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What to pack for a long backpacking trip

If there is one thing which you should not ignore when you are planning to backpack for a long time, it is packing.

Efficient packing makes life on the road easier!
Efficient packing makes life on the road easier!

There is tons and loads of advice on what to pack and how to pack depending on where you are going and how long you are going. Here is what we packed for our trip and nearly after four months on the road, this is what we think about it –  we should have packed lighter.

Some ground rules:

  • Pack light. We cannot stress enough, you need to pack light. Believe us, running around to catch a tuk-tuk in Bangkok’s scorching hot & humid weather with your large bag is not fun.
Hitchhiking in Turkey!
Hitchhiking in Turkey!
  • Choose the right backpack. The right fit is one that offers:
    • A size appropriate for your torso length (not your overall height).
    • A comfortably snug grip on your hips.
  • Let go. Think about all the things you need, put them in front of you and discard half of them 🙂 Our home was filled with so much stuff and how could we possibly fit all of that into our bags? Here is the answer – you don’t have to.
  • Choose the right products. We bought most of our stuff in Decathlon, the French sporting goods chain store with stores located in all major cities all over the world. We got ours from Decathlon stores in Whitefield, Bangalore. It is one of our favorite places in Bangalore with a feast to the eyes for travelers and sports enthusiasts. The products here are of good quality and are affordable. In case you are wondering, no, Decathlon doesn’t pay us anything for writing about them here.
Our home is emptied into these backpacks!
Our home is emptied into these backpacks!

Most important documents  –

  • Passport with at least six months validity. Some photocopies of the same.
  • Flight tickets
  • Hotel confirmation vouchers, if booked in advance
  • Travel insurance documents
  • Forex cards/credit cards/debit cards
  • Passport size photographs(at least 10)

We carried two backpacks each.

  • We got a 60 liter backpack and think it is too big now. A 40 liter backpack seems ideal. We got a Forclaz 60 from Decathlon and are quite happy with its utility and quality. We also got a rain cover/poncho like this. Another advantage of this backpack is that it opens from the side instead of the conventional top-loading. This makes it easier to pull out things from it.
Opening from the side adds to the utility of the backpack.
Opening from the side adds to the utility of the backpack.
  • Another day pack for taking out with us when we go out. For this purpose we bought bags by Wildcraft, a Bangalore based company producing quality products. Check here.
  • Always use the backpack at least once before starting on the trip to know if it fits you well.

Vijay’s packing list:

Is this really all that we need for six months??!
Is this really all that we need for six months??!
  • 4 T-shirts (We got these dri-fit T-shirts from Decathlon which are fine after 5 months of continuous usage! Check here)
  • 1 Cotton kurta (It was torn in Mardin, Turkey. Not usable anymore)
  • 1 Pair of jeans
  • 1 Linen pants
  • 3 Shorts
  • 3 Pairs of socks (These blister-free ones are just great! Even after 6-7 km of walking on a daily basis we did not get even one blister! Check here)
  • 6 Under-wear
  • 1 Micro fiber towel (Very useful! Compact, highly absorbent, dries quickly. Check here)
  • 1 Woollen cap (3 weeks into the trip and I lost it in Istanbul,Turkey. Left in a dolmus a.k.a minibus )
  • 1 Foldable hat (lost it after 2.25 months in Plitvice national park, Croatia. It just flew off my head and fell into the valley below me)
  • 1 Regular cap (lost it after 2.5 months in Dubrovnik, Croatia. I simply forgot it somewhere!)
  • 1 Fleece (Gift from a friend)
  • Swimming gear (1 swimming shorts, 1 swimming goggles)
  • Shoes (We would recommend getting good waterproof ones for all weather conditions. Check here)
  • Sandals (A pair of good hiking sandals would be good. Check here) (Lost them on a bus from Ahvaz to Tabriz in Iran, had tied them too loosely to the bag 🙁 )
  • 1 Pair of flip flops
  • 1 Rayban Aviator sunglasses
  • 1 Swiss knife (A very versatile and useful tool. Check here. We kept it in the check-in baggage without any problems)
  • 1 Padlock (with passcode)
  • 1 Rain coat (Lost it in a bus in Vienna!Check here. Later bought a rain poncho in Ljubljana)
  • 1 Multi-purpose neck gaiter (We had bought this in Ladakh earlier. Looks like this)
  • 1 Woolen muffler
  • 1 Bed sheet
  • 1 Belt pouch (Check here. For keeping passport, money and cards. More about it below.)
  • 1 Electronic trimmer
  • 1 Dynamo torch (Check here)
  • 1 Day bag / laptop bag

