I tend to be a light packer, perhaps influenced by my backpacking days in the 70s when we were advised to bring only two outfits—one to wear and one to carry. The clothes were quick drying so we could wash them at night and wear them in the morning. I think a sweater doubled as a housecoat, the nightgown as a dress, that sort of thing. Whatever space was left in our backpacks was reserved for books and souvenirs.
Today I question if I’m a smart packer. As a Canadian I never expect it will be cold on ‘the other side of the world’ although drifts of snow greeted me and my sandaled feet in Afghanistan and more recently a snowstorm welcomed me to Fes, Morocco and there was nothing in my suitcase to keep me warm. If I had tucked in thermal underwear, mittens and a wool scarf I would have been much happier. For a last-minute trip to the Balkans I arrived with no cash, no batteries for my alarm clock, no adapter for my computer, and once again clothes that were not warm enough.
I am a serious reader and since electricity can be unpredictable in developing countries I always carry a flashlight (and usually extra batteries). A flashlight also comes in handy when you’re out and about at night. If you’re going to buy buns, cheese, yogurt and the like then pack a fork, spoon and knife. Don’t forget a corkscrew. Zip-lock baggies come in handy. Consider bringing maps from home. I rented a car in Cuba and after much asking around had to rely on the most inadequate tourist map to guide me through the country. Needless to say, I was lost most of the time (but still had a grand time).
Safeguarding essential prescription drugs is important. Be sure the medication has your name on it along with your doctor’s. Think about bringing a letter from your physician explaining the medication. Bring a replacement subscription. Don’t carry all your drugs in one place.
If you’re travelling to remote places you should be more careful about what you bring. My daughter brought an extensive first aid kit for her trip to Tanzania. Travellers were willing to pay an inflated price for toilet paper in the foothills of Nepal. Don’t forget sunscreen, insect repellent, disinfectant hand gel and comfortable shoes.
Today I usually bring a suitcase on wheels and a day pack. I almost always bring a laptop. My camera is smaller than in days past and takes better photos; instead of carting batteries I bring along a charger. I also take an iPod and will probably buy an e-reader soon, which will end my need to haul books around the world.
My desire to pack light has not changed and my suitcase is smaller than it was a couple of years ago. Now my stuff fits in the overhead compartment of planes, is relatively easy to haul up hotel stairs and light enough to avoid paying extra when using small aircrafts.
So for me, less is still more and it is liberating to leave the hairdryer and all that useless paraphernalia at home.
By Sylvia Fanjoy
© Riding the buses 2011