough to buy me a good one at the age of 5, and I've had it ever since), but the compressor is something I didn't even know existed and I'll keep it in mind for the future

kimdog: done, and done, I have a ton of scarves and sarongs and I'm definitely bringing some!

badmoonrising: I didn't even know that ipod-photo gadget existed, and I'm going to keep it in mind, although I don't know if I'll have enough moolah to get it.

to all who suggested silk sleeping bag liners: I really can't afford that luxury now, but I have some cotton sheets which I was planning on folding over and making sleeping bag liners. The silk ones will stick in my mind for future, though.

jessamyn: I can't believe I didn't think of film canisters!!! Brilliant, I'll have to find some.

bunglegirl: tape over bottles. Awesome suggestion. Also, great suggestion about the USB for music, I would never've thought of that at all. Ever.

Amtho: I've got about 3 already :P

acidic: I certainly would never have thought of getting the embasy addresses, but now I'm for sure going to do that, thanks.

minus zero: thanks, I have a travel journal that I haven't managed to touch so far, but the permaneng marker suggestion is also good.
posted by Planet F at 8:06 PM on July 10, 2008

A deck of cards is great for entertaining yourself (solitaire) or playing a card game with a companion. I like traveling with a small backpack water filtration pump so that I can purify my own water and not leave a bunch of empty water bottles in the country hosting me. A small headlamp style flashlight has come in handy more than I expected during my travels. Clothes that dry fast and don't make you look like an boy/girl scout. A pair of sandal type shoes that you can hose off if they get really muddy.
posted by pluckysparrow at 8:10 PM on July 10, 2008

A mesh lock for your backpack, like this (I don't know if this particular one is good). It makes it difficult to slash your pack open, and you can lock your pack to a piece of furniture / your train seat / yourself.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:14 PM on July 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

The trick to not lose anything is to have one well-defined spot for everything. If I worry I'm forgetting my batteries, I only have two check the top pocket of my backpack. You have to design your system so that you still won't forget anything in the worst case. Plan for that morning when you will be sleepy, druggy, sicky, stressed out and in a rush.

Bring mini snap hooks, also from camping store. I tend to hook everything to my backpack. The book I read is in a plastic bag hooked to the backpack. My water bottle is hooked. Etc.

Bring large plastic bags to cluster luggage into sections. One bag for dirty clothes, one bag for shirts, one for pants, one for underwear and socks, one for technology items, and one for bathroom and medicine. Then I bring one or two extra. Bring small Ziploc bags to cluster the small stuff. One for batteries, one for pills, etc., and one for spares Ziploc bags.

Bring three-way soap (body, hair, laundry). You can find them in camping stores. Bring the bottle, then bring a smaller bottle that you take with you to the bathroom. This way you won't lose your entire soap if you forget the small bottle in the bathroom.

A concealer belt. This way your passport is always on you. A chain from your wallet to your belt. For me, the peace of mind alone was worth it.

A good lighter. When the power goes away you will want to light candles.

Bring a nalgene water bottle.

If you have an iPod, there is an adapter that lets you run it of off AA batteries.

Stuff to entertain the people you meet. Pictures from home, currency from your home country to give away. Stuff from home to offer to people who offer you lodging. If you're Canadian, bring one or two miniature bottles of maple syrup.

Additional votes for earplug style earphones, reusable plastic earplugs, convertible quick drying camping clothes, camping pumped water filter, backpack locks, notebook, a compass (to navigate cities).
posted by gmarceau at 9:58 PM on July 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

A flask. Long train ride? Bring a nip of the local hooch.
posted by vrakatar at 10:14 PM on July 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

One trick I've heard of - a good quality, laminated, color photocopy of the outside and id page of your passport. You can use this in most of the situations where folk ask for a passport, and so on.

Regarding sandals, I can't stand birkenstocks, but I do like Chacos. They tend to have them in hiking-type stores in the US and Canada. Rubber body, with Vibram sole treads and nylon strap uppers. I can walk all day in them. (But they tire my feet for long periods of standing.)

My wife is asleep, but she likes the wash-in-the-sink type travel underwear.

