As backpackers, we challenge ourselves to travel as lightly as possible. So, when we’re faced with pricey high-tech organizational systems, quick-dry this and that, and other expensive travel novelties, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Never fear though, because with just a few multipurpose items, you can keep yourself organized and clean for the road ahead. I have found that these same few items, again and again, help me stay sane and keep my things in order when I travel. Some of these might be fairly obvious, but others might come as a surprise to you!
If you’re like me, you probably stay in mostly hotels and small guesthouses. Though it’s not as typical as in hotels, sometimes you’ll get free soaps, shampoos, shower caps, and toothbrushes. My advice to you? Take them. Always. During my travels in Southeast Asia, I avoided paying for toiletries almost entirely because I just kept the ones from my various accommodations. Usually, hotel shampoo is good for at least 3-5 washes, and soap lasts even longer. Why pay for these when they are usually provided free of charge?
Also, shower caps make great organizational tools. I used shower caps I retained from my guesthouses to organize toiletries, small knick-knacks, and even money at some points. There’s really nothing better than practical items that are also free!
I never used drawstring backpacks until recently – but now I try to take one with me whenever I travel. They rock because not only can you carry items in them when you’re walking around, but they’re great for taking to communal showers, which are almost always present in hostels. A third (and my favorite) use for this gem is as a laundry bag. Since they tie tightly, they can compress laundry so that it fits in your backpack quite easily. And, of course, if the drawstring backpack gets dirty or stinky, you can just wash it or chuck it and buy a new one.
Elastic hair ties are one of the most wonderful multipurpose items on the block. Of course, you can tie your hair up with them, but there are dozens of other uses for them. Personally, I use hair ties to compress large items of clothing like jackets, as well as to tie items like my selfie stick to the outside of my daypack. I also use two hair ties as a wrist strap for my GoPro – why buy a $20 strap? I’ve used hair ties in a bunch of other ways as I’ve seen necessary, including locking my zippers and keeping my ukulele strings close to the body of the instrument during transit times. Shuttling around a 50-pack of these can’t hurt!
Ah, socks. Sometimes these are grossest items of clothing you’re shuttling around in your backpack, but sometimes they are the most useful, too. After destroying too many point-and-shoot cameras to count, I started putting them inside of socks to prevent damage from falling out of my bag or clanking against other things nearby. The result? No more broken cameras, and a great pickpocket disguise for all of my small electronics. Though I no longer have a point-and-shoot sized camera, I use socks to protect my iPhone, my external hard drives, and sometimes even my Sony lenses. This system is much cheaper than buying individual protective cases for my items, and works just as well.
Who would have thought that the same thing that held your PB&J sandwiches at lunch during elementary school would also be one of the most useful items for travel? Well, Ziplocs can be used for anything and everything. Holding toiletries, organizing and clothing, carrying electronics chargers, keeping electronics dry in humid environments…the list goes on. If you’re embarking on a long trip soon, do yourself a favor and bring 10 Ziploc bags with you. You’ll find ways to use them anywhere.
Even if you can’t find any Ziplocs where you are in the world, I found that I often hoarded plastic bags (the kind you get when you buy something at a store) throughout my trip as well. These I used as shoe bags, laundry bags, souvenir bags…basically another organizational tool that costs nothing and is very light and disposable.
You might love them. You might hate them. But yes, those thin cotton sarongs that vendors shove in your face at every popular beach destination are actually my number one most useful travel item. I rarely leave home without one now. Other than as a beach cover-up, what can you use a sarong for? Well, here are just a few of the ways I do – as a beach towel, as a bath towel, as a blanket, as a bag, as a changing cover for hostel rooms, and so much more. I’ve used my sarong as a “sleeping bag” when a hostel bed looked more than a little sketchy, and I’ve used it as a blanket on overnight bus rides. It works great as a quick-drying towel and even better as a picnic or beach towel. I’ve used it to carry dirty laundry to the laundromat. I’ve used it as an article of clothing. Yes, the $5 sarong is really an investment in your future as a traveler. Get one and you’ll save money on all of the potential uses these things have to offer. Oh yeah, and sometimes, sarongs can actually be stylish!
Using some of these offbeat tips to keep yourself organized in travel can save you a lot of money, time, and weight in your bag, not to mention sparing you the heartache of not knowing where your things are. Try them out and see for yourself!
What are your essential travel items? Share your expertise in the comments!