For anyone who’s been travelling before, you will be familiar with those conversations that will be had at every social event prior to your take off: “I hear you’re going travelling? Well, make sure you take a…” Those informative pieces of advice whereby inside knowledge is thrust upon you in the helpful/overwhelming/irrelevant (fill in as appropriate) fashion. Whilst tips from friends and family have proven invaluable, and have led to us bringing essential things that would never have occurred to us, when you come across that over-enthusiastic backpacker who wants to fill your bag with all their keepsakes, it’s a bit daunting and can cause you to panic-buy or leave stuff behind that you’d actually rather take. Some things, such as a mosquito net, take up room in your bag and add weight, but when it comes to really needing them, it’s worth it. Our tip for filtering your packing list would be to consider the following:
1) Is it large and/or heavy?
2) Have multiple people recommended this item for your destination?
3) If it gets lost or stolen will you be devastated? Is it replaceable?
4) If needed, could you buy it out there?
Saying goodbye to our friends and family before boarding a one way flight was traumatic enough, we weren’t also going to leave behind sentimental gifts, and bringing a few well chosen bits and pieces have been really comforting. There is however the worry of them going astray. Whenever we haven’t felt comfortable leaving valuables at our accommodation, we’ve taken them with us. It’s annoying, but ultimately brings peace of mind (and luckily a lot of the time you can rely on lockers).
If you’re heading anywhere near a big city, you can get hold of everything you might need or want (and even more than that in Bangkok), so don’t get too stressed about what you should and shouldn’t bring. When it comes to it there’s no right or wrong packing list, it’s all personal preference. Our list is based on the general consensus from friends we’ve made along the way and from our own experience. We spent seven weeks travelling around the Southern Thai islands; here’s everything we think should be on a budget backpaker’s list…
1. Trekking towel: Similar to a travel towel it folds up really small, but a trekking towel also dries extremely fast, and is much lighter to carry. It’s impregnated with an anti-bacterial to keep it fresh and prevent it from going mouldy, so you can even pack it away when it’s still wet – great if you’re squeezing in a shower before check-out.
2. Double mosquito net: We’ve found that every beach hut or hotel that’s required the use of a mosiquito net has had a double bed. Go for one with sticky pads to attach to walls as there are rarely hooks in place for you to use, or opt for the pricey (but totally worth it) pop-up mosquito net.
3. Sleeping bag liner: a single duvet cover or sleeping bag liner is really useful when bedding isn’t provided or is of questionable cleanliness. A sleeping bag liner is the lighter choice and folds up much smaller; a cotton one will keep you cool and if you opt for the mummy shape, there’s fabric to cover your pillow with too.
4. First aid kit: Having heard stories of horrific accidents from friends, we invested in quite an extensive medical kit, complete with bandages and our own syringes. Such a large kit isn’t vital for the islands, as the hospitals are excellent here, but the endless supply of plasters, painkillers and anti-sickness tablets provided have been like gold. The tweezers are also very handy for splinters (and eyebrows).
5. Waist wallet: There are warnings everywhere on the islands about pick pockets and bag thieves. Although we didn’t experience any trouble, we came across people who had. When everyone is wearing these, thieves have cottoned onto it, but having our passports and money hidden under our clothing meant they were always close by, accessible and far safer than if stored in a bag.
6. Combination padlock: We emphatically advise you to opt for a combination lock as opposed to one with a key. The number of hungover backpackers unsuccessfully trying to break into their own lockers was hilarious to witness. We also used the padlocks for securing our rucksacks when leaving them in hostels or when being forced to abandon them in luggage rooms on boats.
7. Head torch: Parts of the Thai islands are completely engulfed in darkness come nightfall. Street lighting is sparse and our trusty head torches helped us navigate the uneven roads and sleeping stray dogs.
8. Waterproofing: Those long tail boats may look ever so elegant but they’re mightily choppy! At times there were waves smashing down over our heads whilst we had our electricals wrapped in a life jacket as we cowered over them on the floor of the boat. We swiftly invested in some waterproof pouches. We weren’t on the islands during the rainy season but even so, we experienced a taste of the Thai downpours. Within 20 seconds we were soaked through, whilst thanks to the raincovers our rucksacks remained completely dry.
9. A decent jumper: It’s so cold when the air-con is blasting a full-on gale; the air-con on transportation seems to be particularly aggressive. We’ve frequently rushed from trains or buses to warm up outside! Brrrr!
10. Luxury electrical items: Not necessary, but these make life so much easier and more comfortable! As bloggers we have found a tablet vital (internet cafes charge per minute, and can get expensive, but free wifi is everywhere), but it can also be used for keeping in touch for free, and it’s so much lighter than a laptop. Whilst it’s trickier to blog from than a laptop (more on that later), it’s perfectly sized for small lockers and our daybags. A Kindle (we recommend the Paperwhite 3G) and an iPod are lifesavers on those long bus rides… and a small speaker is great for making friends in a hostel, or getting ready for that night’s beach party! The islands are so much fun whilst being breathtakingly beautiful, so it was hard not to take photos constantly. We have a small point-and-shoot to withstand the sand and splashes, and a compact system camera to capture the truly postcard moments.
What you bring is entirely up to you and some people are out here with just the clothes on their back. We were just relieved to have kept things as small and light as possible, helped by us dividing some essentials between us. Island hopping should be quick and easy, not spent dragging an overweight suitcase through wet sand (we surprisingly saw this a lot!).
Do you think we’ve missed something worth noting? What would be on your packing list?
Charlotte and Sarah x