Hot! Five Things I Never Travel Without

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While I’m definitely not a minimalist when I travel, I do tend to try and keep my “miscellaneous” travel gear to a minimum. However, it is some of those random items which are actually the most important things in my pack, the things that I never travel without. Here are a few of the things I never travel overseas without:

1. Duct tape or gaffer’s tape

I’m convinced that gaffer’s tape is what secretly holds the universe together. In college, I even once taped a shelf to a wall with the stuff. Gaffer’s tape, being a cloth-based tape, does well for backpack and clothing repairs, emergency bandaging, and the like. Duct tape is less strong but somewhat more waterproof, and can be used to patch holes in shoes, etc. I carry a small roll of gaffer’s tape and I have never gone on a trip where I haven’t used it at least a few times.

2. A spork or disposable plastic spoons

When I was in Switzerland for 6 weeks in 2007, the biggest money-saver I had was the $1.50 bag of 50 plastic spoons that I bought on my first day in the country. I toted them around with me the entire time and was able to buy healthy food like yogurt and soup from corner markets; food I wouldn’t have been able to eat without those spoons. Since they were disposable, I didn’t have to worry about having somewhere to clean them – I just threw them in the nearest trash bin. These days I carry a titanium spork instead, which I highly recommend.

3. Toilet paper or baby wipes

The US is, in my experience, the only place where a public toilet is pretty much guaranteed to have a free, unlimited supply of TP. There’s nothing worse in my mind than finally finding a public bathroom to use and then discovering that there’s no toilet paper. I take a large roll in my main backpack, and tear off smaller lengths each day to put in my camera bag (the only bag I carry with me on a daily basis). Baby wipes are even better, as they can also serve as sanitation in places without showers, or as a way to remove sticky sauces left on your hands by street food, plus they can be re-sealed into their container.

4. A reporter’s notebook

Though I also travel with a paper journal which stays in my main bag, my camera bag always has a reporter-style notebook in it. I use it to jot down contact info from folks I meet, locations and other info for places I’ve taken photos during the day, and anything that I need to remember once I get back to my room or that doesn’t really belong in a journal. I prefer the top-spine reporter style notebooks because unlike side-spine notebooks, they can be held in one hand and are easy to write on. They also generally have a very strong cover, which makes them easier to write on while standing or without a surface to rest it on.

5. Cigarettes and a lighter

I smoke exceedingly rarely: between 2 and 10 cigarettes per month. However, I always have a pack in my camera bag, especially when I’m abroad. This is less useful in the USA, but when traveling pretty much anywhere else in the world, cigarettes make both a wonderful icebreaker and, in some places, a cheap bribe. If you’re in an uncomfortable situation in a bar or other establishment, you can take your pack out of your bag and claim to be going outside for a smoke when really, you’re getting the hell out of there. They can also be used to calm down a tense situation in places such as overland border crossings, protests, etc. Especially in poorer countries, American cigarettes are highly prized and can buy you a smoother ride through customs. Even if you never smoke a single cigarette, being able to give one away to someone looking for one can be an instant friend-maker if you’re quiet, and having a lighter available for people who need one will also provide a means of establishing contact with someone.

What do you never travel without? Let me know in the comments!

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9 Comments

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  1. Good call on the spoons! That’s very clever, I don’t think I would have thought of that…especially on day one!

    • My hostel wouldn’t let me enter until 4pm, and there was a grocery store across the street, so I went in to kill some time. I was fascinated by all the different foods that were available there, and so I bought some without really thinking of how to eat them. So, I went back into the store, found the “supplies” section, and bought some plastic spoons. Worked great, and I was still finding them spread through my luggage for months afterward.

  2. i totally agree about the cigs. i don’t smoke any more and i think if i carried them now i’d be too tempted to start again, but you’re right about breaking the ice, especially in places like russia where *everyone* smokes. and they do make a good tension reliever too, even if you don’t smoke them, you just give them away. these days because i’ve given up i just carry a lighter – it’s not quite as good but at least you can offer someone a light to break the ice, they just have to provide their own smokes!

    • Yes, in Russia (and most of the rest of the world) they can be a great icebreaker. I think that many Americans have no idea how much the rest of the world still smokes. I also find that beyond ice breakers, they can be a welcome distraction from boredom during delays, and can make you look a lot more like a local in places where most locals smoke.

  3. Nice post, Kelsey, and good tip about the spoons. Of course, you’ll need to pack them into the suitcase now right (not allowed on carry ons?). But I never travel without my camera and my laptop, extra pairs of socks and a swimsuit (you never know!).

    • Plastic sporks are most definitely allowed on carry-ons. At least, I’ve never had any issue with it, and I always travel carry-on-only.

      I too never travel without my camera and laptop, though I tried to focus on some of the smaller, less-obvious things in this post. Small things that make a big difference in my experience.

  4. I feel like these things could go well in prison or traveling, at least according to my vast knowledge of prison life from watching movies like Shawshank Redemption 😉 truthfully thought the smokes makes sense but something I would have never thought of.

  5. The spork is a brilliant idea. I don’t think I would have ever thought of that on my own but you’re so right about how much cheaper you can eat just by carrying your own utensils. I have a collapsible cup that I carry in my pack as well. It’s proven to be very useful.