15 must-have travel essentials that I always put on my packing list!
Packing for a trip abroad can always be a bit daunting.
You don’t want to overpack, but you don’t want to under pack and forget anything.
Luckily the more you travel, the easier packing becomes as you realize what stuff you ACTUALLY need and what stuff you can leave at home.
After traveling on and off for a few years, I’ve developed this list of my 15 travel essentials that I always put on my packing list for any trip abroad.
These are all items that I’ve personally used and can highly recommend. (I’ll include Amazon links where necessary!)
This is a BUDGET TRAVEL BLOG, so obviously, I wouldn’t be buying these things if I didn’t actually use them.
And I believe all of these items end up saving you money in the long run.
So here are 15 travel essentials that I always add to my packing list!
15 Travel Essentials To Add To Your Packing List
From comfortable and functional clothes, to headphones, books, and water bottles, here are the best travel accessories that I ALWAYS pack for a trip abroad.
These are things that are generally hard to find on the road. Things like toiletries and snacks can usually be bought anywhere.
Considering going abroad long term? Check out my guide to moving abroad in 14 steps!
1. Microfiber Towel
This is honestly a traveler’s dream. Rather than packing a big, bulky towel that takes ages to dry, a microfiber towel is thin, rolls up super small, and dries very quickly.
The feel of a microfiber towel can take some getting used to. It’s not soft and fluffy like a normal towel.
But the quick-drying and lightweight material will eventually win you over.
2. Reusable Water Bottle
Guys, we really need to stop buying plastic water bottles.
They are wasteful and not necessary if you are traveling in Europe, Australia, North America, or any other country with free clean drinking water.
Buy one or two sturdy stainless steel drink bottles that keep your water cold and save you from having to constantly buy water.
3. Water Bottle With Built-In Filter
If you’re traveling in a country where the water is not safe to drink, sometimes as a last resort you have to buy bottled water.
I’ve done it before, but you can still save money and the planet by buying a water bottle with a built-in filter.
These bottles are a bit pricier, but worth it in the long run. The filter inside the bottle cleans the water so it is safe to drink, meaning you can refill it anywhere.
Read next: Work Exchange – The Cheapest Way To Travel
4. Small Backpack For Day Trips
Having a small backpack to take for a day trip is a must. I’ve forgotten to pack this a few times and always regretted it.
Even if you’re just heading out to explore for the day, you want a bag that can fit your wallet and phone but also your bigger items like a water bottle, camera, packed lunch, extra sweatshirt, etc.
A drawstring bag will do, but a small backpack is comfier and more durable.
Example of a classic day bag for active travelers: Nature Hike Small Rainproof Backpack
5. Rain Jacket
A rain jacket is absolutely one of my favorite travel essentials.
Over the years I’ve realized that umbrellas are bulky, they break easily, they don’t do well in windy weather, and they are inconvenient when walking through crowded streets.
Having a good quality rain jacket that keeps you dry and warm in the rain AND keeps your hands free is great.
(Sorry guys these links are for female jackets, but you can easily browse for the male equivalent on Amazon).
Perfect for hot, humid weather: Lightweight Rain Jacket from Columbia
For cold weather: Fleece-lined Rain Jacket from Columbia
6. Hiking Boots
A sturdy pair of hiking boots can save your life (literally) in certain terrains. They provide better foot support, better traction, and overall more comfort for hiking.
They take up lots of space though, so I’d only put them on your packing list if you are active and plan on actually hiking.
I didn’t pack my hiking boots when I went to Guatemala last year, thinking I’d be chilling by Lake Atitlan the whole time. I ended up hiking a volcano and cursing myself for not packing my boots.
There are so many different options for hiking boots that fit different genders and preferences, so actually take the time to browse and pick the ones that suit you best.
But here is the link to the boots I’ve had for years, and I love them.
Read about my favorite hikes around the world here!
A sarong is a lightweight and versatile thing to pack for traveling.
If you are visiting religious countries, a sarong is useful for draping over the shoulders or wrapping around the waist to cover the knees when entering churches or temples.
It can also be used as a beach cover-up, a towel or a picnic blanket.
I recommend just buying one when you arrive in the country. Especially in places like Southeast Asia, they are super cheap and come in lots of beautiful patterns.
8. Space Saving Travel Storage Bags
If you need to pack lots of bulky winter clothes, or if you are packing for a long trip and have A LOT of clothes, this is one of the best travel essentials to have.
These bags allow you to pack in lots of soft clothing, then press and squeeze out the air so they consume less space.
This works like a charm for thick sweaters and winter jackets, but for small, light summer clothes or short trips it’s not really necessary.
