Gear for the First-Time Traveler: 5 Essentials

A selection of must-have items for a traveler.
A selection of must-have items for a traveler.

Earlier this week, I found out my 17-year-old niece is taking her first international trip … without her parents. She’ll head to Puerta Vallarta, Mexico, as part of a youth group. There, the group will get its hands dirty with some public works projects.

My official notice of her plans came as a form letter; members of the group are asking friends and family for some dollars for their trip. You probably already guess that my niece asked the right guy. I called her up and told her that I’d not only send some dollars, but I’d also make a run to REI to pick up a few odds and ends that will be handy for her Mexico trip … and any others that await.

So what does an intercontintental traveler/uncle send his first-time traveler niece? Here’s a breakdown of her Wandering Justin travel care package … and how each item earned its place.

English: Petzl Tikka XP
Not a Tikka 2 … but still a great headlamp. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Petzl Tikka 2 Headlamp
Light, water and air – you can’t live without them. A Petzl headlight can take care of at least one of them. And I’ve used my Petzl headlamp everywhere … from a blackout-stricken hotel in Dallas to a rainforest in Belize. It’s one of the first things I pack for a trip of any duration. Don’t even think a normal flashlight will do: A headlamp frees your hands, which can be essential when – as Forrest Griffin would say – the shit goes down. And the Tikka 2 has everything you need without any superfluous junk.

Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Daypack
There is no limit to the Ultra-Sil pack’s usefulness. Folded up, it’s about the size of a D battery. Shake it out, and it’s a perfect piece of carry-on luggage. Going out for the day and don’t want to lug your full-sized backpack? Throw your stuff in the Ultra-Sil and call it good. If you’re camping (whether in a forest or an airport), stuff the Day-Sil with some puffy clothes and you have a pillow. Perfect for the international first-time traveler.

Asiana Airlines Boeing 777-200ER at Canberra A...
If you have a bottle, you’ll always have water on an Asiana Airlines 777 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Platypus SoftBottle
Remember that water I mentioned earlier? Here’s where you can put it. Breeze through the TSA security checkpoint with your empty bottles, then fill them up on the other side. No forking over $5 for 16 ounces of water for you! Once you’re on the plane, you can fill the Platypus bottle at one of the water taps throughout the cabin (well, that assumes you’re flying something awesome like an Asiana Airlines 777, my favorite plane out there right now). At your destination, carry the Platypus bottles with you everywhere. Drink, refill, repeat. I chose a pair of 17-ounce models for my niece; they’re more compact than the 34-ounce model.

Guyot Designs MicroBites
I remember watching a bunch of Europeans noshing away on a trail in New Zealand. They weren’t eating anything great, but it was better than my energy bars. But I didn’t have utensils to dig into something more substantial anyway. Never again, since I got my Guyot Designs MicroBites. They’re hard to destroy, and handy anywhere from a mountaintop to a hostel kitchen. They wash easily, too. And my niece will have a hard time losing the bright-red set I picked!

Energy Bar Mix
Sometimes, some solid pre-packed foods are just what you need. Airplane food’s too gross (or expensive)? Whip out a good bar. Have a long hike in front of you, and you’re keeping weight and bulk to a minimum? Energy bars, done! I’m hooked on ProBar – I got her a few different varieties including the big high-calorie ProBar Meal. They give you a huge amount of energy while taking up barely any room in your stomach (a very important point when traveling).

I also added a few Rise bars. I brought its entire line with me to Norway, and it powered me through a long, hard hike in conditions from sleet to sunshine, with more than a bit of wind for good measure.

Other Items Worth Considering
I could’ve gone hog-wild equipping my niece at REI. I went for some main essentials, but also gave thought to a few nice-to-haves:

Electrolyte Tablets
A kid from the Midwest could get dehydrated pretty easily in Mexico’s heat. Water alone might not do it – you need sodium, potassium and other good stuff along with the H20. Dissolve some electrolyte tabs in the Platypus bottle, and you’re good to go. So why didn’t I get some? I don’t know which of the myriad flavors she might like. Me? I love Gu Electrolyte Brew tablets in Peach Tea flavor. Another good point: If the water doesn’t taste good, electrolytes can mask the nastiness. That makes you drink more and stay hydrated.

Travel Towel
There are several companies making travel towels. These magical bits of fabric pack into no space at all, and yet the absorb water like a 500-pound sheep. Not a necessity, but handy.

last bit of advice: If you’re travelling solo, be sure to do some research on the destinations before you hit the ground. Websites such as Travel Associates have some really great must-read information on places to visit for solo travelers  Packing your gear is always easier if you know a bit about your destinations!

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6 thoughts on “Gear for the First-Time Traveler: 5 Essentials”

  1. Awesome list! With the new gig, I’ll be doing a lot of traveling this year and I needed some good travel gadget/packing tips. I need to go to REI anyway, so I’ll definitely pick up some of that stuff.

  2. what about those tablets to PURIFY water – not sure I want to refill my own bottles with H2O from a 3rd world tap!! otherwise this list rocks!

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