Please sign in to post.

travel essentials for a young solo traveler

My son, who is a sophomore in college, will be taking a 2 week solo bus and train trip (in the US) at the beginning of the summer. He plans to travel with only a day pack. Since his birthday is coming up, I was thinking of putting together a small packet of travel bare essentials (small roll of duct tape, plastic ziplock bags in various sizes, etc.). Looking for suggestions of what to include and what to leave out.

Posted by
1662 posts

Hi Ruth,

  • A money belt or similar to stash extra cash, a card and his ID. Make sure he does not put his wallet or other valuables close to the top of the bag or his back pocket. (Another thought - if it's possible, tell him to secure his bag somehow when he is on a bus or train - in case he falls asleep, someone may take his bag.)

  • Carabiners or something similar to secure his bag while out and about.

  • A basic first aid kit - the items can be put in a zip lock to reduce weight and bulk. Some OTC's, something to settle a tummy. Yes, they can be bought especially since he will be in the US. But, who wants to go out in the middle of the night when you're not feeling well? Or perhaps he can buy that stuff upon arrival and keep in his hotel or wherever he is staying.

  • Ace bandage. I know I am adding weight, but rolled up, it's not that bad.

  • Emergency numbers on an index card (put with first aid kit.) Also, an index card to include his blood type, any allergies and/or meds he is taking or allergic to. Since he is solo, if he is rendered unable to communicate, docs need to know asap how to proceed.

  • Maybe a portable charger to stash in a pocket of his bag. He will take his phone charger, but in case something happens to it, it's good to have a spare. Walmart sells them for under $5 - comes with little cable. Charge lasts a long time. Not bulky or heavy. They do have a bigger size though for those who need it.

  • Mini notepad and a pen or two.

  • A lightweight mini flashlight. If you live near a Walmart, they can be found in the camping section. They are only a dollar, have a bright LED. I got one, took it with me to Italy. It helped when walking about uneven ground or where light was dim, minimal or even non-existent (say turning a corner.)

Speaking of Walmart, the super centers have a huge aisle of travel essentials. Perhaps browsing, you can get some ideas. Target has a big travel section too but their prices are more than Wally's.

I'm sure he's aware to wear shoes or sneakers that are into the comfortable mode. New ones may cause hurt.

  • Adding: I'm big on taking mini rolls of duct tape and a folding little 4" SS scissors - it cut well. I found the scissors at Walmart. You never know when you might need the tape.

Just some ideas to pick and choose from or modify. Hope some of it helps.

** Hope he has fun!

Posted by
1259 posts

Also a wide search for “traveling light packing list”, and variations, will return many hours of interesting reading. The tendency is to take way too much stuff.

Posted by
7220 posts

Depending on where he’s going, it might be fun to give him a dozen postcard stamps to mail some type of postcard each day as his “travel journal” of his trip. He could have those as a nice memory afterwards even if he’s not a natural writer.

Some individual packs of nuts or a few protein bars would probably also be good for his bus rides.

Posted by
8621 posts

Besides the gaffers tape and zip lock bags, Ear buds, twist ties, the Anker power core mini phone charger, cheap wash cloth, Kleenex packets, safety pins, gum if he likes it, sunglasses, bandana, collapsable water bottle, couple of pens, note pad, mini mag light, dental floss, and TRIPIT AND CITYMAPPER Apps downloaded on his phone.

If he’s a reader a paperback from a thrift store so he can save his phone battery. Or a paperback booklet of crossword puzzles if he does those. I get mine at the 99 cent store.

Posted by
4572 posts

Something to "lock" important compartments of his day pack - whether real (tiny) locks, locking s-biners (Ace Hardware has good ones) or even just a package of zip ties and a pair of clippers to clip them off for access.

I find almost all of the items that prior posters have mentioned at dollar stores - flashlights, USB cords and portable chargers, small first aid kits, ziplock bags, etc.

