Backpacks are a huge part of the RTW traveler’s life and are one of the most crucial pieces of gear. Chances are the traveler will want to pick out his or her own pack, so they can try it on and make sure it fits and feels good. If you (or someone you want to buy a gift for) are planning a trip and in need of a pack, consider the following options. The first two are both small enough to fit in a carry-on compartment if you’re a light enough packer, but big enough to fit everything you need. The third one, the Gregory backpack, is too big to carry-on, but not so massive that you’re going to fall over backwards when putting it on. It’s great for multi-day treks. I’ve had the Gregory pack since 2002, and it is the one that accompanied me on my RTW trip in 2008-2009. It’s still going strong, and I’d be surprised if it didn’t last another 10 years.
We’re also big fans of Tortuga Backpacks for urban travel.
2. Travel hammocks
Travel hammocks are incredibly lightweight, durable, and easy to rig up. With a travel hammock in your pack, you always have a place to call it a night or take an afternoon siesta. They’ll also help you make friend; put one up and I guarantee people will be drawn to you.
3. Compression sacks
Don’t know how you are going to fit all the clothes you need for your yearlong trip into that teeny tiny backpack? Easy- with compression sacks. By squeezing all the air out of your clothes with compression straps, compression sacks pack clothes down to next to nothing and maximize the amount of space in your backpack. They are also great for keeping your gear organized and separating your cleans from your dirties. The Sea To Summit Ultra-Sil Compression Sacks are extremely lightweight, durable, water resistant, and available in many sizes and colors.
4. Packing cubes
An alternative or supplement to compression sacks that keeps everything nice, neat, and organized are packing cubes. There’s a lot of variety when it comes to packing cubes, from packing envelopes, which are great for keeping those clothes neatly folded without wrinkles, to regular size and half size packing cubes. You’ll never have to tear through your messy pack again with these bad boys.
5. A Hand Bag
There are thousands upon thousands of hand bags that are good for taking out with you as you traverse a new city. Some are styled like small backpacks. Some look more like a purse. When possible, my wife and I like to bring only one bag with us when we head out for the day, and this Pacsafe unisex hand bag makes for the perfect day bag and a great way to travel around with your most valuable items. We took it on our RTW world trip, and it now accompanies us on any trip we take.
The wire mesh throughout the interior of the bag makes it slash proof, so carrying it around a crowded city can give you a peace of mind, even if you have a small laptop, expensive camera, or if you decide to bring your cash, credit cards, or passport with you. There is also zipper security and a lock strap hook to give you double protection. It won’t fit a laptop over 13 inches, but it’s perfect for a tablet, smaller laptop, or a small DSLR camera plus whatever else you need to carry with you during a day out in the city. This bag is also nice for overland travel as you can secure it to your seat without having to worry about it getting cut open.
6. Travel clothing with lots of pockets
If Rolf Potts can make it around the world without carrying a single piece of luggage, you may want to reevaluate how much gear you’re taking on your trip. Potts did it by carrying all his necessities in SCOTTeVEST apparel, super lightweight and wrinkle-free travel clothing with multiple pockets to hold all your travel accessories and gear. With 25 pockets in the SCOTTeVEST Men’s Sterling Jacket and 10 secure pockets in the Flex Cargo Pants, you won’t need one of those annoying money belts and you might even be able to get away with a smaller pack. While all this stuff is quite practical, it’s not going to win you any fashion awards, if that’s what you’re into.
7. A good pair of flip flops
RTW travelers agonize over how many and which types of shoes to bring, but one thing is pretty constant – sandals or flip flops. Nearly all long term travelers bring a pair of sandals or flip flops with them for showering and beach purposes. If you’re one of those people who lives in your sandals at home during the summer months like I do, then it pays to spring for a nicer, more durable pair for your trip. I bought a pair of Chaco flip flops halfway through my RTW in 2008-2009, and despite wearing them every single day for 6 months throughout Southeast Asia and India and being home for over 3 years now, I am just now needing to replace them before next summer. They’re nice and durable, and while they can be worn in hostel showers and at the beach, they’re also plenty comfortable to walk around cities.
8. Travel towel
Towels are necessary when you are traveling. Though you may not shower quite as often as when you’re at home, you will shower at some point (hopefully). If you’re going to be hosteling it, you’re going to need a towel as many hostels do not provide them. Carrying a big, heavy towel that you would use at home just doesn’t make sense, with the weight and time it takes to dry, so that’s why they make light-weight, travel size towels. Travel towels come in many different sizes, and are made of super absorbent, quick drying fabric, making it a great addition for the RTW traveler’s backpack.
