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Gear: What to Pack?

 
 

"Here’s a travel tip: never, ever pack when you’re high.
You get there, you open your bag, nothing matches.
For the whole trip, all you have to wear is a Hawaiian shirt, an oven mitt, and a lava lamp.
The rest of the bag is full of cookie dough and Hot Wheels trucks."
-Dave Attell
posted July 8, 2008, on Vagabondish

my flops, used and abused after 10 weeks on the roadMany an article has been penned on how to pack for long-term travel. People spend countless hours scheming and planning and worrying about how to fit everything into one bag. Not a very big bag, either, since you'll be humping it around on your back the whole time. OneBag.com is a good reference on "the art and the science of packing light"... another oft-repeated phrase is "pack half as much as you think you'll need and take twice as much money." Good advice, as nearly everything is available throughout the world, usually at much cheaper prices than what you'd find at home.

When I was researching for my Central America trip, I found a helpful list on Megan Lyles's site that not only detailed what she brought, but how often she used each item. In the interest of sharing the love, I've annotated my CA packing list the same way, and will continue to update this with our actual packing list for SE Asia:

Usage key:
1 - often || 2 - occasionally || 3 - only once or twice/rarely || 4 - Never

Packing list for Central America trip – summer 2007
Item Usage Notes

Baggage/containers

Backpack: Dana Design New World   borrowed from a friend so I don’t know the exact specs, estimate it was about 2600ci
Day pack: REI Mini Sling   sadly, discontinued… but it’s the perfect size and has lots of pockets
Baggalini toiletry bag   sent home; too bulky
Eagle Creek pack-it cubes   2 medium, one small, also one double-sided waterproof for toiletries
Vacuum seal bags   these were great for condensing stuff down in the pack!

Clothes

Khaki pants

1

will probably bump this up to 2pr for next trip, one darker fabric
3 pairs shorts (2 for wearing out, 1 for sleeping)

1

one pair had thicker fabric and was hard to dry; could have made do with only two total
Black leggings

3

turned out to be mostly unnecessary
Dress/cover-up

2

got the most use as a scuba/beach cover-up
Long-sleeved shirt (Ex-officio Air Strip Lite)

2

not used a ton, but was really glad to have it
Sweater

2

not used a ton, but was really glad to have it
3 short-sleeved shirts

1

acquired two more along the way so this was really overkill. will need to find quicker-drying fabrics for next trip and will bring only one to start.
Black tank top

2

acquired another along the way

Footwear

Keen H2s

1

love-love-LOVE my Keens! broke 'em in a bit before leaving, and they were completely comfortable from the start. enough traction, plus closed-toe design, made them great for light hiking too.
Flip flops

1

don't remember the brand name, but I got the thinnest ones I could fine. they were super-thin and packed well for travel days. I wore them literally to shreds (see above) so I'm gonna have to buy a new pair for the next trip.

Underwear/Accessories

2 bras (one black, one light pink)

1

the pink one had light padding which was a bit tough to dry and the underwire was completely hosed by the end of the trip - consider spending the cash for durable travel bras in lightweight fabric!
8 pairs bottoms

1

too many! reduce to about 4 pairs; high-tech quick-drying ones are worth the investment
3 pairs socks

2

only needed one pair
Scarf

4

never really found myself needing to “dress up” an outfit
Pashmina

2

useful as a scarf, shawl, blanket, pillow
Sarong

1

towel, beach wrap, makeshift shoulder bag
Bandana

1

'do rag, gear wrapper, buffered CDs while in transit
3 bathing suits

2

one would have sufficed, except during scuba week when having an alternate was handy
Baseball cap

2

too American/touristy, need some other hat
Two pairs sunglasses

1

 
Jacket

1

waterproof but not very warm; layered with sweater and pashmina as needed

Toiletry items
(unless otherwise noted, all items were used almost daily

Contact lens supplies, extra contacts, glasses    
Oil of Olay lotion   also contains sunscreen, useful in a pinch
Shampoo & conditioner in small no-leak bottles   replenished as needed
Liquid soap in small no-leak bottle   replenished as needed
MSR PackTowl UltraLite Towel - Small   super-small (about washcloth-size and really thin) so I had to supplement with my sarong. the concept is right, but will purchase a larger size for the next trip.
Hair brush

4

sent home
Perfume in small spray bottle    
Hair elastics, cloth head band    
2 nail files, clippers    
Foot pumice    
Razor w/4 refills    
Bandaids & blister pads    
Dental floss    
Makeup (eyeliner, mascara, shadow, lip gloss)

3

rarely used, but nice to have on hand
Jewelry (ring, necklace, earrings)

