1. Bank cards
Never leave home without your Visa and at least two debits, especially if you have more than one bank account (which is always a good idea).
2. Grocery-store member cards
The shoestring traveler knows that every dollar saved on a box of granola or tube of toothpaste is one more dollar they can spend on the next box of granola or toothpaste.
3. Mini mirror
Vanity is not a backpacker’s vice. Nevertheless, a mirror has more functions than making yourself look decent as a hitchhiker. It can also be used as an emergency signal. If you have a dead camera lying around, the paper-thin metallic disc inside the lens can be salvaged and is super lightweight and reflective.
4. Hostelling International card
Another essential for any traveler. Hostelling International is one of the largest hostelling chains in the world, with over 4,000 hostels in over 80 countries. Being a member gets you priority reservations and discounts and also makes you eligible for annual prize drawings.
5. Twist ties
All but weightless with a thousand uses and counting.
6. Internet/phone card
Our tie to home often comes down to a friendly email or phone call from a friend or family member. Having a ration of minutes in card form is the psychological safety net that allows us to keep moving, even when we’re overwhelmed.
7. First-aid / other certifications
If you decide to work in a foreign country, having some documentation in 8x5cm form not only shows foresight, it also makes you credible to authorities and employers alike.
8. Health / insurance card
Stay safe, stay smart, know your blood type, and keep a record of your allergies, vaccinations, and emergency contact information.
9. Coupons and stamps
Another strategy of the thrifty traveler. Free meals, stamp cards, and discounts all eventually add up, and even if it’s just a coffee or a happy meal from a McDonalds in Bolivia, the fact it’s free somehow makes it taste better and takes the edge off worrying about your funds. Especially important if you frequent chains.
The size of a pinky nail and practical for fixing your coat, using as tokens in a friendly game of poker on an overnight train, adjusting a wobbly chair at a restaurant, or attaching to a fishhook as a lure.
11. Mini flash drive and light
Carrying a flash drive is an excellent way to share photos, copy documents like eBooks or passport scans, watch movies on long bus rides, and most importantly exchange music (especially when the map of your travels is measured less by kilometers than by the music and the people who introduced you to it). Some drives also come equipped with a miniature LED flashlight, which has innumerable benefits, not the least of which is looking for the power outlet in a dark room.
Another no-brainer, don’t just limit yourself to one piece. Passport photocopies, driver’s licenses, student cards (ISIC), heck, even your member card to the bouldering gym. The more you have that says you’re you, the better off you’ll be in a tight border crossing or customs check (although government-issued ID is the best).
13. Cardboard ruler
I picked this one up by accident. Many notebooks have a cardboard ruler in the back you can cut out, and it fits nicely in most wallets.
14. Thumb-sized pencil
Even if you’re not a writer, a small pencil with a good eraser is the key to responsible traveling. Mark down phone numbers or email addresses of fellow travelers, departure times of buses, addresses to a hostel, or even a word in a foreign language you want to look up later. It also doubles as a roller for duct tape, dry tinder, a toothpick, and a candle. Yes, you can use pencils as candles. Not for very long, but they work.
15. Detachable razor head
Small and safe, a detachable Mach 3 gives you the option of shaving on the go. In a pinch, the plastic head can also be disassembled and each blade removed individually.
16. Paper clips and rubber band
A few paper clips and rubber bands take up virtually no space and are a handy traveler’s best friend when it comes to MacGyver-ing a hair clip, fixing a watch band, holding your laundry in place, or simply marking a page in a borrowed, dog-eared Lonely Planet.
17. Sewing needle and one meter of thread
For emergency surgery, whether on yourself or a pair of well-worn cargo pants. Can be safely stored in the plastic case from a mechanical pencil refill.
18. Waterproof “strike anywhere” matches
Not an imperative item. However, if you find yourself doing some serious bumming and roadside camping, the above pencil refill case makes an excellent weatherproof container for a few matches.
19. Business cards
You’re bound to run into locals and travelers alike, and more than a few of them will have business cards. You never know when you might need to call on their hospitality, or return the favor. They’re the unofficial, underground way of connecting people to other people. They also double as emergency paper if you need to jot down something before you forget.
20. Extra passport pictures
Another light and easy-to-carry item. Say, if you find yourself wanting to apply for a last-minute working-holiday visa in Australia.
21. Transferable bus tickets
A few extra transit or subway tickets can get you out of a bind in a pinch. Additionally, short of cigarettes, they’re probably the second-best nomadic offering if you want to make a new friend.
22. Extra memory card
A safe place for those albums.
23. MEC card
If you’re Canadian, this is one of the few items that sets you apart — the presence of your Mountain Equipment Co-op member card. You never know when you’ll need to refurbish your outdoor supplies.
24. Bike key
The most reliable form of transportation, excluding your own two feet.
Many countries have cash-based economies, which can sometimes be hard to get used to if you’re from a card-based economy like Canada or the United States. Always making sure you have an ample supply of paper money on hand makes traveling less stressful, especially if you plan ahead and have more than one currency to bargain with. If at all possible, keep your coinage to a minimum.
Some people have wallet chains. I opt for a durable length of hiking shoelace, which doubles as a replacement for my boots.