Regarding feminine hygiene, extended cycle aka continuous cycle oral contraception may be convenient for traveling, depending on one's body, preference, physician, and prescription.
posted by sebastienbailard at 10:25 PM on July 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

My must have is good polarized sunglasses. They can be cheap and they can be ugly, but make sure they are comfortable. Squinting = headache.
posted by 26.2 at 10:49 PM on July 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

I did two months across Africa last year, and I was so glad I brought a Pac-Lite.
posted by gottabefunky at 11:13 PM on July 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Along the line of ambrosia's suggestion of carrying less stuff to make your life easier, check out One Bag. If you need any travel-sized incidentals, try Minimus - I have ordered from them and was happy.

I don't know if you're going somewhere hot, but I love my battery-operated fan that also has an AC adapter. It is great for both cooling and white noise.

Oh, and use a money belt.
posted by IndigoRain at 1:13 AM on July 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

No question--inflatable neck pillow.
posted by zardoz at 5:24 AM on July 11, 2008

The two things that have made my travels infinitely better (and that I never thought would have made such a difference) were a deck of cards and small, cheap tote bag that folded up to practically nothing. I shoved both of them into the extra water bottle pocket on my backpack at the last minute, and they were a godsend.

The cards kept my travel companion and I from getting bored and snippy with each other on long train rides or during long waits for delayed trains, and we met some fun people who jumped into our games. The tote came in handy mainly for our daily grocery runs -- we stopped at markets in the morning rather than buy food at restaurants all day. And even though I am a pedestrian-only, bring-my-own-tote shopper in the US, it wouldn't have occurred to me that in a lot of European shops they don't give you bags at all (or charge you extra if they do). Having my own bag at the ready was really helpful and convenient.
posted by CtrlAltDelete at 5:59 AM on July 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

erm ... not mentioned yet ... small, quality flashlight ... a small minimag lite was great for me.

Swiss army knife ... remember that it must go in your checked baggage (trust me on that one ... almost made that mistake numerous times) ... get the one that has a large and small knife, bottle opener, can opener, scissors, corkscrew, wirestriper, carying hook, tweezers and toothpick!

Small keychain sprung "d" ... for keeping things on your chain ... and a spare keychain C/O clip

toiletries bag that hangs from something (has a clothes hanger hook).

v. small sewing kit with a few safetypins

trashy tourist presents from your home country (as gifts)

a copy of all your seriously important documents in your backpack

condoms (you can never find them when you need them)

€100 hidden somewhere in case of emergency

playing cards ... and know a few versions of solitaire.

a good pen

band aids (for blisters)

a handkerchief

hat, sunglasses, and one of those small screwdrivers for your sunglasses
posted by jannw at 6:57 AM on July 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

ohh ... also ... boxers are better than briefs, a swimming costume, and anti-tinea spray (Spray ... not the cream)
posted by jannw at 7:08 AM on July 11, 2008

last, but not least ... see your doctor and get your shots.
posted by jannw at 7:10 AM on July 11, 2008

Notebook: I like to write about my travels while I'm travelling.
Postcard wallet with postcards and stamps: I like to write to friends while I'm travelling, and people always enjoy receiving the weird postcards I send.
iPod: duh.
Pen: duh.
Tiny flashlight: my current cellphone has a surprisingly good light built into it; I also recently bought a keychain light that runs on one AAA cell.
Backpack: I have a smallish backpack from Camelbak that's excellent for travel, with one big compartment and several small flat compartments. Makes a good daypack. I almost never use it for hydration, oddly enough.
Big plastic trashbag: I always have this zipped into the Camelbak. Occasionally comes in handy.

A while back, I picked up some kind of close-fitting jacket made of miracle fibers from REI and it was a "where has this been all my life?" moment. Packs down to the size of a matchbox, reasonably rainproof. Easy to pack "just in case."
posted by adamrice at 7:12 AM on July 11, 2008

oh... and I should have mentioned ... a safteypin for closing your wallet pocket
posted by jannw at 7:13 AM on July 11, 2008

still going ... a couple of zip-ties
posted by jannw at 7:14 AM on July 11, 2008

Square mesh bags to separate different things in your backpack. Muji makes great ones. Eagle Creek are more readily available. I also use one of their envelopes for shirts, pants, even suits, but you may not need that.

