Your next solo trip abroad should make you feel like a total gallivanting superhero. But just how Wonder Woman isn’t Wonder Woman without her Lasso of Truth, or how Batman isn’t Batman without his fanny pack of badass gadgets, you shouldn’t set out without the right gear to get you there and back again safely and comfortably.
Take it from someone who learned the hard way: Throw out the extra two pairs of shoes you won’t actually wear, and start getting the right stuff organized. Your trip’s coming up, and it’s time to pack.
Part I: Staying Comfortable
Basic, comfy clothing…that you picked up at a thrift store. I once traveled with someone who was always on edge that his $60 belt and $110 pants would get stolen. Not-so-funny story: They did. Simply put, don’t travel with your prized possessions.
Instead, try digging for thrifty finds before a trip to fill your suitcase or backpack. That way, if something does get ruined or lost, you’re not out a ton of money and you won’t be preoccupied the rest of the trip about how you no longer have your favorite shirt (y’know, the one that’s covered in cat faces). Not to mention, you won’t mind giving away or donating some clothes to make room for that fake alpaca sweater in Peru that everyone else is wearing that you just have to have anyway.
Multi-purpose shoes. If you think you should pack four pairs of shoes for a trip abroad, reel yourself back in for a minute. Try to reduce the weight of your luggage — and save a ridiculous amount of space — by getting a single pair of shoes that does it all: comfortable enough to go city exploring, sturdy enough for some light hiking, and waterproof so they won’t rub your feet raw if they get wet. Bonus points if you can rock them out to dinner.
A jacket with zipper pockets. The jacket part is for the cooler days — the zippers are so you don’t find yourself reaching into a pocket of nothingness when it comes time to snap that photo (on the phone you no longer own) or sobbing over the food you can no longer pay for with the money you no longer have. Maybe it got swiped on a crowded subway platform. Maybe it fell out on mile 7.6 of that mountain trail. Maybe it flew away in the breeze on that yacht off the coast of Estonia. Who knows?
If you had zipper pockets, you would, that’s who.
A scarf or shawl. Shawls rock because of how versatile they are. Bunch it up to make a pillow, use it as a blanket when you’re having a nap in a McDonald’s booth at the airport, or throw it over your shoulders when you’re at the beach to block out the breeze. And men? Yes, you can definitely rock a shawl.
Hairbands and binderclips. Long hair or not, you can use hairbands any number of ways — like keeping cords organized or holding your rolled clothes together, which saves space and keeps them from wrinkling. Binder clips function much the same way. They organize cords and cards, keep bags of food closed, yada yada yada. And that razor you have with no protector? Put a binder clip over it, and voilà! Bloody thumb averted.
Part II: Staying Safe
A first-aid kit. Time to put your parents at ease. Be sure to customize your first-aid kit with special medications, those Ninja Turtle band-aids you love, or a particular cream you’ve been prescribed. This goes double if your solo trip is the outdoorsy kind.
Pepper gel. Time to really put your parents at ease. Before I started traveling, my mom would stuff my stockings at the holidays with stuff like chapstick, mints, Reese’s, and other little candies. After I started traveling? SABRE Pepper Gel. While it’s easy to roll your eyes at stuff like this, it doesn’t hurt to bring along something (on the plane in your checked bag, nonetheless!) that will give you peace of mind and some extra protection.
And pepper gel, I hear you say? Yeah, pepper gel. Like the more familiar pepper spray, this personal safety device is used to prevent potential attacks and provide safety at a distance. Unlike pepper spray, pepper gel virtually eliminates the chance of wind blowback, so it only hits the intended target and not you. It also shoots 20% farther (12 feet / 4 meters) than traditional pepper spray — providing protection at a safer distance (giving more peace of mind to you and Mom).
Fanny pack or money belt. When someone mocks fanny packs or money belts, all I can hear is that they hate sensibility. They’re convenient, they keep your money in a safe and discreet place, and Batman rocks one. But to the point: On an overnight bus or train, I can guarantee you’ll be sleeping more soundly with your money and small valuables in a pack tucked safely under your clothes.
A door stopper and/or personal alarm. You’ve got a whole day of exploring to do tomorrow, but you won’t be able to enjoy it if you’re super groggy because you spent the night feeling unsafe. Pick up a SABRE door stopper with a built-in alarm for under $15. They’re like a normal door stopper…only they ring out at 120 decibels when pressure is applied, an ear-splitting screech that can be heard up to 1,000 feet (300 meters) away, alerting your neighbors of an intruder. The non-skid pad makes sure the door stays closed, too.
If you’re looking for this type of safety when you’re out and about, check out the range of SABRE personal alarms. They combine easy portability with a 120-decibel “get out of my face” alarm that’s audible up to 600 feet away (185 meters) to totally disrupt any potential threats — in addition to being a call for assistance.
A portable charger (or two). Keep that phone juiced up! You’ll need to stay in touch with friends and family back home to let them know you’re doing just fine. Or to grab a Lyft, coordinate with your foreign Airbnb buddy, or pull up that train schedule. Or just to find out how your cat is, whatever. You live by your phone — don’t let it die on you.
Part III: Staying Clean
Baby wipes. No one ever really smells like a bowl of potpourri when they’re traveling — especially if you find yourself on 30-hour bus rides or staying at a hostel where there’s only two showers and 32 guests. You’re hiking, you’re kayaking, you’re breaking a sweat just walking the streets of Rome; there’s no way you’re going to be showering as much as you’d like.
Enter the humble baby wipe. It’s amazing how running one of these bad boys over your body, on your face, and under your fingernails can feel like an actual shower. Stock up like you’re Octomom, and hygiene won’t be making your list of travel sacrifices.
Dry shampoo. It’s been five days since your last shower, and your hair looks like you’re auditioning for a part in Grease. Time to puff some dry shampoo on those roots! Fluff and go. Pair it with a relaxing wash-off with a baby wipe and call it a nomadic spa day.
A microfiber towel. Who’s got room for a bulky towel that’ll probably mildew within the first week? Not you. And truth is, you probably won’t come across fresh towels at every place you stay. Microfiber towels are quick-drying and tiny enough to fit in your luggage without taking up much space. It took me three backpacking trips to figure this one out, and it’s been an absolute game changer ever since.
A few plastic bags. While plastic is a total plague on the environment, you can put it to good use while traveling — for trash, to put your stuff in to keep out moisture, for dirty clothes and muddy shoes, whatever. And you don’t have to go out and buy new ones, either — just grab a few old grocery bags and you’re good to go. Plus, they can be shoved to the deepest, darkest corners of your pack or suitcase so they’re not taking up any room.
There you have it! Be smart and travel prepared — like the badass solo adventurer we all know you are.