Gayathri’s packing list :

Living with less! Possible?
Living with less! Possible?
  • 4 T-shirts (Similar dri-fit ones from Decathlon)
  • 1 Micro fiber towel (Same as above)
  • 1 Pair of jeans
  • 2 Cotton pants (These are the harem pants which are baggy, long pants tapered at the ankle. I found them very comfortable which made me buy 2 more during the trip. Check here just to see what I mean)
  • 3 Pairs of socks (Same as above)
  • 6 Pairs of under garments and some sanitary napkins
  • 1 Rain coat (Same as above)
  • 1 Fleece (Check here)
  • 1 Woolen pull-over
  • Swimming gear (1 short, 1 top, 1 swimming goggles)
  • Shoes (I got these from Decathlon which I substituted for both shoes and sandals. I did have problems while walking in water and during rains. Getting water-proof shoes seems ideal)
  • 1 Bed sheet
  • 1 Flip flops
  • 1 Woolen cap
  • 1 Pair of sunglasses
  • 1 Padlock (with pass code)
  • 1 Dynamo torch (Same as above)
  • 1 Day bag

Toiletries – one set for each

  • 1 Tooth paste
  • 1 Tooth  brush
  • 1 Face wash
  • 1 Bottle of shampoo(100 ml)
  • 1 Bottle of body wash
  • 1 Tube of sunscreen lotion
  • 1 Lip balm
  • 10 Soap paper sachets
  • 1 Wet tissue pack
  • 10 Small packs of washing powder
  • 1 Deodorant.
  • 1 Toilet paper roll
  • 1 Nail clipper
  • Ear buds

To geek out:

  • 2 HDDs 500 GB each
  • 1 Battery pack – Anker, 13000 mAh
  • 1 USB drive – Sandisk 16 GB
  • 2 Smart phones – Nokia Lumia 920 with 32 GB internal memory
  • HTC one X+ with 64 GB internal memory and their chargers
  • 1 Kindle – 6″, Wi-Fi, E-ink display
  • iPad mini
  • 1 DSLR – Canon 1000D with 18-55 mm zoom lens and a 50 mm prime lens, battery charger
  • 1 Acer netbook with its charger
  • 2 Travel adapters
  • 1 Wireless mouse
  • 1 Running earphones
  • 1 Bose headphones

Some zip-lock covers can be useful for various purposes too.

Medical kit : A separate post on this awaits.

There are a few indispensable things which made our packing and traveling very easy.

Packing cubes – These are just wonderful! They are travel organizers which can fit all our belongings in an organized and efficient way.

They maximize the space and simplify packing beyond measure. They are available commercially like these. But we used some indigenous ones like below.

We packed our T-shirts and tops in one, pants and shorts in one and undergarments in one.

They made our life so easy! 🙂

Packing cubes - They make packing seem easy!
Packing cubes – They make packing seem easy!

Small sling/belt bag – one each.This is another boon! We keep our passport, money, credit/travel cards, ID cards in this and have this bag around all the time. As long as this bag remains attached to us, we don’t need to worry at all. Of course, don’t put all your eggs in one basket!

The small sling bag - my constant companion
The small sling bag – my constant companion
The most important bag! Can be worn as a belt pouch too!
The most important bag! Can be worn as a belt pouch too!

Swiss Army knife – A very versatile tool that is useful in wide variety of situations

The versatile and sometimes life-saving tool!
The versatile and sometimes life-saving tool!

Micro fiber towels and blister-free socks as mentioned above were very helpful too.

It’s best to have a checklist when you are travelling so that you don’t forget anything. Here’s a downloadable form of the same list.



Hope you find this article useful Let us know what you think!

 

Photo of the week #14 Preah Khan, Angkor

angkor

 

Angkor is one of the most important archaeological sites in South-East Asia and the world’s largest religious monument.

The structures one sees at Angkor today, more than 100 stone temples in all, are the surviving remains of a grand religious, social and administrative metropolis whose other buildings – palaces, public buildings, and houses – were built of wood and have long since decayed and disappeared.

Most of the photographs depict the popular temples – Angkor Wat, Bayon and Ta Phrom. The above photograph, taken in Preah Khan, one of the less popular temples which is left unrestored shows numerous rumbling stones surrounded by dense forest which is the actual picture in most of the temples in Angkor. Just a depiction of nature over powering and covering the grand history of the past.

 

 

Photo of the week #13 Luang Prabang

luang

Luang Prabang is the former capital of Laos and a UNESCO World Heritage city. Set at the confluence of two rivers(Mekong and Nam Khan) that almost surround the town, and beneath a temple-topped hill, Luang Prabang is a wonderful patchwork of traditional Lao wooden houses and hints of European architecture; reminders of when Laos was part of the French colony of Indochine.

