Tag Archives: Nomad

Welcome to the LIGHT Side: Packing for 6 months with a 35 Litre Backpack

Bee & Nick Say: This post is by far and away our most popular blog entry. We’ll leave it as we wrote it, but will constantly add some updates on what we found the most useful as the trip went on, fix broken links etc. Enjoy, and please add anything you can’t live without below!

Bee Says: Before we left, I meant to do a packing list blog, as I found reading other people’s so useful when preparing for six months away. However, I didn’t think mine would be that unusual until we got here and realised that every other person we have met has a bag double our size… and usually for less time! Then I posted a photograph of me loaded up with my 35 litre beaut and my friend Eleanor Jane asked if I could post some details about how on earth I have enough clothes for 6 months. I should also add that the clothes have taken me from 40 degree tropical heat to -5 freezing flats out on the Salar de Uyuni, which is surely proof that no one needs to struggle beneath a backpackzilla unecessarily. Here is my total kit, and bag on the top right.

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Clothes (layering is key!)
    • American Apparel Hoodie
    • Craghoppers Shirt – This comes into it’s own during Amazon and Jungle trips as it is made of durable breathable material that stops both sun burn and mozzie munching.
    • Karrimor Combat Trousers (that zip off into long shorts)
    • Denim Cut Offs
    • 3 x Cotton Tee Shirts
    • H&M TShirt Dress
    • Long sleeved Uniqlo Heattech Thermal Top
    • Uniqlo Heattech Thermal Leggings (that work as normal leggings with my dress)
    • Vest
    • 7 x Knickers
    • 2 x Bras
    • 2 x Bikinis
    • 3 x Hiking Socks
    • Woollen Hat & Mittens (bought in Bolivia)
    • Headscarf, Kirby Grips and Hairbands
    • Pashmina
    • Flip Flops
    • Small Festival Style Poncho
    • Montane Lite Speed Jacket – My biggest splurge and prized possession, this jacket squeezes down to the size of an APPLE. Its windproof, waterproof (tested in many stormy downpours) and is the perfect outer shell over my hoody and thermal in cold weather, keeping all the warmth in and the chill out. I got mine for 60quid on an outdoor retail website so shop around!
    • Sunglasses
    • Sun Hat – You can spend silly money on these in outdoor shops, so if you have a small head like me opt for a kids one. Mine cost 3quid as apposed to the almost identical adult ones for 25!
    • Karrimor Walking Boots (I wear these when travelling so they don’t strictly fit in my bag but can be tied to handles and dangle off Where’s Wally style)
    • 7 Litre Healthy Back Bag Day Pack – I use this day to day and leave my backpack in the hostel, but when travelling it folds down and fits in my big bag.
Keeping Clean
  • Beach Towel
  • Wash Bag with Aveda Miniature Shampoo, Conditioner, Shower Gel, Curl Cream and Moisurisor which when diluted down with water has lasted me neart two months so far.
  • Make Up Wipes (I BADLY wish I had bought about 5 packs of these, but I only packed 1. I used to use them every night back home to take off make off, but I am not wearing make up on this trip so instead I use them to – gross – clean off dust, dirt and travel grime. Because I have so few, using one has become a total luxury that I really look forward to… Sad! They also double up as a way of “showering” when there is not water at your hostel or you are on a boat etc.)
  • Tampons (no ones needs a photo of these but there is a box in there too, as you cant buy brands you may… prefer… over here, although there are sanitary products available so its your womanly preference with this stuff)
  • Deodrant
  • Mini hairbrush
  • Dry shampoo
  • Razor and 2 Blades
