What to pack for backpacking

With less than a week to go till our 90 Days Backpacking In South East Asia I’ve started to pack the useful stuff before the essential stuff

I don’t know about you, but I’m more likely to forget to pack useful things rather than essential things (like a passport, adaptors, phone and a toothbrush) so I usually start packing those useful things around the T minus 21 day mark.

So here, in no particular order, are my useful items that I’m taking with me, backpacking round south east Asia …

1) A Compass

These are really useful things when travelling; I have two, a brass one and, the one that I’m taking, a black one I picked up for a fiver in Portobello Flea Market …

In places with weak phone signal a compass with a map is invaluable to get you from A to B. Unlike apps, the compass in your pocket is utterly dependable; migratory birds have sworn by it since since 1,000,000 BC.

2) An Altimeter Watch

My one has barometric pressure readings to predict the weather, a compass, temperature and altitude which is really useful when you’re hiking. One of the rules of hiking at altitude is to always camp 500 metres lower than your highest point that day. Pulmonary oedema and cerebral oedema are not your buddies.

3) Walkie Talkies

Useful for those places that have bad phone signal, when you need to call your friend less than a mile away and they double-up as hotel intercoms if you’re in different rooms.

One downside is that you soon start ending your sentences with the word ‘over’ which is a little sad, but rather nostalgic.

The last time I used walkie talkies, I was white-water rafting and just about to enter some rapids when my nephew buzzed to say, ‘Your boat has a puncture, over.’ Sometimes being in touch is too much information.

4) A Wire Lock

Wire locks have a combination lock with a cable that loops back in to the lock. It’s useful when you’re going for that swim and need your bag to stay in one place; you can secure it to a lounger or chair.

5) A Belt (but it’s a secret wallet)

This ordinary-looking belt is more than meets the eye. This is a James Bond type belt. Unbeknownst to muggers, conmen, tricksters, snake-oil salesmen, charlatans and Brexit campaigners there’s a zip on the inside, so so useful for keeping currency, SIM cards and SD cards safe.

6) A Dumb Phone (that’s a little smart)

The cheapest way to use the internet when you’re abroad is to buy a tourist SIM on arrival and stick it in to your unlocked phone. Hotel WiFi can be unreliable and weak. Some phone companies give you shed-loads of data for a small sum.

I’m taking a dumb phone that’s not so dumb – it’s actually a 4G phone and provides a WiFi hotspot from which I can tether my iPad. It provides a mean game of Squirm too, which makes up for the sluggish T9 SMSs.

7) A Collection of shemaghs – they keep you cool or warm

Shemaghs are light cotton scarves, traditionally worn as Arab head-dresses. They are travel musts for me and can be used as

  • scarves to keep you warm at night or on freezing air-conditioned buses, cool in the heat
  • sweat-mops
  • head covers
  • shawls to cover bare shoulders for temple visits
  • dust protectors for your face on mopeds
  • something to sit on and have a picnic
  • A wrap for your iPad/ fragile object
  • They are easy to wash, dry really quickly and come in all sorts of colours.
  • 8) A Scrabble Set

    We’re taking a mini scrabble set. No battery power, nothing to read, no problem. The answer is scrabble. We have a new rule – rude words get double points. Yes there’s one in the pic.

    9) Country maps

    I’ve always loved globes and atlases. Just the physicality of poring over them and pouring yourself over them. The fco.gov.uk website provides downloadable pdfs of maps which you can print off and use to plot your course. We haven’t yet plotted our route but having these to hand means we can plan without battery power or signal.

    One thing to note is that these maps on the fco.gov.uk website get updated frequently which makes them more useful than guide books when it comes to the places to avoid (marked in orange).

    10) Indian Shoes (jutti)

    Jutti are traditional north Indian shoes, that are worn with traditional dress like a kurta and pyjama (Note: in India a pyjama, pronounced PIE -JUM-AH, is not night dress).

    They don’t have left or right, just a generic … and I’m searching for a word like unisex but for left or right here, and failing… and I found them a a little abrasive on the lower ankle before they soften, but that may have been the elephant hair.

    We’ll be going to my nieces’ wedding in the Himalayan state of Sikkim, so I’m taking these jutti.

    One day I had to climb a 17 foot high elephant in my jutti.

    11) A Dual Audio plug

    One socket, two headphones and a common interest in the song/ movie? No problem. You need a dual audio plug. Cost: nearly free. The sharing concept: priceless.

    12) Watercolours, a pencil and a waterproof pen

    I usually take a small water colour set with me on holiday and a waterproof ink pen. This fills the quiet moments when travelling such as when my other half likes to sunbathe, watching a sunset or a waiting at a packed airport gate.

    13) A Notebook

    Writing in a little notebook with a pencil just seems to earth better than tapping a screen or a keyboard. It’s as if there’s a connection between the paper, the pencil, your finger and your thoughts. The downside is sometimes I can’t read my own handwriting; I mean how often do you actually write these days?

    14) Some Binoculars

    I always had a soft spot for binoculars. I picked up this pair for under £20 on Amazon because I didn’t want anything too fancy in case I dropped or lost them.

    15) A Penknife

    Every since I was a cub scout I have loved penknives. They’re so useful, for cutting strings, opening corks, making belt holes, chopping small branches or removing the plastic ties that airport security put on your suitcase lock (unless you have your penknife inside the suitcase.)

    16) A whiskey hip-flask and a cigar

    I don’t smoke and rarely drink whiskey but you never know when you might need to celebrate, right?


    That’s my list!


    All the links to blog posts in the series are as follows:

    1) I’m backpacking around Southeast Asia for 90 days

    2) Packing for backpacking: 16 useful things to take on your travels

    3) How to sleep on a flight (aches on a plane)

    4) Flying past Mount Everest

    5) A storm in an Assamese teacup

    6) On the lazy man’s road: the story of Dhodar Ali

    7) Digboi, the oil town in the rainforest

    8) To Sivasagar: home of the Assamese kings

    9) Things to see in Majuli, the world’s largest river island

    10) An unexpected treat on the river Brahmaputra

    11) Helpful hints on how to climb a 17 foot elephant on your wedding day

    12) Where the rhinos roam

    13) The Assamese Bihu: a time of unbridled joy

    14) A tale of a dry day in India

    15) Kalimpong and a magical Himalayan wedding

    16) Chiang Mai, a pretty little temple town

    17) Replanning our route, re-routing our plan

    18) Luang Prabang in Laos: the jewel on the Mekong River

    19) A slow and unintended minibus to Vang Vieng

    20) In the laid-back city of Vientiane

    21) Laos: Caves, a jungle trek and the mysterious turquoise lake

    22) On our way down south in Laos

    23) Goodbye Laos, you beauty

    24) Friday night at the Saigon Opera House

    25) Getting over a fever

    26) Vietnam days: Hoi An, Hue and Hanoi

    27) Landing in the sea at Halong Bay, Vietnam

    28) Mandalay Days

    29) Bagan, the jewel of Myanmar

    30) Three nights on Lake Inle in Myanmar

    31) Finding a perfect perfume in Singapore

    32) In Borneo, watching the orangutans at play

    33) Watching turtles at Selingan Island



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