Remember the old adage: take half as many clothes and twice as much money. I’m still working on the ‘double the money’ part, but the bit about packing light is very true; nobody will care that you only have two outfits, and with a small bag you can easily shove your stuff into cheap buses and trains. After doing this shtick a bazillion times, I like to think I’m pretty OK at packing. My rules:
•If it will only be worn for a possible occasion, i.e. when you meet the Dalai Lama, or go running outside in Shanghai in July, do not bring it.
•If in doubt as to whether you should bring an item, don’t do it. Unless you are in a very remote area, you can buy whatever you need on the road.
•Additionally, assume you will buy some stuff! I purposely bring small amounts of toothpaste and face cream so I can buy new, cool stuff abroad.
•If your bag gets lost halfway through your trip you want it to join you, not your parents back home: put a copy of your complete itinerary in your bag.
•Speaking of bags, do not make your luggage the generic black Samsonite stuff. Remember what happened to Greg Focker! At least tie a bright-coloured scarf around the handle.
•Bring a couple of things that remind you of family/friends back home. Keeping me company was a polaroid of my fluffy cat and a bookmark my mum embroidered. Aw!
•Bringing two colours is better than bringing five or six. Easier to coordinate
amazing passable outfits.
•Bring layers. On this trip I went through freezing cold mountains and broiling desserts with only the stuff in my carry-on. My long-sleeved shirt and light cardigan were as useful in Shanghai as in the yurt; I was trying not to get burned, after all.
•Do not bring anything too heavy to hand wash. This means no jeans. It’s too hot anyway.
•Make a list! Months before a trip I think of what I’d like to bring, and what will be essential. Then I whittle it down and keep it in Evernote. I know this sounds incredibly nerdy, but it really helps!
•Have some non-perishable snacks with you at all times. You may get stuck on an epic bus ride, or find you get to a city too late to buy dinner. Trail mix and granola bars are good ideas. Oh, and if you like beef jerky, keep in mind that taking it into certain places, like Korea, can be a problem.
•Bring a mug. It’ll come in very handy if you’re taking any trains; hot water is always available, so you can make tea or ramen.
•Make your clothes/makeup blend in as much as possible. Central Asia can be quite conservative, so you may feel more comfortable covering up tattoos and keeping your sleeves long. But see how you feel; in 40-degree weather I deinitely went out in sleeveless tops and had no problems.
Things I will make my new rules:
•Do not pack clothes in black or white: white gets dirty, black can get really hot. But they look so good together!
•Do ensure that your first aid kit contains more than a band aid and two paracetamol. I got pretty sick in Uzbekistan, and was only lucky my friend had some meds with him.
•Do not pack books as ‘aspirational reading’. Trust me, you will not end up reading Ulysses.
OK, finally, the actual clothes I packed:
•Two dresses (one blue, one white)
•One pair of trousers (black)
•One pair of shorts (white)
•One collared, long-sleeved shirt (blue)
•Two pairs of pyjamas
•One pair of stretchy shorts, intended for the exercise that never happened
•4 pairs of underwear, 3 bras
•Two tank tops, one t-shirt
•Spare copies of my passport and visas
•One lipstick (pink)
•Hairpins and hair ties
•Lots of sunscreen, in both spf 30 and 50. If you’re curious, Ultrasun 30 for face is great.
•Face/hand wipes for the train (and lazy days)
Most useful: What a dull answer, but my iPhone. Any device that will give you access to maps, ebooks and a camera will come in extremely handy.
Least useful: My camera. With an iPhone handy, I didn’t take my point-and-shoot out once. Aaand that copy of Ulysses. Even now I’ve read only 50 pages…of the introduction.
What I Wish I’d brought: More ‘Canadian things’: pins, loonies (one-dollar coins), maple syrup candies; surprisingly, the locals I met were extremely curious about life in Canada. Souvenirs from your hometown, or even photos, will help a lot. And gifts will always go down well. For instance, my friend told me that locals in remote parts of Tibet are always glad to get lip balm, for all the dry mountain air.