9 IMPORTANT THINGS TO TAKE TRAVELING
9 BACKPACKING AND TRAVELLING TIPS – OUR LIST OF THINGS TO BRING TRAVELING, AND WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU DON’T
After many an embarrassing moment – and over 2 years of traveling under my belt – these are the essential things that I believe you need to bring traveling!
These are tips that I (Danielle) wish I had known before heading off on my first 12 month Asian adventure! It’s safe to say that I was absolutely clueless!
Brenna had been travelling solo before, so she had some idea of what she was doing. I’d never been away without my mum (the trip to Kos when I was barely 18 doesn’t count), and it’s safe to say that what you pack for the family holiday (in your nice, new, shiny wheelie suitcase) isn’t the same as what you pack into that (soon to be gross and smelly) backpack. That smelly backpack houses everything you now own to survive on a long trip!
I didn’t want to look like a fool, asking Brenna what I thought might be silly questions. I didn’t want her to realise how clueless I really was. As a kid, I had travelled with my family, but never to Asia. This was a whole new kettle of fish for me! I remember feeling super excited, and yet sickly nervous at the idea of hating it and having to come home a failure (and asking for my job back in shame). Luckily, that didn’t happen! And to be honest, I think it rarely does. So many people go out and see the world now, which is amazing!
I remember Googling: ‘how to pack a backpack’ for hours with no success. The girls that I was watching on Youtube were packing full outfits with matching shoes and jewellery. For one, that just isn’t me (I’ve never owned a matching necklace and bracelet for every top I own) and two, this backpack I now had seemed tiny. I didn’t think I could even fit a weeks worth of clothes into it (my first backpack was a 65+10 litre monster)!
Although I REALLY did love that bag, I have since upgraded that poor old thing to a much smaller 40-litre Osprey – which I am currently using. And, I think I may actually have more stuff in it – now that I am a self proclaimed packing pro!
So, now that you know how embarrassingly clueless I was, here are the tips!
These are some very simple things that will make your trip so much better AND save you space.
Each tip is accompanied by an amusing story from my first trip away.
These are all true stories (embarrassingly). I want you to know that I can now be trusted to dish out advice (honest), as this was years ago! I’ve learned from all these mistakes.
# 1 : PACKING CUBES
You’ve probably already heard about these. However, I had not.
We wrote an entire post about packing cubes: what they are and how to use them.
For my first big trip, I had decided to buy a traditional style backpack – the kind that opens at the top with a drawstring and hood. This backpack was full of loose clothes, literally just folded up into a really big pile and slid in.
Brenna still laughs about the first day we were in Bangkok. I knew what I wanted to wear, but I couldn’t get to it without taking the giant pile of clean washing out, which took ages to refold and slide back in. So I didn’t. I had to wear what was at the top of the bag. Which turned out to be an orange vest and a pair of shorts.
I was really not used to the humidity and heat, and that day we happened to be walking down to a local mall about a mile away. When we arrived at the mall, I went to the toilet. And, that’s when I saw my reflection – I was a frizzy, sweaty mess! I was now sporting some serious boob sweat lines (that line of sweat that seems to pool underneath the boobs, and above the belly) and potentially the worst leg chafe I have ever experienced. Not my finest hour, for sure. Obviously, that outfit went in the bin that night, and I learnt that light coloured vests were not my friends (that’s a top tip for another day).
Packing cubes are great! I literally love them! You can fit so much more in your bag, and it keeps everything super organised.
I currently have 4 packing cubes for my clothes: one for underwear and swim bits (bikinis); one for t-shirts/tops; one for dresses (I love a dress – only one item and no matching up required); and finally, one for bottom half items (skirts, shorts, trousers etc.).
As I hadn’t brought packing cubes with me the first time around, I had to fashion some out of plastic bags. But, they still were not ideal. Every time we stayed in a dorm, I had to unpack my bag outside of the room. The rustling from my array of plastic bag “packing cubes” was too much in a dorm filled with 6 other strangers. Especially in the early hours of the morning. Needless to say, I was not everyone’s favourite person once they found out I was the culprit to the bag rustling.
Top tip: The best kind of plastic bag is the plastic bag that they give your clean clothes back in, when you do laundry in South East Asia. Super thick and always enormous.
We now both use pretty cheap Amazon Basics packing cubes. I chose the red ones to match my bag. But, they come in lots of colours, and they’re available next day with prime – win win! They also work really well: no broken zips or holes in 6 months of use so far. Money well spent I’d say! Despite being cheap, they’ve served us really well.
