The travel hacks that’ll make backpacking a hassle free dream…
1. The Fake Wallet
You can take our Peri-Peri, but you will never take our Euros
It’s not inevitable that you’ll be robbed or pickpocketed whilst travelling, but it’s not unlikely so you might as well accept it’s going to happen and be prepared.
Most personal thefts happen in big cities and towns and tend to be pickpockets, or if you’re really unlucky, muggings. A dummy wallet or purse can make these as painless as possible. Keep your actual bank cards and the bulk of your cash in a moneybelt or secret pocket, but in a second wallet keep a small amount of cash you may need for immediate purchases (drinks, snacks etc) and then a bunch of cards that you’re happy to lose but that still look valuable to an adrenaline-buzzing thief – an old bank card, Boots advantage card, Nandos card etc – and keep this in your pocket or handbag.
A pickpocket can happily take this without ruining your day. In fact, when you realise it’s gone you’ll get a surprising sense of one-upmanship that will leave you with a smug glow right up until your next trip to Nandos. And if some angry young scruff physically demands your valuables, handing over a wallet full of fake cards and a few notes should satisfy both their treasure lust and their pride.
2. Makeshift Pillow
Take an empty pillow case with you and fill it with a few folded up clothes to make a surprisingly comfortable pillow for bus journeys, airport naps and any other time you’re left without a bed at an awkward hour. If a pillow case is an extra item you don’t want to pack, a t-shirt, hoody, shemagh scarf or sarong filled with spare clothes does the same job.
3. Packing Jewellery
Anything tangled is infuriating. Delicate gold chains and tiny metal hoops and spirals tangled up are like Rubik’s Cubes for sadomasochists. But fear not, with a little OCD, jewellery and backpacks can be compatible:
- Necklaces, Bracelets and Anklets – Fasten them in straws before you pack them to keep them separate and untangled. Cut the straws to size for bracelets and anklets.
- Earrings – Attach them in large buttons to keep them from getting lost or separated. Dangly earrings sometimes work better in small ziplock baggies. Keep all your buttoned earrings together in labelled ziplock sandwich bags for jizz-worthy organisation that will last about 3 days.
- Bangles and Hair Bobbles – Use a toilet roll to keep them all in one place, or a soft pouch or sandwich bag to save on space.
4. Sandwich Bags
They’ve already had several mentions but if it hasn’t sunk in yet these small, clear ziplock bags are endlessly useful for keeping various items separate, safe and accessible. And if you forget to pack them, most airports are kind enough to provide piles of free ones at security.
These are also great for hanging your phone up to watch TV on planes or buses (as shown in the photo) or keeping it dry at the beach. The touchscreen is still usable but it’s safe from the villainous destruction of sand and sea. You can even go swimming with the really good ones, but depending on your faith in ziplock engineering I’d probably just use them to keep money dry rather than delicate electronics.
5. Flip Flop Fixer Hacks
Flip flops. You don’t realise how much you depend on this simple bit of rubber until you idly fall off a kerb and the strap rips out the sole, flapping off your foot like a slice of old ham.
All is not lost, this can be fixed, quickly, easily, and all whilst making your look like Bear bloody Grylls. See our article on fixing flips flops for how!
6. Small Spray Bottles
Perfume and cologne are not travel necessities. The glass bottles are often large, heavy and at risk of smashing into an expensive pungent mess that’ll never leave your backpack. Although hanging round at ports and bus stations smelling like that might get you some mild prostitution work, so I guess it’s swings and roundabouts.
After a month or so of travelling though, when all your clothes are ingrained with a dusty orange hue, a friend has cut your hair into an unintentional and unwanted Bradley Wiggins parody, you’re scarlet with sunburnt, sweating like a pregnant nun, the grazes from falling off that scooter you said you definitely knew how to ride are starting to seep and smell like almonds, and every fart is a carefully calculated risk, the idea of spraying on perfume is like polishing the proverbial turd.
But while you can’t polish a turd…you can roll it in glitter! And whether it’s a rare visit to a nightclub that requires footwear, or you’ve just arranged to meet up with those hot Swedes from the ferry port, there will come a time when want to roll yourself in glitter, and you will be gutted you left that risky glass bottle at home.
These small spray bottles are a solution. Emergency sex appeal. You can also use these for homemade sea salt hair spray, sun cream for day trips, mosquito repellent and any other manner of liquids you might want to spritz about the place.
7. Fly on a Tuesday or Wednesday & Search Incognito
Statistically the cheapest days to fly, but when you’re searching make sure you browse incognito. If you don’t those perverts at the airlines and flight comparison websites will bump up the prices of flights that you’re searching for. You can go incognito by clicking on the tab in the above photo when on Chrome.
It’s also apparently cheaper to book flights on Sundays. Go figure.
8. Clothes Separation Bags
The key to happy backpack living is ‘access’; being able to get to what you want when you want it. Much like a good relationship…or a well stocked fridge.
