I’ll never forget a woman I met on my flight out of Ottawa on my way to Asia for the first time. She was on her way to a meditation retreat in New Mexico and was interested in my choice of destination, the first of which was Thailand. We talked and she asked me at one point, how much luggage I had brought with me, with a bit of a smirk at the two pieces of carry-on I had stuffed under the seat and on my lap.
I thought I had pared down to almost zero in terms of baggage, both in my life and in terms of what I was actually carrying with me. I had given up my apartment and put the few things I hadn’t gotten rid of into a storage locker. My 45L pack was full and I had my camera bag and another bag with chargers and books, but I felt I had streamlined my necessities as much as I could. There are real disciples of this philosophy, who you’ll hear bragging about the miniscule amount of luggage they carry and I get it. There’s a feeling of real freedom in not being tied down to things. And, while that’s cool, I didn’t necessarily want to deny myself things I deemed (in Canada) to be small essentials; my DSLR, iPod, clothes I thought I would need…stuff.
I had picked my pack in large part due to the fact that it could house my camera bag in the bottom, but I carried the camera bag with me on the flight. Two months later, it, my iPod, a bunch of clothes, and a sword I had bought in Bangkok that I didn’t want to carry around with me on my travels for obvious reasons were on their way back to Ottawa via Thailand Post.
Four days after landing I had a motorbike crash in Krabi that affected my right shoulder and collarbone – downward pressure on it (like even from a camera bag) was bad. I had never really been much of a believer in mobile phone cameras but I realised quickly that the camera on my S4 was probably the equal of my older DSLR and, what I would give up in terms of functionality I would make up in portability. The phone was always in my pocket and the DSLR was a pain to even get out of the bag. Scratch one “essential”. The iPod was also scratched as an unnecessary due to the phone as well.
I had heard that Chiang Mai was cold at times and it is…for Thailand. For Canadians, the coldest Chiang Mai will get to would be weather in late May. It’s not cold. So, back to Canada went clothes that were ridiculously useless to me in my new climate. I thought of the lady on the plane from Ottawa at that post office near Khao San a couple of months later.
These days, this is what I pack. This isn’t a suggestion – everyone needs different things but these items have gotten me around SE Asia comfortably for the past few years…
Always in the Bag:
- Shorts (3 pairs – I like cargo shorts for traveling; it’s like wearable luggage)
- Convertible pants/shorts (1 pair) – These are good for when it gets “cold” in Chiang Mai bwahahaha…
- Hoodie (again for the cold – I use it a lot more now as I’ve gotten acclimatised but I wouldn’t suggest it if you’re coming direct from Canada.)
- Underwear (4 pairs)
- T-shirts (4 or 5)
- Cotton button down shirt (2 long sleeve, 1 short sleeve) – these are good because the sleeves can be rolled up, cotton breathes and occasionally I need a decent shirt. Occasionally.
- Electric clippers and charger – DIY haircuts!
- Toothbrush and paste
- Swiss army knife (remember to put in your stowed luggage before flying) – the more attachments the better
- Phone and charger
- Talcum powder
- Polysporin or a similar anti-bacterial medicine (if you’re coming from Canada you may find that cuts and burns may not heal as quickly here. Bacteria thrive in heat so consistent application of polysporin is a good idea for any nicks and scratches you may get here.)
- 400mg Liqui-Gel Advil (I’m open to doing endorsements by the way if anyone is listening…)
- Universal outlet adaptor
- Hiking shoes (Rarely used but when I needed them I was glad I had them. You don’t do the Great Wall in flip flops.)
- Wool socks (1 pair – for the times I use the hiking shoes. The worst blistering I’ve experienced was after wearing sandals for 6 months and then going for a hike in shoes with no socks.)
- Swimming trunks (1 pair)
- Nicoteine gum (I feel you judging me…it’s palpable.)
- Travel sized soap and shampoo (one of each to be replenished with supplies from any guesthouse or hotel room stayed in.)
Sometimes in the Bag:
- Laptop – if I want to do some writing. I can’t write much more than a text message on a phone without feeling like Homer in need of a dialing wand.
- Camera – after sending the DSLR home and using my phone to take pictures I eventually decided to go back to a camera and got a lightweight, mirrorless Sony with a few lenses. I recommend mirrorless systems if you are buying a camera specifically for your travels. I only bring it if I’m intending to do a lot of shooting though.
- Books – the biggest waste of space in the era of the e-reader and tablet but I like books on the bus or the train and I just can’t get used to an e-reader.
Never in the Bag:
- Expectations, assumptions and opinions but that’s for another post.
Thailand is hot and t-shirts, shorts and sandals are the only things I ever really wear. Laundry is usually about 25-40 THB a kilo and there are laundromats everywhere so packing less and washing more is a good strategy for keeping things light. I tend to roll my clothes as opposed to folding them as well which saves space in the bag.
Clothing tends to be inexpensive here as well so if you get here and find that you’re short of something just buy it here. The sandals I have gotten the most mileage out of were purchased at a stall in Bangkok for 100THB (pictured above at about $2.85 USD). They lasted me for over a year and didn’t owe me a damn thing when I threw them away.
Make a list of what you think you will need and then start to pare it down. Again, I won’t tell you what to pack – what people need is pretty individualised, but the above has gotten me around without feeling like I was lacking anything for years now. The lady on the plane out of Ottawa was right.