The last thing you need when you’re travelling is a suitcase full of clothes that you more than likely won’t use. And yet it’s the one thing that almost everyone does. I know from experience as I was guilty of this in the past. I even ended up posting some stuff back from London and some I just put in a bin. I had taken all the ‘just in case’ clothes – you know! just in case it’s hot, just in case it’s cold and just in case I get to meet the queen. Absolutely ridiculous when I think back. I now know that you don’t need that extra pair of shoes or going out clothes just in case.
During our first trip to Europe both Paula and I lugged huge suitcases up and over bridges in Venice and up and down stairs and finally we said – enough is enough. We now take the barest amount that we can get away with. We have downsized our suitcases to 53cm which is carry on size for a lot of airlines, and we stay with this size regardless of how long the trip is for.
After all if I really get stuck for something to wear, there are plenty of souvenir shops to pick up a tee shirt from.
These days I take clothes that are comfortable, can be washed in the sink and dried overnight in the hotel room until we get to somewhere where there is a laundromat.
Another thing is that we only take 1 pair of closed in shoes and one pair of sandals – lightweight. No sneakers they weigh too much. So if you want some advice on what you need to take then here are some worthwhile tips to help you decide what to take:
1. Include a little luxury
When you’ve been on back-to-back buses for days with no hint of a shower or a warm bed, there’s nothing better than being able to dig down to the bottom of your bag and pull out a little something that makes you feel human again. For me, that item is my pink silk sleeping bag liner because it instantly makes me feel better, even in the most disappointing hostel room!
2. Layer it up
Whatever climate you’re heading to, layering is the key tenet of any packing philosophy. Rather than packing two big, bulky sweaters, choose a few thinner layers in a natural material such as cotton that will take up less space in your luggage, be more flexible and keep you warmer by trapping layers of air between them on a cold day.
3. Do your research
I once met two lads who had packed nothing but sandals, shorts and t-shirts for a South American winter. Their idea of Latin climes was a sun drenched beach and girls in bikinis – not something that June in Bolivia could provide. Read up about the place you’re visiting, including the different regions and elevations (something lots of people forget to factor in) and pack accordingly.
4. Imagine the worst
It’s amazing how many people travel abroad without packing some kind of first aid kit. A basic box of supplies can be bought in any good chemist. If you’re visiting a developing country where medical facilities may be limited, consider taking your own sterile needles to minimise your risk of catching any diseases if you are unlucky enough to be hospitalised.
5. Sanitary products
It comes as quite a surprise to many women that they cannot buy their usual choice of sanitary product in certain countries. In South East Asia, for example, it’s hard to pick up tampons in most shops. Take a supply with you if you don’t want to be relying on the local choice of protection. Tampons also work fantastically as kindling to start a camp-fire, believe it or not!
6. Don’t over pack
Try not to take too much – I can promise you that you’ll never wear most of what you take with you! Lay everything out on the floor and look at it. What goes with what? What will you wear for day and evening? Be ruthless and also think about whether you’ll be likely to buy clothing in your destination.
7. Photocopy the essentials
The best tip ever given to me was to take a few photocopies of all my important travel documents. Before you even start packing, take copies of your passport, travel insurance, tickets and visas and leave a copy at home with a friend or relative and keep another one or two copies in a bag separate to your travel documents. If any of these get stolen, you will at least have a way of identifying yourself in a foreign land and get access to the details.
8. Think thirsty
It’s important you are prepared for visiting places without good water supplies. While you can usually buy water bottles from a store, my top tip is to invest in a ultraviolet probe. This nifty piece of kit will kill 99% of bacteria and germs in any kind of water. Although it won’t filter muddy water, you can rely on it to provide you with safe drinking water anywhere in the world.
9. White lies
In some countries, such as India, it may be a source of some intrigue and surprise that you are travelling alone and without a male companion. While you’re unlikely to be hassled to a serious degree in most situations, it can be an idea to pack some items that will ward off unwanted male attention. Consider wearing a wedding band or carrying a photograph of a male friend or relative to portray as your ‘husband’.
10. Insure and go
The three most important words you need to know? Get travel insurance. A huge number of people travel every year without insurance, simply hoping that nothing bad will happen to them. Being on your own makes having an accident or falling ill even more serious, so don’t even think about not arranging this before you leave your home country.
11. Pack some favourites
If you live in your jeans, or a particular sweatshirt, then take them with you. Even if it’s an item you don’t think you’ll get much wear out of in your destination, you’ll be glad to slip into them for the flight home or after a long day of sightseeing.
12. Pack country-appropriate clothing
In many less developed countries, a solo woman traveller may court more attention that if she was with a companion. In such situations, you’ll want to blend into the background as much as possible and the best way of doing this is by dressing appropriately. In Africa and India, you’ll need to wear loose fitting clothing. It may in fact be more cost-effective and exciting to buy some local outfits when you arrive. That way, you’ll really feel part of the culture, too.
13. Save space for a sarong
It almost doesn’t matter where you’re headed, or what kind of holiday you’re going on, a sarong is a packing essential. It takes up almost no space at all and can function as a headscarf, towel, mosquito net, item of clothing, a clean surface or even a tourniquet. If you’re headed to a beach destination, then buy one when you get there – that way, it’ll act as a souvenir, too!