Posted by
1194 posts

I travel extensively with just a day pack. You’re right to recognize that the list is different than a full pack. Here is what Is in my bag:

  • Hydro seal bandaids for blisters
  • Meds: a few blister packs of Benadryl, Imodium, Pepto bismol. Advil and Tylenol both come in small travel tubes.
  • a pen
  • a comb
  • Sea to Summit traveling light sling bag
  • sleeping mask
  • ear plugs
  • blistex
  • Zicam packets
  • small pack of wet wipes
  • small pack of tissues
  • a few quilt pin size safety pins
  • Platypus water bottle (Vapur brand leaks)
  • water bottle carabiner
  • wrap duct tape around water bottle
  • snack, quart, gallon ziplocks
  • a kitchen size garbage bag
  • head lamp
  • power pack if he doesn’t have one
  • dual port USB charger if he doesn’t have one
  • travel towel
  • Shout wipes

Don’t bring Ace bandages (bulky, rarely used if ever)
Bandanas are a Personal thing. If he doesn’t use them now he probably won’t on the road. That said, the younger generations seem to love buffs.

I’d suggest he looks at Eytan Levys (Snarky Nomad) post on traveling with a smaller bag.

Backpacking through Central America with just a carry on

Ultimate Ultralight travel packing list

Five things to ditch from the backpack

Posted by
8889 posts
  • Swiss army (or similar) knife. Never go anywhere without one. Useful for on-the-road food, opening bottles, cutting aforementioned duct tape.
  • Water bottle (already mentioned).
  • Pen and a small notebook, for writing things to remember (addresses, phone numbers, . . .)
  • An old supermarket plastic bag. To put used clothes in, to separate them from clean ones in your bag, until you can wash them. Cheap and weighs nothing.

I don't have any idea where your son is going. Outdoors? Urban - big city. That fact makes a big difference in what to pack. I recommend biodegradable packet of camping toilet paper found in the camping section of Wal-Mart. I can live without a lot of things. But, I really hate not having toilet paper. I always travel with some as a back up. Can also be used as wet wipes just to clean the hands/face/etc..

Posted by
4573 posts

I guess I need to explain my bandana recommendation. It has nothing to do with fashion or a clothing statement.
I am a 61 year old Canadian woman who only ever saw them in movie Westerns, but they are an easily accessible hunk of fabric.
I have used mine as:
Place mat
Dish washing cloth
Face cloth
Tea towel
Body towel
Tied hobo style as a carry sack
Wet and frozen as ice pack for broken collar bone in Serengeti
Bandage for cut
Bandage for sprain
Face cover mask style for dust
Wet neckerchief for coolness
Sweat band
Head band
I haven't used the, but you could use for:
Ice pack for hang over
If really caught short....TP...and why I recommend more than 1
Make a copy of the list for dear son with the bandanas

Posted by
2349 posts

Moleskin for blisters, and an explanation on how to use it.

A two gallon zip bag with a couple small packs of Forever New hand detergent. He can put the clothes in the zip bag to wash if the sink doesn't work for washing.

A one gallon zip bag containing all the things you're giving him. Use a Sharpie to write "stuff mom made me take" on the bag.

Posted by
1662 posts

lol Maria, by gosh, I think you've pretty much covered it!

Didn't cowboys make them "mysterious?" lol. Yippe ki yay!

Posted by
1194 posts


I know you like your bandanas. But in 40 years of backpacking, mountaineering, caving, climbing, rescue, relief work, and travel I have never needed or used one.

This could be due to different travel styles.

Posted by
33 posts

Skip the flashlight (most people just use the light on their phones) and all the first aid stuff and duct tape, etc. which is extra weight and stuff to carry. He can buy that if an emergency arises. Postcards and stamps are similarly a waste of space and require him to find a mailbox or post office which is not necessarily an easy thing to do on a cross-country bus and train trip.

Go with practical things for the 21st century:
- Anker (or other good brand) power bank
- Pocket knife if he's not traveling by plane
- iTunes or Google Play gift card so he can download music and movies
- Sunglasses
- Airpods or headphones
- Travel towel
- Bandana or buff
- Chapstick
- Small Field Notes notebook and mini Gel pen
- Money!

