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Gear you Think you Need to Pack, but Really Don’t

Written by Jessica on March 21, 2011

One common thread you’ll see in all travel advice arenas is to pack light. Matter of fact, the number one piece of advice I give to new travelers is: don’t take so much crap.

“When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money.  Then take half the clothes and twice the money.”
~Susan Heller

It took me almost a decade of traveling to truly understand the depth of this quote. I’d like to discuss some common items that travelers really think they need, yet are so very easy to live without.

Some of these items come from personal memories, things I’ve packed for years. Some are things I’ve seen in hostels and campgrounds around the world and wondered...why? Of course, this is by no means a authoritative list, after all, not everyone can live without their zip-off pants.

General Items

Extra reading books on a shelf Extra reading books: They are really heavy. Trade with other travelers instead.

Toiletries for the entire trip: Italian toothpaste is just as good as ours.

Extra chargers: Most places are incredibly efficient at repairing electronics. I used to pack two of everything- then I saw my camera battery charger in a market in small town Cambodia.

Backup electronics: Especially if you have a travel companion who has another phone/laptop/camera/MP3 player.

Jewelry: Buying on the road is usually easy and makes a good souvenir. Besides, losing valuable or sentimental jewelry really stinks.

Sentimental things: Just not meant for travel.

Expensive non-essential electronics: I know people will fight this to death, but why take a $300 iPod when you can take a $50 generic MP3 player? Why take an electronic translator when you can take a phrase book?

Full-size bath towel: When was the last time you really used the ENTIRE towel. I don’t even pack one anymore. I use a sarong or bandana.

Malaria Tablets: I mention with caution. A lot of times, especially in cities, they really aren’t necessary. Check out our full article on malaria for detailed information.

WeaponWeapons: Most of you are laughing. But one of the most common questions I get asked about travels in Africa was, “Did you bring a gun?” Really people, stop watching TV.

Clothes made of cotton – including jeans: They are bulky, take forever to dry and can literally rot away. Smaller, lighter and faster drying synthetic blends are available.

Fancy clothes or shoes: For so many years I packed a nice outfit and dress shoes. Only to return home having worn them once... maybe. Unless you know you’re going to a black-tie affair, clean clothes will do just fine. After all I did attend the Sydney Opera house in a t-shirt, hiking pants and Tevas.

Travelers checks: Visa, accepted everywhere travelers checks aren’t.

Overly complicated alarm clock: You know the super National Geographic atomic clock automatically set for your time-zone things. Really necessary?

Travel Cancellation Insurance: Try canceling your backpacking trip with no itinerary and the worlds cheapest plane ticket and see how much money you get out of it. Cancellation is for cruise ships and resorts. See our article about insurance for more info.

Fannie Packs (Bum bags): First of all-- silly, just silly. Secondly, they just don’t pack well. Unless you use one at home, don’t bring it with.

Swimsuit: It really depends on where you are going, but my experience has been that most places a sports bra or t-shirt and a pair of shorts work just fine. In some places, it’s more appropriate.

Mosquito Nets: Unless you are going serious backwoods without a tent or a tour guide, you won’t need one. Every time I’ve packed one, I’ve given it away.

Backpacking Items

Bedding: If the bed is dirty, leave. If you can’t leave, sleep in clothes. If you’re paranoid, pack a sheet. I’ll forgive you :)

Hiking bootsHiking boots: Have you weighed your boots lately? Unless you are climbing a serious mountain, a sturdy pair of tennis shoes (trainers) will do just fine.

Rain gear: We carried rain jackets all over Southeast Asia, only to discover that when it rained, we went inside. What a concept. We now carry light weight jackets if we are camping, but otherwise, we leave them home.

Cooking stuff: Most hostels are well outfitted with all types of pots, pans, utensils, etc. In some places, even campgrounds supply full kitchens.


#3 Juergen 2012-12-27 03:47
Mosquito net: I'll never go w/o one backpacking in South East Asia; but a small synthetic one (the ones you buy on a plastic ring = leave the ring at home!), weigh it down with shoes tied to each corner. Nothing more annoying than a net provided by the hostel/bungalow with 10 large holes, and mozzies buzzing around you all night! Weight + space: roughly the same as a pair of thin board shorts.
#2 Agmois 2012-12-15 08:30
I carry my DSLR camera in a fanny pack. I can pull it out in seconds, yet the camera is concealed when carried. Fanny pack is more conspicuous than camera bag. And my fanny pack doubles as a top bag on my backpack. It is also my daypack when I leave the back pack at the hostel. Fanny packs work.
#1 walkingontravels 2011-05-11 06:02
Man you got me on the fancy outfit, toiletries and extra reading. I have FINALLY learned how to pack much better after having a kid. After all, someone now needs space in my suitcase. Dress up clothes are just dumb. Unless I am traveling on business and know I will need them, I skip it. Plus, you can always buy something when you get there if needed.

Toiletries- I agree, Chinese toothpaste and diapers work just as well.

Extra reading- got myself a kindle, although even that I'm now questioning. I'm too tired to read after chasing a kid around China all day. And although I have never and will never use a fanny pack, I appreciate you discouraging their use. Old men on cruise ships use them. That's it.

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