On The Road for 600 Days! Where Have We Been and What Have We Learnt? (Including What and What NOT to Pack)
Henry and I have now been on the road now for 600 days. I know, let me say that again:
Six. Hundred. Days.
Where have we been and what do you need (and not need) to take with you? Read on to find out…
Where have we spent our 600 days?
We’ve visited 8 countries so far; let me give you a quick recap. After leaving the UK in November 2011 we spent 6 months in south west India. We flew into Trivandrum, made our way through Kerala, Karnataka, and Goa before it was onto Mumbai for our flight to Thailand. Goa held onto us for slightly longer than planned and we rented apartments in both Benaulim and Arambol. We loved India, it is a special place but it is hard work at times. It is like no other place either of us has been before or since. In 6 months many people expect that we went absolutely everywhere but really we only just scratched the surface of this enormous, diverse country.
The big city of Bangkok hosted us next for just under 2 months. We enjoyed city life and rented an apartment there too. We did a few trips to other places and I went and spent some time in interesting Pattaya with my mum and sister who came out to visit. After Thailand it was down to Kuala Lumpur to make our connection for our flight to Manilla in the Philippines. We spent only 10 days there out of a scheduled 30, booked an earlier flight and returned to Malaysia for a few weeks to see Penang, Perak and Melaka before heading to the idyllic island of Bali in Indonesia for a month. A brief 5 day stop in super rich Singapore was supposed to be the end of our trip but we were not ready to end it yet. I headed home on our return flight for a 3 week flying visit to the UK and Henry went back to Kuala Lumpur to wait for my return.
After we were reunited in KL we settled down there for a further 2 months, making full use of their generous visa allowance and falling in love with street photography. Once we absolutely had to go, exactly 3 months after Henry had arrived, we flew to friendly Cambodia and spent 30 days there before a long, dusty ride bus on Christmas day 2012 took us to the motorbike capital of the world – Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. Vietnam ended up being our home for 6 months, with half of that time spent in the ancient capital Hue. After exhausting our Vietnamese visas we had to leave and we flew to Vientiane in Laos where I write this from now. In all I have taken 16 flights and Henry 13 (I had an additional 4 to pop home last August while Henry flew back to KL.)
Other than the apartments we’ve rented we’ve occupied cheap hotels and guest houses, as well as a few beach huts in Goa. We’ve found hostels are often more expensive than a cheap hotel because, travelling as a couple, it is usually cheaper to pay per room as opposed to per person and dorms are just not for us. We rarely use the internet to find accommodation anymore; the photos are often misleading and you just can’t negotiate with a computer. We find actually seeing a room and using the handy speedtest.net app on our phone to check the wifi is a much better way to find a satisfactory bed for the night or week ahead.
What Have We Learnt? (Part One: About What and What Not to Take)
You don’t need as much stuff as you think you need; travelling with hand luggage only is easily doable and the only way!
We have learnt that you don’t need anything more than hand luggage to see the places we’ve seen, even if you’re carrying a laptop and a camera each. We’ve developed a sense of smugness about going for so long with what can fit into the overhead lockers on a plane. Hotel staff, tuk tuk drivers and other travellers regularly ask if it is all of our luggage, then, when assured that it is they often jump to the conclusion we are on some sort of 2 week package deal. It seems amazing to many people we meet that we have so little, but we are now amazed when we see enormous backpacks, or hear quips like “its only 19kg” (!!) We still wonder aloud to each other when we see backpackers with 70 litres on their back and another 15 on the front; what on earth have they got in there?
Henry has a 33l North Face backpack. It looks like a school bag. I have a 32l wheeled backpack and a small laptop backpack that I take as my ‘handbag’ option. They are full but they are still small. I don’t think it is necessary to have anything else. We have several changes of clothes and a means of washing and drying them, we are fully technologically equipped and we carry everything we need to keep ourselves clean and presentable. We also have: a medical kit; a sewing kit; different lenses and spare batteries for our cameras; candles and torches for power cuts; smaller bags for day trips and even cups, a water heating element and tea and coffee to make cheap hot drinks in our room. (See our Packing List page for a very full run down.)
You’d think you’d miss having lots of stuff but you don’t, it really is OK. We really do have everything we need. The things I miss from home are not easily stowed in a backpack anyway – friends, family, cats etc. I miss gardening and cooking but I can’t rightly carry a shovel or my best baking tins and Henry’s X-Box would take up too much space too.
Shopping is different now. Henry says I spend too much time looking at soaps, shampoos and deodorants. My argument is that if that is the only thing that is not food, water or accommodation I’ll be buying that week then why not fully consider all the options? (And make sure I don’t buy a bleaching product) We buy clothes when we need them and our tech has held out remarkably well – we’ve only really upgraded rather than replaced things. (For example, we’ve upgraded our cameras a few times. Each time it has been easy to sell the old one online or to a shop in part exchange). It is freeing to have less. We can pack up and move quickly if we need to, we are never separated from our stuff and we can get both of us and all of our stuff on the back of a motorbike taxi.