  • Toothbrush and Toothpaste
Essentials
  • Silk sleeping bag liner – This silk sleeping bag liner is a travel MUST have. You dont need to cart around a full sleeping bag, even the cheapest hostels in cold locations have piles of blankets and you can hire a sleeping bag if you camp on treks or tours. All you need is a silk sheet – it keeps you warm, it stops bed bugs and mozzies biting, it gives you something clean to sleep on when sheets look questionable and it is also a handy caccoon on cold night buses.
  • Travelproof Mosquito Net – We thought that hostels in Malaria regions would all provide mozzie nets… and we were SO wrong. I bought a double sized net and am so relieved I did, as it’s stopped me being bug food on many a night and especially whe sleeping on a boat or outdoor in a hammock. Don’t risk heading to South America without one.
  • Ear Plugs
  • Emergency Foil Blanket (present from Nicks dad, which hopefully by having means we will never need to use!)
  • Eaglecreek Silk Money Belt – Comfortable, safe and I basically wear it constantly, it has all my money, cards, passport, important info and memory cards in. The silk makes it non bulky underclothes and…  pretty sweat resistant for those big trek days.
  • Coin Purse
  • iPod Shuffle & Headphones (not the end of the world if you lose it!)
  • Plug Adaptor
  • Head Torch
  • Pen Knife
  • Blow Up Pillow
  • Document Holder – For Insurance Info, Yellow Fever Certificate, Innoculation Booklet, Itinerary etc.
  • Kindle – When I went backpacking to Canada, books took up half of my bag space. My paperwhite is the best thing, I never run out of entertainment and whenever there is Wifi I can download new reading material. I have a bashed up, old book looking case which helps security wise and hopefully itll last the duration of the trip!
  • Lonely Planet – Im carrying around Central America, Nick has South.
  • Digital Camera – About 5 years old and Im not too attatched to it but for the sake of snapping photos I hope it lasts the trip.
  • Chargers for all of these electric things.
  • Homemade Spanish Phrase Book
  • Diary
  • Playing Cards – Mine are special Taytos branded, a present from my Irish friend Chloe, and have already seen aLOT of heated hostel games of Shithead.
Medical
  • Overlanders Medical Kit – This honestly takes up a fifth of my backpack! But as we are visiting remote regions with no real medical care, we would be crazy not to bring a decent kit. Obviously the hope is that we don’t need it, but so far we have delved into it to stitch Nick up post window smashing on him and I ploughed through the rehydration sachets in week one. There is enough space for extra bits, so we also have it stuffed with plasters, travel sickness pills, anti diorrhea tablets etc.
  • A4 Ziplock of Tablets – Another big space chomper is the zip lock full of anti-malerias, which we have to take for the full 6months. I also have contraceptive pill, valerian root to help sleep AND spare asthma inhalers, so am basically a walking pharmacy, but the nice thing is that everytime I take a pill I know there is that tiny bit more extra room coming my way…
  • Flight Socks
  • 4 x Deep Heat Patches – Are you a girl? Do you have periods? Dont travel anywhere, or live your life generally, without these. The ultimate banisher of period pain.
  • Insect Repellent – Just pack one, you can buy DEET out here
  • Sun Cream – Same, you can buy all factors out here
  • After-Sun
  • Tiger Balm – The BEST miracle cure for bites, grazes and anything sore.
  • Germaline
  • Rescue Remedy
  • Anti Bac Hand Gel
  • Vasaline
  • Spanx – Not to help my figure, but these are amazing the day after a big hike or trek when you have sore back and legs. It takes all the pressure off and helps you limp around a little easier.

