Photo: Wong's Bar, Bangkok.

Idle banter forum

Top 5 things you can't travel without...

Posted by bettysheis on 3/3/2010 at 04:26

Hello all, I've posted this in travel gear, but then thought it might be better suited to idle banter! Forgive me if this has been discussed. I did the search but found nothing...

As I'm am yet to arrive on my first vist to Asia (60 days not that I'm counting!!) I was wondering in any of you more experienced travellers have a list of 5 things or so that you can't travel without?

I'm not just thinking of things that are essential (insect repellent, sunscreen etc) but also things that help you interact with people- i was thinking little sweets for the kids or mini photo albums as a conversation starter, and also things that just generaly make you more comfortable/happier on the road.

I have no experience at all (yet!) so i'm really interested to see what inspirational things you may have to offer!!

Any opinions greatly recieved.

Thanks, Betty x

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Posted by gingermark on 3/3/2010 at 09:35

I think the general advice from most organisations is to avoid giving sweets to kids as the dental care in much of Asia is poor, and it encourages begging.

Photos of family members, your home town etc would probably be a good idea. I've seen some people travel with cuddly toys, garden gnomes aren't unheard of - mascots basically, although I suspect this might help you socialise with westerners more than locals.

On the practical side, I couldn't travel without my moneybelt. As far as things that make me happier on the road, whilst not terribly social, a portable music player is a must, especially if you are traveling through Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia or Laos, where the bus drivers seem to determined to play awful karaeoke vids as loud as possible, and you need to the music player to drown it out...

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Posted by riffraf on 3/3/2010 at 11:38

Top 5 Essentials

1. A genuine smile and the patience that comes with it. This won't always be easy -- and at times may seem truly impossible -- but the rewards are worth the effort. Breathe, you are alive.

2. Pen and notebook for words and phrases you pick up along the way. Trying to learn as much of the local language(s) as possible is a great way to break the ice, and you'll surely have young and old in stitches with your earnest mispronunciations.

3. Comfortable, cheap rubber flip-flops. You'll be taking your shoes off before entering temples, mosques and homes -- and in many regions even restaurants and shops -- leaving them just outside the entrance. Comfort is key here, because once you find a pair that won't give you blisters the shoes your brought from home will find their way to the bottom of your pack. And the cheaper the slippers are, the more likely it is that they'll still be there waiting for you when you're done admiring altars, mihrabs, et al.

4. Dry bag. The smaller, supple kind seem to work best. Just big enough for the stuff that can't get wet -- like notebook, camera, headlamp -- plus room key and a bit of cash. Can be clipped to water bottle for ultra-light excursions.

5. Large refillable bottle and water purification tablets. Garbage disposal is far from a delicate science in Southeast Asia. There are, however, terrible heaps of plastic and styrofoam trash nearly everywhere... and the growth rate seems exponential. Still, the idea that it's their own home that's being choked to death with this non-biodegradable waste hasn't hit many people yet. It's starting to sink in, though some feckless restauranteurs still won't refill your bottle because they'd rather sell you a 500ml Aqua... even if you've just ordered a large meal. But with a little effort you can easily cut down on the bottled water bad habit -- and you'll be drinking a LOT of water in the tropics. If you're staying in one place for a few days consider buying one of the industrial size water bottles, since these are reused and recycled. Leaving a minimal footprint in this breathtakingly beautiful part of the world has to make you feel good, right?

Congratulations on your upcoming to visit Southeast Asia, bettysheis! It certainly won't be your last, and you may just decide to stay.

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Posted by DLuek on 3/3/2010 at 12:04 TF writer

Call me a minimalist, but here goes...

1. journal/pens
2. good travel research (guides)
3. phrasebook(s)
4. camera
5. a small hand-knit stuffed turtle (named Morty) that was a gift from a fellow traveler years ago and has gone everywhere I've gone since then, for good luck :)

Beyond that it's all essentials - a small amount of clothes, a pair of flip-flops, a toothbrush, soap, toilet paper (that almost made the top 5 - napkins are not so common in SE Asia), passport, travel insurance statement, bank card, some US cash, that's about it... It's better to leave extra space in your pack for the things you're going to want to bring home, rather than filling it with useless stuff for while you're over there.

