Backpacking Tales: Top Five Things I Would Fight to Keep

It hurt to wear socks.
This is why I would fight someone for my itch cream.

When I traveled through Latin America, I had a 65L pack full of stuff. But I quickly learned what were my absolute essentials: things I felt I couldn’t live without, worked hard to protect or were determined to fight for if someone tried to rob me.

Here they are, in no particular order:

  1. Smartphone
    It’s a computer in your pocket. Email, IM, music, GPS plus specialized apps like WeatherEye, HostelworldKayak, WhatsApp, Currency and Ultralingua’s language dictionaries were all incredibly useful. My iPhone was the best way to keep in regular contact with my parents, research destinations, connect with new friends and get the latest This American Life episode.
  2. Passport
    Helped me cross borders, track countries, figure out time and became a souvenir in itself. Often left it at the hostel. When in doubt, carry it in a waist-belt or secret pocket to avoid theft.
  3. Memory cards
    All cameras are replaceable, but your photos are not. I kept full memory cards and backed-up versions in my money belt next to my passport. Bring the biggest ones you can and back them up regularly. You never know what you might need the extra space for, or when you might accidentally lose one.
  4. Journals
    You might not be a writer, but having a journal also helps you keep track of expenses, places, details and contact information of new friends. Writing in a journal regularly also helps you note down memories, moments or details you would otherwise forget, like the name of a flower you encountered on a hike or a weird movie on your bus. You can definitely do this on a laptop, tablet or smartphone, but I prefer using a good old fashioned notebook like a Moleskine. All you really need is something you like that’s durable and easy to write in. Paper-based notebooks have an advantage over gadgets because they never need to be charged.
  5. Benadryl extra-strength anti-itch cream
    This stuff is simply the best. Face it, bug spray doesn’t always work and sometimes you simply forget to put it on. Having this cream on you means you can quickly and easily deal with the nastiest bites and rashes. Anything else (even the Benadryl stick) pales in effectiveness.

What are your travel essentials?

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