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9 Little Items That Made Backpacking Way Better Than I Expected

After five months of living on the road, I can highly recommend every single thing on this list to any traveler.

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Earlier this year I quit my job, sold 99% of my stuff, packed a bag, and ~hit the road~. I spent the next five months living out of a backpack.

Gyan Yankovich / BuzzFeed

Now, please understand that I'm not the stereotypical "backpacker" type. I don't own Birkenstocks, I have a several-step skincare routine that I refuse to mess with, and I didn't buy a single plaited leather anklet during my travels.

I stressed for months about packing for this holiday, because I like to have my favorite things with me everywhere I go — even when this means carrying those favorite things around the world on my back. I never wanted my new nomadic lifestyle to mean sacrificing my sleep routine, comfort, or overall wellbeing, so before I left I did a lot of research, which led me to some products that made backpacking more than bearable.

Here's everything that helped high-maintenance me feel like myself while traveling:

1. An eye mask that I actually liked wearing to bed.

BuzzFeed

Before the trip I had a real dislike for eye masks, stemming from the time I wore one overnight at a music festival after stupidly going to sleep with my makeup on. I woke up with sore eyelashes (yes, in actual pain!) that were totally bent out of shape, stuck to my eyelid with old crusted mascara. Gross, I know. That morning I vowed against eye masks forever, until I discovered this contoured design. These are comfortable to sleep in, with room for your eyes — and eyelashes — to move around.

Get a pack of three from Amazon for $8.56.

2. And earplugs that I could actually sleep in.

BuzzFeed

Earplugs are an absolutely necessity when traveling. They're your best shot at getting sleep on planes and are especially essential if you're going to be staying in hostels or other shared accommodations. What I love about silicone earplugs is that they're not actually inserted into your ear, so it doesn't hurt to remove them. Instead, they're made from a kind of putty that covers your ear to keep the sound out, without going inside the canal.

Get six pairs from Amazon for $3.76 or Jet for $4.91.

3. A set of packing cubes, for keeping my bag organized at all times.

Amazon / Via amazon.com

Packing cubes are a true blessing for anyone about to unpack and repack their bag over and over and over, and I won't travel without them again, ever. I've never been someone who unpacks as soon as they reach their hotel room. Instead — regardless of how long I'm staying somewhere — I'll leave everything in my bag until the contents turn into a knot of mess and eventually end up strewn across the bed, floor, and nearest chair.

I divided my clothes into underwear (plus bras and swimwear), light clothes (T-shirts and pajamas), sweaters, and jeans, and I will never look back.

Get this set of four (available in nine colors) from Amazon for $19.99.

4. A down jacket that didn't take up a lot of space but still kept me warm.

Gyan Yankovich, Uniqlo / Via uniqlo.com

I honestly don't know what I would have done without this Uniqlo jacket, though I can only assume I would have frozen one morning in Chile when it was literally 5 degrees. Not only is this jacket warm, it also comes with a cute little bag that it can be stuffed into. When properly packed it takes up less space than a loaf of bread would — aka way less than a winter coat or heavy puffer jacket.

Get it from Uniqlo for $99.90.

5. Audiobooks to download when I had Wi-Fi, so I could listen to them on the road or in the air.

Audible

Before traveling I didn't ~get~ audiobooks. I liked regular books and podcasts, but there was something about listening to books that didn't appeal to me — almost like I thought it was a cheater's way of reading. Once again, I proved myself wrong, and realized that the key to audiobooks is choosing the right one to listen to. For me, these were memoirs and short novels because I liked writers reading their own words and short books (YA novels, for example) could be listened to in a few sittings, keeping the story flowing. Also, audiobooks don't take up any space in your bag.

Get Audible from $14.95 a month. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas and Hunger by Roxane Gay are both available on Audible.

6. A silk pillowcase to cover the countless hotel pillows I rested my head on.

Amazon / Via amazon.com

I'm a huge fan of the silk pillowcase — it keeps my hair (relatively) smooth and helps my skin look hydrated. Another great thing about these silky wonders is that they don't take up much space at all. Carrying one with me and slipping it over hotel pillows helped me feel at home no matter what bed I was sleeping in.

Get it from Amazon for $16.98.

7. A high-quality stainless steel water bottle that I could trust not to leak over everything I own.

Gyan Yankovich, Amazon / Via amazon.com

OK, look, let me say this: I know that this bottle is expensive. There is no need to @ me. I know.

Now that that's out of the way, hear me out. I bought this water bottle months before my trip and I still have it. It's a little dinged up, but it has never leaked or failed me. I also love the shit out of it, so I keep an eye on it. I appreciate it, so I won't ever lose it, making the cost per use more than reasonable.

Get it from Amazon for $45.

8. A headlamp to help me find things in my bag once the sun went down.

Amazon / Via amazon.com

If you're staying in a hotel room alone, or with an understanding travel buddy, it's not a problem if you wake up and decide to turn on the lights so you can search your bag for warmer pajamas, lip balm, or a notepad to write down the groundbreaking novel idea you just had. However, if you're staying in a shared room or camping, flicking on the light is often rude or downright impossible. And sure, flashlights are great but they also stop you from having both hands free to rummage.

Get it from Amazon for $11.77.

9. And shampoo and conditioner bars that saved me from an inevitable shampoo explosion.

Amazon / Via amazon.com, BuzzFeed

I've written about my love for these Ethique shampoo and conditioning bars before, but I will harp on about them again now because they really are that good. Though I was a little apprehensive about leaving my much-loved liquid shampoo and conditioner at home, I was totally converted by the end of the first shower I took with these bars. They lathered, washed, and hydrated my hair just as much as my old products, with the bonus of fitting easily into my makeup bag and having no chance of exploding all over everything I packed. I also chopped mine into quarters to make them last longer, which they did — the whole five months!

Get the shampoo (available in six scents) from Amazon for $15.50 and conditioner (available in two scents) for $18.

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