What to Pack?

In this section we will offer a few tips that we have learned on our travels. Packing is often one of the great quandaries of the traveller, take too little and you could regret it, take too much and you will regret lugging it around the globe.

Firstly, I must start with a rider or two.

During our trip we have done a little medium level trekking, some at altitude, some in the jungle and a sprinkling of desert walking. The rest of the trip was cities and countryside with the occasional beach destination thrown in to relax. If you are going on a specialist trip then you will need specialist advice and specialist equipment.

Get damn good travel insurance, we can’t stress this enough. Read the fine print, make sure you are covered for everything you plan to do and everywhere you plan to go.

Common sense bags

Assorted bagsWe headed straight to our local branch of outdoor equipment shop when we had booked our tickets to go rucksack shopping. We were going travelling and therefore needed rucksacks right? Wrong. We didn’t necessarily need rucksacks, we could have got by with small holdalls, or even bags with wheels.

Granted the latter is not ideal for pulling along cobbled streets or dragging up to visit hill tribes but take what you feel comfortable with and what is appropriate for your trip.

Whatever luggage you chose to take we wouldn’t recommend buying anything too large. The bigger the bag the more you will take (we guarantee it). Our rucksacks are 60 and 40 litres and this has proved to be more than enough. If you take a big bag you are likely to exceed weight limits on planes and some buses and end up being lumped with excess baggage fines. Your clothes will not last a year. Having the life thrashed out of them by laundries in South East Asia, drying on tin roofs and being taken to the Ganges and literally being pulled apart will reduce their life dramatically. Clothes are cheap, especially in India and South East Asia where they are often manufactured. You really don’t need to take too much.

We have found that packing and unpacking two top loading rucksacks daily is a pain. In hindsight we would probably have bought one medium sized rucksack that had access from the top and the middle and another bag with some sort of wheel option. When going trekking we have either arrived back at the place we started from or have crossed into a new place with transport (usually of the four legged variety) taking our bags so not having rucksacks wouldn’t have been a problem. We have left our bags in literally hundreds of hotels and guesthouses where they have remained safe.

Not necessarily suitable for a wheeled bag

Not necessarily suitable for a wheeled bag

We also have a smaller rucksack as hand luggage, this is useful for short trips or if you are going to need to carry more around with you but don’t want a big pack.

We did buy a metal wire with a padlock attached to secure our bags whilst we were on public transport and in hotel rooms. This piece of equipment has not left my bag. If you are staying in sensible places (see our where to stay section) with safes and are travelling on reasonable trains and buses you won’t need to cage your belongings. In fact you run the risk of drawing attention to them if you do.  Just make sure you keep the irreplaceable items on your person or in the safe.

We also purchased a few Exped waterproof bags to line our rucksacks, to separate dirty and clean laundry and to store electrical goods in. These are inexpensive and if your bag falls over the side of a boat, you are caught in a monsoon downpour or venture just a little too close to that waterfall you’ll be glad you bought them.

Common sense clothing

We started by reading all the information we could regarding what to pack on a big trip. Having put everything we thought we would need into a pile next to our rucksacks and taken half of it away we ended up with two full to bursting packs that weighed a tonne.

We had bought some ‘technical’ walking gear ie walking boots, breathable tops, base layers, walking trousers and a fleece. But also lightweight clothing that could dry fast, light t-shirts, light trousers, shorts etc.

We rapidly realised that when visiting everyday cities, towns and villages everyone else was wearing normal, everyday clothes. The locals weren’t wandering around in zip off trousers and breathable base layers and the short term visitors weren’t either. What I wanted to wear to not feel like a bit of a wally was a pair of jeans and a shirt or t-shirt. What Chloe wanted was a few dresses to feel a little bit glam in the evenings or a jumper she could put on rather than a bright pink fleece she had brought.

No technical clothing here

No technical clothing here aside from a bit of bamboo

We can not stress this enough, pack what you want to wear not what you have read you will want to wear. If you usually wear jeans, a shirt and a jumper in the evenings why, in the New Zealand spring would you wander around in walking trousers and a breathable base layer?

Also bear in mind in hot climates light natural materials are best.

When visiting temples and some sights in South East Asia and India and Churches in South America you should dress respectfully. In some cases this can mean no shorts or even 3/4 length trousers. We found that having a sarong was very useful as it can be used to cover shoulders, legs and heads but is also useful as a scarf.

For the trekking we did do I wore a pair of 3/4 length trousers, a t-shirt and a lightweight fleece for when the temperature dropped, I was perfectly comfortable for the duration. My breathable base layer was only worn once when I needed another layer at -18 in the desert overnight.

Our walking boots, however were a must, we lost count of the number of times we thanked god we had bought decent boots and socks. Don’t scrimp in this department, if you ruin your feet you will ruin your trip!

Oh, and pack a really good, lightweight waterproof. When it rains in the Amazon or in South East Asia it is torrential.

Common sense medicines

Assorted pillsThe internet and your guide books are full of horror stories regarding tropical diseases. These can’t be ignored, there are very real dangers out there that need to be taken seriously.

Head to your local travel surgery, your doctor will be able to point you in their direction and take a list of the countries you plan to visit.  They will most likely visit this brilliant NHS fit for travel website with an interactive map that will tell you what vaccinations you need. Don’t scrimp, if you contract something nasty the 50 pounds saved on vaccinations will soon be a distant triumph.

We visited our local branch of footwear branded chemist and spent a fortune buying everything from a range of sunblock to insect repellant, pain killers, diarrhea remedy, anti inflammatory tablets and much much more.

Here’s the secret. You can buy all of the generic medicine and toiletries you will need from pharmacies pretty much anywhere in the world and it’s likely to be cheaper. Don’t scrimp on the important stuff. If you need prescription medicine then get that sorted, and enough of it before you leave. If you know you will need a hydrocortisone cream that must have been stored below 25 degrees, don’t presume it won’t have been stuffed in a box under the counter in a roadside pharmacy in 35 degree heat in Laos. Malaria tablets are notoriously counterfeited and sold abroad so get these on prescription at home too.

Follow these simple rules if you have to buy medicine abroad:

Buy medicines only from licensed pharmacies (if they exist).

Check the packaging. If it is missing or looks suspicious, it may be counterfeit.

Check the use by date

Check with the pharmacist as to what the active ingredients are. If you can contact your doctor at home, seek their advice and check the products are the same.

We have slowly run down our medicines to a manageable level and now stock up when we are in cities or know that we are going somewhere remote or where we are unlikely to have access to a pharmacy.

Common sense sundries

Don’t forget to buy a good mosquito net that has been impregnated with DEET. If you aren’t sure you will be staying in double beds buy a double and a single net, they won’t add much weight. We found that we could hire sleeping bags pretty much anywhere so just took a couple of silk liners. If you are anywhere with questionable hygiene standards at least you know you will be safe in a liner.