Let's not even speak about the number of Band-Aids I was toting around. This was Mistake Number One. I left much of this extra stuff behind, in a pile on a bed, when I checked out of a hotel on Day Three of the trip. It may not sound like much, but when carrying all your possessions in a backpack, things add up: they take up space and collectively add weight. After packing and unpacking and repacking my bag about ten times in those first three days, looking for any possible thing to get rid of, I realized that I'd brought too much with me. Of everything. The lesson here: pack only what you need to get started. You can find almost anything you need no matter where you land.
Mistake Number Two was a result of an overzealous virtual shopping spree at REI. I made an online registry thinking that with Christmas coming and all, it would be a great way to acquire all the essentials for my upcoming trip. I went crazy. It was like buying a sound system or new furniture or a treasure chest full of party clothes for my Sims family, where shopping is truly fun and completely affordable, being that it's a computer game. It is so much easier to add things to a 'list' versus placing them on a counter of a real store, where you might stop to ask yourself when pulling out the wallet, 'Do I really need this 'Navy Seals tested waterproof storage system'?
People asked, "Do you really need a pedometer?" I scoffed, "But of course!" Back then, Benjamin and I thought we'd keep track of each and every step we took so that at the end of our trip, we could shock and amaze friends and family by revealing that while in Asia, we walked a total of 2,000 miles and took 6,975,000 steps (talk about geeks). Others asked, "Where are you going that you'll need an 'Emergency Blanket'?" My answer, "You never know!" This little item seemed absolutely essential when I put it on the gift registry but when it came time to packing the bag, it's bulk dispatched it to the storage bin (Sorry, Bill, but thanks for the gift; we'll use the blankets when we go camping). Lesson learned here: don't be seduced by the excitement and adventure of the upcoming trip - keep it simple and stick with the basics.
Mistake Number Three is neither packing nor 'trying' my packed bag out before hitting the road. I packed my bag in 20 minutes and finished just moments before leaving the apartment for our good-bye party, and then the airport. I was reeling under the weight. "No really, I'll be fine," I replied in a strangled voice to concerned friends who offered to help with my backpack. "I've got to carry this thing around for the next year, don't I?" I mumbled this more to myself than anyone else. What I thought was essential before leaving was all shipped back home at various stages during the trip, but the first shipment was the biggest of all, full of extra clothes, Nalgene bottles, and whatever else I didn't leave on that bed in Kolkata on Day Three. Lesson: a dry run is smart way to pack... or to edit what you've packed. I should have packed my bag well in advance and taken a 15-minute walk with the thing on my back to get an idea of what the weight was like.
Forget all the extra 'essentials' I obtained thanks to REI and Santa, and the extra extras (i.e. 6 months of Q-Tips)... Following is a list of what I consider to be packing 'Have' and 'Have Nots' after 13 months on the road:
These things were used on a daily or regular basis - or were only used once in a while, but were incredibly handy.
• Sunscreen (can also be purchased on the road)
• Mosquito Repellent (ditto above)
• Pocket knife
• Scissors (sharp for haircuts or altering clothes)
• Sewing Kit
• Large Binder Clips (I know it sounds odd, but they have a zillion uses)
• Roll of Scotch Tape (ditto the above)
• Sleeping Bag Liner
• Security Cable (immensely important in India, but sent it home thereafter)
• Packing Cubes (great to compartmentalize your bag for easy packing)
• Compression Packing Bags (ditto above)
• Large Ziplock Bags (great to waterproof documents & electronics)
• Travel Alarm Clock
• Small Flashlight
• Luggage Locks
• Padlock for doors (useful on occasion)
• Plastic envelope (to carry passports, receipts, etc... in your daypack)
• Medicine Kit (see the full list in pills and shots)
• First Aid Kit (includes bandages and tape, etc...)
• Moleskin Blister Kit(s)
• Travel Clothesline
• 2 pairs shoes: flip-flops and hiking sandals/shoes
• 2 pairs socks: for hiking with blisters or for cold temps
• 4 shirts: one with buttons and a collar to look 'nice'
• 2 - 3 pants: long or calf-length is better for Asia (for shorts, zip-offs are popular)
• 1 'cold weather' outfit: pair of jeans, long sleeve shirt
• 1 lightweight, waterproof windbreaker
• 7 pairs of NEW underwear (they wear out too quickly if less or if old)
• Swim Suit (purchase beach towel on the road unless the beach is your first stop)
You can always add a t-shirt here and there - you'll end up buying some clothes on the road so don't start off with too many. If you're a large person, and in Asia that means size medium and up, you may have problems finding clothes that fit: bear it in mind. It took me 7 months to find underwear that kind of fit, and thank God I did.
These things were never used, if brought, or never 'wished for' if not brought.
A lot of people like to think they're helping the environment by traveling with a Nalgene bottle, but the truth is, you'll only get water in bottles anyway. Nalgene bottles become extra baggage.
Water purifiers should only be considered if you're camping for long periods of time.
I've seen lots of people with money pouches, but I've never used one nor felt 'unsafe' without one.
Mosquito Net & Hammock
These will usually be provided if needed
Backpack Security Net
Backpack security nets are overkill and way too heavy to carry around. However, a security cable with lock is a good idea for train travel, especially in India.
Most places, even the low-end budget, will provide bath towels.