If you travel often, it makes sense to keep a small backpack always stocked with all of your travel needs. That way, when you head out on a flight or drive, you won’t chance forgetting things like your phone charger, motion-sickness pills, etc. Yes, you could use a shoulder bag instead, but backpacks offer a huge advantage: both of your arms are kept free for carrying things, reaching for your phone, pulling a suitcase, etc. Over the years the contents of my go-everywhere backpack have changed a bit with experience. For example, I’ve learned to always carry a backpack inside my backpack. Really! Below you’ll find everything that I keep in my go-everywhere backpack…
Here are some essential characteristics of a go-everywhere backpack:
- Lots of zippered pockets: assign a purpose to each pocket so that you can quickly find whatever you need.
- A bottle holder
- A laptop sleeve
- Comfortable to wear
- Rugged: You definitely do not want your backpack to rip!
And here are some great to have features:
- Self standing: It’s hard to explain why this is so useful, but believe me it really is!
- Luggage handle sleeve: When wheeling your luggage around, it’s very nice to be able to slide your backpack onto the luggage handle in order to give your shoulders a break.
- Internal hidden zippered pockets: If you keep any valuables in your backpack, it’s nice to have them in pockets that aren’t readily visible or accessible to a pickpocket.
- Expansion zipper: Unzip to make the backpack bigger.
The leather Tumi backpack shown in this post has all of the above features. Unfortunately they don’t make this exact model anymore. When my wife wanted a backpack like mine a few years ago, we were able to find one that was very close (an Alpha Bravo Nellis Laptop Backpack), but without hidden pockets and without the ability to expand. Her backpack also seems to be unavailable today.
Side pockets for a water bottle and sunglasses
My backpack has two external side pockets which I use to store a water bottle and sunglasses. I try to remember to always empty my water bottle before heading to the airport and then to refill it once past security. Many airports now offer water fountains specifically made for filling water bottles. Make sure that your water bottle isn’t the kind that would drip when held upside down. Your backpack is likely to often end up on its back under the airplane seat in front of you or in any crazy position in the overhead bin.
Quick access pouch
On the bottom front of my backpack there’s a small pocket that I use for small items that I use frequently and/or want quick access to. As shown above, you can see I have small containers of Tums, Advil (actually refilled with generic Ibuprofen), and Altoids mints. I also keep my Bluetooth earbuds in this pocket so that they’re readily available. Finally, one of the most important things for me is my small container of ginger root pills. These help tremendously to prevent motion sickness. See: A motion sickness cure that actually works.
Coat closet pouch
Above the smallest front pouch, I have a slightly larger one. I think of this pouch as my traveling coat closet. Clockwise from top-left:
- A backpack in my backpack. This is essential! There are many versions of backpacks that pack up to a tiny form like this one. I happened to find this one at REI and it has worked very well. Why do I need to carry a backpack in my backpack? The most common use is when I’m venturing out from a hotel and I don’t need my heavy laptop, but I do want to bring several things with me. If I’m going for a hike, for example, I may want to bring my water bottle, sunglasses, raincoat (just in case), and some snacks. It’s also great to bring around town in its compact form just in case I buy some things that would be easiest to keep on my back. Finally, it can be useful even when carrying my primary backpack. For example, I might buy things at an airport that would be best to carry in a zippered bag.
- Microfiber towel. You never know when you’ll need a towel, a light blanket, or a scarf. This can do it all.
- Face masks. This is a new entry to my bag thanks to Covid. Some airlines, countries, and businesses still require wearing masks and so it’s convenient to have comfortable good quality masks available just in case.
- Raincoat. The black bag shown above is a raincoat that folds into its own zippered pouch. This can obviously come in handy when its raining, but it also serves as a great additional layer in cold weather.
One of the biggest pockets in my backpack serves as my “pantry” with the following items:
- Snack bag: The biggest thing I store in this pocket is a ziplock bag filled with everything food related: snacks (granola bars, etc.); additional empty ziplock bags (very useful for many situations); plastic fork, knife, and spoon; napkins; and moist handwipes.
- Sleep bag: The Tumi bag shown above contains things I may need if trying to sleep on a plane, train, or automobile. This includes sleep aids (Ambien or melatonin pills), ear plugs, eye mask, etc.
- Emergency kit: The small red Gogo bag shown above is my tiny emergency kit. It contains a few Band-Aids, emergency meds, etc.
The biggest pouch in my backpack includes a laptop sleeve and a zippered inner pocket. I use this entire area for electronics. Clockwise from top-left:
- Extra charging cables: I make sure to always have an extra iPhone cable, USB-C, and micro USB.
- Universal power adapter: This thing is great because it supports all international power formats within this single device, plus it has 4 USB ports. Even within the U.S. this can be used as an adapter for charging multiple USB devices.
- Laptop and power cord: I don’t think this needs an explanation, but do note that I travel with a smaller power cord than the one that came with my laptop.
- Backup phone: I carry this extra and inexpensive Android phone just in case my primary phone dies. It’s unlocked so I can always move my SIM card to this phone or pick up a local SIM. When traveling, I rely so heavily these days on phone apps to check in for flights, to find my way with Google maps, to call up Uber cars, etc., that I feel like I really need this just-in-case phone.
- Phone charger: Below the backup phone in the image above is my iPhone charging cable.
- Wired earphones: When it comes to in-flight entertainment systems, airlines don’t always offer good quality headphones. I like to carry these headphones (in the pill-shaped pouch) for those situations.
- Battery pack: For those occasions when I need to charge a device, but A/C power isn’t available, this is a good backup.
I keep my travel wallet inside an inner zippered pocket in my backpack. The pocket is hard to find if you don’t know where to look, so that’s good! My travel wallet lives at all times in my backpack and I keep it stocked with everything that I need only when travelling. That includes things like:
- Vaccine cards
- Credit cards that are needed for entry to some airport lounges (like the Amex Platinum card for Centurion Lounges, or the Venture X for Capital One Lounges and Plaza Premium Lounges)
- Hotel and airline credit cards
- Hotel gift cards
- Priority Pass card (not all places are able to take the electronic version via the App)
- Global Entry card (you usually don’t have to show this, but there are some places where you do so its good to have just-in-case).
What’s in your go-everywhere bag?
Do you carry essential items that I missed? Do you have a currently-available backpack that you recommend? Please comment below.