Top 10 Things to Pack On A Long Trip

Packing for a long-haul trip is very different than for a weekly getaway. Every ounce counts when you have to schlep your backpack around on trains and buses, and walking from hotel to hotel looking for the best deal. You need to choose carefully what to bring in order to pack a compact bag.

Everyone is different, some make do one t-shirt and two pairs of underwear while others prefer a wider choice of outfits. Some people travel ultra-light with a small day-pack, while others require some modern conveniences to make the trip more enjoyable. The list below is a result of having traveled on a tight budget for several months in both Africa and Asia. I could swear by this list.

  1. Microfiber towels. Not all hotels (hostels/guest houses) supply towels. A microfiber towel may have a bigger price-tag, but it’s extremely light and dries in no time – even in humid conditions. Make sure it’s big enough to cover your A great brand is Seat to Summit.
  2. Silk sleeping bag liner. Most hotels provide a sheet and a pillow, but sometimes that’s all they provide. Sometimes there’s complete bedding, but of dubious cleanliness. In those cases, a silk sheet is indispensable; feather light and super-compact into an apple-sized package. It is easily washed and dries in minutes. We have used Grand Trunk Silk Sleep Sacks for years.
  3.  Pocket knife. Millions of applications – to cut open packages, peel fruit, cut off ropes, open beer and wine bottles, fasten screws and clean your nails. Etc, etc, etc. Victorinox Swiss Army knives  are the best, but any cheaper brand will also do.
  4.  Spoon, fork and a small plastic bowl with a lid. There are going to be days when you just want to prepare your own food, like oatmeal or yogurt with fruit, or a tuna sandwich. Disposable cutlery breaks easily and can be difficult to find, especially in countries that only use chopsticks. Bring your own spoon, fork and bowl to make your own meals once in a while. Light My Fire has a cool
  5.  Whether you need to cool off with a wet scarf around your neck, shield your head from the rays of the burning sun, or just need a napkin or hand towel – bandanas fit in your pocket, or can be tied to your belt, and are easily washed. You can buy bandanas pretty much anywhere.
  6.  A roll of isolation tape. Fixes cuts in your backpack. Temporarily mends your shoes. Holds up the mosquito net. You won’t travel far before you need it. Make sure you buy a good quality roll of duct tape, such as Reflectix.
  7.  Mosquito net. Keeps malarial mosquitoes, flies, spiders and cockroaches out of your bed. In countries with high prevalence of malaria, the local markets sell great nets for a dollar or two. If you want to get one ahead of time, a Mombasa net should do the job. Make sure you buy a net with cords from four corners, so that you can hang it easily, no matter what is available in the room. Don’t forget to bring extra string.
  8.  Walkie-Talkies. If there are two (or more) of you traveling together, walkie-talkies are a great way to communicate in distances up to a few kilometers. On many occasions one person will have to stay in place with the heavy backpacks, as the other goes looking for a hotel, train tickets, a taxi, and so on. It’s much more convenient and cheaper than SIM cards and work from the moment you land. We like Motorola’s
  9.  iPad Mini (or other preferred tablet). On journeys to more than one country, the tablet can hold all travel guides in eBook format. No need to print out electronic visas, flight reservations or hotel vouchers. You can take screen shots of Google maps, online directions, wrestling schedules, phrases in local languages, etc. – you’ll never have to take notes again. And of course you can access email and the internet in all the free wifi restaurants, bars and cafes around the world, and take photos with your new local friends. I’m not a dedicated Apple-fan, but the iPad Mini was invaluable on our last 5-month trip in Asia.
  10.  Business cards. Bring the ones you have or have some simple cards printed with your name, email address, blog or web site URL, Twitter and Facebook handles to share with to people you meet. Some travel acquaintances grow into lifelong friendships, and you never know when you will meet again and where. Vistaprint is an inexpensive printer.

And, personally, I would recommend bringing at least two pairs of underwear.

The Things I Will Not Miss (aka Home Sweet Home)

I love traveling. I enjoy every flight, every bus or train ride, however uncomfortable, because I can’t wait to see the next place. No place is ever the way you imagined it. Every town has its unique flavor, all nationalities their characteristics and each corner of the world its distinct rhythm. However, when you’re on the road for months at the time, some things do get tiring. Sometimes you do miss the ease of your home, where everything works the way you’re used to (not necessarily better) and where you know exactly what to expect.

Now that we are on our way home, I would like to share a list of the things I like the least about traveling, as a deterrent for the next time I start dreaming about going away on a long trip.