Posted by
663 posts

Thanks, everyone -- these are fantastic suggestions! For those who asked, this trip will take him to primarily urban locations, from Chicago to Portland, OR, and he'll mostly be couch surfing with friends, with a couple of nights in hotels in between. If he's gotten his act together and purchased the ticket, the plan was to book a sleeper car for the very long train ride back. He's got a travel grant from his college to pay for the trip and insisted he wanted to take the train on the return trip to give himself time to do the write up for the project -- I personally think 2 days on a train would be brutal, but since he didn't really hear it when I said it, I'll let him decide for himself when he does it.

Posted by
1662 posts

The flashlight I suggested does not have a metal casing; therefore it weighs ounces. The LED light is very good. It has a thin wrist band and could be hooked onto my bag's key leash.

My phone has a flashlight, like most phones do. For a few reasons, I prefer to not hand carry my phone while walking when the little flashlight is good. That's how I roll. It may not be for all, but works for me when I needed it.

Posted by
1662 posts

I think mini rolls of duct tape can be invaluable. They are not heavy. On my trips, I personally did not need them. There may be a time I do. So, it's my choice to carry one or two.

On my first trip to Rome, I was walking around in Termini. I was chatting with a couple of people outside the bookstore. An older man was walking through. We saw him struggling with his little luggage. The handle had broke. The man did not speak English. I asked one of the bookstore employees to translate.

I took out my roll of black duct tape. The employee "repaired" the handle so that the man could catch his train. He was very grateful. The bookstore employee thought it was a great idea and very kind of me to offer.

No one but me knew I had the roll in my bag. But, in good conscience, seeing someone struggle, panic on his face and rushing to meet his train, I had to at least try. Paying it forward has its personal rewards.

For the first aid kit - get an altoids can or a plastic "soap" travel box. Then, trek over to dollar tree and buy items in small packets like the advil, antacids (i.e. tums), etc. You can easily make a first aid kit with items you probably already have on your shelf - such as - 3-4 bandaids, etc.. Tip: don't buy cheap dollar store or Walgreen's band-aids. They don't stick and fall off way too quickly. Stay with good ol' J&J bandaid brand.
Swiss Army makes a keychain knife that is useful. Wal-Mart about $13.
Don't forget beef jerky (good brand) and M&M's.

Posted by
4573 posts

Ah, further information as to accommodations and plans gives a bit of a different spin on things, doesn't it? A bus or train trip may be considered rustic travel whereas overnights with known people is otherwise.
Introducing other travelers to options isn't right or wrong. Some are out of the box thinkers, low consumers or eco friendly types; others like the convenience and accessibility of goods sold for specific needs and purposes. What is a forum for but to offer experiences or share alternatives? Those willing to be open to new things can glean insight from any of the recommendations here to make their own decisions. Is there really a right or wrong answer.....despite the criticisms of some?
Ruth has options to choose from, or she can share the thread with her son to see what he, as a new traveller, wants to take.

Posted by
1194 posts


If your son has an iPhone I’d suggest he download the “packing” app. It’s free.

Your son can create a list of contents of his pack, by category. That will help him pack when he’s couch surfing etc. A packing app is needed way more when staying with someone. It’s so easy to have your stuff intermingle with your hosts stuff. Then it gets left behind.

Posted by
1194 posts

Skip the flashlight (most people just use the light on their phones) and all the first aid stuff and duct tape, etc. which is extra weight and stuff to carry. He can buy that if an emergency arises

Totally disagree with this statement. You’re balancing convenience against weight. I can carry these items even when I am traveling with a 16 Liter 6.5 kg pack.

I prefer a small headlamp, especially when sleeping in dorm or guest situations. It lets you get up in the middle of the night and is hands free. I’ve used the headlamp more than I’d thought. The iPhone is charging in the middle of the night so is harder to use.

You only need to take a few feet of duct tape, which weighs an ounce (if that). No rolls. Wrap it around something. I wrap mine around the base of my collapsible water bottle.