There are lots of different brands, but these ones that don’t require a vacuum are more convenient.
9. Good Quality Camera
This is one of the most important travel essentials, and I am embarrassed about how long it took me to buy a high-quality camera for traveling.
If you’ve seen any of my blog posts before June 2018, you’ll notice that the photos are SHIT! Sorry for the language but I am appalled at myself for traveling to so many gorgeous places and pretending that my grainy, blurry camera-phone photos were good enough for a travel blog.
Moral of the story: if you’re traveling, invest in a good camera. It is worth it. Your photos will be so much better, even if you aren’t a blogger.
A new, high-quality iPhone is probably just as good, but there’s something satisfying about snapping shots with an actual camera.
Deciding which camera to buy is overwhelming. I did lots of research when I bought my first DSLR camera.
Here are a few of the detailed articles that helped me:
Personally, I chose the Canon EOS Rebel t5 for my first real camera and it’s been great so far.
It’s a straightforward, easy beginner camera and it cost me less than $400 to buy a renewed one.
Headphones are obviously essential to any packing list.
Whether you use them to block out the sound of the guy snoring next to you in your hostel, or to entertain yourself on long bus rides, headphones make traveling better.
The type of headphones you get just depends on personal preference.
I do want to recommend one specific brand that isn’t your typical type of headphone: SleepPhones.
Picture a velvety black headband with flat speakers built into the fabric.
So you can lay your head against a window or a pillow comfortably while listening to music. AND the band blocks out the light like an eye mask as well.
They are quite expensive, but they make a great gift and you’ll use them forever.
11. Universal Plug Adaptor
If you are traveling abroad, you’ll most likely need a plug adaptor.
It’s kind of inconvenient that different countries have different shaped outlets. But it’s something we have to live with.
I used to have about 5 different adaptors floating around and taking up space.
But I recently bought a universal plug adaptor and it’s become one of my favorite travel essentials.
This one cube allows you to plug in your devices and change the settings so it will fit a power outlet in any country.
Such a genius idea. And they’re not even expensive.
12. Debit Card with No Foreign Transaction Fees
If you travel consistently, or you’d like to start traveling more, it is definitely worth signing up with a bank that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees.
That means you can make international purchases or withdraw cash from foreign ATMs without any extra fees.
Discover Bank, Chase Bank, Charles Schwab, and Capital One all offer great international accounts without fees if you’re from the US.
Another option is getting a travel credit card, where you can gain points and discounts for travel expenses. Check out the article “Best Travel Credit Card of 2023” from money.com for more detailed information on that!
Read next: How To Save Money For Travel
13. Travel Insurance
Every seasoned traveler tells you to buy travel insurance before a trip.
I ignored this advice for many years, thinking I was invincible and it was too expensive.
For the first time, I actually bought myself travel insurance before visiting South Africa, and I would have ended up with $700 worth of medical bills if I didn’t buy the insurance.
So after that experience, I’d say you should buy travel insurance.
Check out my Budget Traveler’s Guide to Travel Insurance for more details on this topic.
But my quick recommendation for a good travel insurance company would be Squaremouth Insurance, as I had a positive experience with them.
But do lots of your own research before buying a plan. Squaremouth Insurance has a really helpful live chat on their website, so I was able to ask them a million questions before committing.
14. Student ID Card
If you’re a student, or you were recently, always pack your student ID card while traveling.
Lots of attractions, including museums, restaurants, bars, clubs, and shops, have student discounts available. Sometimes the discount cuts the price in half.
I sometimes still use my student ID card for discounts even though it expired years ago.
Sometimes people don’t check the date, they just look at the photo and the school name.
If they do check the date, the worst thing that happens is you don’t get the discount. It’s worth a shot!
Read next: How To Survive A Full Year Of Study Abroad
15. Visa (if necessary)
Depending on where you’re from and where you’re going, you may need a visa for traveling.
Usually, visas are quick and easy to obtain online or upon arrival. Sometimes they’re free, sometimes not.
I find the website iVisa.com to be very helpful for checking visa requirements for different countries.
Sometimes Google searches for visa requirements can be confusing, with lots of different answers contradicting each other.
So iVisa is straightforward and easy to use.
If you want, iVisa will even lodge your visa application for you.
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So those are my 15 travel essentials that I always add to my packing list.
I usually travel with the bare minimum. So the fact that I pack or purchase all these things means they are actually useful.
In addition to these specific items, make sure you have:
- A good travel backpack
- Comfortable clothing and footwear
- Toiletries less than 100mL (3 oz) when only packing carry-ons
With that, you should be good to go!
If you want some more budget travel tips, check out these articles:
This post may contain affiliate links. Read more about this in my About Me page!