14. Forget fashion
Come on, let’s get practical. For most destinations, you’ll need to pack a lightweight rain jacket and a comfortable pair of shoes. Leave the lacy lingerie at home, too, or bring at least one soft cotton bra and pants that will dry out quickly and keep you comfortable.
Even if you’re not usually a big brow-plucker, it’s quite amazing how useful this little make-up bag tool can be. Tweezers are great for removing splinters, cleaning dirty fingernails and unpicking knots, and probably a lot more besides. Plus, if you’re feeling the need for a pamper, you can do yourself a little eyebrow makeover!
16. Don’t overload
To avoid a last minute panic, try to get everything packed the day before you leave. When it’s all zipped up and you’ve got everything you think you need, pick it up and try carrying it around for fifteen minutes. If it feels heavy after this amount of time, it’s too heavy! If this happens, go back through everything and have another think about whether you’ll really need those red high heels in Nepal.
17. A way of keeping score
Wherever it is you’re going, you may not ever return. Even if you’re not keen on writing, think about taking a journal in which to makes notes of your experiences and the little things that happen during your holiday that you are worried you might forget. You might even want to pack a netbook or laptop with which to do this – that way, you’ll also be able to use it to surf the net or keep an online blog.
18. Get a Skype account
Okay so this isn’t something you actually pack, but it’s worth setting it up before you head overseas. Simple to start up, having a Skype account will allow you to call friends and family either completely for free, or at least for a much cheaper price than you would pay using phonecards and payphones abroad. If you’re not taking a laptop of your own, many internet cafes now have suitable facilities, including webcams and microphones.
19. A teeny tiny towel
Standard towels take up a lot of luggage space, stay damp for ages and can also start to smell if you’re not washing them regularly. The microfibre towels you can get from outdoor stores are fantastic: they roll up pretty small, stay soft and fluffy for seemingly forever and are also designed to prevent bacterial build-up. I actually prefer this towel to normal, everyday bath towels it’s so good!
20. Check the limits
Always be sure to check the weight limits and maximum dimensions of your luggage for the plane – for both the bag you’re checking in and your hand luggage. The limitations for most airlines vary between 20-25kg (44-55lb) but budget carriers tend to have the lowest cut-offs – don’t get caught out and have to pay a fine at the airport. That really wouldn’t be a good start to your holiday! If you’re finding it difficult, invest in a super-light suitcase to help things along.
21. To roll or not to roll?
Lots of people fold their clothing and layer it in their bag. Personally, I advocate rolling clothes, especially if you’re using a backpack rather than a traditional suitcase. Rolling clothes with thinner fabrics creates less creases and your items will be easier to fish out, even from the bottom of your bag without messing up everything else at the same time.
22. Back up
If you are taking a laptop with you – perhaps you’re working as you travel – then seriously consider investing in an external hard drive on which to back up all of your documents. Keep it separate from your laptop at all times to minimise the chances of losing all your work in one fell swoop. Choose a sturdy model to withstand the beating it will suffer in your luggage.
23. Be your own film star
When travelling alone, it’s often hard to get good pictures of yourself in front of the best sights. One of my favourite tips is a camera extender arm. Much lighter to carry around and easier to set up than a tripod, this lever gadget clips onto your camera, allowing you to take super snaps and videos of yourself without the need to fiddle around with timers or find a suitable ledge to rest your camera on.
24. Sleep tight
If you are going to be staying in shared accommodation, such as hostels and dormitories, then don’t even think about leaving home without packing an eye mask and ear plugs. You’re a heavy sleeper, you say? Well, you won’t be when you’re sharing a room with three overweight, snoring men and a gaggle of teenagers who roll in drunk at 3am every morning. These items are also vital for overnight bus journeys on which the driver neither switches off the lights, nor turns down the music.
25. Friend-making materials
Sometimes it’s hard to strike up a conversation with new people. Why not think about packing a small item like a pack of cards for your next holiday? Something as simple as this can occupy you with a game of solitaire when you’re bored, but it can also be a great way to socialise and meet new people on a long bus journey or in your hotel one evening.
26. Flash light
A very simple thing that you probably rarely use in your day to day life, a flash light might not be top of your packing list, but you’ll regret it if you don’t make space for one. Handy for making your way to the toilet at night, as a light when camping, and for exploring caves, a good little torch will stand you in good stead. My tip? Get a wind-up one and then you won’t ever have to worry about the batteries running out.
27. Keeping clean
The best thing you can pack for your personal hygiene requirements is a bottle of antibacterial hand gel. This stuff is absolutely brilliant and will sanitise your hands quickly, effectively and without the need for hot water. Not everyone likes the sensation of the gel, but choose one with a nice smell and it will perk you up when all you want is to enjoy your meal at the end of a long, hot, dirty day.
28. Pack three pretty things
Go to your wardrobe or jewellery box and pull out three things that help make you feel attractive. They might include a printed scarf, a pair of earrings or a bangle. Don’t choose anything that looks valuable, but chose wisely and these three accessories will perk up a simple outfit for an evening out, add some femininity to your travel wear and make you feel good when your spirits are low.
29. Better safe than sorry
Even if it’s not something you’re on the lookout for, you never know when you might meet somebody. Love can happen anywhere, and falling into bed with another traveller without any kind of protection is never a good idea, so always pack condoms… and use them!
One last check – are you sure it’s there? And up to date.