Thursday, September 15, 2011

Take It or Leave It

I have written a lot of posts about the things that I am glad to have with me on a long trip (see HERE and HERE) but Sarah’s post the other day prompted me to think about what I took with me that I wish I had left behind. Of course I already had a list started in my trusty Paperchase Notebook (HERE). Okay, so I am sorry, but I couldn’t help sneaking in one of the “can’t do without” items. 

In addition to Sarah’s back supporter and mini micro-fleece moldy travel towel (and her 50 granola bars and 20 pair of underwear), here are a few things that I could have done without: 

-       Socks: It depends on where you are going but usually you can do with very few pairs of socks. I brought three pairs – 2 pairs of ankle socks and one long pair for combo warmth and utility. If you are going to a warm place ONLY, I would say, bring one pair. Unless you are hiking, you don’t need very many and you can ALWAYS rinse them out and hang them up. (Also, buying these abroad is cheap if you absolutely need a new pair) However, I tend to bring a lot of underwear. If I have clean underwear, I feel “clean”. Right?

-       Unnecessary Electronics: 2 chargers, three USB cords, extra batteries… My electronics bag is probably one of the things that contributes most to the weight of my pack. However, unfortunately, until Apple, Sony and Amazon start getting along, you may have to carry at least two cords. I made the mistake of ALSO bringing a battery operated iPod charger, which was heavy since I also had extra batteries for it. I did not use it at all. I thought maybe I would be in a place with no power, but I rarely was. There are plugs in other countries! I would suggest investing in both a universal charger and a universal adapter and only taking these.

-       This brings me to a related subject and the other thing that weighs down my pack the most, Unnecessary Toiletries: I am not even really a very girly girl, so I didn’t have makeup or weird lotions or powders, but I still had A LOT of toiletries! Shampoo, Conditioner, Soap, Contact Lens Solution, Sunscreen, Fingernail Clippers, Floss, Toothpaste, A Year’s Supply of Tampons, etc. Unfortunately, you do NEED a lot of these things. And, some things, such as Tampons and Sunscreen, depending on where you are going, are scarce. However, I suggest taking small bottles and buying many things along the way (yes, they do have shampoo pretty much EVERYWHERE in the World!) Especially of Shampoo and Conditioner – get a combo and don’t wash your hair as often (gasp). Also, use things for more than one purpose. Shampoo can also be body wash or laundry detergent. Sunscreen can be your new body lotion. Tampons can be…no, just kidding.

-       Books: This is a hard one for me, as I don’t want to run out of reading material. When we started our trip, we had: (1) Lonely Planet Europe, (1) Lonely Planet Southern Africa, (1) Lonely Planet Africa, (3) Novels – me, (3) Novels – Mr. L. That is 9 books total, and that doesn't even count my journal, a couple of magazines and a mini notebook for my purse. The LP’s weigh about 45 lbs each*. If you don’t mind wreaking book havoc, I would say cut out the section of the LP that you need and only bring that. If you want to keep it, you will have to lug around quite a heavy book! Now there are also LP’s for iPad, iPhone etc. This may be the way to go, although I have not tried them to see how they look. They would be a lot lighter! As for Novels, there are always book swaps at hostels. Sometimes you have to pay a little fee to swap, but a dollar or two is worth saving your back! I admit, I did read some pretty horrible strange books while traveling, but there WERE always books in English! I would say carry one or two. Or get a Kindle! *small exaggeration. They may be about 5 lbs though!

-       Clothes: Clothes are HEAVY! Think carefully about what you will need, and pack accordingly. For me, we were not going to any nice places, so I could mostly pack hiking type stuff that could double as street wear. Get used to wearing things a few times a week, layering or mixing and matching few items. You may start out thinking fashion is important, but soon you will realize it all comes down to how much each thing weighs!

-       Food: We, and by we, mostly I mean my boyfriend, carried around a lot of food. Most of it we ate. However, there were some things (canned Pate from France) that we carried around for a long time before finally deciding to ditch. I guess it’s the survival instinct. It is hard to find non-perishable things that you can carry easily and eat quickly. They are mostly canned. And heavy. Just try to plan to go shopping more often and carry less items if you can. This one is difficult, as it is hard to have enough so if you have a 25 hour bus ride with no stops you don’t starve, but to not have to carry around 400 lbs of canned tuna.

-       Weighty Items in General: When picking out your backpack, tent, jacket or sleeping bag, it may be worth it to spend a couple (hundred) extra dollars to get the lightweight versions. I heard about a guy who hiked the Pacific Crest Trail with only 7 lbs on his back. He hiked it twice in one year (normally one way takes about 5 or 6 months). Now, I am not suggesting you do that, but if your sleeping bag weighs one pound versus six, and your pack, tent and jacket are the same, you will save 5, 10 or 20 lbs just by paying a couple hundred more for your items. This is the same even if you are not camping. Check the weight of your items! 

Here are a few lists of things I DO like to have with me:

Are there things you have brought with you on a trip and not used? What is one thing you would leave behind? What is one thing you cannot live without when traveling?


  1. Great tips! The best advice I ever had was to pack all your 'essential' items, then cut them by half!! The combination shampoo/body wash is a great idea, and happily a tube of mascara takes up virtually NO space (and doesn't weigh much either)!!

  2. I can vouch for the greatness of ebooks! I bring an ipad traveling, which has its pros and cons, to be sure, but a definite pro is that I can carry 10 books for the weight of one! Lonely Planet guidebooks, magazines, newspapers, novels... all on the ipad. Plus, when I was done reading a book and needed a new one, I could just get online and buy a new one. It's much harder to whip out the ipad at an intersection to look at a map, but I found that you can generally find a map in every new city, and sometimes it's just better to put the book down and see what happens anyway!