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Photo by flavouz. Cover image by Magalai Veldhuis

While many travel gadgets simply take up precious space in your backpack, there are some invaluable items no self-respecting traveller should leave home without.

Bad gadgets are universally bad, however, the “most useful” plaudit is a contentious one: everyone has their favourite. A penknife you can use to remove stones from horses’ hooves or an MP3 player with a back catalogue of eighties disco classics; I can’t say they won’t find a use by somebody somewhere. The following are my humble suggestions.

1. Sarong

A sarong is not just for girl travellers. Trust me. If the idea of a large, extremely lightweight towel that dries in minutes costing next to nothing sounds like a mythical travel accessory, you’ve yet to discover the benefits of a sarong. And no, it needn’t be brightly coloured and flowery; mine is rainforest green with turtles on it. How manly can you get?

2. Combination Lock

photo by fattytuna

If you keep valuables in the pocket of a small rucksack, you can discourage the wandering hands of a pickpocket by locking the zips together. A lock and key will do the job, but it’s far too easy to lose the key (the logical conclusion being a date between the redundant lock and a hacksaw). A combination lock set with a memorable code is the answer. Just remember to change the code before you travel, I can assure you thieves will guess “0000” pretty quickly.

3. Earplugs

There are some sounds you really don’t want to hear while travelling: the rasping snores of a fellow passenger on a long haul flight; an all-night sex marathon in a hostel with paper-thin walls; cockerels at 4 am; Bollywood films at full volume on an overnight bus journey. Take a few pairs of earplugs and your auditory equipment will be saved from abuse and corruption.

4. Money Belt

At times you will be carrying more cash than you wish to. The only place to keep this is somewhere inaccessible to pickpockets. This usually means touching bare flesh and below the waist. If a thief is scrabbling around your nether regions, you’ll know. Rather than stuff everything into your underwear, a money belt is the practical approach to storing valuables on your person. Don’t ever be tempted to wear the belt outside your clothes (looking stupid would be the least of your worries).

5. Duvet Cover

This may seem an odd thing to take travelling and is not a suggestion to remake the bed linen upon checking into your room. This is invaluable if you need to sleep in a public place – Indian sleeper trains in particular – and want to have a cocoon where you can snooze, hide valuables and use as a physical barrier to the outside world. Whereas a sleeping bag would be impractical in a hot country, a thin duvet cover is perfect.

6. World Band Radio

No matter how much fun you are having on an extended trip away from home, you will inevitably feel homesick at least once. One way of keeping this in check is with a world band radio. The friendly voice of a world service announcer telling you how things are back home will help you through your melancholy until your next bungee jump or white water rafting trip.

7. Binoculars

photo by doeth

“Oh how I wish I’d brought binoculars” wasn’t what I thought I’d be saying on my last trip, until I was in a national park using the maximum zoom on my compact camera trying to see the vague shape of a tiger. Modern binoculars take up little space and you’ll be able to say “Oh, how glad I am to have brought my lovely binoculars. Is that rhino charging straight towards us?”

8. Multi-Tool

A good multi-tool will make life on the road a great deal easier. Aside from the equine-related stone-remover (which I can’t say I’ve ever used), the possibilities are endless. Not all beer bottles come with twist-off caps – the bottle opener attachment will save the heartache of sitting down to an al-fresco brew at sunset only to be thwarted by the cap. Sawing the top off a coconut to drink the milk inside will always appeal to your inner hunter-gatherer.

9. Flashlight

A little obvious, perhaps, but highly recommended. If you ever need to find your way to an outdoor toilet in the pitch dark, this is very difficult without a flashlight. Hazardous even. When your primary urge is to urinate, stumbling through the undergrowth of a rural village without seeing what you are stepping on is a recipe for disaster. As is doing all of the above while inebriated, but I’d rather not expand on that.

10. Photos From Home

It’s surprising the number of times local people ask to see photos of your family. There is an innate curiosity in everyone and people you meet want to know about a different way of life as much as you do. It doesn’t matter if you have a picture of your wedding day, your three year old nephew or Uncle Frank’s 60th birthday party, have some to hand just in case. A cultural exchange goes both ways.

