Weather- In some regions, rainy season may just mean a couple of hours of afternoon showers each day. In others, it can mean torrential downpours that commonly cause floods killing hundreds of people. I explored many parts of Southeast Asia during their rainy season and had no issues. Sure it rained a bit, but it was usually short-lived and didn’t affect much, the prices were cheaper, and the tourist spots felt less touristy. Do not discount weather, but depending on where you’re going, don’t let rainy season scare you away either. If you are traveling short-term, the best times to go are usually shoulder seasons between high and low periods. Shoulder seasons offers lower prices, medium crowds, and hopefully a mix of weather that falls in your favor. For more information, check out Travel Independent’s country guides.
Festivals – Knock on wood, but I have gotten very lucky with my timing. I often found myself in the right place at the right time when it came to massive festivals. If you don’t mind crowds and want to see a cultures biggest events, I highly recommend researching festival dates and planning your trip around them. It may cost a little more for that weekend, but it will surely be worth it. Needs some ideas? Try Columbia at the end of December and watch them celebrate Christmas in Medellin, Salsa dancing in Cali, and Blanco y Negro in Pasto. Heading to Thailand? April is shoulder season and the month for celebrating Songkran, their New Years. Be sure to wear your bathingsuit! Check out What’s On When for more.
Routing – No matter how long your trip, it’s a good idea to plan an overall route. Sure you will probable venture off of it if you are traveling long term, but it will at least give you a general idea of an efficient path, and you’ll know what’s around you. The routing page will give you an idea of total travel time, and map out the highlights in each country.
Vaccinations – I met many travelers who didn’t bother with them and were fine, but I also met may others who got malaria, dengue, typhoid, and others. Personally I skipped malaria meds on the advice on a few docs, but the basic vaccinations are very important. Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Meningitis, Yellow Fever, Tetanus booster, Typhoid/Diphtheria, MMR booster (measles, mumps and rubella) and Polio should definitely be done. If you plan to play with a lot of animals, I’d recommend a rabies boost. Cholera and Japanese encephalitis should also be considered depending on where you are going. What you need or don’t can easily be discussed with your doc or a travel clinic. Some may be covered by your insurance but others probably will not. If you want to save some money and are headed to a country with decent healthcare, getting your boosters in that country might be worth considering as well. More information can be found on the following pages. CDC’s Malaria Map, CDC Traveler’s Heath recommendations, World Health Organization’s Country-specific Reports.
Medical insurance – While traveling you are probably going to eat street food, play with stray animals, get bit by thousands of mosquitoes, sleep with scorpions nearby, drive scooters faster than you should, and do all the normal things backpackers do. Most don’t ever need medical insurance, and other than normal diarrhea, the only sickness I came down with was food poisoning in Columbia. There are others I’ve met who have gotten dengue and malaria multiple times and needed to be hospitalized. Statistically, medical insurance is something that you hopefully won’t need on your travels, but it’s worth it for the peace of mind and online policies are cheap these days. If you do get sick out there, you’ll be relieved to have it. I bought mine through Squaremouth because of the peer reviews and zero complaint policy with insurers on their site.
Visa requirements – If you are from the US, Europe, Australia, or New Zealand, you’ll be able to enter most countries for free when you show up at the border. Some countries however are not free (Cambodia, Laos, Panama, etc) and some even require you to apply and pay for a Visa ahead of time (Vietnam, Australia, etc.) Before leaving on your trip, read about the countries you plan to visit to be sure you’re turned away at the border. For more information, check the links below.
While traveling, it’s obviously good to be prepared. There will be things you may need to refer to and people you want to keep in touch with. To avoid future frustration, a little preparation can go a long way!
Copies, copies, copies – Before you leave, email yourself copies of your passport, credit cards, drivers license, vaccination history, and any visas obtained in advance. You never know what you’ll lose!
Google Voice/Skype/Tango number – With applications like these so you can receive emails of voicemails and texts left for you while on your travels, video conference with family and friends for free, and even watch video voicemails. There is internet just about everywhere in the world these days, so you’ll always be able to keep in touch.
Back up your Laptop – If you are traveling with a laptop, consider backing up your photos and computer files to a hard drive or online before you leave. Companies like Dropbox, Box, Carbonite, and offer free space to get you started and give you easy ways to earn more space. Don’t be that person that loses all of their memories and important files when their laptop is stolen or breaks somehow!
Money, money, money – Check out my page on saving for travel if you haven’t yet. You’ll need to get some funds ready 🙂
If you are backpacking, you will be carrying around your life in a bag that should weigh less than 15kg/33lbs. Your backpack and what you put into it need to be planned out based on where you are going and the seasons you’ll encounter. Keep in mind that in most countries, you can buy cheap medicines, clothing, and other items so it’s probably cheaper to buy them there rather than at home. Below is a list of items you’ll need for just about anywhere and that I think are important to have before you leave.
Backpack. There is much to talk about here, so hop on over to the backpack page when you’re ready.
