What to take
This is what you are going to have to carry with you on your back each time you decide to move. Obviously, the more you pack, the heavier your bag becomes, so you want to pack as little as possible. Backpacks come in various sizes and styles. I have a 72 litre world travel bag with a detachable day pack. With all of my gear packed inside, my pack weighs about 20 pounds and is only half full. Over time, I accumulate a few souvenirs and my pack can weigh as much as 30 to 40 pounds before I mail a box of the things I picked up home.
Your gear is important, so choose wisely. After all, this is the equipment you need to keep you safe and happy for the duration of your journey.
Packsack: Don’t skimp on this one. There are many types of bags that you can choose from. My preference is a World Travel Bag. It is specially designed for travellers. It has all the webbing (shoulder, chest, and waist straps) of a normal backpack but can also be transformed into a duffle bag. The main zipper goes all around from the bottom to the top that allows you to lay your pack down and have access to everything without being forced to go through the top or side access areas. There is also a small detachable day pack with shoulder straps that zips onto the main pack.
Have the retail staff select the right size of pack to fit your body. If not, you risk having some pretty uncomfortable moments, not to mention a sore back, shoulders, and waist. Prolonged use of a poorly fitting pack can lead to serious injury. The size of your pack depends on your back length, not your overall height, and since people have different body types, you’ll need to find one that suits you. Learn how to use and adjust the straps since they will need to be readjusted occasionally during your travels.
Ask the sales clerk to throw some phone books inside so you can get a feel for what it will be like when it is full of gear. If the suspension (webbing) of your pack is doing its work, most of the packs weight should be transferred to your hips. Before you travel, take some time to break in your pack. Walk around with it on for a while; make sure that it is comfortable.
Guidebook: This is so important that I placed it second in the list. A guidebook (often referred to as the “good book” by packers) is a publication specifically for travellers. It contains information on where to go, what to see, where to sleep, what to eat, what to avoid, how to get there, etc. This is an essential tool that cannot be left at home. Pick your guidebook wisely. I have dedicated a complete section under ‘Your guidebook’ on how to choose a proper guidebook.
Sarong: A sarong is one of the most versatile items I own. It is a lightweight, rectangular piece of cloth that is the size of a large towel. I use it for a blind fold at night, a towel to dry off with, a blanket for the beach, a head wrap for the sun, a wrap for walking to public showers, a bag for carrying items, a screen for my bunk bed, etc. It dries quickly, is easy to pack, weighs next to nothing, and is easy to clean.
Note: If you are a man, be careful where you wear one in public. There are many places in the world that are stringent about gender roles and it is foolish or even dangerous to wear anything that will make you stand out in a crowd. Do your research and make sure you don’t make yourself a target for any unwanted attention. Always try to blend in with the crowd.
Bathroom kit: This is a special waterproof bag that holds all my necessary toiletries: toothbrush (with a plastic cover for the head), soap (in a plastic container), shaving cream, razor, deodorant, nail clippers, shampoo, exfoliating gloves, contact lens solution, and a comb.
Money Belt: A thin pouch that can be securely strapped inside your clothes, to hold anything valuable. I keep everything that I cannot risk being stolen in there: passport, flight tickets, back-up credit card, photocopies of all important documents, and the bulk of my money. Make sure you get a money belt that breathes (made from cloth) since you will be wearing it next to your body everywhere you go. You keep it on while you are asleep during night and when you are travelling during the day. The only time you take it off is when you wash it.
Note: It is best to keep a small amount of cash in your pockets and everything else in your money belt. In the event that you are mugged, you can simply hand the thief whatever you have in your pockets and hope that he or she won’t think to push the matter further. Most money belts are not waterproof, so keep everything that you have inside sealed in a plastic bag. Wallet: There are travel wallets that attach onto the belt of your pants. It can then be covered by a shirt to keep it out of sight. It is easy to access since you can keep it by your front pocket. Just keep enough money and identification in there for convenience. The majority of your money and identification can be kept in your money belt for extra security. Purses just attract extra attention and should be left at home.
Belt: Not only can you use it to keep your pants up, but you can get ones that have a hidden zipper inside the seam. It’s a good place to store spare sets of keys and some emergency coins.
Note: Anything that is not metal and stored in the belt tends to get destroyed. Don’t keep your traveller’s cheques in there. If there is metal stored in your belt, make sure you take it off when you go through a metal detector.
