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BackpackingFilter: What items are must-takes for South East Asia (or generally)?
November 28, 2007 9:13 PM   Subscribe

BackpackingFilter: What items are must-takes for South East Asia (or generally)?

First up: I am *not* talking about "backpacking" in the sense that Americans often seem to use it (hiking or trekking in the wilderness), but in the sense of travelling about independently, relatively lightly & cheaply as a tourist, mostly town to town.

OK, I've done this kind of travel at least a dozen times before (anything from four weeks to nine months at a time, normally in developing countries) and every time my list of things to take is refined just that little bit more. I'm now down to a pretty-much settled list of handy / indispensable items, but I wonder if there's anything I am missing that's just too good to leave home without.

I am thinking of the nifty kinds of things that make travelling life simpler or more comfortable on a day-to-day basis, things that can save me grief in emergencies, things that are adaptable to multiple uses, that are generally light & don't take up much space - that kind of idea.

To give a few examples, here are some of my standard items:
* swiss army knife - enough said
* keyring with mini compass & tiny LED torch (for finding way around town / to toilet during a blackout)
* shiny emergency survival blanket (for unexpectedly chilly overnight transport or in case of extremely disgusting but unavoidable mattresses)
* light cotton sarong (to wear to the shower, cover nose & mouth against dust or particularly stinky toilets, use as a makeshift curtain or sunshade & 1001 other uses)
* 1.5L aluminium bottle (to decant bottled water into & avoid the bottle leaking & soaking everything in my daypack)
* gaffer tape (2002 uses)
* sturdy ziplock bag (to avoid leaving essentials like passport, tickets & currency lying around when going for a shower)

Anybody have any handy suggestions, along the lines above?
posted by UbuRoivas to Travel & Transportation (40 answers total) 49 users marked this as a favorite
 
hand sanitizer
a couple of ziplock bacs
pants with zip off legs
small first aid kit (pepto, tylenol, etc)
onely planet book
wet wipes
travel towel
sleep sheet
calculator
bug spray
sunscreen
watch/clock
hat
sunglasses
powdered sport drinks

The above are the things we found most useful in our 3 week trip to thailand a couple months ago, I don't know that you'll need a canteen, bottles water is cheap, or was in thailand and very readily available.
posted by iamabot at 9:23 PM on November 28, 2007


ear plugs and sleep mask
posted by Mercaptan at 9:50 PM on November 28, 2007


For doing a minor amount of laundry on the road:

-a piece of string
-some clothes-pins
-a ziplock bag with a bit of laundry detergent
-a small plastic brush

This is great for washing underwear and t-shirts in the shower or sink.

(BTW: every convenience store in Thailand has small packets of laundry detergent for sale)
posted by mildred-pitt at 10:05 PM on November 28, 2007


The thing with SEA is that EVERYTHING is dirt-cheap. So you could possibly buy most of the stuff during your travels.

About the only things I'd recommend to bring from home are ID, electronics, and prescription medication. You can get everything else here and it's fine quality.

(Hand sanitizer may be a bit difficult to find in non-urban areas, but if you're smart about where you eat and wash, you should be fine)
posted by divabat at 10:11 PM on November 28, 2007


in the interests of maybe making this a bit of a cumulative list, i might add a few more standard items. iamabot's list contains a number of things i normally take, so i'll only add things that haven't been mentioned, eg:

* small maglite
* lightweight chain & padlock (useful deterrent against opportunistic theft of backpack, eg if falling asleep on an overnight bus; own padlock is sometimes required for hotel doors)
* twisted elasticated travel clothesline
* thongs / "flip flops" (esp for wearing to shower & toilet)
* small notepad & pen (pocket sized, especially handy for sketching things when sign language fails)
* mosquito net

i plan to pick up a few vacuum seal bags for this trip, too: for really compressing clothes to save space. the other new addition will be some reasonably powerful but small spy binoculars.
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:14 PM on November 28, 2007


Previously on the Blue. And, via the linked site, no-bag tropical travel.
posted by eritain at 10:32 PM on November 28, 2007


"A towel is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta…wet it for use in hand-to-hand combat…wrap it around your head to ward off noxious fumes…any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the Galaxy, rough it … win through, and still know where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with."

I took a travel towel to SEA and was glad to have it. On the other hand, you can really take less of everything that you think you need. If you find you need something you can buy it cheap once you are there.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 11:28 PM on November 28, 2007


I was told to take a money wallet or some other device to have your passport, cards and cash on you at all times. I gave it up like a nasty habit two weeks into Laos. It was geeky, touristy and I felt like I was saying to the locals that I didn't trust them. I put it back on as soon as I arrived in busy Bangkok though. I could see how easy it would have been in the crowded markets to snatch without notice.

I second the zip lock bags, pocket calculator, gaffer tape, padlock, thongs, but disagree with some other IMHO, unnecessary items:

- shiny emergency survival blanket (SE Asia is pretty hot and humid compared to Sydney)
- pants with zip off legs (if you really must)
- 1.5L aluminium bottle (bottled water is available wherever you can find coca cola, ie everywhere, save your space)
- small spy binoculars (what for - bird watching?)