9. Travel tripod
Want to capture all those spectacular sunrises you will be seeing all over the world? No matter how hard you try to keep still during those low lighting shots, the results will most often be shaky. The Joby Gorillapod Flexible Tripod weighs only 1.6 ounces and literally monkeys its way around any object or surface to get you the perfect shot. Unlike regular tripods, the Gorillapod doesn’t need a flat surface, but bends and rotates to create a level surface. It then folds up nicely to stow in your purse or cargo vest.
Even if you’re not the hiking type of traveler, it’s always good to have a flashlight of some sort during your travels. If you stay in hostels, it’s nice to have a light for those middle of the night bathroom breaks. If you do a lot of overland travel, you never know when you’re going to need to find your iPod or book that fell under your seat once that sun goes down. Though you may not look super stylish, this Petzl headlamp is a major improvement on your basic flashlight as it keeps both of your hands free to put up your tent or search for the keys you just dropped.
11. Moleskin travel journal
Even if you’re planning on blogging quite a bit from the road, there are going to be plenty of times when you don’t have your laptop right in front of you to record your thoughts. A moleskin journal works great for those times when you just need to jot a few thoughts down. Or if you need to record an address, name, email address, or restaurant or hostel recommendation. Sure, you could use a regular old notebook, but after a few weeks on the road, they get pretty beat up and start falling apart. Moleskin journals certainly cost a bit more, but they are extremely durable and fit perfectly in your pocket for times when you don’t want to bring a bag out with you.
12. Travel water purifier
A SteriPEN Traveler Mini may be the best travel insurance you can buy. Worried about water quality during your travels? Just zap it with your SteriPEN and then drink worry free. Like all other SteriPEN water purifiers, the Traveler Mini uses UV light to destroy more than 99% of harmful organisms. In addition to knowing that your water is safe to drink, purifying water as you go eases the conscious since you won’t be contributing to all that disposable water bottle waste.
13. Sleep sack
A sleep sack will prove invaluable when you find yourself in questionable bedding situations in hostels and hotels round the world. The Hammock Bliss Sleep Sack is incredibly lightweight at only 11 ounces and protects your skin from unknown hazards. The sleep sack also packs up into an attached pouch, which doubles as a travel pillow great for train and bus rides. Or if you have an awesome mother-in-law like I do who is handy with a sewing machine, maybe you can talk her into making one out of silk sheets. One of the best things I brought on my RTW trip.
I have to admit that I am the furthest thing from an Apple fanboy. Up until a few months ago, the only Apple product I have ever owned was an iPod. I vowed never to purchase an iPhone because of the pompous “If you don’t have an iPhone…” commercials that were running a few years back.
But a few months ago I broke down. At the suggestion of some of my travel friends, I bought an iPad right before our latest international trip, and I have to admit that I am officially sold. Yes, if you are just buying it for use at home, it is what amounts to an overpriced toy (an awesome toy, but a toy nonetheless). But if you’re a traveler, there aren’t many things better and more useful. Unless you need to work while on your RTW or are really planning on running a serious blog, an iPad is worlds better than bringing a laptop. It’s small, durable, lightweight, the battery lasts forever, and it has so many incredible travel apps it’s ridiculous. While they are expensive, I can’t think of a better travel companion for your RTW trip.
15. Point and shoot camera
Not every RTW traveler is a photographer-wanna-be, but I’m going to assume all RTW travelers like to have photographic memories of their adventures. If you’re not big into photography, there’s simply no reason to lug a big DSLR around with you. The advancement of point and shoots over the last half decade has been astounding. We have carried around a small Canon for years now, and we love it (though you can always find a good point and shoot of any brand/model). The Canon PowerShot line make great travel cameras. They’re easy to use, and with 20 MP, you’ll never miss a memorable moment.
Even if you’re not typically an avid reader, there’s a lot of down time when on a RTW trip. Sometimes it’s nice to just sit in the hostel common room or in the middle of a park on a nice sunny day with a good book. But books get heavy, and since you can get an e-Reader like a Kindle for as low as $69US, it’s almost a no-brainer to pick up the e-Reader of your choice before taking off. You can even buy your guide books, and even better, chapters of guide books, saving you tons of space and weight in your pack.
17. Portable external hard drive
You can never backup your computer too much, especially when you are traveling, so a portable external hard drive makes a great gift for the techie traveler. The Toshiba Canvio is just a little bigger than an iPod Touch and holds up to 1TB of your files, music, and photos. The pocket sized hard drive has a shock sensor to protect your contents on the road. Just make sure to store the external drive in a different location than your laptop so you don’t get both of them ripped off in case your bag got stolen.
18. 4-port USB charger
Outlets can sometimes be scarce on the road, and that is why a 4-port USB charger that charges up to four mobile devices at the same time is a godsend for world travelers. Charge your smart phone, iPod, and tablet all at the same time with just one charger. The Kensington 4-Port USB Charger eliminates the need to carry multiple wall chargers, plus it keeps all your devices in the same locale when charging.
