If you exclude the obvious necessities like a backpack, clothes, passport, money, toothbrush, etc, then these are my top 5:
1. Netbook (can use skype on it, do secure banking & email and for photo backups)
2. iPod touch (WIFI capable and also serves as a watch)
3. Digital camera
4. Toilet paper
5. Guide book
You don't need much, I've been travelling for over a year now (still on the road) and I've done it with a small 40 L backpack weighing around 10 kgs - I take it on board with me as carry-on luggage on flights and usually fits in overhead compartments of buses/trains.
A good rule is to lay out everything you'll think you need and cut that in half by choosing what you'll REALLY need.
light (mini torch LED light is current fav)
bottle opener maskerading as a key ring
I used to also carry the relevant travel guide or pages from but I've stopped doing that.
Diary with important info - names/addresses/numbers/allergies/flight info/passport # etc etc just in case!
(I was following the trend and assuming passport and money were a given!)
bottle opener maskerading as a key ring
Why? There are plenty of ways to open a bottle without a bottle opener.
Taking in everyones comments, I believe my top five are: (assuming backpack, the clothes on me, money and travel documentation are standard)
1. Phone with music and internet capabilities
2. Pocket knife + carabiner
3.Guide book of area + pen
4.Laxative and anti diarrhoea tablets (foreign foods can have funny affects on you)
5. A way of recording my travel experiences, whether that be a camera or diary
Thanks to everyone that has answered my question!
Please keep posting your top 5 and if thats just not enough for you, go ahead and drop your top ten!
Top 5 things I never travel without:
1) mobile phone
2) sleeping bag
3) travel guide of area
4) my pillow
5) a travel partner
1. A book - you can trade it when you finish it.
2. Backup credit card - comes in handy if something happens to your money supply.
3. Toilet Paper - when you need it, you need it quickly.
4. Camera - sometimes your friends don't believe you. A picture's worth a thousand words.
5. Friends - I name my backpack (and many other objects) so I always have a "companion".
My two and a half cents are this:
The more you can get the limitations of your equipment and clothes out of your way, the more you can see and learn. Of course you need your clothes and it may not work for your style of travel to use the old one shirt on, one shirt off method of travelling with only two t-shirts but you could still do a trip that way.
If I wanted to be hardcore and only take five things in addition to the clothes on my back I could see myself in a pinch traveling with only these items:
1. Comfortable walking shoes
- I typically use Eccos and I have a goofy brown pair that I always buy that are fairly water resistant without looking it. The goal is to walk anywhere and feel as little as possible like you've walked all day.
I can get away with wearing them in the cityat a fancy dinner at night and also hiking with them without ever looking too out of place. Rule number 1 is blend in! I am 6 ft 2 and caucasian and I get away with blending in in SE Asia just by being discrete and not looking like a tourist... I know I'm not fooling anyone but at least I don't scream tourist when people see me and so it lets me pass on the impression that I'm not necessarily out of place and don't not belong there.
2. A Distraction
- I need to do something to fill those long hours between destinations and nothing like a good book to do the trick. It's even better if what I'm reading tells me something about where I am and connects me to the place. I love reading the history sections of the Lonely Planet when I'm bored. It's great to learn more about the destination because it creates a deeper connection and enriches the experience. If I didn't have too many choices I'd look for something long and entertaining. I use my ipod mostly for noise cancellation and not entertainment because it doesn't distract my mind on a long bus ride. If I could carry more I'd enjoy something to watch movies on like an iPad or a notebook but on a spartan regimen I'd grab a paperback.
3. Clock or watch, must have alarm
- I always have this on a cell phone but one time I had to buy a cheap digital watch because I can't properly plan anything if I can't control when I wake up! I sleep like a log and I love to sleep. Travelling can mean early mornings and the continuity of the trip can depend on catching that flight or bus. You can't do anything if you can't set the time! I don't need a working phone because I can plan out with people in advance when and where to meet and just be on time but I can't function without a clock!
4. ATM card and/or Credit card
- Ideally both but if you had to pick it's probably better to use a credit card that you can draw cash advances from. You can always pay it off from your bank account electronically from an internet cafe. I bring cash as a last minute backup but only an emergency amount. I'd rather withdraw from ATMs any day than exchange money!
I usually keep this in a money belt which would be on this list except that I can see doing without one relying instead on extra caution. Obviously money and a passport are needed to do any kind of overseas trip but here I'm addressing the way in which you access funds.
5. Something to record the moment with
- as a photography junkie I have to have the right camera on me. Sometimes it's a compact and sometimes its the biggest DSLR I can find. Film or digital doesnt matter I just like to keep it practical but I've realized that the important thing is to register the memories. I usually carry a journal and if I couldn't carry my camera I'd rely more heavily on writing what I've seen down. I'm very visual and can remember most of the details of the adventure and retell them using my photographs.
I suppose if all I had was a device that records smells it would be enough to jog my memory but you need something to bring you back there years later. The whole trip was for naught if you forget everything about it later.