Saturday, 14 March 2009

Packing light

After travelling for six months with a regular-sized, 65 litre pack, I realised I didn't actually use half the stuff that I was lugging around. Ben had already moved to using a smaller pack, and kept on about how much better it was, but I didn't have another one to use. Before I set off alone to Cambodia though, I got myself a new one about half the size to see how it went. Turns out he's right, it's way better.

Firstly, you can carry it on anywhere, you no longer have to stick it under a bus or check it in on a plane, and it never has to leave your sight. Secondly, since it's not much bigger than a school bag, you don't feel like a backpacker, and don't stick out as much (well, no more than your average tall, blond, white guy in Asia). Plus you get envious looks from other backpackers as they come in from the heat, exhausted and sweaty from carrying their huge packs.

It's not like I only have the bare essentials either - I have two cameras (a compact and my new SLR-like) and two iPods on me (the Shuffle and the iPhone) plus the piles of cables, chargers and spare batteries that they require.

The first thing is to ditch the shoes. For someone with feet my size they seem to take up half my pack, and weigh far too much. Since you can wear thongs everywhere in Asia (even on treks and flights), they just aren't needed. Although I did bring a pair of socks for those air-conditioned overnight buses.

As for clothes, I've only got two pairs of shorts, one of which are also boardshorts, and the other are those zip-off khaki cargoes for when I need long pants. I've only got 3 t-shirts but you can buy more anywhere along the way. The biggest item is my microfleece jumper which you can't risk going without.

I've got a travel towel which I haven't needed much, and a silk sleep sheet which I haven't used on this part of the trip, but that's because I've been in guest houses most of the time. My rain jacket I swapped for a small plastic poncho but I haven't needed it yet. I left behind three-quarters of my toiletries, which you can buy anywhere along the way, and only took a minimal first aid kit.

I've got my small LED torch, which comes in handy for finding your way out of Indonesian jungles at night, climbing volcanoes before dawn or just looking through your pack on a dark bus. Although, if you pack your pack the same way every time, you can pretty much find anything you need in it by feel anyway. Little combination locks on the zips are essential, especially when traveling by yourself (thanks Claire, they're great!). Semi-hard cases for cameras, iPods and the like are needed so you don't cry when your bag gets dropped or crushed.

Sorry to sound like an Apple ad, but one of the best things I brought on this trip was the iPhone. You can get wireless in so many places now, and local SIM cards with data plans are so cheap, that you can access email and internet pretty much anywhere. The browser is great for checking timetables or Wikitravel, and the built-in Google Maps with location finder is a lifesaver. Not to mention the music, movies and games for long bus trips. Ben's been carrying a small laptop with him, but I can get most of the same stuff from something that weighs ten times less. The only problem with being online everywhere, is that people at home expect you to reply to emails even when you're somewhere in the Sumatran jungle!

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