What do I pack?
Jul 02, 2004
The information in here is useful, so I wanted to publish it even in this non-polished form. I will continue to work on it, and add photos and links to items.
Please let me know if you have any questions. I'll answer them and then update the article for everyone's benefit.
This packing list is tailored slightly for traveling in SE Asia, but is applicable for backpacking anywhere in the world. All items with a * are described in more detail below.
Surprisingly, you don't need more for a two year voyage, than for a weekend trip.
Worn onto the plane:
Jacket - waterproof windbreaker - Think layers, the jacket is just to protect you from the elements - buy a fleece or sweater if you need warmth.
Boots - Half height trekking boots - not great for serious hiking, not great for going out at night, but they work well enough for almost anything.
Mini-LED flashlight - The size of a dime and nearly weightless. They are bright enough so that this is the only flashlight you need. You might also get a second one and attach it to your pack - get this one in red as it doesn't affect night vision.
1.5 liters of water (in hand) - bring a big bottle of water with you onto the flight. The air-conditioning dehydrates you and on a long flight and you need more water than the small cups of water provided by the airline. The flight attendants will also refill your bottle should you finish it.
nice shirt - with only a pair of khakis and hiking boots you'll never be properly dressed up, but you should have something that you can wear out to a nice dinner or to a club.
small towel - I used to use my sarong as a towel, but I also use it as a blanket. A wet, dirty blanket is no good.
Mosquito Net - ...Tracker
Swiss Army "Climber" - Scissors are by far the most useful thing on the knife. Don't get a swiss army knife without scissors.
Petzl Tikka Headlamp - It is not the best headlamp for hiking as it is not waterproof, and the beam doesn't project at a distance. The advantages though are that it is tiny and the batteries last for months. It is ideal for packing your bag in a dark room or reading a book in an bamboo hut without electricity.
Rope - 20' of lightweight nylon rope to use as a laundry line or to tie things to your pack.
Cable and Lock - Kryptonite sells short, lightweight cables with loops at both ends. They're designed to secure your seat to your bicycle, but they work equally well to secure your backpack to the train. It won't stop a determined thief, but it means that no one can walk away with your bag easily. I'd recommend against the mesh cages they sell for backpackers. They just seem to call out "There are valuables in here - steal me!"
Lots of passport photos - It's cheap to get them printed in quantity. Getting 50 printed isn't much more expensive than printing 4. You'll need lots of passport photos for visas and such.
Compass / Thermometer - You can buy tiny combo compass/thermometers. The compass is perfect for orientating you when you arrive in a city. You get off a bus, look at the map in your guidebook and see that the guesthouse is only 3 blocks away, but which way is North?? The thermometer is basically useless, but it's fun to have. How cold was that night in Nepal? How damn hot was it that day in mandalay?
Emergency food - I toss some powerbars at the bottom of my pack in case I ever get trapped on a bus or late at night without anything to eat. Powerbars don't melt and stack well.
Safety pins - A thousand uses. Occasionally, I use one for fixing clothes are popping a blister. Mostly, I use them to attach corners of my mosquito net to the bed.
Bottle of booze - A bottle of booze in your pack is a great way to make friends.
Chess Set - A cheap one with a laminated cardboard board and plastic pieces takes up little space in your pack. Most travelers carry cards - if you want to play cards you can find someone with a set. I instead carry a chess set.
~600 megs of memory cards - 600 megs is the same size as a CD. Whenever your memory cards are full, you burn them right to CD.
Toiletry Bag - the "Full Pack Theorem" applies here too. No matter what the size of your toiletry bag, you will fill it. Buy the smallest one available, even that is too big.
Dental Floss - For the African meat that always gets stuck in your teeth.
Razor - I travel with, and buy along the way, disposable razors. As for shaving cream, I just use soap. Try it, it works just fine.
Oxy - Even if you don't break out, traveling with some oxy might be a good idea. Climate changes can sometimes cause bad acne breakouts.
Soap & Shampoo - I used to carry only one little bottle of concentrated liquid backpackers soap and use it to wash my body and hair. Every time I would forget it in the bathroom of some hostel. Now I just use a bar of soap and individual servings of shampoo. You don't need a case for your soap, a plastic bag works just fine.
Pepto tablets - The tablets are easy to travel with and are perfect for minor stomach upset. Be careful though, for more serious stomach problems don't take pepto - you want the bacteria to be flushed out of your system.
Motion sick pills - The 3rd world buses and boats might make you motion sick even if you aren't usually susceptible to it. It is good to bring a supply of these with you as you may not be able to find them at local pharmacies. Chewing ginger is also a natural remedy to motion sickness.
Tiny bottle of iodine - - It's the perfect tiny size. Just one drop is sufficient to clean out most cuts.
Flip Flops - Flip flops vs. Tivas - And the winner is... flip flops. They're half the weight, half the size and a tiny fraction of the cost ($1 in SE Asia) of Tivas. The only place where they really lose out to the tivas is for hiking and rainy days. In these cases you just wear your boots instead.
Pajamas of some sorts - I use "Thai Fisherman's Pants" to sleep in. I also wear them when my only other pair of pants is being washed.
Amoxicillan - I always carry antibiotics in my pack in case I (or other travelers) come down with a bad case bacterial dysentery or a badly infected cut. If either of these things occur and you're not near a pharmacy you can get in trouble. With dysentery you might also not have the strength to leave your room.
Malaria pills - Malaria pills (SE Asia) - You _do not_ need to take anti-malarials for SE Asia. I've spent almost 2 years traveling around Asia, and I did not meet a single tourist who contracted malaria in SE Asia and have only heard of two cases in which tourists got malaria. That is out of millions of tourist who visit the region. Unless you are going to spend weeks in the jungles of Ko Chang, or Rattiniki, you do not need them. Malaria pills (Africa) _ You _do_ need to take anti-malarials in Africa. In SE Asia, all of the tourists are paranoid about malaria. In Africa no one is very concerned about it. "Hey, have you gotten malaria yet?" is a common question. I would recommend taking doxycycline. It has much fewer and less serious side effects than lariam (Read the lariam info page. Malarone might be good, but it is very expensive. Doxycycline is very cheap. You can buy a 10 day dose here in Tanzania for less than 30 cents. You should also pick up a dose of Arsumax (or another similar drug) used for the treatment of malaria. If you're away from a doctor and suspect that you have malaria, start on Arsumax immediately. Even waiting an hour or two, can turn a mild case of malaria into a serious one.
long underwear - If you are flying into a cold area then you should take these with you. Otherwise, wait until you get there. You should always be able to locally buy clothes applicable to the climate. You don't want to carry around a sweater for months when it is 90 degrees.
Sweater or fleece - see above
Deck of cards - a chess set is better, everyone else has cards.
Jeans - too damn heavy, and slow to dry.
NuSkin - useful, but you rarely need it, and it comes in a glass bottle which is heavy.
Earplugs - unless you sterilize them constantly they can lead to ear infections. Better to use is balled up toilet paper.