Make sure you grab some essential travel medical once you get into the region where prices are very reasonable. Think imodium, actifed, valium, malaria tabs and and and... I forget the list actually. No matter how many precautions you take it's almost impossible to not get a little sick.

I can't wait to get back there myself - happy travels!
posted by simplesharps at 12:53 AM on November 29, 2007


waxed floss - fixes myriad busted things in an emergency.

seconding the compression bags, they really do work - also, they keep your clothes dry when the cargo hold of the bus ends up completely flooded

small soaps, packets of shampoo and free toothbrushes collected from hotel rooms are perfect for doing laundry and scrubbing manky Tevas.
posted by wayward vagabond at 1:07 AM on November 29, 2007


disagree with some other IMHO, unnecessary items:

- shiny emergency survival blanket (SE Asia is pretty hot and humid compared to Sydney)


yeh, i realise that. this will be my third (?) trip to SEA & i've been to india four times for about 14 months total. it's just one of those handy things. half the size of a pair of socks, weighs 50g, but occasionally, you find yourself going over hills/mountains at night, or in a bus with 10 degree A/C, and that's when these things come into their own. will be in burma, anyway, and getting up into higher territory. i keep thinking himalayan foothills, midwinter. might revise.

- pants with zip off legs (if you really must)

i never said that, but...fashion nazi!

- 1.5L aluminium bottle (bottled water is available wherever you can find coca cola, ie everywhere, save your space)

hm, maybe that one is just habit, but in thailand, for example, i buy the cheapshit 5 baht 1L bottles (the Bisleri etc is like 20 or 30 baht). the cheap water comes in fliptop bottles. unless you want to drink a litre in one go, that stuff is spilling out & ruining your guidebook, camera, diary, etc.

- small spy binoculars (what for - bird watching?)

just a toy, really. they're a bit bigger than a deck of cards & strangely powerful.

remember, this question wasn't meant to be so much about "what essentials do i need?" but hoping for something outstandingly life-enhancing that somehow had been missed. the vacuum bags were an example i came across earlier this year & thought "fuck - why didn't i think of that / know about this on previous trips?"
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:52 AM on November 29, 2007


hm, just then i was thinking "A/C buses? Am I serious?!?" but a quick check shows that Mandalay, for example, gets down to almost 10 degrees Celsius at night in winter...combine that with drafty transport & i think the shiny blanket's coming with me.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:05 AM on November 29, 2007


lol, I get the funniest image of you bathing in a white glow of reflected light. It's true - I am a fashion nazi. So you buy the cheap water and transfer it to your metal bottle? Too much effort for me, I'd prefer to spend the extra 15baht. It seems like you're the more experienced traveller here so I'll step back into the shadows.
posted by simplesharps at 3:15 AM on November 29, 2007


15 baht = more or less a plate of rice & the tastiest curry in the world. multiply that by about three a day. it's only water! *beats simplesharps into submission with non-recyclable cheapo water bottles*

two weeks away from bangkok street food ***DROOLS***

posted by UbuRoivas at 3:49 AM on November 29, 2007


Bring a portable water filter so you do not constantly have to be purchasing water. Seriously, if you are at all ecologically minded, you'll be shocked at the mountains of water bottles tourists leave behind.
posted by DenOfSizer at 4:06 AM on November 29, 2007


Also a solar battery recharger.
posted by DenOfSizer at 4:07 AM on November 29, 2007


remember, this question wasn't meant to be so much about "what essentials do i need?" but hoping for something outstandingly life-enhancing that somehow had been missed.

I think that this might be backwards, in a certain way. The better question for most travelers might be, "What can I leave behind that will make my trip outstandingly life-enhancing?" That's why you are hearing the critiques of your aluminium water bottle, etc.

There's often a tension between being, say, environmental, and carrying less crap. The environmental thing might be to bring a water filter (perhaps -- it would depend on how long you owned it, how much is involved in it's manufacture and transportation, etc, compared to how many bottles of water you would have purchased), but the far more enjoyable way to travel is to simply buy and discard bottled water -- less crap and less fuss. And there are a lot of those kinds of decisions.

So I have come to default quite heavily to the "take less stuff" side of things, knowing that there are inefficiencies -- it might cost me more money buying something on the trip that I already have at home, there are environmental costs perhaps, and so on. But the benefits to me of having a very small and light bag, and not needing to worry about having my expensive stuff stolen, make it totally worth it over all. So (particularly with the new and restrictive airline security rules) I don't bring a $30 swiss army knife, but rather buy some sort of $3 pocket knife from a street vendor, which I will either leave behind or bring home if it is kind of neat, but either way I don't worry about losing it or having it stolen. So more cash, less stuff.

I couldn't agree more with the sarong and small flashlight ideas. On the other hand, pants with zip-off legs might be practical, but I just don't want to become the kind of person who wears them, you know? That's an inefficiency I can live with. And cotton feels nicer in the heat, anyway.

