This post stems from a request for me to write about the items I take to travel and work in South East Asia. I was asked what I really couldn’t do without, and what I had to bring with me versus what I could buy.
I liked the idea – a ‘physical’ review of my life, and I think as you read through what I own on my travels, you’ll get you a good idea of the way I live.
I spend a lot of time packing and unpacking. If you’ve read my post 6 homes in 7 weeks, you’ll have an idea of just how often. I’m packing again at the moment as I leave my house on Koh Phangan (the eighth and hopefully final for a while) for a short visit to the UK. I have everything spread out in my little bungalow ready for a review to decide what this time will be passed to friends, what will go in my suitcase, what will be thrown away and even a small bag that a friend will keep for me until I am back on Koh Phangan next month.
The way I travel
First, a reminder of the the kind of travel I do. I’m not a backpacker, moving from one hostel to the next around the region. Rather, I tend to move between the two bases of Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand, and Koh Phangan, an island in the south. From those two places, I then take short trips to other places.
Usually if I come back to the UK, or swap to the other base, I leave whatever place I am living in totally – this means I don’t have to pay for the accommodation while I am away. This time I’m leaving the house I’m in but the landlord has agreed to rent it to me again when I come back, so at least I don’t have to look for another place when I return. They wouldn’t do this in high season, but as it’s low season here now, there’s plenty of accommodation.
Working to live
One of the other more unusual aspects of my own travel is that I sometimes do face to face client work. That means I have a pair of heels, tights, and work dresses – not many of the travellers on Koh Phangan will say the same! When I started working out here I wore suits, but soon realised that these were much too hot, and that it’s more common for women to wear dresses as business-wear here than in the UK, so I switched – cooler and they take up less room. I have three formal dresses, along with the ‘statement’ necklaces I mix and match to make it seem like I have more outfits (!), which is perfect to cover a week of work, usually the longest engagements I have. The necklaces almost always get a client compliment too. 🙂
Essentials for work and play
The items I really wouldn’t live without are my iPhone and my MacBook Air. I love them. A little to my surprise, when I arrived in Thailand 18 months ago, I found great wifi, available almost everywhere. With the iPhone and the laptop I feel I have access to the world, as well as clients, family and friends with Skype. It also provides entertainment, a writing space (like this blog, my morning pages, and other projects), email and so many other things.
The fact that the laptop is very light is also a huge thing for me. I can take it, and use it, everywhere. In fact, I’m typing this paragraph right now on the ferry between Koh Phangan and Koh Samui, with my legs crossed up on the seat and my laptop, very literally, on my lap. I can honestly say that without the laptop, I might not still be in SE Asia, as with it, I am never bored, never without a project, and I never feel too far away from friends and family.
My kindle is also a must-have for me. You may know I love reading, and without the kindle, feeding the addiction would definitely have been a challenge. The kindle also keeps me connected to family, as my mum, my sister and I are all linked to the same kindle account, so I can share the books I’m reading with them and vice versa.
I have a Thai mobile, but I don’t use it that often. Email is usually more reliable, although sometimes on the island the wifi goes out – in fact it did last night as we had a huge storm with crashes of thunder shaking the house, and slashes of lightning illuminating the sky. So that reminds me to mention my earplugs and eye mask for sleeping…
The above electrical items come with various chargers, wires, headphones, cables and an adaptor, although I have a Thai plug for my laptop that I bought in Chiang Mai after I left my cable in Dubai.
Then there’s yoga clothes. This encompasses not only leggings, sports bras, and vest tops or t-shirts, but also a number of dresses. The school has a number of social events and beautiful rituals, where often a particular colour is worn. This can be a challenge, but it means a lot of clothes swapping. I’ve done well and ended up with clothes I actually like, and now have dresses in white, blue, red, and yellow…luckily they’re all quite light!
I have a yoga mat (it fits in my suitcase), and then all the course notes from each level or workshop I’ve done at the school – there are probably 10 of those.
