Packing List for Adventure Travelers
After several decades of serious adventure travel, a lot of people seek out our advice on what to pack for that upcoming round-the-world adventure. Others often ask us what gifts to buy for a dedicate global explorer. After circling the globe multiple times, it turns out we do have a few ideas on the topic.
Here is a travel list of some of the items and services we have come to love. And I want to emphasize that we actually use all of the brands and services mentioned here. We’ve also linked to the specific items online, so shop away!
For long-term travelers, PackTowl is a godsend. These quick-drying, chamois-like towels dry in even the most absurdly cold or humid locations. We never could have spent 11 months along the Tibetan plateau without a PackTowl. And don’t even think of stepping into the rainforest without one. Sounds like I’m writing an ad, but I love these towels SO much.
Sea to Summit Dry Bags, Ocean Packs and Ziplocs
Years ago while we were traveling through Madagascar, we watched as a freak wave crashed over the side of a boat and took out a traveler’s thousand-dollar camera. Ever since that day, we have been devoted Sea to Summit fans and no packing list should be without their dry bags.
I almost feel like I should sit down and write the makers of Sea to Summit dry bags a thank-you letter. These waterproof bags have saved us on so many occasions that we are now carrying three Sea to Summits each (and I still secretly want more). We use them to protect camera equipment, laptops, clothes, sleeping bags and more. We also carry heavier Ocean Pack dry bags for beach trips, white water rafting and water-hiking.
Beyond the more expensive hiking bags, real Ziploc bags are pure gold in our world, especially the larger bags. We use them for everything from storing leaky shampoo bottles to protecting our Canon PowerShot from sand at the beach. Getting Western-quality bags is not easy in the developing world, so we wash and reuse the ones we brought from the U.S.
Laptop or Tablet
Clearly, we work on the road, so our laptops are essential. But any long-term traveler will soon realize how useful a laptop can be. In addition to doing our work, we use them to Skype friends and family, back up pictures, listen to music, read e-books, watch TV and movies – we literally have hundreds of gigabytes of entertainment with us. It’s also amazing how quickly WiFi is spreading to even the remotest parts of the world. Many budget hotels around the world now offer WiFi for free!
VPN (Virtual Private Network)
We always sign up for a virtual private network when we travel. Virtual private networks help keep your Internet activity, bank info, and credit card numbers secure while you are using public WiFi at hotels or cafes. There are many other advantages as well.
Power Strip with Surge Protector and Universal Adapter with Surge Protector
At first, our ridiculously large power strip with surge protector causes many travelers to laugh when they see us pull it out of the backpack. Right after they stop laughing, they ask us if we have space for them to recharge their iPhones. Budget hotels often seem to have only one outlet, which I suspect is to limit power usage. All too often, that one outlet is already being used for a fan, lamp, TV or air-conditioner. Our little power strip solves that problem in a jiffy. Make sure to add it to your packing list.
Also, we carry a small universal adapter with a built-in surge protector. It is especially important to have an adapter which plugs into any outlet as well as receives any plug, just in case you buy an electrical device while traveling. You wouldn’t believe the number of different plugs on this planet!!!
Perhaps, this sounds a little like surge protector overload but power surges are a huge problem in the developing world and you need to protect your devices. One power surge in India was SO strong that it blew the fuse and then melted the whole surge protector. Our battery charger wouldn’t have survived without that little surge protector.
Silk Cocoon Travel Sheet
Another valuable thing on our packing list is Cocoon’s silk version of their travel sheet; it has proven invaluable during our travels. We used them as sleeping bag liners in the Himalayas, and once we hit the tropics and ditched the bulky bags, the extremely compact travel sheet became our cover of choice.
It’s very useful to have a travel sheet because many Asian hotels do not provide either a top sheet or a blanket. We suspect many air-conditioned hotels do this intentionally to keep Westerners from turning up the air-con for a chilly night of deep sleep. If you carry your own travel sheet, you’re all set.
Good Backpack and Daypack
If you’re serious about getting out and doing some real hardcore travel, this is the most important item on your backpacking list. Tony loved his Arc’teryx Bora trekking backpack in the Himalayas. It’s an awesome choice for climbers and trekkers. Thomas prefers Deuter Aircontact. We both also always use Deuter Gigas, laptop bags which double as great hiking daypacks. For travelers on a budget, we also recommend REI backpacks which we also used for many years.
