I went solo backpacking for the first time last year and I felt a little overwhelmed by all the travel gadgets being advertised online and in stores. I couldn’t possibly need all of them… right? Now, I’m not the kind of person that just buys everything that looks cool and might be useful. I wanted to pack light and be mindful of what I bought. But in a sea of things that all look useful, what do you take?
With the holidays coming up, I’ve edited and updated this post to include reviews of all the things I brought on my last few trips. Hopefully, this will give you some inspiration for things to put on your wish list or what to get for the traveller in your life. The only thing better than a fun gift, is a fun gift that you can actually use, right? Out of the gadgets I did end up taking, these are the MVP’s and the ones I could have done without:
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Travel gadgets worth buying
These things have made packing and unpacking every few days so much more bearable. I’ve had them for a while, but I only truly learned to appreciate them while I was lugging my stuff around for a few months. Packing cubes allow you to keep your pack organized and so you can actually find that one thing you were looking for without spending half an hour trying to fit everything back in. They come at different prices and different sizes. Mine are super cheap from IKEA and do the job just fine, although it might be worth investing in waterproof ones like these.
Eye mask, neck pillow, and ear plugs
Travel can be exhausting, especially when you’re trying to sleep in noisy hostels, night buses, and long flights. With my eye mask, ear plugs and neck pillow I can literally sleep anywhere, I even had a pleasant nap at Manilla airport when I spend the night there between flights.
I don’t know why every country needs to have a different outlet. It seems like a pretty easy to amend design flaw, but here we are. A good universal adapter will help you charge all your appliances even if the outlet looks like something out of an abstract art piece. They even convert the energy output, so that you don’t fry your hairdryer.
Now, I will be the first to admit that drying off with a microfiber towel is a less than satisfying experience. But there is just no beating the weight and size, so get a nice one that doesn’t feel like plastic wrap. They dry super quick so you won’t have to carry a musty, moist towel around anymore.
You do not want to be stuck in the middle of nowhere or at that stunning viewpoint with a dead phone/camera. A good power bank can tide you over between charging and you can use to charge your phone, camera, tablet or e-book if you’re in a pinch.
Silk sleeping bag liner
I’ll admit that I didn’t actually use this until a month into my trip and it was very close to getting stuck on the list below. Until I ended up in a hostel without sheets or blankets, and I was very glad I packed it anyway. Silk sleeping bag liners are lightweight and soft and especially great for grimy hostels or night transportation in warm countries.
Water bottle with filter
This is one of my newer and already one of my favorite purchases. A reusable water bottle saves money and plastic, so it’s really a no brainer. One of my pet peeves in South East Asia was having to buy bottled water everywhere since I couldn’t drink the tap water.
With the Lifestraw bottle, I can even safely drink from a murky stream if I needed to! And every purchase ensures one year of clean drinking water for a child in need. Sure sounds like a win-win deal to me! Another option is a Grayl, which works by pushing water through a filter. It’s especially practical for hiking. I’ve also purchased a WaterToGo bottle, but haven’t tried it out yet.
A pocket knife is so incredibly useful. I mostly use it to cut and peel fruit and make sandwiches on the go. I have a tiny little one, but with a bigger swiss army knife you truly have everything you need. Swiss army knives are basically the O.G. travel gadget after all. I’ve never had an issue taking my little pocket knife with me in my hand luggage on flights, but bigger knives (over 2 inches) might be a different story.
I love books. I was a very bookish, nerdy teenager and half my suitcase on family vacations was filled with books. Thank god for e-readers so that I don’t have to lug all that paper around anymore. It doesn’t have quite the charm of holding a paper book, but it’s a lot lighter and more environmentally friendly. Some people swear by Kindle, but I prefer my Kobo.
I bought an emaille mug in Austria this summer from Libro. I used it to drink tea and eat breakfast out off (yogurt and granola). It’s a souvenir and travel gadget in one. If you want to save space, consider getting a collapsible travel mug instead, you can even use it on your regular coffee runs as a more sustainable alternative to those Starbucks cups.
Reusable straw and cutlery
While we are on the subject of sustainability: straws and plastic cutlery are really, really bad for the environment. Tons of plastic end up in the ocean every year. I’ve trying hard to be a “greener” traveler and that includes carrying around a reusable straw and cutlery. My straw is a bamboo one I bought in the Philippines, but you can also get a more durable stainless steel one. And what about a lightweight sustainable set of bamboo cutlery for the budget backpacker/camper in your life?
Padlocks always come in handy. You can use them to securely fasten your backpack or suitcase while traveling, so no one goes through your stuff. Most hostels have lockers for valuables, but you need to bring your own padlock to close them. So it’s good to have one instead of paying to borrow one every time.
Travel gadgets I didn’t need
Some people swear by them, I think they’re overkill. I never actually used my money belt for it’s intended purpose, instead, it held my passport and money inside my backpack. For which I could have used any old wallet/folder/envelope.
As long as you keep an eye on your stuff, especially in crowds and public transport, a bag or regular waist bag will do just fine.
I took it because it seemed cool and “survivally”, but I ended up using my phone as a flashlight instead. For my last trip I bought a headlamp which turned out a lot more useful, but only while camping.
What are your favorite travel gadgets? What can’t you live without anymore on the road? Let me know in the comments and if you found this post useful, feel free to share it on social media: