The less you take with you the less you will have to carry around, and therefore the less you will need to keep track of. I am still amazed to see people checking in 2 huge suitcases for a one week trip, but hey they are probably transferring from the airport to a resort or spa and back. For independent travelers the mindset on packing tends towards minimalism and we really don’t care if someone sees us in the same clothes 2-days in a row. One of my easiest trips was 10 days exploring the Mayan Riviera in southern Mexico with just a day pack. Granted I needed little more than a swimsuit but I was able to jump on and off local buses, hike in the jungle, snorkel around fabulous reefs and take some great photos. I felt I was on a day trip, everyday, and there wasn’t one thing I wished I had brought with me. The rest of my stuff was stored at a friend’s house in Oaxaca.
There are many companies out there catering to the traveler with wrinkle-free clothes and zillions of accessories and gadgets they think you have to take with you. My personal advice is to avoid this sales pitch since you will stand out as a tourist and could potentially become a target for pickpockets. Wherever I travel I want to blend in as much as possible and so I bring the very basics and then pick up a few clothes in the markets or bazaars. Everything I take with me goes with everything else, and white, black and brown tend to be the dominant colours in my wardrobe with a splattering of brighter scarves and/or shawls. Incidentally brown, doesn’t show as much dirt as black. Blue jeans are now worn all over the world and can be jazzed up or down with a t-shirt or something more sophisticated.
Unless you are really heading to the outback and need to take everything with you, you can pick up supplies like shampoo and toothpaste as you go. With the growth and expansion of Carrefour and Walmart superstore across the globe you will be able to find anything your heart desires, however, the corner stores and markets are your better choice since this will put the money in the local economy instead of corporate pockets.
When I am traveling I generally have equipment with me so here’s my rule of thumb. My equipment comes with me as carry-on and my small suitcase with clothes and toiletries is checked in. The latter is easily replaceable but in some areas of the world I couldn’t begin to replace my cameras, laptop and such. Below I’ll be giving you a list of what I consider essential and a list of what you do not need to bring. I’ll also be giving you brands, makes and model of gear and items I highly recommend.
Finally, don’t ever bring anything with you that you can’t afford to loose.
Suitcase – I use a combination backpack/wheeled suitcase for those rare times when I want to indulge myself for a night at a luxury hotel and don’t want to arrive hauling a backpack.
Osprey Meridian 22″. The Osprey brand is well known for it’s outstanding backpacks and daypacks. They also carry a line of suitcases which are rugged, superbly designed and quite elegant. This model is the smaller of the two but fits my small frame well. It features ballistic wheels (no problems on cobblestones, dirt roads, bumping up and down stairs after 4 years of almost continuous use), zip off day pack, a harness and hip belt for crossing sand-dunes or hitching a ride on the back of a scooter, a retractable handle and lots of other neat design elements. www.ospreypacks.com
Outdoor Products – Power Pack. This is where I pack most of the equipment I carry with me – laptop (up to 17″), cameras, binoculars, etc. Easily fits into the overhead compartment in planes and under the seat in buses. Very well thought out design for the traveler. Check out the great reviews on Amazon and elsewhere. Widely available.
Shoes – Unless I am going to cold, snowy regions of the world I only bring along 2 pairs of sandals and 1 pair of running/light hiking shoes.
Salomon Tech-amphibians. Salomon is best known in the skiing and winter sports world but they have come out with an amazingly light, versatile running/light hiking shoes that goes from land to water and dries very quickly. There is enough tread on the soles to prevent you slipping on mountain trails or falling off wet rocks but the one thing I like most about this shoe is you can also casually wear it around town without looking like you’ve just come off a hiking tail. My pair is over 4 years old and has seen some pretty rough wear although you could never tell. Widely available. www.salomon.com
Rainbow leather sandals. A favorite for all ages. Reasonable life expectancy with heavy use – 4 to 5 years. Guaranteed for the life of the sole. Great arch support. Great patina with age. Why would you want anything else? www.rainbowsandals.com
Ladies if you have to bring another pair of shoes (only 1) make them very light weight and versatile like the Teva “olowahu”. Widely available. www.teva.com
To everyone coming from the US – please, please leave your white sneakers by your back door.
