It’s been 3 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 ( click the link to find out why 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.
I’m very happy with my Lowe Alpine travel pack so far, it’s a good size, I could go a bit bigger, maybe, my pack only weighs about 15Kg, but I wouldn’t be able to manage with anything smaller. This link is to a similar Lowe Alpine Travel Trekker bag, ( sadly, US only, for the UK try this version) mine is slightly different and came with a day pack. My husband prefers old school packs.
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.
My Travel Essentials
1. My Laptop
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, I just took along my old Acer Aspire, she’s doing very well to still be with us. A smaller, lighter one would be better if you can cope with the reduced screen size and lack of a DVD player, but if you have a laptop already, why spend more? It is my number one travel essential, you can replace most things easily, not your laptop. I back mine up to a portable hard drive when I remember.
A second large laptop later found it’s way into our luggage and a third smaller one for the kids.
We had two tablets for a while, they broke and I was glad to see the back of them.
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.
3. 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 trekking. Sleeping bags aren’t.
Even living in London in our own apartment, we still used our sheet sleeping bags and bought 2 more.
4. Packing Cubes
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.
5. Power adaptors
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.
6. Travel towels
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.
I have one of these Mountain Warehouse towels, it’s great and was a decent price. The microfibre packs smaller than the old fashioned micro towelling. We even use them at home now.
Mountain Warehouse Mega Microfiber Travel Towel 150 x 85cm Purple One Size
7. 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.
8. Medical Kit.
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.
9. 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!
10. My Camera
I had a little Olympus Pen mini for years. It worked when it felt like it. I’ve just upgraded to a smll DSLR, the Nikon D3300 and I’m in love! There is a t=reason this camera is a popular best seller. The phot quality is superb and it’s tiny compared to my old SLR from years ago. You’ll see the difference in photo quality on recent v old posts, it’s superb!
11. Wash Kit
All you need, really, is soap ( for you and your clothes) toothpaste and toothbrushes. Everything else is gravy. I’m very fond of my antiseptic soap for cleaning children covered in mud or scrubbing hands. Lately I’ve been carrying Detol soap, bought in Kathmandu. We had a lot of tummy problems in Nepal.
A small water-tight food container makes a great soap dish if you choose solid soap.
We often buy Head and Shoulders shampoo, you can get in anywhere and it’s good for preventing fungal skin infections.
Shaving gear is bulky but easy to buy anywhere and I occasionally treat myself to a fancy facial scrub or LUSH solid shampoo bar, it’s extra enjoyable when it’s a treat.
12. 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.
13. Items for the 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.
14. Pen knife 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. Mine 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 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 requires covered shoes) and flip-flops mostly suit me fine for hot weather walking. I’m on my third pair, I replace them very cheaply. 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.
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.
We easily upgraded our Asia-centric clothes for the harsh conditions in New York and Canada during the Polar Vortex, all we needed were a few key items, again, the link to that page is above.
There are links to Amazon.com on this page, if you click through from here and buy anything at all, I make a few cents to keep us travelling longer. The money comes from Amazon, you won’t be charged extra. Please remember, what works for me, may not work for you. These are all absolutely genuine recommendations, I will never recommend anything I don’t love. We know Blue Bear is disgustingly dirty but we’re scared to send him to the laundry, he is most certainly one of our travel essentials. Thanks for reading and happy travelling!