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Packing for the Ultimate Adventure

We weren't kidding about 'travelling light'...

sunny 16 °C

With an ambitious plan to cover more than twenty countries in six months, we decided we'd 'backpack' rather than suitcase for the duration. Lloyd did the primary research and - about twenty trips to REI later - we ended up with a 90 litre backpack for Lloyd and a 70 litre girlie version for me. Actually, Lloyd was trying to persuade me to go for those backpacks that also have wheels on them - a tempting option that - in retrospect - would have suited us just fine for much of our trip. The only trade off is the additional weight associated with the integrated wheels.

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Day 1. Wishing I'd done some weight training in preparation....

Of course, we were determined to set off with the bare minimum we could. But how to pack for everything from safari in Africa to hiking to Everest Base Camp to scuba-diving in Papua New Guinea? We left Heathrow with Lloyd carrying about 26 kilograms (about 57 pounds) and me about 17 kilograms (about 37 pounds), and quickly realized it was too much for prolonged carriage! We also knew that we had to get down to 15 kilograms each for our safari flights in Kenya, and leaving additional kit in storage in Nairobi didn't seem to be the wise choice. Happily for us (but not so for Emma and D'ell), we were able to offload about 14 pounds of 'stuff' in Greece to be transported back to the UK where it would gather dust for six months.

This turned out to be the first of several 'dumps' of kit. As we travelled, we sent packages from Hong Kong, Jaisalmer (India), Saigon and Port Moresby (Papua New Guinea) with stuff we'd either bought or didn't need anymore. The expense of sending mail plus the added uncertainty that it would ever arrive proved to be quite a discpline in terms of buying 'stuff' on the way! Far more reliable, of course, are people, and we asked the friends and family we met with along the way to help us by carrying home back-ups of our photos and more expensive electronics items.

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Sending a package from Jaisalmer, India. The 'customs' form was nothing more than a scrap of a paper stapled to the cloth-bound box. We were 100% certain we'd never see the box again .... but it arrived safely in London within two weeks!

I'll post a complete list of what each of us carried and where and why it was jettisoned separately. But, first, a few tips in case you are planning your own trip.....

1) It really is true. Pack what you think you'll need and them lose half of it. Shoes can consume a lot of space, so find two pairs that can cover any eventuality: we each had a pair of good quality sandals that we used day-to-day for most activities and a slightly heavier pair of hiking shoes that we used for everything else (and indeed were essential for hiking in North Vietnam and getting to Everest Base Camp etc). Maybe it's obvious, but we wore the heavier shoes on the days we were flying to lighten the load.

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Our worldy possessions for six months....

2) If you're going to live with the same clothes for six months, make sure you love them! I bought my blue shirt at REI thinking that a splash of colour amidst all the khaki and beige would be welcome. And I spent the next six months wishing I'd bought something more neutral. Similarly, Lloyd and I both settled into a pattern of 'favourite' shorts and 'preferred' tops, sending back multiple items almost completely unworn. We did roadtest the key items with a few outings in the Bay Area prior to departure, but figure out your favs earlier, and you'll be a step ahead of where we were.

3) With so few clothing items, you're going to end up doing laundry very frequently - in our case every three days at least... more frequently if I was in a good hotel! With this frequency, you can carry less underwear than you think you'll need..... we each started with enough for five days and ended up with enough for three. That's plenty, but make sure you have the fast-drying stuff that will easily dry overnight in just about any environment (the only place stuff didn't dry out was the Vietnamese highlands during our hill-tribe trek).

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Laundry ... again! Don't forget your own hanging line!

4) In fact, make sure that ALL your clothes are made of the new technical materials that are breathable and dry super fast. It's worth the investment.

5) Don't worry too much about one-off requirements that crop up along the way. In most places, clothing is so inexpensive that you could literally buy-it for a single use if you needed to. For example, we purchased some heavier jackets in Lhasa as we prepared to head up to Everest Base Camp (and actually sent them home after), and we bought a few 'smarter' items tops to pair with our 'uniform' shorts in Bangkok before we turned up at the Four Seasons Tented Camp.

6) If you are meeting friends and family along the way, plan in advance to have them replenish supplies. For example, we asked friends and family to carry a 'comfort box' that we'd given them prior to our own departure. Ours included essentials such as malarone pills and sudafed, but mostly non-essentials designed to ease the journey: artificial sweetener for Lloyd's coffee, twinings english breakfast teabags for me, sachets of lemonade, mini tabascos and HP sauces, travel sized versions of our favourite toothpaste and hand-wash, and mini cans of bug spray. You get the idea. One thing I really wished I'd put in was dental floss.... we ran out and really had to go hunting for it in Hoi An, Vietnam!

7) Don't even leave the house without duct tape.

8) With just about every element of our trip planned online, we were surprised that we still ended up with about twenty paper airline tickets that we had no option but to carry with us. We fully expected that our travel folio (with these documents and others, like our travel insurance policy) would be lost or stolen at least once. So, we had scanned versions on our laptop as a primary back-up but, in case that got stolen too, left paper and scanned copies with the family member most likely to be accessible in an emergency.

9) Don't forget biros, post cards, small gifts. Shame on us. We didn't have any biros for the kids in Kenya or Cambodia. Ug.

10) Finally, a shameless plug for Pack-It cubes. I'm SO glad we discovered them before we left and I'm now a lifelong addict. Basically, the cubes are sturdy zip pouches that organize your luggage. Whenever we arrived at a destination, I just pulled all the pack-it cubes out and - voila! - we were unpacked.

If the weight distribution between Lloyd and I seems a little on the unfair side, consider this: I started the trip carrying around about 32% of my bodyweight, while Lloyd was 'only' carrying 28%!! In terms of what we carried, we each carried our own clothes (which worked well because my smaller clothes fit well into my smaller backpack!). Lloyd carried the extra weight and bulk associated with the laptop and other electronics, while I responsible for safe carriage of the sizeable medical kit, our very modest toiletry bag and other travel odds and ends (travel towels, sink plug, door stopper, washing line etc).

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Since Lloyd insisted on just about every technical gadget on the planet, it was only fair he should carry it!

I'll try and extract Lloyd from work long enough to get him to write an entry about the technical stuff. We see discussions all the time about whether or not to bring a laptop. There's no way we could have put our blog together if we hadn't had it. We absolutely expected to lose or break it somewhere during the trip and insured it accordingly. But here I am, three months post-trip, tapping away on the same old keyboard! The only technical mishaps we had were (i) losing one of our little point-and-shoot cameras in Greece and (ii) Lloyd's iPod meeting with it's final song at Everest Base Camp - apparently the altitude was too much for it. Hell, it was too much for Lloyd so I guess that's fair enough.

If you're hitting the road soon and have questions regarding packing, please don't hesitate to contact us.

Posted by jacquiedro 05.04.2008 17:51 Archived in USA Tagged preparation

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