10 unnecessary items every traveller thinks they need (But I NEVER used)

What not to pack for travelling or backpackingWhat not to pack for travelling

I moved house recently and I came across the battered and bruised backpack I used for my two year trip around Asia and Australia.

Prior to the trip I spent more than a year planning and plotting and excitedly scouring the internet for tips and advice. A lot of this planning time involved reading and preparing lengthy packing and shopping lists.

I was one of those backpackers who bought EVERYTHING. I read every packing list out there and dutifully bought everything. My bag was enormous, it was heavy and it was a nightmare to lug around.

If I went back in time and told my 21 year old self to remove more than half of the shite in that backpack I wouldn’t have listened to her but here are 10 things I really should have removed. These are the items that slipped to the bottom of my backpack and never emerged again.

I’m not saying that these items aren’t useful for some people, but I doubt they’re useful for most!

1. A full medical kit

You definitely need a small medical kit with things like paracetamol, rehydration sachets, antiseptic cream and sting relief but I never used anything more than this. I even packed a syringe and needle because I read they try to use second-hand needles in some countries!? I had all sorts of bandages and plasters and antihistamines but I’m not the sort of person to wrap myself in bandages at home so why would I do it on the road?

The solution: Unless you know how to use it, I’d only take the basic medical supplies. No matter where you are in the world, medical professionals are never far away.

 

2. Hiking boots

I’ll be honest, I ditched my hiking boots fairly quickly. I took a sturdy pair of walking boots thinking I’d need them for lots of hiking expeditions, but in the end I found that my trainers were sufficient. I thought I’d wear my hiking boots on the plane to save carrying them but they were so hot and heavy that I could never be bothered.

The solution: Opt for comfortable but stylish and lightweight trainers than can be worn hiking as well as running about a city.

 

3. A sink plug

How many times in your life have you said, ‘I really wish I had a sink plug right now’?

No, I’ve never said that either.

When you stay in budget accommodation you often don’t have a sink plug in your bathroom. I guess it can be awkward if you want to have a sink wash but you just have to leave the tap running. It could also be difficult if you plan to wash your clothes in the sink but leaving your clothes to soak in tepid water doesn’t really clean them anyway. If I ever washed my own clothes I always did it in the shower anyway.

The solution: Use the shower

 

4. A sewing kit

This is probably me being lazy but if my clothing ripped I would never sew it up. Of course, I’d have good intentions to sew the hole ‘one day’ but I know I never would. I’d wear it with a hole in it until the hole because so big I had to throw the item away. And then I’d be really pleased it broke and I’d go out and buy a new one.

The solution: If you’re the kind of person who sews up holes then take a sewing kit but if you barely know how to thread a needle then leave it at home!

What not to pack for travelling and backpacking. 10 things you can definitely leave at home!

5. A Swiss army knife

I’ll admit that a corkscrew on a Swiss army knife is kinda handy but when you’re travelling in Asia you’re not going to have many opportunities to use a corkscrew. Other than that, I don’t know what I’d use all the other gizmos on a Swiss army knife for.

The solution: If you really need a corkscrew, consider buying a small corkscrew instead.

 

6. More than one warm jumper or pair of jeans

A lot of people will say you shouldn’t pack any jeans at all when you’re travelling because they’re bulky and take so long to dry. Personally, I live in my jeans and wear them all the time, even when it’s hot, so I’d never travel without them. One thing I would say is that there’s no need for more than one pair of jeans and you only need one warm jumper/sweater/hoodie/cardigan.

The solution: Pack one pair of jeans and one warm top in a dark colour – you’re going to wear this a lot!

 

7. Solar charger

It depends where you’re travelling here but it’s very unlikely you’re ever going to use a solar charger.

The solution: Take a small rechargeable USB charger for your phone and gadgets.

 

8. Alarm clock

Does anyone travel without their phone these days? And do any phones not have alarm clocks on them?

No.

So why do backpacker’s packing lists still contain alarm clocks?

The solution: Just use your phone.

 

9. Travel towel

This might be a controversial one because a lot of people love travel towels but I hate them. They’re too small and they don’t really dry you. Yes, they dry quickly but that’s pretty much their only pro. If I’m in a hot country I’d rather use a sarong and if I’m in a cold country then I want a proper towel. In Asia, guest houses will always provide towels so it’s only some cheap hostels in Europe where you need your own.

The solution: Double check if any of your accommodation doesn’t provide towels. It’s very unlikely that they won’t.

