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Packing for a long trip? These essential items for travelling abroad don't take up much space but will enhance your time away

Packing for a long trip is easier than you might imagine, you don’t actually need that much. As humans, we’ve been conditioned to believe that we need new clothing regularly and that we need to fill our homes and lives with material possessions, and while these items might give us some fleeting sense of happiness, they’re not really necessities. 

This is where travelling comes in, and helps with the appreciation of experiences, not possessions. Having said that, there are definitely a few items that can seriously enhance your long trip endlessly, whether that's backpacking South America, getting to grips with Thailand or travelling to one of India's most incredible cities, be it Madurai or Delhi.

green palm tree leaves against blue sky rays of sun beaming through
You don't need much when you're in paradise

When packing for a long trip away, less is certainly more, so here are the items that proved essential when travelling abroad:

A good penknife

Victorinox make great Swiss Army Knives, I’ve had mine for over ten years and it always comes in useful even when I’m not travelling. On longer trips the can opener is essential when cooking in hostels or guesthouses (they’re notoriously lacking when it comes to kitchen equipment) and the bottle opener and screwdriver are also super handy. The selection of knives is great when you need to cut string, duct tape or fruit (perfect for trying new and interesting varieties at local markets). And because a penknife is so small you won’t even notice you’re carrying it.

blue and silver Victorinox pen knife on wooden floor
My trusty Swiss Army Knife


Sounds like a strange item to take away but don’t underestimate the usefulness of a small ball of string or twine, it’s great for a makeshift washing line. Sometimes in remote places, you’ll need to wash your clothes by hand, I used string to make a washing line so I could easily dry them but it also comes in handy for fixing things or tying back mosquito nets which are essential in places like the Pantanal of Brazil.

Duct tape

Again, sounds a little weird but it’s SO useful. I used this to tape up holes in mosquito nets, fix tears in backpacks and if you’re ever sleeping in a dodgy hostel and there’s a hole in the wall (yes, this really happened to me in Malaysia), you can cover it with a few strips of duct tape.


Sleeping in dorms can be a great way of saving money when travelling for long periods but get stuck in there with a snorer and it’s game over. Earplugs can help and they don’t take up much space, I'd recommend the soft silicone pairs you can find in most drugstores.

Spoon-fork-knife in one

A friend bought me a spork before I went travelling and it was one of the best items I had in my backpack. It’s perfect for lunches on the go especially if you’re travelling in more expensive countries and can’t afford to eat out for every meal.

Sleeping bag liner

This was another gift but so incredibly useful, I took a silk liner that rolls into the tiniest pouch making it super light to carry. I used mine a lot, especially in hostels where the bedding didn’t always feel so clean or it's great on overnight train journeys through India when you need a bit of comfort.

A diary

Not essential and I know you can write into a phone, but there’s something so much nicer about writing by hand and looking back over your memories in years to come. I took an A5-sized spiralbound notebook and filled it with entries whenever I remembered, along with ticket stubs and mementos.

USB stick

I kept one of these at the bottom of my backpack and would get it out every month or so to back up my photos. If my camera got lost or stolen I knew I’d still have the photographs that had become so precious to me at the bottom of my bag. 

In terms of clothing and footwear, I packed sundresses that rolled up super small, one pair of shorts, a pair of jeans, a couple of skirts, t-shirts and a few long-sleeved tops, one jumper, one cardigan, a waterproof jacket, a lightweight jacket, a pair of flip flops and a pair of converse. That was pretty much it. 

My first pair of flip-flops broke in Brazil so I bought another pair in Rio and throughout India you can get pretty much any clothing repaired on the street for a few pence. Rips and tears can happen but you become thrifty, I often mended items rather than just discarding them and buying more. If in doubt, pack less than what you think you’ll need—you can always pick up items once you’re travelling.

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