Pack Your Bags I: What To Bring

I travel and work, full-time. Not everyone does. I am a software developer and am very comfortable with technology. Not everyone is. As you plan for travels, the tools you use may be far different than mine.

Many of these things help me to save time and to be comfortable as a Location Independent Professional (LIP).

In this post I talk about what non-technology to bring; clothing, etc…

After reading this post, please checkout  “Pack Your Bags II: The Tools For Travel” where I explore the essential travel technology (computer, smart phone, etc…).

Assumptions

I have no home and carry 100% of my annual needs in 2 bags. One is 20kg and one is 12 kg, give or take a few kg.  When I fly budget airlines, with baggage weight restrictions) I ‘wear’ some of the weight during the flight. Once I’m settle in a location, I stow my big bag and use my small bag as a day pack (water, snacks, computer, reading material, whatever…)

I use the guideline of 2 weeks. If your travels are less than 2 weeks, feel free to bring as much as you want. You are on VACATION (enjoy it!) and will probably be pretty sedentary. However, if you travel for longer than 2 weeks (3 weeks, 3 months, 3 years), it is strongly recommended that you pack as little as possible. It will be easier to use transportation (cheaper flights, faster entry to buses/trains), easier to walk (short and LONG distances finding your next accommodations), more secure (less bags to hold is less bags to lose)

Philosophy

Long term travel generally ends for 2 reasons rather than when you want it to end; It ends because of time or because of money money.  Those on a limited budget will often take the long and cheap solution to solve a travel problem. Others will take the quick and more expensive solution. If you have no responsibilities which require you to return ‘back home’ and you work while you travel, then the trip ends for a 3rd reason – when you want it to end.

  • Consume little, spend little. Lower your overhead and your negative affect on your surrounding. Two big advices; use cheaper dormitory hostels, avoid taxis, and watch your alcohol budget.
  • Be generous, earn a lot. Increase your output. Put your ‘all’ into everything. If working, work smarter not harder.
  • Be curious and patient.
  • Assuming you are traveling to warm temperatures, pack for only 5 days of clothing. Not more. Do your laundry each week! You will quickly learn that no one cares about your fashion while traveling, and you will rarely spend 5 days with anyone, so no one will see your repeated outfits (ha!).
  • When you pack light, you have a unique opportunity to break your relationship with material things. Take advantage of it!

City, Beach, or Mountains?

If you are traveling to a warm weather, backpacker friendly place (Latin America, Africa, Asia), you pack for hot dry and hot wet weather. That’s it. Cities are notorious heat sinks – in urban areas, cool seasons tend to be less cool, and hot summer months can be positively hellish. Light cotton clothing ought to see you through. Most cities in Southeast Asia have places that sell really cheap clothing, so you might consider packing very light and buying your clothes at your destination instead!

Beaches may enjoy fresh breezes blowing in from the sea, but they offer little protection from the sun. Apart from the summer clothes mentioned in the previous section, bring or buy a towel, flip-flops, and a sarong. (The sarong is the Swiss Army Knife of clothing. Wear it to the shower to deter peeping toms! Use it as a makeshift blanket, bedsheet, sunshade, or curtain! Use it in lieu of a towel! The possibilities are endless.)

Higher elevations tend to be cool in the summertime and positively frigid in the cold months. Bring warmer clothing, like a sweater or a fleece jacket, if you’re headed to places like the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia, the North or Central Mountains in Vietnam, Northern Thailand, or the Mountain Province in the Philippines. Supplement this with a flannel blanket.

Baggage (Tips & Tips)

  • Day PackWear it on your front or back. Comfortable, school-sized pack large enough for your computer.  Use combination padlocks for one (often hidden) passport compartment. Put one hoodie sweatshirt (as a pillow) and a reusable water bottle. For easy access, and to avoid damage in transit, put ALL of your tech tools here (See ‘Pack Your Bags II’ above). When flying this is your carry on.
  • Night-pack (60 liter for men, 50 liter for woman) – Wear it on your back. You carry it to your next hotel/hostel/apt. This is your ‘closet’.  Use TSA-approved combination padlocks for all openings. The majority of your things go in this bag. When flying this is your check-bag.