 

Squat toilets

Any country in the third world has them. Basically it’s hole in the floor, and you have to point your butt in the correct position to be able to aim right into the sewer. Not only is in an uncomfortable way to go to the loo, it’s almost impossible not to get pee on your shoes and pants.

 

Chinese public bathrooms

The Chinese have by far the most disgusting public toilets in the world. Nowhere in Africa, South America or other Asian countries are they quite as bad as here.

a) In one place, the ladies’ room consisted of a cement floor with three holes next to each other. To go to the bathroom, you had drop your pants, squat down and pee, while looking at two other women’s naked behinds while they were doing their own business.

b) Another Chinese toilet had a gutter running the length of the men’s and women’s bathrooms, where everyone’s “private” space was divided only by a low wall. You had to aim for the gutter, while looking at everyone else’s poop and pee flow past beneath you.

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Shower over the toilet

Budget hotel rooms usually have some quirks, wherever you are in the world. Often, the bathroom is the strangest place. In the Middle East, Africa and Asia, many bathrooms are so small that the shower head is placed directly over the toilet, so that you can save time by taking a shower while pooping. Clever!

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Menus in Strange Scripts

For an omnivore it shouldn’t matter – just point and hope for the best (no pig’s snout, no chicken feet, no live turtle). For a vegetarian, however, it’s a bit more complicated, especially in places where no one speaks English. The first thing you have to learn is how to say “I don’t eat meat,” and look quizzically at the waiter while pointing at the menu. And if you’re lucky, the waiter understands that “meat” includes chicken, ham and hot dogs, not just beef.

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Currency Calculations

If you only travel to one or two countries, currencies are fun. But when you reach your eleventh country in five months, you start getting confused. How much does something really cost? In Nepal, a dollar gets you 96 rupees. In India, 60. In Sri Lanka, 130. Everything seems to cost millions in Indonesia, where 100,000 is $10 USD. In Singapore USD 1 equals SGD 1.3, in Thailand 31 Baht.

In Cambodia, it’s easy because the prices are in USD, except for the small change in Riel: If USD 1 is worth 4,000 Riel, how many Riel should you get in change if something costs $3.65?

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Bargaining

It is fun to bargain, especially when you feel you are getting a great deal. But sometimes you just want to buy something without having to guess the price. When arriving in a new country, it’s almost impossible to figure out the cost of a taxi ride to your hotel. You always end up paying a lot more than you should, especially during the first few days.

 

Greasy Food

No matter how well you try to eat and how many times you ask the waiter to use oil sparingly, almost all the food you are served is swimming in grease. Even in the places that label themselves “healthy”.

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Constant Planning

Again, if you’re travelling to a couple of countries, planning is fun. But reading up on another town, again, trying to figure out where to go, which area to stay in, how much a taxi should cost and where you can get decent vegetarian food ‒ it gets tiring after a while. And often, you find the coolest areas of town just before you’re about to leave.

 

 

But who am I kidding? In the end, I know none of these things will stop me from travelling in the future. When you have the travel bug, nothing will stop you from wanting to look around the next corner. Even if you have to pee in a stinking hole.

Pre-Travel Anxiety

“You don’t seem very excited about your trip.”
I stared at my friend, quizzically. Not excited? Of course I was excited. Who wouldn’t be over the moon merely days before a five-month trip to Asia?

The more I thought about it, the more I understood she was right. I wasn’t excited at all. Because the days before a long trip are so busy, so stressful and so difficult, that Eduardo and I always end up thinking we should cancel the trip. There is just so much to do. And think about it – who in their sound mind would go away for nearly half a year leaving their duties in the hands of others?

Somehow, everything is always left until the last days. Cancel Netflix, talk to the banks, change the address of all important mail. Move all personal items from the apartment (“we have too much stuff!”) and scrub it squeaky clean before the tenant moves in. Make sure someone knows where all our important papers are, and give a notarized Letter of Power to someone in case of emergencies. Who of our friends has time and is available to see to our business matters, if necessary? Water the plants, and pray they will survive until we come back. Write down all credit card numbers, scan important documents, note all family phone numbers and addresses. Prep the blog, so it is ready for when we are on the road. Buy memory cards for the cameras. The list is endless, and keeps growing by the day. Until you’re on your way to the airport and realize not all has been done, and that it’s not the end of the world.

So, no, I wasn’t excited. Until I had checked in, gone through security and sat down at the airport to have a cold beer.

What’s that? The final call for boarding?

Sorry. Have to run.