To pack or what not to pack, a long term travellers guide to packing
Contrary to what you may read elsewhere there really is no easy answer to what you will need or should bring for long term travel, because it depends on who you are, where you intend to travel and at what time of year you intend to be there.
BUT if like us you plan to follow the sun and explore South East Asia on a modest but not backpackers budget and have checked not just carry on bags then this may well be of some assistance. Of course being female it’s skewed towards women but can easily be adapted to men by the simple removal of tampons and bras, I’ll leave the inclusion of dresses and make up to you ☺️
Being a natural born worrier and having never done any long term travel before I read travel sites voraciously, anything anyone said we might need was noted and added to a growing list of must haves. I wanted something for every eventuality and my first packing list certainly covered that and… quite a lot of it stayed in my bag.
Of these must haves here are a few that we have either never used or used less than a handful of times and most probably only used then because we had them.
- Lifeventure EX3 Silk Travel Sleeper– I used it once on a particularly grubby train, other than that we stay in places within a £20 a night budget that have always been clean and ant, flea, bedbug free and we intend on keeping it that way, if you plan to stay in dubious places this is a must have
- Trekmates Global Mosquito Net – 2 person mosquito net, we’ve never used it, I’m not even sure what I was thinking, we certainly weren’t planning any really basic stays and even with my being super tasty to mosquitos we have not had to set this up once, if you’re planning to rough it this may be essential
- Waterproof bag cover, I’ve only used this once on a rough boat crossing but it’s small enough to have a permanent place in my bag as had I not used it when I did everything would have been soaked
- Easy Lock for added security, we used this handy little door lock every day for a few months but haven’t used it for about six months, although it’s so handy I will probably keep this around and for a lone traveller I would say it’s a must
- Super duper 55% Deet bug spray, most countries sell more effective and cheaper bug spray and the few times I’ve used this I’ve been scared to be around naked flames in case I combusted.
You have clothes, of course it makes sense to bring them BUT only bring clothes you love, that are lightweight, easily washable and quick to dry. If you’re anything like me you will want to buy things you see so bringing the bare minimum is also a good idea, you can cheaply fill out your wardrobe in most places. You can pad the list below out as much as your bag will allow but these are all you’ll probably need.
- 4-7 pair of underpants, it’s worth splashing out on some new ones because if you’re anything other than a small you may struggle to find nice ones that fit in Asia
- 2 bras
- 2 swimwear, I have 1 bikini and 1 swimsuit
- 2 pair of shorts, 1 short, 1 long
- 1 pair of lightweight long trousers
- 3 vests/t-shirts
- 2 dresses, if you’re not into dresses fantastic, you’ve got less to carry, or bring more shorts. I have a lovely long lightweight dress which I’ve sewn buttons and loops into so I can transform it into a short dress in a matter of seconds
- 1 beach cover up, mine doubles as a nightie
- 1 scarf, even the thinnest one is useful to cover heads and shoulders when visiting religious sites and also as a blanket on buses, trains and planes
- 1 sarong, which can double as a beach towel if needed and for men and women can be wrapped around as a longyi in religious sites where knees need to be covered
- 1 long sleeved top/hoodie
- 1 warm woolly hat, I know you think I’m crazy, you’ll thank me on overnight bus or train journeys when your head is toasty warm
- 1 pair of socks, for the same reason as a woolly hat
- 1 rain jacket, although it has only rained maybe twice on us and even the smallest pack a mac takes up precious space so do you really need one?
It depends what you want to do but 3 pairs is plenty.
- 1 pair of flip flops that you will most likely live in
- 1 pair of slightly nicer sandals/shoes in case you go anywhere fancy and if you don’t plan on going anywhere fancy, great! You only need 2 pairs
- Something for activities, sneakers can be pretty hot so something like keens is probably better for trekking, cycling, any motorbike or other outdoor activities.
Unless you’re hyper sensitive you’ll be able to buy whatever you need most places so just take one of the essentials.
- Shampoo and conditioner
- Face moisturiser
- Body moisturiser
- Minimal makeup, concealer, mascara and lip balm, lots and lots of lip balm
- Clothes washing liquid
- Antibacterial wipes, a personal choice but have proven essential for me
- Suncream is not available everywhere and so we always have a bottle each and replace it before it runs out
- Tampons, I couldn’t find tampons for most of our time in Malaysia prompting me to switch to the mooncup which is way better for the environment and much easier to manage when travelling around. If you’re not ready to make the switch make sure you stock up on tampons if travelling at all off the beaten track.
