Think back to your last vacation. Did your itinerary include hunting for Michelin star restaurants and shopping for designer goods? Then you’re most definitely not a budget traveller. Now go back to your suite at the Hilton.
But if you’ve been known to stay in accommodation that doesn’t always include towels and toiletries, are more likely to chow down on street food than eat anywhere that gives you a napkin to place in your lap, and are willing to battle public transport in favour of taxis just to save a bit of cash, here are four items you shouldn’t leave home without when you travel.
Anybody who’s stayed in hostels, guesthouses or Airbnbs knows there’s always the danger that your accommodation will not provide towels.
That guesthouse in Siem Reap might cost the equivalent of $8 a night, but that’s because you’re getting little more than a bed and a shower.
Backpacking across France and putting up in budget joints with your travel companions? Well guess what, some low end hotels not only don’t provide towels, they even expect you to pay to use the showers.
That means it often becomes necessary to bring along your own towel. The main problem is that towels take up a ton of space and are a pain in the ass to stuff into your bag, especially when wet.
The solution? Well, some people might tell you to spend $20 to $30 on a compact, quick-drying travel towel at one of those fancy pants travel stores. These towels are very small and dry very quickly, so you get to free up bag space and never have to worry about packing in a soggy rag when it’s time to move on from your accommodation.
But don’t spend that money. Instead, get a cheap microfibre towel—you can get one for a few bucks on Qoo10. These towels work just like travel towels at a fraction of the price.
Collapsible water bottle
Unless you want to spend your dollars/euro/baht/yen/won on a drink at a cafe or bar every single time you get thirsty, you’d do well to bring your own refillable water bottle. There’s nothing less deflating than marvelling at some gorgeous historical monument while trying not to die of heatstroke.
If you’re the kind of person who likes to travel light, you can save considerable space by getting a collapsible water bottle. You can even bring multiple bottles if you’re very thirsty or doing something active like going on a hike, and then roll them up when you’ve finished drinking. That sure beats having a bunch of empty litre bottles rolling around in your bag. I like the ones from Vapur, but you can get cheaper bottles online.
Refillable toiletry bottles
Unless you intend to be one of those backpackers whom everyone within a ten mile radius can smell, you’ll have to bring along some bath and body products to keep yourself presentable.
Many budget hotels either do not provide toiletries or offer only some sad little cakes of soap. But even if you’ll be staying in an establishment that provides toiletries, you might prefer to use your own shampoo, facial cleanser or whatever.
Don’t make the mistake of buying the travel-sized versions of your usual products. Those are going to be way more expensive than just injecting a bunch of refillable toiletry bottles with your usual products.
So where’s the best place to get your bottles? The best quality bottles can be found at Muji—they last almost forever—but unfortunately they’re freaking expensive: you’ll find yourself paying close to $5 per bottle for the fancier ones with sprays. On the other hand, many of the bottles from Watsons don’t really last and can’t really withstand the pressure of flying, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself with shattered bottle caps after getting off the flight.
I’ve found that the best value bottles can be had at Daiso. For $2, you get two or three refillable bottles. They’re usually made of softer plastic which stops them from cracking or shattering. The fact that they’re super cheap helps, too.
I have some friends who travel in high heels, and am quite sure they’ve never had the predicament of taking a shower in a less-than-welcoming toilet.
But when you are staying in budget accommodation or, worse, using shared toilets, you really don’t want to put your feet down on floors that are slick with slime and the remains of the last user’s shower.
A pair of rubber flip flops can save you from getting a disease through the soles of your feet. Full rubber is best, because they’ll dry quickly unlike Birkenstocks or sport sandals.
For someone who wouldn’t just hop into a cab at the first sign of inclement weather, flip flops can also double up as temporary footwear should you find yourself caught in the rain.
While most Singaporeans swear by Havaianas (to be fair, they do last a very long time and are a good investment if you generally wear flip flops a lot), if you’re buying slippers solely to tide you through less than pristine shower stalls, just get a cheap pair of Tai Sings.
On a separate note…
Being a budget traveller doesn’t mean being penny wise and pound foolish. Any mishap or disruption to your trip could have a significant impact on your finances, so don’t be silly and try to save another $30-40 by not getting some form of travel insurance. It will take you just a matter of minutes to make sure that you can travel with peace of mind.
What are your travel essentials? Tell us in the comments!
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