Heading off on a trip but not sure where to start? Great news! You're in the right place - figuring out what to pack and organise can be daunting.
What bag should you take? Do you really need travel insurance? What clothes should you bring? Can you fit a ukulele in carry-on?
Through extensive research and experience, I've whittled down the list of travel essentials to include my favourite tried-and-tested products and tips to make your pre-travel experience as easy and stress-free as possible, whether you're away for a week or a year.
If you’re completely new to travel, you might want to start by hitting the button below. For everyone else, read on!
*There are some affiliate link in here, but clicking on them just means you have some super-amazing karma coming your way.
I don't know what I did before Skyscanner – it's the first thing I check when deciding where to go next, and has saved me a lot of money over the years.
The thing I love about it is you don't need to know specific travel dates to generate a search, or even where you're going – choose a starting point, click 'everywhere' as the end-point, and Skyscanner will give you a list of destinations (organised by price), and the cheapest month to fly there.
HINT: The only thing to watch out for is sketchy travel agencies. Skyscanner will give you a list of the best prices on the web, but clicking on a price will take you to the site of the travel agency selling the tickets, and there are some dodgy sites out there claiming to have the lowest prices. Before buying tickets, look up reviews of the travel agency you're buying from – it'll save you a whole lot of hassle later on.
This site is super-useful for any kind of route-planning. Wondering how to get from La Paz, Bolivia to Toronto, Canada? Algiers, Algeria to Tallinn, Estonia? Sydney to Mt Isa, Australia? Rome2Rio will give you a range of plane, bus, train, boat, car, and walking options, arranged by travel time and price, to help you get there. I used this extensively in Europe and it was an enormous help.
HINT: Airlines will often honour an error fare because it was their mistake, but sometimes they'll send you an apology with a refund, asking you to pay the price they initially intended for the ticket. If you've purchased an error fare, do some research in to other people's experiences with the airlines to see whether they're likely to honour the fare, or issue a refund. I also advice against booking non-refundable accommodation or activities until you're sure the purchase will be honoured.
ClearTrip + Make My Trip
These are specifically for people travelling to India, and they're mega-useful for booking trains, buses, hotels, and flights. My trip to India would have been one-thousand times harder without these two resource. Check out my India Transport Guide for more information.
HostelWorld + Bookers
While booking.com will often have the best pricing, it's still a good idea to check that you're paying the cheapest possible price on a hostel, so I use Hostelworld and Bookers.. Strictly for hostels, these are reputable booking engines with reviews, photos, and easy-to-use booking systems.
HINT: Pay attention to the pricing when booking for two or more people – these sites will often give you a quote per person, rather than per room, which can lead to a big surprise at checkout.
The cost-effectiveness of Airbnb depends on where you are. If you're in a touristy destination in an expensive country (Canada, Iceland, Australia, ect), Airbnb prices can be on par with hotels, but in places like South East Asia and South America, you can get some really good deals – sometimes they're cheaper than hostels. Airbnb can also provide the opportunity to stay in residential areas with locals, rather than in a town's hotel district with other travellers, which gives you priceless insight in to a place you wouldn't otherwise have had. When I travel, I like to consider all options to ensure I'm getting the best deal, so I always check Airbnb even if I don't think I'll use it.
Sign up with this link and get $51 credit for your first stay!
This super-popular accommodation style is often touted as dangerous but, as a solo female traveller, I beg to differ. I'm not saying it's risk-free, but if you know what you're doing and take a few simple precautions (read my article on safety and Couchsurfing), a whole new world will open its doors. Not only do you get to stay with locals for free, you get to engage in a cultural exchange you can only get by staying with locals –it's a unique and memorable experience right at your finger-tips.
HINT: Many hosts are wary of people who exploit the 'free' nature of Couchsurfing, and want to ensure you're actually looking to connect with them and learn about their culture. This means you should always personalise messages to potential hosts, include a few details about yourself (lighthearted ones, not TMI – let's be real), highlight a few things you have in common, and draw attention to the things you offer (can you help them brush up on their Spanish? Bring beer? Cook your country's local cuisine? Braid their children's hair?). Remember it's an exchange, not a freebie.
