To pack or not to pack?

2012-12-14 15:52

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A general rule for packing often suggested to travellers goes like this...

Select the bare necessities, the absolute minimum you want to take. Pack this on your bed. Now, divide the heap in half. Pack one half and return the rest to your cupboard.

There. Packed!  

This is not so easy when you are prone to forgetting undergarments and rather packing two rain jackets and an umbrella as I am. A good plan that I learnt from my mother is starting from the top: your head. I would pack everything I would associate with the head - shampoo, brush, eye drops, tissues for the nose, toothbrush and so on. I would then cover the neck (scarf), shoulders (day pack) and then move on to the bottom parts of your physique, hopefully ending your anatomical packing list with sturdy and comfortable shoes and three pairs of socks. And a nail clipper…

Packing the right gear will obviously depend on the weather and the type and length of the trip you are planning. While undergarments are useful in any type of climate, packing a tiara and a gown when backpacking, might seem a tad optimistic.

I once found myself as a member of a soccer team playing on a bumpy gravel field between railwaytracks and a fish factory. As I was not appropriately dressed for the event, the organiser fitted me out in male winter undergarments and steel tip shoes, three sizes too big. This severely hampered my goal scoring and sprinting abilities and my team ended up losing 0 – 4. Maybe I should mention that we were playing against a group of tough factory girls and my team consisted of three secretaries, a tea girl and an overweight female security guard with a broken arm? But it shows you what can happen if you are not dressed right…

Of course having the right documents can also ensure a smooth journey: useful to have your passport and correct visa when leaving the country. Even more useful is to have copies of everything in a separate place.  Always have cash on hand. Recently someone reported from Burma that only fresh new, hot crisply-ironed Dollar and Euro bills were accepted there. In certain parts of Africa ATM’s are as rare as the Thornicroft giraffe and credit cards are accepted only in big cities. A few loose dollars usedfor tips can do wonders to smooth cross-cultural relations.

You can also think about different materials or textures and pack accordingly?

Paper - Include your passport, medical prescriptions and copies of medical and travel insurance and identification. Remember tampons and tissues and toilet paper.A deck of cards, notebook, cash and a map are handy.

Fabric - Clothing, a towel, your special pillow and a sleeping bag.Sarongs or a pashmina can double as a towel or to keep warm.

- Well, your glasses I suppose? Add medicine and a camera. Binoculars are heavy but handy when visiting a bird-rich area.

Metal - Think camera, phone, Kindle and a pocketknife with bottle opener. A small torch and a pen are handy.

Plastic - Pack your toothbrush, toiletries, sunglasses and contact lenses. And a rain jacket and credit card for rainy days…

Liquids - Medicine, lotions, potions and creams. Remember sunscreen, biodegradable washing liquid and a good moisturiser.

Rubber - Condoms, flipflops and comfortable shoes.

Make sure you have your prescription medicine (with the doctor’s prescription) with you. Add some medication for diarrhoea, headaches, blisters and insect bites and you should be fine. Remember the intimate things and make sure you have enough toilet paper and a hand sanitiser. Bring extra contact lens fluid. I take a pack of cards and a buff to keep neck or head warm.

Friends, colleagues and countrymen have recommended these as their personal Must Haves when travelling into Africa. I have sorted it in my order of personal importance.

Camera, enough memory cards, extra batteries and charger. Zoom lens.
Smaller camera: dust and waterproof.
Wet wipes
Aloe gel for soothing of sunburn and insect bites.
Rich moisturiser, lip balm
Mosquito repellent
Tea tree oil
Baby powder. A cloud of powder dusted over a warm body can freshen things up and make you feel smooth and dry.
Hat with brim. Not a cap.
MP3 player/ Ipod
Books = travel guide/birdbook/novel
Power adaptor
Closed shoes
First aid should include Imodium, pain killers, antihistamine and plasters. A small scissors and tweezers were needed more than once…
Malaria prophylactics
Oh. And underwear.

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