"Why do you have 14 rolls of toilet paper?" I asked a traveller at a hostel in Delhi.
"I've heard they don't have toilet paper in India," he explained, unloading his massive backpack.
Dental floss can also be used to repair a backpack, leaving it minty fresh.
Over the years I've concluded that bringing less, and not believing everything you hear, are more likely to make for an enjoyable trip. At the very least, there's the satisfaction of sauntering past a group of tourists—many of whom have pushed past you to get out of the plane—as they wait impatiently for their luggage at the carousel.
There are only ten items needed for a successful voyage abroad:
10. Damp washcloth, in a plastic bag
Whether it's to wipe sweat off your brow, grime from the back of your neck, or the juice of an orange from your hands, this item is easily worth its weight.
9. Passport, also in a plastic bag
The bag comes in handy, like when a big wave rears up while you're admiring the sunset from a pier in Rabat, or when your momentum is not enough to carry you across an eight-foot canal in the Irish countryside.
8. A small stash of cash and a credit or bank card
But keep them separate—you don't want to lose everything to a pickpocket in one shot. Bank machines are now common almost everywhere. Limit the amount of emergency cash and don't hide it in a backpack that's being loaded atop a bus, like a couple I met in Morocco did with USD$700 and their gold wedding rings.
7. Re-usable water bottle
Leaving behind a collection of plastic bottles that may wash up on the shore of places like Venice is no way to show your appreciation. It's especially nasty in poorer countries where garbage is often burned in open fires. If you're worried about water quality bring a good purifier, instead of leaving a souvenir that may be around longer than the thousand year old marvels you've come to see.
6. Toothbrush and dental floss
Bad breath makes a bad impression everywhere you go, and people will hurry when giving you directions. The floss can also be used to repair a backpack, leaving it minty fresh.
5. A Map
When you're rushing for the last bus out of town in Algeciras, Spain, it will keep you from going west to Cadiz thinking you're heading towards Barcelona in the northeast.
4. A change of clothes
Today's lightweight materials mean a shirt and pants, along with extra socks and underwear, will weigh less than a pair of jeans. These materials also dry fast, in case you find yourself at the bottom of an Irish canal. Buttoned pockets deter thieves. Long sleeved shirts and long (zip-off) pants are more acceptable in holy places and provide better protection from mosquito bites and the sun.
3. Hat and sunglasses
Near the equator your eyes are especially prone to sun damage, more so with the thinning of the ozone layer. There's no need to expose yourself to the carcinogenic dangers of a sunburn, but don't overdo it—a triangular umbrella for your nose just gives the rest of us travellers a bad name.
2. A book
Instead of cussing and making a bad impression when your bus breaks down or you have to stand in a long queue to see Michelangelo's David, bring something to read.
Remember, the primary function of local people is not to make sure you have a pleasant stay—indeed most of them are engaged in activities more important than you catching the last train to Copenhagen. When the hostel is full, the ferry isn't running, and you can't understand anyone's explanation of why the banks are all closed: sit down, eat a meal, drink a beer (or two). You, and the locals will have a better time.
What advice did I have for the traveller with the 14 rolls of toilet paper? Only that he could probably make do with 13—and I could lighten his load by taking one off his hands.
Add this article to your reading list