OUR PHILOSOPHY: We don’t spend a lot of money on most travel equipment (like packing cubes), as it gets really gross and dirty real quick. If you buy it cheap in the first place, you don’t mind throwing it away and replacing it when you need to. Some things don’t need to be expensive.
# 2 : HANGING WASH KIT
Let’s talk about my original wash bag.
There is no way of making this sound better than it was – it was a Tesco bag for life. I can’t help but laugh whilst typing that now. What was I thinking? I hope you are not judging me too hard right now.
For those of you not from the UK, Tesco is a big supermarket chain (like Walmart, I guess), and they sell thicker, more durable plastic bags for 10 pence. These are known as ‘bags for life’. Legend has it, that if your bag for life gets a hole in it, or gets broken, you can take it back into Tesco, and they will replace it for free (meaning your one time purchase will become a ‘bag for life’). However, I’m not sure anyone has ever tested the theory.
It’s safe to say that nearly every single time we travelled to a new place, my bag would have an explosion of shampoo/toothpaste/moisturiser. On the plus side, it was never more than one at a time. It probably wasn’t helped by the fact that I stored the the ‘Tesco wash kit’ at the bottom of my giant backpack. But in my defence, when it did explode, it didn’t go over the entire pile of washing – only the unlucky few things that lived in the bottom of the backpack (and never saw the light of day anyway, because I couldn’t actually get to them – see ‘packing cubes’ above).
So, our current wash bags.
Like the packing cubes, we just went onto Amazon and picked the ones that were cheap, but that had really good reviews. The ones that we’ve now got, have got a big main compartment to put bigger shampoo/conditioner bottles in. There are also smaller pockets. I put hair clips and hair bands in there. There’s space for a razor and deodorant etc.. Keeps everything very organised! We like organised!
We opt for the hanging variety of bags (essentially it’s just a bag that folds over into itself, with a plastic hook attached – for hanging), so you can hang it on the door hooks in the showers. That way it doesn’t get really wet while you’re in there! And, it’s easier to get what you need out.
But, here is the best bit… It if does happen to explode, the spillage just stays inside the bag! Which is great, because trying to clean up shampoo from everything you own is not the one (it just spreads around and around the more you try to mop it up – so many bubbles!).
Explosions are bound to happen, because cramming your backpack underneath a bus (with hundreds of other backpacks) is an almost daily occurrence.
Top tip: Put the bigger bottles (shower gel, shampoo etc.) inside ziplock bags, to prevent a mess if you do have an explosion.
# 3 : SENSIBLE CLOTHES
For our first Asian adventure, I just pretty much packed dresses. They are quick and easy to chuck on, and you are good to go. One item = one outfit.
This was fine, but I didn’t really factor in ‘temple days’*, and having to cover my shoulders and knees. The last thing I wanted was to offend anyone in a holy place.
So, I ended up having to buy ‘elephant pants’ in Thailand. You know the ones: awful, bright elephant design on harem pants. Everyone wears them back home, so that you know they once went backpacking. I hated them. They are stupidly overpriced and so thin and badly made. Terrible.
So, it took a while, but I finally found a pair I was willing to buy. I also picked up a cheap scarf/pashmina to put over my shoulders. But, it was so hot that I couldn’t walk around in these things all day. So, the plan was to just wear a dress and put on these clothes on before entering the temples.
I think I’d worn these ‘elephant pants’ about twice. We were in Chiang Mai – I remember it very well!
We went back to the hostel before dinner, and I laid on the bed for a while. I then needed to go the toilet. So, I got up and Brenna just burst out laughing. I’d never actually heard her laugh that much before that moment. I had no idea what was going on. I thought maybe she’d seen something funny on her phone. When I came out of the toilet she just said (through tears of laughter): “did you see it?!”
“See what?” I said in a panic.
I felt around to my bum, thinking that perhaps I had sat in something. It was way worse.
The bloody elephant pants had split from the waistband to in between my legs – literally the whole, entire seam was compromised. My whole ass was on display, and let’s just say that I wasn’t wearing a full-size brief. That was the story of when Brenna first saw my bum. And, probably why I hate these ghastly elephant pants so much.
Luckily, no one else was in the dorm while all this unfolded!
So, just make sure you pack outfits that suit all occasions. A few nicer things for when you don’t want to feel like (and be treated like) a smelly backpacker. We like going out for a nice, fancy dinner once in a while, getting ready and pretending we are on our 2 week holidays.
