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helpful travel items

10 Less Obvious Things to Pack for a Trip

Simple items for your travel packing checklist

Packing for the unexpected

Who doesn’t dream of traveling the world and immersing themselves seamlessly into the local culture. Absorbing the exciting newness, and forging new personal bonds with interesting people?  But the dream requires we establish a base of reality and practicality.  And practicality starts with packing. We’ve just come off a year of slow travel in Europe in which we spent 2-5 weeks in each location.  It was fantastic but we also learned a lot of lessons about what to expect and, more importantly, what NOT to expect.  Staying in vacation rentals for extended periods can save you a lot of money but they are often operated by the owners who may not have fully thought through the needs of their guests.  Call it the curse of knowledge. So the below 10 Less Than Obvious Things to Add for an International Travel Checklist are a few of the less obvious  items we wish we’d carried with us or felt the need to pick up along the way to make up for the most common shortcomings of VRBO and AirBnB style rentals.

Quick note: There are several affilliate links in this post but the list is one I’ve been thinking about for a couple months and everyone of these things would have been very useful. While I include links to Amazon, many of these things can be picked up at second hand stores or any big box store along the way, with the possible exception of the USB Hub.

Some subtle but must have travel items
Adding Little things to your packing list for Europe like this can make a difference

Portable Knife Sharpener

I don’t think we had a single sharp knife in our rentals.  We had plenty of single knives but none of them sharp.  This is just something property owners don’t think about but can make preparing meals a dream or a nightmare.  Rather than carrying your own set of knives (an option but may be problematic crossing borders) we recommend you add a small portable knife sharpener to your list of what to pack. They are light and will put an acceptable edge on your rented knives quickly and easily.

Small stackable tupperware

If you rent an apartment to save money, you probably want to cook meals using those newly sharpened knives.  Making meals means leftovers and generally speaking, your landlords probably haven’t considered this.  A set of small stackable reusable containers will allow you to easily store food for later. This will help you save money on lunches etc.  Also, great for storing those “stinky” european cheeses and you can pack your knife sharpener in them when you travel.

Basic seasonings and flavors

Do you know how to say cumin in Croatian? How about Serbian?  Me neither (though I figured it out after some buy-all and error). Packing mall containers of spices that you may not find in your destination country can make cooking “Home” cooked meals a lot easier and you won’t have to search the grocery store or figure out what the label looks like in Cyrillic.  Cinnamon, sage, and vanilla are good and useful things to have in your travel kit.

Coffee making supplies

Ok, you can disregard this if you are a tea drinker but I need my coffee so this is a must have travel item for me.  Luckily we only had one place that did not have any way to make coffee but it took me two days to find an inexpensive portable system for our stay and for insurance for the future.  Also, I got tired of lattes and could make my own drip coffee.  I spent $20 on a french press at first but the grounds I found were too small and the press was not baggage friendly.  I ended up with a small plastic filter holder which did great and I didn’t mind if it broker in my pack.

Wine opener

The strangest place we needed a wine opener was France.  It’s not that they didn’t have any. They had 3. They just didn’t work.  Luckily we had our own, having learned that lesson in Zagreb.  They are small and cheap. Take one if you are going to drink wine. It’s so small and compact, it should be on everyone’s travel essentials list.

Multiport USB charger

Ok, this may not be the most cool travel accessories but it will help you charge the ones that are. At last count we had 11 things that charged via USB.  That may be excessive but we each had a kindle and a phone and the boys had iPads and we had a little bluetooth speaker. This doesn’t even count my cameras and accessories. Given that often homes in other countries have limited outlets, more ports per outlet is better.  Again, these are small and relatively cheap, so consider packing at least a few.

Reusable shopping bags

Quite frankly, you should be doing this at home too but grocery stores in many other countries expect you to bring your own bag or buy one from them.  Reusable bags are an easy habit to form and help cut down on the enormous amount of plastic waste we generate. This is so simple and easy it’s a must have travel item.  Plus little weekend markets often have no other options for their fresh produce so packing two or three of these can make life easier.

Washable cloth napkins

Speaking of waste, I don’t think a single apartment we stayed in had re-usable napkins. You may not think of this as one of the things to take on vacation but we wearied of throwing away so much paper but we could not find cloth napkins anywhere we looked (granted, we may not have been looking in the right places). You can find or make re-usable napkins easily. You can find them in just about any Salvation army shop in the States or made from old unwanted material. Or, you can buy some off Amazon.

Mini binoculars (optional)

You can get an inexpensive small pair and they are good for looking at wildlife and things at the top of mountains etc.  Totally optional but if you like looking at wildlife and birds this is a bit of the best travel gear you can take for the size. Wish we’d thought of packing a pair.

Pen and Paper and Journal

You can pick this up along your travels but they are handy to have for grocery lists, todo lists, addresses and directions, foreign words you can’t remember, etc.  And you generally won’t find them in the apartment.

I also highly recommend keeping a journal.  You don’t have to spend hours a day at it but it’s a great memento to look back on and revive old fond memories. 

In Conclusion

I hope you find this list helpful. I wish I’d thought of these things before we left but we must learn somehow and now I know for next time.  If you have any other small items that the slow, long term traveler should carry, please leave a comment below.  Also, if you are looking for some great gift ideas check out this post at And finally, if you are interested in vlogging cameras check out my views on the Sony A7siiIn the mean time, happy travels.

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