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Posted by somtam2000 on 3/3/2010 at 17:35 admin

Good tips!
For me, the following:

a) No preconceived ideas
b) a ball of string (fixing mozzie nets, tying up annoying children)
c) notebooks and lots of pens (not to give away, but I lose pens all the time)
d) Plastic/dry bags


A note of the giving candy thing, last week, the traveller I was on the boat with gave the kids as Samphan some crayons -- they tried to eat them, thinking they were candy...

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Posted by Tilapia on 3/3/2010 at 21:08

1) A journal with unlined paper for use as a diary, address book, recipe book, stamp book, and just about everything else I may want to write down or stick into it. Also lots of pens, a glue stick, and a small pair of scissors. I realize that is 4, but I consider them as a package.
2) Small photo album with photos of family and home.
3) Camera with an extra battery and a portable tripod.
4) A very compact, nylon hammock.
5) Light nylon rope and clothes pegs (for drying clothes, and for stringing up the hammock). Never thought of using the rope for subduing kids. Thanks for that, Somtam.

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Posted by christay2009 on 3/3/2010 at 23:23

1) a good quality torch! this was pretty helpful when guesthouses either didn't have electricity after a certain time OR their bathrooms had no lights OR when staying overnight in a village [on a trek!]. My maglite was invaluable
2) a travelfish t-shirt is a good way to make friends - "oh wow, travelfish!!"
3)phrasebook - not being afriad to use it and get everything wrong!
5) those trousers that turn into shorts! i usually kept the trouser/shin part with me if i thought there might be a possibility of going into temples. Easily zipped on if needed and no need to walk around in silly heat in trousers.

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Posted by Tilapia on 5/3/2010 at 13:17

Oh ya ... a headlamp. Forgot about that.

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Posted by MADMAC on 6/3/2010 at 11:12

Man, you guys take a lot of interesting things.

I don't stay in crappy places without electricity unless I am on a combat patrol - and I don't do those anymore. So, I never take a mag light. If you think you might be styaing in places without power, then I agree with Christy that they're useful.

I do not wear shorts EVER. I like full length pants which protect my legs from insects and, on the rare occassion and I am moving through vegetation from things that would give me nasty rashes.

Also, for the same reason, I don't wear sandals or any type of open top footwear. I don't find it that hot here, and I find it uncomfortable riding my chopper with me (which I do every day) and they offer no protection against insect bites.

Because I do not leave my skin exposed, I do not use insect repellent, so I don't need to carry that either.

Phrase book or dictionary is great. I strongly advise carrying one. Helps with communication problems.

Obviously most people want happy snaps to remember their trip with, so a small camera that fits in a cargo pocket is a cool thing to have.

I would buy a telephone and SIM card here and keep it in case of emergencies. You can get them pretty cheap.

Please don't listen to the people who tell you not to bring many clothes (or at least buy enough while you're here). I can't tell you the number of backpackers who have walked past me on a bus and are just plain ripe. Nobody wants to sit next to that. This is the tropics, it's how, you're going to sweat. I normally use two shirts a day. If you plan to go get a massage, then shower first and put on clean clothes. Wear perfume or cologne. The funky tourist syndrome, who takes the grunge look to the next step of just being grungy, is gross.

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Posted by bettysheis on 7/3/2010 at 03:49

Ha thanks everyone you've given a lot to ponder over! Really don't want to be a smelly backpacker Madmac, so will especially bear that in mind!

I see what you mean about encouraging begging and poor dental care regarding the kids. Think that's the side of things that is going to be the biggest culture shock / tugger at the heart strings for me as i have worked with small children in the UK.

Really enjoyed reading your replies- thanks for posting. 20 days til i hand my notice in at work! So Exciting!


