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Packing Tips from a Retrospective Backpacker

I have just come back from a two month stint in South East Asia, and I have to tell you, I packed some weird and unnecessary stuff. To the point where at one point in August, there was a hostel room with a bin full of my belongings. I am here to make sure you don't make the same mistakes that I did.


Mistake #1: Leggings

I don't know why I decided to choose my travel day as the first day I ever wore leggings outside in the real world. I also don't know why I thought I would need not one but TWO pairs of leggings for my time in South East Asia. I genuinely think a part of me thought "maybe I will get cold/ get tired of having my legs out/ will go to the gym". Bearing in mind I lived in a place with a free gym for five years and I went about three times, why in the world would I go to the gym in a place so hot you sweat just putting your socks on. Ridiculous.


Moral: don't take leggings. If you wear leggings all the time, like if that is your thing then go ahead, but stick to 1 pair. You'll be wanting some floaty pants like my friend has on here - I ended up buying a pair (well two but the first lot got shrunk in the wash!). You can also opt for the classic elephant pants look - it wasn't for me but no judgement here you do you.


Mistake #2: Plugs


Not really a mistake I just wish I had done a little more research before purchasing. I took this one from MyTravelPal on Amazon and it was great but to be honest I think all of the plug sockets we saw took the Europe two pin plug in them. My plug was a bit bulky and as such didn't always sit right in the socket, meaning it looked a bit precarious and sometimes fell out which was just annoying. Also make sure it's grounded because that's the most safe - that was good about this one, I didn't feel unsafe with it and it didn't get hot like some plugs can do. It was also handy because it had a plug head for UK plugs and multiple USB ports so I could charge about 3 things at once!


Moral: do you research! If you're going somewhere crazy, make sure your adaptor will work for that place! This one above has plugs for most countries which is great and I will have it a long time - think of the investment.


Mistake #3: Glasses/ Contact Lenses

There were times on the trip when we were going swimming/ snorkelling/ on zip lines and I couldn't take my glasses, meaning I missed seeing some aspects of the scenery or fish that I would have loved to see. I've been a glasses person for pretty much my whole life so I am used to it, but I really wish I had invested in some contact lenses before I went. No one wants to be left behind or unable to see when there's a simple solution!


- this picture looks super cool but I cannot see a thing aha


Moral: think ahead. I had multiple pairs of glasses in case my regular pair broke but I didn't think about those times when glasses just aren't an option.


Mistake #4: Literature

Now this wasn't my mistake, really it wasn't a mistake at all but it's just something to think about. I have a kindle, and I read 4 books and was on the fifth when I was coming home. That would have taken up a big chunk of my backpack. My friend was reading the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo books - that is one hefty series and she brought 2 of the series with her. She finished both of those and had to wait to come home to read the third. There were swap shops in many of our hostels, so she wasn't often without something to read, but ultimately if she had some form of e-reader, she could've read as many books as she wanted.


Moral: again just think ahead. I am not a big reader at all in regular life but with all the moving about and beach lounging we did I managed to finish so many books, and because of my Kindle I had a plethora of reading material. It's never a bad idea to have something that isn't your phone to keep you occupied.


Mistake #5: Crop Tops


I honestly only have one photo of me wearing one of the 2 crop tops I wore. and I can't believe I am sharing it on the internet because it is that awful, but I am doing this for you so you really don't make my mistakes. I liked them too much to throw away, so I dragged them through 4 countries. Honestly, crop tops aren't the thing to wear in Asia. I bought and was given a fair few t-shirts over my time, from various shops and pub crawls we went on, and they satiated my top half wardrobe needs most of the time. It just felt a little weird to be wearing something were most of my tummy was out, especially when wandering around cities (island life is different but it depends on the type of trip you are taking!).


Moral: don't take too many clothing items. You pick stuff up along the way.