The "totally essential" thing for me, that I didn't see on your list, is paper and pen in an easy-to-reach pocket, for writing down directions, names of people or places, someone's contact information, whatever. For me, a folded up old envelope and a good ballpoint pen (I like those little Space Pens, except that I keep losing them) often takes the place of a guidebook and map for a lot of practical, day-to-day getting around.

The other thing I'd add in some countries is toilet paper or tissues in a small zip-lock bag. There are few worse things than running into the gas station bathroom, getting half-way through a bout of projectile diarrhea, and realizing there is no toilet paper, no water, nothing. But this depends on where you are going -- not all countries ration their bathroom cleaning products so carefully.
posted by Forktine at 6:22 AM on November 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


Some things I found imroved my life on my 6 month trip to Asia:

- A sachet with nice smelling dried flowers/herbs in it. You can make this or buy them. They are nice for when your bag inevitably gets wet. The damp will actually spead the smell of lavendar/chamomile/whatever through your bag, instead of the smell of damp. Kinda girly, but nice.

- Earplugs are indispensable for me. Guesthouses/hostels/buses can get so loud in Asia!

- I like to bring little things from my home city to give to people I meet. Postcards are perfect for this: small, cheap, light. These can be given to the guesthouse owner's smart, bright kid, to that tuk-tuk driver who brings you home to dinner with his family, the teacher you meet on a bus who invites you to speak to his students in the two-room school.
posted by lunasol at 7:19 AM on November 29, 2007


Oh, and I brought a sarong in lieu of a towel. Lighter, dries faster, takes up less space. I supplemented it with one of those travel handtowels, but I could have done without the former. Your body and hair* will dry so quickly in the tropics anyway, a towel is really not necessary.

* even my hair, which is long and curly and normally takes more than an hour to dry on its own.
posted by lunasol at 7:22 AM on November 29, 2007


If you want to not use plastic bottles, the water filter idea is good. But personally I dont trust filters when you can just zap everything by adding some water purification drops. It may/may not taste great. But you can drink the water. Adding a small amount of some kool-aide or other such dry powders (Gatorade is a favorite of mine) can make it taste better. I'm sure you can buy that over there. The two bottles are light as well. Available at any camping store.
(Remember to be careful of the lids. Make the cap loose and turn upside down so a little water runs through there when you tap and shake it. Sorry I dont know the technical term for this process.)

As for buying things over seas, keep in mind that their products are much different and sometimes hard to find. If you have a favorite pain killer, bring it. Bring some imodium with you. That's one thing you never want to have to walk around trying to find.

Also, always a Moleskine. Bring a good ballpoint while yoru at it.
posted by thetenthstory at 7:41 AM on November 29, 2007


This may be old-fogey, but photos of family, pets, hometown, etc. are great icebreakers anywhere and everywhere.
posted by anadem at 8:38 AM on November 29, 2007


Agree on the photos and would add a short-wave radio, being the news junkie I am.
posted by Cuke at 9:10 AM on November 29, 2007


A sachet with nice smelling dried flowers/herbs in it.

Just a word of warning: a friend had a serious problem at a roadblock because of this. The police thought it was drugs, and she was almost arrested and spent most of the day being questioned, having all her belongings torn apart, etc. In the end it was ok, but it was really traumatic -- even after they decided not to arrest her, they were threatening to deport her, her friends had no idea where she was, she wasn't allowed to call anyone, lots of graphic descriptions of "you know what happens to drug dealers in our country" and pressuring her to give them names of her accomplices, etc.

I don't think that happens often, but I'd rather risk a smelly backpack.
posted by Forktine at 9:13 AM on November 29, 2007


"a friend had a serious problem at a roadblock because of this."

Oh wow, that never even occurred to me!

As for thetenthstory's concern about being able to find things - eh, I really wouldn't worry about that in SE Asia. Sure, there's a lot of stuff you can't find in Laos, but a quick stop in a major Thai city and you'll be able to find most necessities.
posted by lunasol at 9:55 AM on November 29, 2007


Just want to throw in my $.02...

Seconding the MagLite suggestion (in addition to your keychain LED). Personally, I'd take a fenix P1D, but I'm a flashlight geek.

Also, an emergency roll of TP is key (and I'm a guy). My local Stop&Shop supermarket has travel versions (about the size of the empty roll), and I keep a bunch in the bathroom closet. Whenever I travel, I have one with me. Too much info, I know, but there you are.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 10:19 AM on November 29, 2007


This is pretty general travel advice but it's well recommended that you keep photo copies of your passport and travel documents, and to give copies to someone back home too like your parents, so in a pinch they can fax them to you. That way if you do lose your passport, you have all the information you need to resolve it as quickly as possible.

Probably not as amazing as you had hoped for, and you have probably read it a million places over already (Since I have) but hey, I figured there is no harm in mentioning it again.
posted by paulfreeman at 10:23 AM on November 29, 2007


Plenty of good advice here.