It is one of those small cities with atmospheric personalities and is perhaps the most charming city in the whole of South East Asia.

This picture taken from across the street near a temple depicts the most famous ‘Alms giving ceremony’ where the monks at dawn (6.00 AM) collect alms of rice from kneeling villagers and tourists. It is advised to strongly consider only watching this old tradition from a distance instead of using it as a tourist attraction, as this may detract from the beauty of the ritual – both for locals and tourists alike.

Photo of the week #12 Ayuthaya

ayuthaya

 

Ayuthaya (full name Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya) is the ancient capital of Siam dynasty after Sukhothai.

Throughout the centuries, the ideal location between China, India and the Malay Archipelago made Ayutthaya the trading capital of Asia and even the world. By 1700 Ayutthaya had become the largest city in the world with a total of 1 million inhabitants!! Unfortunately we do not read about this great city in our history books!

Many international merchants from around the world have proclaimed Ayutthaya as the finest city they had ever seen. All this came to a quick end when the Burmese invaded Ayutthaya in 1767 and almost completely burnt the city down to the ground.

Today, only a few remains, mostly temples and palaces, might give a glimpse of the impressive city they must have seen. The above photograph is taken in Wat Mahathat showing one of the few Buddha statues that is intact surrounded by prangs(towers).

 

 

Photo of the week #11 Oia, Santorini

santorini

Oia – a small and spectacular town perched on the crescent-shaped clifftop of the caldera on Santorini island in Greece. It is probably the most famous of all villages of Santorini. It is known throughout the world for its quiet life and fantastic sunset. It is Oia where there are many of the blue domed buildings you see in most of the postcards or photographs of Santorini.

By the way, do you know why the main color of the buildings in Santorini is blue and white?

With little to no wood available, the majority of the buildings on the islands were originally constructed out of dark, volcanic stone. The stone was a great insulator, but the color of the stone absorbed the heat making being inside on a hot day unbearable. Painting the buildings white to reflect the harsh sunlight was a necessary and practical way to stay cool. The color ‘blue’ was added to tone down the extremely white limestone plaster. Most of the households had a blue colored cleaning agent called ‘loulaki’ which was added to the limestone to give it a blue color.

Currently the Greek government  has mandated that all buildings must be painted in blue and white.

 

 

Travel photo of the week #10 Mostar

mostarThis is the Old Bridge(Stari Most) of Mostar, a city in Bosnia and Herzegovina. This city was the most heavily bombed of any Bosnian city during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina following the breakup of then-Yugoslavia. Mostar has been most famous for this beautiful historic Ottoman-style bridge, which spans the Neretva river in what is considered the historic center of the city. This was bombed too! Only to be reconstructed in 2004. 

It is surprising to see that this formerly war-torn city is once again a lively and beautiful destination, emphasizing the fact that people from Mostar always find ways to live together in peace!

 

Travel photo of the week #9 Plitvice National Park

Plitvice, Croatia

Plitvice National Park is the largest national park of Croatia and a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is one of the most beautiful places in the whole of Europe, famous for its 16 turquoise lakes connected by waterfalls and cascades. We just loved the crystal clear lakes that take on a blue green hue as the water deepens. Wooden footbridges follow the rumbling water, as shown in the picture, and help us to navigate the path. Its a must-visit place for nature lovers!

 

Thermal baths of Budapest

Budapest is one of our favorite cities in Europe. This charming and historical Eastern European city has plenty to offer. It has been rightly called the ‘City of spas’ as it is the home to more thermal baths than any other capital city in the world. The city has around 15 public baths and handful of private spas which are fed by 80 geothermal springs that sit beneath the city, forming the largest thermal water cave system in the world.

What is a  thermal bath?

A thermal bath is a hot or tepid bath used to treat both chronic and acute diseases and to provide relaxation and stress relief. It improves the circulation of blood and lymph in the body which helps in the delivery of nutrients and removal of toxins from various parts of the body. These baths are believed to cure arthritis, rheumatism, skin complaints, lung disorders, digestive problems, etc.

How hot springs work?
How hot springs work?

A hot spring is any natural spring with water temperature above the body temperature (36.7 °C or 98 °F). This water is heated by geothermal heat, i.e., heat from the Earth’s mantle. Because heated water can hold more dissolved solids, warm and especially hot springs also often have a very high mineral content which adds to the medicinal value.

The most popular and oldest thermal bath in Budapest is the Széchenyi Thermal Bath. It is also the biggest one in Europe and is supplied by two hot springs – of temperatures 74 °C (165 °F) and 77 °C (171 °F).

