Dun dun dunnn: The “what to pack” post, part 1!

OKAY so it’s finally time to start writing about what to pack when it comes to long term travel. There will be a few different parts to this, including, “What I wish I packed but didn’t,” and “What I packed but wish I didn’t.” For now, though, I’ll just give a basic list of what I packed and was glad I did. Here it goes!

16 Things to Pack for Travel

1. Alarm clock with attached flash light

This was the most useful item in my backpack, by a long shot. Travel is often relaxing and it’s easy to think that you’ll be able to just sleep late every day, no matter what. That’s what I was planning on….until I realized that a lot of stuff happens in the morning. For example, 5-8am is the best time to jump into the Pacific in the middle of a pod of wild dolphins because the sea conditions are better. Buses often leave in the morning, and sunrises…well, you catch my drift. That’s why an alarm clock is an extremely important thing to bring, and it helps if it’s small, lights up when needed, and doesn’t weigh a lot (because if you’re like me, every ounce counts in that overstuffed backpack). So, picture this: you’re waking up early to do something really cool. Yay! Your trusty alarm goes off, and you turn it off as soon as you can to avoid making the other people in your hostel room even more disgruntled than they already are. Okay, now you have to find your bathing suit/sneakers/feathered boa/whatever, because last night you were too tired/inebriated/lazy to put those things aside. The problem is, the hostel room is dark and there are other people sleeping. Ding ding ding! That’s where the flashlight comes in handy. It helps if the alarm and light source are connected, because that makes one less thing to find when you are groggy and angry to be awake before noon. I hear those Iphone things can also act as both a flashlight and an alarm, so that’s another option. I did get a lot of laughs carrying around my alarm clock at all times when camping though, so there’s that.

2. Blanket

I know, it seems weird to bring a blanket unless you’re going to countries that are actually cold…but trust me! I brought this fleece-y blanket thing with a pocket for a blow-up pillow (I know right), and it came in so handy. It was way more comfortable than those scratchy blankets on planes, and definitely came in handy on the zillion bus rides I took. I don’t know if you know, but air conditioning is cold! Yeah I’m a wimp. Seriously though, when you need to sleep on overnight transit rides, the more comfortable you can be, the better. The blanket also came in handy when I slept on the floor of the Melbourne airport waiting for my flight, and again when a hostel charged extra for bed sheets/blankets (uggh!). I eventually lost my trusty blanket in New Zealand somehow, and it made me realize how much I used it. I missed that thing! Just remember, when choosing a blanket, think CSH….cozy, small-ish, and handy. By handy I mean it would be great if, like my blanket, yours could zip up into a little envelope of cozy goodness, and include a loop that allows you to hang it off your backpack with a carabiner. Smart, right?!

3. Gravol 

I’m kind of weird when it comes to medication, and I only take it when it’s absolutely necessary (don’t ask me why, because I have no idea). Anyways, despite that, I went through an entire pack of Gravol, and ended up wishing I brought more. No, I wasn’t constantly puking, but it’s easy to feel nauseous pretty often when you spend hours on boats in Thailand and in cars traversing India (once you go to India, you’ll understand what I mean) and in safari vehicles that send you flying to the ceiling every two minutes. Another lovely benefit: sleep! Yep, these babies gave me the best sleeps of my life…and seeing as I’m such a deep sleeper that I slept through an earthquake in Japan, that’s saying something. Sometimes when you’re changing time zones or taking overnight buses, sleep is a necessity that often doesn’t come, no matter how tired you are. I found that nauseousness often came along with sleeplessness, so these babies were my most trusted friend. Bring some!

