If you are going off backpacking or travelling, there are some things that you can throw in your bag that will make life a lot easier. You already know about the basics e.g. medical kit, torch, pocketknife, clothes-lines, a padlock for your bag, etc. but what else? We travel light (10-15kg) but the below 9 items are always with us.
1. A vegetable knife. Just a small serrated one. It’s not just for vegetables, it’s also for anything else that needs cutting. Victorinox ones are brilliant (the same people that make Swiss Army knives). These little serrated numbers are lightweight, never get dull and are your friend for self-catering or for house-sits when the knives are crap (surprisingly often). Just make sure no one nicks them. It happens, because they are so damned handy.
2. Cable ties. Cable ties make you MacGyver. How? Secured a water hose to a pipe on a bathroom wall to form a makeshift shower (sorry, Green Valley backpackers in Sapa, Vietnam, there’s no way in hell you are getting that baby loose now). Secured a broken backpack onto a motorbike for long rough journey. Clamped a leaking hydraulic hose on a bus to provide working brakes again (that one was particularly cool). I could MacGyver on. Cable ties are awesome.
3. Ziplock plastic bags. For everything. Absolutely everything. Your money is in your pocket and you don’t want it soaked through with sweat when walking for hours in the tropics? Plastic bag it. Travelling by dug-out canoe, fishing boat, or a small ferry that leaks like a sieve? Plastic bag your phone, passport and money. Toiletries, anything that might leak in your main bag? Ziplock bag them. Clothes that you won’t need until the next continent? Roll up tight, fasten with rubber bands and ziplock bag them. Ziplock bags are transparent, you can see what is where and if your backpack falls in the sea, or gets hammered by waves (regular hazard) it’s all good.
4. Rubber bands. Take a small bag of all sizes. They hold everything together, paper, your hair, money, clothes (as above, roll spare clothes very tight, rubber band and squish more into that small pack).
5. Universal bathroom plug. Not the electric kind, but the rubber kind. Many places either won’t have plugs or the plugs won’t fit properly. That can be a pain if you are washing clothes in the sink, or even just trying to wash yourself. Take a large, flat rubber universal plug. They sit over top of any size plug and work by forming a suction. Its not perfect, but it works enough.
6. Bike chain. This may seem odd. But it’s helpful for security. Leaving locked bags in dorms, rooms etc. is often fine. But theft can happen anyway. If you get a bad vibe, are somewhere that has a reputation for stuff going walkies, or just want to be extra careful, use a lightweight, small but strong bike chain to secure your bag/s together, and then to an object. Thieves are opportunists. Basically, if they are sneaking into a room and they are going to pinch someone’s bag, that one with the bloody chain on isn’t going to be the first choice. Touch wood, but its kept us bag-theft-free for years.
7. Corkscrew. You may find yourself in places that don’t have screwcap wine bottles (much of Europe and many southeast Asian countries). You can force the cork into the bottle, but that can end in tears. Particularly if you haven’t seen wine in six months and you really, really, really want to drink it, you can’t afford to stuff it up. If you are taking a pocket knife (sensible) then just make sure it is one with a corkscrew. We’ve got a kick-ass Swiss Army knife that inexplicably doesn’t have one.
8. Spice. This may seem a bit odd, but there are some places that the food isn’t great, especially out in the remote areas. When travelling long term, cracked black pepper is a great basic, it can take that plain rice and fried scrawny chicken/vegetable up a notch every time. For the same reason, in Europe (and not near large supermarket chains) we always carry a small jar or bottle of chilli.
9. Tampons. Not so random, but worth adding. Because of conservativism and/or religion (and in some cases, some pretty hilarious, or terrifying, misinformation) many countries do not have tampons readily available. You may be able to find them in shops that cater for foreign tourists and if you are staying purely in main centres you may be ok. But I’ve trekked half of Hanoi trying to find them, so it’s not always that easy. Places I’ve found them hard to find? Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Laos, Cambodia, Morocco, Thailand, China, some Pacific Islands, parts of Africa. In Thailand, staying for a month or so on Ko Pu/Jum, monkeys opened my toilet-bag, took out my tampons, threw them round the hut, chewed them, covered them in monkey spit and put them back in the bag. And, zipped it up again. Three times. So a back-up stock is handy, just keep them secure in monkey zones (in a zip-lock bag and bike-chained).