19. Portable speakers
If you’re like me and can’t go a day without listening to music, then you’re going to need something other than your headphones to listen. I know that I love to have some music playing in my room while I’m showering, getting ready, or just chilling. There are all types of different speakers on the market, but travelers need something small and lightweight to justify bringing it. Enter iHome’s Rechargeable minispeakers. Not only are they really small and lightweight, the sound is great.
20. Travel movies and documentaries
RTW travelers who are still in the dreaming or planning stage love to gobble up anything travel related, so consider putting the following movies, documentaries, and travel related DVD’s on your gift wish list:
- A Map for Saturday is a documentary by Brook Silva-Braga, who left his job in television to travel the world for a year.
- If you’re still trying to figure out where to go on your RTW trip, the Planet Earth DVD series will give you plenty of ideas for beautiful places to visit around the world.
- The Motorcycle Diaries follows the life of famous revolutionary Che Guevara and will have you yearning to go on your own motorcycle trip through South America.
- While the movie gets a lot of heat because of the differences from Alex Garland’s famous novel of the same name, The Beach will still have you wanting to take off with Daffy to find your own secluded paradise.
21. Travel books
RTW travelers love to read all they can about traveling, and there’s all types of books out there geared towards those who love long-term travel.
- The Rough Guide First-Time Around the World lets the first-time RTW traveler in on all the practical information he or she needs to know.
- Rolf Pott’s Vagabonding is one of, if not the most popular long-term travel book out there. Take advice from one of the most popular travel writers around as he gives tons of great tips for RTW travel.
- If you’re looking to make the most of your money on the road, then pick up Tim Leffel’s The World’s Cheapest Destinations: 21 Countries Where Your Money is Worth a Fortune.
- Jason Thiessen’s Around My World: A Detour on Life’s Journey serves as inspiration for those looking to head out on the road.
22. Leatherman or Swiss Army Knife multitool
The RTW traveler has to be like a boyscout, prepared for any situation. The only problem is that it’s impossible to carry all those pesky just-in-case items with you. One thing you should never leave at home is a multi-tool of some sorts. Whether it’s a Swiss Army Knife or a Leatherman, don’t leave home without your trusty tool. You never know when you’re going to need one.
23. Pocket corkscrew
Even if you’re a super light traveler, you have to have your priorities in line. Never in a million years would I have thought I needed a corkscrew, but that was before I got to Bolivia. After buying a bottle of wine to enjoy on our balcony overlooking Lake Titicaca, we thought it would be simple to get it opened in the restaurant of our hostel. Not so, so we spent the next half hour trying to open a bottle of wine with our leatherman, which eventually worked, but not well. We got a little cork with each sip of wine, and we would have been saved had we thought about bringing a pocket corkscrew. Never again will we forget this trusty little piece of necessary equipment. If you know a traveler who is also a drinker (and let’s face it, most of us are), then this is great little stocking-stuffer.
24. Travel underwear and socks
I have never been particular about socks or underwear until I took a long trip and only had a few pairs of each for an entire year. Everyone has a favorite brand when it comes to socks. The most important thing you should be looking for is to get away from cotton. Wool of some sort that is moisture wicking and absorbant is the way to go. I’m Smartwool all the way, but there are many brands out there to try.
When it comes to underwear, though, particularly for men, it really doesn’t get any better than Exofficio underwear. They wick moisture and dry quickly after sink laundering, and they do a great job of dealing with that oh-so-uncomfortable chaffing after traipsing around a city like Bangkok all day long. Every traveler needs at least one pair of these, oh and they make great stocking stuffers for travelers too (editor’s note: I brought 4 pairs of these bad boys on my RTW trip with me, and they were the only underwear I had. Not only did they last the entire trip, but they lasted another 18 months after I returned. Seriously bad-ass underwear, no puns intended).
25. High-tech bandanas
When packing for a round-the-world trip, you’re going to want to make sure that everything in your pack serves multiple purposes and Buffs do just that. Buff UV Bandanas act like a scarf, cap, headband, ski mask, neck gaiter, or dust screen. Printed in plenty of fun designs, the Buff bandanas are made from 100% polyester microfiber and protect you from the sun and the inevitable bad hair days caused by life on the road.
Get more tips on RTW travel gear: The Ultimate Guide to Packing for an RTW Trip
Adam Seper and his wife, Megan, decided that 50+ hour workweeks with 2 weeks of vacation a year simply wasn’t going to cut it. So they decided to take a leap of faith and put The American Dream on hold. In October 2008, they took off on an epic, year-long adventure, traversing the globe and traveling to 89 cities and 11 countries across 4 continents, never to be the same again.
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Photo credits: Rawpixel.com, Grigor Ivanov, Poprotskiy Alexey, Ramon Antinolo, Diabluses, senee sriyota, Africa Studio