After ten weeks of backpacking and hauling my big pink rucksack around SE Asia, I realise that some items were essential and some were just dead weights. Here’s 8 things I wish I hadn’t packed retrospectively:
Denim and woollen things are heavy to lug around and not that suitable in the downpours, unless you enjoy chaffing on a motorbike. Most travellers will succumb to a bargain pair of printed harem pants which are breezy in the humid sun, and warm and quick to dry in the sudden monsoon rain. The temperature doesn’t really drop below 25C in SE Asia even in the wet season, so a waterproof mac is enough. You’ll want to stock up your wardrobe so don’t pack too much.
2. Pretty things
Make-up, nail varnish and jewellery were not things I touched on the road: I revelled in being able to walk around with unbrushed hair, no slap on my face and arms covered in cheap beads I bought from street pedlars. My nicer clothes started looking a bit grubby with all the sun cream and sweat stains on them, and only some recovered with a bit of Vanish when I got home. Of course, I’d occasionally want to de-scruff and treat myself, and with a beauty and massage parlour on every street you can enjoy hour-long luxury treatments for a few pounds.
3. Premature gifts
With all those night markets, persuasive pedlars and handcrafted goods, it’s hard to wait until the end of your trip. Shopping for the folks back home and bringing them a slice of the weird and wonderful back is one of my favourite things to do whilst I’m away. And I love haggling a bit too much. I got carried away and bought gorgeous scarves, colourful fabric lanterns and painted umbrellas far too early on. Although it almost broke my back, it meant my gifts weren’t all from Bangkok which was for the best really…
I heard so many firsthand tales on the road of laptops, phones, passports etc being stolen. This made me very paranoid as I was a walking Apple advert, with an iPhone, iPod and iPad. After getting myself fully insured before I set off on my trip, I was very cautious of where I flaunted my tech and used a padlock to deter thieves. I am a fan of the fashionable ‘fanny pack’, and on night buses I made sure my valuables were with me and not in the luggage holdall where I couldn’t see them. I was wary of wearing jewellery on the streets as it attracted a whole crowd of salesmen who could sniff my money.
5. Extra footwear
All I wore were flip flops. My trainers sat dejected in my bag for most of the trip, and when they did finally venture out they got so wet I had to ditch them. From climbing in the jungle, to wading through a flooded market and crawling through the Viet Cong tunnels, my trusted Havaianas served me well. With all the Buddhist and Hindi temples to visit, you want shoes that are easy to slip off before you enter.
I’m a complete sucker for a story. I had a Kindle app on my iPad, but I’m old fashioned and prefer to have paperbacks. Lots of locals carry entire bookshelves down the streets balanced on one hip and it was hard to say no. I enjoyed reading up on local literature especially before visiting Vietnam and Cambodia. However, my weakness for flipping pages was a heavy habit and I ended up donating books to other backpackers.
7. The wrong currency
It sounds ridiculous, but I had a purse filled with English coins, Singapore dollars, Malaysian Ringgits, Thai Baht, Laos Kip, Vietnamese Dong and Cambodian US dollars. I suppose it was a sentimental thing, but I eventually came to my senses (once I’d run out of money) and changed all my notes and coins so that I could actually use them. We found the transfer rate is not too good on the streets so it’s worth finding a good money exchange counter recommended by locals.
8. Camping gear
Trekking was on our original itinerary but we soon realised we didn’t have time to fit in a week-long jungle trek. With the waterfalls, caves and viewpoints easily accessible by tuk tuk and motorbike in Thailand/Laos, we didn’t use our bulky sleeping bags or mosquito nets. Most hostels provide nets or citronella candles, and sleeping bags are banned to avoid the spread of bed bugs. Yet our head torches were handy for night buses and walking around at night.
I realise this list only tells you what not to pack, so I’ll provide a list of super useful things I used on the road to help you pack for your trip!