And that’s it! My life in a bag, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Nicks Says: Well Bee has basically covered everything in brilliant detail, so I won’t bore with going over too much of the same stuff. But the good news for the guys is that you can get away with even less stuff.

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As you can see from the photo above, I’ve also managed to cram in a lot of stuff into a small space. My bag is a 37L Lowe Alpine beauty, bought from the fine folks at the Outdoor Emporium in Camden who are super friendly and knowledgeable about pretty much everything outdoorsy and travel equipment related. For those who want the 35L but are concerned they may need a bit more space every now and again, a very similar Lowe Alpine bag is available and highly recommended.

I’ll try not to repeat anything that me & Bee have duplicates of, but I will give a quick run-down of important clothing items in my bag.

Clothing

  • 1 pair of combats. I actually bought these from Next after finding nothing suitable in the outdoor shops, and they’re great. They include a zip pocket which is invaluable for storing passport and wallet.
  • 1 pair of boardies. Great as your swimming gear, plus double as a pair of shorts.
  • A 3/4 length pair of shorts. I usually take a pair of shorts this length on my trips, but slightly regretted it on this one. They were too bulky for the small pack, and also didn’t add anything extra that a normal pair of combat shorts would have done, with less space. So don’t follow my lead here.
  • 4 T-Shirts. These include my beloved Melburn shirt my friend got me as a memento of my time spent living in the fine city of Melbourne. 1 tee has already been binned as a health hazard, and been replaced by a Peruvian supermecardo special.
  • 1 Hoodie. Don’t leave home without it.
  • 1 krama. This is my favourite ever piece of travel clothing. It’s a Cambodian scarf, and the best 25p I’ve ever spent. It doubles as a warming scarf, sun hat, dust mask, and bandana. You can also get big versions which you can wear as a manly skirt.
  • Wooly hat/beanie – I picked mine up for about £2/$3 in a Bolivian market, and can’t recommend getting one more – travelling isn’t all fun in the sun. Especially in South America you’ll be hitting altitude, and the hat will come in very handy!

I’ve also got just about enough underwear to keep it fresh and Bee happy, but every now and again I join the ULF (the underwear liberation front). When travelling to a new place, we make sure to wear all our bulky items and save on space. This is especially important for my trail shoes which can fit in my pack, but make it a bit of a squeeze… I chose the Benefaction II shoes from Berghaus, which were brilliant in every condition and stood up to some pretty tough punishment. Sadly they no longer seem to be on sale anywhere, so here’s a link to my new choice of shoes from new company Ridgemont Outfitters, combining rugged versatility with street style.

The most important and versatile item I took though was definitely my Montane Lite-Speed jacket. It kept me warm on top of the Andes in very cold and windy conditions, yet didn’t overheat me in the tropics, was waterproof enough to keep the rain off while running for shelter during a tropical storm, and best of all packed down to the size of an apple – meaning that I barely noticed it in my backpack, and could easily take it in my daypack. It’s so good that I now regularly wear it on all adventures, and in daily life!

Keeping Clean

I also made sure to pack a bottle of all-purpose soap, vital for when you have to wash clothes in the sink. I remember not really using much of it in 9 months when I travelled with just boys, but with Bee’s totalitarian cleaning regime , it’s almost all gone! (You mean it spilt in your bag!! – Bee) A loo roll is also VERY IMPORTANT, as they don’t like to supply you with much over here. Finally, one of my must pack items is a Swiss army knife. My current one was a present from my big brother Joe, and although I’ve not had to to take out any stitches with it (a former use of mine in Bangkok), it’s been super handy. Added to that I chucked in a few travel sized shower gels and shampoos, plus a beach towel. I found that those travel towels are generally a waste of money and feel horrible. A beach towel packs away almost as small, dries quickly, and looks better when you’re sunning yourself on golden sands.

If there’s one item I regret not bringing, it’s an E-Reader. Books take up loads of room, plus I’ve been stuck with old ones and no book exchange. Which meant I’ve read the guidebook cover to cover. I’m not even going to Argentina, but I can tell you all about it’s wine growing regions… Probably should have used the time to read the phrasebook instead.

Bee & Nick Say: There are obviously pros and cons to travelling light…

PROS
  1. Our bags are small enough to put in hand luggage on flights, and in the rack above us on coaches and buses. Some bags get tampered with or stolen from the hold, and since we spend half our life on buses, we were keen to never have them out of sight.
  2. They are light enough to trek with if we want to, like we did on Isla Del Sol. Most people we see are literally struggling to even get their huge backpacks on their backs, then cowering beheath the weight even walking to the bus. It does not look fun.
  3. Packing takes us about 5 minutes, usually less. Sleeping through the alarm doesn’t mean PANIC!
  4. You boil everything down to the basics. One of the main reasons to travel is to gain perspective on your life – and in this case a uncluttered bag means an uncluttered mind.
CONS
  1. This is no fashion show. We have to wear the SAME things day in, day out, and we start to refer to our “uniform”. I dont care most of the time, but there has been the odd occasion where I have felt really dowdy and underdresses such as the Manaus opera house where I was surrounded by women in beautiful gowns and I was wearing… Combats and walking boots.
  2. No room for luxuries! Dont even think about hair dryers, GHDs, make up etc. Packing light is definitely for happy scruff bags like me. I figure that I spend alot of time on my appearence in “normal life”, so 6 months off is allowed. When you are wearing a hat and sunglasses most of the time, it doesnt really matter what your hair and face look like underneath.
  3. You pong a bit… Laundry is an expensive treat, so day to day washing has to be done in the sink with soap. This obviously means after a week or so, everything is on varying levels of gross and slightly-less-gross. Fresh washed clothes is the BEST day when we do get a proper wash done!
  4. No space for presents! You cant really stock up on any gifts or souveniers bigger than fridge magnets. We did a big shop in La Paz for friends and family and then posted it home, which we felt is probably more secure than carting it all around for another 4 months… but there is a cost attached