Pack safe™: This is a wire mesh cover that you can use to keep curious people from exploring your pack when you are not looking. You can use it when you check your luggage on the plane, when walking through crowded stations, or when you have to leave your pack in storage at your hostel. It is slash proof and is a great way of ensuring that the unattended pack without a pack safe™ will get stolen while yours remains safely attached to something immovable. However, it is expensive, heavy, and takes up space in your pack.
Locks: Combination locks are good since you don’t have to worry about losing the key but they are next to impossible to open in the dark. When choosing a lock, make sure that you have a couple locks that are small enough to lock your zippers on your packsack together. Get one lock big enough for your Pack safe™ (if you decide to purchase one). When I leave my pack unattended, I lock my zippers into my Packsafe™ mesh so that no one can move the zippers apart and reach through the mesh to get inside my pack.
Jacket: A high quality, properly designed, weather resistant jacket is important. I look for several things in a good jacket. I prefer to have one that is made from Gore-tex™. Gore-Tex™ is expensive material but it is waterproof and, more importantly, it breathes, which means that you don’t have to worry about getting soaked in your own sweat.
All the jackets main pockets should be accessible from the outside and should have zippers or Velcro™ fasteners Big pockets are a plus since I usually carry my wallet, sunglasses, camera, gloves, and emergency food in my jacket. A detachable hood is also a nice feature when you get caught in a rainstorm. Pit zips, or zipable vents under the arm pits are great for increasing air flow. A zip-in inner fleece is handy to have since you can remove it or put it in whenever you want.
Note: I purchased a BMW Bomber jacket in Singapore. It looked good but when it started raining, I got soaked and cold. It was impractical but fashionable. I switched to a three ply Gor-tex™ outdoor jacket. This jacket was able to keep me dry and warmer in any weather. Being comfortable and safe with the right choice of clothes is an important part of travelling. You are going to be relying on your gear to keep you alive and well.
Pants: I prefer taking a pair of cotton pants with zip-off legs. They are made out of a durable cotton fabric that is light, water repellent, and can dry within an hour. You are able to unzip the pants just above the knees and turn them into shorts. The pockets with zippers or Velcro™ on them help keep things safe and are easy to roll up into a ball and store in your pack. I tend to go with darker colors. When they get dirty it is less noticeable. I find blue jeans are too heavy to pack, uncomfortable to wear in hot climates and take too long to dry when they get wet.
Shirts: A basic cotton t-shirt is great to have. You can sleep with it on during the night or use it solo on a hot day or in a layer with warmer clothes when you are in a colder environment. Do some research on the environment that you will be staying in and use common sense when picking out your clothes.
Long sleeve fleece shirt: Fleece is great for keeping the heat in and is completely breathable so you won’t sweat as easy. It is great to wear with just an over shirt, or layered with a Gortex ™ shell jacket. Remember to try to keep your fleece dry, and if it does get wet, take time to dry it out. It is not very wind resistant and a cool breeze can quickly suck the heat out of your fleece.
Note: A rolled fleece shirt can also substitute for a pillow in times when you don’t want to use the one provided for you. Bathing suit: Even if you are not going in the summer time or near any beaches, it’s good to have a bathing suit along. There are times when I relaxed in the local aquatic centre. If you have swimming trunks, they can double as a pair of shorts.
Femine hygiene products: If you are a woman, make sure you take an extra supply of these products in your bag. Don’t forget, you can restock almost anywhere in the world.
Waterproof bag cover: You can get a waterproof cover for your packsack. When you are outside with your pack and it is raining, you can cover it with this light bag to ensure the contents stay dry. I also use it for taking a shower. Instead of leaving my personal effects (passport, wallet, keys, towel, and clothes) hanging up outside in the open, I bring everything into the shower with me and place them in the waterproof bag. And I don’t have to worry about anyone taking my gear or it getting wet in the shower.
Photocopies: The overall idea is to have a backup of any documents or ID that are important for the trip. Send yourself an e-mail to your Internet web mail of any important information and make photocopies of all important documents. Try to fit everything on one or two pages. Even though these are copies, the information contained is still valuable and sensitive. Place the photocopies in various places throughout your gear. I had a total of three sets: one went in a zip lock bag in my money belt, the second was in my main pack in my utility bag, and the third was hidden in a compartment in my day pack.
Make sure that you copy: