Backpacking Travel Essentials (on a budget)
Our family has been travelling through south-east Asia with three kids, four backpacks and a suitcase since last year. We are a minimalist family and have packed pretty light, but there were still some things that we packed that we never used, and some things we didn’t bring that we wish we had. After 8 months of hardcore budget backpacking (we were without running water for 3 weeks in Sri Lanka) we have pretty much nailed what the backpacking travel essentials are, and what budget travel gear we would recommend to solos, couples or families looking to travel in a similar way to us. Here are our top 10 backpacking travel essentials that we wouldn’t be without.
(Our other product-specific travel gear guides can be found here):
1. A GREAT backpack
Having a good backpack can make or break your trip. Going super-cheap and getting a flimsy one will cost you long-term as they will either break or put your back under so much strain that you end up with an injury. We use the most incredible backpacks from Osprey, the Farpoint 40. They are the biggest possible size that you can take on as hand luggage, so we can stuff them full without having to wait at the baggage carousel at our next desitnation- pop them in the overhead locker and you’re good to go! We love the side-opening feature so you don’t have to unpack everything to find something at the bottom, as it packs like a suitcase on its side. It has a padded laptop pocket, lockable zippers, padded adjustable straps and a great padded waist belt to take the strain off your shoulders. We’re not sponsored by Osprey or anything, this is just a genuine rave about how amazing we think their backpacks are. They come in three colour ways- red, blue and black- and we have one of each!
Our top pick, the Osprey Farpoint 40:
2. A travel towel
There are plenty of travel towels out there but we’ve found the best ones to be Mountain Warehouse. We have a few in different sizes; they are super compact and come in their own little waterproof bag, and they dry out in no time. Definitely do not bring normal towels with you when backpacking; they take up a TON of space and may not dry out depending on how humid the country is!
Our top pick, the Mountain Warehouse:
3. A travel kettle
We thought briefly about packing one of these, and decided not to- BIG mistake. Buying tea and coffee at cafes eats into your budget fast, and cheap guesthouses or hostels and even mid-range hotels often have no facilities for hot water in your room. When you get to your destination late at night or early in the morning it can make a world of difference to everyone’s mood to be able to have a hot cup of coffee or hot chocolate on tap. A travel kettle is also really handy for cooking instant noodles in your hotel room; if you’re on a budget this is a major plus point. The Gourmet Gadgetry collapsible travel kettle is our favourite as it’s high quality and collapsible so takes up hardly any room in your backpack. We’ve made a complete guide to the best 10 budget travel kettles depending on your needs, here.
Our top pick, the collapsible Gourmet Gadgetry kettle:
4. A sleeping bag liner
These have come in handy for us in several ways- they’re usually comfier than the sheets in a guesthouse; they protect you from any dirt that might be on sketchy beds, and they are great when you’re staying somewhere that’s too hot for a blanket but you still want a light cover.
Our top pick, the Mountain Warehouse super-compact hygienic liner:
5. Packing cubes
I don’t know where we’d be without our packing cubes, but the answer is pretty much “a mess”. We LOVE our packing cubes; they help keep backpacks organised, they make it easy to separate different clothing items or clean/dirty laundry and they are great for keeping hotel rooms organised. As well as our packing cubes for our clothes we have BUBM packing cubes for our electronics, which have been invaluable for keeping wires, SD cards and the like organised and protected on our journey.
Our top pick for packing cubes, the tough and good-looking eBags:
Our top pick for electronics organisers, the one and only BUBM:
6. A toiletry bag
Don’t be like 20-year-old me, and find a cockroach eating the bristles of your toothbrush in a Thai backpacker hostel bathroom. We love our fold-up water resistant hanging toiletry bag; it has several pockets including a see-through window, water resistant fabric and zippers, as well as a hook that you can use to attach it to a shower rail or door hooks.
Our top pick:
7. Water bottle
Having your own water bottle means that you can save money by purchasing a large bottle of water for your hotel room and top it up, rather than repeatedly buying smaller bottles of water each day (it’s much more eco-friendly, too!) We’ve tried several water bottles and our favourites are the stainless steel bottles or the collapsible versions.
Our top picks, the Nomader collapsible bottle and the 12-hour hot / 24-hour cold stainless steel bottle:
8. A travel purse / wallet
You’ll be carrying passports, boarding passes, credit cards and goodness knows how many odd bits of currency. You need a good travel purse or wallet to keep everything organised and secure. Increasingly travel purses / wallets offer RFID blocking to ensure your credit card details remain safe and we would highly recommend this kind of wallet (the one below has a phone pocket, double win!)
Our top pick, an RFID blocking travel purse / wallet:
9. A great pair of sandals
10. Waterproof smash-proof phone case
I would estimate that I’ve dropped my iPhone, properly (enough to smash it) at least 15 times on our trip. I’ve also accidentally dropped it in the water (our swimming pool) and had it get wet during rain and from drips off sea-soaked kids. My LifeProof case is worth its weight in gold; I’ve been able to film underwater and fling my phone around with no damage whatsoever (but it’s lovely to take underwater pics and videos while snorkelling). If you’re embarking on a backpacking adventure or even just to protect your phone wherever you are, I’d highly recommend getting the LifeProof (it has an excellent warranty and customer service). There are options for iPhones and Samsungs as well as iPad minis.