When you carry all of your possessions in a small pack on your back, you need to pick those few possessions carefully. After a solid 12 months of traveling, we have narrowed down a list of our top 9 essentials – and these are items outside of your typical clothes, passport, socks, etc. Without the further unnecessary but fun blog-like blather that I’m so addicted to writing, here they are – listed in an unranked order of awesomeness.
ExOfficio Underwear – You’ve never really experienced underwear until you’ve tried ExOfficio. This stuff is lightweight, breathable, moisture wicking and smell resistant. Made of a super comfy mesh-like material, it feels almost like wearing athletic shorts, but totally better. You can wash it in the sink, and it will be dry in about an hour. When you don’t know how long you’re going to be in the wilderness, or how long you will have until your next laundry stop, this stuff is the bomb. Plus, it just feels great. And looks great. And smells not smelly.
“Camera+” App for iPhone – Many people travel with a high quality camera. Not a bad option, though these can be heavy, can take up tons of space and have a tendency to walk away faster than any other items travelers carry. We, however, just use our iPhones, and it works surprisingly great. This app allows you to not only play with the exposure and aperture of your shots, but you can touch up and edit your photos immediately after taking them. Our result is, well, all of the pictures that we have posted on the blog (minus the rare exception here and there that we have ganked from traveler friends in post-adventure picture swaps). Pictures are an excellent way of journaling, so might as well make those photos the best that you possibly can.
Kindle Paperwhite – Before the invention of eReaders, travelers would swap books at hostels and other places, leaving the one they just finished to pick up a new one for the next week or two. The only issue with this is that your are subject to the selection of books present before you. To put it eloquently, this selection sucks. Always. It’s just terrible, because all of the good books are already in the hands of other travelers who got there before you and then gave it to that guy who wasn’t you. With a kindle – and yes, you need THIS specific kindle – you can not only read good books while traveling, but you never have to worry about a swap. It holds up to 10,000 books (I currently have 309 on mine), has a 2 month battery life, and this kindle has a built in non-backlit light that won’t hurt your eyes and allows you to read in the dark without a flashlight (say WHAAAAAAT?!?). Oh and eBooks are cheaper than print books. It has changed travel reading forever. Go get one, like right now.
Travel Speaker – It doesn’t really matter what brand you have or how much you payed for it, as long as your travel speaker packs up small, has decent battery life, and actually functions. We bought ours in Bolivia for $7 and it has been incredible. Examples of amazingness: listening to James Brown’s ‘Get on up’ and ‘Stay on the Good Foot’ while sport climbing in Hatun Machay, blasting Metallica’s cover of ‘Turn the Page’ at the top of a freezing 4850m pass on HuayHuash, and distracting your new friend during the card game Six with your killer Bolivia playlist, allowing you to ensure that they lose and you win – because, well, that’s what friends do! Music is essential – and sometimes headphones just ain’t gonna cut it.
Utility Knife (with Wine Screw) – Be it a Leatherman, a Swiss Army pocket knife, a Gerber, or some other brand, it’s got all the tools you will inevitably need. The screwdriver to undo the poor constructed locker where your key is locked in with all of your stuff. The can opener for that can of tuna that was so cheaply made the little lid handle snapped off during your ‘we just summited this mountain’ snack. The saw, so you can saw things that need sawing. A knife, so that you can sever the rope attached to your buddy while climbing the north face of Siula Grande and ‘cut’ your losses. But most importantly, you need that wine screw when embarking on a 28 hour bus from Bariloche to El Calafate – because 28 hours is a perfect time for 3-4 bottles of delicious Argentinian wine that cost less than a jar of peanut butter.
Duffle Bag w/ Lock – “What do you mean you don’t have lockers? What do you mean your storage room is right next to the unlocked front door? What do you mean ‘all the rum is gone?!?'” It sucks when you get to that hostel that just isn’t very safe, and you have to leave your laptop and camera and passport behind while you summit that snow-capped beast that’s been taunting you from the street for the past 4 days. We found (read: stole the idea from Bram, the Dutchy) a solution of sorts – a giant Duffle Bag that fits all the stuff left behind ’cause it’s ginormous, has the ability to be locked by a padlock, and is made of this durable material that would have to be sliced open with a knife. 100% thief proof? No. But said thief would have to be really ambitious. Plus, it’s nice to place your large backpack into this duffle when you toss it underneath (or on top of) those oh-so-clean South American buses.
Brainscapes “Spanish!” App – Unless you are spending tons of time in Brazil, you are going to have to deal with Spanish. Your life will be that much easier the more you can speak. Especially in the countries where you need to bargain – aka, all of them. Many travelers (ourselves included) will take some time to take a formal spanish class. But for the majority of your travels, you will be out doing activities, with incredible people, in gorgeous places, and you don’t have time to be sitting in class, flipping through notes, and doing homework. The Spanish! App for your iPhone is baller – It costs you $10 and allows you to rate different categories of flashcards based on how well you know the material, which determines the frequency with with you will see the card again.
Packing Cubes – The absolute worst is having a top loaded pack, which you loaded in about 28 seconds with all of the things you own, and then suddenly realizing that your socks are buried somewhere near the bottom, and you needed to leave 5 minutes ago to catch the last bus of the week out of that small jungle town where you have been reduced to a walking buffet for mosquitos. GAH! However, if you are really super smart and always have ingenious ideas, you will have packed all of your clothes into packing cubes. Even if some have dirty clothes, some have cold-weather clothes, or you just smashed your apparel into them in random order, you know where all your clothes are, and you don’t have to do any sifting. This way, you can unload your pack, unzip the correct cube, retrieve the socks and save everyone on the bus the agony of enduring your rotten-little-piggy stench, stuff the cubes back in and still catch your bus. Like a champion.
Portable Lithium Battery – Sometimes you just don’t have access to electricity – like when you’re out hiking boss peaks in the Andes for 8 days. Sometimes you do have access to a socket, but you don’t trust that your iPhone or your camera or your super sexy way-larger-than-pocket-sized old school gameboy won’t walk away if you leave it charging all day in the hostel common room while you’re galavanting around the city doing all of the things. This is when a battery comes in handy. You charge it once, and it will recharge all of your electronics when you need them most. We like to pretend that we aren’t addicted to our electronic devices, but truth is we kind of are. It’s nice to be in a tent in the middle of nowhere and have all your books accessible on your kindle. And it’s nice to have photos of all the remote places you visit. With this battery, you never have to worry about not having enough juice to do the things we need to do.