The 8 Essentials of Backpacking: What You Should Have and Why!

Living out of a backpack for 10 days or 10 months is absolutely freeing and extremely challenging. It is hard to know what and how much to pack, especially if this is your first time living like a turtle. After many weekend trips to different provinces in Cambodia and backpacking for a month through South East Asia, here are some essentials that must make it into you backpack before leaving your homeland!

1) External Battery Pack

While traveling around Southeast Asia the Isound saved me multiple times on long bus trips, airplane rides, and even hanging out in the common areas in hostels. You charge the Isound then take it anywhere, allowing you to plug in multiple devices (that use USB cords) to charge. If you don’t like the Isound, there are many other charging packs ranging in price, size and capability. It is amazing and something that I think is a must for traveling, because it doesn’t matter how remote you are, if you have a phone, tablet, music player you will want to be able to use it. To see a list of some of different charging packs click here.

2) Journal


You can either bring one from home or wait till you’re in country and buy one there, which is what I would recommend. The one in the middle (I bought) and top right (a gift from one of my students) are from Phnom Penh.

Journals are multi-use; you can keep track of your trip, write down notes or keep track of your spending. You can have new friends sign it or write down quotes, you can glue tickets into it or peel off the stickers on beer bottles and put them in. Or you can do a combination! While journals seem obsolete especially with the notes that most smart phones have today, nothing beats a handwritten journal because it’s way more fun looking through a journal than a phone anyway.

3) Extra set of headphones


This extra set of headphones doesn’t need to be the best of the best, but a back up pair that is comfortable and reliable and doesn’t take up any extra space is a good idea. Another way these come in handy? If you’re running low on money and the country your in has places that sell used goods, you could always sell them for extra cash- depending on where you are, $5-$10 can get you a couple meals, housing, or a couple beers.

4) Throw-Away Sandals


These were my throw away sandals that I bought in a market in Phnom Penh for $2

This more pertains to people who are using hostels and guesthouses where shared bathrooms and even private bathrooms may be questionable. Wear these in the shower so you avoid crazy foot fungi and whatever else can go on a shower floor, feel free to let you imagination run wild- I am sure whatever your imagining you don’t want on your feet, because that means it goes into your bed *barf*.

5 )Neck pillow

This will make your trip better

This will make your trip better (copyright belongs to

Preferably one with a removable cover so it can be washed during your travels. This will make sleeping on long bus and airplane rides more bearable. I know mine has.

6) Towel

You can bring one from home or you can purchase a travelers towel that is light weight, quick drying, and doesn’t take up a significant amount of space. Some hostels have complimentary towels, some you can rent (beggars can’t be choosers), and some don’t offer them at all. I didn’t bring this with me and I learned my lesson the hard way.

7) (Female) Diva cup

Diva Cup in its case

Diva Cup in its case. This will change your period forever ladies!!

Whether you are traveling the world or not this should be your new favorite period accessory. Throw away the tampons because this is all you need. With the diva cup there is no risk of TSS because it is made of silicon (think breast implant) and no extra waste like that with tampons because it is reusable. While it may sound gross at first it’s not, trust me I have been using mine for over a year now and I would never go back to tampons because they are gross. There is no bleach in the diva cup as there are with most tampons, and if this for whatever reason “gets lost” it won’t be a health hazard like that of a tampon. Depending on your flow it is safe to keep the Diva Cup in for up to 24 hours, and comes in two sizes (pre and post birth). All you need is a simple anti-bacterial soap to wash between uses. It also comes with a nice carrying pouch so your feminine hygiene is kept private. This is ideal when traveling. Let me paint a picture: Imagine yourself on a bus in Cambodia. The bus makes a stop and you are so thankful because you know you just started. Great, you can buy something where you stop because surely there will be a store that sells either tampons or pads (you forgot to restock in the last city because life+travel=fun/chaotic) . You get out of the bus and look around to realize that not only is there not one feminine hygiene product in sight (this is quite normal especially outside of the major cities), the toilet is a squatter with no toilet paper, and your flow is stronger than the Mekong. Now is the opportune moment to freak out.

Now replay this but have your diva cup with you. It’s still not ideal due to the squatter and the toilet paper situation, but it is manageable and a lot cleaner. In South East Asia or any other countries that are developing this may be the norm. Remember, having instant access to feminine hygiene products is a Western phenomenon.

Diva cups run for about $30 which will pay itself off in a matter of months, and you can buy the wash for about $12 or go to the store and pick up anti-bacterial soap (preferably unscented)

7) USB Beard Trimmer


This is not my expertise but it sure looks perfect for traveling! (copyright to

Now guys I don’t want to leave you out, and seeing as traveling and having a beard more or less go hand in hand a portable beard trimmer (if it can be charged with a USB) is ideal for any bearded male traveler. Please excuse me as I am a beardless woman and have never had to shave my face, but I think this would be an awesome accessory to have. You could also exchange haircuts for beers, but that’s just an idea ;).

8) Traveler’s Insurance!!!!!!!

This is so important. The chance of something going wrong while you are traveling is quite likely, but don’t let that scare you. Falling off a moto, eating bad food, getting ill, falling on a hike, are all possibilities, not to mention more dire situations such as moto/bus collusions, broken bones and other things of that sort. While these are all scary, it is comforting to know that you have insurance that will reimburse you if you do need “break-the-bank” medical attention. There are many options, some may be offered through your current insurance others you can find online. Do you research and see which plan works best for you (if any at all).

2 thoughts on “The 8 Essentials of Backpacking: What You Should Have and Why!

  1. Ok all great, but my essentials are ’emergency meds’. I have a tiny plastic container that I have always carry two pepto bismol, a few ibuprophen, aspirin, and Benadryl. Everything is available but you might not have it at the moment that you need so I am I am ready for stomach issues, aches and pains, allergic reaction, and heart attack (ok I am a bit older), until I can get back to ‘somewhere’

    • Robin! Thanks for your comment. I was thinking when I was reading this if they have a container for “emergency meds” that keep them heat controlled so they don’t get effected by the heat. I will look into this and get back to you 🙂

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