4. Mosquito net

Whether or not you should bring a mosquito net depends pretty heavily on whether you plan on visiting a malaria zone, but those little bugs also carry other scary diseases like dengue fever depending on where you’re going, so definitely Google that. The thing is, my net was more of a pain than anything at first, as it took up quite a bit of room and I couldn’t see anyone else using them. However, as soon as I got to India, I realized why it was a good idea to bring one. In hot, wet climates, those little buggers are everywhere, and it’s hard to get a good night’s sleep when you’re paranoid about contracting a disease or itching your life away. I also used the net in northern Thailand due to malaria/other mosquito concerns, and again on Koh Phanghan as a way to deter the family of cockroaches in our bathroom from infiltrating my bed zone. I also used it in Australia, but instead of draping it over my bed, I wrapped it around my backpack to fend off creepy crawlers and stop them from making my bag their home. I’m also completely terrified of all bugs, so there’s that, but nobody likes having something with multiple legs crawl on them in the night (or at least I hope not?).

5. Waterproof bandaids

If you’re going to hot countries or coastal areas, chances are you’ll be in the water a lot. Cuts and scrapes are easy to get while traveling, as you’re constantly moving and in unfamiliar places. The problem is, dirt and other bad stuff can get into those cuts and cause some very bad problems, which is why having a small first-aid kit with you is key. I had a few small Polysporin spray bottles for on-the-go antiseptic, which comes in handy in places where blood-born diseases are common. That’s also why it’s important to have waterproof bandaids. They don’t take up a lot of room in your bag, and they can protect you from some bad bad stuff. If you’re planning on doing things like scuba diving or going into murky water, bandaids are especially important as you can’t have open sores. For example, when I volunteered to help rescue dogs from the flood zones around Bangkok, I was warned that anybody with open wounds would not be able to enter the water. While bandaids probably wouldn’t make a difference in that situation, they do help your wounds heal quicker, which is important.

6. Suncreen

Duh. Get the good stuff, with high SPF. Bring a ton. It takes up a lot of room, but you’ll go through a lot and sunscreen isn’t exactly big in countries where many people have built-in sunscreen in the form of skin filled with lots of melanin. My friend and I couldn’t find any sunscreen in India, only skin-whitening products (I know right). There was a lot of sunscreen available in the touristy areas of Thailand, but it’s always good to have some back-up on you. My friend ended up having an allergic reaction to some sunscreen she bought abroad, so be careful. It’s probably best to try and stick with a brand you know and trust.

The fact that I had the worst sunburn ever made Thanksgiving in Thailand much less enjoyable. Wear sunscreen kids! I learned my lesson.

7. U.S. cash

It really is all about the Benjamins. United States dollars are surprisingly universal, and you can even save some dough in the long run but using U.S. cash abroad for visas, etc. Depending on exchange rates, U.S. cash can also get you better rates and save you money when you convert to local currency. While it’s a pain to carry around a lot of cash, I ended up wishing I brought more, as I paid several hundred dollars just in ATM/bank fees when withdrawing from ATMs instead of converting from cash.

8. Computer

Depending on your computer habits at home and how long you’re traveling for, a laptop can be a great investment. Personally, I’m a complete computer/internet addict, and I knew that a cold-turkey withdrawal from the robot in the sky simply was not happening. I originally bought an Ipad, thinking it was smaller and lighter than a laptop. However, it’s also harder to type on an Ipad than it is to type on a regular computer, and seeing as I like to blog/write, that wasn’t a good fit. Instead, I exchanged it for a Macbook Air, which I happen to be writing from now. I love it. It’s small, light, functional, and easy to use. It allowed me to get some extra cash from blogging, Skype with my family, write to my friends at home, backup my photos, track my spending, and more while traveling. There was free Wifi in a lot of hostels, and even though I had to pay for internet access sometimes, it was totally worth it.

9. Hand sanitizer wipes

If you’re planning on taking a lot of public transit/flights, you’ll be coming into contact with a lot of germs, and you’ll probably want to sanitize your hands before you eat. It’s not fun being sick while traveling, and you need to try to avoid it as much as possible. The problem with traditional hand sanitizer is that it can leak. The great thing about wipes is that they don’t, AND you can use them to wipe down surfaces. Awesome!