Other noteworthy ones are Rudas, Lukács and Gellért and Király baths.

The present account is of Széchenyi Thermal Bath.

The impressive exterior of the 100 year old baths!
The impressive exterior of the 100 year old baths!

There are three outdoor pools, 15 indoor pools and 10 sauna/steam rooms – all with varying temperaturesWe spent a full day here and had a great time hopping from one pool to another. What more? The baths are located in a city park nearby the romantic Vajadhunyad Castle and Heroe’s Square, making a trip to the baths and these sights a full day experience.

The city park and Heroe's square surrounding the baths
The city park and Heroe’s square surrounding the baths

Completed in 1913, the complex is gorgeous and boasts a modern renaissance style that makes visiting worthy just to take in the glorious marble columns, statues and archways.

How to get there?

The yellow metro line stops directly in front of the bath house. The actual name of the stop is Szechenyi, which makes it easy to know when to disembark. It takes roughly ten minutes on the metro from Vorosmarty Ter (Square).

What to carry?

It’s advisable to carry swimsuits, towels, toiletries, flip flops and spare plastic bags to keep the wet clothes. You can also carry some drinks as they are more expensive inside. These are mixed pools with both men and women at the same time.

Price: around $15 / 4100 HUF (Hungarian Forints) for an all day pass. Cash or credit accepted.

How does it work inside?

After paying at the front desk, they will give you what appears to be a watch to put around your wrist. As you proceed to the changing rooms, the attendant will activate your “watch” at the turnstiles, essentially, this is your electronic key for a secure locker to store your belongings. Do not take this off or lose it and remember your locker number! 

Once you change into your swimsuit and store your belongings in the locker you are good to get to the pools!

The outdoor pools for relaxation and fun!
The outdoor pools for relaxation and fun!
The impressive interiors
The impressive interiors

The outer pools are mostly for relaxation and fun. There are 3 of them (1 normal swimming pool, 1 thermal water pool and one with airjets / jacuzzis). Don’t forget to check out the in-built ‘chess boards’ in the pools where elderly Hungarian men play chess!

Elderly locals playing chess!
Elderly locals playing chess!

After enjoying the outdoor baths, it’s time to head back inside and check out the various pools and saunas included in your entry fee. For an additional cost various therapeutic services and massages are offered in the complex. We enjoyed the inner pools the most! There are 15 of them with varying temperatures and it’s total fun to hop from one to another and subject your bodies to a surprise each time! It very relaxing too. The water temperatures range from 20 to 40 Celsius. Don’t forget to get into the number of saunas (there is one at 100 °C too!), after taking a shower, of course, and keep hydrating yourself!

Numerous inner pools at varying temperatures.
Numerous inner pools at varying temperatures.

We spent almost 5-6 hours here and wished we had more time! It was so perfect to soak away our travel stresses! No visit to Budapest is complete without a stop at its famous thermal baths. We totally recommend it.

 

 

 

 

 

How I quit my job to travel

Here is the story of a doctor who quit her job to travel the world!

(Writing this in an organic farm in a remote village in northern Thailand where I and my husband Vijay are volunteering.)

As I sleep in an open hut, gazing at the fire flies outside, listening to the pouring rain, I ponder what made me leave the comfort of my home and job, put all that I need into an 11kg backpack and set off to travel the world!

Was I too bold or plain crazy to just quit my job to travel?  Well, I was working as an assistant professor in Pathology in a medical college. Dealing with cancer diagnoses and teaching young doctors about these terminal conditions was an everyday affair! What made me take this radical decision of resigning from a decent and comfortable job I had?

Traveling was something I always enjoyed. Even as a child I remember pestering my dad to take us out on a vacation at least once a year. He used to do his best, of course, but he was too busy with his work. I used to ask him, ‘Dad, there is so much of the world outside for us to see! You have to take a break once in a while to travel!’

My first ever visit to Bangalore!
My first ever visit to Bangalore!

And then medical school happened. Ten years of my life were sealed! Of course, I had lot of fun, made some great bunch of friends and went out with them on short trips and picnics but it was just not enough to quench my wanderlust! Sometimes, I feel doctors are so over-worked both during the grinding medical school and later on that we don’t have time to even think about our dreams.