5 Things you think you need, but don’t:
- A mosquito net: it takes up so much room and if you need one it should be provided. If it is not, don’t stay there.
- Guide books: how heavy?! All the information is available digitally on something (like a smart phone) that you are usually already carrying. Guide books are outdated unnecessary bricks. Aside from the weight there are 2 other important things to consider. Firstly, when you are wandering around a city grasping at one of these you really look like a tourist and may well be targeted as such. Secondly, restaurants and such that are listed in these books have often hiked up their prices and sometimes become lax on their standards. Find your own place or follow the locals and save money.
- PacSafe secure net thing: we seriously considered buying this to secure our stuff. We are very glad we didn’t. We have a small combination padlock each and that is enough. A bag with one of these on would look far more enticing (and also weigh more to carry around.) We’ve not had anything stolen so far; when we leave our valuables in the room they are packed away in our bags with a small combination padlock. We don’t leave cash hanging around in the room – it is either with us or locked up too. From what we’ve heard from others that is what is taken most often from hotel rooms.
- Metal Water Canister: really? Everywhere we go the bottles are recycled and really, for the amount of water you need to drink in this climate you’d be carrying around a metal bottle full of air most of the time.
- Walking boots / trainers: We’ve just got sturdy sandals. We’ve climbed some pretty steep hills and they’ve been fine. We’ve met people who’ve done treks in Nepal with normal trainers and they’ve also said it was fine. Why do some travellers feel the need to wear massive walking boots in the middle of a cosmopolitan city? When it is averaging 36°?! I just don’t understand it. When talking to people who have very large bags (see above) they sometimes say they are carrying what they need for when they get to Nepal. It makes so little sense to carry a massive pair of walking boots for months and months when you might go trekking in Nepal; I hear you can hire anything like that you might need when you actually get there for very reasonable price.
Our 5 Essentials:
- Tiger Balm
Don’t leave home without Tiger Balm (other brands of herbal rub are available and are just as good.) After extensive testing of all sorts of remedies we can confirm that Tiger Balm applied to a mosquito bite as soon as possible will stop the itching and therefore increase the speed of healing more quickly than anything else. We rate it so highly that we always have at least 2 containers around at any one time and literally don’t go anywhere without it. If you are feeling nauseous, waft it under your nose and you are magically cured (it stopped Henry puking up on his birthday after being provided a free giant flaming drink containing copious amounts of unknown liquorice based booze!) Dab a little on your temples for a headache and apply to bruises for faster healing. It helps you breath more easily if you have the sniffles (but don’t put too much on as it can sting) and it works for muscular pains too. Buy the white stuff as the red one stains. Also, be generous. Dish it out to fellow travellers struggling with their bites and spread the herbal rub love.
- Ear Plugs
Again, this is a don’t leave home without item. Be it the local Vietnamese university tour group chatting outside your room while waiting for their bus at 3am, the monsoon rain hammering it down on the metal roof next door, the 24 hour soundscape of horns from Indian city roads, the gang of stray dogs having a barking competition just meters away from your pillow, roosters at stupid o’clock, the drone of a plane engine or terrible music a long distance bus, the TV in the room next door or just your landlady having a singsong at 4am, you’ll want to have a good pair of ear plugs or two.
- Coffee Making Equipment
I know, it seems rather less essential than the other two and for others it might be, but the catastrophic feeling of loss that happens every time our element melts, blows up, falls apart or just quietly ceases to function confirms to me it should make this list. We’ve never paid more than £1 for one, they last a few months each and make us several hot drinks a day. They can also magic up a meal from noodles and soup mixes at a pinch. I don’t know why more people don’t have one – visitors are always surprised (and impressed) to be offered a tea or coffee in our room. A most marvellous, treasured item.
- iPhone (or any smartphone really)
We didn’t have iPhones when we started our trip but now we would not be without them. We both have an iPhone 4s. Mine was a grey market birthday present bargain from Pantip Plaza in Bangkok and Henry got his second hand in Kuala Lumpur. There are so many things we use it for I’m going to make a whole blog post about the apps that we use very soon. Calls, emails, hot spot for our laptops, reading (me), gaming (Henry), currency conversion, photos, Facebook, torch, taking notes, testing wifi, guidebooks, phrasebooks… the list goes on and on. Blog post with more details to come.
- Toilet Roll
It is a classic. It probably makes all lists ever. I don’t need to explain it, just have some in your bag.
End of Part One So, as the sun sets on day 600 of our adventures I’ve realised I actually have quite a few tips for long term travel and I’ve not get enough time to fit them all in this post because I want to post it actually today. Keep an eye open for upcoming posts where I’ll outline some of our moneysaving strategies and other tips as well as a post with a few of our most favourite photos. (Many hundreds of pics can be seen already on our Gallery page.)
P.S. Any thoughts and feedback on the website makeover please? I thought after 600 days it deserved a fresh new look! Apart from the new colours and layout I’ve also added a subscribe via email option into the sidebar so you can submit your email address and get notified of any new posts.
600th Day – 9th July 2013, Vientiane, Laos