A few thoughts on some things people have said:

Bring a portable water filter so you do not constantly have to be purchasing water.

I've often looked into these, but aren't the ones that properly clean the water around $300? That always turns me off.

Also a solar battery recharger.

For real? How quick are they? And isn't SEA overcast 90% of the time?

The better question for most travelers might be, "What can I leave behind that will make my trip outstandingly life-enhancing?"

Agree, in general, except some of the "life-enhancing" accessories are just too damn useful, and I can't be assed running around trying to find a little LED keyring torch, for example, if I can pick one up for $5 from a camping store & take it with me. As an aside, I hang out regularly on the Sydney Morning Herald's weekly backpacker blog, and was astounded at the number of people who apparently take cellphones & laptops overseas. That, IMHO, is totally against the spirit of backpacking.

pants with zip-off legs might be practical, but I just don't want to become the kind of person who wears them, you know?

Much to my shame, I actually have some of those. Not really for the zip-off legs (altho they are a nice convenience at times) but because the material is lighter & dries quicker than cotton, because a zippered wallet-pocket has saved me from pickpocketing at least a few times, and because my particular model has a secret zippered pocket in one of the cuffs that makes a perfect hiding spot for an emergency $100 bill in a ziplock bag.

Oh, and I brought a sarong in lieu of a towel. Lighter, dries faster, takes up less space. I supplemented it with one of those travel handtowels

My approach, exactly. A travel towel the size of a teatowel dries you completely.

a short-wave radio

Yes, that's a real nice-to-have. You can tune in to the local music stations, or get your news fix from the BBC World Service or Radio Australia.

Also, an emergency roll of TP is key (and I'm a guy). My local Stop&Shop supermarket has travel versions (about the size of the empty roll)

Hm, another nice-to-have. I normally just flatten a half-finished roll & wrap it up in a plastic bag & carry it in my daypack.

it's well recommended that you keep photo copies of your passport and travel documents, and to give copies to someone back home too like your parents, so in a pinch they can fax them to you.

Yes. I haven't done this before, but I think scanning them & emailing them to your own gmail is also a wise precaution. On past trips, I've emailed myself vital details like passport & ticket details, credit card numbers, travel insurance policy number, etc. A scan of the relevant passport pages (personal details, visas) would be an improvement on this.

sleep sheet

Absolutely indispensable. I go for a silk cocoon from a camping store. Folds up to the size of a pair of socks, dries quickly after washing, and silk against the skin is a great luxury in a skanky, cheap room.

A sachet with nice smelling dried flowers/herbs in it. You can make this or buy them. They are nice for when your bag inevitably gets wet. The damp will actually spead the smell of lavendar/chamomile/whatever through your bag, instead of the smell of damp. Kinda girly, but nice.

A sachet with nice smelling dried flowers/herbs in it. You can make this or buy them. They are nice for when your bag inevitably gets wet. The damp will actually spead the smell of lavendar/chamomile/whatever through your bag, instead of the smell of damp. Kinda girly, but nice.

Kinda girly. I'd go with some sandalwood incense, maybe, but that's a pretty good tip!
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:00 PM on November 29, 2007


oh, and for what it's worth, i'll continue answering my own question, as i see a number of people have bookmarked this thread, so maybe it's becoming a useful resource for sharing ideas...

footwear: steel-capped workboots, always (with the thongs / flip-flops as a reserve for beaches etc).

dunno what builders & tradesmen etc wear in other countries, but the standard aussie ones have elastic sides, which means you can slip them off in a flash when entering homes or temples, or anywhere else where you need to remove your footwear, which is a big cultural thing in asia & the subcontinent. you can trudge through mud & slime without a care in the world, you have good grip for slippery conditions, and the design means that air gets in easily from the ankles, so your feet stay dry & happy. i know that tevas are almost de rigeur for that part of the world, but i like having sturdy waterproof boots when there's often shit & all kinds of muck in the streets, pariah dogs, and so on.
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:12 PM on November 29, 2007


Write out a list of commonly used language from each country you'll visit: Hello, thank you, no thank you, how much?, I already have that, etc. just a little bit goes a long way. I knew maybe six Laotian words and a native told me my Lao was excellent.

A little plug in heater for instant coffee in your room is helpful.
I wore Tevas there almost everyday.
Also, I took stickers to give to the kids at Angkor.
But really you can get almost anything you'd need over there and much cheaper.
posted by PHINC at 5:41 PM on November 29, 2007


I think this rather depends on where in SEA you're going. You're going to need less stuff in Malaysia and Singapore than you are in Myanmar/Cambodia/Vietnam, mainly because Malaysia & Singapore are so modernized that you'd be hardpressed NOT to find anything.

Honestly, most of the suggestions here make me laugh. So typical "paranoid western backpacker".

As a Malaysian, let me respond to what has been suggested here:

* swiss army knife - Most likely confiscated in customs. Get a cheap knife from the country. Besides, when will you need EVERYTHING on the knife anyway?

