As companies like Ryanair and Easy Jet started charging for bags, we learned how to pack what was strictly necessary, in order to be able to travel only with a piece of cabin baggage each and keep the airfares low. Travelling light for a weekend is easy, but how do you tackle the challenge of packing for a long term trip with having to overload your shoulders?
We have done some research and checked travel blogs, forums and guide books while we were preparing our trip. We found some precious tips, but also some that didn’t strictly apply to us. For instance, someone prefers to invest some good money on expensive North Face jackets and Salomon shoes. Now, while doing this is a good thing if you’re going to be trekking most of the time during your trip, we thought we’d stick with our old jeans, shirts and shoes and we’re doing great anyway. I’m saying this because I want to highlight that there is no one size fits all type of solution when it comes to packing, so keep this in mind as you read this post.
The considerations we are sharing here are general and broad so they should apply to most travel situations and styles. Most importantly, they are reflective of our experience after three months on the road.
On another note, we would also like to share our detailed packing list (we will do this in another post) with the items we brought from home and some we bought while travelling. We hope that posts like this, of which we will write more in the future, help those of you who are thinking of planning a long trip.
- Invest in a good backpack. A backpack will be the home you carry on your shoulders when on the road. It is the single most important piece of equipment you’ll have to make a decision on. Get the one that gets along with your back, and that is comfortable, solid and of good build to make sure it does not break or cause any other problems to you. Most people, to be on the safe side, look at the famous brands, like North Face or Lowe Alpine. Yes, I know these brands are very expensive, but their products are worth every cent. We’ve chosen Low Alpine and we’re happy with our choice so far.
- Do not underestimate the power of a sarong. A sarong has a number of advantages and I was already aware of its importance during our trips to Turkey and Morocco. A sarong is light to carry and easy to dry, it can be used to cover your hair and shoulders when entering a mosque or a temple, it can be used as a bed sheet if the hotel you are staying has some dodgy stains in the bed, it can be used on the long night buses and trains to shield yourself from the air conditioner and mosquitos, it can be used on your bikini and as a towel in the beach… Our two sarongs have proven to be among the most precious and useful items we have carried in our backpacks.
- Technology. Despite the fact that some friends advised us not too carry iPhone, camera equipment and laptop, as it would be too much value and weight on our shoulders, we have no regrets. Along the backpacking trail in most parts of the world it’s so easy to find Wi-Fi Internet and having our laptop and iPhone gives us so much freedom and privacy. Whether it is about working on our blog and pictures, selling our prints, checking news and our bank accounts or making Skype video calls with our friends and family, having a laptop (and an iPhone) has proven to be one of the best choices we’ve made in relation to this trip. Considering that most of the times Wi-Fi is free, as opposed to internet cafes where you have to pay, in the long run we have managed to save some money. Re the camera, I don’t think I need to explain why this equipment is so important to us – It’s a good idea to insure all these items, for peace of mind, as we did. We will attempt to cover this aspect in a future post.
- Check what you can and can’t buy at your destinations. After reading some advice in the guide books and other blogs, I found out that some items are not available in some of the regions we were to visit. For instance, tampons, sunscreen or mosquito repellent with high percentage of DEET are not easily found in some parts of Asia, even though sometimes you’ll find them in big cities in most countries. In relation to soaps, shampoos and the likes, you’ll probably find most of the brands you use at home at local supermarkets everywhere in the world, however if you’re taking some medicines you should double-check with your doctor, and you should stock up on necessary things you won’t find while travelling. If you’re travelling in regions affected by malaria, at some stage you’ll have to decide whether to buy a mosquito net or not. In Europe mosquito nets were too expensive for us so we decided to buy one once in Asia for a cheaper price, but in Asia we realized that buying one would be useless as many hotels had high ceilings and no place to fix the net at night. Finally, don’t be carrying too many books, including guidebooks of the countries you’ll visit. Along the backpacking trail it’s very easy to swap books in most guesthouses, hotels and even some book shops – and nowadays guide publishers have iPhone, iPad or Android versions of their guidebooks that you can comfortably download on your device and use on the road, sometimes even offline.
- Clothes and underwear. Remember you have to pack for a week, not for a year. Yes, we get fed up of our clothes and the temptation to buy new stuff is always there, but we try to keep our self-control high and remember the more we buy the more we have to carry. Hotels and guesthouses offer laundry service everywhere we’ve been – in Asia prices are very cheap (for example, in Cambodia and Vietnam, you pay 1$ for 1kg of clothes), so you only need enough clothes to keep you going for a week. If you’re visiting warm destinations only then it’ll be easy to keep your backpack’s weight under control, but if any cold region is part of your itinerary then you have to decide whether you’ll buy warm clothes on the road as you need them or whether you’ll carry them with you since the very beginning. Your decision will depend on how your itinerary is built – for instance we’re visiting New Zealand during the winter, but it’s only in a few months’ time, where our first months are being spent near the equator during the dry season. Being this our travel plan, we opted for just bringing with us summery clothes, plus a light jacket, for the first months, and we’ll buy warmer clothes as we need them.
- Use plastic bags (and the rain cover when travelling in buses). I always put clothes and other things into a plastic bag before I put them into the backpack. This way I can keep my stuff well organized, properly folded and easy to retrieve. But the most important thing is that when my clothes are in a plastic bag, they remain dry even if the backpack gets wet. For instance, a few months ago, our backapacks were stored at the back of a bus and for some reasons when we got them they were wet and full of disgusting mud. Some of my clothes got humid because at that time I was not putting them into a plastic bag, and I also learned another lesson: it’s a good idea to use the raincover while travelling by bus even if it’s dry, to make sure your backpack doesn’t get too dirty.
- Be ruthless. Look at your packing list two or three times and if there’s anything you’re including “just in case” then most certainly you can well do without – leave it at home. I brought two pairs of flip-flops, one pair just in case, and I never used it!
If you’re new to this blog and you’re thinking of setting off on a long journey, then you may also want to check our post with tips to save money for long term travel.