10 Must Have Items for the Independent Traveler

Throughout my travels I have learned a lot of things about what and what not to bring when traveling independently. If you’re the type of traveler who is constantly on the go, I think you’ll benefit from this list.

1. A good backpack:

Sure, you might have some fancy luggage in your closet but if you’re going to be traveling independently on trains, buses, or by foot, you’ll soon be sick and tired of dragging that rolling suitcase behind you.

That’s why I bought the Kelty Redwing 3100 (read my review) for as my main pack when traveling. I’ve gone through three packs before I found this one. It holds about 50 liters of gear, has great padding, and can be adjusted to fit snug and comfortably.

And as a final testimonial, I had shoulder surgery a year before using this for the first time and I never once got sore wearing this bag.

Of course, everybody’s tastes will differ. It might be a good idea to try on a few at your local outdoors store, but with this model being such a bargain, it might be worth the risk to just give it a shot and return it if it doesn’t work out. Note: good backpacks can run upwards of $300.  They might have more space or pockets, but unless you’re packing snow clothes, you shouldn’t need more than 40-50 liters of space.

Best part about this pack, you can carry it on the airplane!

2. A good day pack:

Not everybody will need a second bag, but it can be useful of you will have a base location and be venturing out on hikes or day trips. It’s much easier to leave your large bag behind and load up your day pack with the things you’ll need to get you through the day.
Almost any backpack will do but I particularly like the North Face Recon pack. It holds plenty of gear and is extremely comfortable. As with the Kelty bag, this is one of the first bags I’ve had that doesn’t hurt my shoulders despite loading it up daily with a gallon of water and other junk.

You’ll probably want to have a pack that can hold a water bladder, or at the very least, pockets for water bottles.  You can never have enough water with you!

3. Lonely Planet guide books:

Depending on where you’re going, you’ll likely have a choice of several guidebooks. Over the years I have found Lonely Planet to be the most accurate and helpful for the independent traveler. They tend to cover all types of restaurants and accommodations from the bottom of the barrel budget hostels to five star luxury resorts. Several times I have brought two different guidebooks with me and every time, I end up relying solely on the Lonely Planet.

4. Rough Guide books:

Ok, I wasn’t entirely truthful before. When in Morocco I found myself relying a bit more on the Rough Guide. Since Morocco is a bit difficult to navigate, I often utilized information from both books to determine the best route or activity.

On the other hand though, I’ve browsed other Rough Guides at the book store and some have not been very good. When in doubt, check the reviews on Amazon.

5. Digital Camera:

This probably goes without saying as many people don’t leave home without their camera these days.  My trusty pocket camera is a Nikon S600 which has recently been replaced by the Nikon S610.
You can’t go wrong with just about any modern digital camera and the choices are endless.

I also use a professional Nikon D200 body, but often I find myself leaving it behind and relying on my smaller camera. It’s easier to carry and takes great photos. Don’t forget, most of these small cameras also record movies now. The quality may not be as good as an expensive camcorder, but they work surprisingly well.

6. iPod touch:

Can you tell that I’m a bit of a gadget freak yet? I’ve always brought an iPod along with me ever since I began traveling. You won’t find me walking around the street with headphones in my ears (I prefer the sound of the world around me), but they are great on airplanes and long train rides.

Earlier this year I learned how great my new iPod touch really was. Not only could I use it to listen to music and watch videos on, but its built in WiFi allowed me to hop on to the Internet at every hostel I’ve been at this year and keep in touch with my friends and family. Check your email, surf the web, even post to your blog. Not to mention you can use it to find the latest information on happenings wherever you may be. I’ve since upgraded to an iPhone, but it is so powerful that I don’t even bother carrying a laptop with me anymore. Not even for business trips!

7. Bpa free water bottle:

Ok, enough with the gadgets. No matter where you are, you’ll need to drink water. Depending on where you are, bottled water can often be much more expensive than you’re used to. Solution? Carry your own bottle and refill it with tap water. Just be sure the water is safe to drink where you are visiting!

These CamelBak BPA free water bottles are  great.  Safe to use, strong as heck, and spill proof.  I carry a 1 liter bottle with me every day.

8. Hiking shoes:

You might not need shoes specific to hiking but if you’ll be doing any treading on uneven ground you’ll surely appreciate them.

They’ve evolved over the years to fit and look more like regular old sneakers and less like the mountaineer boots of yesteryear so you won’t feel dorky wearing them around the city as well.

9. Sport sandals:

These are something I wish I had in Costa Rica (and now I do). I tried to make due with my sneakers but every stream, lake, or waterfall we came to I had to sit down and take off my socks and shoes. Then try to keep them dry as I crossed the river only to put them right back on.  I’ve learned my lesson.

They’ll do for mild to medium hikes and you don’t have to take them off when you want to get wet.

10. Quick drying towel:

Last but not least is a quick drying, lightweight towel. They’re thin, light, extremely absorbent, and dry quickly. Much easier to carry than a regular cotton towel, they dry so quickly that they won’t get mildew easily.  Perfect for camping or showering at hostels where you generally need your own towel.  Some hostels will let you use a towel, but there is often a charge. I won’t travel without one anymore.

That’s it! Throw in a few t-shirts and a couple pairs of shorts and you have my backpack, loaded and ready to see the world.

