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Everyone who travels needs to be prepared but budget travellers even more so! We avoid extra fees by taking everything we need with us and knowing what to leave behind.
We here at Budget Breaks are definitely "less is more" when it comes to travel and in our lives! I often think the best purchase is the one you didn't make. It's more affordable and sustainable. We try to make each purchase an investment that will last for years, so if any of these accessories seem expensive, remember that will be used for a very long time. When we started traveling we had no idea what to expect and after the last 10 years of travelling (5 for Nick!), we've narrowed down our list to 12 travel accessories we can't live without:
2. Travel-sized containers
Another really affordable investment are reusable travel containers. In our ultimate guide to sustainability we talked about how much more expensive travel-sized products can be. In a test, we found that travel-sized toothpaste was 6x more expensive then the regular sized. We also found that when we bought travel-sized, we would save them to our next trip and they would often expire before we finished them. Not a great investment! Buying reusable travel-sized containers is not only cheaper but you can bring your favourite products with you. We prefer soap and shampoo bars (Lush sells great ones!), because they are cheaper, last longer and of course don't count as a liquid (no spills!). Be sure to keep all liquids under 100 ml and don't exceed a total of one litre combined, otherwise it will be discarded at the airport! Don't forget to put them in a Ziploc style sandwich bag before you leave for the airport. I'll never forget the time I had them in a clear zip up bag and they told me to buy one Ziploc bag for a pound or I wouldn't be let through (Thanks Luton airport!).
Pro Tip: Bring a small container of laundry powder to wash your clothes at a laundromat or in the sink on longer trips.
3. Microfiber towel
If you are staying in hostels or airbnbs, you'll find there are sometimes no towels or you need to pay for them. A budget friendly way to travel is also spending a lot of time at the beach. We always bring a microfiber towel when we travel because they fold up small, are lightweight and dry quickly. We love the Chawel which also doubles as a changing room (you have no idea how many times that's come in handy!) and I even used it as a blanket on a long flight. If you are looking for something a little smaller, we also use this one from Mountain Warehouse.
We've learnt to never put away these towels wet or they will stink! It takes them up to 45 minutes to dry so make sure you give them time and always check the amenities section on your airbnb so there are no surprises when you arrive (many times private rooms will not offer towels).
An Amsterdam hostel with a hen party group coming in at 3:00 am, construction right outside your bedroom window in Paris at 6:00 am, the St. Pauls Cathedral bell chiming every hour through the night or perhaps even a moose calling outside your tent in Canada... Welcome to our life as budget travellers! Earplugs are a must when we travel. You do not want to have your trip ruined by a bad sleep.
We've tried many types of sleeping earplugs over the years and found that it all depends on your needs.
The moldable earplugs are perfect if traditional earplugs hurt your ears because they are molded to the outside or bowl of the ear. They are made from soft wax with cotton or silicone. However, I found this type fell out often during the night and I gave up on them. Maybe you will have better luck!
Reusable earplugs are usually made from plastic or silicone and vary a lot in their ratings. I wanted to love these because they are a one time purchase. It's more sustainable and affordable and I don't need to worry about remembering to buy them for a holiday. But I found they hurt after repeated use. Perhaps I have small ears!
Our favourite are the disposable foam earplugs with the highest NRR of 33 decibels (db). They keep the sound out without falling out (often) or hurting our ears. Manufacturers say they are good for one or two uses before the rating goes down but we have used one pair for up to two weeks and found they still work as long as you store them in a case to keep them clean. When they lose their elasticity or get dirty, it's time to chuck them. If you do find they fall out or you are still waking up, you can combine these with earmuffs or a headband to bring the NRR to 36 db.
Not matter what type of earplug you choose, for a light sleeper like me, I'd recommend NRR's between 31 and 33 decibels.
6. Dry bags and/or rain cover
If you have ever traveled to somewhere like the UK or pacific northwest, you know it can and will rain at the most inconvenient times... In the middle of hike maybe? Or right after you get off the bus? We bring dry bags on every trip! They are essentially just a waterproof bag that is folded several times to prevent water coming in from the opening. They are relatively inexpensive and we use them for our camera and lens as well as our phones and extra socks! I've even used them the reverse way to stop a wet bikini and towel from getting the rest of my bag wet. They are available at outdoor stores and come in many different sizes, we've got ones that have lasted the test of time from Mountain Warehouse and MEC. A rain cover is a waterproof bag for your bag (see photo below). It perfect for keeping everything dry on a rainy day. We use as an extra to keep everything we brought from getting wet, such as clothes and snacks. However, the backpack can sometimes leak from the part up against your back in heavy rains. These also come in different sizes and get folded into a small bag when you don't need them. I've had this one from MEC and it still works years later.
