Every person who has been on a trip has had to ask these two simple questions: What do I pack and what kind of luggage should I pack it in? Consequently, all the world’s guidebooks and a lot of travel blogs are trying to provide good advice.
This post was inspired by Barry of “Budget Your Trip”. He contacted me and several other experienced travellers for answers. His article is good, balanced and thorough. I would recommend you to read his Packing Advice from Expert Travelers. I will merely repeat what I told him, and add a little more.
I have been travelling on and off for shorter and long periods for the last 30 years, covering 60 countries on most continents. I started with backpacking, sleeping in dorms and saving everything I could on my money. Now, I’ve become more of a flashpacker, able and willing to spend a bit more.
The most difficult aspect of packing for a big trip?
The task of planning will have to start with the destination: Hot/Cold, Winter/Summer, Rainy/Dry, Short/Lengthy trip, Civilised/Remote. The trickiest bit is deciding what to pack when you’re on a long trip to multiple destinations. I brought a heavy sleeping bag with me to Chinese dorms in the winter. I hardly used it and I had no use for it a few weeks later in the Philippines. I shipped it home. On my next big trip, to South America I brought no more clothes than could fit in a 40 litre backpack. Obviously, spending some months in the Andes does command warm clothes and I had some with me.
On the other hand, I had not planned for everything I experienced in Chile. The featured photo introducing this article is from the active, smoking Volcan Villarrica. To ascend it I had to borrow boots, a down jacket and crampons to climb the ice-cap below the summit. One can never plan or pack for all eventualities, but one can improvise on the way.
Most important item(s) to pack?
Passport, cash and two credit cards of course. A smart phone, tab or small pc comes in handy, especially if you have been wise and placed a copy of your vital documents (passport, tickets etc.) on a “cloud” (Like OneDrive, Google Drive or Dropbox). These tools are also good to have if you need to book more airline tickets and accommodation as you go. I always bring some medical stuff with me: bandages and pills to take if you’re getting Montezuma’s Revenge, etc. Don’t forget the Swiss Army Knife or similar tool. And half a roll of toilet paper. (I was once stuck on the Syrian border with serious diarrhea and no public toilet in sight.) Don’t forget the good travel apps on your phone and a guidebook in paper.
What does it mean to pack light?
Packing light is an obvious recommendation, but it all depends on your destination. The point is that they sell clothes in other countries as well, you’ll often get cheap laundry too. I have turned to packing thin garments, “breathing” type. It is better to have three thin garments on your body, than one thick woollen sweater. I ask myself: Do I really need these heavy hiking boots? I used them on my first big trip, never again. I hate flip-flops but I love sandals… need I say more?
Type of bag or luggage:
On my first big trip I used a sailor bag on the recommendation of a seasoned traveller – never again. I went on to using backpacks, but made sure they had as few loose straps as possible – they are always in danger of getting stuck on the roof of your bus or inside some awkward place. Now I’m using a plain suitcase of good quality and with good wheels, or a suitcase with backpacking ability (Osprey Sojourn 60). It depends on where you are going, and for how long.
Let me stress this point: Bring two credit cards, preferably Visa and MasterCard. Keep them separately. If everything else fails, you will have invaluable need of at least one of them. That’s a piece of advice that came in very handy for me in Cuba, when all tickets, passports, money and one credit card was stolen. I had kept the other credit card elsewhere. Where: A money belt around your waist is a long-term favourite of mine but you will also have to find some other place in your bag to keep the rest of your life-line.
You may want to have a look at this video found on YouTube. Titled “Defeat Dishonest Baggage Handlers” it shows how easy it is to open a suitcase zipper, steal your valuables and then close the zipper. Just like that.