* keyring with mini compass & tiny LED torch - May be useful; not sure about the compass

* shiny emergency survival blanket - Don't bother with shiny. I have a long piece of flannel cloth that is EXCELLENT. Asia doesn't get THAT cold.

* light cotton sarong - Totally useful, but don't worry if you forget because we have tons cheap.

* 1.5L aluminium bottle - Don't bother.

* gaffer tape - why??

* sturdy ziplock bag - Useful, easily replacable

* hand sanitizer - Good to have, bring this from home

* pants with zip off legs - Why?? No point. You can get all sorts of clothes here cheap. No advantage.

* small first aid kit (pepto, tylenol, etc) - YES, especially for prescriptions and stuff you're sensitive too. You can get a lot of OTC stuff here but if you're particular about medication, bring it.

* lonely planet book - Good idea, but you can always ask around if lost.

* wet wipes - Tissues work well too, wet wipes aren't so common here.

* travel towel - Yep, towels are handy, not so cheap here too

* sleep sheet - If you have the towel/blanket/sarong, and you're smart about where you sleep, you don't need this.

* calculator - Use your phone.

* bug spray - Haha, handy, though buy one in the country

* sunscreen - Handy too, I'm not sure if they sell them here (seeing as I hardly use any)

* watch/clock - If you have a watch, great, otherwise use your phone.

* hat - Good for really sunny days, but don't go overboard

* sunglasses - Yep, good idea

* powdered sport drinks - Get 100-Plus, does the same thing and is usually affordable. Also AWESOME if you're nauseous/been throwing up. Gatorade is available some places but is more expensive.

* ear plugs and sleep mask - Haha, useful, and I now can't sleep without a sleep mask on planes. lol.

* a piece of string - If you're going to stay at a hotel at any point, ninja their sewing kit.

* some clothes-pins - hmm, I think you can either make do without them (clothes don't fall off THAT easily) or get them in the country

* a ziplock bag with a bit of laundry detergent - Useful

* a small plastic brush - Get in the country

* small maglite - I don't know what this is.

* lightweight chain & padlock - This is useful. At the very least get the padlocks.

* twisted elasticated travel clothesline - String works.

* thongs / "flip flops" - Get them from the country, MUCH cheaper. Useful though.

* small notepad & pen - Yep, great idea.

* mosquito net - Good idea, though see if you can get this from the country.

* spy binoculars - Useless unless you're bird-watching, may make you look suspicious.

* Money wallet - I agree, useless. I bought one and never wore it and my stuff is fine. A slightly better idea is to wear a small bag under your t-shirt. More practical in a colder country, but it helped for me. Or just have them within reach.

* waxed floss - Get in the country.

* Compression bags - they are useful aren't they?! Be careful that you don't end up bringing too much because you think you have more space (nearly happened to me...)

* Hotel soaps/etc - Yes, VERY useful, though if you're going to be in a hotel at some point just grab it from there

* Anything that will be "just a toy" - automatic USELESS. You will be distracted enough in SEA to forget you even have them.

* Bottled water - I agree with everyone else, just buy it in the country. Cheaper than curry. As long as you don't drink tap water, you'll be fine. (Honestly, all this talk about water sanitizers surprises me. I have an utterly sensitive stomach and never needed a water sanitizer for BOTTLED water. Seriously, it's not THAT bad.)

* Solar battery recharger - This time of the year it will be more overcast and rainy, so it wouldn't be of much use. What would be really useful is a phone recharger that's battery-powered (don't get the non-battery-powered ones, they kill your phone). OMG that thing was a LIFESAVER for me in New York, where none of my adapters worked. You can get batteries for reasonable prices in Asia, but not the charger. GET THE CHARGER.

* Listen to Forktine.

* Tissues - Yes! You can get them for about 20c a packet in public toilets, but bring TONS. Seriously.

* A sachet with nice smelling dried flowers/herbs in it - Likely to be confiscated at customs, so buy the spices in Asia. There's no lack of them.

* Little things from the country - Great idea!

* Water purification tablets - seriously, guys...

* Moleskine - comes under "paper/pen". Bring what you prefer

* Photos - yep, though be prepared for the "do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend" questions.

* Photocopies - YES. Also make a note of the embassies relevant to you in the countries you're going to. Especially since you're going to Myanmar where trouble is afoot. (Do you really want to go there now? You'd only be supporting the military junta, not the people there who need the most help.)

* Cellphones & Laptops - maybe not the laptop, but YES YES YES to the cellphone. This is SO MUCH MORE useful that you think it will be. Calculator, calendar, note-taker, flashlight, EMERGENCY CALLS. Half the stuff you want to bring is not very "spirit of backpacking" so why quibble about the cellphone? Be smart about it, but seriously. LIFESAVER. Speaking as a South East Asian, BRING THIS.

* short-wave radio - Again, you won't have any time to listen to this because there's too much in SEA to do.