 

10. An enormous backpack

The best way to pack light is to have a small backpack. Why anyone thinks they need a 65L backpack is beyond me. Why do all the packing lists suggest large backpacks? The bigger the backpack, the more crap you’ll squeeze into it. Keep it small and you physically can’t overpack. It took me a very, very long time to learn this one!

The solution: It’s a simple one – just take a smaller bag!

Do you have any more unnecessary travel items to add to the list?

 

TheTravelHack

Monica is the founder and editor of The Travel Hack. She began the blog in 2009 when she left the UK to travel around Asia and Australia for two years. She's now a professional blogger and has travelled around the world in search of stylish adventure travel. Monica has recently had her second baby and is determined to prove that travelling with a baby is possible!

SHOWHIDE Comments (61)
  1. Great list, although I’m very pro-travel towel haha 😉 I would add to this list: a travel pillow. Mine took up a lot of space and it wasn’t worth it. A bigger scarf would have served the same purpose and been more versatile.

    1. Ha, I know a lot of people are. Maybe I’m using it wrong because I just don’t get travel towels!
      An had an inflatable travel pillow for a little while but even that was a nuisance. A big scarf or chunky jumper is usually enough.

  2. I have often either used a sink plug (I made one from an old hot water bottle) or wished I had it with me (before I made one). Now I have a Scrubba so the plug is redundant. Also, I carry a sewing kit and use it. There isn’t always time to buy new clothes on a business trip and sewing up a hole can at least prevent it from getting worse.

  3. One item that always amuses me when people pack is “travel hair tools” i.e. a small blow dryer, straightener, or curling iron. This is something I have always found super unnecessary (personally anyways!). If you are going on vacation where you want to look super nice and polished, chances are you are staying in a nice enough place with a blowdryer at least. Beyond that, I’d say learn to embrace your natural hair and rock that! Often, your hair tools (while they may be small) likely won’t work across the globe, or will take forever to actually style your hair, so it is just a waste of a purchase. Take the time to explore your new areas instead of doing your hair!

    1. Definitely agree on the blow dryer! I do like to blow dry my hair but the effort of carrying one just isn’t worth it.
      I must admit though, I do pack my GHDs. They seem to work with no problems in other countries and my hair is just too crazy!

      1. That’s a good tip – and definitely something most people don’t think about. I went to spas and salons all the time in Asia to get my hair and nails done and it barely cost anything.

  4. I thought the same thing when I kept seeing an alarm clock listed on backpacking lists… use your phone! This is a really helpful list. I made sure to pin it so I can reference it on my upcoming backpacking trip! Thanks!

  5. I did a RTW trip 12 years ago and these sound very familiar! I had about 3 of those travel sink plugs bought as presents but can’t say I ever used them. And I was very smug about packing a normal towel whereas my friend had a travel towel which didn’t quite wrap around her and always seemed to go musty. Can’t shake my fondness for packing an extensive first aid kit though!

  6. I did a RTW trip 12 years ago and these sound very familiar! I had about 3 of those travel sink plugs bought as presents but can’t say I ever used them. And I was very smug about packing a normal towel whereas my friend had a travel towel which didn’t quite wrap around her and always seemed to go musty. Never managed to shake my fondness for packing an extensive first aid kit though, just in case.

  7. A travel washing line I took and never used!

    Personally my 55l backpack when rammed full was nearly unbearable to carry. Depending on where you are going I would actually say ditch the backpack altogether and take a suitcase.

    Amy

  8. A travel washing line I took and never used!

    Personally my 55l backpack when rammed full was nearly unbearable to carry. Depending on where you are going I would actually say ditch the backpack altogether and take a suitcase.

  9. Great list. So true. I also never pack a clothesline. I’m never going to go to the effort of drip drying my clothes on something more sophisticated than a towel bar. I do, however, still pack a travel alarm clock. I hate picking up my cell phone first thing when I wake up, if I use it as my alarm, I immediately check my email. Ugh, no thanks. But I’m weird. I also still wear a watch.

    1. It’s probably a good idea to pack an alarm clock. I’m one of those people who reads all my messages on my phone as soon as I wake up and then I’ll have forgotten all about them when I wake up properly and never reply.

  10. Ha I remember packing for my first backing trip and I totally made sure to bring most of these and never used them. Also regretted bringing my miniature hair straightener, and only used my travel clothesline a couple of times. One item I can’t travel without now though is a plug strip; never know how unbelievably handy it is until you have it!

