10 Essential Items for the Long-term Traveler
Last November, I quit my fancy job as a magazine editor in New York City to travel Asia for a year. In the months leading up to my departure, I agonized over what to pack. But now that I’m halfway through the trip, I see what a fool’s errand all that worrying was. Things I was convinced I needed before hitting the road—a hand-held water purifier, rubber Converse for rainy days—seem laughable in hindsight. Meanwhile, items I almost left behind have become indispensable. In no particular order, here are the 10 unsung heroes from my pan-Asian adventure.
Traipsing barefoot through monkey excrement at Myanmar’s Mount Popa is just one example of a time when sanitizing wipes came in handy. (Nonstop sightseeing, street eating, and sweating under a brutal sun do not a clean traveler make.) Load up on these anytime you see them, as one pack is never enough.
The unsexiest V.I.P. of all. I won’t bore you with the tech-nerd specifics—just know that this little white box can power up to six electronic devices (computer, phone, tablet, etc.) at the same time and in more than 150 countries. It’s like having a miniature power strip on the road, minus the extra bulk and tangle of cords.
The best travel shoe there is. Ideal for pounding the pavement in both city and country, they’re lightweight, versatile, and easy to slip on and off at temples (of which Asia has about 400 million). If they get dirty, I just hand-wash them in the sink and they’re dry again in 24 hours. A regular sprinkling of baby powder keeps them smelling fresh.
I made merciless fun of my boyfriend when he told me he was packing this, along with a portable hand grinder. Boy, was I wrong. In countries where instant coffee reigns supreme and the real stuff is the domain of lottery winners, this coffeemaker has been a major wake-up call. Just be prepared to explain what it is, over and over again, to clueless airport security. (It helps if you make enthusiastic hand-grinding and sipping motions.)
True story: Less than one month into my trip, I dropped my new iPhone 6 into a sewer in Hong Kong. Though my boyfriend was able to pry off the iron grate and fish the phone out of the muck (bless his heart), the thing was a goner. And of course I hadn’t backed anything up, so I lost several weeks’ worth of photos. Pretty devastating. That night, I went online to order the most hardcore, heavy-duty, waterproof, dust-proof, drop-proof iPhone case I could find—along with a new phone.
You’ll want to jot down way more than you think. I keep handwritten logs of my daily spending, the foods we eat, and phonetic pronunciations of key phrases like “Hello,” “Thank you,” “How much?,” and “Delicious!” for each place we visit.
Never a minute goes by that we aren’t dying of thirst, and while bottled water is cheap and plentiful, it feels wasteful to chug through so much plastic. That’s where this collapsible 1-liter bottle comes in. I fill it in the morning and once it’s empty, I just press the air out, roll it up, and toss it in my purse until I find a refill station (more common than you’d think).
These translucent nylon bags work miracles to separate, organize, and smush my belongings. The trick is to roll the clothes military-style first, line them up like sardines inside the bag, zip it up, and then sit on it like an elephant until it is as flat as a pancake. Works every time.
No matter what generation of phone you have, the battery never lasts long enough when you’re traveling. (After an hour of picture-taking, my phone typically reads 28%.) This lightweight charger is the best way to re-juice on the road.
I used to wear a lot of makeup, but since I’ve been traveling in Asia’s melt-your-face-off heat, I stick to a minimalist routine: 50+ SPF sunscreen, a translucent finishing powder, waterproof mascara, and lip gloss. Pond’s is my cosmetic-bag superstar: It removes the dirt and grime of the day, plus all that stubborn mascara, in one fell swoop.
Photo by Ashlea Halpern