We’re tired of packing lists, and we know you are too (you get it, you know you need to pack a toothbrush!). This is meant to be a guide of travel essentials that you’re probably forgetting you need. Not all of the items on this list are glamorous, but they’re must-haves if you plan on traveling abroad.
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A Water Resistant Backpack
Listen up ladies, high-quality travel backpacks are ugly. But let me tell you, traveling through Europe with a “cute” canvas backpack for 4 months was not a good experience. It’s absolutely essential that your backpack is water resistant! Get a backpack that’s big enough to pack clothes in, and check the dimensions to be sure that your laptop will fit. (Extra points if it has anti-theft zippers!)
Let’s get one thing straight. The weather does not care if you are traveling. It will do as it wishes, which might mean soaking you and your suitcase. Save yourself some trouble and buy a luggage set with a hard, waterproof outer shell. It will save you from having to lift your suitcase over puddles. Plus, it’ll help keep your items safe when your luggage is thrown around at the airport.
When I was studying abroad, pretty much all of the students had anti-theft Travelon bags. They’re slash-resistant, have locking straps and zippers, and include an RFID blocking compartment to store your passport and credit cards. They come in a variety of styles, so you can choose the size purse you normally like to carry around.
I have the larger black bag below. It’s the perfect size, and also has a pocket to hold a small water bottle!
RFID Blocking Wallet
The bags I listed above have RFID blocking slots already built in. If you’d rather have your wallet separate, here are some more RFID blocking options below.
One thing that was unexpectedly useful in Europe was a mini coin purse. It’s really common for places to ask for exact change, so it was super convenient to just pull my bright yellow coin purse out of my bag. It kept me from fumbling around with a wallet or digging through all my cash and cards when I was just trying to buy £1 gelato.
RFID Neck Pouch
I bought one of these neck pouches during my study abroad semester and never ended up using it. but some friends that went to Disneyland Paris did. It may be a good idea to get one if you think you’ll find yourself on a rollercoaster, paragliding, or something of that nature. You can just tuck it into your shirt and not have to worry about it flying off!
For most people, a high quality phone camera will be more than enough to take travel photos. If you’re wanting to buy your first DSLR camera to travel with, the Canon Rebel T6i is a good starter camera. If you’re satisfied with your phone photos, but you just want something more weather and adventure-proof, getting GoPro is a great idea.
If you do choose to get a GoPro, I’d recommend only buying GoPro brand accessories. I bought a third-party wrist strap that fell apart and almost caused me to lose my camera.
Waterproof Camera Case
The first weekend trip of my semester abroad, it poured rain. I had zero plan for what I would do with my camera, so I walked around holding it under my shirt like a weirdo. My friend gave me one these waterproof camera sleeves that I used for the rest of the semester abroad, and I still have a functioning camera because of it.
There are larger underwater housing pouches you can buy. Realistically, unless you’re a professional photographer, they’re, expensive, a hassle, and way too bulky. These sleeves are nice because they’re cheap, and take up virtually no room. It even has a little viewfinder hole so that you can still see!
Universal Power Adapter
Ah, the ever essential but often forgotten power adapter.
I love this universal power adapter so much I’ve bought it twice. It works in the US, EU, UK, & AU, so it’s pretty much the only power converter you need in your life.
Cloud Storage Space
Don’t let a pickpocket take your phone and all the photos on it! This isn’t a physical item, but you need somewhere to safely store your photos! Whether you’re traveling for a week or a few months, it’s a good idea to backup your memory cards and phone storage to the cloud as often as you can.
A Solid Pair of Shoes
The most important thing when traveling, especially for an extended period of time, is comfortable shoes. For an entire semester abroad I only took three pairs of shoes. I went in the winter/spring, so I took my normal Nike running shoes for working out, white converse for days at home, and the waterproof boots below.
These babies got me through 4 months in Europe and they’re still goin’ strong. They held up through snow, rain, mud, and hikes. Some weekends we were walking 18+ miles a day, and I didn’t get a single blister.
Nothing screams bacteria quite like a hostel shower. I have a pair of waterproof flip flops almost identical to these, and they’ve lasted me 8 years so far. Do your feet a favor and just get a pair. (They also double as great beach shoes!)
If you’re traveling anywhere during a potentially rainy season, you need to have an umbrella. Get a small umbrella that will fit in your purse or backpack without taking up too much valuable space.
I thought I could tough out the German winter with a pair of cute, thin gloves. I couldn’t.
If you’re going somewhere cold, get a thicker pair of gloves. I always get ones that have the touch-screen-friendly fingertips. Then I don’t have to expose my hands to the cold every time I need to use my phone or camera.
Yes, a Columbia jacket will immediately identify you as an American. But, they sell 3-in-1 jackets that you can add or remove layers from depending on the weather. This is really nice to have, especially if you’re traveling for a while and need to save luggage space.
I traveled abroad with these three different types of locks.
You can save a few bucks at hostels by bringing your own lock instead of buying one from them. Depending on what type of storage they have available to you, you might need a larger or smaller size lock. I always carry both a combination lock and a padlock for hostels.
If you buy luggage locks, they absolutely must be TSA-approved. This means that your average Joe won’t be able to unlock it, but the TSA can use their tools to open it if they need to check inside your bag. I use the luggage locks below. The metal loops are small, so I actually use them at hostels as well if I forget to bring a padlock.
Here’s a hack that will help you sleep better at night. Travel with your own pillowcase. Hostel pillows can be, for a lack of a better word, disgusting. A pillow case doesn’t take up much room, and you won’t have to worry as much about the cleanliness of the pillow you’re sleeping on.
It’s essential that you travel with your own re-fillable water bottle. Buying single water bottles near touristy areas is expensive, annoying, and bad for the environment. Also, if you’re on a train or walking through the woods, you may not have access to clean water when you need it.
I personally use a refillable plastic water bottle. With all the traveling I’ve done, glass would have definitely broken, and the condensation from a metal water bottle would have soaked my bag.