Travel Gear – The Definitive Guide
We here at the South East Asia Backpacker are all backpackers ourselves. We’ve all travelled with varying bank balances over the years but consistently return to our budget obsessed roots — I mean, what’s the point in spending hundreds of dollars on a nice hotel that you’re not going to spend much time in anyway?!
As such, we’re always on the lookout for a bargain — but we also understand that cheap gear usually sucks. It tends to fall apart quickly and fail when you really need it. This leaves you having to replace it on the road, creating unnecessary waste and extra costs you haven’t accounted for.
We’ve all used our fair share of crappy travel gear and have concluded that buying high-quality gear from well-respected brands is THE BEST way to do it. Gear you can rely on for multiple long trips is without a doubt worth the initial expense — it works out cheaper in the long run anyway!
Everyone has a different travel style. The gear we’ve tested and reviewed won’t be for everyone. But if you’re a backpacker, a lot of it will be for you!
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What To Pack
You don’t need much to go travelling. A lot of backpackers find the less they take, the more rewarding their experience. Truly essential backpacking gear is limited to money, your passport and travel insurance but you’ll probably want a little bit more than that!
Some backpackers will want a few extra creature comforts and prefer a more luxurious packing list. If this is you, chances are you won’t be able to travel carry on only as your bag will be too big!
Since the COVID pandemic, travel has changed. These days you need to plan ahead and ensure you have your pandemic travel essentials. From hand sanitiser to face masks, travelling on planes and public transport will require a new way of thinking. And if you need to quarantine, you’ll want something to occupy your time! A Netflix subscription, e-reader, yoga mat and fitness app will help keep your mind and body happy!
When it comes to getting everything into your backpack, rolling your clothes is one of the best packing tips you’ll hear. They take up less room when rolled and can be squashed into smaller gaps. It’s also worth filling your spare shoes with pants and socks so you’re not wasting any space!
More Packing Hints and Tips
Are you even a backpacker without a backpack?
Yes. In our opinion, anyone that travels on a budget and spends their money in a way that directly benefits small local businesses is a backpacker. But having a backpack certainly helps!
Most backpackers take two bags travelling. One main travel bag for the bulk of their gear and a smaller daypack which can be used as hand luggage on planes, trains and buses. The daypack can also be used to carry small items for day trips. More minimalist travellers tend to use a collapsible backpack which can be stowed in their main bag when not in use.
Some travellers like to use backpacks with wheels which can be pulled along like suitcases or carried on your back like a rucksack. They’re not as comfortable to wear as a standard backpack but they’re a good compromise if you plan on using the wheels as much as possible!
Having a backpack with a level of water resistance is a good idea too. While waterproof backpacks aren’t necessary for travel, having some protection from the elements will help keep your belongings safe and dry!
Our favourite travel backpacks are the Osprey Farpoint 40 and its sister pack, the Fairview 40. They’re both comfortable to wear and at 40-litres make maximum use of carry-on size limits. The Farpoint is aimed at men, while the Fairview is designed for women. Aside from the torso length and cut of the straps, these two bags are identical.
Travellers wanting to carry a little more gear with them will love the Salkan Backpacker. This old school looking bag comes with a detachable daypack and can carry a ton of stuff. It’s comfortable to wear and easy to pack thanks to the clamshell opening style.
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Travel Clothing and Shoes
You’ll want to take 2-3 pairs of shoes for travelling. A pair of sandals/flip flops, one pair of sneakers and a pair of walking shoes will be plenty! If you’re not much of a sneaker person or don’t plan on doing a lot of walking, two pairs are probably enough!
Our favourite travel shoes are the Tropicfeel Canyons. These lightweight shoes are comfortable and versatile. They can be worn in water, dry super quick, are easy to slip on and breathe well.
Of course, you can’t walk around in just a pair of shoes — you’d be arrested in many parts of the world for that!
