I’m often asked how I carry enough stuff for a trip that lasts months, but I don’t take much more for a long trip than a short (just more pills). I’m fussy about what I put it in, as I take a backpack and it matters that the weight goes on your hips, not your shoulders. Wheeled bags are great in airports but a nuisance on potholes and cobblestones and when you’re trying to stuff a bag into an already full marshrutka.
Packing light means you plan to resupply on the road — yes, you can buy toothpaste in Thailand. Packing light means you hand wash your clothes — unless you don’t mind them being beaten, boiled or mixed in with everyone else’s multicolored gear (Asia) or want to hunt down a launderette every couple of days (Europe). So I test-wash and dry my clothes before they get to go. And packing smart means you don’t take anything you can’t stand to lose — except your camera.
I take a convertible backpack so that I can zip the straps out of sight for the occasional flight or fancy hotel. My current pack is an Eagle Creek Continental, which comes with a built-in raincover. If you live near an REI store they’ll let you test-drive their packs. Forget about those hybrid backbacks with wheels — when you have to carry it, and you will, you won’t want the extra weight of the wheels. Also:
- Small padlocks, for locking the zipper pulls together
- A cable lock, for locking the pack to luggage racks (optional)
- Sealant and patches for mending rips
Day pack for sightseeing, and also for airplane carry-on, now that I have to check the backpack (the Swiss army knife has to go somewhere). Look for one with an external pocket for a water bottle and lockable zippers. If you’re taking a computer it will need to be sturdier and likely bigger.
Waist pack. These are not recommended, for security reasons, but I take one to hold my camera so that I don’t have to keep fishing it out of my day pack. It fits into my day pack when I don’t want to wear it, and I use it as a purse (handbag) in the evening. It also holds my wallet, with one day’s supply of cash, and a mini-compass. Some people also take a wallet with expired credit cards and a little cash to hand over if they’re held up.
Money belt and spare money belt. I wear mine round my waist, with the pouch at the back, but I don’t wear hipster pants. You don’t need a fancy one with multiple compartments – go as light as possible.
In the main money belt:
This holds the things it would be a serious pain to replace. When you least want to wear it is usually when you need it most. Wrap the contents in plastic so your sweat won’t destroy them. On night trains,I sleep with it on, and I take it to the shower if the bathroom is down the hall (or up the hill…) It holds:
- Any plane or train tickets – but e-tickets go in the spare belt
- Medical insurance and medical evacuation insurance cards
- Two credit cards (Capital One and a Credit Union to keep the conversion fees down) and an ATM card – call the companies to tell them you’re traveling, and make sure you have non-800 numbers to call from abroad (unless you’re using Skype).
- Money, both dollars and local. Only one day’s supply of cash should be outside your money belts.
- List of important numbers – yes, it should be on your computer if you’re carrying one, and somewhere in the cloud, too, but take it on paper anyway!
- Eye glass prescription
- Driver’s license, if you think you might rent a car or motorbike. (Don’t think about it in most of Asia.)
- Traveler’s Checks (maybe) – you can get by with ATM machines in Europe, but don’t count on it everywhere in Asia
In the spare money belt:
This is in case the main belt starts disintegrating, or, obviously, gets lost or stolen. Bury it in the daypack for travel and the backpack the rest of the time. It holds:
- Copies of everything in the main money belt. If you have visas in your passport copy them too.
- A third credit card and a second ATM card
- E-tickets for flights
- Extra cash. You might want to hide yet a third stash somewhere else.
- The numbers for your travelers checks if you’re carrying any
- Another copy of the vital numbers list
- Passport photos, for visas or travel passes bought on the road
- International Certificate of Vaccination (optional – depends on where you’re going)
- International driver’s license (if you may need it)
OK, that’s it for now – more in the next post.