Over the last year of travelling I’ve found myself loosening up a bit when it comes to packing. I used to be someone who’d pack way in advance of taking an actual trip, which was great, until I realised I couldn’t wear half of my wardrobe without unpacking again first. Nowadays, I have a list on my phone that I’ll go through briefly before each trip and that’s all I need. It’s failsafe – it’s the same list I’ve used for almost a year now, and it’s got all of the basics on there.
Of course, some things I have to change depending on the season – at the moment my list includes things like lots of warm jumpers and a scarf, having just got back from Amsterdam and Berlin. But last summer when I explored Portugal, Spain and some parts of eastern Europe, I took one jumper with me (and no coat) for the entire duration.
But no matter where I’m venturing off to, there are always a few things I have to take with me to ensure a comfortable trip. Ignoring the obvious like clean underwear and enough clothes, these are the things I triple-check I’ve packed before I leave each and every time.
An empty bottle
This one might seem strange, but actually comes in handy far more than you’d anticipate. I used to down my drink before going through customs and then carry on repurchasing new bottles throughout my trips. Now, I’ve got into a good habit of taking an empty bottle with me everywhere. You’re allowed to take it through customs if it’s empty (even if it’s over 100ml) and you can fill it up at hostels and cafes around the world. In most of Europe, you can even fill it up out of the bathroom sink if you’re desperate for a drink. This way I save an awful lot of money on drinks, and also use less plastic.
Anyone who has an iPhone will know they’re not exactly made for their battery life. As good as the thousands of apps and the excellent camera are, after a few snaps you’ll probably find your battery dying faster than you can shout ‘I’m buying an android’. Portable chargers are cheap and easy to carry, and fit into most bags. I actually got mine second hand from Depop and it cost me around £15. It holds four full charges, making it great for hostels that have a distinct lack of plug sockets, and also for long, overnight bus journeys where you need your phone nearby to keep your sanity.
Imagine my surprise when touching down in Berlin and getting a notification that I could use Citymapper there. Okay, so perhaps it shouldn’t have been that exciting (Berlin is, after all, a city and a well known one at that) but I’d naively thought I could only use it in London. I’ve now realised that Citymapper adapts to whichever city you’re in and varies your transport options accordingly. In Berlin, I was given all of the routes for the S-Bahn and U-Bahn, and in Amsterdam, was offered trips via ferry. Sometimes I have to uninstall apps on my phone before I travel (more room for photos, obviously) but Citymapper is one I always make sure is ready to help.
My makeup doesn’t take me long to do. I travel with my Morphe palette, concealer, mascara and eyebrow makeup, and a few brushes to apply it with. But while I’d leave all of these at the hostel or wherever I’m staying, the one thing I always take out with me is a lipstick. I tend to stick to neutral shades (and have about five Mac lipsticks that I can tell the difference between, but most of my friends couldn’t) and always have at least one with me. Why lipstick? For a start, it makes my slightly-too-pale lips look slightly more alive – and me, less dead as a result. It’s also an easy way to move me from daytime to nighttime if I’m going on a night out. And, if nothing else, good quality lipsticks are usually pretty moisturising, so if you’re travelling somewhere cold you can avoid chapped lips, too.
We’ll ignore the obvious here, because a jumper is clearly a crucial item when it comes to packing for a holiday. But aside throwing it on in the evenings when it gets chilly outside, I’ve often used a jumper as a spare pillow or way to warm up my feet if I’m staying somewhere cold. Back home, I usually have two or three pillows, and, unsurprisingly, many hostels will only give you one. So bringing a jumper along easily combats this problem. It’s also a great tool if you’ve got noisy or irritating roommates, because you can wrap it over your eyes to avoid a blaring light at 3am, or also over your ears if you forget earplugs.
Before I travel I always try and learn a few key sentences in the language of the place I’m visiting. Easy enough if it’s Spain, Portugal or France. Less so when it’s Hungary, the Czech Republic or Poland. Still, it’s something I always attempt because I think it’s polite – and also a great way to show off in front of new pals. But I’ve also lost count of how many occasions I’ve tried to use my new language skills to no avail and have failed miserably. So it’s times like now when I revert to Google translate and fall back on the internet to get me through.
Photocopies of my documents
This is something I adopted before my first ever solo trip, in an effort to reassure my panicky parents that I wouldn’t end up stranded in a foreign country all by myself. I always carry a photocopy of my passport and travel insurance whenever I go abroad. Passport, because in a lot of hostels I’ve stayed at I’ve had to give it over for the duration of my stay and it’s nice to know I still hold my own copy of my identity somewhere. i carry travel insurance copies because (not that I’ve ever, luckily, had to use it) I’ve heard that most companies are notorious for picking holes in claims, so it’s good to have all of the intricate details there in front of me.
Honestly, it’s crazy how something so meaningless can change my day from being incredibly stressful to… manageable. If I’m stressed or angry the first thing I always do is throw my hair up in a bun, and then suddenly I can think straight again. Or at least more so. I always have a few different scrunchies in my travel bag because I lose them so easily. But I also rely on them to occasionally hold my makeup brushes together, to tuck my hair away if I’m going to be sick (sometimes after heavily alcohol-induced nights this sadly does still happen) or even if it’s just a hot day and my neck needs some relief.
It was probably around a year ago when I realised just how heavily I rely on my phone. When I was a kid I used to read all the time – sometimes during summer holidays I would get through 12 books in a week. Sadly, now I’m a Fully Grown Adult with a Full Time Job I can’t read half as much, but I decided to buy myself a kindle so I could start reading again when I’m waiting around. I do love getting stuck into a paperback book, but my kindle means I can download new books as and when I want, and also means I don’t have to lug them around all the time when I’ve only got hand luggage.
Student discount card
So just to reiterate, in case anyone reading this skipped the last section, I’m not actually a student any longer. But less on that – I’m still getting over the sadness myself. However, just after I graduated I renewed my student discount on Unidays before I lost access to my email account. As well as using it around the UK, I’ve found there are plenty of countries where student discount is widely accepted – ranging from free entry to museums and galleries to discounts on food and drinks. Luckily, my student discount Unidays account is on my phone, which means I’m never usually without it.
What are your travel essentials? Let me know in the comments below!