1

rarely used, but nice to have on hand
Earplugs    
Cotton balls, Qtips, Tissues    
Toilet paper packs (3)   2 on a string, 1 in a plastic case
Fem prods   I have a particular brand I like, but otherwise these would be easy to find worldwide.
Laundry detergent (powdered)   should’ve brought liquid; powder hard to dissolve by hand
Shout wipes & Tide to-go    
Thermometer    
Lavender essential oil   helpful in stinky hostel rooms
Sewing kit    
Safer sex supplies   never leave home without 'em
Deep Woods Off towelettes   handy, but used 'em up really fast, and the chemical was pretty harsh on my skin
Cream mozzie repellent   acquired along the way… much nicer on the skin than the spray junk
Mozzie coils   acquired along the way… love these things!
Sanitizing hand wipes    
Sunscreen   easily replenished as needed
Prescription meds: Naproxen, Cipro, Diflucan, Compro, Chloroquinine   the only one I ever really used was the Chloro, but it was comforting to have these on hand
OTC meds: Neosporin, Anti-itch cream, Tylenol PM, Dramamine, Pepto tablets, Chloroseptic strips, Alleve, Anti-diarrheal, Multi-vitamin   one thing I forgot was Nyquil! also planning on taking some powdered Emergen-C on the next trip

Technology

Phone plus charger

1

not used as a phone, but as an alarm clock, address book, calendar, entertainment
Camera (Nikon Coolpix S7c) plus charger/dock/cables

1

convenient size, but I miss the functionality of a DSLR
Extra cam battery & mem card

2

 
Universal converter

4

unnecessary in Central Am, duh!
Skype headset

4

most internet cafes that support Skype also have headsets
Blank CDs for archiving pics

1

some got scratched along the way; better to use a small thumb drive instead
Music CDs for gifting

2

handy, lightweight gifts for CouchSurfing hosts and friends met along the way

Misc

Dive log & card

1

 
Drawing supplies (charcol, paper, blending tools)

4

nice idea, but charcoal is just too messy for the road
Camera manual

2

used in beginning, should have mailed it back
Research materials (notes)

3

relied more on guidebooks (see below)
Insurance & other paperwork

 

 
Extra baggies & rubber bands

1

can never have too many of these! a million and one uses
Binder clips and large paper clips

2

 
3 sharpies

2

 
Mini post-its

2

helpful for flagging key areas of guidebooks
Extra safety pins

3

 
Four journals

1

brought two; acquired two – hard to find good journals in CentAm
Two packs of colored pens

1

probably overkill, but I do loves mah special pens!
Compass

2

useful when exiting public transport in a new city
Two carabiners, one locking

1

 
Matches

2

 
Key pouch for wrist

4

anytime I was out & about with a key I also had enough other stuff with me that I just took my daypack
Small notebook & small pens

1

great for recording daily expenses and small notes
Security pouch: passport, trav chex, US dollars, defunct currency, extra pen

1

put items in small Ziploc bags to protect against sweat
Oktapodi

1

essential! J
Guidebooks (more details below) & reading materials

1

I carve up my guidebooks as I go (gasp!) and then trash them when leaving the country. new reading materials were pretty easy to find at hostel book exchanges.
Travel cards

2

like a business card, with contact info like email, Skype handle, web site. easier than writing it all out on a scrap of paper every time I met a new travel friend, and they're available for free from places like VistaPrint.com.

 

Guidebooks used in Central America:

Moon Handbooks Costa Rica. This guidebook was recommended to me by several people, partially because its author, Christopher Baker, has spent a lot of time in Costa Rica. I found the book's layout and writing style to be very user-friendly, although sometimes the organization was a bit confusing, particularly when dealing with attractions and locations on the outskirts of major areas. I found the maps a bit lacking as well. The book is not exclusively targeted to the backpacker crowd, but there was plenty of information on budget options.

The Rough Guide to Guatemala (incl Copan and the Honduras Bay Islands). I really liked this book. Very intuitively organized, great highlights/overview information, and good maps. The one time it really led me astray (to a terrible guesthouse in Nebaj) I emailed them a scathing review and got a prompt and friendly response. Otherwise the recommendations were spot-on.

Lonely Planet Belize. LP is the mack-daddy of all backpacker guides, and it's easy to see why. Great organization, easy-to-digest highlights, and lots of handy tips for beginners as well as veteran travelers. Plus, of course, lots of budget-conscious options. I enjoyed using this guidebook in Belize, but I have to admit it's nice to sometimes *not* use the same reference material everyone else is consulting.


 
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