Have we convinced you to travel a tad lighter? What size is your backpack?

 

 

Let’s Get Medical

Bee Says: When you make the decision to jet off to tropical climes, your brain is instantly filled with a flickbook of tropical islands, gushing waterfalls, exotic creatures and (in my case) all the rum cocktails I have lying ahead of me. The last thing that enters your head is those boring niggles such as insurance, vaccinations and medical preparation. Who wants to bore themselves with that when all you want to do is daydream about pina coladas?! Well, it doesn’t need to put a kink in your pre-travel haze, if you plan far enough in advance.

As a total travel rookie, when my (ex-doctor) dad sent me a list of “have you sorted out…” followed by what seemed like a never-ending list of potential ailments and medical concerns around South & Central America, I was absolutely overwhelmed. I felt like I’d already been ousted as a travel-failure, as I didn’t have a single answer to his sensible questions. My experience is specific to our itinerary (link) but hopefully the advice would be useful to anyone taking a trip to far-flung locations, as even a two-week honeymoon to Asia or quick business trip to Africa has similar implications.

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Vaccinations
Give yourself at least THREE months to sort your vaccinations, and actually six months would be ideal. This sounds like a ridiculously long amount of time, but with many of the vaccines you actually need numerous injections over the course of weeks to provide inoculation. With some vaccines, each booster has to be on a very specific day (e.g.  day 1, day 14, day 21 of a month) so clear your diary. Also, in my case I needed an MMR and Yellow Fever. These are both “live” vaccines, and need a clear month between jabs. Therefore if I hadn’t given myself so long to prepare, I wouldn’t have had anywhere near enough time to fit in the necessary vaccinations.

Most importantly; you don’t need to take on the battle of researching what vaccines you need yourself! There is plenty of support and help out there to make sure you are covered. My first port of call was the nurse at my GPs. Book an extra-long/double-slot appointment, and together you can go through your itinerary and work out what you need. Only limited vaccines are available on the NHS (and as with most health-things,  it seems to be a postcode lottery as Nick’s GP had a wider range available than mine) so your second trip will need to be to one of the fantastic Nomad Travel Clinics  or MASTA clinics. If you can’t find either of these in your area; there is a search engine for your closest clinic here or Nomad/MASTA will happily recommend a reputable local resource.

Being in London I had the pick of places, so opted for Nomad – as they have an affiliation with Sta Travel. I had booked my flights and insurance via Sta, and this bagged me a whopping 10% discount off all my kit purchased at Nomad AND crucially, the pricey vaccines. I was pin-cusioned at the Victoria branch of Nomad, and treated by a lovely nurse named Beverly who instantly won me over a) by looked like Zooey Deschanel but b) being instantly reassuring and a clear expert in travel vaccines. On the first session we worked out my schedule of appointments, my options and everything was explained clearly, calmly and with no medical jargon. Every session has been a delight (despite the pain factor) as Beverly always has taken time to check how I reacted to previous injections, fill out my vaccine card and explain clearly any potential side-effects and symptoms.

For South & Central America you need the following:

NHS Provided (Free!)

