Thursday, October 21, 2010

What to Bring on Your Big Trip

You will never regret bringing less on your big trip. Most of the useful stuff that you carry will probably be the things you buy en-route. The less large and awkward your luggage is, the easier you can carry it and the more spontaneous you will be.

All the same, there are a few things that were oh so useful to us, that I thought I would mention them here. I'm not going to give you a complete packing list because, that would be boring. Instead my goal is to tell you about few things that turned out to be very helpful.

ATM card- When we checked in with our bank about using our checking account abroad, we found that we would incur a hefty fee by using our ATM card abroad AND a percentage each time we used our card. After shopping around, we found a checking account through Charles Schwab that didn't charge us a surcharge for using foreign ATMs and actually reimbursed us for the foreign banks charges which made withdrawing money any where in the world totally free. This saved us a ton. Now that we didn't have to worry about ATM fees, we were free to use ATMs as often as we wanted. This helped us avoid having to much cash on hand which meant we could worry less about theft and changing unused currency when we left that country. This one card worked for us in all 17 countries that accepted foreign ATM cards. So take some time and check around for the best deal for you.

Online Photo Account- Posting pictures was a fabulous way to share the trip with friends and family as we went along. It helped us feel connected to home and let us reflect that we were doing some very cool things. At times, coming up with a thoughtful blog entry was daunting; how could we manage to sound intelligent about some of the mind blowing and bizarre places we were in? But posting a narrative below a picture was always easy. Our viewers felt like they were "right there with us" and one friend even uploaded our pictures to create a rotating desktop image for his computer at work. Posting photos also allowed my mother in law to comment that we "looked very well fed" at some points in Asia, and why would you want to miss out on that? We posted on Flickr and Facebook but I am sure there there are plenty of good options out there.

Cheap Cell Phone- We left home without a phone thinking we wanted a break from being "plugged in." After some months though we realized that we did want a phone to call local people and fellow travelers and reserve hotels. For a minimal cost, we were able to buy a simple phone and a sim card. Leave your US sim card at home and avoid major roaming charges.

Reusable Shopping Bag- Okay so most things you can buy along the way. However we never regretted bringing our Envirosax reusable shopping bags. I liked not needing a plastic bag in places where people had to burn plastic trash for lack of a formal sanitation system. The bags also came in handy to take laundry to be washed, packing muddy shoes after a big hike, to bring towels to the beach, to pack snacks and magazines and other comfort items for epic train rides. Since the bags fold into the size of a kiwi, I had no problem finding room for them.

Travel Insurance- We got insurance through International Medical Group. It seemed like a good plan- it could be extended to provide coverage once we got home. However since nothing ever went wrong its hard to evaluate the quality of our insurance. Shop around and look at testimonials in travel blogs and Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree, which is a very good travel forum to post a travel question or read through other people's answers. Just make sure that which ever insurance you choose covers medical evacuation.

Travel Games- Having a few good travel games can help you keep your zen during the most trying of times. They can help you through uncomfortable waiting times and can provide a good way to make friends and enjoy your downtime. They can be a life saver in trains, airports, stuffy ferries and border crossings.

Travel games do not have to be expensive or heavy. And you certainly don't have to bring them from home. We picked up two packages of cardboard dominoes in Indonesia for 20 cents a piece. They fit into boxes the size of film canisters. For a dollar or two we purchased Connect Four in Thailand. Its slightly bigger than a pack of cards (another readily available choice). I also have a Othello set that folds practically flat. For most of the year we were carrying at least three games. Mark bought a small backgammon set in Syria when got tired of Othello and dominoes.

Games can be a great way to interact with local people. Your fellow train passengers are just as bored as you are. Often they are curious about you and just looking for an excuse to approach you. A game can be the perfect excuse. People love to watch games and play games. Even if you don't speak the same language, most people can observe and figure out simple games like Othello or Connect Four.

Dominoes came in handy on a slow Sunday in a bus station in Indonesia. A group of local men showed us how to throw down our cardboard dominoes so that they made a really cool slapping noise on the table . They laughed hysterically as we tried to copy their moves. After a game or two, we all were very sad when the bus arrived three hours later. Another time, we stayed with a local family on an island in the middle of the Mekong river. There isn't much to do on an island in the middle of the Mekong river- that's the whole point. So we found ourselves playing Othello on a log in front of the house. The neighbor came out and watched our game. He quickly understood the rules and played the next game against Mark. Having games can often provide an inroad to interact with otherwise shy locals.

Travel Underwear- The seasoned traveler who suggested these to me at a cocktail party got a big eyebrow raise, let me tell you. But sure enough, now I am the crazy lady who can't stop talking about her underwear. Any clothing that can dry in four hours in a locked hostel locker and does not begin to show wear after one year is clothing I can endorse. Three pairs of travel underwear is all you need for your year-long trip. You can wash two pairs easily in a hotel sink while wearing the third and let them dry overnight wherever you find yourself sleeping. And they are super light and compact which means that my lingerie drawer was about the size of an orange. Just make sure you choose a color and cut you like, because they aren't wearing out anytime soon.

Some Essential Technical Clothing- They do have extra socks and t-shirt where you are going. Whats more, you'll probably prefer the stuff you buy there- after all you bought it in India/Middle East/Africa/Etc. The exception is technical gear- the durable, light weight that will hold up and fold up for the duration of the trip. Here are a few of those rule breakers that I would recommend:

Warm Layers- light weight thin layers like running shirt or long underwear tops pack easily and layer for ultimate versatility. One or two is probably enough depending on where you are going. You can get heavier sweaters and jackets locally if you need to.

Sturdy Hiking Sandals, walking shoes, hiking boots- These are hard to come by most places. Light sandals and dressier shoes are easy to pick up on the road although some people may have trouble finding their shoe size in some places. I would recommend a good pair of close toed shoes with good tread as well as a good pair of walking sandals like Tevas.

Pants- good fitting, light weight, easy washing pants are your best friend. Zippered pockets can prevent things being stolen from your best friend. I spent at least every other day in my grey Columbia pants- other than some spilled paint in northern Laos they are no worse for wear. Zip off pants are a choice of many travelers, but since shorts aren't really worn by adults in most of the world, how often will you really need to "zip off"? Personally I prefer pants that can be buttoned up at the bottom to make capri pants.

With clothing the important thing to remember is modesty. While shorts, tank tops and sundresses may be perfectly suited to your notion of hot weather wear, most warm weather cultures would disagree. Most world cultures dress more modestly, covering shoulders, legs and chest. Show local people your respect by dressing modestly.

Camping Lamp- A small bright headlamp can save the day or night, rather. We had trouble finding good ones on the road so you may want to bring one along.

High SPF Sunscreen- Technically, if you aren't freakish about sunscreen you should be able able to replenish your supply as you go. Many tourist areas will stock some sunscreen, usually a low SPF at a high price. However, I am freakish about sunscreen! I suggest you bring a good supply to ensure that you have the kind you like- you will be using every day after all. The stuff you bring from home will be cheaper and fresher.

Not Much Else- When packing for the unknown, its easy to justify bringing things "just in case." If its not something you will be using regularly, then leave it behind. Not sure if you have packed to much? Take the time tested walk around the block with your suitcase or backpack before you go. Its a good way to get a sense of how heavy your bag really is and make all your neighbors jealous about your big trip. If your neighbors feel sorry for you, you may want to re-evaluate your packing.

Mark and Juliah

1 comment:

  1. i just got back from a 7 month trip and you hit the nail on the head with this post. i agree with all your points. although i didn't invest in special underroos... and now the ones i brought with me are strangely discolored, but they remind me of my trip.