The Travelers Checklist – A few weeks before you go
Which Bag is the right one?
I had years to find out which one is the right one for me. When I was 15 and did Interrail in West Europe with my friend and I had a bag pack. At the time I had not really an idea what a good backpack is and had a cheap one. We did not do a lot of walking so it did not really matter. When I walked the Annapurna Circuit a few years ago I had a good backpack and was really happy with it. If I imagine I would have to do that with the same old backpack – no thank you. Still, if you look at the locals – they have a simple wood construction and carry 4 times the weight.
One word of advice – if you really go trekking you can not just get a backpack online because you read a few reviews that were good. Every backpack is a bit different and there are backpacks for men and women who are different as well. You should go into a good store and try a few with the weight in them that you expect to carry. If the store does not have weight bags you know you are in the wrong store! You will be happy with yourself after the first few miles with the bag and for the rest of the trip if you have the one that fits you.
If you do not plan to walk longer distances – let’s say you walk from the bus to the train or from the bus to the guest house – I do not really see the need for a backpack. You have to carry all the extra weight and have to stuff the shoulder straps and the much bigger waist belt into that small compartment overhead in the train to Bangkok. I started out with a simple duffel bag – now you can get them even waterproof – they are super light compared to a backpack and you can easily stuff them in tight spaces (if they are not too full that is). If you want to go easy – a trolley with a telescopic handle does the trick. I would recommend a flexible Cordura trolley – again chances are that you have to stuff it into a compartment. And if not full it does take less space than the once with solid cases.
Lets face it – most of us do not really go off-road with the bag for more than a few hundred meters and if so you can still use the trolley as a backpack: it has two handles !!
Pro Tip: A lightweight stuff sack is a nice add-on for whatever bag you have. I took a bus in the desert of India once – it started to rain in the middle of the night and the road was quite dusty – so water and dust did form mud and that mud ventured into the luggage compartment under the bus. You should have seen the mess in the morning. Everything was wet and dirty. I was very happy because I put my bag pack (I was hiking 2 months in Nepal before) into a stuff sack before. Out of the sack and onto my back – the dirty stuff sack into a plastic back I was off to a guest house while the rest cursed and tried to get the mud off the bags. And you can easily lock it with one lock – try to lock your backpack!
Pack the Bag
That early? Yes – pack everything that you want to bring. That way you see if your back is too small or too big and you can still get a new one.
The best advice: Put everything on your bed or the floor or on a table – and then reduce it by 30%!!
After more than 30 years of traveling I still carry stuff that I do not touch the whole trip. I remember the 1st trip to Asia – after 2 weeks I went to the post office and shipped a big box of clothes home that I thought I can not live without!
What to pack? That I can not really tell you as I do not know where you go! Clothing takes usually the most space in your bag. I like the concept of layers. You might go for rain and windproof shell a fleece and a few shirts. Instead of a heavy jacket that would be to warm most of the time. I did fell in love with my Fjällräven trousers. They are quick-to-dry, windproof, mosquito saves, offer UV protection and are super light compared to blue jeans. Sure if temperature permits I wear cotton shorts. You might want to bring swimwear or a hat – depending on where you go.
Remember – unless you are really tall you can get most stuff on the road. Let’s say you make your way from Bangkok to Saigon and go trekking in Nepal after that – you will find plenty of shops that sell fake trekking apparel and a few that sell second-hand trekking apparel – so no need to carry the heavy jacket and socks for the summit all over SEA. And why not sell them again when you are done with the trip?
I like to put stuff in ziplock bags to find it easy. All the electronic cables, for example, underwear, socks, etc. That way the stuff stays where I put it and does not move all over the pack when the bus scampers like a rabbit for hours towards Spiti Valley.
Try the new Gear
Got a new tent or a gasoline cooker? Try them out and get to know them. Nothing worse than arriving at your campsite and it is getting dark and you have to get the tent up with no clue how to do it! If you have new hiking boots be sure to walk a lot with them every day – blisters on your hiking trip will spoil the fun!
Why not take a walk with your packed bag pack to see if you have to readjust the frame?
Scan and email your Passport
Scan or take pictures of your passport, ATM cards, visa and if you do not have an e-ticket – your flight tickets and email everything to yourself. That way you can not lose anything. If you want you can also email it to somebody you can trust as a backup in case you do not remember your password anymore. Last time I did use a Traveler’s cheque? I do not even remember – but if you have some – at last email the receipt as well.
Voltage Converter and Multi-Plug Connector
Some counties do use 130 volts – most modern electronics take anything from 120 V to 230 V but if you still use electronics that only works with 130 volts – you do need a converter if you travel overseas.
Most of the cheap bungalows, hotel, and guest house rooms have only one outlet for the fan. If you want to charge your camera, phone, tablet, computer or use other electronics it is good if you bring a multi-plug connector and also an international travel plug if you travel to a country where they use different plugs.
Got this one in Bangkok for 1€. It takes 3 US plugs like the blue one or 2 Euro plugs like the black one that is attached on the left of the picture.
Another adapter – this one you screw between the light bulb and the bulb fitting. Very handy if there is no power outlet in your room! Usually there is at last a light!
Phone and Data
Check if your phone is sim lock free – this way you can get a local sim card and save big on local calls. In Thailand, you can talk for 44 minutes local or mobile to another Thai phone for 1€! This will boil down to a few seconds if you roam. If your phone is sim locked you might get a cheap prepaid phone once you arrive at your destination or get a cheap second-hand phone. If you need data to check the internet before you go which plan does suit you best. Even the cheap guesthouses and hostels have wifi all over Asia and in most places the bars, coffee shops, and restaurants as well.
For your international calls you might install a VOIP app on your smartphone, tablet or computer. I have 2 different ones on my iPhone and MacBook and international landlines start at 1 cent per minute. Some people like to use Skype to call landlines – if you ask me – it is too expensive and I did lose all my money I paid them once as it was only good for a certain amount of time!
I use smsdiscount and sipgate. If you are German you should try sipgate (sponsored link). They give you a free local German number so your friends can even call you at your local German number when you are sitting on a beach in Thailand or the Philippines – if you have internet that is!
Read up on your trip
It is good if you know the essentials of the countries where you go.
One of the best resources on the net is Wikitravel! It is a kind of digital lonely planet. The latest information on everything travel related is what you looking for? The Thorn Tree Forum is where you want to point your browser!
Make sure you know at last the important do’s & don’ts of every country that you visit. A few words like “Hello” and “Thank You” and a few numbers. That can change the whole game for you compared to your fellow traveler!
Mail & Newspapers
Find a friend or neighbor that does look after your mailbox. You do not want to come back to a mess of letters in front of your door. My mail gets scanned and emailed to me. Thanks to very nice people back home.
If you have a newspaper subscription you want to stop delivery for the time when you are not at home. Back home you can also donate the newspaper to a school or jail when you are not at home – I do like the idea.
Did I forget something? Please give me feedback in the comments!