    1. The plug strip is a good one actually. Especially if I’m in a budget hotel and you only have 2 plug sockets to charge 8 devices! International plugs with USBs are good too. I have a block plug with 3 sockets and 4 USBs so that’s very handy.

  11. Money belt!!OMG every packing list told me to take one. Those things are bulky and how anyone can make them inconspicuous is beyond me. I ditched that thing a short way into my trip.

    I left on an eight month journey through Asia with just a 40L backpack, and you know what? I wish I’d taken a bigger bag. I’m all for packing light, but it’s nice to have a few extra comforts when traveling long term.

    1. Haha. I’d forgotten about the money belt. I bought one of those too! And then you realise you look more suspicious putting your hands down your pants or up your top while you’re fishing out your credit card!

      1. It may be advertising to the world where you keep your money, but the point of them is that they’re lean and fitted against your body so it’d be damn hard for anyone to pick your pockets without your notice – they’d practically have to molest you to get to your funds! So I remain very pro money belt, although I make my own nice and thin rather than buying them. XD

  12. Definitely agree with the comment re a money belt. I never used mine and getting money out of it in public definitely looks suspicious!!

    I’d add those hiking trousers with the zip-off legs. Every list I checked before my RTW trip said I’d need them and I only used them once for a volcano trek and even then I could have just wore my leggings. I ended up chucking them out mid-trip!

  13. Haha, so very true! I had never heard of bringing a sink plug, I didn’t know that was a thing. 🙂 I’m all for sarongs in hot countries, or a hand towel if it’s cold, but travel towels are gross, being trapped in a hostel room with someone’s smelly travel towel is terrible!

  14. A sink plug, totally! I packed one on my first long term trip around Asia and it never left my bag. The travel towel I wish I didn’t have to use but I travel so light I just don’t have room for a normal one 🙁 Walking boots on the other hand, whilst totally impractical in tropical climates, were my lifesaver for 5 months around South America, I wouldn’t have been without them. Mind you, they’re Keen so they’re super light and I did travel during winter and largely at altitude so, although it was sunny, it wasn’t that warm! 🙂

  15. Think we all packed the random stuff from lists then return home with them unused on a first trip.

    Problem is a lot of what appears on lists is actually more suited to a survival experience, not travel. Lets face it you will rarely be very far from a shop!

    I read a ball of string so took it to have my mate laugh at me for 3 months! I also took stuff to purify water- really where did I think I was going!

    I would say a money belt is a good thing to keep reserve vitals- ie spare credit card, emergency cash, copy of passport etc.

    Travel towels are terrible- I had one and after 1 use it smelt bad.

    There’s really nothing you should pack that you wouldn’t take on a normal holiday.

    1. That’s so true about just packing for a normal holiday. We all want to think we’re ‘getting off the beaten track’ and going somewhere new and undiscovered. But it’s the 21st century and, like you say, it’s unlikely anyone will be that far from a shop!
      These lists definitely need to differentiate between survival experiences and regular travelling.

  16. Yep, that’s a good list. I’ve been guilty of lugging around everything on that list (except the solar charger) at on time or another. Although I do find a moneybelt can be useful. I found that to be especially true before e-tickets. You had to carry your plane ticket around with you for the whole trip so you could get back! And cash was a little more king, back in the day. Not to mention traveler’s checks…

    A few things I’d add to the “leave out!” list:
    – a special travel clothesline. No, you don’t need one of those rubbery contraptions even if you DO want to dry your laundry. I do my own laundry a lot while traveling, and all you need is a length of parachute cord and the ability to tie a taughtline knot.
    – electrical converters. Don’t take the electronics and you won’t need the converters. Charge your phone via USB.
    – pajamas! I guess it is handy to have SOMETHING decent for the hostel fire drill but a pair of gym shorts works fine for me.
    – vests. What is the travel obsession with vests? If I don’t wear a vest at home, why would I wear one while traveling?
    – “travel” backpacks. This is sort of a subset of big backpacks in general, but I remember what I took my first ATW. It was this huge travel backpack, with one big compartment and then a zip-off backpack. In the main compartment, everything would slide down to the lower section when you walked because it was all just one big space, and that made the weight distribution weird. The zip-off backpack was attached with a tiny little plastic zipper, which promptly busted in the first couple of weeks. Lord knows how heavy the whole thing was… I had camping gear, a couple of cases of cassette tapes, a WHITE button-down shirt, and massively heavy all-leather hiking boots.