Mistake #6: Outfits


This one links with #5 and is probably so obvious to most people but think ahead about your outfits. I must've been in a daze when I packed before my trip because I arrived and realised I had nothing that really went together?! In my regular life, I've got a lot of colourful clothing, quite a varied wardrobe, and some of it's quite eclectic. Most is not designed for the heat of Asia - I'm from deepest darkest Lancashire so short/tee combos are rarely needed. I arrived and cursed myself - my friend had bought some lovely pieces specifically for the trip, but I had had such a jampacked summer I hadn't even thought about what I would wear, and that's why I bought so much while I was out there.


Moral: honestly just think ahead. I doubt most people would make this mistake but I guess I was just having a brain-free day when I decided to pack.


Mistake #7: Take a beach bag/ tote


Again, I don't know what I was thinking. Usually I am very organised and think ahead about stuff like this. I was not in my right mind when I was packing. I think I was just thinking about the actual flight, I wasn't thinking about the whole "got to stay alive and need adequate clothing and equipment" thing. Part of me also was scared that my stuff would get nicked if I had it in a tote bag?! Not thinking that actually a tote for the beach would be really useful. Idiot. Luckily my friend had one. Honestly, I packed 2 bumbags and had my day pack but nope didn't think I needed a little tote that folds to nothing. Ugh.


Moral: just use your brain. Don't be like me.


 

If and when I go back to backpacking adventures, I would do so much differently. But there are a few things that I noticed along the way are staples that every good backpacker has. I thought instead of just showing what a backpacking fail I am, I'll give myself some credit where it's due...


Pro Trip #1: Travel Pillow


My travel pillow, kindly gifted from my parents and complying with fire safety regulations from 1988, was a kindred spirit and actual legend throughout the trip. I am not personally a fan of those around the neck travel pillows, I just don't get them, but this little bad boy saw me through the tough times of sleeper buses, overnight trains and uncomfortable excuses for pillows in the various hostels we stayed in.


Amazon have some great examples, I've screenshotted some above. It was so handy honestly, would recommend it to anyone! Ooooh memory foam...fancy. Know what I want for Christmas! Just search Compact Pillow (not travel pillow!).


Pro Tip #2: Carabiner

Needed something to hang my travel pillow off my day pack, and this little piece of metal (not suitable for climbing!), was a great little hack. I used it every time we moved, be it for my sarong bag (especially if it was still a little sandy or damp), my waterproof jacket just in case (rainy season ain't lying). It was amazing, and I noticed as we were travelling about that a lot of other backpackers had these too.


A cheap and easy investment to increase space inside your bags and make things readily available to you without having to root through all your stuff!





Pro Tip #3: Playing Cards


This one again may seem obvious, but a set of cards is an easily forgettable entertainment item. We used them pretty much every day - playing whilst waiting for dinner instead of being on our phones, making new friends at hostels or passing time on overnight transport.

They were the last thing I grabbed as I left the house. Don't forget them. We learnt so many new games and made so many friends (or perhaps enemies lol) when we were playing.


Pro Tip #4: International E-SIM


Now let's be real. It's 2023. I needed to have data on my phone, it was just a need. If you've seen my Instagram you'll know that I love posting stories idk why I know nobody cares but it's just fun! Plus I've got stuff like a family and a boyfriend and friends and also a need for google maps so yes it was a must. To combat this, I did do research before I went and I decided to use Airalo. I got the Asia Link package which was 10GB valid for 30 days at 37USD. That proved enough for me - I blocked data wasting apps like TikTok, Youtube, Netflix and turned it off whenever I wasn't using it so it wouldn't waste data in the background, and I didn't run out of data during either month I had the package.


I sound like I'm sponsored but I'm not I was just really happy with what I got! You can get different packages depending on where you're going in the world, the rates are pretty good, it's hassle free (no waiting at a kiosk at the airport of each country to get a proper sim), and you don't need to carry your regular sim around, you can have both loaded on your phone by some kind of magic - I don't know how it works all I know is that it did work, exceptionally well, and I would recommend it to anyone! Full disclosure I know some people have had issues depending on their phone but I have an iPhone 11 and it was perfect.


If you're on the look out for an E-SIM and want to give it a go, I have a referral code that gives you (and me) some money off your purchase: EMMA0417

 

I hope you found this list useful! If you have any suggestions for additions to this list, or any questions, please pop me a message. Sharing is caring!

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