When you carry your entire life in a rucksack, you need to be picky about what you keep in it. The challenge of managing my belongings prudently with limited space has been one of the many learning curves of life on the road.
What I have found is that you don’t need to spend lots of money on expensive gear to get by. Some of the most useful, versatile and hassle-saving items in my rucksack are also the cheapest.
Below I have compiled a list of my favourite budget travel gadgets. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve called upon one of these in a difficult moment and been thankful that I spent my loose change on them.
1. Cable ties
At the beginning of the outdoor season in Patagonia, we took on the W Trek, one of the world’s most famous multi-day hiking trails. What we didn’t realise beforehand is that the tent pitches on some of the trail’s campsites consist of raised wooden platforms.
This left us in a pickle on the first day of our trek. How would we peg the tent down? “I know,” said Lisa, resourceful as ever. “The cable ties!”
In a moment of just-in-casery, we had brought a bag of cable ties with us from the UK. They weigh virtually nothing, take up barely any space, and didn’t cost more than a couple of quid. So why not? Using a handful of them, we created cable tie chains to secure the corners of the tent to the platform. Without them, we might have been blown away in the night by the fierce Patagonian winds.
It was not the last time the cable ties would come to our aid. Under the strain of everyday usage, the threads in my walking sandals severed. Many months later, the sandals are still intact thanks to a cable tie quick fix. Similarly, the strap on my Fitbit watch began to come apart. How did I fix it? You guessed it – with cable ties.
Buy it on Amazon: 100 pack of Black Cable Ties, 100mm x 2.5mm, £2.75
2. Camel pack
If you are an active traveller who likes to walk around cities and explore the countryside, especially in hot places, a reliable water supply is likely to feature at the top of your list of concerns.
Carrying big bottles of water can be fiddly and irritating, and if you need to stop and unzip your bag every time you take a drink, you’re less likely to keep yourself adequately hydrated.
Before our travels we invested in three-litre camel packs, allowing us to carry a whole day’s water supply on our backs with easy access via a sealable drinking tube. As the camel packs tuck neatly into a special pocket in our rucksacks, the weight of the water is distributed optimally. We were particularly thankful for this on multi-day hikes like the Inca Trail.
Buy it on Amazon: PEVA 3L outdoor antibacterial drinking bag, £12
Travelling in South America or Asia is likely to increase your sugar consumption by several magnitudes. As budget backpackers, you can’t really refuse a free breakfast, and in countries like Argentina it’s the norm to start the day with cake. Bread and jam is a hostel staple. In Thailand, the bread is so sugary it may as well be cake.
This can cause a dilemma if you like a sweet coffee. When you’re shovelling sugar into your system in bucketloads every meal, maybe it would be wise to avoid it in your drinks as well? To get around this, we bought a packet of sweetener tablets to carry around with us. It’s lasted three months and counting.
Cafés and hostels do not tend to provide sweetener, so it’s handy to have a supply in your pocket for those moments when you’re after a sweet rush, but want to avoid sugar overload.
Buy it on Amazon: Hermesetas original mini sweeteners, 300 tablets, £2.65
In addition to our camel packs, we also carry reusable water bottles and a coffee flask in our bags. These vessels can get grimy rather quickly and are tricky to keep clean. That is, until we discovered a workaround, with a little help from Lisa’s mum, Sharon.
When we were all together in Sydney over Christmas, Lisa mentioned that we were having problems cleaning our bottles and flask. “Why don’t you try Steradent?” said Sharon. Steradent is a hygienic cleaning formula which, when dissolved into water, can clean most things in just a few minutes.
And it has worked a treat. Now all we need to do is put our bottles and flask in a sink, fill it with water, pop in a couple of Steradent tablets, let it work its magic, rinse it all off, and voila! Everything is squeaky clean and fresh. With a pack of 30 tablets costing less than three pounds, you can’t go wrong.
Buy it on Amazon: Steradent Active Plus, 30 tablets, £2.34
5. Silk sleeping bag liner
At around £35 each this is the most expensive item to feature on this list, but I decided to include it as it’s been such a useful thing to have. We originally bought our silk sleeping bag liners with mountain trekking in mind; they are small, light, and would provide us with an extra layer of warmth on freezing nights in the tent.
Not only did this prove to be true, but the liners have also been invaluable in other situations. Those nights in chilly hostel dorm rooms without adequate heating? Slip into your liner. Or what about the times when, in hot destinations, the air con is broken and the blanket provided is just too warm? Simple: use your liner instead.
The liners can also be a godsend if you take a lot of overnight buses. Bedding is not always provided, and having a lightweight emergency backup can be the difference between getting a good night’s sleep or not.
Buy it on Amazon: Mummy silk sleeping bag liner, £34.99
6. Ocean Pack (dry bag)
In south-east Asia we have spent a *lot* of time around water. In Bali, the Philippines and Southern Thailand, our day-to-day lives have been dominated by beaches, scuba diving and island-hopping.
When it comes to saltwater, you can’t be too careful with electronic gadgets, and having already lost all our valuable once in a robbery, we didn’t fancy any further costly incidents. That’s why in the Philippines, we invested in a couple of Ocean Pack dry bags for protecting our electronics from water damage.
Almost all shops in the coastal towns on the backpacking routes in Thailand and the Philippines sell dry bags remarkably cheap. For two of them, we paid around 700 Philippine pisos – less than ten pounds.
We have also found that they double up as light and easy day bags. Our small day rucksacks can be cumbersome when we only need a safe compartment for our money, sun cream, sunglasses and phones. Ocean Packs make for a perfect alternative.
Buy it on Amazon: 10L waterproof Ocean Pack, £8.99
7. Packing cubes
Efficiency with space in your rucksack is just as important as efficiency with weight. One of the biggest challenges therein is how to manage your clothes.
If you just stuff your garments in haphazardly, you will almost certainly use a lot more space than you need to. The ultimate solution is to invest in a set of packing cubes.
By rolling up clothes tightly, you will be amazed how much you can fit into a single packing cube, which then fits neatly into your rucksack. With a zip compartment and thread mesh on one side, it keeps your clothes fresh and aired.
Packing cubes are also versatile. They can double up as handy bags for all manner of gadgets. We have found them to be sturdy and durable; in March 2018 I am still using the same set of cubes that I started the journey with in June 2017.
Buy it on Amazon: 8-piece packing cubes value set, £13.99
Do you have any indispensable cheap gadgets in your travel bag? Please share your ideas in the comments below, or feel free to drop me an email on firstname.lastname@example.org.