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Posted by jasonkim8486 on 7/3/2010 at 04:37

mp3 player for those long bus journeys!!

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Posted by MADMAC on 7/3/2010 at 11:16

Have a great trip. I love this part of the world - not as much as I love Africa, but I still love it.

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Posted by neosho on 8/3/2010 at 11:43

Madmac.....Ubon is running 38-39C right now. You don't find that hot? Bettysheis...don't buy the Thai fisherman pants that even the Thais don't wear.

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Posted by MADMAC on 8/3/2010 at 12:12

No, I don't find it hot at all. Yesterday I was playing chess when a friend came by and said it was 104 in the shade. I hadn't even noticed. The heat was dry and didn't seem oppressive at all. Like I said, East Africa was much hotter than this (Had a high of 132 when I was there - very toasty and comparable to Death Valley). Really, I was wearing jeans yesterday and it was fine.

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Posted by Thaiman on 9/3/2010 at 14:43

There's one thing that has'nt been mentioned I find absolutely necessary and that's the good old toilet tissue.You never know when you're going to need it.

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Posted by caseyprich on 9/3/2010 at 16:19

1. Flashlight (torch)
2. Tissue Paper
These two usually work together
3. A book with many pages and small font (and a pen)
i pass on journalism but if i need to make a note i can
write it in the book.
4. Medicines - ImodiumAD, IBprofine, Tums
These all come in handy on bus rides
5. A towel
I gotta go with Douglas Adams on this
many places provide one, but it has many
uses everywhere.

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Posted by francesstella on 10/3/2010 at 03:17

5 things I had to ship home/give away/chuck within a week because they turned out to be an utter waste of luggage-carrying stamina:

1. All the clothes I packed "just in case". As it turned out, I never did get an invite to a gala whereby I'd need to wear a full-length gown (duh...).

2. A sleeping bag. Unsurprisingly, most guesthouses in SEA provide mattress & bed linen. (Having said this, my travel buddy Lambro was almost devoured by bed bugs so a silk sleeping sheet might not be such a stupid idea.)

3. Books. I packed 3 months worth of reading. Little did I know you can't swing a dead cat in SEA without bumping into a decently stocked, decently priced bookshop/market stall/vendor abounding in English literature. I would suggest carrying 1 book at a time, maybe a second one for backup.

4. Plug adaptor. Pretty useless since the 4 countries I visited use the same kinda plugs we have at home in Italy.

5. Socks. Don't go well with flip flops.

Au contraire, the things I found to be infinitely useful were:

1. My trusty pen knife.

2. Converse trainers: lightweight, reasonably sturdy, dry quickly after climbing out of wrong side of a boat.

3. Cargo pants bought on day 2 in BKK.

4. Dylon Travel Wash: £0,99 from Boots. Saved me on several occasions from smelling like aforementioned backpacker, particularly considering my new-found love for cargo pants. Terrific detergent power!

5. Travel pillow. (A really good one, earned me several envious looks on more than one journey.)

Have a fabulous time, wish I could say "See you there"!

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Posted by MADMAC on 10/3/2010 at 09:58

I am with Frances here on the Cargo pants.... absolutely. I actually use the cargo pockets here.

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Posted by ignacio on 10/3/2010 at 14:47

1. A light backpack. As Madmac noted, you'll sweat like a pig. My solution: bringing breathable t-shirts and polos (the Climacool kind), they are light, will keep you cool, don't get bad odors and dry fast.

2. Breathable, waterproof hiking boots, for all needs. I also keep cheap flip flops to use in the beach, hotel room,...

3. iPhone (or any other phone with wifi capacity). I don't like using PCs in internet cafes, prefer to use wifi when available. Also useful to check maps and provide reading material without having to carry books with you. If the trip is long you can always buy a SIM card and use the phone.

4. Towel. I always carry a white lungi (handmade white cotton sheet) I got in India a long time ago. It's light and dry fast.