The main thing is to just make sure that you are comfortable. If you are comfy in your favourite bum shorts (the kind where you literally see butt cheeks – usually denim), then good for you! Just be comfortable. But, also remain respectful in holy places – don’t go giving other tourists a bad name!
*Temple days = days where we just ride around on a moped (or bicycle) and visit all of the surrounding temples in the area.
# 4 : MICROFIBRE TOWEL
Before my first backpacking trip, I didn’t even know that these were a real thing.
Let’s just get right to my mistake: I may have thought that bringing TWO full-size bath towels was a good idea. You know the kind – those giant ‘home towels’, the big ones you use when you get out of the shower.
I brought along one for my hair, and one for my body.
Yeah, don’t do that. It was a bad idea.
I ended up ditching one of them a week in. The other one stayed with me for the entire 12 month trip, as I didn’t really have much of a choice. It is much harder than you’d think to come across a microfibre towel whilst you are away. I also didn’t want to buy another one. I was slowly becoming the cheap backpacker that was previously dormant inside of me.
Essentially, my towel did serve it’s purpose, but was just a little TOO big (oh, and took a lifetime to dry – at least 24 full hours).
So, you need to get your hands on a microfibre towel! They pack down super small; they work really well (and get you drier quicker than a normal towel); and they dry out really quick too (usually in a couple of hours). All-round winner!
Right now I’ve got a bright pink one that only cost me about £5 on amazon. The brighter the better! The amount of times I’ve nearly left it behind because it’s hanging to dry is just too embarrassing to say.
Fun Fact: Brenna lost about 3 microfibre towels in a 6 month period because she left them hanging to dry in dorm rooms. As soon as she upgraded to a bright colour, she never lost one again. She still has the same bright, red one to this day!
# 5 : A SENSIBLE PAIR OF SHOES (GOOD TRAINERS)
Back in 2017, I packed: one pair of flip flops; 2 pairs of sandals (which I think I perhaps wore once); and one pair of Nike trainers. The tread on my trainers was terrible. They were basically smooth on the bottom. No grip whatsoever. Back then, I didn’t think this would be an issue.
However, I ended up just wearing my flip-flops most of the time. So, my advice to you is to definitely pack pair of trainers with good grip. Not only are they good for hiking and trekking, and walking miles from the bus stop to your hostel – but, I’m sure there will be many temples that you will be climbing up thousands of steps to see! Definitely one of the best things to bring traveling.
I would also strongly recommend wearing your trainers whilst you are carrying your big, heavy backpack. Especially on uneven and mostly non-existent pavements (sidewalks). Basically, any (semi) paved surface anywhere in Asia.
This leads me to yet another embarrassing story.
We’d just arrived on the island of Coron, in the Philippines.
After getting got off of the boat, (which was the worst boat ride of our lives – I’d never seen so many people being sick in such a small, enclosed space), we opted to walk to the guest house instead of paying for a tuk tuk/ tricycle (being the budget conscious backpackers we are). It was only about a mile.
During the walk, Brenna was up front and I was following behind. I was wearing my flip flops. Silly me.
We were about half way there, when I stepped off of a curb and into the road. That’s when I fell over really, really hard! I think I caught the front edge of my flip flop on a small rock or stone. Honestly, I can’t really remember.
I fell face first, and my bag pushed my head into the road. There was no saving myself with my enormous, monster bag on. I couldn’t get up because my bag was so heavy. I was shouting for Brenna, but she couldn’t hear me, as the road noise was so loud. Brenna had been tapped by a passer-by and notified about me laying in the road helpless.
When I finally got up, blood was pouring from my face. I had no idea where it was coming from, but I knew it must have been bad. After she had run back towards me, Brenna looked at me and went a strange pale shade. She kept saying it looks fine, but her face was telling me otherwise.
“It’s only small” she kept saying, over and over (Brenna doesn’t like blood).
I looked into a tuk tuk wing mirror and saw the mess that was now my eyebrow. There was a huge gash filled with stones and dirt. A local man helped us and gave me a small bandage, also saying it looked small and that I’d be okay. He kindly dropped us to our guesthouse.
We had to go to the hospital, which wasn’t the most hygienic looking place (dusty beds, open windows, and dead flies on all of the windowsills). To be perfectly honest with you, it looked slightly abandoned.
We were seen by some very nice doctors who were discussing my eyebrow in Filipino, but kept repeating the word ‘laceration’! I ended up needing 3 stitches, which have actually healed very well. I still have a bald patch in the eyebrow hairs, nearly 3 years later. But, it’s hidden well, right in the middle, under the cover of all the other hair.
