I meant to write this list before I went to Mexico, and compare it with what I arrived home with but I forgot on both occasions. The list is neither exhaustive nor specialised, just a collection of things I found useful around Central America and Israel in no particular order, as food for thought as you start preparing.
|Rope/String||A short piece a foot or two long. Handy for holding things together, and stopping toilet doors banging on long bus journeys.|
|Duct Tape||Hardly needs explanation, good for fixing books, bottles, boats, beds, bags and all manner of things beginning with a b.|
|Playing Cards||Great for breaking the ice with strangers, and having something to do when conversation is thin.|
|Pens||One in your pocket, a few in your bag. Only ever carry pens with lids or where the nib is protected, else you’ll end up with ink stains everywhere.|
|Photocopies of your important documents||Copies of anything you might possibly need: passport, vaccination record, visa. Keep one on you and one in your bag, or bags. In addition to the real things.|
|Notebook||Jot down numbers, directions, hotel rooms so when you’re exhausted, drunk or lost in another language, you’re not stuck. Also great for jotting down words you’re currently learning.|
|Toilet Paper||I was never to be found without a healthy wad of toilet paper in my back pocket. Great for when the toilets aren’t up to scratch, or when you spill your soup on the bus.|
|External Hard Drive||When your camera memory card fills up, you need to unload it somewhere. Get a small one if possible, they take up less space and are powered by USB rather than a mains plug.|
|Backup External Drive||Keep it in a separate bag/place to your storage drive. If the internet is frequent and reliable, you could backup to the Internet before deleting from your card (but after copying to your External Drive). Remember, if you don’t have two physically separate copies you don’t have a backup.|
|Alarm Clock||So you don’t miss your bus, train station or evening meeting with the local you befriended the day before.|
|Tea Towel||A personal favourite, I like to take packed lunches to save on eating out costs. Wrap it in the tea towel to keep it warm, then use the towel in case you make a mess.|
|Tupperware Container||I like long thin flat-ish ones so you can shove them down the side of a bag. Obviously only useful if you want to carry packed lunches.|
|Sewing Kit||Long bus journeys are a great time to finish patching up your trousers.|
|Small Torch or reading light||For sneaking around dorm rooms, reading on dark buses and finding things you’ve dropped under tables. My phone has a built in torch.|
|Spare Phone||Losing your phone abroad is bad enough, having to find out how to buy a new one can be expensive and time consuming.|
|Carrier Bags||I’ve always got a few plastic bags in the side pocket of my rucksack. They’re handy for when you go shopping, as laundry bags, something to sit on, somewhere for your rubbish and for when things leak.|
|Contact Cards||If your lucky, you’ll make loads of friends. The downside is having to write your email, facebook and number over and over again in ever scrawly writing. I met someone who had a couple of dozen business cards printed, saved lots of time!|
|Diary||If your the kind to reminisce, keep a brief log with date and a few words about where you were. Once you get home, you may have great difficulty remembering the order of some events! I did mine in a document on the computer.|
|Skype Credit||So when you run out of money, you’ve already topped up your Skype account with enough to phone home with.|
|First Aid Kit||In addition to duct tape, a few plaster and magic creams. Ibuprofen for the long-journey cramps, Melatonin for the by-golly-I-wish-I-was-asleep moments and Imodium for the floods of diarrhoea.|
|Portable Charger||Cool and useful. Don’t forget a cable!|
|Elastic Bands||To seal unfinished bags of nibbles, tie your hair when you’re out of bands and to improvise games on the beach.|
|Money pouch||Never have all your money in one place, keep most of it somewhere not pickpocket-able but have enough on you to get to a safe place if you lose everything else.|
|Compass||If you’re a map-reader you’ll already have your map, hence I don’t need to list it here, however some places have really bad labelling of roads so being able to orient yourself without names is really handy. Also good for knowing which way to look for an excellent sunset (look west). If you want to get really cool, whip it out in a hostel to pick the best room for warmth (south facing windows) or a lie in (east facing windows).|
|Cooking Oil||I don’t mention a whole cooking set because that’s up to you style of travel. I have, however, been known to whip out my olive oil to keep the hostel door quiet. Just make sure it’s leak proof.. there was this one time in Israel…|
|Spare Bank Card||It could take weeks to get a replacement card sent to your home and then to your foreign location. My bank wouldn’t let me have two cards on one account, so I opened a joint account with my brother and took both cards, meaning I had three bank cards to lose before I was actually in trouble.|
|Stuff for getting home||An envelope with some home money, an oyster card and house keys might be handy when you get back.|
|Hand bag||I travel with three bags, a big one on my back, a smaller one on my front (which I hate and try to avoid), and an empty one inside the big one. This is so I can go to the pub with a few essentials without having to re-pack before and after.|
|Towel||Ah, the famous towel from HHG2G. Not only does it dry you off, they make excellent blankets, holdalls, pillows, padding for souvenirs and insulation for cold beers.|
|Family Photo||Bit of an odd one, but the places I’ve visited have been very family orientated and on several occasions I wish I’d had a small photo in my wallet to show off.|
|Small change from home||You’re going to meet foreigners and travellers, they’re often interested in money from around the world, having something to show them can be good fun.|
Some other thoughts:
- Even though you have no idea if it’s a good deal, I always exchanged about £20 worth of cash with the traders at the border. You’ll never save that much by waiting, but having some cash for a bottle of water or a taxi can be really handy.
- Some foods are better than others on a bus. Avoid crumbly bread and any peanut butter jars if you can’t scrape the bottom with your finger. I’ve stopped carrying anything I can’t eat the moment I get fed up carrying it (i.e food which needs cooking). Food is heavy.
- Write your name and contact info on anything you’d like back if you lose (especially notebooks or cameras). You may not get them, but at least there’s a chance.
- Backup your photos. Seriously, you will cry if you don’t.
- Whenever you take a photo, think about what you’re going to say when you show it to someone. It’ll help you decide if you should be taking photos or watching the volcano erupt.
- Think good and hard about carrying a laptop, and between eBooks and heavy paper ones. There’s a blog on that coming…. soon.
Feel free to leave more advice in the comments below!