You don’t need the newest, fanciest, most expensive travel gear to enjoy your travels. I’ve met plenty of nomads who made do with very little, including one Slovenian guy who rode a motorcycle through Central Asia with just one pair of pants.
Having said that, you could make your travels more hassle-free and enjoyable by investing in the items I’ve outlined below. These are things that I consider essential travel gear:
Didn’t think I was going to get all intangible on you, did you?
In all reality, the very first thing you should pack is your brain. This is basically a fancy way to say “get your mind right.” Do research beforehand. Be aware of your surroundings. Know yourself and what situations trigger you. Lastly, keep an open mind to the adventures awaiting you!
I 110% recommend you get a travel backpack. Not wheeled luggage, not a duffel bag, but a backpack. A good travel backpack is a serious game-changer, and I don’t use that term lightly. In fact, I wrote an entire article on what to look for that you can read here: How to Choose the Best Carry-On Travel Backpack.
In essence, a backpack keeps your hands free, keeps you mobile, and can even save you money. If you get a bag that’s the perfect balance of large enough to hold all your stuff, but small enough to fit on a plane, then you can bring it as a carry-on (or even a personal item), thus avoiding checked baggage fee and the baggage claim.
My first travel backpack was an old Tortuga V2 44L that I got used on Craigslist for $50. Then I upgraded to a Cotopaxi Allpa 42L, and finally downsized to the GoRuck GR1 26L, which has been a good sweet spot for me. These are just the bags I personally have used; there are so many out there for you to try, in all sizes, colors, and price points. You can read my reviews of some of these packs under Travel Gear Reviews.
Another game-changer. These simple little nylon pouches keep your clothing compressed and organized, so you can fit more into your pack. The Eagle Creek Specter packing cubes that I use are dual-sided so that you can keep clean clothes on one side and dirty laundry on the other.
There are many different versions of this, from pouches that fold up to bottles that compress into a spiral to ones that come with internal filters. The idea is that you have an item that does not take up much space when it’s not in use.
For years I used a 700ml Vapur water pouch. Folds down nice and small, stands up on its own, and made in the USA. Ever since I transitioned to the GoRuck GR1, I found that a rigid flat water bottle is better suited to the front pocket of that pack. You can get them from MemoBottle or find generic versions on eBay.
This one’s for those of you planning on sleeping in the dormitory rooms in hostels. You definitely want to bring a lock to secure your belongings in the lockers. However, I don’t find it necessary to go all out with a Master padlock. You can err on the side of having a smaller lock, both due to weight and space, as well as the fact that some hostels I’ve been to have tiny latches for their lockers. Get a combo lock so you don’t have to worry about keeping track of a key.
I personally use a Pacsafe Prosafe 800 combination lock. Small but strong.
Once you get to your destination, you’re probably not going to want to take your travel pack on all your excursions. Rather, you need a smaller daypack for holding your water, camera, and other essentials.
I use the REI Co-Op Stuff Pack. It’s a 20L daypack that folds up into its own pouch. It’s about the size and shape of a small Subway sandwich when rolled up, but half the thickness. There are ones that pack so small they can fit in the palm of your hand, but keep in mind that the smaller you go, the thinner the material is going to be. The straps on that kind of pack are going to cut into your shoulders with any kind of weight in it. I like mine because it packs pretty small but it still has some padding on the straps.
Another advantage of this kind of pack is that, if you’re on a long trip and just couldn’t fit every little thing into your travel backpack, you can use your packable daypack for extra space on the way back. It will count as your personal item, so still no checked bag fees.
Pro Tip: Get a combination packing cube/daypack
Want to travel even lighter? Revelar Workshop Kickstarted their line of CubePacks, which are packing cubes that double as daypacks.
If you’re going to be in foreign countries, chances are they’re going to use different outlets than what we have in the US. To make sure that you can charge your phone and other devices, you’ll need a travel adapter.
I use the Epicka Universal Travel Adapter. It has extendable prongs that can accommodate outlets in over 160 countries and has 4 USB ports, in case your hostelmates also need a charge. This one even has Type-C charging capability and comes with a spare fuse in case of a short.
First Aid Kit
You always want one of these with you. Be sure to move it from your travel pack to your daypack whenever you’re ready to go out exploring, even if you’re not going into the wilderness. On top of the usual contents, I would add some water purification tablets and extra headache and allergy medicine.
Bonus: Travel Insurance
Another metaphysical piece of “travel gear.” While this may not be an actual piece of equipment, it can be one of the more important things you take with you.
World Nomads is widely considered the industry standard in travel insurance. I myself bought their coverage when I traveled to Colombia during the pandemic. Their prices were reasonable, their coverage comprehensive, and even though I thankfully did not have to use it, their customer service was happy to answer any questions I had.