When I backpacked around Europe for a while my giant pack expanded dramatically… to bursting point! While a lot of the clothes and souvenirs I stocked up on during my travels were worthy of space in my backpack, there were some which proved to be worth their weight in gold at various times of dire need.
So, if you need to travel light and are low on space, here is a list of ten essential and super handy items which should be at the top of your backpack when planning your trip of a lifetime around Europe.
1. Pen and notepad
Yeah yeah, everyone has smartphones, tablets and other devices to write details down these days, but what happens when they die and you’ve got no access to a power point to charge them up?
Having a small notepad and a pen so you can scribble down the address of your next hostel, someone’s phone number or email address can be a lifesaver when you’re away from a wi-fi hotspot or suddenly out of battery. It can also be handy for drawing, scribbling or playing games of hangman or tic-tac-toe if you’re on a long bus ride, as I discovered via the lovely material left behind by two friends when I lent them my pad during a tour.
2. Photocopies of essential documents and cards
A no-brainer! These will help you if you are in the mega-stressful and unfortunate situation of losing your passport, bank cards or any licences you’ve brought over with you. Having a photocopy will also allow you to remember some of the details needed to close your accounts in the interim before your new documents are issued.
3. Combination locks
If you haven’t got a locker in your room, where are you going to stash your stuff without the risk of some or all of it getting stolen?
Locks are also handy when you’re out carrying your bags in a busy street and there’s some shady pickpocketers nearby. A couple of small ones should be able to get around your zips without looking too dubious to onlookers.
The editor was incensed when I initially forgot to include this one in the list, and I was a bit ashamed at my oversight as well.
If you’ve spent nights on end in a hostel room with a huge guy snoring his head off, you know exactly why earplugs are essential. They also come in handy when there’s a bit of noise coming from the bar downstairs or some loud traffic outside your window.
However, be prepared to go on a hunt in your bed and under your pillow in the morning, because they’re likely to fall out overnight.
5. A good camera
Let’s face it, who wouldn’t want to capture memories of their travel adventures.
You can use your camera on your phone or splash out on a huge SLR and lenses, but from my perspective, both of those have drawbacks in terms of image quality and bulkiness respectively. Get a nice, compact DSLR with some high megapixels and a decent zoom, and it should fit nicely in your pocket and take up barely any room in your backpack as well.
Most compact cameras these days also come with wi-fi connectability, which is great if you want to wirelessly transfer your happy snaps for backing up onto other devices or for sharing on social media to make everyone back home jealous of your antics.
6. Pillow slip
Have you ever arrived at a cabin or hostel without a pillow included? If you haven’t got room for a bulky travel pillow, just bring along a pillow slip from home. Provided you’ve got a lot of thick (and clean) clothes, whack them inside the slip, and you’ve got yourself a makeshift pillow to rest your head on at night.
7. Powerboard (or multi-usb charger)
That dreaded situation arrives when your batteries are dead for your phone, camera, iPod, tablet and/or netbook… and there’s only one power point available. Get around this by carrying a small-ish powerboard with multiple outlets, and then you can charge all of them at once.
And if you have a few spare powerpoints it’s a great tool to help a brother out and get some serious kudos from your room or tour mates if they desperately need to charge their devices too. Better still, as most devices charge off USB cables these days, getting a multi-USB charger/adaptor can eliminate the need for individual chargers. Just make sure you have a European adaptor to plug into the main powerpoint.
Need we say more? If you’re camping, stuck in a port-a-loo and the toilet paper has run out, or you’ve taken an emergency dash to a hole-in-the-ground-like cubicle somewhere in Europe, what are you gonna use to help you clean up and stay fresh?!
9. Water bottle
Whether it’s a hot day, or you’re dehydrated after a few too many drinks the night before, having some water (and some panadol and multi-vitamins for the latter scenario) is essential to get you through your day of sightseeing and travelling.
Having a sturdy water bottle means you can re-fill easily whenever you find a clean source (hint: go ask the barman at your hostel), and save you a few euros buying bottled water everywhere.
10. Spray jacket or poncho
Having a spray jacket or poncho with you is always mega handy in case a random shower or a freak storm hits. It also has plenty of other uses – if you’ve got a rain jacket already, the poncho can be used to put over your backpack and keep the rain off it. Or, if it’s a sunny day at the park or beach and you’ve forgotten your picnic rug, it acts as a great temporary seat to keep your bum dry!