Four of the Most Useful Things in Our Backpacks

When heading to a foreign country, you know to bring the basics: your passport, a guidebook, maybe a phrasebook for the local language. But here are some other, less obvious items that have proved invaluable on our travels. And they won’t take up too much space in your luggage.

  • Compact binoculars. We bought a pair to use for birdwatching at a wetlands area in Spain. But we quickly found ourselves using them for lots of other things. In old churches, while our fellow tourists were straining their eyes to make out paintings or carved figures high on the walls, we had a clear view. Binoculars can also save wear and tear on tired feet.  Not sure whether the hotel or restaurant you’re looking for is down a particular street? A quick scan with the binoculars can reveal a sign that will keep you from walking blocks out of your way.
  • Wax earplugs. Travel can be noisy. People partying in the room next door, buses and garbage trucks on the street at dawn, even snoring bedmates. These earplugs—little balls of clear wax that you can press into a shape that fits your ear—work better than any foam or plastic earplugs we’ve found.
  • A fold-up tote bag. The one we have is a durable synthetic bag that folds up into a pouch roughly the size of a deck of cards. The bag is eco-friendly because it lets you buy picnic supplies or souvenirs without accumulating a lot of unnecessary plastic bags. It’s also great for taking your dirty clothes to the laundry or for carrying extra stuff home on the plane.
  • Small binder clips. These staples of the office have a thousand uses on the road. Rather than lugging a big country guidebook around town, rip out the pages you’ll need for the day and clip them together. Binder clips are also good for holding together all those brochures you pick up at the tourist office, closing half-eaten bags of nuts, or clamping the rolled-up end of a tube of toothpaste. In a pinch, you can even use them as clothes pins.

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