Ziplock bags. Anything that can spill will, so suntan lotion, shampoo, etc should be in ziplock and in a simple waterproof toiletry bag. (This also makes airports easier and in fact since most airports now have them at security checks I usually steal a few when I go through. Paris CDG has especially nice ones.) Also throw earphones (second the recomendation of the etymotics above), cables, batteries, etc.

One of those thin backpacks that fold up into a tiny little pocket to go with the thin little jacket that you can scrunch up into its own pocket.

Anti-antiperspirant for your feet. This sounds weird but I usually travel with a little jar of that old school anti-antiperspirant cream and rub it on my feet, sometimes together with some anti-fungal or anti-bacterial creams (you can get these for very cheap when you travel, don't buy them in the US). I shouldn't have to say this, but don't use the stuff that you use on my feet anywhere else. But happy feet make a happier traveler.

Language phrase book for countries you're in. You're not going to learn a lot of Thai or Turkish or Tamil, but its nice to make the effort, trying to memorize a few key phrases or learning how to count is a more productive way to kill a long bus ride than a decade old Grisham book you icked up in a hostel, and it might make for some actual contact with local people rather than other travelers. You can usually buy those in country.

Peremethrin (sp?). If you're going to be somewhere buggy get the kit to soak your clothes (and bag liner) in this insect-repellent stuff, which is less toxic than DEET and more effective and you don't have to think about applying. You still may want to use some other sprays or creams (the 3M seems especially effective) when things get bad, but the Peremethrin is a great base. (I wish I had had it before I got dengue fever.) Don't bother with the clothes that have it pre-applied, they make you look like a jungle explorer in a Tarzan movie.

Bunch of little things from home to give away as presents - like keychain fobs with pictures of your home town or something that doesn't take up much weight or space but you can give a way to people who do something nice for you.

Finally (whew, you asked for one thing but...) take a decent small camera (I really like the little Canon P&S with wider 28mm lens, see other threads on this) and at least 2-3 extra batteries and the biggest flash cards you can afford and if you're someplace more than a day and take a few pictures of colorful local people at, say, the local market, find an instant digital printing place (there's one almost everywhere now), make some prints of the people you photographed and bring them to them. The print quality will be crap but it won't cost more than a few bucks and it make people who don't have a lot of pictures of themselves very happy, gets you the good photo karma points you need to go on taking pictures of other people in their picturesque squalor and every once in a while gets you some nice little gift in return.
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 7:58 AM on July 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

My fiance and I recently took three days to drive from Austin, TX to SoCal. It was MUCH more enjoyable than normal because I had put a bunch of hour-long podcasts -- mostly This American Life -- on my iPod, and we have an iPod dock in his car. (There are lots of ways to play iPods over a car stereo, even if you don't have it.) Time just flew by.
posted by Nattie at 8:37 AM on July 11, 2008

I used my silk sleeping bag liner every night while traveling, it was awesome. Most nights it was all I needed to stay warm and cozy. Some hostels require you to rent a liner or sheets so having your own could save a bit of money.

Comfortable shoes! On my last travel adventure I wore Keen Targhee II. There a bit bulky but they are by far the most comfortable shoes I've ever owned. They treated me very well during two weeks of walking around prague, amstedamn, and london in the middle of winter.
posted by J-Garr at 9:22 AM on July 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Binder clips ! Combined with the use-for-everything scarf you are really set. And a second pair of shoes - they take up space but your feet are super-important and you do NOT want to wear the same shoes everyday.
posted by AuntLisa at 10:49 AM on July 11, 2008

-small book of easy crossword (or similar) puzzles (+pencil/pen)
-eyemask (if you are in a tent, someplace the sun comes up very early, also good for naps on planes, trains and automobiles)
-earplugs (if you are in a tent near other campsites, some one who snores, or in a noisy hostel or on plane, train or automobile)
-some type of portable music player. Besides music there are tons of free podcasts out there that are really interesting and can make long boring trips go faster.
-two decks of cards (and maybe a brief rule sheet for some fun games besides poker and go fish) (absolutely invaluable for rainy days/evenings stuck inside a tent)

