When we were headed out of Laos and catching a plane to Hanoi, The Boy had this great idea to go via this old rickety bridge that a few people had mentioned and then catch a tuk-tuk to the airport from the other side. This was a lovely idea and I was actually quite excited about the bridge, because I love heights. Weird, I know. And the bridge truly was an adventure, as the footpath is in pretty bad condition and we crossed as school was getting out and dozens of children came running from the other side, despite it being very much a single-file bridge. But adventure accomplished and on we went.
Except there are not really any tourists on the other side of the bridge. So there are not really any tuk-tuks on the other side of the bridge. So we had to walk to the airport. It was only a few miles. And it was only something ridiculously hot. And at some point along the trek I may have said it was perhaps not his best decision that we should walk all this way, and as a compromise, he ended up carrying my stuff. So in this photo, you see everything both of us took for our fourteen week journey, with the only exception of the clothes I am wearing and the camera I used to take the picture. Right there in those two bags – that’s everything, right down to the book I was reading at the time.
Here is my share, and why it seemed so ridiculously hot. It was very cold that morning so I was wearing a long-sleeved shirt and a cardigan. By lunchtime it was baking but we’d already checked out of our accommodation, so I was kinda stuck in all those bulky layers. But there we go.
I promised I would share how I lived out of that one little bag for all that time, so here is the play-by-play on what I packed!
This is my bag and all the major stuff that lived inside for the entire trip. At the top is my camera, with the Black Rapid camera strap, which I really recommend. It’s a shoulder strap rather than a neck strap, so it takes the weight off your neck and it keeps your camera at your hip so you can grab and shoot really easily. I also took a GorillaPod as a smaller and lighter alternative to my full-sized tripod.
Carry on to the right and there’s a pink microfibre towel – useful for budget accommodation that doesn’t include towels as well as water activities. Below that, the black thing that is hard to make out is a black pashmina – like a big scarf. Bought for £2 from a London street vendor right before we left. I was worried this would be a waste of space because it’s a bit bulky, but I am so glad to have taken it. It served as a belt, a blanket and an air filter as well as being useful when we hit the odd day of unexpectedly cold weather. And I loaned it to a few girls who arrived at various temples with their shoulders bare – tank tops and temples do not mix. Also at the top right corner, I had a book on the go for all of the trip. I started with one book and when I finished it, I would just find a used book store that did trades or I would trade it with another traveler. Worked perfectly, aside from when I read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and really started to wish I was carrying a book that was smaller and thereby easier to pack!
Continuing clockwise, we each packed a silk sleeping bag liner even though we weren’t carrying sleeping bags. The liner was perfect for places that were cold or had too many mosquitos. And it weighs almost nothing. The pink thing is my rain jacket. For several weeks of our trip we had beautiful sunny weather and I started to think packing a rain jacket was a waste of space and money, but then we arrived in Bali where it did nothing but absolutely pour with rain the entire time we were there. Rain jacket – with a fitted hood – is a requirement, definitely.
Basic first-aid stuff included pain killers, stomach settlers, some bandages and some mild antibiotics, which we also took as anti-malarials for the part of our tour that went through mosquito trouble. We used everything we took but didn’t really need anything more, so that was just right.
The black rectangle is a small external hard-drive. We bought this along the way and used it to back up our photos as a just-in-case measure.
A red hairclip and a blue make-up bag – contents revealed later in this post! And my clear bag of liquids. Since we weren’t going to check any bags on any planes, we couldn’t take anything sharp nor any liquids over 100ml. I bought a bag and 100ml bottles from Muji, and that held shampoo, conditioner, perfume, toothpaste, lotion and sunblock.
Which brings us to that funny looking bag in the middle, which held all my clothes. While The Boy went with the option of three special shirts that would work for everything, be easy to wash and dry and wouldn’t wear out, I knew I would get sick of whatever I was repeatedly wearing and want to change it for something else, so I did that a few times, but the total contents of my clothing bag remained pretty consistent: two short-sleeved tops, one long-sleeved top, one cardigan, one pair of hiking trousers, two pairs of leggings and two skirts/dresses, basically. All that plus my pajamas and stuff would fit into this bag and then get seriously, seriously smooshed by pulling all the straps tight on the compression sack. Basically, without the compression sack, my clothes would have filled the entire backpack. But with the compression, they just took up the room you see here. I had never heard of these bags before but am now a total convert.
What’s not shown: whatever pair of shoes I wasn’t wearing – either sandals or Converse All-Stars. And hilariously, one of these because I cope well with neither disgusting public loos nor fifteen mile hikes in the middle of nowhere.
The Little Blue Bag of Looking Beautiful
Some girls can just stop wearing make-up when they travel, but I am not such a person. When I am in some place where I’m not settled, I can be really harsh on myself. I just feel I am in more control if I can pretend I have a lovely complexion even when I’m on the road. Plus, more layers of spf on my face are totally welcome. But I couldn’t take very much, so I narrowed it down to the contents of the little blue bag:
Eyeliner – the one thing I stopped wearing pretty quickly, as it was so hot it would run.