Clothes. This will obviously depend on the climate you expect to encounter, but here are some basics that everyone should have.
a) Jeans – I carry two pairs. Both are comfortable and can be worn casually or for those rare nights where you decide to go upscale. Once folded down they don’t take up much space, and in many areas you’ll feel like you fit in better when you wear jeans.
b) T-shirts/long sleeve t-shirts/shorts/boardies – I carry 4 or 5 t-shirts, and 2 long sleeve shirts for when it gets a bit chilly, two pairs of shorts, 2 pairs of boardies, and a pair of comfortable basketball shorts that I use for hiking and playing around. Sure it gets old wearing the same stuff all the time, but space is at a premium. Plus, you’ll see plenty of cheap clothes on the road that you can replace your basics with.
c) Undies/boxers – While you wear shirts and pants multiple times before laundry day, underwear is a different story isn’t it. I carry 10 pairs of boxers so I don’t have to do laundry as often.
d) Rain-jacket/poncho – If you plan to do a lot of hiking, or travel in the monsoon season, it’s important to have a light-weight and water-resistant jacket. I recommend carrying one all the time, but if you don’t want to spend the money you are probably ok with a big poncho that can cover you and your gear as you getting between your bus and hostel. The rest of the time you can use an umbrella. Check out REI’s annual sales for great deals on rain jackets.
e) Collared shirt/dresses – I have a few collared shirts for the random nice occasions that happen while traveling through developing countries. You can get away with one, but I picked up a couple cheapies on the road that I couldn’t resist. Girls, your probably ok with two simple dresses, or just that one all-encompassing black dress.
f) Shoes – I carry two pairs of flops, one pair of combo running/hiking shoes, and one pair of dressy/casual shoes that I wear with the jeans when I go out. For the girls I suggest the same, except switch your dressy shoes something easily foldable and light but still nice looking. I would leave the heals at home. 🙂
Packing Cubes or Compression Sacks – I don’t use these, but I’ve met people who do and they love them. They shrink down everything so you have more space, and can also be water tight. If you think you might use them, here are a couple of links to them on Amazon. Packing cubes and compression sacks.
Small First Aid Kit. While I’ve only been sick once, I can’t count how many time me or someone I was with cut and scraped ourselves. Many of the items in a first aid kit can be found on the road, but you never know in developing countries so it’s better safe than sorry.
- Antibiotic cream and powder! Neosporin, Dettol, etc. You are going to cut yourself, almost assuredly. Having some antibiotic cream could save your limb! Ha just kidding, but seriously infections can spread rapidly so its important to keep your injuries clean. I also mention powder because in the high humidity zones the creams could make it worse. I had some minor cuts on my foot that turned into a staph infection in Malaysia because I couldn’t dry it out.
- Anti-itch cream. You’re going to get bitten by many things and most of them itch. I always carried Tiger Balm with me. It’s an anti-itch, massage gel, and mosquito repellent all in one. I also drank a lot of lemon shakes on the road and noticed mosquitoes bother me much less than others when I was drinking them.
- Small sutures/stitches;
- Gauze and bandaids and Moleskin for blisters;
- Pepto/Immodium/Charcoal tablets – There will times where you or a friend, or both of you, are having stomach issues and you need to get on an 8 hour bus! In times like this, you’ll want to buy stock in Pepto. Before taking meds like these, be sure it’s just an upset stomach. You don’t want to force the really bad stuff to hang out in your stomach. If you think it’s something more serious, take the charcoal instead.
- Ciprofloxacin/Azithromycin – Cipro is the go to for stomach infections. Sometimes it can be hard to tell between an upset stomach and something more serious. If your sick for longer than a few days, or you see some blood, it’s probably food poisoning. It’s probably better to go to a doctor to be sure, but if there isn’t one around you’ll be glad you have some Cipro to take. If you’re in SE Asia is better to take Azithromycin, aka a Z-Pack. Apparently bacteria in Southeast Asia are becoming resistant to Cipro so is often suggested by doctors there.
- Sewing kit – At some point you’re going to rip clothes or your backpack. Or like some backpackers you might want to sew some flags on your bag.
- Ibuprofen and Benedryl or other anti-histamine/anti-headache pills
- Anti-malaria meds. Some use these constantly as a defense against malaria, but I was told to take them only in the event that I do contract malaria and no doctor is nearby.
- Matches and lighter;
- Charcoal tablets for your stomach, to help absorb the bad stuff after a bout of food poisoning
- Anti-mosquito(mozzie) spray. There are many brands that claim to be all natural, but so far I haven’t tried any that worked. Drinking lemon juice shakes seemed to work for me, but that’s not always available. I’d bring some just in case and buy it ahead of time because it’s expensive overseas. Mosquito repellent
- Nail clipper and tweezers. Because you’re nails get long and you get poked with stuff.
- Alcohol wipes and/or hand sanitizer. You’re going to touch a lot of nasty stuff, and then it’s going to be time to eat with nowhere to wash your hands. Be ready.
Personally I keep all of these things together in the same waterproof pouch for easy access. You can buy first aid kits on Amazon that already come in pouches, but it’s cheaper to buy the little box kits and a waterproof pouch separately.
Waterproofing for your Electronics – I have had good success with the Seal line brand of waterproof bags, but there are a ton of companies making these now. As usual, Amazon has the best prices I’ve found and lots of reviews. Here’s a link to them. Waterproof bags
Duct Tape – There’s an old saying that anything can be fixed with Duct tape and WD-40. This will always be true 😉 The tape is great for everything from cuts in your bag, to torn mosquito nets, to broken flops, etc. Don’t bring WD-40.
Headlamp or flashlight – There will be countless times when you need extra light. A headlamp is better for more situations (i.e. caving, searching your bags in the middle of the night, reading on a bus, etc) but a flashlight works as well. Just make sure they are waterproof! Headlamps
Smartphone – Unfortunately my died in Peru and wasn’t fixable. I miss her. Since then I’ve been carrying around a cheap phone with only calls and texting. Lame! With translation apps, currency calculators, wifi access, and tons of other features, a smartphone on the road a very useful thing. Get yours unlocked, and then buy SIM cards on the road. They are cheap and easy to find.
Safety Whistle and Doorstop – I don’t use these, but I’ve seen female bloggers recommend them and it seems prudent. It’s unlikely you’ll ever need either of them, but they are small and good to have just in case.
Other stuff – I also travel with some electronics that make my life easier and more enjoyable on the road. You may want to do the same! Check those out on my Travel Gadgets page.