O.K. a better title might be – How to pack for a 6 month trip and still get to carry your bag on a plane.Our travels usually takes us on trips of 6 month plus. Often in South America, Europe or Asia and Australasia. One of the main problems facing us is packing all that we need for the wide variety of climates and terrain we will encounter. Sometimes from minus 20c on the Bolivian altiplano, to 30c and high humidity on the Caribbean beaches of Colombia. A nice problem to have, but somewhat challenging when everything has to fit in a 40 litre backpack measuring 56cm x 45cm x 25cm. This is our third trip to South America so we have hopefully now made most of the packing mistakes possible and learnt from those experiences.
One would have thought that by now, airlines would have got there acts together and standardised baggage limits. Sadly it is not to be.
British Airways very generously, allow two carry-on bags each weighing no more than 23kg! I don’t think I have ever checked in that amount of luggage, let alone carried it on board!). Most other airlines permit allow somewhere between 5 and 10 kg carry-on.
Our bags usually weigh in at around 10kg. To avoid having to check bags we always check in online and printour boarding passes. That way we can usually bypass the check-in desk and avoid the risk of being stopped and our bags weighed . At the boarding gate we just pretend our bags were as light as a feather and generally saunter through. In over 50 flights over the last couple of years we haven’t been asked to check in our bags once.
My trusty Lowe Alpine TT40 Carry-on finally gave up after ten years of faithful service. This has now been replaced with an Osprey Farpoint 40. This is what goes into my pack
These clearly make up the biggest volume of stuff in my bag and include:
- Rohan lightweight hiking trousers (pants if you are American!)
- Rohan travel chinos ( for the rare occasions I need to be smart!)
- Rab travel jeans (best, most comfortable jeans ever!)
- Rohan hiking shorts
- Pair swim shorts
- Tee shirts (x3)
- 1 long sleeve shirts
- Merino long sleeve base layer (x2)
- Pair merino long pants
- Icebreaker merino mid-weight fleece
- Rab Spark waterproof jacket – packs really small, completely wind and waterproof
- Blue Linen jacket. Always worn at check in for international flights in the (usually vain) hope of getting an upgrade!
Carolyn discovered merino years ago. I only started using it last year in New Zealand. Incredible stuff, amazingly warm, very light weight. A little mentioned attribute are its’ “no stink” properties – basically you can wear it for a week and it still smells as fresh as a daisy! What I have been missing! Should have listened to my wife years ago! These base layers are very thin so in ultra cold places I just wear more of them.
5 pairs of underpants ( 1 pair merino!)
4 pairs of socks ( yet again, merino!)
To keep things neat and tidy in our bags, I use 2 Osprey 8 litre lightweight compression bags and a few use zip-lock bags of varying sizes from IKEA.
As we tend to walk everywhere we can, the right footwear is essential. Doesn’t have to be expensive, just comfortable, hard wearing and have plenty of grip. I confess to being a Keens junkie and have been wearing their boots, shoes and sandals for years. My main footwear is a pair of Keen Targhee 3 hiking shoes:
For hotter weather and on the coast these are supplemented by a pair of Keen Newport H2 sandals
Toiletries and first aid
Very limited on what we take because most it all has to fit into small plastic bags to go through airport security. Most stuff is readily available in supermarkets and shops the world over so it is easy to buy on arrival. However I do start off with a basic stash;
1 razor plus 5 blades (1 blade per month- can’t be bothered to shave every day)
1 set of small hair clippers
1 tube shave cream
1 tube aftershave balm
1 tube of favourite toothpaste
1 anti perspirant
1 50ml bottle of 100% deet mozzie repellent ( dilute to use)
1 100ml bottle of Riemann P10 sunscreen – fantastic stuff. Apply once and lasts all day. Water resistant too.
Eyedrops for the plane
Antihistamine tablets and cream for bites.
Sundry bits and pieces
These make all the difference on a long trip.
- Buff – a stretchy tube which can be used as a hat, face mask, eye shade, scarf hair band ( not that I have any hair!) and a lot, lot more..
- Kramar – a Cambodian cotton sarong which doubles as a scarf, towel, pillow, even a bed sheet at times -we have stayed in some rough places over the years!