Foundation – I am still in a funk because my favourite foundation was discontinued and I haven’t found one I like yet. I’m not singing the praises of this mousse stuff but that is what I wore, so there we go.
Eyeshadow – one little pot in the most neutral colour imaginable.
Lip balm – my favourite lip balm is actually called My Favorite Lip Balm. Hilarious.
Plus an emery board, a teeny box for keeping bobby pins and hair bands from going astray and the most high-tech of all brush/comb hair implements in the world. Yes, I got that free on an airplane. Yes, it is the only thing I used to style my (nearly waist-length) hair for the entire trip. Yes, I am very proud of that but no, I do not care to see that brush again for the rest of my life really!
What’s not shown: nothing really for this one. I did pick up one big hair clip at a market, and it’s in the first photo.
The ‘It would be nice to SEE you’ collection
Let’s just say I do not have 20/20 eyesight. I’m also a little paranoid at being without my glasses. So this is my little bit of extra gear to take that into account. At the far right is my spare pair of glasses. I actually carry these with me all the time, pretty much. Not just when I’m on the road. It’s just an older pair of glasses and they fall off less than my everyday pair, so they are good for more active days. But really I just carry them in case my regular glasses break. Even though in twenty years of wearing glasses, I’ve never had a pair break. I think it might just be a paranoia I developed from too much Harry Potter exposure.
I also have a pair of prescription sunglasses. I very rarely need them here in England and I actually bought them a few years ago for skiing, because the glare on the snow is harsh, and that’s why they are pink. But they still work for sun – just not as well as a pair of dark lenses – and I wear sunnies so infrequently that I just couldn’t budget a different pair. These were fine in the end. And also some contact lenses. Contacts and I don’t really get along, but they are more sensible for things that involve the sea or running or whatever. I use the daily lenses so I don’t have to worry about jars and solutions and stuff. I took a whole box of lenses but only used one strip of each (oh – my eyes can’t even agree on being equally blind, so I have different lenses for right and left).
What’s not shown: the other set of glasses were on my face. I didn’t have to pack them. If they weren’t on my face, I wouldn’t be able to find them to pack them anyway.
The paperwork pile
Of course a passport is required for a trip like this. I actually have to travel with two passports – my current passport and an older passport which has my visa that explains that I’m a UK resident and I’m allowed to stay here as long as I like. (I’ve been in the UK for twelve years as of this week, but I keep leaving the country too many days in a year to apply for my UK passport.) So there are two passports in my passport case – and mine have stayed in quite good condition with a case. The Boy doesn’t carry a case and his passport looks like it’s been through the wringer!
The yellow booklet is a vaccination record. Partly for our own medical info so we would be able to show a doctor outside our own medical system in case of an emergency, and partly to show at immigration in some countries. We’ve now been through areas that have yellow fever, and some countries won’t let you in if you’ve been exposed but not vaccinated. But we had those jabs before we left, so we can just show the yellow book if needed. (By the way, vaccinations are probably the only thing that made us not be able to leave immediately – it’s a three to four week process to get the basics, so make sure you plan those ahead of time.)
And I packed a small moleskine notebook and an American Crafts precision pen (of course). I added all the contact details for everyone along our journey and a list of addresses for sending postcards so we wouldn’t have any extra bits of paper but we would also have a hard copy with some emergency numbers in case our phones or computer were stolen or something. Then I still had plenty of space to take notes along the journey and collect a few stamps, stickers and ticket stubs.
What’s not shown: my driver’s license and debit card, which were on me at all times via zip pockets in my clothes.
…And that is it. Since there were two of us, we split some things, like I carried the camera and the hard drive, but he carried a laptop and my other lens. He carried a Kindle with all our travel guides so we wouldn’t need paper copies. But otherwise, it was pretty much the same!
We did manage to pass the dress code at a few nice restaurants (I think I got away with more casual shoes because I could wear a dress) and we didn’t have any trouble with theft. We had to refuel a few consumables, namely shampoo, toothpaste and sunblock, but those things were easy to purchase everywhere. I may have even bought hair dye once or twice.
I had never packed lightly in my whole life so I didn’t really think this would work, but it did… and I was very grateful for that every time I saw someone trying to get somewhere with multiple wheeled suitcases in the middle of the jungle, the desert or the beach. I had days when I struggled with missing nail varnish and hair dryers, but really that was pretty minimal. It was much easier to just enjoy the moment without having to worry about having so much stuff to carry, plus it was always fast to pack and we couldn’t accidentally leave something in the hotel room, because we would notice any gap in our bags!
And just last week, the dress I posted home from Singapore in January? It arrived here in London when I had totally given up hope! When I sent it home I was positively sick of wearing it every second day, but now I’m thinking it looks quite cute again. Amazing what a little time apart can do.
For the record: there is no way I could pack this lightly for anything crafty. I carried this one bag for more than three months. Last weekend I took this, a suitcase and two shoulder bags on the train to go away for three days. One bag with these essentials and everything else? Craft supplies. Well, craft supplies and cake.
xlovesx10 May 2011