It can seem pretty overwhelming when you first contemplate leaving your normal life behind for a year. Especially if normal involves a house and other possessions that need to be looked after while you’re away. The trick is to find someone you can trust to mind your stuff, check your mail, pay your bills or email you the information to pay them yourself. Cos no matter how many automatic direct debits you arrange to cover your regular bills there will always be something you miss. And it’s no fun to come home to a debt collector’s letter or wrecked credit rating. Oh, and make sure you let your banks know where you’re going, otherwise their clever little monitoring systems may determine you’re a 15 year old hacker from Russia and knock back your withdrawals.
Next step is to pack light: what gets you through a week will get you through a year. Having enough clothes to survive in both tropical and arctic conditions simply means buying the lightest thermal gear you can find. The uncrushable little black dress can double as a robe to dart to the shared hostel bathroom. But a girl needs a second pair of shoes. The partner tells me I look cute dancing in the little black dress in my walking boots but I’ve seen the video. I know he lies.
Some tips for the environmentalists among us (shouldn’t everyone be?):
- Take reusable plastic breakfast bowls, which can also double as lunch & dinner plates, for when you’re eating in hotel bedrooms or the hostel crockery’s too scroungy.
- Take a set of stainless steel travel cutlery each (fold-in-half knife, fork & spoon).
- Take sturdy nylon or cloth bags to put the washing and shopping in.
Other useful tools are a travel clothesline and universal bath plug for the constant hand-washing when you’re travelling with just a few clothes. Blow up neck pillows are great for the all night and all day plane/train/bus trips, as are ear plugs and eye masks. Take a doctor’s letter confirming your need for any regular medications and make sure you’ve got enough of them to last the whole trip, as well as your vaccination certificates for diseases like yellow fever. It’s worth taking antibiotics with you in case you get a respiratory or urinary tract infection; much easier than trying to find a doctor or fill a prescription overseas. Take a copy of your spectacles prescription too.
But the most important things to take are an E or I pad, and a mobile phone for everything but making calls. They’re your best friends if you want a free wheeling trip where you only plan a few days or weeks in advance. You can use them to find and book all your accommodation, transport and tours. Not to mention your phone’s ability to take photos, give you a compass reading and GPS coordinates, track your steps, play games, convert currency, make diary entries, act as a torch and keep you in touch with home through Facebook, email and blogs. But write down addresses and instructions for getting to places you’ve booked in case your phone battery dies on the way there. If you’ll be hiring cars then buy a GPS rather than hiring one; it’s a lot cheaper.
If you’ve got a set itinerary save all details electronically in case you lose your paperwork. Keep a copy of all your important documents (passport, itinerary, travel insurance policy, driver’s licence etc) in both your hand baggage and checked baggage. Don’t forget to take adapters for all the countries in which you’ll need to charge batteries. And take rechargeable batteries as well as battery charger for your camera; much cheaper than chewing through disposable batteries if you’re taking lots of photos.
Remember to pack the brolly, cutlery, sewing kit and nail scissors in the checked baggage, not the hand baggage. Remember to pack spare batteries in the hand baggage, not the checked baggage – airline rule due to the possibility of batteries starting a fire in the hold.
Best form of luggage? Hybrid travel packs that can be both wheeled and placed on your back. We took 50 litre capacity hybrids but never put them on our backs because pulling them is just so much easier and we don’t want to work any harder than we have to, but the option is there. They also unzip all the way around making it easier to live out of them. Buy brightly coloured ones that you can’t miss on a crowded airport carousel, with matching day packs that can be attached to them.
Most important is to take your commitment and enthusiasm because you have to enjoy what you’ve decided to do or it will become too much like hard work. Finally, if you are going with a partner then remember they may be your only support and companionship a lot of the time; our motto is ‘look after each other’ and that has worked really well for us.
Michael & Elizabeth Fab have travelled with Tucan Travel on their Villarrica, Wonders of India and Nepal, Trans-Mongolian Railway & Mandarin Sunrise tours.