10. Ear plugs

There are tons of situations where ear plugs come in handy. For example, there was one hostel I stayed at that was attached to a bar, which happened to play loud/terrible music all night and into the wee hours of the morning. That’s not awesome when you have to wake up early or enjoy sleeping. If you’re staying in a hostel, there is also the factor of drunk people. They tend to be loud and annoying. Ear plugs can turn the volume down and potentially cut the chances of you springing out of bed and screaming at loaded Irishmen. Sweet! Ear plugs are also great on planes/buses/boats, and whenever you just want some peace and quiet. They also take up no room! That also makes them easy to lose, so bring a few.

11. Carabiners

Even if you aren’t planning on climbing any rock faces, carabiners are really useful. If your bag is stuffed to the gills (if you aren’t one of those manly men that wear the same clothes for two months straight, then it probably will be), carabiners can be snapped to the outside of your pack, allowing you to hang shoes/water bottles/whatever on them. If you’ll be taking a flight, simply transfer the carabiners to your day bag. Also, ladies, carabiners are also great for hanging shopping bags off, amiright?! Seriously though. You can buy more stuff, which may or may not be a good thing. Seeing as I paid $250 to ship stuff home, less is probably more…but I love the chotchkies that I bought, and they’ll always remind me of the fun times!

12. Coins from home

I totally didn’t anticipate my loose change coming in handy, but it did! I continually got requests from people who wanted to see what Canadian money looked like, or who wanted a memento of meeting this strangely coloured person from a land far, far away. It’s also a great bartering tool! When discussing the price of some stuff in a Kenyan shop, the shopkeeper offered that he would reduce the price if I gave him some Canadian coins to show his family. Score!

13. Memory cards

If you’ve read this blog before, you’ve probably heard about my memory card disasters. I (thought I had) lost all of the photos from my Kenyan safari due to a corrupted memory card, and I was extremely upset about it, obviously. It was a 32 gig card, which was rendered useless, and only left me a 4 gig card for the next three months of my trip. Oy vey. Looking back, I wish I had brought 4 or 5 smaller cards, around 10-ish gigs. It’s more to keep track of, but if something goes wrong, you’ll have other options. I eventually got my photos back with some recovery software, but sometimes the problem is so bad you can’t…so make sure to backup your photos as often as possible, preferably everyday.

One of my favourite photos that I almost lost due to a faulty memory card. Backup your photos as often as possible!

14. E-book

If you’re traveling for more than two weeks, you’ll probably have quite a bit of down time. You’ll probably spend hours on beaches or in buses or in line (I waited for 2.5 hours to get into the catacombs in Paris…yeah). It’s nice to have some books to read, and paper books take up a lot of room. That’s where the E-book comes in. It’s small and light, and you can have as many books as you’d like on there. I went through 10 books during my trip, and when I wanted to buy additional books, I simply uploaded them with my computer and transferred them to my E-book. It’s easy, and despite the cost, you’ll be able to use it when you get home too.

15. Nail clippers

In a pinch, nail clippers can act like scissors to cut off a tag or do whatever. Multipurpose! You’ll also need to bring the things you need back at home, so nail clippers would fit into that category presumably. It depends on how long you’re traveling for and how long you’re willing to let your talons grow, but just remember that you have to think of the basic things that aren’t necessarily travel-related if you’ll be traveling long term (ie. for a month or more).

16. Blowdryer

You may not use a blowdryer on a daily basis, but I included it just to prove a point. Everyone who gave me advice before my trip told me not to bring extraneous things, and my father responded to my inclusion of a blowdryer by saying, “Who are you styling your hair for, the lions?”. The thing is, I know myself and I know that I never let my hair dry naturally because it ends up in a stringy mess. I knew that I would be going out some nights, and that I would want to look nice on those occasions. Well, I was right, and I ended up being very glad that I brought my blowdryer. You just need to know what you can live without and what you don’t want to, and ignore the peanut gallery. Don’t go overboard, but make tough decisions and picture yourself in a variety of situations and consider what you’ll need to feel like yourself. You don’t turn into a different person when you travel. Sure, you learn a lot and grow, but if you never wear running shoes unless you’re actually running at home, you probably won’t when you’re traveling either.

There’s more to come! There was quite a few things that I wish I brought with me but didn’t, so that will be part 2. I hope this helps!

Bye for now.

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