Packing for Long Term Travel
Thinking of a big trip? Thinking of selling all your stuff and leaving behind the humdrum of every day life? Here are some of my best bits of advice for being away from ‘home’ and living out a backpack for more than a month.
- With your backpack, I’d say always go for lighter! Shedding those few pounds is always a benefit when you’re sweating, after being dropped off at a brand new destination and you are struggling up the hill to your hostel. I went for a 40 litre back pack from Mountain Warehouse (which I got in the sale!) it is rugged with hardwearing zippers. I’ve not been too precious with the bag and after a year of lugging it around it has really tested well! The back support is helpful in keeping the bag off your back. Hip straps are a must! It also has a air cushion for your shoulders and a spot for your laptop that is tight against the back wall of the bag. The best part of this bag is that it gets wider rather than taller. I’ve utilised the deep side pockets for clothes, when you are in the warmer climates it is mad to see how many outfits can be stuffed in the pockets, freeing up lots of space in the main bag. I’ve used the pocket underneath for dirty washing, it has a rain cover in there too which is also a great addition to this bag. I am packing around 15kg into this bag. I know that is a bit much but I’ve got my whole life in here! For the digital nomads keeping laundry and toiletries away from your kit is important and I managed to do that with ease in this backpack. Then heading camping, I could fit my hiking tent, sleeping bag and foam bed in the main compartment, too easy!! *** short folks, definitely do yourself a favour and keep an eye out for wider bags, you will really feel the benefit! ***
- For SE Asia and Oz and the hostel trail, don’t bother with a mosquito net! I only stayed in one place that was really bad for mosquitoes and that was the night after I chucked away my unused for net but on the most part if you need one they will provide them. If you want to sleep outside or in a hammock then different story but save the weight if you’re not!
- Minimise the toiletries! I’d recommend a wee sponge of some sort, you’ll feel the benefit! But get the lotions and potions down to one or two if possible. Baby wash was the answer in Asia – two in one bottle! And for those who wear make up, I think you’ll find bothering in sweaty, humid countries is a pointless task! I only kept a highlighter, waterproof mascara and a blusher for nights I wanted to feel fancy.
- Laptop for the long term. I know I am working but even so I think for the longer trips you will need a little extra stimulation sometimes. Time killers like sorting pictures and being able to back up your camera, creating playlists for a 14 hour bus journey, even swapping songs with your travel buddies is a really valuable commodity. Lightweight notebooks and tablets of varying specs might do the job but for me its a refurbished MacBook Pro with upgrades. Not the lightest of options but I needed the power and space.
- Carry a bit of US dollar with you. I don’t know, I’m no economist but the US dollar’s use around the world might be a really good thing or a really bad thing? But it is the universal currency. It saved me in rural Laos after I got across the border and the ATM wasn’t playing, they wouldn’t exchange my Thai baht but they would give me a backyard rate for USD. Some embassies will insist on it and I expect seeing more of the world will come with more sightings of the dollar in place.
- The cash thing, you know ATM fees, non-sterling transactions (or whatever your currency is) etc has literally got me baffled. I don’t know if there are better ways of doing it. I’ve been just sucking it up and calling these charges part of the cost. I preferred to carry cash in Asia for easy transactions. I got an Australian bank account whilst I’m here and this stops it being a drain but moving cash to and from accounts is expensive, so use TransferWise. Avoid using your card and you avoid incurring the fees. Most places only took cash anyways so lifting the highest amount of cash you can at a time (some banks cap that – of course) for an ATM seemed the best bet.
- Mentally prepare for change. I’m just looping this in for people with a bit of a stern head, or a bit of anxiety or OCD. Things are going to fuck up. The quicker you make peace with that the quicker you will live the dream. I met a girl who came off a bike and smashed her knee, she carried on the rest of her trip on crutches! Another girl who was robbed, held at knife point and got bitten by a stone fish! She carried on and had them stories! Then you meet people (like Old Kay) who would have been genuinely rocked by these events, maybe even have went home! It is too easy to get down with these kind of things happening but if you let it, dealing with them crazy moments calmly will always give you the best result!
- Switch to something that seems like you are being super responsible and grown up but through plenty of field research I’ve found most countries don’t push the malaria medication like we do. I think it is a Western medicine con but it is really up to your discretion. Most people I met weren’t taking the tablets (doxycilin or malarone) and were totally fine. Everyone got bit at least once you know! Most people I spoke to, including myself got sick while taking the doxycilin. I took them everyday for the first 3 weeks of the trip. I thought Thailand didn’t agree with me, and I was dehydrated, with headaches and I felt nauseous. I found out later it is just an antibiotic so I stopped them and felt fine. If you get malaria the treatment is apparently a course of malarone (the more expensive one) so I’d say that your best bet (and something I’d do if I was going somewhere more remote) is buy a weeks worth of malarone as a precaution. Take all the jags the nurses are offering you for your destination!
- Don’t forget your towel! One of my most treasured purchases is my microfibre towels! Get good ones – I got Mountain Warehouse again. They are a revelation, get you dry quickly, they dry quickly and they are antibacterial so can go for a couple of uses without needing a wash. The big one is great for the beach too, sand doesn’t stick to it!
- Might not be everyone’s prerogative but plenty of ways to record what is happening to me was crucial for the trip. Externally, what you’re seeing and internally for those thinking moments. So camera, something small enough to fit in my handbag with a powerful zoom for me and a few notebooks, A4 for drawing, A5 for work and A6 for a diary. I have watercolours and a couple of stacks of pens and pencils for variety. I didn’t bring a Go Pro and I don’t regret it but others use it regularly.
It has been monumental what travelling has done for me. I’m really buzzing to share it. I hope to inspire someone else that has considered it. If you are feeling a little lost – go see where others are. If you are questioning your validity, life will show you some cool ways you matter. If you are at unrest with what you have or are doing then take yourself out of your comfort zone. Give yourself time to think, be uninterrupted and get some perspective. You’ll learn something for sure!