This is what I consider to be essential items for any traveler/backpacker. These are items which I have used in my past travels, and have served me well.
The first most obvious thing for any traveler to decide on is whether to use a backpack or a suitcase. During my first solo travel experience to Southeast Asia, Korea and Japan, I travelled with a backpack. For under 50 I bought a Eurohike 55 litre backpack with a rain cover, which came in handy during the monsoon season! The pack was top-opening, and didn’t really offer much by way of security. I therefore bought a special backpack transit case which I put my backpack into and made it secure from theft, but also made it secure from airport conveyor belts. I had heard that the conveyors in airports sometimes broke clips from backpacks if they were not properly secured, and that some airlines didn’t even want to have backpacks on their airplanes because they were a safety threat. I actually lost the backpack case during the course of my travels, and had to resort to wrapping my backpack in black bin bags and tape in order to prevent the clips from catching airport conveyors. The backpack was comfortable, with some very nice cushioned padding. However, I realized as my trip went on that the pack was a little too large. I had read on many different websites that the smaller and lighter your pack, the more comfortable your trip will be. This is so true. It is not just about how light the pack is for you to carry, but also practical reasons like travelling on packed trains and subways with a giant wardrobe on your back. The backpack was incredibly annoying whilst travelling on busy subways, as I didn’t know if, and how badly, I was bumping into people – but I am sure that I definitely was! However, it was great to have my hands free when I needed to pay for tickets and also carry bags and water bottles.
On my second trip to Japan, I decided to ditch the backpack and travel with a medium sized suitcase. I was travelling for 3 weeks, and had planned to move around the country quite a bit. I was worried about the condition of the suitcase’s wheels by the end of the trip, but altogether I preferred the comfort of a nice suitcase. The suitcase takes up the use of your arms, but it does relieve your back. I found time and again that my backpack was becoming too heavy and cumbersome for longer walks; a suitcase, meanwhile, makes walking a pleasure. Trying to find your hotel in the humid and busy conditions of Bangkok with your gigantic backpack is not a pleasant experience. Though, going up stairs is a pain with a suitcase, but with a backpack it is a breeze. This may be important to you as it is best to travel around a Japanese city (and many other Asian cities) via the subway system, and sometimes they have enormous staircases leading to the platforms. The final clincher is that a suitcase makes you look more businesslike and professional; a backpack makes you easily identifiable as a traveler or tourist, and makes you stand out far more. If I entered a nice hotel with my backpack, I wouldn’t be given the same service as if I travelled with a suitcase. I believe that backpackers have a bit of a bad name in some countries, as backpackers tend to be younger people who are more prone to loutish behavior due to letting of some steam after finishing university.
You don’t want to take your suitcase or backpack with you on your daily walks or excursions, so you need a nice convenient daypack. I actually took a shoulder bag, as it looked more stylish than a small backpack. But be warned, a shoulder bag can give you some irritating neck and shoulder pains if you over pack it with large water bottles or souvenirs. In this instance, a nice mini backpack is better as it transfers the weight evenly on your back and shoulders.
I always take out travel insurance as you never know what could happen during your trip. It is always better to be safe than sorry. Medical help abroad could cost you thousands if you do not have the correct insurance, so always read the insurance policy properly. When I search for insurance I always turn to comparison sites, such as moneysupermarket.com. This way you can compare all the different companies offering insurance and their relative policies.
Skype is a free service which allows you to call anyone in the world (who also has a Skype account) for free. The service is completely free when using the Skype-to-Skype service, and the prices are competitive if you want to call mobile phones or landlines. You can use Skype on your iPod Touch, an actual Skype phone or on your laptop. If you are taking a laptop abroad, you can even use your webcam to make video calls, but if you are not taking a laptop, I found that many internet cafes in Asia had Skype already installed on their computers. Skype also allows you to send instant messages, play games and even transfer files. All in all, Skype is a great device which you should be make use of whilst travelling.
First Aid Box
I like to take a mini first aid box when I travel. The boxes come in some very nice convenient sizes with everything you could need for your trip. Items can include: plasters, antiseptic cream, insect repellent, and various tablets for common travel sicknesses.
I will not speak at great lengths on clothing, as I believe this is a personal choice and dependent on different people’s needs. However, I will say that you should always pack light, and think about whether you will ACTUALLY need an item of clothing. Sometimes, I have fallen into the trap of packing far too much clothing ‘just in case’. Whilst travelling in Asia you can always pick up cheap clothing, so there is no need to over pack. The minimum I would take for a month travelling is: 3-4 t-shirts, 2 shirts, trousers, two shorts, swimming shorts, 2 pairs of socks, trainers/sneakers (I would buy some that look formal but are as comfortable as trainers).
Travel Washing Line
I take a small washing line on my trips in case there is not enough places to dry my clothes. If you are packing light, you can just wash your clothes more often, and you will sometimes need a washing line for extra space.
Travel Sink Plug
I used this occasionally when I stayed in hostels. In some budget accommodation you will not have a sink plug, which makes shaving difficult. The travel plug is therefore recommended if you are considering staying in budget accommodation. Also, even some higher grade hotels have faulty plugs in their bathrooms, so it is generally a good item to take.
As a dandy backpacker I have a vast array of toiletries. My toiletry bag consists of: shavers, moisturizers, sun cream, nail clippers, eyebrow tweezers, aftershaves (which I tend to buy from airport duty free), lip balm, deodorant and more!
If you are travelling anywhere that has a monsoon season then a rain mac is a great idea. Monsoon rain is awesome, and can just take you by surprise and leave you drenched. A little rain mac can be scrunched up into a very small size and can easily be carried in your daypack.
Swiss Army Knife
I sometimes take this on my travels as it has various useful devices: a bottle opener, scissors, toothpick, tweezers, screwdriver heads and numerous knives of varying shape and sizes.