Do you have any suggestions or special items that you can’t travel without?  Please share them in the comments below.

I hope you found this list useful.  If so, and you plan to purchase any of these items or anything else from amazon, I will earn a small percentage of any sales made through the above links.  Anything helps to keep the site up running.  -Thanks!

20 Replies to “10 Must Have Items for the Independent Traveler”

  1. Great list Jeff, but there are two missing items from your list that any pack traveler should have.

    11. I always take a good multi-tool, I like my Leatherman Wave, but Gerber makes a great selection as well.

    12. First aid. You should always travel with a few essentials at the very least. (I keep a lighter and a flashlight in my first aid pack, something I’ve never seen them come with, but has always come in handy)

  2. Plastic bags.

    They’re so damn useful. Not good for the environment sure, but they’re for reuse and not throwing away so it’s not too bad.

    A friend gave me the tip of taking a bunch before I started travelling and it has to have been one of the most useful tips.

    Dirty clothes – Plastic Bag
    Grubby Shoes – Plastic Bag
    Raining and carrying books – Plastic Bag
    Packing food for the trip – Plastic Bag
    Don’t want to get feet wet – Plastic Bag

    Pack about 5/10 bags and you’ll find no end of useful events to use them in.

  3. One more thing that’s just come to me as I finish packing for my next trip, sadly I’ve realised this because I seem to have lost mine.


    Useful anywhere not just when off hiking out in the middle of nowhere.

    Knowing which direction north is in is very useful when wondering round a new city or town. Sure you’ve got your Lonely Planet guide with it’s nicely labelled map, and you can see the street sign, but which direction is the street going in? Which way up should you be holding your map?

    I found the compass to be a godsend so many times and I’ve learned the hard way of not using it plenty too, I thinking of Xi’an here, The long walk north that turned out to be east followed by another wrong turn that nearly cost me a train ride.

    Now I’ve got to go and buy a new one as it seems that compasses are good at find out where you are, but are no help when you don’t know where they are.

  4. Dean – what a great suggestion and it’s funny that you just posted that. Not more than 3 hours ago I arrived at the bs station in Quepos, Costa Rica and noticed that the map did not provide enough detail for me to get my bearings set. I pulled out my compass and we were on our way.

  5. good point Zak Nicola,
    but since i travel light and don’t check in my bag at the airport, any “pointy tools” like Leatherman Wave or swiss knife will be confiscated before getting on the place.
    So I don’t take the risks anymore ( and i realized I barely use them anyway, unless i go trekking for a few days)

  6. Good list — mostly things we’ve carried around over the last three years of our travels. I don’t take a waterbottle though – I just use cups and, when I need to carry water, a platypus water bag. It packs lighter and smaller than a bottle which is a big win.

    I’m also on a small backpack – 45 liters for my main one and a smaller daypack with fits in two fists when it’s empty. Both of them are Berghaus.

  7. Good solid list pretty consistent with what I’d recommend. Depending on where you are going, I’d add the following:

    1. small first aid kit, needle, thread, couple of safety pins and medications (these can be made seriously small and still cover a range of minor mishaps);

    2. Swiss Army Knife (I can’t live without one of these – too many useful tools on them – yet they can be more of a pain now as it means you have to check your luggage)

    3. A couple of plastic bags (as suggested by prior commenter) to separate wet or dirty clothes or to wrap precious items in.

    4. I don’t bother with the water bottle unless hiking. Water is easy enough to buy in places where you need to or is pretty easy to get access to in places where you can drink from the tap (Nth America, Australia, Europe).

  8. Agree on the comments that suggest a first aid kit (very important I think, because you never know) and the plastic bags, they always come in handy. My suggestion would be a flashlight. But other than that you’ve made a great list!

  9. A bandanna, always a bandanna… If you’re too hot, wet it and wear it around your neck or wrist; use on hair; as a sling or bandage; mask in a dust storm; in a fire – on your face; filter water (not the best but worked for me in the Amazon); to tie back your hair; as a washcloth… and there are zillions more.

  10. A bandanna is a great idea. Here’s another idea for them: spray deet (mosquito repellent) on them and tie them to your belt, backpack, etc. Saves you from getting strong chemicals all over your clothes and skin.

  11. i think you could travel without a travel guide, depending if you got the time to discover a country at your own pleasure.
    we spent 6 weeks in new zealand without buying one or having made some prior plan; we just visit the tourist office, talk to locals and fellow travelers and got the best insights.
    the travel towels for us are great: quick to dry, light and don’t take much of our space as instead a conventional towel

  12. This is a great list, liked the suggestions for plastic bags and the bandanna idea

    One thing I would add since I am a bit finicky about sleeping on sheets that may not be very clean, is lightweight sleeping sack/sleeping bag liner – silk ones are the best as they have better heating and cooling properties than cotton and pack really small.

  13. I know I’m years late in responding. Just ran into this site (cool by the way, as I’ve bookmarked you now).

    But bringing wipes and sanitizers have been life savers during my travels especially if I’m in the middle of nowhere and the closest bathroom is the bush or a squatty toilet.

  14. All you need to really travel is a fucking down to earth attitude and some balls fuck the camera and quick drying towels

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