People love travel and people love stuff, so it’s no surprise that there’s a lot of advice out there about how to combine the two. There are plenty of people who want to help you decide what to pack, with checklists and gear requirements, as well as folks who will tell you how to pack it; rolling, stuffing, vacuum packing etc. And then there’s endless advice about how to lug it around. Backpack? Convertible bag? Does wheeling a suitcase make you a sellout?
Now I’ve always been a big fan of travelling with as little as possible, and I’m not the kind of person to get all excited about fancy gear or special travel clothes so if you want a comprehensive packing list or gear recommendations, this is probably not the best place to look. I do, however, have over 20 years of experience with packing, including almost nine with kids, and I have picked up a few ideas over the years.
The items on my oddball packing list are things that I’ve rarely seen on more conventional packing lists, but they are things that I bring based on lots of experience on the road. They may make perfect sense you you, or they may sound crazy. Either way, I thought it would be fun to share.
1) Re-useable shopping bag
In many parts of the world, people take it for granted that stores will supply shoppers with disposable bags. In many more parts of the world, it’s taken for granted that shoppers are expected to supply their own. Since many travellers are going from the former to the latter, this reality can take some people by surprise. We do a lot of self catering when we travel and I often have to bring several days worth of groceries back to our accommodations on foot. A large, light cloth bag that only weighs a few ounces and folds up to the size of a deck of cards has been an indispensable travel accessory for me.
A bag like this can have many other used besides shopping. We’ve used mine to carry towels and sand pails to the beach and to carry a load of laundry to and from the cleaners. The model I use was given to me years ago by a friend and I don’t even know the source or manufacturer, but I know that Ikea sells a similar bag for a dollar or two.
2) Blank cards
This is something that takes no room at all and is rarely used, but can be a really great thing to have. I started carrying one or two generic blank cards with a pretty picture on the outside when I stayed for a few days with some friends. I wanted to be able to leave a thank you card when I left and the blank floral cards were perfect for that. Later on that same trip I was travelling for several days with a group of backpackers and we found out that one of our group had a birthday that day. I quickly pulled out a card when were out to dinner and we passed it around to write birthday messages and gave it to her at the end of the meal. Ever since then I’ve travelled with a blank card or two tucked into my bag, just in case there’s an occasion to use one.
I’ve encountered many cooking setups over the years, from villas with beautiful gourmet kitchens to dank shared kitchens in the corner of the basement. There’s a lot of variation in what’s available, but usually even the most basic places will have a kettle or some means of boiling water. There’s usually at least tea available, and sometimes hot chocolate or instant coffee, but sometimes when we come in on a rainy night, or arrive in a new city feeling a bit hungry, but not hungry enough to want to go back out, a packet of instant soup in a mug can make a lot of difference. It’s not really a meal, but it’s just enough to trick your body into feeling like it’s had a meal. And it’s easy to slip half a dozen or so single serving packets into a baggie to pull out whenever needed. And speaking of baggies
4) Zipper bags
I don’t know how anyone can travel without little zipper bags. I use them for dividing up snack foods, for holding partially eaten apples, for keeping trinkets contained or holding an earring who’s back has fallen out. I’ve even snatched a one litre bag out of my day bag to use as an emergency barf bag. I don’t need to bring all that many; I take a page from my thrifty Mennonite mother and wash them out in the evening, turning them inside out to dry and use again. The snack bags that is, not the barf bag. I’m not that thrifty.
I’m not a trekker, I’m not outdoors-y. So why do I travel with a good quality compass hanging on a keychain from the zipper of my bag? Because I’m great with maps but terrible with getting my bearings. I can find my way all over a city as long as have a good quality map, but when I step out of a store, or worse yet, emerge from a metro station with multiple exits, I usually waste a good five or ten minutes trying to figure out where I am in order to get going in the right direction. And yes, I’m the girl who heads the wrong way out of the bathroom every time.
But put a compass in my hand and it’s a different story. Find north, face north and pull out the map with north facing up. In ten seconds I know where I am and I can start on my way, no more walking ten minutes in the wrong direction while turning the map around and around in my hands.
And that’s my oddball packing list. There may be a few things there you haven’t thought of. There may also be a few things there that you haven’t thought of because you think they’re terrible ideas. That’s fine, it’s all good, just let me know what crazy things you couldn’t live without on the road.