What’s In My Suitcase
- 1 pair light jeans or pants
- 2 tee shirts or equivalent
- 2 tank tops
- 1 skirt (ladies this is essential if you are in Asia where only squat toilets are available)
- 1 pair shorts
- 1 shawl (doubles as light blanket)
- couple scarves – jazzy colours
- Cotton sarong – a skirt, a towel or a sheet
- Silk or lightweight long underwear
- 2 pairs socks
- Underwear for about 4 days, + couple of bras
- Light sweater – versatile enough to wear in a good restaurant
- Wind/Rain jacket (I have a Marmot that scrunches into one of the pockets)
- 1 hat (for sun-protection) not a baseball cap
- Silk sleeping bag liner (great on buses and planes if it’s a little chilly)
- Inflatable neck pillow
- Chico shopping bag or sling (fabulous and they fold into their own little bags)
- Toiletries – small quantities of; toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, shampoo, conditioner, gel, all purpose face and body cream, bar soap, deodorant, comb, compact mirror x10 magnification, eyeliner and coloured chapstick.
- Jewelry – inexpensive and fun
- Small spray bottle. Lightly spray wrinkled clothes with water and smooth out the creases. You can also take it along with you if the weather is very hot.
- 1 inflatable hanger that you use for drying shirts overnight
- Bialetti Moka stove top expresso maker – yes I know, all my friends rib me about bringing my own coffee maker with me wherever I go but I just have to have a great cup of coffee in the morning. This one is the smaller model and I can always find a hot plate, or coals, or somewhere to brew my coffee.
I guess the trick is to have as much versatility as you can in the things you bring from home. Roll up your clothes instead of folding, and you’ll be surprised how much room you have left for the odds and ends you pick up on your trip. Try and bring clothes that will dry fairly quickly so you can rinse them out in the sink and they will be dry when you wake up in the morning.
Things You Don’t Need
- Towels – you can pick up really cheap towels (around $1.00 in most places) anywhere you go and when you move on just leave them in your room. The local people will appreciate having them and there is nothing worse than having heavy, wet, sour smelling towels in your bag.
- Ponchos and umbrellas. Wherever it pours with rain during certain seasons there will be locals selling ponchos and umbrellas for pennies. Check out the umbrella before you pay for it as I’ve found some with so many holes it seems I am in a shower stall.
- Heavy sweaters and coats unless you are going to be wearing them all the time. In colder areas the markets have a wonderful selection at great prices and if you don’t want to keep them, there are always plenty of charities you can donate them to.
- Jewelry. Please leave all your good jewels, watches, engagement rings and diamonds (including cubic zirconium) at home in your safety deposit box, and this includes fake but real-looking. Bring along something simple and understated and pick up a couple of fun pieces while you are overseas. It really is a nuisance to find safety deposit boxes when you are on the road.
- Handbags. Your luggage does double-duty just like your clothes. Please, please no exclusive brands as they will be a magnet for thieves.
- Nothing brand, spanking new. I was traveling from London to Africa a few years ago on a British Airways flight. Several rows ahead of me in coach I saw a middle-aged couple who were most definitely going on a safari. Matching khaki outfits, pants for him, skirt for her, photojournalist vests, walking shoes and pith helmets. Their camera bags were canvas and leather and still had the ‘shop’ creases in them. I could only hope they were being escorted through the African bush.
- If you are buying new items for your trip, scruff them up before you go. How you do this is up to you, but with bags and packs I generally roll them around in some dry dirt and then dust them off, or in the case of clothes, I wash them a few times and leave in a few wrinkles. I also have duct tape (see equipment) and will use it quite liberally on my bags even if I don’t need it. This is also a foil against airport theft since the luggage handlers will generally go for the expensive, new bags rather than one such as mine.
- If you can rent equipment where you are going this is a better option than hauling your own. I’m thinking of scuba gear which is not only very expensive but bulky and heavy. By all means bring your mask, a regulator and a wrist diving computer but you can rent fins, a BC, weight belt and tanks. Padi dive centers are all over the world and they have some excellent equipment for rent. The same goes for other sports.