The 11 essential items every traveller should own

Hand luggage only: how to pack for any trip

Beat the queues and the airline charges: travel writer Tim Richards shows you his carry-on bag packing secrets.

Here's the thing about travel gear: the best stuff, the stuff you use most often and wouldn't even dream of leaving home without, is often not travel gear at all.

It's not the stuff that's sold as specialist travel equipment. It's not the clothes or the gadgets or the accessories that you find in travel stores. Some of that is great, but mostly, I find, it's designed for people who are going on fairly niche trips, doing things like trekking or camping or a safari. The vast bulk of our travel experiences don't reflect that.

A few days ago I was packing for a trip away and I had a think about the best things I'd bought for travel, about the gadgets or accessories or items of clothing that I couldn't do without on every trip. Very few of them came from a travel store. In fact very few of them were even designed with travel in mind.

I don't wear special travel clothes; I've never owned a money belt; I don't use things like an iPad or a Kindle; and I don't have much use for my Leatherman. I just have a whole lot of fairly normal items that always come with me.

(Note: all of these items were bought and paid for by the writer.)

Apple Macbook Air

I bought an iPad a few years ago thinking it would ultimately supplant my laptop, and was totally wrong. I didn't like using it for word processing jobs, and I didn't like using it as a Kindle. I still needed my Macbook Air. I have an 11-inch MacBook Air that goes everywhere – it's not great for editing large photo or video files, but for writing stories, sending emails and surfing the web, it's perfect. Plus it's barely heavier than that iPad.

Universal adapter plus powerboard

It's a simple, inexpensive gadget: an adapter that lets you plug in in pretty much any country in the world, save for India and South Africa. And I use mine every single day I'm away. A small powerboard also helps to charge multiple appliances – phone, laptop, camera battery – at the same time.

Havaianas thongs

A Havaianas thong vending machines in World Square shopping centre, Sydney

A Havaianas thong vending machines in World Square shopping centre, Sydney. Photo: Jessica Hromas

You could go for any brand of flip-flop, although I find these the most comfortable. The point though is that they're easy to pack, and extremely handy. Havaianas are your beachwear, your town-wear, your casual pub-wear, and your ew-gross-dodgy-shower-wear. 

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Cargo shorts

I don't wear cargo shorts at home because they look kind of silly, and they're unnecessary. But when I'm travelling they're the handiest things ever. Turns out I have a lot of things I need to put in my pockets: phone, wallet, notepad, pens, maps, assorted receipts and other bits of useless crap I should really have thrown out weeks ago. Shorts with many pockets are great.

A Buff

These are not only useful for marking tribal alliances in the game of Survivor, but can also serve as a scarf, a beanie, a hat, and a facemask to filter out dirt and grit. And they take up less space than a pair of socks.

Ray-Ban folding Wayfarers

These sunnies have hinges in the arms and between the lenses, meaning you can fold them up into a little square barely bigger than a matchbox before you stuff them in your bag. That means you have less chance of sitting on them and snapping them. Plus, they're Wayfarers, so they look pretty good on anyone.

Osprey Sojourn hybrid bag

This was my grudging move up from the world of backpacks, something that wouldn't look too out-of-place in a nice hotel, but could equally be thrown onto a train in India, or shoved in the back of a 4WD in Africa, and be tough enough to take the beating. And it is. I've had my 80-litre Osprey Sojourn – which has both wheels and backpack straps – for about five years now and it still looks like new.

Smartphone

No one leaves home without a smartphone these days, and that's especially true of travellers. You have your diary, your maps, your emails, your music, your torch, and about a million other handy travel gadgets stored on a tiny device that fits in your pocket. Why would you go without it?

Converse All-Stars

The redesigned Chuck Taylors boast a Nike sole.

The redesigned Chuck Taylors boast a Nike sole. Photo: Converse

The only time I ever wear hiking boots is when I'm going hiking. Otherwise I don't really see the point of specially designed "travel" shoes. Cons, meanwhile, are small and light, so they're easy to pack, plus they can be worn in pretty much all situations and still look respectable. Their major downside, I'll admit, is that if it even starts looking like rain, your feet will be soaked.

Ear-bud headphones

I have a fair bit of headphone envy when I see people with those fancy Bose noise-cancelling jobs. But still, I don't have room to pack them. Plus, ear-bud style headphones serve a secondary function on a plane as ear-plugs – stick them in your ears and put the jack in your pocket and they block out all but the teariest baby.

What are the most useful travel-gear purchases you've ever made?

Email: b.groundwater@fairfaxmedia.com.au

Instagram: instagram.com/bengroundwater

​See also: What you should pack in your carry-on luggage

See also: The top 10 best travel packing tips

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