5. Ziploc bags. I carry all of my stuff (money, passports, hygiene,...) in those. Light, transparent and waterproof.

#19 ignacio has been a member since 10/3/2010. Posts: 3

Posted by bettysheis on 14/3/2010 at 01:36

I honestly cannot thank everyone enough for all this good advice. I'm looking forward to being able to share my own stories with you in a few months!

I love travelfish.

#20 bettysheis has been a member since 15/2/2010. Posts: 7

Posted by Sampan on 18/3/2010 at 06:50

Maybe its to late to add something useful to this thread, but here it goes anyway;

1. one pair of durable and very comfortable footwear. Walks easily gets way longer than planned.

2. A towel. The one and only thing you really when travelling, according to "The hitch-hiker's guide to the galaxy".

3. A god quality multi-tool, Leatherman or similar. Good for anything, from opening coconuts to repairing sunglasses.

4. pen and notepad.

5. a small med. supply for minor wounds and and conditions, like fever, diarrhoea etc.

Hope you will have a good trip!

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Posted by hutty on 18/3/2010 at 12:12

1. pocketknife
2. phone - stay in touch with people you meet easily. You would be surprised how many people have phones with them and a local SIM
3. netbook (for music, emails and watching and swapping movies with other travelers). I know a lot of people scorn taking a laptop with you, but I have traveled quite a bit and now would not without one.
4. elastic pegless clothesline - essential
5. pocket camera

I would suggest also don't take any clothes that are a little loose or too big. You wont fit them after 3 weeks.

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Posted by laallee on 29/3/2010 at 06:31

one ounce of gold

the last two will always get you home!

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Posted by KazAussie on 30/3/2010 at 14:51

My 2 dongs worth

Comfy breathable sandals (I can't wear thongs)
1 guide book that you have written all over because you have done your research on the internet
Three quarter pants and light cotton tops
Money pouch

Don't take any expensive stuff, forget jewellery, expensive backpacks etc it only gives you more to worry about.

I travelled for a month in Vietnam with one small "sausage" bag. It weighted less than 7 kilos - and I still had room for small items I bought along the way. Shopped until I dropped in Hoi An and bought a suitcase for $22 to fit the five business suits and 7 pairs of shoes I bought ;-). This was only a couple of days before we left.

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Posted by MADMAC on 31/3/2010 at 12:58

If we add up all of the things instead of five we end up with some 50 things you can't travel without. Funny. Guess we all have different priorities.

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Posted by mikethediver on 19/4/2010 at 16:52

I never travel without:
1. Travel kettle
2. Coffee maker (metal)
3. metal mugs
4. Tea bags (ground coffee is really good & cheap in Cambodia & Laos)
5. Up words (a board game that my girlfriend & I play endlessly)

Can't get started without a cup of tea in the morning before venturing out!

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Posted by travelsalone on 28/5/2010 at 23:25

1. Duct Tape - multiple uses - rolling a small wad off the roll makes it lightweight and small.
2. small, even tiny, flashlight even if you don't plan on staying in places without electricity - you never know.
3. antibiotic cream (such as Neosporin)- good for scratches, jellyfish stings...
4. feminine products if you want something specific
5 silk sleep sheet - lightweight, keeps you off skanky bedding, can be worn as a sarong

#27 travelsalone has been a member since 19/3/2006. Location: Thailand. Posts: 41

Posted by Sophia_India on 2/6/2010 at 18:17

I always take a bathplug whenever travelling in Asia - especially India.

A small blanket/scarf thing - good for using as a cover, to keep warm, a pillow etc.....


Plug Adaptor - i had such troubles trying to find one in rural Thailand!

A travel book

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Posted by andrea13 on 30/7/2010 at 01:21

1. Ear plugs/eye mask
2. Book
3. Vaseline/lip balm
4. Clean socks
5. Pen/paper

I probably sound like the most antisocial tourist ever, with eyemask and earplugs but sometimes you just want to sleep!