Lastly, document, photocopy and/or save receipts for everything you are bringing as well as making up a tentative itinerary and leave it with someone responsible so that if something gets lost, stolen or broken you can call them and get all the information for canceling credit cards or filing a police report or so that if you go missing, there is a general idea of where you might have been.
posted by silkygreenbelly at 11:06 AM on July 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


-a good hat
-good socks (at minimum two pair)
-good bra (minimum two comfortable, well fitting, sturdy, easy to clean and dry sports bras)
-good pants (easy to roll up, sturdy, easy to clean and comfortable)
-good shirts (one long, one short sleeved, sturdy and easy to clean)
-bug repellant
-if you have long hair, plenty of hairties/ponytail holders are really important. The last thing you want is to have sticky, sweaty, stringy hair clinging to your neck and face and not be abel to tie it up.
posted by silkygreenbelly at 11:11 AM on July 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

You can definitely get leatherman's in Canada. MEC has them, as well as just about every serious camping store. Heck, I'm fairly sure Canadian Tire carries them as well. I had a Leatherman Micra for a score of years, that I unfortunately lost last week to airport security because I forgot to put it into my checked luggage. An hour ago just bought a replacement (splash P4, but the scissor one). Because it fits on my keychain, it seriously comes in handy almost daily. Maybe not an answer to the original question, but they are very handy, especially the little scissor ones like I have. I've found the scissors to be far more durable and useful than anything I've encountered on a swiss army knife.

Bottom-line, get a little Micra or scissor Splash P4, and one of the more serious full-size ones with pliers. Can't go wrong. Just make sure they're in any checked luggage if you're going to your destination by plane.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 11:54 AM on July 11, 2008

I carried one of these in Europe last summer. Virtually indestructable, pickpocket-proof, and available in different sizes/colors.
Oh, and the mesh cubes for separating your clothes are great.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 1:11 PM on July 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: wow, still more great advice.

the corpse in the library: I didn't know those mesh locks existed, and I'm for sure getting one. I don't want my material life stolen from me in another country.

gmarceau: good advice. I have about 5 bottles of 3-way soap (except minus the clothes washing ability.. I have allergies to many detergents, so I think I'm going to have to bite the bullet and get good laundry detergent, sadly) already, and plan on getting more. I also definitely don't have a lighter, so that's a really good suggestion.

Randle Patrick McMurphy: the square separators are a really good idea. I already have a lovely small Canon camera which I absolutely adore and can't wait to use abroad, but thanks for the extra recommendation!

jannw: lots of good stuff there :P but the safety pin to close the wallet pocket is really good. I'm a gal, so my wallet won't be too near my pants pockets, but I tend to put some cash in my tight fitting jeans pockets where it's harder to get without feeling, and this will be useful for keeping stray hands well away.

silkygreenbelly: good advice, although I'm going to be sticking mainly to hostels and not really going camping too much. But if I do, I'll come back to your comment for sure.

To all who suggested small clips for things on my pack: GREAT! yet another thing that I simply wouldn't have thought of, thanks!

To all who recommended ziploc bags and tote bags, definitely noted. I already have about 5 canvas bags (I'm a firm anti-plastic person and haven't gotten grocery bags for almost a year now), and I'm definitely bringing them.

To those who recommended earplugs/good headphones: yup and yup. I had a pair of good headphones, but they committed suicide, and I'm just waiting to have the money to replace them.

To all who recommended stuff from home: good idea, I'll get some pictures printed for sure, and a few key chain stuff.

Thanks for all the amazing advice! I just asked my mum to take me to MEC for my birthday (conveniently only two weeks before I leave!), and I've got a nice list started. Thanks again!
posted by Planet F at 2:51 PM on July 11, 2008

Super, mega obvious, but still: One of those plastic toothbrush sheaths.
posted by Sys Rq at 5:03 PM on July 11, 2008

I am 6 months into a year of travel at the moment. I am traveling with 6 kilos (about 13 pounds). My bag fits on my lap- even on a crowded bus in India. You do not need a mesh bag lock- those are heavy when you're traveling light, and if your bag is with you, you're okay.