I would never presume to call this list “the top ten greatest travel items of all time” as everyone will have their preferred can’t-leave-home-without something. I have also knowingly omitted life-saving items such as insect repellent, mosquito nets and water purifiers as these are essential rather than simply useful. These ten represent the things I find enhance my travels – whether I am drunkenly peeing in the dark or blocking out the coital cacophony of my fellow backpackers.

Check out Stephen’s round-up of: The 5 Worst Travel Gadgets.



About The Author

Stephen Orchard

Stephen Orchard is a UK-based freelance writer specializing in travel journalism and a frustrated novice surfer. Incredibly passionate about independent travel, he embarked on a world trip to Asia and Australia in 2000 and has backpacked around Borneo, Morocco and Madagascar. Visit his website .

  • sandra

    I can’t believe that you forgot to mention anything about travel towels or sarongs?

    Anyway, if you’re a girl and you travel, a sarong is definitely a must have.
    I’ve had a few sarongs but I find that they are not very absorbent… Usually they are made of thin cotton or polyester.
    Recently before I went on my trip to Africa I bought a type of sarong / beach towel dress called a Towelini.

    I like it because it’s made of terry cloth, but it can be tied into a dress, like a sarong or used as a beach towel. I would recommend it as a hybrid sarong or travel towel. The website is

  • Nomadic Matt

    I dont think I’ve ever used the money belt….

    my must have is an ipod….i need music…

  • Lola Akinmade

    Nice list Stephen.

    I would add:

    - Ziploc plastic bags – for everything from spillable items to dirty underwear

    - Flipflops – for nasty communal showers/baths and (if allowed) walking around indoors

    These are my 2 essentials!

  • Pauline H

    Stephen great list but one thing I do differently is the duvet cover. I picked up a hand made cushion a few years ago that converts to a small blanket and it isnt too thick so I use that instead of your suggestion and oh I agree with Lola on the ziplock bags. I have to take them as an essential. I can forgo the music but do take some photos from home. All the rest of your list are on mine too.


  • troy

    Great list.
    You’ve nailed my list although I prefer a travel towel to a sarong.

    The other commenter’s additions are also mine:
    flipflops (thongs in Oz) – are small, light always used.
    ziplock bags – I always pack a bundle of different sizes for any trip.

  • karthik

    I am amazed to see that you have forgotten to include a Camera. I can’t travel without one and of course my IPod.

  • adam gardner

    I carry 2 bandanas. mostly for washing. but ready for 1st aid, wrapping, sweating and they are cost effecting and less exotic as that other thing mentioned. Acombination lock is too heavy for my light style. plus anything that is dear (journal, passport, suvival kit and jewels, i keep with me in a cinch sak that slings over one shoulder (change shoulders regularly!). this sak is key as it keeps the hands fee yet the openning accessible. everything else is in the main pack which i will hide or entrust with another. Ive been run through by bandits, cops, and well thats all bandits and cops and they all looked for a money belt. none thought to look around my neck though. plus one looks silly with their “underwear”.belt at a checkout counter. I should note that although you can get away from bandits and cops without giving them money or not letting them know you have any, your attempts will backfire miserably if you have your identification with your money. Not having ID is a damn good way to be detained and ultimately your money will be found.. My multi tool is a plier set which is great for loosening knots, grabbing pots off the fire, and such. It is a part of my survival kit which also includes magnesium/flint for fire starting in a pinch. For flashlights I recommend the mini mag. Ive tried many but theirs is the most versatile and best functioning light i’ve used. here’s a small list that many might not have considered: 1 battery charger, 2 sun hat that folds/fits into pocket. (the “chinstrap” is actually to be tied behind the head and knotted below the occipital protuberance [the bump in the back of the head] in heavy winds), 3 yeah carrying a camera is something I just started doing, and lets me show off when I go home. 4 good bedding. I travel light, but don’t sacrifice sleep to do it. Good bedding is essential, but a tent is not. I carry a tarp to keep the rain off. it’s light affordable and versatile. thankyou for allowing me to share.

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