Sounds obvious, yet it's so under-utilised. Many people are so used to looking at accommodation search engines that they don't think about looking in to the great beyond. I'm guilty of this myself, and only made the realisation while walking around Banff looking at all the B'n'B signs, knowing those places weren't on booking.com. A quick google search alerted me to the fact that there are tiny, family-run B'n'Bs and guesthouses with non-flashy websites all over the internet that don't exist on the major booking websites, and rooms are a often fraction of the price.
HINT: These guesthouses are often quiet places run by elderly couples who have been running the joint for years. If you think you might be partying or making a lot of noise, these probably aren't the best places for you. This may go without saying, but it pays to be respectful.
In my opinion, Lonely Planet is the best guide book out there. Detailed, up-to-date, reliable, and sometimes funny, these guys have an extensive range of cities, countries, and continents, and I always have one of these in my bag.
With millions of reviews on hotels, hostels, restaurants, attractions, and companies from all over the world, Trip Advisor is one of the most extensive trip planning resources out there, and many companies (particularly in India) rely on positive reviews to bring in customers – depending on the location, one bad review can really hurt a business. While Trip Advisor isn't a huge deal in all countries, I usually at least take a look when booking accommodation or finding a restaurant to see what's popular and if I'm on the right track, but it's never the only resource I check. Sometimes the top-rated 'restaurant' in a city can be a takeaway chip shop, so it's always worth double-checking these things.
I usually ask myself whether I really need travel insurance before I go, but the answer, of course, is always a resounding 'YES!'. It can be costly, but not as costly as ending up in a foreign hospital where you're not a citizen and have no local coverage. I used World Nomads for my Europe trip and found the prices were comparable, and I was able to extend my policy after leaving Australia to include other countries.
This is a really affordable company with a range of opt-in preferences for people wanting to keep costs down. You can choose not to pay for theft, lost baggage, essential trips home, and a range of other things. Plus, you only have to pay for snow sports for the time you'll be snow-sporting. So if you're away for 3-months but only skiing for a week, you only have to pay for snow coverage for that week – this is a huge bonus, and something many other companies don't offer.
I used Go Insurance to get my two-year IEC working holiday visa in Canada (getting the full two-years means showing Canadian border security you have insurance to cover you for two years), and they allowed me to buy two one-year, back-to-back policies.
HINT: Go Insurance is also one of the only companies that will insure pre-existing medical conditions at an affordable price. You have to take a questionnaire so they can assess the level of risk, and the cost of your insurance will be a bit higher, but it's still very affordable, and (unfortunately) this is the nature of travelling with a pre-existing medical condition. Many other companies won't insure you for anything beyond dry-eye or restless-leg syndrome, including World Nomads.
A sturdy backpack is a must when travelling, and my first choice is Osprey. They're light and built to last, with an extensive range of sizes and varieties for hiking and backpacking. I used the Waypoint 60 in India and Europe and, while it was a great bag, I found it a little big (I'm 5'2"), so I'm going for the Farpoint 40 next time, which fits in carry-on compartments (as a does a ukulele – you're welcome).
The thing I love about Osprey bags is they open up from the side like a suitcase, so you have easy access to everything, and they come with removable day packs. The straps also come in different sizes – for example, my partner has the same size bag as me, but the straps and actual backpack section are a little longer because he's taller, and I notice the difference when I accidentally put his on.
Waterproof Electronics bags
Reusable Shopping Bags
First aid kit
HINT: Since getting dengue in Vietnam, I also pack a thermometer – it's how we knew I was really, really sick.
Travel apps are a real game-changer. I would actually go as far as to say they're life-changing.
Maps.me turned me from someone who could get lost in a box, to someone who was able to navigate for an hour from A to B without getting lost once. On top of that, you can check your bank balance from anywhere in the world, message your friends and family back home, translate any language, and check-in to flights without physically being at the airport.
It's a brave new world out there, and I have a list of super-useful apps every traveller should download.
But What Will I Wear?
What to wear in different parts of the world is actually a factor worth considering. For example, wearing a wife beater and board shorts down the streets of Saudi Arabia probably isn't a good idea, and arriving in Iceland without a really good waterproof coat probably isn't a good idea, even in summer. It's important to know these things so you don't find yourself in trouble, so I have a range of posts for different countries.