* Steel-capped workboots - unless you're going to a construction site, really don't bother. No one wears them, and they'll only add unnecessary weight.
posted by divabat at 6:14 PM on November 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


* swiss army knife - Most likely confiscated in customs. Get a cheap knife from the country. Besides, when will you need EVERYTHING on the knife anyway?

I've got quite a basic one, and it's never been confiscated. Strangely, it's about the least useful thing I carry. Rarely used for anything more than slicing fruit or opening a tin can. Occasionally, pulling a cork from a wine bottle. Still, it's a sunk cost - I already own it so why buy something to replace it? Handy, but far from essential.

not sure about the compass

Disagree vehemently. Saves so much wasted time & effort walking up the wrong street when you hop off a bus in an unfamiliar town. Gets you out of labyrinthine places with ease (more a middle-eastern problem, admittedly).

* small maglite - I don't know what this is.

A torch / "flashlight"

* shiny emergency survival blanket - Don't bother with shiny. I have a long piece of flannel cloth that is EXCELLENT. Asia doesn't get THAT cold.

Mandalay gets down to almost 10 degrees celsius in winter. That, to me, is cold. As I said, combine 10 degrees with a drafty overnight bus, and you're in for hell. Those things have saved me in such situations more than once. Consider it a security blanket. Probably recomended more for Northern India or the Middle East - anywhere with deserts & mountains.

* 1.5L aluminium bottle - Don't bother.

Why does everybody hate this one? $10 from a camping store, lasts forever, doesn't weigh anything, can be refilled wherever you find a clean water dispenser, saves shitty plastic bottles from leaking throughout your stuff, can be used to store your duty free whiskey without risk of the bottle smashing when people casually toss your bag to the ground from the roof of the bus. I don't get the resistance.

* gaffer tape - why??

So as to look Canadian. Seals up drafty windows & doors, covers peepholes in showers, subdues kidnappees, repairs almost everything - consider it a sewing kit for everything that isn't clothing.

* sleep sheet - If you have the towel/blanket/sarong, and you're smart about where you sleep, you don't need this.

I assume that "smart" is something different to "in the cheapest dive possible". Plus, you'd need two sarongs to insulate yourself from both the skanky mattress & the skanky sheets/blankets. Much more efficient, and definitely more pleasant.

* powdered sport drinks - Get 100-Plus, does the same thing and is usually affordable. Also AWESOME if you're nauseous/been throwing up. Gatorade is available some places but is more expensive.

Rehydration salts from pharmacies overseas are the go. Available everywhere where kids get diarrhoea.

* some clothes-pins - hmm, I think you can either make do without them (clothes don't fall off THAT easily) or get them in the country

That's where the twisty elasticated clothesline comes in handy. Budget hotels often don't have anywhere to hang your towel out to dry, strangely enough, and these things work a treat in those situations.

* twisted elasticated travel clothesline - String works.

These work better. Seriously.

* mosquito net - Good idea, though see if you can get this from the country.

Strangely, carrying a mosquito net is actually close to redundant, in my experience. Either your hotel already has them (sometimes with holes...patch up with gaffer tape) or else there's nowhere to hang them (see if you can rig something up with tape, string, clothesline etc). Cheaper here than in Laos, I know that much.

* spy binoculars - Useless unless you're bird-watching, may make you look suspicious.

Yeh, fuck that idea. Was just thinking of things like sitting up top of Angkor Wat & wishing I could see all the stuff around me better.

* Water purification tablets - seriously, guys...

They were useful once, hiking through the Dogon Region in Mali, drinking green water from the wells...

Especially since you're going to Myanmar where trouble is afoot. (Do you really want to go there now? You'd only be supporting the military junta, not the people there who need the most help.)

A discussion for another time. Obviously, I don't agree, though, just as I don't think I was ever supporting the Iranian mullahs, Assad in Syria, Mubarak in Egypt, ete etc.

YES YES YES to the cellphone. This is SO MUCH MORE useful that you think it will be. Calculator, calendar, note-taker, flashlight, EMERGENCY CALLS. Half the stuff you want to bring is not very "spirit of backpacking" so why quibble about the cellphone? Be smart about it, but seriously. LIFESAVER. Speaking as a South East Asian, BRING THIS.

NO NO NO to the cellphone. I've never felt the slightest need to make a call when overseas, and don't see that changing. No, not ever, for any reason, whatsoever, no. (Asians & their cellphone obsessions, sheesh!)

* short-wave radio - Again, you won't have any time to listen to this because there's too much in SEA to do.

Hm, sometimes you wanna just bug out in your room & listen to stuff. I don't think I'll take one, but they *are* nice to have. The ipod will do as well.

* Steel-capped workboots - unless you're going to a construction site, really don't bother. No one wears them, and they'll only add unnecessary weight.