A small supply of meds acts as a bridge until you can get to the store. And in many places (airplanes, trains, the middle of the night) there is no store. Again, don’t bring the box. Bring a single sheet blister pack.

I can't believe I forgot to mention packing cubes in bold/easy to see colors! I like Ebags brand classic cubes. These things are a big help when packing in one bag! As mentioned above - plastic grocery store bags for dirty laundry or a cinch sack that will fit his bag. Deodorant is always helpful.

Posted by
1407 posts

Maria, thanks for the wise and gentle reminder about the reasons that we each have our own opinions and favorite hacks.

Posted by
34 posts

Create a first aid kit in a very small plastic bag including a couple of bandaids, a 2 pack of aspirin, a few individual packages of Wet-Ones, and a small pack of tissues. This will get him by in a pinch and he can re-stock, if needed. I always pack a quart ziplock bag with favorite snacks for each person in our family and customize it for each person. I include gum, a favorite candy, small pack of nuts, a couple of packages of peanut butter crackers, and small pack of crackers (Goldfish, Cheez-Nips, etc.). We each have an insulated Klean Kanteen that can be filled with a hot or cold beverage that will hold the temperature for hours. A spork is a nice add-in as well.

Posted by
492 posts
  • A good portable charger is essential - something he can plug his phone in to when an outlet isn't around, or when he's not stationary long enough to charge up the phone. His smartphone is going to be a huge part of his trip - from looking up maps and timetables, keeping in touch with friends, taking pics and posting em online, listening to music or watching videos while on the bus and train. There are even some portable chargers that can charge multiple devices (have more than one USB port), so he could top off his phone and, say, airpods or headphone batteries (if needed).

  • A quick charger for his phone, perhaps? Sometimes he might only have a 15-20mins with access to an outlet, so on top of the portable charger something he can use to plug his phone in to the wall directly and get as much juice as possible could be great.

  • A slim phone case with a stand. This takes up no additional space as it just goes on his phone, but is an easy way to prop that phone up on a tray table when on a bus or train so he can read/watch stuff on it - much more comfy than having to hold it up all the time!

  • A little travel hand santizer bottle - something that closes and seals well so it won't leak.

Posted by
690 posts

Ruth, the train ride back should be awesome if he is in a sleeper car. I have done the cross country routes many times, and I find it to be a very civilized way to travel. When I was a sophomore in college I could do one night in coach. Two nights in coach is a stretch, even for a young college student. A sleeper car, though, is delightful. It's easy to get a good night's rest, and three meals are included with the fare.

Posted by
75 posts

universal sink plug - essential item for washing your clothes in the sink of your bathroom

He should start with as little as possible. He's not going to Mongolia or Papua New Guinea so in case he's missing something he could just pop into the nearest store and buy it.

Some help for packing:

Here is a trip report of a young man from Europe who did a long trip around the USA mostly by bus. I found it a great read and could be a great source of inspiration and ideas for your son. (It's in German, but google speaks German quite well ;-)

Posted by
39 posts

Maria I have to agree with you about the bandannas, we always travel with at least one each. They have been used in a multitude of ways including to wipe our hands, wet with cold water on our necks to cool us off, as a tablecloth in a park when there is bird (or other) excrement on the table, etc. I have had them in my travel supplies for over 40 years. But I never use them at home!
As far as the postcard stamps being a waste and adding weight, I would say that a few stamps would add very little weight. Several years ago my adult son took a 30 day cross country motorcycle trip with a friend. In addition to a text every night letting us know they had arrived safely at their destination, we also received a colorful postcard every 3-4 days detailing where they had been and what they had been doing. These postcards are a wonderful journal and remembrance of his trip and helped us to share the experience with him. He only had trouble finding somewhere to post them during the couple of days they were in the desert.

Posted by
11294 posts

For the train, will he be in coach or a sleeper? He should look at the Youtube videos about his particular one, and he'll get lots of ideas about what to expect and what he may want to bring. For instance, on the sleeper the roomette only has one electrical outlet, so a splitter of some kind is very useful if he's charging more than one device at a time.