What to pack for a year or travel (and what not to)

Every backpacker has a special relationship with their backpack. Packing it and repacking it becomes somewhat of an art after those weeks and months, with each item in its own special place, and a million ideas on how to improve the packing system.

Here is my list of things I would optimise for next time.

Obviously, this changes depending on where you travel, what activities you do, and what the weather is like. My list is for the heat of South East Asia, and European Autumn/Winter. I bought a lot of warm clothes for my time in the Canadian winter when time came, but I wore those constantly and they rarely made it into my backpack.

Well-travelled buddy
Well-travelled buddy

Things that WON’T come with me next time

– Books. Bloody hell, they get heavy as they add up, and I carried around a small library. I couldn’t bear to throw them away. During my ‘unemployment’ phase in Canada, I bought 5 Game of Thrones books, and I insisted on lugging them all back to Sydney. I’d just take one notebook for scribbling in.

– Jeans. I love a good pair of jeans, and it seems almost inconceivable to not pack some. However, I think that for hotter countries, thin trekking pants can do the job for a fraction of the weight.

– Less T-shirts. I’d just take 2 or 3, and do more frequent laundry. And smell bad. But I can handle that.

– Cotton underwear and socks. I’ll replace them with strong, quick-drying, lightweight, comfortable ones. My stuff wore out so fast and I constantly bought new ones. Having quick dry means I can do the old ‘laundry-in-the-shower’.

– Electronics. I took too much. I brought a hard drive that never got used, plus all the cables for it. Small, but heavy. And my phone; I packed it just in case I needed it along the way. It broke in my bag without me knowing, and I carried it around for nothing.

– Video camera. It took up a lot of space in my bag. Also, it turns out I suck at filming, and my handheld digital camera had a pretty good video mode just in case.

– Sleeping bag. Useful a couple of times over the course of my travel  year, but not worth it for the space it took up. However, if you can find one that packs into the size of a coffee cup, that would be alright.

– Pocket knife. Not sure exactly why I brought this along, but I didn’t really need it.

– Bike lock. For securing my bag in hotel rooms or whatever. Not really necessary.

Things I would definitely recommend taking

– iPod. One of the heroes of my trip. It weighs nothing. With WiFi everywhere, it’s a mobile internet café. I wrote blogs on it, I Skyped on it, I had plenty of music for those long bus rides, and I loaded Lonely Planet guidebooks onto it.

– Kindle. To replace the books that I mentioned earlier.

– Torch. Always a good idea, for many situations, such as going to the toilet at night in the Thai jungle. Especially a head torch.

– Microfibre towel. Most hostels don’t offer towels, so this little fast-drying lifesaver was a great investment.

– Scarf. When one travels by tuk-tuk in South East Asia, you realise it can be pretty dusty affair. In Siem Reap I bought a krama, a scarf-type thing with 101 uses. Plus, it’s warm in winter.

– Shoes. I’d leave the Converse at home and i’d go for a low-top trekking shoe. Indestructable, comfortable in the city and when hiking, and fairly light. And thongs (flip flops)…I bought a brand called ‘Fipper’ in Malaysia, the first thongs I’ve owned that I could consider close friends!

UNIQLO jacket. I picked up a jacket in UNIQLO Malaysia. It’s very thin but has a small fleece layer inside and a water-repellent exterior. Very warm and wind-proof, saved me having to pack an extra raincoat, and perfect for cold conditions!

First aid kit. I didn’t use it much, but when I did, i’m glad it was close. Bandages, tape, band-aids, Gastro-stop, hayfever tablets, iodine, alcohol wipes/hand sanitiser, headache tablets, rehydration salts. I recommend taking time to customise it whilst at home, instead of taking a ‘stock’ first aid kit from the pharmacy.

– DEET. Powerful insect repellent, in a small tube.

– Playing cards. A nice little ice-breaker.

– Sewing kit. Comes in a little plastic case. I bought one from a 7/11 in Thailand and used it to fix almost half my clothes at some stage or another. A handy little thing, and something to keep you occupied during some downtime!

Oh, and by the way…

– Leave a few thousand dollars at home – in an account that’s impossible to touch. You will need it! I had planned on keeping a few thousand in my account for my return, but when you’re travelling it’s so easy to eat into that safety net for just one more month on the road!

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