Documents

  • Passport Wallet – Passport, backup credit cards. Optionally; drivers license. Airports (and sometimes trains/buses) will ask to see your passport for 2 minutes. Hotels may ask to hold your passport at reception during your stay (that is typical). Leave your passport locked in a locker or hotel safe whenever possible. You may need a visa before you start your trip, or you may get a visa on arrival (VOA) at the airport. Research that 1-2 months before you depart to allow time. A visa is simply an added stamp/sticker/page in your passport. Keep about 100$ in USD or Euro here too as an emergency backup. Bring any needed proof of yellow fever immunization (or other).
  • Wallet – One debit card (it WILL work anywhere, just the bank first to get approval), cash money, and a COPY of your identification. Make several 1-page copies which show your passport picture page, your passport visa page, your drivers license, your SCUBA certification card, your medical insurance information, the front of your credit cards (email yourself the secret numbers on the back). NEVER, EVER carry your original documents unless required (the rare day at the Airport, hotel check-in, etc…). A westerner’s passport sells for $100 to $10000 on the black market.

What about cash money? A safe and flexible solution is to use your debit card at any international ATM. ATM’s give a great exchange rate, but you’ll have to pay an acceptable 5-15$ total bank fees per withdrawal. So withdrawal your maximum in local currency (typically equivalent to 300$ USD per transaction) as you need it. Avoid bringing/carrying large amounts USD cash or travelers checks. You will lose money converting to local currency in transaction fees.

Clothing

  • 5 underwear (& 2-5 bras for women). Doing your laundry is CHEAP!
  • 5 Shirts/tops
  • 2 pair socks
  • 1 Cargo pants (with zip-off legs, my default shorts)
  • 1 swimsuit
  • 1 nice pants – For profession/ nightlife (Optional)
  • 1 light, rainproof jacket

You will likely create a few specific reusable outfits (combinations of clothing); air-travel outfit, day at the beach outfit, nightlife outfit, etc… It may help to think of a few of these to help you while packing.

Roll your clothes when you pack it to reduce wrinkling. AVOID clothing which wrinkles or requires an iron.

Shoes

  • 1 Flip-flops (my default shoe)
  • 1 Sneakers – Something good for city walking tours and jungle trekking. Something that can get wet is ideal.
  • 1 Dressy Shoes – For profession/ nightlife (Optional)

Toiletries

  • Shampoo
  • Body wash
  • Toothpaste/toothbrush
  • Skin lotion & sun lotion
  • Deodorant
  • Hair gel.
  • Razor (use a good electric one to save money, save space, time) & cream
  • Medication (prescriptions, antacids, re-hydration sachets, anti-diarrhea pills, analgesics)

Misc (Important)

  • Ear plugs / sleep mask / travel pillow
  • Hat (sun protection) & Hair ties (for hot weather days)
  • Mosquito repellent lotion
  • Quick dry towel – VERY highly recommended. I don’t recommend a beach towel. They are VERY bulky and you can either rent beach chairs or buy a beach towel (or sarong wrap) during your travels easily.
  • Tiny flashlight
  • Umbrella (sun/rain)
  • Ziploc bags (for wet/dry storage)
  • Compression bags (reduces clothing space to 30%) – VERY highly recommended.
  • 2 strong combination locks (for the free luggage lockers available at many hostels). AVOID any locks that require keys.

Misc (Optional)

  • Swiss Army Knife (pack this in your checked-in luggage so this won’t get confiscated at the airport)
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Travelers’ First Aid Kit
  • Wet wipes
  • Portable water filter (for campers only)
  • Solar battery recharger (for campers only)
  • Rubber bands

Not Recommended

  • Any extra clothes. AVOID the temptation to over-pack various options of clothes. You don’t need them.
  • Sleeping bag / mosquito net / mosquito coils – buy these locally if needed.
  • Clothing which wrinkles or requires an iron.
  • Paper books – Use an eBook instead (See “Pack Your Bags II: The Tools For Travel“). One exception is your travel guide book – that is best to have as a paper book for easy reference.
  • Rolling luggage with wheels (or hand-held luggage) – If you can’t imagine carrying your bags comfortably for 1 hour, then I recommend you repack your bags. One bag on your back and one on your front (both over your shoulders) is best.