11 Essential Things to Pack When Going Travelling
Leona Duff has been travelling for around two months now in Asia and New Zealand, and apart from a couple of minor losses and injuries, she has had a very pleasant and mishap free trip.
Before she left she was beginning to panic at the sheer volume of items and information needed to prepare before leaving. If you're in the same position, you'll have no doubt been engulfed in a swarm of endless articles and books advising you on what to prepare for a gap year or long trip abroad.
These are all undeniably invaluable, but Leona thought it would have been even more useful if she wrote a short list of things that are absolutely essential. If you have these, then at least any other forgotten things can be bought abroad or won't result in any real inconvenience. Obviously each person varies, but here are the items that have proven most useful to me so far...
No matter how much a first aid kit may seem too cautious, I really would advise taking a box of plasters on the road. Undoubtedly, you will end up with a scrape or two after one too many Changs/Steinlagers/Bia Hois in your chosen destination, and if you're travelling in a particularly unsanitary place, this may be the difference between an infection/hospital trip and more time spent having fun. Long sightseeing stints also inevitably result in sore feet. They take up no space, and also double as tape to repair broken things/hang up makeshift room decorations.
2. Travel towel
Every friend I spoke to prior to my trip who'd been travelling would simply rave about the miracle item that was the travel towel. I did not understand the hype. However, with months ahead of hostel hopping and packing things up in a hurry, the last thing you want to end up with is a heavy, wet towel dragging you down and soaking all your belongings. Clean clothes are a gift - don't ruin them with a mouldy-smelling towel. These literally fold up to about quarter the size of a normal towel, and are relatively inexpensive. Buy one!
3. Cotton sleeping bag
I like to think of myself as pretty easy going when it comes to hostel standards. If you're paying next to nothing a night, it's absurd to expect Sofitel standards. However, I would HIGHLY recommend buying a cotton sleeping bag liner for the hostels that even I wouldn't feel comfortable in! Lightweight and fairly cool at night, these can be used as an alternative to perhaps grubby bed sheets, or as an actual sleeping bag during long journeys or whilst camping. Particularly on some Vietnamese night buses, which have a LOT of insect life on board, these will also protect you from many unwanted bites. Many online sources recommend the silk version of this product, but my rectangular cotton one is brilliant, easily washable, and cheaper.
When I first begrudgingly packed trousers into my ever-expanding bagpack, I really didn't think I'd wear them, apart from perhaps at religious sites. However, these became a staple wardrobe piece despite the heat. A guarantee: your sense of style will VERY quickly swing towards practicality-oriented clothing. Even though I am a Zara devotee, comfort now wins. Trousers have many occasions on which to be worn: NIGHT BUSES; flights; whilst sleeping; when somebody has gone a little too far with the air-con system; when the climate changes suddenly; whilst camping; whilst simply needing a bit of comfort... I could go on and on. Take at least two pairs!
6. Rehydration sachets/Vitamin C tablets
Another multi-tasking gift, dissolvable rehydration sachets can be mixed with all sorts of medication to evade evil hangovers and just dehydration: paracetamol, berocca, ibuprofen... (USE WITH CAUTION - I AM NOT A DOCTOR). Vitamin C is useful for similar purposes, and also really helps severe sun burn. Buy at home.
7. Wet wipes
I've taken wet wipes on probably just about every holiday I've been on and haven't used them once, but this trip has been an exception. Toilets in Cambodia and Thailand, for example, really can be as 'different' as described, and these help to make the experience slightly less harrowing. The friend I'm travelling with started handing these out to other toilet-goers to prepare them for a particularly awful club toilet on a night out. They thought she was weird, but they were thankful. These can also be used to wipe down sinks/showers/surfaces that aren't up to standard; after a meal eaten with no cutlery (it happens often); during long journeys with no shower opportunities; and to clean injuries (this is another time wet wipes were useful to said friend!)
8. Padlocks & Zip lock bags
A good friend instructed me to bring loads of zip lock bags with me, and made this very clear. I had no idea why, but I did anyway. These are a bit of a genius invention, it turns out! Clothes will get dirty very quickly and it's good to have a way of separating these from your other precious clean ones. They also keep other items such as paper documents or passports dry, acting as waterproof pouches. Besides this, and more importantly, they act as mini vacuum bags! I perhaps went slightly overboard on the clothing, and vacuum packed all of it, which I'd highly recommend for space and waterproofing reasons. Zip lock bags also meant that my running gear could reduced in size to fit into two tiny shoes!
I was also very proud of myself for managing to purchase two lovely blue mini combination padlocks for the mere price of £7, but throughout hostel visits I have found myself repeatedly disappointed when they don't fit hostel security lockers - an invaluable safety measure. These have been great for securing my bag zips during walks in cities or for flights/boats/buses, but my advice: buy one big padlock as well. This doesn't need to be massive, probably about 7cm long, but will mean that you're not left having to worry about your valuables while you're out during the day.
This may seem like a totally obvious suggestion, however after just one week of long journeys from one location to the next, I quickly became bored of the existing music on my phone. Obviously, modern technology allows us to download music within seconds, but with a lack of constant wifi and of constant funds, this isn't always the most viable option. Furthermore, uploading songs from a computer, with no computer, is impossible. I'm all for downloading music legally and providing artists with the money they rightly deserve, however as a backpacker on a budget, I've felt justified in recent weeks in 'cheating' a little using two fantastic apps for my iPhone (I'm sure these are also available for other devices): MyTube and Watchlater. The former is free and allows you to download any video from YouTube directly to your phone to listen to later offline, while the latter allows the same, but for a mere £1.99 allows you to do the same with SoundCloud. My music collection can now expand exponentially whenever I have internet access, whilst using up surprisingly very little storage space and battery life in the process. My ears are ever grateful, and journeys are a lot more pleasant as a result.
10. Waterproof camera case
This was probably my most ridiculous pre-travel purchase. I knew the chances of going snorkelling/surfing/doing general watersports were pretty high, and I love having photos of such experiences. I didn't really have the room to carry around multiple disposable sports cameras, nor probably the resources to get them developed. I also didn't have the money for a waterproof/GoPro camera, though I did consider it. The alternative? This amazing camera case from DiCaPac, which allows you to take your own point and shoot camera under water (up to 5 metres). I was definitely sceptical and terrified that my precious camera would be damaged within seconds of use, but after carrying out the home test, and the real life first use at Maya Bay, I was pleasantly surprised with the results! My camera didn't have a hint of moisture on it, and I was left with a pretty collection of clear shots of the tropical fish swimming by. For just under £16, this is a steal. Web link: http://www.amazon.co.uk/DiCAPac-WP410-WP-410-Underwater-Case/dp/B001C20816 (apologies for the shameless product promotion).
When my mum suggested taking a journal with pens and glue to document my trip, I slightly recoiled at the sentimentality of the prospect, but with so many events happening even within the space of one day, I really would regret not having a log of such fantastic (and often hilarious) memories.
Hopefully this has been of some use. Obviously there is a lot more to think about before embarking on your trip, but if these are covered, along with visas/finances/vaccinations, I like to think that the rest will take care of itself. Happy travels!