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Travel life hacks: seven cheap gadgets I couldn’t do without

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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

Cable ties rescued us when confronted with wooden-platform tent pitches
Cable ties rescued us when confronted with wooden-platform tent pitches

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 cable ties on Amazon

2.  Camel pack

Pancho the monkey quickly figured out how to use Lisa's camel pack
Pancho the monkey quickly figured out how to use Lisa’s 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 a camel pack on Amazon

3.  Sweeteners

Carrying a packet of sweeteners has helped to limit our sugar intake
Carrying a packet of sweeteners has helped to limit our sugar intake

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 sweeteners on Amazon

4.  Steradent

Steradent cleans bottles and flasks within minutes
Steradent cleans bottles and flasks within minutes

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 Steradent on Amazon

5.  Silk sleeping bag liner

Our silk sleeping bag liners provided an emergency layer of warmth in times of need
Our silk sleeping bag liners provided an emergency layer of warmth in times of need

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 a silk sleeping bag liner on Amazon

6.  Ocean Pack (dry bag)

Ocean Packs keep our electronics dry and double up as a lightweight day bag
Ocean Packs keep our electronics dry and double up as a lightweight day 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 ocean packs on Amazon

7.  Packing cubes

Packing cubes have made it easy to optimise the space in our rucksacks
Packing cubes have made it easy to optimise the space in our rucksacks

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 packing cubes on Amazon

Do you have any indispensable cheap gadgets in your travel bag? Please share your ideas in the comments below. Take a look at our section on travel gear to see everything we carry in our backpacks.

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Some of the best gadgets we took on our round-the-world travel career break were also the cheapest. These are our favourite budget travel gadgets that we couldn't do without. Some of the best gadgets we took on our round-the-world travel career break were also the cheapest. These are our favourite budget travel gadgets that we couldn't do without.

13 comments

  1. Packing cubes SAVED me when packing for my indefinite backpacking trip. I knowingly and shamelessly was overpacking a wee bit, but the cubes made it work. Great post 🙂

  2. That is a pretty impressive list, even better because those are tried and tested. I had a laugh at the sugar consumption part comment in Asia. Even in the US I feel we eat a LOT of sugar for breakfast..Frosted Flakes, anyone? 😉

    I hope traveler who are on backpacking mission get to utilize these good info you just provided!

  3. That’s a good list Alex. Oh, I wish regular advice about packing were fully applicable to me. I carry 5+ kg extra, which is camera gear and laptop. Now thinking of a better backpack then I have.
    I think I have to take a note of the silk sleeping bag liner and packing cubes. That looks useful.

  4. I couldn’t agree more about the cable ties, I take them on every trip I go on and they always come in handy. I also love packing cubes myself. Great list!

  5. Lovely travel gadget hacks! The cable ties and sweeteners sounds very useful indeed.. I love how small and handy they can be and at the same time very helpful!

    I never really thought of carrying sweeteners myself when I travel. Guess I need to in order not to get too much sugar intake in my body.

    As for the cable ties, cool how it can be very useful for things that you wouldn’t normally prepare for like the campsites in on of your outdoor adventures!

  6. Great article! As a seasoned traveller I actually have never carried any of the above but I too love the idea of the packing cubes so will definitely invest in some. Another trick to combat those sugary breakfasts, is to carry a small pot of marmite (or vegemite)… I don’t enjoy eating sweet things first thing in the morning which in some countries is the only option (in Madagascar for a month every breakfast was bread and very sweet jam!!) so this little savoury favourite definitely comes in handy. Of course only relevant if you LOVE marmite 🙂

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