So, the moral of this story: wear proper shoes whilst carrying your backpack! And be careful!
On the subject of poor footwear choice, I should probably quickly mention Brenna’s chosen footwear. Instead of flip flops, Brenna favoured her trusty Toms. They were comfortable, they slipped on and off easily, and they matched everything. However, they gave her the most hilarious tan lines I have ever seen in my life.
The photo below is a completely unedited snap of those tan lines.
Don’t be like Brenna – alternate your shoe choices.
# 6 : PACK LIGHT (LIGHTER THAN YOU THINK)
Onto the next backpacking tip!
Pack lighter than you think! I know this sounds like an obvious one, but it really does need to be mentioned.
I can say from experience, that you’ll definitely end up wearing the same few things over and over again. You’ll end up hating some of the items in your bag, and still, you won’t just get rid of them.
I carried so much stuff and never actually wore it or used it. Perhaps I was slightly in denial, and didn’t want to let it go ‘just in case’. I should have just cut my loses as soon as possible.
Turns out that you don’t need 2 sets of playing cards (in my defence, I thought that one set would wear out). You don’t need to bring 3 large packs of makeup removal wipes either (they are actually pretty heavy, they take up loads of space, AND they sell them everywhere).
Think smart about what you are bringing. Just remember that wherever you are going, they are going to sell pretty much everything you’re going to need. You’re not going to Mars. People that live there need the things you do too!
So, I may have thought a curling tong would be a good idea! That way I could do my hair nice for a night out!
Yeah… I think I used it twice. But, it wasn’t cheap, so I wasn’t willing to throw it away. So, I carried it around for a year.
‘What’s so embarrassing about that?’ I hear you say…
Well. My old bag had a zip on the bottom, so you could get to the lower level of your bag without opening the whole thing. It’s where I stored my ‘Tesco wash kit’ and the curling tong! Great idea!
I can’t remember where we flying to, but we had just landed and were collecting our backpacks from the luggage belts. My bag came around and into view.
The end of the curling tong was poking out from the bottom zip. It had pushed itself all the way through the (now broken) zip, and half of it was poking through.
Everyone was giggling at it. As it got closer, I realised that it looked a lot like an ‘adult toy’. I had to collect the bag whilst everyone was staring, waiting to see who’s bag it was. It was rather embarrassing, to say the least. I felt like I needed to let everyone in the baggage claim know that it was just an innocent curling tong. So much shame!
I hope you don’t make the same mistake 😂
See how we fit our entire lives into carry-on luggage.
# 7 : DAY BAG/ RUCKSACK
So, what’s a day bag?
A day bag is one of the essential things to bring traveling. It is a small rucksack/handbag/purse that you take with you, to use whilst your going about your business without your large backpack. It’s basically just a small bag that you can put a few items in that you might need for a day of walking around or exploring a new city.
Packing a small day bag/ rucksack is a really great idea. You can chuck a bottle of water in there, some snacks, money, phone, hotel key etc.. I wish I’d thought to bring one on my first trip.
A few months into our Asian adventure, I ended up having to buy a small Converse backpack, that set me back over £30. That’s a big spend for a jobless travel bum!
I was gifted an expensive, leather Micheal Kors bag for Christmas, about 6 months before we went on this first big adventure. We didn’t know when we’d be coming back home, so I thought it was silly to leave it up in my mum’s loft. I knew I’d need a bag for day to day use, so brought it along on my backpacking trip with me!
Stupid idea. It was a heavy, leather handbag. There was no over-the-shoulder strap. I had to clutch onto it with my sweaty hands, and it was SO heavy! So much leather.
I took it out a few times, and then I came to the conclusion that it was useless. Thinking about it now, the sensible thing to do would have been to ship it home. But, I didn’t do that. I carried it around with me for over year. It took up so much valuable backpack space, and was a huge hindrance.
Don’t judge me, I was young and clueless. I’m a total pro now though: I have a tiny day-bag that I bought from decathlon for £1.50.
We’ve seen so many people with the same bag, all over the world. Word must have spread!
It’s so tiny, it literally packs down flat. I can cram it in my backpack when I don’t want to travel with it, or I can put important stuff (like passports and cash) in there for when we get a bus or fly. It’s great!
# 8 : A SWIMSUIT (THAT FITS)
This time, the humorous tale isn’t about me. Brenna is having some of her shame shared. It’s only fair, right?