That's perhaps just a personal thing. I realise that most people (locals & travellers alike) get around in tevas or thongs most of the time, but I personally don't want to be exposing my feet to the kinds of injuries & bites (insects & spiders, more than dogs & snakes) that come with that territory. Plus, when backpacking you inevitably find yourself wandering around in jungles etc from time to time, when you'll need sturdy footwear, in which case you'll have to bear the extra weight anyway. Plus, workboots are 1/4 the cost of the hiking boots that many others get around in, and do just as good a job for everything except for week-long treks.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:54 PM on November 29, 2007


Honestly, most of the suggestions here make me laugh. So typical "paranoid western backpacker".

That's not very nice, divabat. More like boy-scouty excitement. And hey, I've probably spent almost three full years with a pack on my back in developing countries to date, so don't assume I'm being paranoid or carrying too much. I normally get away with about 7kg gross / 30litres. Heh - in a thread the other day I was telling somebody they could arrive in SEA with nothing but a set of pyjamas on & just pick up essentials on the way. But yeh, the thing is, you need to approach things slightly differently as a traveller vis a vis as a resident, and some items really do make your life sooo much easier...kinda like "be prepared, but not way overprepared".
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:57 PM on November 29, 2007


UbuRovias: I didn't mean to be offensive with that comment, sorry. I just don't understand why a lot of it is so necessary. I've travelled a lot too (and for me 18 degrees is cold :P) and I've brought all sorts of random stuff, half of which never gets used. I mean, it would probably make sense for me to bring stuff rather than buy stuff overseas, given that the rest of the world is about 50x more expensive (AUD$15 for flipflops, you gotta be kidding me).

The aluminium bottle seems wasteful. You can get really good quality plastic ones (not the prefilled ones, but better bottles) for far cheaper and I think they weigh less. If you have it already, fair enough, I'm just not sure how often you'd use it. (Then again, I don't have any whisky to hide, lol)

Mandalay might be cold, hmm. Bring a sweater then. Oh! Oh! Thick socks and mittens! If it's going to be 10 degrees then those things will save you. At least the socks. I've been on planes that were freezing, crazy.

And I've been in the cheapest digs possible and still was fine without a sheet. The only place I've been to that causes me trouble is my own house - damn allergies. :P

(speaking of which...if you have allergies to dust, BRING MEDS. Or prepare to sneeze your sinuses out.)

Actal (or some sort of anti-gas med) would be quite handy too.

My personal weakness is books & magazines - I always buy one wherever I go and then they make my bag heavy. Just a warning ;)
posted by divabat at 10:48 PM on November 29, 2007


divabat, no probs. i think the space blanket gets left behind, on further research. really, not that cold.

otoh, apparently burma has the world's second highest fatality rate in the world from snakebites! this jolted my brain & made me realise why boots are so comforting for me. i'm australian. we have 999 out of 1000 of the world's deadliest spiders & 999 out of 1000 of the world's deadliest snakes. walking in the bush automatically = wearing boots (except in winter, when the snakes hibernate). the teva-wearers are probably all europeans, who go traipsing about in pine forests without the slightest worry that they could be dead within a minute if they put their foot in the wrong place.
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:25 AM on November 30, 2007


Just a quick comment...

I see you're planning steel-toed work boots. I would re-think that, and go non-steel-toed. Why? Partly because the steel-toed are heavier. Also the steel acts as a conductor of heat (will keep your feet cold in the cold, and hot in the heat). But mostly because they are so damn uncomfortable. I say this from experience. Had to get & wear a pair for work once while on the plane (E-2C Hawkeye). Got a good pair. And they sucked. Downright painful for walking even short distances.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 6:36 AM on November 30, 2007


* 1.5L aluminium bottle - Don't bother.

Why does everybody hate this one? ... I don't get the resistance.


I think because it sort of encapsulates the "bring extra shit you don't really need" that western travelers do so much of. You aren't talking about going to places where water is available only from springs and rivers, or where there is a critical shortage of water bottles. It is a minor luxury, but at the same time it takes up space in your pack, and adds some amount of weight (just a few ounces for the bottle, but probably more, because it is more likely to be kept full of water, so you are always carrying that 1.5 kilos of water, too). But I really think that what is being reacted to here is the symbolism of bringing that water bottle, not the practicalities.

Everything can be justified with practicalities, from specialized clothes lines to water bottles to cellphones. But fundamentally you have to decide: do I bring and carry lots of crap, or the bare minimum? And if it is the second, then lots of practical things (like clothes lines and water filters) might need to get left behind -- you are trading one convenience (carrying and worrying about less stuff) for the inconvenience of having to jury-rig your clothes-drying, carry sometimes leaky water bottles, and so on.

All of which to say again that I think this question is coming in from the wrong direction, because you can justify anything on practical/awesome reasons. Instead of looking for reasons to justify more stuff, I'd suggest the reverse. The weird thing here is that seems to already be your approach -- if you are carrying only 7kg of stuff for long trips, you obviously aren't bringing the kitchen sink (I think you pack about as minimally as I do, which takes work). So there is some slight cognitive dissonance being expressed here at your love for your water bottle, and your desire for suggestions of more stuff to bring, given your overall minimalism. Hence the push-back you are feeling for your beloved water bottle and steel-toed boots.