With my school buddies near Mantralaya, India
With my school buddies near Mantralaya, India
Hyderabad with friends!
With my friends at Hyderabad, India
The enchanting Jog Falls
The enchanting Jog Falls, Karnataka, India

And then the most wonderful thing happened. I met Vijay!  Of course we knew each other from when we were kids but we started seeing each other only two years before we got married. You know what was one of the few questions I asked him initially? ‘Do you like to travel?’ Yeah, I was very clear with this one! I just wasn’t ready to be with someone who doesn’t like to travel.  And the stars were in my favor. He said, ‘Oh yeah! I love traveling! My current aim is to go to at least 30 countries before I turn 30!’ Wow! Now that’s something! Here I was, a budding and struggling doctor who had not even been on an airplane all her 25 years of life and there he was, a techie, counting the number of countries he had traveled to. Of course, that wasn’t the only reason we got married – I know life is not only about traveling. 🙂 After the wedding we went on a two week holiday to France and Switzerland which made me fall in love with those countries 🙂

Our favourite place in France - Mont St. Michel
Our favourite place in France – Mont St. Michel

Post marriage, we went through the usual phases – an initial honeymoon period, some ups and downs, settling down in a house, my adjustment to a metropolitan city (Bangalore), securing a good job etc., I was really bugged of relentless study in medical school for almost 9 years! I decided to take a break for a few months after marriage. And to this day I feel that’s one of the best decisions I took. It gave me time to settle down, accept new things and most importantly realize my passion for traveling. I always knew traveling was my favorite hobby but it was only during the break that I realized that it was much more than a hobby. We used to travel almost every weekend. I joined several trekking groups in Bangalore and went out with them. And the joy that used to fill my heart after each trek/travel was something that made me realize that this has to be an essential part of my life!

Hooked to trekking!
Hooked to trekking!

And then I got a job! A job which I was looking for – one that involves both teaching the medical students and working in a hospital. I was thrilled! It was going well but then I no longer had any weekends for my travels! I had to work on Saturdays and sometimes even on Sundays. It was a struggle to take even 3-4 days off to go somewhere! I liked the job but not the lack of freedom.

And then our trip to Ladakh happened.  It was our first anniversary and we decided to do something adventurous. The road trip to Ladakh was a life-changing experience for us and we were hopelessly bitten by the travel bug. This time we really had to do something serious about it. And we did.

Fell in love with the mountains of Ladakh!
Fell in love with the mountains of Ladakh!
Ladakh was a life changing trip
Ladakh was a life changing trip

I had most of the things that people usually aspire for – a happy marriage, good education, loving family, a decent job, good friends, overall, a comfortable life! But time and again I felt an unexplained lacuna – maybe the lack of freedom to travel, an urge to break free and explore the world in which we live, a wanderlust! I always discussed these with Vijay. He, being the most supportive spouse and my best friend, always listened to my thoughts and shared his own. Both of us diligently planned and collectively took the decision of traveling for a long time.

I definitely went through a mental turmoil before I actually submitted my resignation! Was I doing the right thing? Am I going to struggle after coming back? And I had to convince my family and friends too. They were skeptical initially but eventually saw what I was trying to tell them :). The day before I gave my resignation, I went to a coffee shop and pondered about what I really wanted to do in life then? And the first thing that struck me was my favorite saying –

Twenty years from now you’ll be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones that you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sail.
Explore.
Dream.
Discover.

There it was – my answer.  Yes, I really wanted to take a break to travel and see the world around me.  I knew this was the only time in the near future I could do this. And I had Vijay who shared the same thoughts. What else did I need?! My mind was very clear at that very moment and I happily submitted my resignation.  I was finally free to TRAVEL!

And the freedom that I have felt since then is something that words can’t explain. It is one of the best and most important decisions of my life and I’m so proud of it! I’m doing what I love – traveling to wonderful places, meeting amazing people from around the world, learning life lessons along the way. Traveling has opened up my world like nothing else. I have had such beautiful and eye-opening experiences which are helping me grow as a better human-being.

We also started our travel blog – Away from shor to write about our experiences while on the go and to inspire people to travel more.

Removing weeds in a farm in Thailand
Removing weeds in a farm in Thailand
Watching my first ever opera in the Vienna State Opera
Watching my first ever opera in the Vienna State Opera

I did not decide to travel to escape from my life or work or to ‘rediscover myself’. I simply like the idea of traveling as a way of life. Words fall short to describe the experiences I have had – be it listening with bated breath the painful account of how a Bosnian war refugee escaped from his own country to save himself or flying above the fairy chimneys of Cappadocia in a hot air balloon or talking to the school children in Poland about India or helping a farmer in Northern Thailand grow peppers or simply contemplating over a gorgeous sunset in a sleepy village of Laos.

Marveling the ruins of Ayuthaya, Thailand
Marveling the ruins of Ayuthaya, Thailand

Feel free to share your thoughts! 🙂