I like to keep in contact with the world so I have quite a lot of it, how much you take will obviously depend on what sort of traveller you are but I have:
- An ancient Laptop
- An older iPad mini
- And an even older smartphone
- Logitech IPad mini keyboard this is a must have wonderful piece of kit
- Nikon AW130 underwater camera
- All the relevant chargers and cables.
On the stuff front the sky is the limit as to what you could bring, but ask yourself do you want to bring it enough to carry it around for however many months? The most useful stuff we brought with us, each of which we wholeheartedly recommend are:
- Pegless clothes drying line, an absolute must and something we use almost every day
- Lightweight fold up day bag, great for the daily essentials of water, tissues, camera and money
- Ecosusi Travel Bag Luggage Organisers Packing Cubes, ooh how we love a packing cube and these ones are strong, lightweight and a great size and although I still don’t understand why, rolled clothes do actually take up less room than folded flat ones so you’ll have room for more should you want it
- Travel document organiser, a one stop shop in my bag for everything important, passport, money etc
- Sewing kit, we have used ours countless times, sewing on a button, taking in shorts, sewing up a ripped seam etc
- Foldup shopping bags, in 2050 there will be more plastic in the world’s oceans than fish, just because you are travelling doesn’t mean you can’t look after the environment as well, especially in Asia where they are plastic bag crazy
- Swim socks, little neoprene lifesavers on rocky beaches!
Other useful things:
- Lightweight travel umbrella, which can be used in the rain but also commonly used as a sunshade in Asia
- Quick drying travel towel, great as a beach or pool towel
- Lifesystem Pocket First Aid Kit, we’ve supplemented this basic one with antibiotics and a few other bits and bobs along the way
- Wind up torch, we most often use the torch on our phones but this is so small it makes sense to keep it around, especially on islands prone to power outages
- Cable Organiser, great at keeping all our cables from getting tangled
- Exped Fold Drybag Ultralite bags, we brought a selection with us however unless you’re planning being somewhere pretty wet, 1 is enough
- Enough locks for all of the accessible parts of your bag, we use combination ones to avoid the problem of lost keys
- Pacsafe 120L– if you’re planning a lot of bus or train travel it’s really a no brainer: Pacsafe® is an adjustable high-tensile stainless steel locking device, designed to cover and protect a variety of bags and packs from tampering, pilfering and theft
- Fins and mask, if you plan to dive or snorkel a lot it is nicer to have your own and it will save on hiring them each time
- A5 plastic wallet folder with copy documents, insurance details and other trip related information in
- NETGEAR PR2000-100EUS Trek Universal N300 Wi-Fi Range Extender and Travel Router we left this device which creates a secure wifi network in Singapore, when it works it is awesome but the times it was working were far outweighed by the times it would not
- Mugs, we love tea, absolutely love it and most often the mugs in hotel rooms are small so we bought large mugs in Bangkok and have been having glorious cups of tea ever since.
It’s been 9 months since we packed our bags and headed to South East Asia and my bag has undergone several transformations within that time. It’s been heavier and lighter and I am continually leaving things places to accommodate something new I have fallen in love with. On the souvenir front our photos and memories are the main ones, the one thing we do buy is art that is light and can fit in our bags and we usually only buy that when someone is due to visit and can take it home in the near future. I find it both liberating and confining living from a bag but mostly I still feel like I have too much stuff and could do away with half of it if I had to.
We each have Osprey Sojourn 80L wheeled cases that have full backpack straps hidden away although we’ve yet to use that feature but like having it as an option. The bags are rugged and spacious and have lifetime guarantees. J also has an Osprey Porter 46L backpack for carry on and I have an American Tourister I picked up at the airport after my previous carry on passed away, which I think is 26L and is a great size for me, small enough that when it is full I can still easily manage it with my Osprey.
As I said at the beginning, there is no easy answer to what you should pack, you’ll want to take things that no one else does because they are important to you, you’ll make mistakes; take the wrong things, too much or too little, none of which is the end of the world even for a worrier. You’ll be able to send stuff home and you’ll be able to buy anything that you forgot, all the while enjoying the wonderful adventure you’ve just embarked upon Xx
Photo: JHubz on the SE8 Nha Trang to Da Nang, March 9 2016