Also included here are a pair of trainers and a swimming costume – which I have worn shamefully few times given I live a few hundred metres from the beach – and a couple of sarongs which double up as tablecloths.
Nothing unusual here – a couple of pairs of shorts, a lot of vest tops and t-shirts, a pair of cropped white trousers, two summer dresses, numerous pieces of underwear (though I am pretty sure I lose one pair of undies every time I put my clothes in the laundry, so don’t forget to budget for this!), a few pairs of socks (rarely worn), a pair of long trousers for the plane, one cardigan (rarely worn), one shirt to cover me in the sun and a pair of flip flops. I have some ‘traveller trousers’ which are baggy cotton trousers – mine have elephants on – that you can buy everywhere in Thailand and protect your legs from mosquitos whilst being quite cool to wear. Oh, and I bought a floppy straw hat in China which I am rather partial to.
In addition to my suitcase I own a small rucksack which I use to carry my laptop, and a couple of small fabric bags.
Toiletries and sundries
Of course, I have several beautiful notebooks and pens, along with a couple of small pencil cases. I have a purse, and spare change in five different currencies. Passport. Many many prescription medicines….contact lenses.
It always feels like I have a lot of toiletries. It’s so humid here that I don’t use facial moisturiser, but I do use it on my body when I catch the sun. Boots has some stores in Thailand, and you can buy Boots’ own suncream etc in the local pharmacy which always makes me smile. Plenty of options for mosquito spray, a must. In the community I am currently in there is a real problem with dengue right now, and a number of people have been hospitalised.
It’s easy and cheap to buy shampoo, conditioner, and soap out here, though I LOVE the UK based store, Lush, so I do tend to bring some of their stuff with me when I’ve come from the UK. Toothpaste and toothbrush also easy to find and cheap.
Theft protection and contingencies
Don’t forget to have some contingencies around theft. I have several credit cards, but I have them in different places – I carry one in my purse, but I also keep one wherever I’m staying, somewhere hidden. I never have all my money on me, and I previously emailed myself a photo of my passport, and I keep a photocopy of it also hidden somewhere. I also have a copy of my glasses prescription and my medical prescriptions with me. Having had my bag stolen at one point, I now also have photos and the serial numbers of all my expensive items on an email.
How to decide what to take with you on your own trip
So how do you know what to take with you if you’re heading off travelling? Here are five critical questions you should ask yourself to create your perfect packing list…
1. How long are you going for? This seems an obvious one, though actually, I travel fairly light given I’m now permanently out here. I have one (large!) suitcase and a small rucksack, that’s all. The next question is actually more important for how much you take…
2. What laundry facilities are there? I’ve put this second as if you’re somewhere where laundry is cheap, then you can obviously take fewer items of clothing. If you’re in a hot country, then washing items in a sink and drying them in your room is also fairly easy (suggestion – take a universal plug as not everywhere provides them as people steal them…).
3. Why are you going? You can see from my list above that yoga and work make a big difference to what I have with me. Is there anything you’re doing where you might need specific clothing? Trekking? Volunteering? Some form of exercise? Work? Pleasure? Beach holiday?
4. Cultural conditions. For example, in Thailand, visitors are asked to wear long sleeves and long trousers in temples, so you need to take modest clothing if you’re visiting those. SE Asia also has a culture where shoes are taken off in homes, but also in many cafes, restaurants etc. This means you are always taking off and putting shoes on, which is one reason people prefer flip-flops.
5. Do your research. There are now huge numbers of local Facebook groups for ex-pats or travellers, and these can be great places to find out about the climate (does it get cold at night?) or other local conditions. For example, on Koh Phangan the electricity goes out once or twice a week (usually only for a short while!) so I always have a torch handy.
And finally – the key to traveling successfully anywhere
The most important thing to take with you?
The one thing you shouldn’t, mustn’t, can’t leave your own country without?
What are your essentials when you travel? What do you always forget? What do you take with you and never use? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments below – leave me a comment now!