I'm asked again and again how I pack for a long trip. There's no easy answer – a lot depends on you personally, not to mention where you're going and for how long you're going. But over the years, there are five things I've learned never to leave home without:
Maglite Flashlight – When the electricity in your guest house conks out, don't assume the management is going to be able to fix it immediately. In many developing countries, power outages can go on for hours (and if you're unlucky, a couple of days). You'll need a flashlight to get back to your room and then get around within it. Likewise, if you're camping in the African bush and need to “pay a call of nature” at 2 am, you're really going to want to be able to see where you're going when you step outside your tent. I use a Maglite torch...they're tiny and can even clip onto a key-ring.
Ear plugs – tiny but invaluable. I can't tell you how many times I was kept awake late at night both in capital cities and in off-the-beaten track locations. You've got to be prepared for everything – cars honking, motorbikes revving, music from a nearby bar, other travellers coming back to your accommodation late and/or drunk. Even if you're not a light sleeper (and I am), earplugs are your best bet for getting a decent night's sleep.
Anti-bacterial gel – It's a sad truth that many toilets in developing countries may not have soap in their wash basin, especially in rural areas. I'm convinced that one of the reasons I've rarely been sick with stomach aches, in all my years on the road, is that I carry small bottles of this gel and clean my hands with it regularly. It's light, you can fit it in your pocket, and it's going to save you from a lot of misery.
Flip Flops – When you're showering in a local hostel or guesthouse, you might find the bathroom floor to be less than pristine. I always use flip flops in the shower...thus avoiding catching a nasty fungal infection. They're also good for walking around in in hot weather. They're light, take up no space at all in your backpack and you'll use them on a daily basis.
Washing powder, sink plug and small rope - In certain countries (like India) it's incredibly easy to find someone to do your laundry. But in other parts of the world, it won't be as easy. In any event, there's always going to be a time when you want to soak a t-shirt or are in desperate need of clean underwear. I always carry a packet of washing powder, a sink plug and a small length of rope. You can wash and hang in a matter or minutes and In hot countries, your clothes will dry in no time...ensuring you don't feel grubby when you go out for dinner or embark on a long journey.