Dry bags and rain covers are an easy way to prevent hundreds of dollars worth of damage from broken phones to cameras. If you don't travel very often, it might be more economical to use a plastic bag. We travel a lot and I don't want to worry about the bag ripping during a hike or a rainy day in the UK. If you are planning to kayak or do an activity where your things could get fully submerged, we have also have a floating PVC dry bag from eBay.
7. Universal adapter
Adapter's are a necessity of travelling in the modern age. We've had a universal adapter from Amazon for years. Our favourite features are the usb outlets that allow us to charge both of our phones and a laptop at the same time, so we don't waste time in our room instead of exploring. Universal adapters like this are especially convenient compared to older styles that required the plugs to be changed each time you went to a new socket location. I, for one, always lost the attachments. This all in one style is hassle free and easy to throw in your bag before you leave.
It is the norm for hostels to have storage spots that do not come with a lock. We have also stayed in airbnbs with no lock on the door. One airbnb in Barcelona had large signs on the door saying they were not responsible for theft when there was no lock on the door and yet, the only other people living there were the hosts... Sketchy right? A standard TSA approved lock is perfect on hostel lockers and your backpack zippers to keep your belongings safe when you're in an airbnb or even on the plane.
9. Noise-cancelling earbuds
Earbuds are a must for travel. Planes, trains and buses are all loud and you don't want to end up listening to someone else's long conversation or a baby crying on your flight. We added this in as one our must have's because we have forgotten our earbuds on one or two trips and it sucks! You can't watch that Netflix show you downloaded for the train or you'll risk angering other passengers. The time seems to pass so much slower when you can't tune out the world and get lost in a show or music. Look for ANC (active noise cancelling) earbuds that have a noise reduction rating (NRR) to block out environmental noises while you travel.
Pro tip: we very seldom solo travel these days and whether just as a couple or with friends, a headphone splitter really comes in handy. It's so much easier to have two sets of headphones then trying to awkwardly share while you watch a Netflix show.
10. Phone (and these apps!)
Of course you'll have phone with you so why is this on the list? Because travelling with a phone can save or cost you depending on how you use it travelling! Take advantage of free WiFi anywhere from airports to coffee shops and fight the urge to buy international data charges by getting a free WiFi finder app that is specifically for the country you are visiting. Download maps before you go so that you'll never get lost when you travel. Google Maps has an easy guide on how to download maps for offline use. If you are travelling to country where you cannot speak the language, look for offline translator apps. For example, Pleco is an amazing translator that can be used without internet in China. Download a lost phone app that you can log in to from your laptop or even your friends phone, just in case.
Ryanair, among others, charges an outrageous fee for not having your ticket ready at the airport but you can only check-in 24 hours before departure. Get an e-ticket on your phone to save you the hassle and expense. Many attractions offer discounted online tickets and at the very least, you can skip the ticket lines! All and all, phones have changed travel significantly in the last few years and now we can't imagine travelling without them.
Pro tip: Use your calculator app to haggle prices in countries where you cannot communicate. We did this in China to save money on purchases!
12. Local currency, international money card and a credit card (just in case!)
We always take out currency before we head to the airport. Airport currency exchanges are known to have terrible rates. An international money card is also an option, such as the TUI Travel Money Card, for those who are worried about getting their cash stolen. I like having the cash, it gives me a better idea of how I can stay on budget for the trip and unlike the travel card, there will never be a problem where it isn't accepted or doesn't work. Never use your debit card abroad unless you have pre-arranged it with your bank at home. The charges are exceedingly high per transaction. I also have an emergency credit card, in case we miss our flight or encounter another high cost. Open a credit card account that gives you a welcome bonus in aeroplan rewards for extra savings.
Bonus: Printed copies of your passport and itinerary
If you lose your bus ticket or your phone ticket won't load, it's always a good idea to have a printed copy of tickets, reservation numbers and travel times to save you money. Losing your passport can be stressful and it will help authorities, as well as your embassy, if you have a copy of your passports photo ID page.