Good Waterproof 50 Factor Sunblock and 99% Aloe Vera Gel
It’s amazing how many people start traveling with no sunblock or a paltry factor 10. Get waterproof factor 50 (or 60 if you can find it). This should be a basic on every packing list. Whether you’re trekking, temple hopping, or lying on a beach, you need it. And it’s best to get it before you start traveling. Good, inexpensive sunblock in larger bottles is hard to find in the developing world (and when you do, it may be fake).
We also carry concentrated 99% aloe vera gel. Yes it’s sticky, but you can water it down to treat sunburns or dry skin. And in a pinch, it doubles as hair gel. 🙂
Travel fashionistas will scream in disgust, but zip-off pants are a must, especially for visitors to the tropics. Despite daily temperatures which approach those of the surface of the sun, many tropical religious sites from mosques to Hindu temples to Buddhist monasteries insist on long pants. Zip-offs allow you to zip on those pant legs minutes before you enter the front door.
In addition to religious sites, Arctic air-conditioning in third-world buses, malls, government buildings and more may require some temporary full-length pants. And don’t forget, two pairs of zip-offs translate into two pairs of pants and two pairs of shorts. You care less about fashion and more about practicality when you carry your world on your back.
Katadyn Water Filter
We are often in remote areas so a Katadyn backpacking water filter is worth its weight in gold when bottled drinking water is not available. It’s also great for tourist traps where locals jack up the price of drinking water to extortionate rates. (It’s almost worth carrying the filter just to watch greedy locals squirm when you confidently declare you don’t need to buy their bottled water.) However, we do prefer not to use the filter when traveling in regions where industrial waste or pesticide runoff is a problem.
Unlocked GSM Quad-band Cell Phone which Accepts SIM Cards
Carrying a good travel cell phone makes life WAY easier. Travelers need to make sure they have a GSM phone which is unlocked and can accept SIM cards to allow them to take advantage of cheap local rates. A quad-band covering 850/900/1800/1900 MHz will work best internationally. A tri-band will cover most places, but a quad-band is preferable. Americans with older exclusively CDMA phones will not be able to use those abroad.
Universal Sink Stopper
This is one of our secret weapons. A universal sink stopper is a small disk of rubber about the size of a DVD and probably one of the cheapest items on this travel packing list. Few budget and mid-range hotels have bathtubs, but when they do, they almost always “forget” or “have lost” the drain stopper making a bath impossible. Similarly, 90% of the sinks in our hotels do not have a functional stopper. A universal sink stopper makes taking a bath, shaving, doing emergency laundry in your room a whole lot easier.
Google Fi is a great phone plan that offers low-cost cell and data service featuring super international rates as well as service in over 200 countries!!! The best part of Google Fi is that it also allows you to make and receive free phone calls using WiFi without the need to install special apps such as Skype or WhatsApp. So far, the service has worked very well for us and saved us tons of money. Follow our link to Google Fi and get a $20 credit when you sign up for service.
Combination Padlock and Short Length of Chain
A good padlock is always useful. Some hotels in rural areas will not provide a lock for your door. Other hotels have a lock, but allow visitors to double-lock the door with their own padlock for additional security. Many hotels offer metal lock boxes or lockers to store valuable items. A strong combination padlock is preferable, especially if you are traveling as a pair, because you don’t have to worry about losing or sharing a key.
We also carry about ten inches of steel chain which allows us to turn hotel cabinets, wardrobes etc. (anything with metal handles) into impromptu lock boxes. Clearly this is never as secure as a real locker, but it should prevent hotel staff from easily (or quietly) taking something.
A good flashlight is essential in the developing world. Hardly a week goes by without a power outage. We also carry the flashlight with us in our day pack when we go out at night for poorly lit side streets, power outages in restaurants, or any number of unpredictable events.
We started our trip with headlamps, which are quite useful for caves, climbing, or setting up a tent. But in the meantime, we have switched over to stronger handheld flashlights, mostly because we were sick of having insects fly into our faces.
Rechargeable batteries are essential for the 21st century traveler (unless you are traveling without any battery operated devices, in which case congratulations!)
We have tried a number of brands before settling on Eneloop rechargeables which have worked very well for us.
The developing world seems to embrace sleepless nights. Ear plugs will help save your sanity. I literally would have lost my mind without them.
It’s amazing to me how few people travel with their own mosquito nets. And even more amazing how few people use them even when they do have them. I HATE MOSQUITOS, so this is the single most important item on my packing list. To me, sleeping under the protection of a mosquito net is pure joy. By the way, mosquito nets also help keep out rats, mice, frogs, centipedes, spiders, snakes, scorpions, and more. However, they don’t keep out monkeys 🙁
A Good First Aid Kit
But then again, a good first aid kit just might merit a whole post of its own – don’t you think?