  • Hepatitis A
  • Tetanus, Polio & Diphtheria
  • MMR (recommended)

Nomad Provided (Paid for)

  • Hepatitis B (£90, £30 per dose)
  • Typhoid (£30)
    There is a national shortage of this vaccination, therefore I had this orally which involved shenanigans with a cool bag and frozen peas as I travelled around, as the tablets can’t be kept in anything other than fridge-like conditions and need to be taken over the course of six days. So, be sure to give plenty of advance notice if you need this as it can’t be obtained instantly, there is a waiting list. I’m not sure how long the national shortage will last, but if there wasn’t a shortage it would be available on the NHS for free and lasts for 3 years.
  • Yellow Fever (£50)
    This is a legal requirement for entering most countries we are visiting as it is endemic in many regions. For this reason you are provided with a yellow fever certificate to prove you are inoculated before entering. Don’t think you might be able to wing-it, as if you can’t provide a vaccination certificate you will be expected to pay sometimes up to £100 to be vaccinated before crossing the border, so it’s safest and easiest in the long run to just suck up the cost and do it here. You must be vaccinated 7 days pre-travel to be covered.

Optional

  • Rabies (£150, £50 per dose)
    This is entirely at your discretion, and most travellers don’t get vaccinated. However for peace of mind both Nick and I have forked out and got the rabies protection as we are travelling to so many areas with feral and wild animals, and we like petting things. This combination just means we would rather be safe than sorry. Even with the vaccine, you would need a booster if you were bitten, but if you are going to be in the wilderness then it buys you the precious time to travel to a clinic or hospital. Once we return to the UK, we have one booster and then are protected for 5 years, so for regular travellers like us then splitting the cost over 5 years makes it a smarter investment

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The two questions on everyone’s lips I’m sure are…
Did they hurt? None of the vaccines were more than your standard short, sharp scratch that you can barely feel and is over before you notice it hurting. The one tricky customer was Hep B, as the vaccine is a syrup-y consistency so just a little bit more stubborn going in, but it didn’t hurt at all. So none of these injections are anything to worry about AT ALL and it helps that you can gaze at maps on the walls of the amazing locations you are getting them in order to visit.

Did you have any gross side effects? I was fortunate enough not to have any side effects, except lead-heavy sore arms on the days I had multiple jabs in one arm. Nick had a reaction to Typhoid, which is very common, but that was a night of queasiness and then he was right as rain in the morning.

How much does it all cost? As you can see the financial hit is far worse than the physical pain and these were with discount. I can’t stress enough to start factoring in your vaccine costs at the earliest possible stage. They can’t be avoided and whilst they seem pricey; they aren’t HALF as costly as your medical bills / flight home would be if you skip out on getting them and then get sick. Leading me nicely on to…

Insurance
Two words: Get it! There’s a hideous statistic out there about 75%+ travellers not taking out insurance which give me chills. There are plenty of online price comparison sites out there, for those without pre-existing medical conditions, such as lucky Nick! He got his insurance via Columbia for £150. If you havea pre-existing medical condition then you will need to get special cover, as your condition invalidates any cover if it’s not declared. I recommend Sta Travel, firstly for the sweet nomad discount, but secondly because of the easy process to insure your existing condition. It’s just a swift 5 minute phone interview, where you are quoted then and there. My insurance is the more costly £300 but this is due to my asthma and the fact I had surgery less than a year ago. Having feared I wouldn’t even GET insurance, this feels reasonable. One BIG pearl of wisdom, that we are literally paying for our own mistake on, plan your flights carefully. Our flight home takes us ONE DAY over 6-months, which means we have to pay for 7-months of cover. Bah! Also, you can’t lie and say you fly home a day early because any claims will need the flight details of your homeward leg of the journey so you’ll be busted and invalidated and sad.

No one wants to focus on illnesses, accidents and unexpected emergencies… but you don’t have to if you’re prepared and that’s why I’m relieved we’ve done it properly so we can be spontaneous souls once we are where it counts most – on our trip!