To make the simple pleasure of getting dressed in the morning look less like a drugs raid, and to help fit more in your rucksack, put all your clothes in separate bags. Pants in one, socks in another, t shirts in another and so on. You can get specialist packing cubes for this, but it’s cheaper to just use sturdy different coloured plastic bags for each set of clothes. Big orange Sainsbury’s ones, black Next ones etc. If you can get some, sleeping bag cases are even better.
9. Tic Tac Boxes For Hair Grips
Not just one for the ladies! These immensely useful bits of metal are not just for making your hair look natty, they’re also great for emergency flip flop fixes as described all the way back on in Number 5. But as tiny wee dark things do, they’ve a habit of disappearing from your possession by the hundred. This is the solution. Why not chuck a couple of bread clips in there while you’re at it. A Travel Hacker’s survival kit.
10. Take a Sarong and/or a Keffiyah/Shemagh
Infinitely useful, questionably stylish. If they’re sarong, I don’t want to be right!
Read my article all about them for why you will use one of these pretty much every day you’re away.
11. Padlock Your Zips
Padlocks won’t stop someone with time and criminal determination from cutting open your bag, but they will stop sneaky street thieves from opening your bag on your back and slipping out your camera, or any light fingered larcenists from dipping into your hand luggage while you’re sleeping on a bus or train. Even in luggage storage scenarios they’ll also act as a small deterrent. Think about it, in a pile of identical Berghauses, why would you attempt to break open a padlock when there’s lock free possessions for the taking?
Use a coded lock to avoid having, and inevitably losing, any keys.
Incidentally, when sleeping on buses, it’s worth the slight compromise on comfort to wrap your hand luggage straps around your legs so nobody can take it from your sleeping self. Or if the footwell of your seat is accessible from the one behind, I’d even recommend trying to sleep with it on your lap. I’ve been robbed from under my seat before, and it’s infuriating. Keep valuables out of your pockets as well if they’re easy to pick, and perhaps sleep with your cash, cards and passport in a money belt (under your shorts/trousers rather than your shirt) as it would take a very determined thief to dig into the crotch of a traveller at the tail end of a showerless 24 hour bus journey.
12. Take an Empty Bottle to Airports
At airports I resent having to pay for a drink of water almost as much as I resent having to pay for booze on flights. Drinking water should be a right, and in many airports it is, you just need something to carry it in. Most big airports have either clean drinking water fountains, drinking water taps, or cafes that will fill up an empty bottle for you. Just ask at information and they’ll point you in the right direction.
If they don’t have any then you’re probably in a country that sells bottles for pittance anyway.
13. Duct Tape
Second only to the sarong on my packing list, you should always pack a roll of duct tape if you’re going away. It’s the instant solution to so many travelling problems:
- Medical – it can be used as a plaster, a blister bandage, with two bits of wood you can even make an emergency splint
- Rope – fold in half length ways or twist to make a sturdy rope or clothes line
- Fix holes – in mosquito nets (and hang them up), ripped shorts, holes in shoes, holes in bags, holes in anything!
- Waterproof shoes – tape around your footwear for any impromptu jungle treks or monsoon rainfalls
- Instant sink plug – tape over the plug hole if you need to hand wash some clothes
- Luggage security – tape zips together in the absence of padlocks
- Luggage additions – tape flippers, bodyboards, yoga mats or anything else extra to your luggage to keep it all together
- Secure plugs – tape your plugs to dodgy foreign sockets so they don’t fall out
- Hide valuables – tape your passport, phone or other bits under you bed or other random hiding places in your room in case of a break in. Just don’t forget where you hid them!
- Sealant – make food and drink containers spill proof for journeys
- Food protection – hang your food from the ceiling to stop rats and mice eating it
- Starting fire – rip the duct tape length ways into thin strips and roll into a nest, it’s very flammable and makes great tinder you can light with a flint and steel
- Tit tape – yeah, I know what that is!
To save space, try wrapping the tape around a plastic card instead of the cumbersome roll it comes on.
14. Local SIM Cards
Avoid horrendous roaming charges by getting a local SIM card. However much I’d like to champion putting away the smartphone whilst travelling, the ability to pull up Google maps on the move is incomparably useful and occasionally life saving. Or at least ‘finding a decent place to eat’ saving. And particularly on cheap Asian networks, it can mean calling your mum could cost as little as a one or two pence a minute. You’ll have no excuses!
15. Travel Cashcards
There are few things in life that get in my wick more than being charged to take my own bloody money out of a cash machine. Everyone knows it’s just some made-up charge that the greedy bastard banks all decided to do at some point and there’s nothing we can do about it. Well, now there’s a way round it.
Travel specific cash cards, or generic cash cards like Monzo, allow you to withdraw cash from ATMs anywhere in the world for free, and to pay for things abroad without fees too. I’ve tried a few over the years and Monzo is my favourite. It’s a contactless Mastercard managed by an app on your phone, you connect it to a bank account from which you can top up it’s balance and use as a regular card. The app also allows you to transfer money to any other Monzo owners you know in seconds, which takes the awkwardness out of those inter-backpacker cash lending moments.