Ever leave the house with that feeling you’ve forgotten something? I once left my house without pants on, not even joking, it wasn’t until I caught a glimpse of my reflection in nearby a shop window that I realised I had walked into the street in a pair of red jocks and with my shoes on.. not my greatest moment. What I had forgotten was apparently quite obvious (special thanks to the guys who honked at me) but it’s the small things you forget that aren’t immediately apparent that will drive you absolutely nuts abroad when you need them and they’re not there.
Here’s my list of non-essential but useful items I now ensure I take for any long term travel I embark on (each of these items I’ve left behind in the past, with results ranging from the inconvenient to the painful).
Dental Floss– I’ve used thread, bits of torn up plastic bags, straws, knives (don’t use knives) and skewers as replacements for dental floss after a particularly carnivorous meal while abroad. I thought this essential element of oral hygiene would be universally accessible, mistake, which led to days of painful swollen gums till I found a small enought bit of thread to substitute.
Needle and Thread – I like to keep my costs down by repairing my clothes as I travel as opposed to buying new things, thread has also been really handy as I’ve previously substituted it as dental floss, shoelaces and I’ve heard some travel disaster stories where its been used to close wounds.
Lip Balm/Chap Stick – Obvious one that can leave you with a very uncomfortable mouth if left behind, i’ve had lips that have been so chapped I looked like Tom Hanks in The Castaway.
Sunscreen – depending on your destination it might be cheaper to buy there, but i always bring a small tube/bottle as sometimes it can be surprisingly expensive in some countries.
Plastic Bags – The environment and most hippies hate them but they are actually pretty useful when you travel. The best tool ever for keeping wet stuff separated from dry stuff and they take up next to no space. Use them to suffocate border officials or just keep stuff in them when you’re walking around. No matter how you use them plastic bags are really quite handy to have up your sleeve.
String – Really handy for things like makeshift clothes lines, DIY belts, bag ties, hair ties, measuring distances on maps, shoe laces etc.. the list goes on.
Pillowcase & Sheet – The oldest travelers trick in the book. Fold the sheet in half and sew it up on two sides so it’s like a giant pillow case. Great makeshift sleeping bag liner that saves you the trouble of having to wash the whole sleeping bag. Also some places linnen might be less than clean and it’s nice to sleep in something you know has recently been washed.
Pocket Knife – Really handy for cutting stuff, like the string you already packed.
Flip-Flops – Otherwise known as ‘thongs’ depending on where you’re from. Cheap, easy to carry, never need to dry and my choice of footwear 90% of the time (temperature permitting). They take up very little space and can also save you from picking up uncomfortable and gross things in the scummy backpackers shower like Tinea.
Travel Towel – written on the front of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy, not forgetting your town applies equally even when you’re just travelling around earth. I would add that I use a Travel Towel as these pieces of genius take up far less space, are lighter and ultra absorbent. Towels come in handy as blankets when you’re stuck on those busses you get in Asia for 15 hours that seem to always have the aircon stuck at the ‘Liquid Nitrogen’ setting.
Locks & Keys – Ensure they are TSA approved, otherwise US or UK customs officials will cut them when you enter the country to open your bags. Locks are actually pretty great at keeping you bag shut too. When it comes to bag security I use the mantra that if my bags harder to get into than the next one, my shit is less likely to get stolen. If someone really wants your bag there’s little you can really do about it but hopefully as long as your bag is harder to get into than the next guys you’ll be less of a target.
Torch/Flashlight – I like the mini maglite types for durability and power. Really useful for camping trips or dark hostel rooms.
Lady Products – I don’t use these as I’m a man, but on behalf of all the women out there they’re included. Tampons or pads can actually be quite hard to find in some places particularly in more conservative countries outside the major cities, best to just take some along just in case.
Not an exhaustive list but these are the top of mind stuff that I have found really annoying when I forget it. Add to my list in the comments if I’ve forgotten anything!