#29 andrea13 has been a member since 5/5/2010. Posts: 31

Posted by JourneymanTraveller on 17/8/2010 at 16:19

1. As light a pack as you can find and afford - Osprey packs are superb and I will always travel with a pack weighing less than 1kg if I can because only the longest trips need larger packs;

2. The best compact digital camera you can afford, with a lightweight tripod (Jessops did mine and it weighs 120g) and the largest capacity SD card you can get - the Extreme range is good as it will withstand all sorts of conditions and temperatures;

3. Good footwear - good, lightweight trainers (Innov-8 Terroc 330's are my favourites) and a pair of flip-flops are all you need for almost every adventure and you'll spend so much time on your feet that these are essential;

4. An iPhone - it does everything: phone/SMS, iPod, GPS and maps; notebook; email (although query prices for internet), camera, calendar as well as the myriad apps to be selected for it (dictionaries are particularly useful I find); and

5. An indomitable and patient spirit - things will go wrong. Accept that and those days will become the most memorable. How you deal with adversity defines your travelling experiences. Be patient with yourself and others and when things do go wrong, you'll be calm in a crisis.

Good luck!!

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Posted by 5acrefarmer on 5/9/2010 at 18:57

Yes Andrea, ear plugs !!!!!

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Posted by mattocmd on 5/9/2010 at 19:55

1. camera
2. money/credit cards
3. books (but few since they are heavy)
4. travel guide
5. condoms ;-)

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Posted by smkuchta on 21/10/2010 at 01:49

1. Kindle ( I love to read mainly non-fiction and while bookstores are plenty, I can get exactly what i want on a kindle)
2. Netbook - Keeping blogs up to date, planning on next destinations, watching movies on long bus/train rides.
3. Iphone/Ipod - great for long trips
4. Lightweight breathable shirts/pants
5. SLR

Hmm...looking at my list i think i qualify as a techie.

#33 smkuchta has been a member since 10/8/2007. Posts: 72

Posted by smkuchta on 21/10/2010 at 01:49

1. Kindle ( I love to read mainly non-fiction and while bookstores are plenty, I can get exactly what i want on a kindle)
2. Netbook - Keeping blogs up to date, planning on next destinations, watching movies on long bus/train rides.
3. Iphone/Ipod - great for long trips
4. Lightweight breathable shirts/pants
5. SLR

Hmm...looking at my list i think i qualify as a techie.

#34 smkuchta has been a member since 10/8/2007. Posts: 72

Posted by svendj on 10/11/2010 at 20:05

Hmm cool, I'd like to get back on this topic.
I just can't believe that people can't travel with things they mentioned here.
ex. Iphone, Netbook, books, ...

I can't imagine that you really need those things to travel (Ok, I'd accept that these are things that can be useful on a trip), but is it really so that you can't travel without it (topic-title).

I've been thinking now for about 10 minutes for something I can't travel without and just can't seem to find one.

Maybe 1 thing is money but even then, if you don't have money with you, you'll still be able to go around, only less luxurious (as staying in temples f.e.).

I do agree with some other things listed here that you actually need like clothes and stuff, but that's standard. and KazAussie's post about the small bag is a good one as well.

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Posted by Indoluso on 10/11/2010 at 22:50

That's a bit extreme, but who knows, might be fun.

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Posted by MADMAC on 11/11/2010 at 10:24

So Betty, how was the trip?

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Posted by ahmoimoi on 22/1/2011 at 22:57

My 5 essentials are :

1. Small torchlight/headlamp(helps when in the outskirts or electricity blackout)

2. Medications like T.paracetamol(fever/headache),T. Buscopan(stomach ache/upset) T.Lomotil(diarrhoea)T.Piriton(allergic rash due to food etc -for flu too) all these necessary if you are going to the outskirts.

3. Comfortable sandals a must if you are walking most of the time.Teva is excellant wear

4. A compact digital camera to capture all things alien to you ;-)

5. Enough cash and visa card

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