Packing Hacks: Versatile Backpacking Items

March 18, 2017
Katie Uniacke

On my various long-term trips over the years, I’ve learnt a few lessons the hard way and picked up a few ingenious tips from fellow travellers. The more you travel, the more you new uses for things and find ways to cut down the contents of your backpack. The version of me that set out on my first big adventure was woefully unaware of some of the tips I’ve since picked up that have meant I can shed kilos from my backpack, which my shoulders have thanked me for.

Whether you’re a seasoned traveller looking for a few new pearls of packing wisdom to add to those you’ve picked up along the way, or about to set off on your first big trip and no idea where to start with your packing list, these multi-use tips are packing gold. Save space and take a bit of the weight off your shoulders or even gain more space in your luggage by making these the first thing you pack.

Dental Floss:

This isn’t just for dental hygiene reasons, although you will want to take extra care of your teeth whilst you’re travelling, as chances are your diet won’t be as good as it is at home, and your alcohol consumption levels might be a tad higher than usual, all of which can wreak havoc on your teeth.

Dental floss is a wonderful multipurpose item to tuck into your backpack. It works amazingly as a makeshift, mini-washing line if you want to wash something out in the sink and hang it out to dry next to your bunk bed, or even in your tent! It can also be used as an emergency thread if, for example, you suddenly rip a hole in your backpack. Just make sure you have a needle on you!

A picture of the very versatile dental floss which is used by long term travelers

Img: Wikimedia Commons

Although dental floss won’t cut through anything very stubborn, it’ll make light work of slicing through cheese or bread, so it’s great as an emergency knife.

If you want a bit of extra privacy in your dorm, use it as a way to string your sarong over the front of your bed, or tie it between two trees and drape your sarong over it for a bit of extra shade on the beach. This brings me on to my next wonder-object, the sarong…


Whether you’re male or female, never go anywhere without your trusty sarong, no matter what kind of climate you’re headed for. If you don’t have one, pick up a cheap one before you go, or make it your first purchase once you’ve touched down in your destination. You’ll find they’re for sale everywhere that it’s remotely warm, or anywhere near a beach.

Along with the two options above, a sarong can be used as a towel (saving yourself the weight of a bulky towel), as a picnic blanket and a beach blanket. You can use it as a blanket on a plane or bus journey when they’re too over-enthusiastic with the air conditioning and you haven’t got a sleping bag liner to hand. It can be worn as a dress, a skirt, a scarf, a headwrap…. If you happen to come across a church, temple, mosque, or anywhere where you might not to show your shoulders or be in shorts, a trusty sarong will cover you up, whether you’re male or female. Basically, you name it, a sarong can be used for it.

Of course, with all these varied uses, you’ll probably want to throw in a small bag of washing powder so you can give it a quick rinse. The beauty of most sarongs is that they’ll dry really quickly so you won’t have to be waiting around for long.

Make sure you always keep your sarong in your day pack rather than leaving it behind when you go out for the day, as you never know when you might need it.

Coconut oil:

Never go on a trip again without a jar of coconut oil in your backpack. There’s a reason why the popularity of coconut oil has exploded in recent years, and that’s its incredible versatility, as well as its potent properties. Whilst travelling, you don’t want to be weighed down by all kinds of different pots containing various chemical-filled concoctions that all perform different roles. Why would you, in fact, when coconut oil can replace many of them?

The miracle oil can be used as a face and body moisturiser and an after sun, and it even, naturally, has a couple of SPF in it. It can be used as a hair mask when your locks start to feel a little abused after long days exposed to sun, sea and sand. It’s a natural make-up remover and will melt away even the stubbornness of waterproof mascaras.

An image of a coconut and a coconut oil

Coconut Oil

Heard of oil pulling? Swirling coconut oil in your mouth is a wonderful way of protecting your oral health, and is also claimed to be a great teeth whitener. Between this and the dental floss, your dentist will never believe you’ve been travelling. Coconut oil is even a natural deodorant; just rubbing some into your underarms will keep you naturally odour-free.

Sound too good to be true? Try it out before you embark on your big adventure and see for yourself.

Note: make sure your jar of coconut oil closes tightly and doesn’t leak, and close it well everytime you use it. When moving around, it’s worth wrapping it in a plastic bag or two to make sure that if any does leak, you won’t end up with the entire contents of your backpack being covered in oil. Also, remember it will escape more easily when in its liquid form, which it will be if it’s warmer than 25 degrees. I’ve learned this one the hard way.

Rain poncho:

This is something you’d probably never think to pack unless you’re headed somewhere like Ireland, famous for its downpours. However, if you think about all the things that a plastic rain poncho can be used for, you might have a change of heart. If you’re sleeping under the stars, use it as a tarp, laying it out under your sleeping bag. Having a picnic? If the ground’s a bit damp, whip out your poncho rather than your sarong.

Wet clothes and no plastic bags to hand? Wrap them in your poncho. Sudden rainstorm? Use your poncho as an emergency rain shelter. You could even use your dental floss to string it up.

The beauty of travelling is that it teaches you to be resourceful, and things that once seemed one-dimensional suddenly take on a thousand and one uses, if you’re just willing to think slightly outside the box. This way you can even guarantee that your luggage weighs less too. As you go, you’re bound to come up with your own packing hacks that make travelling life just that little bit simpler. Happy discovering!






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