You Can’t Be Without These 10 Essential Items When You Go Backpacking

Abi Scott
Hullo there. I'm Abi Scott, a 23-year-old, Denver based writer with a bachelor's degree in English Lit. Aside from all that boring stuff, here are some things I tend to enjoy: bold red wines, hat days because that's one less day I have to wash her hair, $1 Saint Candles from Walmart, writing, any and all types of cheeses, dogs with expressive faces, finding that perfect winter sweater and wearing it for three days straight, Indian food, low maintenance house plants, leather boots, songs that you loved in the ninth grade but still play today for nostalgia's sake, dimly lit coffee shops, photographs that make me look thin and young, and long haired men. Here are some things I don't really enjoy but tolerate, as they are a necessary part of modern society or Asian cuisine: baby corn cobs (like the ones Tom Hanks eats in "Big"), people publicly texting instead of paying attention to the world around them, driving to destinations under a mile away, dressing room lighting, warm beer, simple math, cliché signs that tell you to dance in the rain (you should dance in the rain if you want, but if it's too cold or you would rather not get wet that day, then so be it), Starbucks, musical movies (except "Les Mis" because come on, Hugh Jackman is a god among men), and photographs taken from a low angle that make it look like I have three chins.

Or the honest title of this article: 10 things that could have saved me from drinking questionable sink water and wiping my ass with an empty toilet paper roll.

You’re off on your next adventure and, like any 20something girl, you’ve most likely overpacked. Hey, you’ve got to look good while strolling down the Siene and gnawing on a baguette. That being said, you’ve definitely packed things you’ll never once touch on your trip (…that Essie gel manicure kit) and things you’ll thankfully use everyday (prescription strength deodorant). Before you set sail, make sure you’ve packed these essential items. They very well could save your life – or at least your dignity.


You may have sex. Hopefully you will, and you should be prepared. While your travel mindset will encourage you to embrace the Nike slogan, you don’t want to tote back Chlamydia or Gianluca’s love child. Also, most travel books don’t list “Do you have a condom?” under the “phrases to know” section. But they really should. In the states, we usually leave condom purchasing to the man but you’re the HBIC of your vagina’s health, so take matters into your own hands and pack a box. Better to be safe than waiting in line at a free health clinic in Bangkok.




Gallon Sized Ziploc Bags

Fantastic for many, many things. From storing dirty clothes, to keeping your overflowing backpack organized, and even doubling as water-resistant shoe covers, these bad boys will get you from A to B and cover anything that happens in between. They are also helpful when you’re hung over on a RyanAir flight and have nothing to puke in save for two quart-sized “liquid, gels, and aerosols” bags you thankfully grabbed from security. Those fill up quick and nothing is worse than having to seal a full-to-the-brim puke bag, pass it off to your seat mate with an apologetic look while you reach for the second, and last, bag. Trust us. Bring the bags.


You may be a deep sleeper, but at some point you’ll find yourself sandwiched between two Russian men shouting into their cell phones on a six-hour train ride…or at least in a situation like it. People are snorers, talkers, screamers, if the situation calls for it, and generally inconsiderate. Having any sort of sensory deprivation aid while you try to catch a few solid hours at the hostel will be a huge help.



Wet Wipes

Chances are you won’t master the bidet attachment your Econolodge has provided in lieu of toilet paper. Many places don’t even offer such “luxury.” If you’re in big cities, public restrooms are few and far between and the ones you find are very rarely stocked. To save yourself from skid marks, drip drying and wiping with random scraps of paper, pack some wet wipes. They also double as an even cheaper “Whore’s Bath” when you realize you forgot perfume and the hostel shower runs at a consistent 64 degrees.



Travel Laundry Supplies

Tiny detergent and a travel clothesline will take you many places, my friend. Hotel soaps don’t cut it and hanging your lacey undergarments over the bathroom light fixtures is a good way to get crotchless panties or start a fire. It happened and it was funny, but then I had no underwear. Wash your essentials in the sink, the bathtub, the Trevi fountain, really anywhere you can. After weeks of living out of a backpack, clean socks and underwear can make you feel like a whole new woman.


Wine Opener

A multi-tool is a good idea but let’s be honest, you’ll probably only ever use the bottle opener portion of it. Depending on your travel plans, any multi-tool with a blade won’t make it through security, so don’t buy that authentic Swiss Army Knife for 25 Franks. Bring a bladeless wine key. You can get it on Amazon for under 10 bucks and it will save you from having to wander around shops and restaurants asking in your best French accent for someone to open your bottle of wine, s’il vous plaît.

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Power Bank

In this technologically based world, cell phones are akin to life lines. That’s okay. We’ve evolved now to need them and to be a lot less screwed thanks to Google Maps. Our phones act as our alarm clocks, cameras, hotel booking agents and bank account trackers — all of which are vital when traveling. Bringing a power bank along is a good idea for those times when you’re out all day and can’t make it to an outlet. It’s cheap, efficient and lightweight. It’s pretty much a non-negotiable item for international travel.


Travel Towel

A lightweight alternative to the typical bath or beach towel that dries quickly and packs up small. It comes in handy on every trip. Hostels don’t provide towels and if you’re staying with hosts or at an Airbnb, it’s better to be safe and bring your own because you don’t always know what will be included in your stay. It can also double as a picnic blanket, a travel pillow, a mop, a shawl – the possibilities are endless. Don’t take our word for it. According to Hitchhiker’s Guide it’s “the most massively useful thing any interstellar hitchhiker can carry.” That’s basically what we are  interstellar hitchhikers discovering the universe and handsome Spanish men beyond our front door — towel in hand.



A bag within a bag, if you will. If you’re doing any sort of outdoor adventuring, you’ll want a smaller backpack for day excursions. This collapsible daypack fits nicely inside your backpack and expands to have enough room to hold your gallon size bags, power bank, and all of those other life saving items you’ll be bringing. Having a daypack also prevents you from unpacking your life each time you want to go adventure. A daypack can also act as a return trip carry on for toting tacky, obligatory souvenirs back for your cubicle buddy/pet sitter/friend with benefits.



Collapsible Canteen

Water is expensive to order at restaurants almost anywhere outside of the U.S. Compared to other countries, the U.S. is basically Water World. With 24-hour convenience stores, drinking fountains, and potable faucet water we don’t really give thought to being without water. In most foreign countries, that’s a different story. You will be thirsty all the time unless you pack a collapsible water bottle of some sort. At least three of your mornings will be spent hungover, sprinting with a huge backpack to the train station with only minutes to spare. You’re not going to think about water until you’re staring at the “Closed” sign on the bar car.



Packing is one of those things that we will never master. It’s either too much, too little, or saved until the last minute and all you’ve managed to bring were tops. Start with these 10 essential items and build from there. That way, you’ll for sure have clean armpits and an open bottle of wine. What more do you really need when traveling?

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