The Backpacking Essentials: The Things We Couldn't Travel Without

It's been many, many years since we took our first backpacking trips. And whilst we've definitely gotten much better at it, there are some things that we still hate doing.

This includes quadruple-checking we've got the right flight date before booking and, of course, packing.

Sure, we know exactly what should go in our bags, have put together the most wonderful backpacking packing lists and can now leave the kitchen sink at home, but that doesn't mean we're not still scurrying around at 1 a.m. when we have to catch a flight five hours later.

Are you like us? Then this post is for you. Full of our hard-earned wisdom, it's a list of items that you actually need when travelling on a small-scale budget - the things we wouldn't go on an adventure without - so make sure you add these essentials to your backpacking packing list!



Do you know how many times before she met Andrew that Emily would forget to pack an international adapter? Yeah, she spent a lot of money on plugs in airports... Needing little explanation, if you're heading to a different country than that where your electronics were purchased, you need one of these!

We still have a cupboard full of them from the last decade’s travel, but actually we now take a single plug which can be used in any country - this universal adaptor converts to every socket, and it’s incredibly handy.

If you have travel with a lot of electrical products (like us), then it also makes sense to take a power extension cord. On a recent four-month trip in South America, we had one of these in our backpack and it allowed us to safely charge multiple devices safely from a single socket (which is all you’ve got available in lots of hostels!)




Although we don't always travel with multiple laptops, we do always make sure that we have the facilities to take more photos, back up the ones we already have and transfer data (seriously, you'd be amazed at how many hostels/hotels don't have printing facilities and you're forced to run around the neighbourhood with a USB).


After a bad experience with this popular brand of hard drive, we changed to Transcend's 1TB military tested hard drive and haven't looked back. So far they have resisted getting dropped, chomped on by an adorable Frenchie and thrown around in airplanes for the last three years - we now use a bunch of them for photo storage and back-up.

In terms of taking photos, we only use SanDisk memory cards, and although we still have a few slower ones, we now tend to only use 128 GB or 64 GB 95 MB/s so that we have loads of space for shooting on RAW and can use them for video too.

When travelling short or long-term, it’s important to bring enough SD cards with you so you don’t have to spend hours every few days backing up and deleting. To save money, never ever buy your SD cards from a high-street shop or at the airport - they always put a horrendous mark up on the price. Instead, your cheapest place to buy them in bulk or standalone is on the SanDisk Amazon store.

In terms of storing the SD cards, we use this cheap but reliable case.




Whilst as bloggers we may use our phones and gadgets a little more than the average traveller, there is no denying that smartphones can be incredibly power hungry. And there is nothing more annoying that spending the entire day out exploring, only to discover that your phone's battery simply cannot make it that far. 

That's why we'll never leave for a trip without triple-checking that our power bank is along for the ride as well. 


There are loads available in the £10-15 range - like the lipstick-sized PowerCore+ mini. However, if you want to spend a bit more, the Anker PowerCore is a beast which can charge two devices at the same time and has enough juice to charge an iPhone seven times, whilst staying portable and lightweight - it also comes with an 18-month guarantee.





Given that one half of Along Dusty Roads is a qualified doctor, you can probably imagine the size of our first aid kit - we even had bags of IV saline at one point in Latin America! However, even for those less medically inclined, having a basic first aid pack with you is really important, especially if you head off on hikes or away from large cities.


If you simply don't know where to start on your kit, head over to this article or buy a ready made travel first aid kit.




Staying in a dormitory without the option to lock up your stuff is a sure fire way to end up having your stuff nicked - it's why we make a point of only staying in hostels where security lockers are par for the course.


It helps then, to actually have something to secure said locker with - this beast of a combination padlock has served us very well over the last 4 years. Removing the need to always keep a key handy, it's also much more hardy than the standard luggage padlocks.

Want to know more tips for hostel life? Check out our beginner's guide to hostels.




We've done it at the beach. We've done it in the city. We've done it in the middle of jungle. And we've even done it whilst other travellers were watching.

Take your mind out of the gutter - we're talking about hand washing our clothes.

Although on long term trips we'll occasionally cave and hand our dirty clothes into a launderette, hand washing has been a regular feature on our travels. Many hostels offer facilities for this, but even if they don't, most don't really mind if you respectfully take advantage of the bathroom sink. There are however, a couple of things that make the process a little easier.