To me, it sounds like you have the packing thing nailed; one water bottle more or less isn't all that big of a deal as long as what you are doing is making you happy. (Well, except for the zip-off pants. Those things are an abomination and should be confiscated at border crossings.)
posted by Forktine at 7:46 AM on November 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


Everything can be justified with practicalities, from specialized clothes lines to water bottles to cellphones. But fundamentally you have to decide: do I bring and carry lots of crap, or the bare minimum? And if it is the second, then lots of practical things (like clothes lines and water filters) might need to get left behind -- you are trading one convenience (carrying and worrying about less stuff) for the inconvenience of having to jury-rig your clothes-drying, carry sometimes leaky water bottles, and so on.

OK, coming from an approach of "what can I get by without?", the least necessary things are probably the swiss army knife, emergency blanket, mosquito net, camera & ipod. ironically, probably the kinds of things that many people wouldn't even consider leaving behind for a second.

the most practical & useful items are probably the silk sleeping cocoon, sarong, floppy hat & clothesline. i could replace the clothesline with a ball of string that takes up more space, but that to me is counterintuitive. these are the kinds of travel accessories that i was fishing for. i won't say any more on the bottle issue, except that a plastic bottle of drinking water takes up as much space & weighs the same as my lovely aluminium one.

absolute essentials would be the maglite & compass, both quite easily replaceable by a local purchase, but possibly with shittier design.

[workboots] are so damn uncomfortable.


this one's totally a YMMV issue. i wear mine casually 95% of the time back home & they are comfy as all fuck. i wear Redbacks.

hm, in summary? yeh, you can easily take nothing & pick up what you need over there. true. better to take less, also true. there's pretty much nothing other than comfy, quality footwear that you couldn't set off without, but some items really are nice to have.
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:16 PM on November 30, 2007


heh - i should start another thread: "is it true that every backpacker is convinced that their own personal approach is the best, and why is this?"
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:26 PM on November 30, 2007


i would substitute a maglite or other handheld light for a headlamp. probably smaller and more functional (walking, reading, etc).

agreeing with the silk sleep sack, too...check ebay, i got one that was handmade and has held up very well. feels nice, but also helps a little with warmth.

for clothes drying...i like the flexo-line because you don't need clothespins!

and, lastly...easy drying clothes are great...especially those that you might want to wash often (shirts and underwear).
posted by hazel at 9:00 PM on November 30, 2007


I have nothing to add really, except this:-

SEA is a big place to be. If it's M'sia/Thailand (even Cambodia, to a large extent), then I find it useful to pick stuff up entirely on the way. For instance, I brought three sets of shirts-pants/cargo-half-pants (that's three including the ones I was wearing) and... just took the first flight to Bangkok. I have since expanded my wardrobe three-fold.

HOWEVER, that won't work with Burma obviously. I had previously expressed my views on travelling to Burma (I won't), so I really don't know what will work and what won't. I don't mean to be preachy here, but if I indeed would have to travel to Burma for whatever reason, luggage weight be damned, I'd make sure I'd buy as little as possible from government-linked shops/ chains.

(On reflection, I seem to be just gloating to y'all that I'm travelling in Thailand with zero planning. Didn't mean to useful at all; rather, I dont' know what else I can add practically speaking.)

Best of luck, stay safe, and if you're doing a travel-blog thing, do post a link somewhere on Mefi! :-)
posted by the cydonian at 3:07 AM on December 1, 2007


Now that I'm back, I might post an update (note that this refers specifically to Burma, mid-Dec to mid-Jan only):

* The mosquito net was completely redundant, as it had been previously in Laos. Never needed, never used. Where mosquitoes existed (it was too cold for them up north or at altitude) the guesthouses always had good flyscreens on windows, and I never even needed to kill mosquitoes in the rooms, because there weren't any. Even if there were, a can of flyspray would've done the trick.

* Contrary to nearly all experience in developing countries, even the budget guesthouses (I averaged $4/night) were typically almost spotless, and sheets & pillowslips were always freshly laundered, so the silk sleeping cocoon was also unnecessary (although used in Bangkok en route). Clean towels were also provided more often than not.

* Again, contrary to most of my experience, the guesthouses typically had pegs or racks to hang your towel, so even the twisty clothesline was redundant. Those Burmese really think of everything! Towel racks in hotel rooms! Unheard of!

* the cydonian's claim "that won't work with Burma obviously" turns out to be wrong. If we're talking basics like clothes, toiletries, medications etc, they're all as freely available there as anywhere else. Rangoon footpaths are chock full of stalls selling everything under the sun, for example, mostly imported from China, and every town has a market & plenty of small stores where you can pick up any of those kinds of things. There was no obvious soviet-style shortage of anything.

* The zipoff travel trousers didn't get much use - I preferred to go with the male Thailand uniform of cutoff jungle green style shorts, picked up for a few dollars, and FWIW, my pack weighed in at 7.1 kg leaving Sydney, a new record :)
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:10 PM on January 13, 2008


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