It’s been 5 years on the road now, what are our travel essentials and what should we have left at home? I spent 12 months thinking about what to pack for this, now epic, RTW. I think I wrote a few posts about what I was probably going to pack, almost as a way of getting it straight in my head and curing my terrible packing anxiety. When crunch time came I took a lot less stuff than I had planned. We were travelling without my husband for the firsts 6 weeks of our trip so I had to fit all the travel essentials, medical gear, all the books and pencils, all the odds and sods and electrical kit into my 60L travel pack ( I prefer travel packs to backpacks). There wasn’t much room left for clothes. Find details of our backpacks in our family travel gear post.
3 years into this RTW, people are asking me what we’ve used, what we haven’t, what we’ve ditched and what we’ve bought. So here are my new, updated, tried and tested travel essentials and RTW packing ideas for warm and multi-climates. We upgraded our wardrobes for cruises, trekking in Nepal, the UK, Europe and New York in winter as we went along, links are below.
Travel Essentials- The Things We Couldn’t Travel Without
Essential Electronics for Travel
I always have my laptop and phone, chargers, power converters and battery packs. If I’m taking video add the gimbal and microphone. A drone is the gravy on the chips! Yes it’s a lot of stuff. It’s the bulk of what we carry. But good gear like this makes a whole world of difference. It all has to go in your carry on really, so this will limit what else you can squeeze in there.
A Laptop for Travel
It’s big and heavy but we use it all the time, every day, for fun, work, entertainment, education and planning. There is no way I’d ever travel without one. We didn’t buy a special one for the trip initially, I just took along my old Acer Aspire, she did very well for 4 years before giving up on me. She’s now been replaced by smaller, lighter ( 15 inch) Lenovo and having a smaller laptop does make a HUGE difference when you’re packing for travel days.
My laptop is my number one travel essential, you can replace most things easily, not your laptop. I work online, maybe you don’t, but even without my need to work I don’t think I’d want to travel with just my phone.
We had two tablets for a while for the kids, they broke and I was glad to see the back of them. We prefer laptops.
I don’t often get a chance to use my Kindle, one or other of the children always has it. I loaded it with kids’ books before we left, picture story books for little Boo (6), reading books for D (8) and it has seen a lot of use, particularly on buses and trains. We have the Kindle Paperwhite it’s easier on the children’s eyes than other reading devices, (I love being able to enlarge the text for my elderly eyes), the battery life is amazing, it’s small, light and easy to carry.
There are book exchange shops in most towns but the range of children’s books is always small, we wouldn’t travel without at least one Kindle, ideally more.
I love my Pink Neoprene Kindle Case , it keeps my Kindle safe in my day-pack. I once used it as an insulator for D’s antibiotics. Don’t forget to buy screen protectors for extra child proofing.
My phone is now my only camera and it does me just fine for photography and video. I carried a DSLR for a couple of years, a compact camera for another couple. The phone is easier all round. I’m sure you know what phone you prefer. I’m a big fan of twin lens phones for wide angle and various other photography features. I like Lenovo because they’re water resistant and have gorilla glass. That’s why I avoided the more expensive modely, I wanted a phone for travel that was tough.
If you’re serious about video or photography you’ll certainly also want the 3 devices below. They change everything.
Microphone, Gimbal, Drone And Selfie Stick
If you want to buy just one thing to improve your video quality, buy a mini microphone to plug into your phone. It costs a few bucks, is ultra portable and makes the world of difference.
Next step up for video making, a gimbal or stabiliser. These things are amazing and steady your phone for video. Everything becomes magically smooth, those unusable walking-down-the-street videos are suddenly professional quality. Expect to pay around $100, which isn’t much. They’re not as problematic to carry as a DSLR, I’ve found, they slip into my carry on bag along with my laptop quite easily.
Selfie sticks, love them or hate them, if you want your whole family in the photo, get one. I find they also make me look a whole lot better in photos. Something about looking up and gravity. They’re cheap, around $10. You’ll want bluetooth. The one above is a bestseller. We actually have a $5 one from a market in Kuala Lumpur but it won’t last long!
Drones, now, I don’t have one, but I WANT ONE REAL BAD! And this one will be my next major purchase. The new DJI Air combines the best features of the Pro with the smaller size and weight of the Sprite.
Power Banks or Battery PacksThis Anker Power Core packs a punch and is ultra light and compact. We rarely even leave the house without these. Click through here
These are vital for kids and very useful for long journeys, power cuts and planes. We carry regular power banks plus a solar charged model which is useful for trekking or countries where the power goes off regularly. We have a full post on power banks here.