- Rayban Aviator sunglasses – essential, especially at high altitude makes the sunlight and glare incredibly intense. I like this style mainly because they are big and cut out virtually all the glare.
- Reading glasses – it’s an age thing!
- A piece of string – mainly used as a washing line
- Gaffa Tape – for all sorts of repairs.
In addition to my main bag I also take a Muji day pack. Ultra light and, being made out of the same stuff as hang-gliders, is incredibly tough. Fits into a pocket when not in use.
- iPad Air 2 – couldn’t travel without it! Used for:
FaceTiming family and friends
booking transport and accommodation
backing up photos to a cloud server whilst on the road
- I also use a Netshade VPN app which provides additional online security and allows me to stream and download TV from the BBC etc. when out of the U.K. Essential security for online banking and emails on non-secure wifi networks.
- Sony Soundcube. A small, portable Bluetooth speaker that enhances entertainment experience no end when listening to music or watching films.
- Bose earbuds. Not noise cancelling but they fit so well they have virtually the same effect. Great for listening to music on planes and buses.
- iPhone 5 S – mainly used for navigation using downloaded googlemaps.
- For taking photographs I gave up on a DSLR years ago and use my Panasonic Lumix TZ70. It does everything I want it to and a lot more besides. Most importantly, it slips into a pocket. The best camera is the one you have with you when you need it!
- finally an abundance of chargers and leads is required for all of this stuff. Why can’t electronics manufacturers standardise these things? Sure it can’t be that difficult.
I am becoming less and less enamoured of guidebooks as the years go by and find myself using them less and less. I usually prefer Rough Guides to Lonely Planet but find a lot depends on the author. Most information is readily available online for most regions.
We are both avid readers and usually but a couple of 50p paperbacks from our local library which we will swap along the way in hostals. Amazing how many books we get through and how many new authors we discover on a long trip. Also incredible to find out how many books John Grisham has actually written!
We used to take a travel Scrabble with us on every trip but, after being consistently beaten, year after year, by my wife, it is staying behind. There is only so much humiliation a man can take.
Our entertainment for this trip consists of:
A pack of cards and a cribbage board – we were taught to play recently by Carolyn’s parents. We assumed it was just an English pub game but it seems to be popular with many nationalities – especially Canadians for some reason?
Start playing any of these games in a bar or hostel and it is not long before the locals or other travellers ask you what you are doing and want to join in.
There are inherent risks in playing cards though. Playing crib at a street side bar in Saigon, Vietnam, last year we were warned by the owner to put it away before the police saw us or we would be arrested. Oops!
We usually take cash of a few hundred £s, €s or US $ ( depending on where we have been) as an emergency reserve – secreted in several different places. Rarely used.
Until now we have mostly used travel debit cards – we used www.fairfx.com, denominated in £, € & $. We take two cards in each currency so if one gets lost or stolen we can just transfer the balance to the other card.
I top up the cards online as and when required. The cards can be used just like a normal debit card in ATMs or anywhere that has a card machine like restaurants and hotels.
We have recently acquired Halifax Clarity Credit Cards and will be using those preference to the debit cards as they do not charge for foreign currency transactions or withdrawals from ATMs.
Common sense and a innate tendency to trust no one, are the best ways to stay safe on the road! The various travel websites like Tripadvisor are a good starting point. The one I most rely on is https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
We take a couple of combination padlocks to secure our bags. These double up as cable locks so we can lock our bags to a bed in a room, or a seat on buses etc.
Small cable ties are useful for the rare occasions we do have to put our bags into the hold of a bus or plane and are used in addition to padlocks.
Copies of all our important documents and contact details are scanned and emailed to ourselves in draft form.
I always keep copies of our passports in my wallet and use these to check in to accommodation rather than hand over our actual passports.
We never travel without comprehensive travel insurance which covers us for medical treatment, lost bags, delays, death, injury, repatriation etc. In fact just about anything you can think of, including getting our camera stolen in a bus station in Ecuador.
So there we have it. Have I forgotten anything? Almost certainly, but one thing I have learned over the years we have been travelling is that you can pretty much buy anything anywhere these days.
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