Firstly, we've found that plugs in budget hostels are pretty much non-existent, so we carry our own (this handy little one from Life Venture) which turns any sink or tub into your own personal washing machine.


Secondly, in our AirBnb apartment in Buenos Aires, we had fantastic facilities, including our very own washing machine. This meant we could catch up on all our laundry in bulk and try to remove some of the stains that had proved just too stubborn for our hand scrubbing.

The only catch? We had nowhere to hang out clothes out to dry. It was a relief that we had each packed a compact travel clothes line. It comes with the option to use suction cups or hooks so, wherever you're staying, you'll be able to string up a sturdy washing line.

It's also handy as a method to store/hang your clothes if you're in a cheap hostel room with limited space.

Another essential that other travellers swear by is the 'Scrubba'. This luminous green bag converts into your very own washing machine! Still require a bit of elbow-grease but gets more dirt out than our mere hands can usually manage.




We always have 4 spare passport photos with us.

Probably less of a concern if you're off to Paris for the weekend, but incredibly useful if you're about to embark on an open-ended worldwide trip and have no idea which countries you may end up in. Simple photo booths that can be found all over the western world are far less common in many developing countries, and should you need to urgently apply for a visa the last thing you'll want to do is run around the city trying to find a printer that can help!




We have freely admitted in the past that we are in no way 'minimalist packers'. Our philosophy can rather be summed up as 'cram as much in until you can't carry any more'.

These two cheap items do however help us pack more in a more organised way. 

Before our trip, we bought a multi-pack of these vaccum seal storage bags, not really knowing whether they'd even be used.  Well, what a great decision that turned out to be! Not only are they a fantastic way to keep our smelly, dirty clothes separate (and keep the smell locked in) but they've also proven to be very useful when switching between cold and warm climates, when you simply don't need access to jumpers and thermals. Hand-rolling it shut expels enough air to reduce the load by about 1/3, giving us a bit more space in our backpacks and keeping the laundry out of the way.


Packing cubes (we're big fans of these Pro Packing Cubes), on the other hand, actually take up a little more space but provide you with a way to make things make more sense.

In Latin America, we used them mainly to keep our medical supplies and our spare cables and camera equipment in one convenient place, with certain items of clothing also kept there until we needed them. Alternatively,  they can be used to structure the bottom or top-third of your backpack into easily identifiable ‘grab bags’, with each holding certain day-to-day items of clothing.

Discover more about our long-term packing packing method.




If you're backpacking through countries which have erratic electricity supplies, then you can't leave without a head-torch. We've lost count of the number of times we've had to cook under its light but these were also a must-have for a night-time trek up Central America's highest volcano and nights of camping or sleeping on the beach in hammocks.

If you're in a dorm and want to read at night without disturbing others, these also act as great reading light - and stop you being the dick that turns on all the lights to find your bag in at 2 a.m!


Although there are cheaper ones on the market, Petzl is a brand worth shelling out a little extra for (it's widely recognised as one of the best out there), and this particular style continues to serve us well, five and a half years later.




Although it is imperative that you carry legal tender for whichever country you visit, there is one currency that you can almost always use in a jam - US dollars. Of course, we'd never recommend relying on it solely (you'll potentially end up paying a higher conversion rate and getting change can be a little tricky), but it is really useful to have a supply of $100 or so snaffled away somewhere in your bag to cover you for all eventualities!

More advice on how to mange your money when you're travelling.




Most budget backpacker hostels don't offer complimentary towels with your room. A few of them will loan you one for a fee, but the majority may leave you facing a drip-dry or having to use clothing to dry off. The solution? An extra-large quick dry travel towel - we took two of these XL towels on our two-year Latin America trip, and they lasted the distance. 


Travel towels are in no way better than a fluffy white one but they do a decent job and are an essential piece of kit to carry. Thankfully, they're also very compact and dry quite quickly after you've used them, so are easy to store in your backpack. For longevity, you're better off buying a dark colour. 




Again, choosing to sleep in cheaper accommodation around the world means you have to sacrifice certain small luxuries. Whether it's due to Enrique Iglesias being played until 4 a.m. down the street, a particularly boisterous cockerel unaware that people don't get up at 5 a.m. or a overly amorous couple in the room next door or bunk on top, you are guaranteed to have a better chance of sleeping with a set of ear plugs in.