We have several and they’re absolutely essential. Be particularly careful with Australian 3 prong plugs, some power adaptors will only take a two-pronged Australian plug. Double plugs or power boards with extension leads are handy if you’re working and carrying a lot of electrical gear.
Essential Toiletries and Cosmetics for Travel
Solid Shampoo and Other Solid Toiletries for TravelLush Shampoo Bar Tin
Solid shampoo is my one big travelling essential here. No plastic, you buy a metal tin, above, and just buy your solid shampoo ” naked”. No problems with carrying shampoo in carry on. No leaks, and it does the job just great. My favourite is Karma by Lush because it smells amazing. Very few LUSH products are available from Amazon unfortunately, I just hope you have a LUSH branch near you. They also stock solid conditioner, deodorant, tooth tabs and solid moisturiser. Hint: You often see a store at big airports.
We’re fanatical about ditching the plastics, we have a full post on plastic free travel, here.
Wash Kit and Wash BagThis is the best wash bag I’ve ever owned. It’s just a genius design, for travel or home. Click through here.
All you need, really, is soap ( for you and your clothes), shampoo, toothpaste and toothbrushes. Everything else is gravy. The wash bag above is the ultimate, I got mine 12 months ago and it’s just so much easier to pack, to organise and hang. It’s just genius.
A small water-tight food container makes a great soap dish for solid soap.
Shaving gear is bulky but easy to buy anywhere and I occasionally treat myself to a fancy facial scrub or , it’s extra enjoyable when it’s a treat.
Other Travel Items You Need
Obviously what you need depends on your style of travel and where you’re going. Not all of these things may be essential for you and I’ve tried to explain when and how you will need them.
Sarong and sheet sleeping bags
Some guest houses in Asia have extremely grotty bottom sheets and pillow cases, they don’t supply a top sheet and the blanket isn’t washed. We have used the sarong and sheet sleeping bags as clean covers quite often.
My sheet sleeping bag is cotton and I’ve had it for over twelve years. You can buy silk ones in Asia, cheaply, or make your own from an old sheet.
Sheet sleeping bags or sleeping bag liners are absolutely essential for Himalayan or hot climate trekking. Sleeping bags aren’t always.
Even living in London in our own apartment, we still used our sheet sleeping bags and bought 2 more.
I bought a set of three eBags Packing Cubes, small, medium and large. The small one takes all of our electrical leads and chargers, I love that it’s tough enough to cope with all the pointy metal bits. The small sizes would also be great for underwear or the kids’ toys. My pack has built-in pockets for underwear, if it didn’t, I’d buy more small packing cubes. The medium one takes all of my tops and shirts and the large one holds a load of spare winter clothes and gear.
The big one is too big for my 60L pack, really, it’s in The Chef’s big back pack (90L). When you’re trying to pack a backpack you don’t want everything in packing cubes, you need a few loose clothes to shove into corners and pack around hard items.
I love them so much we have four. They are so much easier to wash and dry than a normal towel. You can get a really big one that wraps right around which is a lot nicer to use than a clingy sarong after a shower and they’re much more durable. Not every guest house will provide towels, most hostels don’t.
We even use them at home now.
Hats and a scarf
Multiple hats, I wear one just about every day to keep the sun off and cover my inelegant hair. Mostly caps. They also help insulate my head when the temperature dips.
I have a couple of scarves for keeping the sun off my neck and shoulders, sometimes even my face in desert scenarios. They keep me warm in London and dress up outfits for cruise ships. They see a lot of use. My cotton “Simon Reeve” Arab scarf also doubles as a handy towel and child wiper in emergencies. It can be slung across bus windows to create shade or used as a clean surface to rest on. I also think it makes me look cool.
Momma ain’t going nowhere without her ear thermometer!
We’ve used the first aid kit so much you wouldn’t believe and I’m very glad I brought so much with me. Yes, you can buy most medical supplies locally, but when you need stuff, you usually need it right now. I’ve posted about what’s in our medical kit here, I’d highly recommend a small ear thermometer, I wouldn’t be without ours, you can see it in the post.
Plastic Coat Hangers
Don’t laugh, I’m serious! If you’re hand washing clothes, plastic coat hangers are easy to hang from a single point to dry your clothes overnight in your room. I have 2 and I use them all the time. Even on our cruise ships they were handy.
Bug Sprays and Mosquito Nets
As well as repellents, I carry the sort of spray for murdering mosquitoes in rooms, I don’t mess about with dengue, malaria, Japanese encephalitis and all the other mosquito-born diseases. I buy it locally as needed and wouldn’t travel without it.
We have Mosquito Nets for emergencies, you need one which hangs from a single point and works with wall or ceiling mounting, so far we’ve only used them once on this trip, in Sri Lanka , where rooms tend not to be screened.
