The frequently on-the-move lifestyle of the backpacker dictates bringing only the bare minimum as to avoid schlepping copious amounts around the world. As such, that perfect pair of shoes that go with everything you packed and shampoo that doubles as body wash, dish soap and laundry detergent, should make the list. In no particular order, here are our top 5 multi-faceted items that always make our packing list.
A light scarf of any print or color can serve several purposes on a backpacking adventure. It can not only dress up any outfit , but it can also be used as a hijab (head covering) when visiting a mosque or a sarong when visiting a temple. It can serve as a barrier between you and a dirty long-haul bus seat and when traveling through places like India or China you can simply cover yourself with your scarf if you’re getting sick of being stared at. If your scarf is big enough, you can even use it as a light blanket or lay it down for a picnic.
Many restaurants around the world are not familiar with the “doggy bag” concept and so on more than one occasion we have simply put leftovers into our Tupperware container, saving money on breakfast or lunch the next day. In places that do offer a take away option, using our container cuts down on the abundant use of Styrofoam and other throw away packaging. And if you are able to make your own food (like before leaving for your trip or after staying at a guest house with kitchen facilities) your Tupperware container will allow you to store your food for a long travel day.
And when empty, a Tupperware container does not take up much room at all as it can be filled with small pieces of clothing, a toiletry bag or even all the other items in this post.
One of the more unusual travel items, a pillow case can be very useful. It’s flat and thin, making it easy to stuff in even the smallest pocket of your bag, but by placing your jacket inside it you suddenly have a comfy pillow for that long-haul flight. Sleeping in an airport or on a train becomes instantly more comfortable by stuffing your pillow case with whatever clothing you have.
You can also make your hostel or hotel more familiar by putting your pillow case over their pillows. A pillow case can also easily be turned into a sack and so we have used it many times as a laundry bag.
A pen is a small item but is the most essential thing you pack, save your toothbrush perhaps. A pen is what sets you apart from those winey passengers who pester the flight attendant for a pen as soon as the immigration forms have been passed out. A pen is helpful in easily marking a map when getting advice on restaurants or places to go. A pen is also the perfect communicator in times of a language barrier. Once, when we were running late and tying to find our ferry to Lesbos, for example, we drew a picture of a boat and suddenly the fingers started pointing us in the right direction. We’ve drawn pictures of cows and pigs and fish with lines through them signifying that we don’t eat them. Even if there is no paper around, their is always your hand or arm to write on. I’ve even used a pen to put my hair up in the heat of Southeast Asia. As bloggers we also use a pen to write up posts long hand when on the road to type them up later – yeah we’re kinda old school that way.
A calculator can help you catch the money ex-changers that try to short-change you (and there are many), double-check foreign prices in a more familiar currency, as well as ensure that the deal you’re getting really is a deal. Much like a pen, a calculator can also help you barter at a foreign market through a language barrier. Simply type in the amount you are willing to pay, show the merchant and allow a response until you both have come to an agreement.