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Shilo's Packing Essentials

I love to pack. I relish the experience of paring down all of my material possessions in the world to what I can carry on my back; to leave behind all the rest of the "stuff" I own, which sometimes seems to own me, and to wander off into the world. However no matter where I am headed on my journey, to a beach on the Mediterranean or to the Swiss Alps, there are certain items that always make their way into my backpack. Now every "travel expert" has her own idea of what constitutes a good packing list; I recently attended a travel seminar where the speaker's ultimate travel list included two scarves, three sets of Capris pants and a mini-hairdryer. Yeah right. My list of packing essentials fits me like a wet suit; but you should tweak it until it fits you, your trip, and your lifestyle. These are ten things I don't travel without:

1.  IPOD
When you are on a thirteen-hour flight next to a whining child, foam earplugs just won't cut it. I need melody, beats, and lyrics to transport me into a world of sound while the plane transports me around the world. Besides being a best friend to music junkies like me, IPODs are also great travel tools. Before your trip, download podcasts relating to your destination, for example, a walking tour of the Louvre or the back streets of Rome.

2.  Lots and lots of Ziploc bags of varying sizes
I do not mess around with generic brands; you don't need cheap-o bags busting when you are in the middle of a jungle on Samoa. The bags take up practically no space, weigh next to nothing, and come in handy for a billion uses: snacks, trash, souvenirs, wet clothes - the list is infinite. I always bring a few "freezer-style" bags, too, which are thicker and heavier and hold up very well crammed in a bag for days on end.

3.  A guidebook like Bakpak's Europe Hostels & Travel Guide
There are lots of travelers out there who never read up on the destinations they are visiting, preferring to arrive without a clue about the local customs, culture, and sights. Don't be one of those tourists. The more you learn about the place you are going, the more you will get out of your trip, and a more conscious traveler you will be. Make the guidebook yours! Write in it, highlight, take notes, and become your own guide.

4.  Peanut Butter
Now you may not need this on a road-trip to Moab, but for more exotic locales nothing beats this cheap, high protein meal. No matter what situation your stomach is in and where in the world you are, you can almost always find some type of bread which is generally safe to eat. Slap on some peanut butter, and voila, dinner is ready: PB on pitas, PB on baguettes, PB on naan, or my favorite, PB on tortillas.

5.  Duct tape
Absolutely indispensable. Don't carry a whole roll; just wind several feet around a permanent marker or even a piece of cardboard (there is no need to spend money on the specially-sized travel duct tape). When your backpack or luggage craps out on you, there is nothing more fantastic than taping it up and brushing it off.

6.  Tevas (or similar brand/style)
I am a recent convert to these amphibious sandals which are of vital importance at any destination where your feet might get wet. Whether you are hiking through streams to glacial moraines in Alaska or jumping out of a boat onto a small South Pacific island, waterproof sandals are the bomb. Though I am a giant fan of leather sandals and always have room for my shower shoes/flip-flops/slippers/thongs, without waterproof sandals you will be annoyingly taking your shoes off and on as you travel or even worse, you will wind up with sloshy footwear. Bring Tevas.

7. Swimsuit
Recently I was with a group of travelers who unexpectedly came across a lovely tropical waterfall, perfect for a cool afternoon dip and a few crazy leaps from the cliff side. Sadly though, many people hadn't expected such a sweet surprise and had to watch lamely from the shallow end, wading up to their shins as the rest of us frolicked under the crashing white tower, diving into the deep and having the best time ever. No matter where you are going, bring your suit and you will be prepared for an impromptu dip in a waterfall, swimming hole, or hot tub!

8.  Chocolate
Way, way down in the depths of my backpack, under my first aid kit and long underwear, I like to stash a package of M&Ms or maybe a Snickers bar; something small, relatively uncrushable, and stored in a plastic bag like everything else in my bag. I will forget about the chocolate until weeks into my trip, when on an exhausted afternoon I will catch a glimpse of the crackly wrapper, rejoice in my smart travel planning, and indulge in a little soul-comfort, high-fat American style. Even better, I share with my travel partners and become THE most popular girl on the mountain, the campground, or the beach.

9.  Silk Sleep Sack
This expensive bedding option is worth every single penny and is a VAST improvement over the bulky, hot cotton sleep sacks of hostel days past. In the tropics where the humidity percentage is over 100 and the temperature is even higher, you will bond with your silk cocoon as the cool, weightless, quick-drying fabric becomes your only shield against the mobs of mosquitoes that would otherwise be chewing up your exposed flesh. Worth. Every. Penny.

10.  Wet-naps or Baby-naps
In Egypt as my fellow Westerners were fiddling and flubbing with their left hands and the various forms of jet-spray nozzle toilet paper, I was out of the loo in time to watch my compatriots exit with dripping hands and shirts. Wet-naps can also stand in for hand-washing when you really want that street taco but have just pet the street dogs, and can stand in for a shower on that overnight train in China.