Pack Light. This will be very, very important for the following reasons:
- Avoiding taxis – 90% of my experiences with taxis have been negative. By packing light, you will be able to walk from the train/bus station to your accommodation without having to figure out the correct price or haggle.
- On that previous note, walking through a city is a great way to see what the place is like (provided you arrive while there is still sunlight).
- Keeping your bag with you while traveling – This removes the anxiety of people stealing things from your bag while it is in storage. Also it avoids check in baggage fees (which exist on busses too!).
- Easy to stop and go – The idea of dropping a huge heavy bag and picking it back up will sometimes prevent you from just stopping and enjoying something small.
- Those rare layover moments – Sometimes you will have something similar to a layover, a few hours in a city that unfortunately does not have storage lockers for huge bags and you don’t want to arrange a temporary accommodation. I’ve hiked up and down entire mountains while carrying my whole set of gear, and it was very convenient not to have to find somewhere to put things down.
- And many other reasons that will turn up as you go along.
How to Pack Light
- Every ounce counts – things add up very easily. Replace a metal or plastic casing to something with a plastic bag.
- Rely on doing laundry often, or wearing dirty clothes so that you do not pack more clothing than you need (especially jeans)
- Pack light clothing. If going to cooler/colder climates, rely on layers instead of heavy garments. Buy clothes in the countries you go to. They will have the right weight and style clothing for their climate.
- For things you may only occasionally need, buy/rent them in the countries you visit and don’t carry them around with you.
- Use a small towel that dries easily.
- If you bring a blanket, make sure it is thin and very foldable.
- Plastic Bags
- Rubber Bands
- Ibuprofen (hangovers, headaches, etc)
- Earplugs (for the occasional hostel roommate with sleep apnea)
- Old iPod Touch or equivalent device
- A large aluminum cup
You will want a large backpack as well as a smaller day pack that can fit maps, camera, maybe a water bottle, and other things.
Do not bring anything sentimental, or something that you would be upset about losing. Assume that all things you bring have the potential to be lost or stolen.
I highly suggest only bringing a good pair of sandals. Shoes are really burdensome and usually end up smelling terrible. Once your feet get tough, sandals are best, even when hiking. Also you don’t have to pack as many socks.
Tape and Scissors – I cannot convey how useful these two things were. You’ll just have to trust me that these items come in handy all the time.
Reading material is great. Kindles are actually pretty awesome to have. Much lighter than having a book. But if you don’t have a kindle, I would recommend only bringing one or two books, and as you finish them you can exchange them either at used book stores, or hostel libraries.
A small first aid kit – This can be improvised. The main things I used were some sanitary wipes to clean the wound, tweezers to pick anything out, some anti-bacteria cream, and most important – medical tape that is water resistant and very bendable. I’m putting a disclaimer here that I am not a medical professional, and if you have a serious injury you must contact someone with expertise. Consider also getting travelers insurance, especially because it’s pretty cheap.
Speakers – Music is awesome, and really nice to share. While in Singapore I bought an X-mini II for approximately $30, which turned out to be one of the best investments I made. BUT do not get obnoxious with this. Be very respectful of other people who do not want to listen to your music, and also be aware that often times they will be too polite to tell you to shut it off. I usually only used it when I was either by myself somewhere, or with a small group of people who all enjoyed the music.
Rope – As cool as Boondock Saints was, rope is something you will probably rarely have to use. BUT when you do need it, it becomes immensely useful. I had about 30 feet of parachute cord wrapped up in a nice bundle.
Headache Pills – You will get headaches. You will want them to go away. I still am sure to bring an obnoxious quantity of them with me on any trip.
The Umbrella Conundrum – Ok, do you bring an umbrella or not? What about a poncho? This problem I’m still not sure on and it really depends on where you are and what season it is. For a while I traveled with a very cheap small umbrella. Then I traveled with nothing except a $0.50 emergency poncho. An even at one point I had a better umbrella that doubled as a hiking stick while trekking in the Himalayas. Basically I would say to have an emergency poncho back up, but try to live without an umbrella and enjoy the rain.
Tea and Coffee – I really enjoy having hot drinks. It’s nice to carry a few packets of tea with you, especially since it’s light weight, and in some countries hot water is very easy to get. Coffee is a bit more tricky since I really do not like instant (although it exists and is easily available in many countries). I used an aluminum cup, a net style filter, and pre-ground coffee – instead of carrying around the beans and grinding them yourself, which I would have preferred but that was a bit too much. I also had a small coil which could be plugged in and put into the cup to boil the water, and I would steep the coffee like tea. These coils are difficult to find, and I think they use a lot of electricity, not to mention they are very dangerous, so there is probably a better solution out there. But this becomes a ritual, and rituals while traveling are very cathartic.
Camera – This is a big problem. On one hand, you want the best pictures from your trip, a camera that will allow you to capture the experience exactly as you lived it, or at least close enough so that you can share your stories a lot easier back home. On the other hand, as mentioned above you have to assume that things will be lost or stolen, AND you need to pack as light as possible. So you would want to have a small and cheap camera that takes good enough photos. I think the best solution is to meet halfway. Either use an older good camera that you have and would not mind losing, or buy a medium priced good quality camera. This also depends greatly on how much of a photographer you are. This becomes a very personal decision. For photo backing up tips see the Other Tips page.