A couple of years ago, when I was young, innocent and had never travelled far from home, I decided to do the backpacking thing across Europe with my then boyfriend. Just like the millions of other 20 something’s that had gone before us, we were probably a little overenthusiastic when it came to preparing for our trip. Looking back now, after two trips to North America, two weeks in Thailand, a camping trip to NZ and our second European adventure, I wish that someone had told me not to pack all of those ‘travel necessities’ that looked so cool in the travel shop. They were the items that I would soon learn to despise as I sat on top of my 18kg backpack trying to shove it closed before sprinting for our last train to the airport, with crap spewing out on the platform behind me.
Many well-travelled individuals may already know all of this, but it took me a couple of trips to realise that there are so many useless things that you do not need to take with you to any destination that is frequented by other travellers or human beings. (In saying that, some of these items might be useful if you are backpacking off the beaten track or in a remote part of the world).
Either way, these are the top 10 pointless items that I will never again pack in my backpack before leaving for a trip…
1. A Water Bottle
Taking a water bottle from home can be pretty useless unless you are travelling to a part of the world where the water is unhygienic or limited. It adds extra weight to your already bursting-at-the-seems pack and you are not able to carry more than 100ml on a plane with you anyway. If you do want to carry water you can generally pick up a bottle from any airport, train station, corner store, supermarket or fast food restaurant and refill it as you go.
2. Fancy Travelling Plastic Cutlery, Plates & Cups
This is such a waste of money and space in your backpack! Even if you are camping you can very easily pick up cheaper disposable plastic kitchenware from almost any supermarket or corner store in the world. Plus, no one really wants to do the dishes when you are on holidays! Most hostels with common kitchens will have plates, mugs and cutlery you can use, but please remember to clean it.
3. Shampoo & Conditioner
Surprise! You can pick up a variety of shampoo and conditioner at any airport, supermarket or corner store in most countries. Alternatively, most hotels and some hostels will have these complimentary when you stay. Also, not carrying this stuff with you halfway across the world means that you do not have to worry about the 100ml liquid limit on planes.
4. Too Many Shoes!!
In all fairness, I don’t actually own that many pairs of shoes to begin with, but I always seem to take a pair I don’t end up wearing. You only need two pairs of shoes – one pair of supportive walking shoes (or hiking shoes if hiking) and one pair of decent looking shoes that could pass for a nice dinner or night out. Decent looking shoes could be a pair of unscaffed, enclosed shoes for blokes or some black ballet flats for the ladies. Ladies, heels are completely unnecessary!! (Unless the purpose of your trip is to attend a wedding or special event… in which case, why are you backpacking?) Thongs/Pluggers/Flip Flops/Jandals (depending on your origin) are also good for travel to the beach, other sandy places or showering in (some) hostels or camps. If you are travelling in winter, you will need a decent pair of (flat) boots that are both water proof and have good grip for walking. Trust me, you do not want to be slipping on the icy cobblestones in Amsterdam or muddy grass at Stonehenge instead of enjoying the sights!
5. A Sleeping Bag
This is something that can be purchased or hired on your holiday if you need one. If you are travelling in a warmer climate you can probably just get away with a silk sleeping bag liner that will be much easier to clean and much smaller to pack. Sleeping bags will generally take up more room than they are worth, and they never seem to fit back into the bag they came in, no matter how hard you try. How do they fit in there to begin with!!??
6. Cosmetics, Makeup, Hairdryer and Hair Straightener (the inevitable question for every girl (and some guys))
This one is debateable as long as you don’t go overboard with a whole bag of eye shadows, creams and perfumes. I simply take whatever is already in my handbag, usually a roll-on deodorant, powder foundation, mascara and one eyeliner for special nights. I try not to take any liquids due to the airplane 100ml limit. The hairdryer is pretty pointless and takes up too much room (most hotels will have them)… and the straightener? Well, I will leave that up to debate. Personally, this is one item that I still take with me and it is an item that fits in my handbag very easily.
7. Beach Towel
A beach/bath towel takes up too much room and will take forever to dry once used. Most hotels provide towels complimentary and many hostels will have them available for free or for a small fee. If you are going to be frequenting the beach or feel you do need to take a towel with you, take a quick drying, small microfiber travel towel. They are quick to dry and will save your pack being weighed down by excess wet luggage!
8. All of your credit cards, debit cards and ID
Since my bag was stolen a few months ago, I know that it is not fun to be sitting in Embassies, airports, police stations or at a pub and not be able to identify yourself or pay for a beer. Never carry everything with you at the same time, and try to keep a backup ID and credit card at the bottom of your bag or in a hotel safe or locker, just in case. Always take photo copies with you, email copies to yourself and keep copies (and perhaps a spare credit/debit card) with someone at home in case they need to send it over to you in a hurry. The process to get new ID while travelling is long and expensive. Don’t let it spoil you trip! (Check out my tips on what to do it your passport or valuables are lost or stolen)
9. Extra Clothes “Just in Case”
A commonly known rule is to lay out your clothes and toiletries that you want to take, then take half the clothes and double the money. Seriously! There are some really good articles and blogs about how to pack light and it is in your best interest to take their advice and learn from their experiences!
Take plain coloured items that can mix and match and items that you can layer easily if it gets cold. You probably do not need a raincoat or bulky wind protector, simply purchase a disposable poncho that you can pull out if needed. Plus, if you are travelling to a new place every few days no one is going to know if you wore the same thing twice in 1 week. Try to take stuff that will dry quickly and simply wash your clothes in your hotel/hostel sink or local Laundromat. You can hang them on the shower, end of your bed or a chair to dry.
10. The Backpack!!
Don’t get one just because everyone does it. As one of our readers pointed out, there is a difference between backpacking and travelling, and sometimes it is no fun travelling with a backpack. You drag it to the airport, check it in, collect it at the next airport, stick it on a luggage trolley, struggle with carrying it after 16 hours on a flight and then you most likely have to battle with standing with it on your back on the metro/train/bus that you will catch to your hotel/hostel because taking it off is just too much hassle.
I purchased my 60L-70L backpack with the extra space extender thing. Unfortunately when it is even slightly full it is already 15kg and a bitch to carry. My husband has a 90L backpack and he finds that he is always over packing just to fill the extra space (and I sometimes help him). Now that I know this, I would much rather travel with a small carry-on sized bag, one that opens from the side for easy access and has wheels! Oh the luxury! Or one of those really small (20-30L), super light backpacks that do not make you look like an oversized turtle. The worst thing about my really awesome, sturdy, long-lasting backpack is that it has lasted me so long that I have no excuse to get new luggage for a while!