    On later trips, once I got things down below 10 kilos, I was MUCH happier. Now I just travel with a daypack, which weighs 4 or 5 kilos all told… but that’s probably a little extreme!

  17. Great list 😀 The day I embraced the charms of minimalist packing was my “rite of coming to age”. However, the first time I went bare-essentials on a trip was also the first time I wish I hadn’t. Czech Republic in mid-August, not the time or the place one would need more than 1 sweater. I did. I really, really did 🙁
    As for pants, I always have fleece-lined tights in my bag, and they are the best investment. You could wear a chiffon skirt on a snow day with these babies.

  18. Such good tips! I think the best thing you can do is pack like you’re going on a “normal” vacation. I packed one of those flashlights that charges itself, the ones you wind up for use during an emergency… what? Why do I even own that?! Again, use your phone!

  19. I am about to leave for two months in Europe so this list and all the comments has been amazing.

    I’m am curious about the electrical strip and if there is a special one I need for Europe?

    Thanks in advance!
    Janelle

    1. So pleased this has been helpful 🙂

      To charge your electronics I’d recommend a plug adaptor a bit like this – http://www.amazon.co.uk/eBoot-Universal-International-max1500w-Samsung/dp/B00N9N3PWK/ref=sr_1_13?s=electronics&ie=UTF8&qid=1425060436&sr=1-13&keywords=travel+adaptor+with+usb rather than an electrical strip.

      I have an international plug adaptor so it works with any plug in any country. It has 2 plug sockets on the one block and also has 4 USB points too. It’s amazing. I’ve been searching online to see if I can find one to show you but I can’t find one. I bought it at the airport years ago. It cost me quite a lot (about £20) but it was well worth it.

  20. On my first trip to Europe I packed a travel iron! It did come in handy a few times as most of the places we stayed didn’t have an iron but mostly its not worth the trouble. It didn’t work as well as a full size iron anyway!

    A travel hairdryer is another one I don’t bother with anymore – most hotels will have one and most of the time they work just as well as the travel one.

  21. Hi Monica,

    Very good point made. Even after all these years I still pack too much! I’m getting a little better but I guess with electronics etc there are a host of things we now travel with.

    I must admit that I’ve never brought a sink plug with me. However there have been many a time I wish I had! (To see what I mean read this: http://flightsandfrustration.com/where-can-you-find-a-decent-hotel-sink-plug/)

    I’ve never once brought an army knife with me although a small medical kit is certainly worth bringing.

    Typically my approach is that if I need it I’ll buy it on the road. That happened just a few weeks ago. I don’t know how but I discovered that I got a rip in my jeans so had to make an emergency replacement purchase. Whilst this was a little bit of a challenge I did manage it in Brisbane. Trying to factor in cost and actually finding jeans with a leg length shorter than 31″ was not easy but I came up with a compromise in the end at a reasonable price.

  22. I always travel with a Swiss Army knife (unless I’m only flying carry on) but would add to the list a sleeping shell. I bought a brand new, nice silk sleeping shell before my first big backpacking trip then only used it twice before realizing it was too much of a hassle, uncomfortable, and really not much cleaner.

  23. They make bigger travel towels now! I love mine. It covers all my bits and dries fast with out being smelly and packs up tiny. I think I have the Sea to Summit drylite towel in large. They make all the way up to XL. I’d love to see if you’d like the bigger ones.

    I also hike a ton so it’s useful when I camp and obviously I bring hiking shoes.

    Everything else is spot on. I decided to go carry on only for my 11 month trip and I have never regretted it. I have about 8kgs of stuff and it’s so easy. Awesome list.

  24. Thanks for that down-to-Earth, realistic advice.
    I’m the sort of person who sews things up, but I still wouldn’t take a sewing kit. If I really needed to repair something, I’d just go and buy the thread and needle. I can say that because I probably wouldn’t go anywhere so remote that it would be a problem. Also, the chance that I would need to mend something is so slim -Why bother bringing a kit?
    Many moons ago, I used to travel with a Swiss Army knife, and can’t remember using it. Even if it were useful, I still probably wouldn’t bring it now, simply because I can’t pack it in my carry-on. Checked baggage is a hassle and expense I avoid always packing light enough that a carry-on is all I need.

  25. I’m definitely guilty of over-packing and I often don’t wear 2/3 of the clothes I pack! Also, I usually bring a hair dryer and either never end up using it or there already is one in the hotel bathroom. Can definitely do without it!

