7 Items that All Backpackers Should Always Pack

Hostel life can be easy and comfortable if you remember to pack beyond the basics. Although I try to keep my backpack as light and compact as possible, there are a few “extras” I always bring with me. 

Here’s my list of seven things that you shouldn’t leave home without, whether you’re backpacking for a week or a year.

Locks: This is essential for staying in dorm rooms.  Most provide lockers, but you are normally expected to bring your own lock.  I prefer using a combination lock so I don’t have to carry around a key, but sometimes the lockers won’t fit a regular combination lock, so my small padlock that I use to lock my suitcase comes in handy.  If you have room for the extra weight, a cable lock is a good tool for the solo traveler in case you need to momentarily leave your baggage unattended.  (Which I don’t recommend, but sometimes you may leave your bag in a bus agency office or something while waiting for a bus.  If you do this, always make sure all of the zippers are locked.

Ziploc Freezer Bags: Don’t underestimate the multiple uses of Ziploc bags! I use these to keep my shampoo, conditioner, and body wash from spilling and getting the rest of my clothes wet, and I also use these to store things like bandages, prescription drugs, and contact lenses. These bags are resealable, lightweight, and take up virtually no space. Also, don’t forget to bring some plastic bags for wrapping up items like shoes and wet clothes.

Liquid Laundry Detergent: In many countries, it’s cheap and convenient to take your dirty clothes to a laundromat, but what about those times when you just have one or two things to wash? I always bring a small container (one of those cheap travel size bottles) filled with some liquid detergent. Add a couple of clothespins and a small line into your bag if you want extra flexibility.

The sandals I'm wearing in this photo made it to over twenty countries before I put them into retirement. They're dirty and falling apart now, but they served their purpose!
The sandals I’m wearing in this photo made it to over twenty countries before I put them into retirement. They’re dirty and falling apart now, but they served their purpose!

Flip-Flops: Whether you call them flip-flops, thongs, slippers, jandals, or chancletas, these sandals are a lifesaver for battling dirty hostel floors, and grimy showers. When I was in Ireland recently, I forgot to pack them, and ended up having to wear boots or my high heels to the showers. Not fun.

A Hanging Toiletry Bag: Ladies, this one is especially for you. Counter space in hostel bathrooms is scarce, and I can’t count the number of times I’ve gotten my makeup bag soaked by dirty counters. Solution? A hanging bag. Hang it off a door, or a shower hook, and you’ll have better access, and keep things clean. This one from Mountain Equipment Coop is similar to what I have.

A Travel Towel: Few things are more annoying for a backpacker than trying to figure out what to do with your bulky, wet towel when you’re moving between hostels. Although they aren’t nearly as comfortable as regular towels and can start smelling if you don’t wash them enough, I rely on quick-dry travel towels. They don’t weigh much, and they dry within an hour or so.

A Penlight: Don’t be the backpacker who flicks on the light switch at three in the morning to enter the room, search for something, or go to the bathroom. Carry a small penlight or book light with you and you’ll make communal living much easier. Plus, you never know when a light could come in handy.