Silicons ones are way more effective than synthetic alternatives and also much more malleable so you can mould it perfectly to fit your ear and block out the world around - we use these ones. We've also used them a lot on overnight bus journeys, given the propensity to be seated next to snorers.

For the very best sleep on night buses and hostel dorms, consider an eye mask as well. We felt a little ridiculous to begin with, but it really helps, especially in dorms when lights are repeatedly being turned on and off.




Having a smartphone on the road is pretty much an essential these days. However, not all phone suppliers have caught on to the fact that you may go travelling for long periods of time in areas where you don't want to be tied to your contract (either that or they're well aware of this and want to make you pay for as long as absolutely possible).

Having an unlocked phone, and being able to take advantage of local sim plans, just makes things that much easier. Some smartphones now come with a 'dual sim' functionality, which is great for using overseas with local sim cards.




We remember on our trip to the Philippines, we saw a lot of travellers with these and, like a good little consumer, Andrew immediately wanted one.


Waterproof, durable and secure, it's perfect for having on the beach, taking out on the kayak or on a boat tour. It's also doubled up as our shopping bag and day-bag around towns and cities. We opted for the 20 litre version but most people will probably do fine with a 10L or 15L one. 

These bags also roll down or fold into a pretty compact size, so you can store it in your rucksack when it's not being used. Check out the range available here.




This is a mainstay in Andrew's pocket. It has served as our only kitchen knife for a number of weeks, bottle opener at the beach, wine-opener in a hostel, Emily's manicure-set, Andrew's occasional moustache trimmer, make jeans-into-shorts and t-shirts into vests thingmibobber, walking stick maker when hiking in the Andes, imaginary saviour if our travels ever start to resemble a Liam Neeson movie and all round indispensable travel companion. It's not just for Bear Grylls wanna-bes in the woods but essential for every type of long-term budget traveller. 


Cheaper brands exist but we used and recommend the original and best version by Victorinox. Just make sure you remember to take it out of your hand luggage BEFORE you reach the airport!




We'd be lying if we didn't say that most of our trip research is done online. However, there's always one hard-copy that we'll take wherever we happen to be travelling - a Lonely Planet


Useful for those days when you turn up in a new town but have no idea where to sleep, need a map but your phone's dead, are looking for inspiration when on a long bus journey or seeking specific details like where the bus station happens to be.

We also like the fact that we're slowly building up quite the shelf of Lonely Planet guides. It's like a visual reminder of epic trips and even though several may now be missing covers, it's a collection we'll keep forever.




Hostels can create all sorts of annoyances, but one of our least favourites is the backpacker who decides that the entire room should listen to their Skype conversation, awful playlist or movie night simply because they've neglected to buy a pair of headphones.

But what do you do if two people are travelling together with only one computer (as we do quite frequently on short trips)? You invest in a headphone splitter - a cheap and effective piece of kit for every travelling couple. It allows you to watch the same programmes in a hostel or on a long bus journey or video chat with friends together without annoying those around you and keeping at least one side of the conversation private.




Phones are all well and good for listening to music via a pair of headphones, but when we're hanging out with new friends in a hostel, having an impromptu beach party or just want to sing to some dreadfully cheesy anthems with each other, having a mini speaker is soooo much better than the tinny noise that comes out of the bottom of our mobile. 


The Nude Portable Speaker has been all over Latin America, to Africa, seen plenty of Europe and will certainly accompany us for many trips to come. 




It makes us feel physically sick to think of how many plastic bottles of water we've gotten through over the years. Yet, the simple fact remains that in large swathes of the world, you simply can't drink tap water.

Thankfully, we've invested in a couple of items that will ease our conscience - this insulated re-usable bottle and a Water-to-Go bottle.


The insulated bottle means that when we're travelling in a place where the water's generally safe to drink, we can fill up straight from the tap and the water stays cold for 24 hours. The Water-to-Go bottle allows us to make clean drinking water from virtually any source, including rivers, as its filter removes 99.9% of bacteria. We took it on our three-week Africa overland trip and our recent four-month South America and it worked an absolute charm!

You can get 15% off if you buy your Water-to-Go bottle here and use the code 'ADR15'.

You can read more about how we try and be more sustainable, ethical travellers or check out this guide on how to use less plastic when you travel.


This is what we can't backpack without - what about you? Is there anything that we've missed out which you think is absolutely essential to an adventure?

Let us know in the comments. 




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Off backpacking? This is the packing list that you need!