Nick says… 

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Medication
So after you’ve spent more on vaccinations than you’ll spend on actually going back-packing, it’s time to worry about all the medication you’ll have to lug with you. What do you really need to take? Travel books will recommend a whole heap of stuff I’d never heard of (such as lidocaine cream) and on my previous trip I dutifully took everything. And then didn’t use half of it. So… take what you’d generally use in everyday life. Inhalers etc. if you suffer from asthma. This also means painkillers for those nights you’ve enjoyed a bit too much of the local hospitality or for those days where you’ve been on a punishing trek/ran away from bandits. I would also recommend an antiseptic of some sort – I swore by little bottles of iodine last time I went, but sadly you can no longer get them. But you’re bound to need wounds cleaning up at some point in time when you’re away. That’s not me being super gory, it’s just a fact. In my previous trips I’ve managed to cut up feet, shins, hands, and also had to take someone’s stitches out. You need something to clean it all up with. A spray based one is a good bet as that stops you prodding and wiping any cuts with your grubby little fingers. Although not strictly medical, I wouldn’t go anywhere without tiger balm. It’s basically magic in a tiny jar. Good for headaches, muscle pain, and even bites – the tingling removes the itching! You can pick this up from Boots for about £4. If you don’t know where it is in the store, just ask – it’s usually near the rescue remedy.

However, that’s not to say you shouldn’t take all the bells and whistles if you’re worried. It’s just that you probably won’t need them. Unless you’re off on a lot of solo hikes, a standard medical kit should be just fine (you can buy them from Nomad or other travel shops for around £30, or you can make up your own and put it in an ice cream box or something). For anything that gets a bit more serious, such as badly infected bites, you’ll most likely be able to find doctors that can help you out. Medical care does exist all over the world.

For those travelling to tropical climes, mozzies are going to be a big problem. You will get bitten, but you can take measures to discourage these pesky things. The most obvious is getting yourself a Deet based bug spray. Then liberally douse yourself. It stinks and tastes horrible, but it does work. Spray your ankles and wrists especially as these seem to be hotspots. Mozzie coils to burn at night are also a good idea. Again, most places you stay will probably already own them so just get a lighter out and get them going.

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But what about anti-malarials?
Oh yes, the great anti-malarial debate… Again, it’s totally up to you if you take them or not. If you’re headed somewhere that’s known as a malarial region then I would probably take them. It’s an extra-insurance against quite a nasty disease. I once knew a guy who got bitten only a few times in India and ended up having to have a blood transfusion over there after he fell ill. But then again, people spending a lot of time in malarial regions often don’t bother due to their side-effects. I’ve previously experienced photo-sensitivity, but nothing like night terrors you hear about.  Again, each person is different.

If you do decide to go with taking anti-malarials, there are a few things to know. Do your research on which ones you’ll need. There are several different types. Your travel nurse will be able to help you with this. Some cannot be taken with other meds or pre-existing conditions. Some don’t work in various regions – the mozzies have developed immunities. If you get them pre-trip, they’re going to be expensive. If you get them while you’re away, they’ll be a lot cheaper. When I went to South-East Asia (Laos is a malaria area) I bought mine in a pharmacy in Thailand, saving me about £50. This time I’ve bought them pre-trip, costing me about £75. Why the change? Well last time I wasn’t getting to Laos until about 7 months into my trip, I just didn’t need to carry them around for that long and only needed one specific type of tablet for a month long period. This time I’m going to be in tropical malarial regions within a week of landing, and needed a mix of anti-malarials. Doxycycline for South America and Chloroquine for Central America. I wanted to talk through with my nurse what to do about swapping over and when was the best time to do it. It felt right to sort it all out before, even if it was more expensive! To save costs, you can also go through online pharmacies. Your nurse can recommend legitimate, reputable ones to go to – Bee bought her Malarone and Proguanil from Travel Pharm and it was half the cost that Boots quoted. Bear in mind you will still need a private prescription from either your doctors or travel clinic to use these sites.

Things do go wrong on the road, but unless you’re very unlucky then it’s nothing you won’t be able to sort out yourself. By being insured, vaccinated, and aware of the possible diseases in the areas you’re going to, you’ll be much more likely to avoid anything nasty. However, please do plan into your budget how expensive it all is to get ready to go away. I had most of my vaccinations in date from previous trips, and I still forked over a couple of hundred quid to be stuck with needles. Bah!