Micro-fleece/traveling towels are terrible- they take forever to dry and they are good for one thing- toweling off. Instead I suggest you bring a pillow case. It may sound strange but this is probably my best tip. Besides using it as a towel, you can use it as a pillow case, a laundry bag, a thing to sit on in not-so-clean placers and it will dry very quickly- even in cold climates.

I would also advise against bringing so much soap/shampoo/detergent. You can find "natural" products anywhere and you may often find yourself washing your clothes with you in the shower (regular soap or shampoo is fine).

Bring old stuff, bring stuff you can ditch. An eyemask is nice, but use a sock (or your pillow case). Pack light. PACK LIGHT. Bring things that have many uses. You can buy cards to make up games. Most people think my bag is a day pack and I can't tell you how uncomfortable these people with 20 kilos strapped to their fronts and backs look.

Pack light.

Good luck. I have my list typed if you want it.
posted by maya at 8:00 PM on July 11, 2008 [4 favorites]

Do note, that for shopping at MEC, you need a membership since it's a co-op sort of thing. $5 last I heard, but it's a one-time thing. Got mine something like 15 years ago, well worth the cost. I've bought hundreds, possibly thousands of dollars of stuff there, between camping gear and clothing. Highly recommended if there's one in your area.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 4:15 AM on July 12, 2008

Gah, really wish MeFi had an edit option. But definitely, my purchases at MEC have been in the thousands range, but as said, I've also been a member for at least 15 years, and bought many items there. Trailhead is good too, if there's one in your area, although sometimes slightly pricier due to more 'named' products.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 4:23 AM on July 12, 2008

Response by poster: maya: oh yeah, I know about packing light, although I don't think I can equal your packing skills. I will be based out of Germany for the year (for school) with a couple of months here and there for travel and as many weekends away as I can afford, so it's not quite as hardcore as simply leaving for good. So I can have several bottles of something, and just not bring them all. Also, I have a big pack and a smaller pack, but don't plan on bringing them together.

Hungrysquirrels: I definitely already have my MEC membership! It's my second favourite store after IKEA, and my family has probably spent in the thousands there too :D. Trailhead, while being geographically closer to me right now, just can't compete!
posted by Planet F at 7:53 AM on July 12, 2008

heffalump (rightly) suggested power adapters, but what you will find yourself using at almost every stop is a good, basic extension cord with multiple outlets. Bargain accomodations are notoriously stingy with electrical outlets. Having an extension cord means not crawling on your hands and knees every time you want to plug or unplug something and not being limited by the length of your cord when using laptop, hairdryer, etc. Having multiple outlets also means having a power strip for recharging multiple items at once. Finally, combining those power adapters with the extension cord means a single adapter can power multiple devices.
posted by dinger at 9:59 AM on July 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Late suggestion, but haven't seen it mentioned, and don't know how experienced you are at camping, but unless car camping, you need some cord and a sturdy bag to suspend any food items from a tree branch. Helps keep the bears, raccoons, and other critters away from the tent.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 8:52 AM on July 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

My one little thing: an umbrella - you can pick up a small, cheap one anywhere. It will keep either the rain or the sun off you. In a hot climate it is more comfortable than waterproofs.

A couple of thoughts on backpacks: Backpacks were developed to allow people to take camping gear with them on a hike. They have become a sort of badge of belonging amongst travellers but an ordinary bag may be a better form of luggage to take on ordinary travels: you will not be having to carry around a frame and straps, it it better to squeeze into small spaces like the luggage rack on a bus and it is often easier to get at stuff. Finally - not looking like a backpacking tourist can help when trying to blend in with a country.

Personally I would be a bit reluctant to cover my luggage with too many security measures also. Padlocks, or a mesh lock, will not be an obstacle to a serious thief and they tend to send the message "I have something of value with me here".
posted by rongorongo at 4:21 AM on July 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've just settled in from traveling for a while and I have to say one item I used a lot was a very small LED light my aunt got me from Mountain Equipment Co-op in Toronto. I'm sure they have them lots of places.

I've used it tons of times - finding my way back from Fiji beach in the dark, reading in bed when everyone else in the room has gone to sleep, finding your stuff when you get up early in the morning and everyone else has the lights out (I've been doing the hostel circuit).

Definitely a well-used item.
posted by Flying Squirrel at 12:57 AM on October 5, 2008

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