As mentioned in our previous post about what to Look for in a secondary / day travel bag, there are a variety of travel essentials that you should bring with you while you are out exploring for the day. While it is important to be prepared, it is also important not to overpack your day bag because lugging it around all day will make your sightseeing miserable.
In fact, I learned this the hard way the first time I traveled abroad by myself. I was in London and for whatever reason, I felt the need to pack everything but the kitchen sink for my daytime excursions all over town! I quickly realized how unenjoyable it was to carry all that around, and I vowed to get better at packing just the essentials for the day. So based on years of experience, here are our tips on what to pack in your day travel bag!
Pack Your Everyday Essentials
Of course, there are those items that you use in your everyday life that you need to bring with you. Things such as your wallet and cell phone. While traveling (especially overseas), you will want to be sure to have local currency on hand. And try to carry some small bills and change too. Not everyone will have change (or at least they may say they don’t) and change is helpful for using the restroom in some countries (if you have to pay, there is a reason…and you will want to pay – trust us!).
Also, be sure to have a few different credit cards. In most major cities you won’t have a problem using plastic, only in more rural areas. Having a couple options to pay is always good in case there is a problem with one card, you have a back up (same with debit / ATM cards). For detailed information about handling your money while traveling abroad, click here to read our post Money Travel Tips.
Carry a Paper Map – Technology doesn’t Always Work!
While most of us use technology to access maps (like our smartphones), you can’t always depend on them – so it is good to have a back up. This is especially true when traveling abroad. Roaming charges abroad are extremely expensive, so you may not have access to Google Maps on your smartphone anyway. There are ways around this, such as saving a map to view offline or popping into a coffee shop to use their free wi-fi, but you can’t always depend on those either.
In these cases, it is helpful to carry a good old fashioned paper map! However, nothing screams “tourist” like you standing there unfolding a huge map on the side walk! So I recommend printing out a paper copy of a Google Map, you may even be able to have your hotel do it for you. Another option is to make a photo copy a page out of a travel guide (you don’t have to bring the whole book with you, unless you really want to!).
You could also draw a basic map on a piece of paper, whatever works for you! We have also discovered that some hotels in foreign countries offer small handouts that include a map to the hotel and directions in the local language. This is super helpful to give to taxi drivers if you don’t speak the language!
The Good Old Fashioned Notepad & Pen
Being geocachers, we always carry a notepad and a pen wherever we go! But even for non-caching travelers, these are important items to have. You never know when you may need to draw a map for your taxi driver or write down directions from helpful local. Or perhaps you just want to use it to take notes for yourself about the trip. Of course, you could also use your smartphone for this as well, but you never know when your battery could die.
Also in some developing countries, we found that trying to communicate to locals with this technology scared them. Seriously, just ask our taxi driver in Bangkok. I literally made him jump backward in his seat when I tried to point out the name of a train station to him on our iPad. I accidentally tapped it and it zoomed in fast, he jumped back in his seat frightened! I felt terrible. Writing it down on a simple piece of paper would have been better.
Don’t Forget About Hygiene, Skin Care & First Aid
When traveling, you never know what you may come across; especially in a foreign or developing country. And you can never underestimate the value of carrying a small pack of tissues or travel roll of toilet paper. These items are not readily available in some countries, and you don’t want to be caught without! Carrying a small pouch of wet wipes can be good as well, and even a small bottle of hand sanitizer. While we are not paranoid about germs, we have definitely been in situations where these items came in handy! As Americans, our immune systems are different. Nothing is worse than getting sick abroad, especially if you are in a developing country where sanitation is not ideal.
It is also important to carry a small bottle of sunblock with you. We are notorious for forgetting this item, and we have the farmer’s tans to prove it! We’ve all been there; you see that it is overcast outside in the morning so you think “oh I’ll be fine today” then BAM 3 pm comes around and you notice that your arms are fried! Just bring a small bottle to be safe.
The same goes for bug spray. Depending on where you are traveling, you could end up in an itchy situation. So we highly recommend carrying a small bottle of bug spray with you in your day travel bag as well. Lastly, carry a small first aid kit. Depending on your activity, it can be as simple as carrying a few band-aids. However, I also like to include items such as ibuprofen, antiseptic wipes (small packs), and Pepto tablets for tummy trouble.
Cameras and MP3 Players to Create Memories
Let’s not forget, we are traveling to enjoy the experience and create memories! So of course you are going to have your camera with you. But we also recommend bringing your iPod or some kind of MP3 player too. Most people don’t realize that you can download a variety of audio guides online for free! These are like having a personal tour guide with you at all times. Some of them even include maps and guided walking tours. For more information, check out our post
Be Prepared With Snacks & Water
Whether you are traveling on a plane, train, or car, hiking on a trail, or just wandering around a new city, you should always be prepared with a few small snacks and drinking water. We have found ourselves in situations many times where we just needed a snack to keep our energy up until lunch or dinner. Having a little something readily available to snack on can be a huge help, even if it just holds off the grumpiness!
Plus, when you are traveling in foreign lands you could encounter some interesting or sketchy food. For those times, it is nice to have a backup if you are really hungry. Granola bars are great! Or even a small bag of trail mix.
Important Travel Details or Make a Cheat Sheet!
When you are traveling, there are always going to be a bunch of information that you need to have readily available. It could be confirmation numbers, phone numbers, hours of operation, train schedules, etc. And of course, these items are usually stored in comes in many forms such as emails, on websites, or in brochures. Instead of carrying copies of all those items around with you, just create some simple notes for yourself and take with you in your bag. Or you can take it a step further and make what I call a “Travel Cheat Sheet” that essentially condenses all of this important information into one short document. (I’m an organizational nerd…I know)
Of course you can use a smartphone for these notes too, and that might work for you. I definitely do that on occasion. But sometimes I find that a small sheet of paper is actually easier to access. And I have been known to accidentally delete notes from my phone (a lot actually). So I feel better having this information written on a piece of paper (or two).
Be Prepared But Don’t Overdo It!
Overall, these are the basic items that you should bring with you while you are out sightseeing for the day. Whether you are hiking on a trail, or history museums, these items will definitely come in handy wherever you are. Yet, these items shouldn’t weigh your bag down too much. The important thing to keep in mind is that you get small travel versions of these items, like the sunscreen or tissues. This will help you be prepared for anything that you come across while out and about, while keeping your travel a pleasant experience.
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