You’ll want 2-5 t-shirts, a couple of pairs of shorts and a pair of jeans if you’re going to be somewhere cooler. As for pants and socks, 3-7 pairs of each will keep you going for months — remember, laundry is cheap across much of the world!
If you’re travelling somewhere cold, you’ll also need to think about a puffy jacket, jumpers and base layers. But, if you’re staying in hot climates, leave the bulky warm gear at home!
If you’re travelling in a backpacker hub like Southeast Asia or South America, you’ll probably end up buying a pair of harem pants at some point. While your grandma back home might think you look ridiculous, you’ll fit right in at any hostel!
A lot of travel gear isn’t strictly necessary but it makes your trip easier, cheaper and sometimes, more eco friendly!
Knowing what plastic-free travel essentials are available can go a long way to reducing your impact on the environment. The same is true for filtered water bottles. They save you having to buy single-use water bottles every day which saves both your wallet and the earth!
Our favourite filtered water bottle has always been the Grayl Geopress. However, recently Grayl released a new bottle, the Grayl UltraPress. You can read a comparison of the two bottles here! Both are purifiers. They remove viruses as well bacteria, protozoa and particulates from the water, allowing you to drink tap water no matter where you are!
Universal travel adaptors allow you to use power outlets no matter where you are in the world. They’re great for countries like Thailand where you can find five different types of plug socket!
Head torches are some of the most underrated pieces of travel gear. They can be used to navigate a full dorm room at 4 am or to illuminate a dark trail on an early morning hike. They weigh very little and don’t take up much space. It’s worth cramming one of these into your backpack!
There’s also a range of travel apps designed to make your trip easier. Everything from offline maps and translation tools to currency converters and on-demand taxi apps are available in the respective app stores.
More About Travel Accessories
Talk to any old school backpacker and they’ll tell you that electronics have ruined travel. And while we all have a romantic notion of exploring the world using nothing but our wits and a few scraps of advice from other brave adventurers, that’s not the reality of backpacking anymore.
Electronics haven’t ruined travel, they’ve changed it. In some ways, it’s much better now. Having a laptop or phone allows you to book accommodation in advance, check reviews for tours and ensure you’re not waiting hours at the bus station. Having a good camera allows you to take amazing photos to remember your trip by. Although, to be honest, most backpackers don’t need a good camera. Smartphone cameras are exceptional these days.
In other ways, electronics have changed travel for the worse. There’s less interaction between backpackers in hostels. No one needs to talk to each other for entertainment anymore, all the dopamine you could ever need is stored up in your smartphone just waiting to be released.
There’s also less interaction between travellers and locals. Why ask questions when you can just google something?
We all need money to make backpacking a reality and saving for travel before you leave is a skill in itself.
But being able to save money on the road helps too! Choosing the right travel card is a good place to start. These can reduce your ATM fees and allow you to save different currencies all in the same account!
For British travellers, Starling is our favourite travel card provider. Their mobile bank account can be set up in just a few minutes and there are no ATM fees at their end.
Backpackers from mainland Europe say Revolut as their favourite mobile bank, although N26 is a close second. Revolut also provide accounts for residents of the USA, Singapore, Australia, Japan and Switzerland. Travellers from the rest of the world can open an account with Wise (formerly Transferwise).
As with all things money, there are some unavoidable costs. Visas are one and travel insurance is another. It’s foolish to travel without insurance and currently illegal in many countries. Our favourite travel insurance provider is SafetyWing. They offer a subscription-based insurance policy that keeps rolling until you cancel. It’s aimed at long term travellers and digital nomads which means they know exactly what backpackers need from their insurance policy!
Don’t stress too much about your kit. As we’ve already covered, high-quality gear is a great investment but the most important gift you can give to yourself is that trip of a lifetime.
Here at South East Asia Backpacker, we’d rather you wear all your old clothes, pack an old bag and use your money to get out and see the world. That’s the point of travel after all!