Ideas of What to Pack (written by a Volunteer):
Yet Another List of Packing Suggestions Part One: Not Bad Ideas:
Knowing what to pack is impossible. Even with experience, you can’t account for every scenario. You’ll forget something essential, while some well-intentioned items remain deadweight in your luggage. If you’re an inexperienced traveller contemplating a long trip, you’re probably having a hard time deciding what’s worth the precious cargo space. And that’s what it’s all about; worth. That’s the point where all the packing lists you Googled quickly lose value. The question of worth is too personal to be set by strangers. You pack, pack again, then end up leaving small piles of detritus behind in hostels and hotels across the continent. The smartest lists are the short ones that contain your passport, at least two travel-notified credit cards, and a stash of US cash. Everything you need, you can buy. Everything you want… well, priorities.
Here are some things I find invaluable abroad. There are many lists. This one is mine.
Flashlight: I can only speak for Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Laos, but in each city and town I walked at night, a small LED light clipped to my bag was my comfort. Sometimes it helped me navigate rough terrain, and sometimes it helped me find keys dropped on the floors of buses. Most often, though, it lets me feel a little safer sharing the road with silent electric bikes, motorcycles with busted headlights, and speeding shuttle buses. Sidewalks in SE Asia are a luxury you cannot expect, and where they exist, there will be motorcycles driving on them. The driver might be exhausted, or a ten-year-old on a cell phone, but if they see you, you’re a little safer. If you plan on renting bikes wherever you go, a light to attach to your bike is probably a good idea for similar reasons. Bikes can be rented almost everywhere; bike-lights, less so.
Ziplock Bags: Get a few sizes, but don’t skimp on the really big, high quality ones. Firstly, they’re gold for packing. Transparent, light-weight, and spill-resistant, you can press piles of t-shirts in them, or quarantine your contact-lense solution. Secondly, you can use them for shielding snacks from the omnipresent ants, packing wet swim suits, or keeping your iPod dry on a rainy day. I used the ones I left Canada with until the seams gave, and bought more in Bangkok. Lotions and Washes: In much of Asia, light skin is coveted. Locals are bemused by light-skinned foreigners voluntarily basking in the sun. You’ll see girls walking under umbrellas in the sun, straying to the shady side of the street, and using products full of bleach. It won’t be a problem in bigger cities, but you’ll find it challenging to buy a bleach-free sunscreen in Luang Prabang that isn’t past its best-before date. Same problem with moisturizer. There is no Body Shop in Laos, and I’d be pretty surprised to find one in Cambodia.
Deodorant: Also hard to find without bleach, a reasonable best-before-date, or trust-worthy packaging. Bring enough for your whole trip. Hair Products: If you’re fussy about your hair products (I am) then pack your own, weight be damned. Shampoos and conditioners for those of us with fine, curly hair are not readily found in a land of strong, straight black hair. If you’re happy with Dove 2-in-1 or similar fare, don’t bother packing much—it’s everywhere. Otherwise, stock up before you leave the big cities. Feminine Supplies: Good luck finding tampons in SE Asia. Again, not impossible, but certainly highly priced and hard to locate in a hurry. Bring your own everything. Laundry Supplies: More important for ladies than dudes. Laundry service by the kilo is available all over, but it will turn everything grey and rip the underwires straight out of your bras. Unless you’re tiny, you don’t want to bra shop in Asia. Even in Bangkok, I wanted a hug and a chocolate bar after an hour of trying to find my size in a department store.
I have a neat toy called a Scrubba that doubles as a dry-bag, but it’s unnecessary. All you need is a universal sink stopper, some soap (you can bring packets of Tide, but locally-purchased dish soap works too) and a towel. Twisting your wet clothes in a dry towel wicks the majority of water, so your unmentionables can dry overnight with a little help from a ceiling fan. I packed a rope to use as a laundry line, but since I mostly relied on take-away laundry service, I never needed it. Rubber Ties: I grabbed these on a whim, and they’re priceless. They hook laptop bags to suitcases, compress shoes into tidy packages, and attach wet raincoats to daybags. They compensate for broken zippers and don’t slide around, tangle or fray. I hooked one over the rope in my room and put clothes hangers through the holes keep things neat. I can’t imagine traveling without at least one of these twisted around the strap of my carry-on, just in case.
Vitamins: Can’t go too wrong with an iron supplement, especially if you don’t like chicken. I got lucky and found a decent brand in a Lao pharmacy, but it took some hunting. If you rely on anything at home, don’t count on being able to find it easily abroad. Expect your diet to be less balanced than at home, especially if you’re a budget traveller. Quality Backpack: Wherever there are foreigners, there are market stalls selling luggage. Don’t get too excited about the price tag, though. Odds are good it’s a knockoff. I’m happy with the $30 not-North Face pack I haggled for in a Bangkok mega-market, but I’m not a serious backpacker and it’s not responsible for protecting the majority of my things. I treat it cautiously. Cheap baggage gets significantly less affordable when a zipper busts on the way to the overnight train in Hanoi. Trust me.
Refillable Water Bottle: I didn’t use either of these while traveling, and would have ditched them of they weren’t so light. In much of Asia, there’s no place to refill your bottle and you’re unlikely to enjoy carrying around a hot coffee while trekking. As soon as I stopped moving around every other day, they became useful. A personal water bottle is washable and less easily mixed up with your friends’. Unlike Cambodia, most public places in Lao cities have free water coolers.
Binder Clips: No really. The bigger the better. They can hold piles of paper together, and sometimes that’s great for keeping lesson notes sorted or otherwise being responsible. So far, I’ve used mine for the following: clipping cables to things (handy when the power outlets are in weird places), holding a burning mosquito coil, keeping packages of food closed, hanging things from the shelf in my room (binder clip + string = hairclip holder), making impromptu notebooks, improvising curtains, marking my towel so it doesn’t get mixed up with others, hanging laundry, instant keychain, keeping the heating coil from falling out of my mug, holding broken things together while glue sets, turning a regular clothes hanger into a sinh-skirt hanger. If you have a utility tool, it’s child’s play to remove the wire part and bend it into whatever shape you need to jury-rig a sturdy hook. Fortunately, just about every stationary store in the world has them.
– Written by Volunteer Rey from Canada
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