  26. I used a bum bag every day when travelling in Alaska and Canada. Wore it over my slacks and under a coat or jumper, and it was very handy for carrying a little cash and my compact camera. It left my hands free when not taking photos, and was a lot less trouble than what a handbag would have been.

  27. Great list A sink plug never would have *occurred* to me to bring, haha… I do take hiking boots, but that’s mostly because mine look like simple black ankle boots, so they’re very all-purpose and comfortably well-worn. There are smaller multitools that are just as useful as a Swiss Army Knife, but take up significantly less space – fits into my purse or onto a keychain easy. I’ve found this indispensible – I use the mini scissors all the time for opening plastic packages or snipping off loose threads.

    I’d argue that one hooded jacket beats a sweater/cardigan, though. Easier to throw on and throw off while providing better protection from precipitation. I’ve had it very unexpectedly snow and hail on trips before when the weather was otherwise sunny and fine! I definitely always take a travel towel, but that’d be due to always staying in cheap hostels or going to rivers/lakes/oceans, so…

    Thanks for sharing!

  28. I always take a leatherman multi tool in my hold luggage, and I always take an extension socket lead too (there are never enough sockets). I have a UK one with a European plug, and vice versa depending on where I’m going. Everywhere has a hairdryer, if not in your room, then reception/concierge will have one, and if you are roughing it do you REALLY need one..?? PS – they are great for drying clothes..! Decant toiletries into smaller containers, especially minimal use but essential stuff like contact lense solutions, however, why not just buy daily contact lenses for the time you are away..? Use bog standard cheap shampoo, only take good conditioner, you’ll find that shampoos pretty much are made from the same composition of ingredients. A bar of soap is much less hassle, and lighter, than shower gel or liquid soap, and most places have it as complimentary anyway.

  29. Great list!!!
    I do love my travel towel though and i do travel with boots. Since my next trip will be 20-30% hiking that made more sense too me. Since i otherwise only wear converse

    I got a guide for SA the other day and i was not sure wheter to cry or laugh. A torch. Candles (in case the lights go out – you use your phone to find yhe torch and the torch to find the candles and then the lights already back on…)

  30. When I visited India, I packed a pair of shorts but wisely decided not to wear them until the stopover in Singapore on the way home. I won’t be packing any when I return later this year.
    Travel towels – yuck! Even the most budget accommodation usually have towels for hire at reception if they’re not provided, or, as you suggested, use a sarong or even a cotton shirt to dry off in a pinch.
    Safety pins are a really good idea – a life-saver when my salwar kameez pants elastic snapped in the middle of the vegetable markets in Navsari, India. Definitely ditch the full sewing kit though.
    I now use a lightweight (polycarbonate) wheeled suitcase for all my travel. It locks securely and can’t (easily) be slashed open. I’m not a hiker, nor travel on such a tight budget I can’t find the funds for a bus/taxi/train/rickshaw when needed, so I haven’t found many places where I couldn’t wheel a bag. If I do have to carry it, it’s usually only for a short distance.
    The last time I used a backpack was in Peru and I felt like such a tourist, especially as all the gorgeous South American women had trolley bags. India’s the same – spot the backpack = spot the tourist!

  31. Thank you for your blog, & all comments made, Have given me some helpful tips……
    Off to south Indian in 5 days.
    I do like to take a wash in line and we go nowear without a sarong actually we we take two each they double up as skirts, scarves, sheets (bedding can be abit off putting sometimes) also towels and sometimes picnic blankets. Not packed yet, but going to do our best to keep it light. We are guilty for packing first aid & imodium & the likes off…… Great tips guys. Happy travels

  32. Travel towels are horrible arent they!? Most hostels provide towels anyway – their free or a small charge to rent. I would definately add hair dryer and straighteners to the list of ‘what not to pack’ though.

  33. We’ve added female urination devices (whiz freedom, gogirl, etc.) to the list if you are going to be doing a fair amount of train/bus travel in Asia. Trying not to slip in a squattie train toilet on narrow gauge tracks is challenging. I was truly concerned about my then 11-year-old’s kidneys by the end of an 18 hour ride (she was no stranger to the squattie, we’ve traveled extensively in Asia since she was 7). It may stay in the bottom of your bag for a lot of the trip but it’s worth it!

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The Travel Hack

The Travel Hack is a blog about stylish adventure travel and affordable luxury.

We believe luxurious travel can be affordable and isn't just for the rich. Follow along with our worldwide adventures as we share our trips and tips for incredible travel experiences on a modest budget.