Years ago, on treks in Thailand, we used them every night. Obviously, we also use personal mosquito repellent, I prefer natural mosquito repellent creams for the kids. In high risk areas we use DEET.
Travel Essentials Items for Kids
The only essentials here are the so-important-they’d-die-without-them bears. They’ve been with us a long time and I hope will be with us many more years. We carry small toys, sketch pads, notebooks and English and maths books, it’s great to have something, anything, to pull out to keep them busy. If you click through to why we don’t travel light, you’ll see the toy and lego stash, I don’t mind carrying a few extras for them.
Pen knife, Tweezers and Scissors
My pen knife has a cork screw, scissors, bottle and can opener and a knife. Plus some other stuff that I never use. But those 4 I use often.
You need nail scissors, obviously, I also carry a bigger pair for cutting hair.
Things I Should Have Left at Home
1. Make up. But I’m glad of it in London.
2. Hairspray. Why? What good is hairspray without a hairdryer? I chucked it (see hats)
3. Washing line and pegs. I’ve used the plastic coat hangers instead.
4. Bringing pencils in a plastic lunch box was a mistake, a soft pencil-case is easier to pack.
5. Travel sized shampoo bottles are no use on a long trip.
That’s it, we’re not bad at this packing thing after all the practice we’ve had.
What clothes do you really need for a long trip
Everybody has different needs, so read this or not, it’s just a few suggestions. You can see how we updated our tropical gear for a trans Atlantic cruise and winter in New York by clicking through here.
1. 3 pairs of trousers is enough. 4 pairs is a bonus. Take 1 pair that can be worn as pyjamas occasionally in hostels or cold weather.. You will probably want to buy some stuff as you travel, so maybe take less and buy more. I’ve worn my jeans constantly in every climate. A pair of jeans normally lasts me a year and I like to carry 2 pairs. Stretch, thick yoga pants were my best friends for trekking in Nepal.
2. I initially brought far too many shirts and tops with me. But, 6 months in, some started to wear out. I was glad I had more as back up. The most useful tops I have are black vest tops that go with everything. I chuck a shirt over the top for cultural politeness or to go out in the sun. I also wear them to bed, so I’ve got a few. The white tops I brought are a nuisance to get laundered. Either bring a lot of whites, to make up a full wash, or none.
3. I have one pair of swimming shorts, I’ve worn them occasionally, I haven’t missed not having other shorts.
4. Realistically, I’ve only needed one pair of socks in hot countries, I only wear them on travelling days with my hiking shoes, the rest of the time I’m in flip flops. In cooler climates I buy more socks. 3 pairs is enough. I’ve been carrying a pair of summer weight hiking socks the whole time, I used these for trekking Everest region, along with very normal thin socks. My trekking socks are over 15 years old and still going strong.
5. I have worn flip-flops every day and for every occasion in Asia. I wear hiking shoes or boots on travel days because they are bulky to pack. In cooler European cities, and while hiking Everest, the trekking shoes did me just fine. We haven’t been anywhere that has required covered shoes for entrance ( The Grand Palace, Bangkok allegedly requires covered shoes but we had no problems in Berkenstocks) and flip-flops mostly suit me fine for hot weather walking. I replace them very cheaply wherever we are in the world. The hiking shoes normally last around a year of constant use. I was forced to buy heels for one cruise line, I bought cheap and left them on the ship. On our Norwegian cruises we didn’t need to dress up.
6. I haven’t regretted not packing skirts or dresses. If I wanted anything like that there is lovely stuff to buy everywhere. I picked a dress up in Sri Lanka, I’ve worn it once, for cocktails with the captain on our 2nd cruise. I bought a LBT for our third cruise, along with heels, I never wore the dress and wore the heels twice.
7. I keep losing underwear, so I’m glad I brought so much. It’s great to have backup. I lost a bra and replaced it cheaply in Tesco Malaysia ( you can also find Tesco in Thailand). Department stores were expensive, Tesco had a great range in most sizes. When I’m in London I pick up more M&S underwear if I’m running low. I like nice underwear, nothing “practical” or “travel”. I find the M&S knickers and bras last well over 5 years so long as you don’t put it through hot washes or driers. Mostly I hand wash.
8. A long sleeved sweatshirt type top is all I’ve needed for warmth in South East Asia. You may need something for air conditioned buses, even in tropical countries. For Nepal I bought a thick fleece in Kathmandu.
9. Hats and scarves are my absolute best friends for sunshine or cold.
That’s it for now, packing for the children will have to go in another post, this one is too long already. Thanks for asking, to the people who emailed me directly or commented on the blog, I hope I’ve answered your questions. If you need to know anything else, just ask.