Brenna had been on a bike ride across Europe only a few days before we flew to Bangkok. Her bike box (which had her bike and all of her belongings/clothes in it) didn’t arrive at the airport. The box (with her clothes) arrived the day we flew to Bangkok. Literally that day – two hours before I picked her up to go to the airport. In all of the confusion and stress, she somehow forgot to bring any swimwear. None.
Now, I’m sure you won’t be silly enough to do that. But, make sure the ones you plan to bring actually fit you (and you like them). Sounds pretty obvious, but I myself have been guilty of buying something in a summer sale, only to try it on and it doesn’t fit. I just think: ‘oh well, it’ll fit by the time I leave’. The truth is: usually it doesn’t.
Brenna had to buy a swimsuit in Koh Samui. It set her back £25, and it took us a whole day of searching to find a shop selling something she liked. She did actually try it on before she bought it. In fact, she actually tried on quite a few, but didn’t like any of them on.
So, she finally settled on the one.
The swimsuit that she finally decided on was VERY skimpy on the arse. It was like she had a constant wedgie whilst wearing it.
Turns out, she didn’t actually feel comfortable wearing it (surprise surprise), even after this fairly big spend. So, she opted to wear a pair of thin, Nike running shorts over the top.
Not only did it have a small arse panel, but it was also made of many straps on each side. Thin bits of material held the front and back together, which led to some truly hilarious tan lines. These ghastly tan lines were there for a very, very long time. She looked like a white and brown zebra.
We later worked out that the swimsuit had been put together backwards, and that’s why the arse bit was so small and the front section was so big. Basically, she paid £25 for a back-to-front swim suit. Oops.
Don’t be like Brenna, get a swimsuit that fits BEFORE you leave.
# 9 : A SMALL MEDICAL KIT (FIRST AID KIT)
On our travels, we always bring a small medical kit from home. This contains just the essentials: paracetamol, ibuprofen, diarrhoea tablets, plasters, antiseptic wipes or cream, and some cotton wool.
We find this to be a really good idea. If (and when) you do get struck down with any ailments, the last thing you want to do is, go on a hunt for painkillers and supplies whilst you are feeling under the weather.
You don’t need to bring a years supply with you, just one pack of each thing. And, when you use them, just be sure to top them back up again. It’s very easy to find pharmacies all over Asia and the rest of the world. For the most part, they all speak (at least some level of) English in the pharmacies. And, if they don’t, there is probably another shop a few minutes away.
There is one time that really springs to mind – when we didn’t have a full medical kit with some basic supplies in it. I think we’d used the last of the pills and had forgotten (or been to lazy) to replace them.
We were in Mongolia, and Brenna got really bad food poisoning. She was bed bound, and she couldn’t stop throwing up and going to the toilet (if you know what I mean). We rifled trough the medical kit, but we had run out of diarrhoea tablets. Disaster.
Being the saint I am, I offered to go out and buy some more diarrhoea tablets.
Mongolia was by far the most un-touristic place we had been to, up until that point. The lady in the pharmacy was very nice, but her English was severely lacking. I had to stand in the shop and play a game of charades to describe diarrhoea. As you can imagine, this was more than a little embarrassing.
There was a little bit of communication in English at one point. The lady understood the words ‘start’ and ‘stop’. Eventually, after shouting STOP (and crossing my arms over my chest, x-factor style), we got there. Relief.
Embarrassment over, I wandered back to the hostel with a spring in my step.
The things we do for love, eh? I don’t want to brag, but I think I nailed it. I left with the tablets AND some pain killers. And, Brenna was feeling better a few days later. Mission complete! I’m basically an angel in disguise.
Well, that’s quite a few embarrassing stories out into the world-wide-web now. I hope they have given you a laugh. I’ve certainly laughed a lot reliving all of these truly hilarious scenarios. I hope I’ve given you a smile.
But, all joking aside, these really are things that I wouldn’t go travelling without! And, I really do wish I’d know about before embarking on my first life changing trip.
Now you can all be one step ahead of me, and go out into the world armed with some awesome knowledge!
ROUND THE WORLD IN CARRY-ON LUGGAGE
OUR PHOTOGRAPHY GEAR
LAPTOP – Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch
SMALL CAMERA – Olympus OMD- E-M10 Mark II
ZOOM LENS – Olympus M.Zuiko 40-150mm Lens
DSLR BODY – Canon 60D
WIDE ANGLE LENS – Sigma 10-20mm Lens
DRONE – DJI Mavic Pro
ACTION CAMERA – GoPro Hero 7 Black Edition
MICROPHONE – Rode VideoMicro
CAMERA BAG – Lowepro Fastpack 250 AW II