Travel Tip for Travelling Couples

This has been bothering me for some time, and I really wanted to get it off my chest. If you’re travelling as a couple or a group, and you’re on the road for a decent amount of time I’d highly recommend scheduling in some “apart time”.

I’ve yet to meet someone who reckons spending 24/7×365 attached to the hip to someone else is healthy for the relationship. You’d never do it in real life as you’d be off to separate lessons or work in different places (or even if you work in the same role at the same company, you’d probably go spend the odd evening with your mates or something like that) each day. But when travelling so many couples become totally inseparable and its just not healthy.

Sure, if you’ve got a hectic week or two lined up full of fun stuff do it together or are staying in a location with dubious safety, but even if its only once a month, pencil in an “apart day”. It’ll often force you to meet new people at the hostel you’re staying in at the time, which is only a good thing. It’ll also let you see some sites and sounds you know your other half would not be interested in in the slightest, or if you’re just in the mood for a chilled out day it’ll let you catch up on all those postcards you wanted to send home and find a sunny spot and spend a lazy afternoon finishing off your book in peace.

I’d advise having breakfast together then heading off and doing your own things – meeting back up in time for dinner or when it gets dark. Bring some independence back into your travels, even if its only for a few hours. If you’re into extreme sports and your other half isn’t, use it as an opportunity to do something you really wanted to do. But remember, the focus is not on trying to have as much fun as possible without the other person (and definitely not the reason for “apart days”), its just to bring some sanity back into the situation.

And if nothing else, it’ll mean when you get back to the “real world” and you suddenly cannot spend every waking moment in each others presence, you’ll be ready for it and it wont take you by surprise and put your relationship under unnecessary strain.

(On my travels in Central America I met a couple, Steph & Hannah, who had an “apart day” routine going and I wished I’d paid more attention to it at the time, it really was a sound idea. So I’m hoping someone out there travelling as a couple will read this and take this piece of advice to heart. It really helps!)

Add comment August 22, 2013

What To Pack In Your Backpack

I’ve been asked quite a few times what I’d suggest taking for a backpacking trip and thought it’s about time I got it all down into a post to share..

First up, I’d say it depends on where you’re going and for how long. If its a short trip and you can get away with just a “hand luggage” size bag, you will be the envy of everyone you meet along the way and it will make your life so much easier. But lets assume you’ll be off for a while. And lets assume you’re packing for a variety of environmental conditions (hot, cold, wet, dry, etc).

The bag.
Get the smallest you can fit all your stuff in. Seriously. If you get a big bag, you will full it and then spend the whole trip lugging heaps around. Keep it small and then you can’t over pack. Try get one with a cover you can zip over the shoulder straps so it wont get mangled in the airport conveyer belts. And definitely try get a bag with as few external zippers as possible. If you can get a bag with a single zipper thats best – as every compartment you’ll have to keep locked (not just for theft prevention – also to prevent someone else slipping something into your bag for you to “carry over” a border or through a check point). Also a small day bag you can fit your warm top, a water bottle, your passport, camera, etc into.

The clothes.
I’m a guy, so these are for a guy. Chicks, you can probably figure out the gist of it. 4x normal short sleeve t-shirts. 1x long sleeve t-shirt. 1x pair of jeans. 1x pair of quick-dry long trousers. 2x “swimming” baggies (trunks you swim in – if you’re not spending much time on the coast then 1 pair is fine). 2x “dry” baggies (daytime, normal day-to-day trunks). 1x long sleeve fleece thermal top. 1x long sleeve windbreaker / rain jacket. 1x beanie. 1x flip-flops (Havaianas are cool). 1x closed shoes that are smart enough to get you into a bar/restaurant, but that are comfortable enough to do long distance walking/hiking. 1x long sleeve rashvest (lycra top – they are best for blocking the sun on the beach and wont wash off every time you jump in the water). A whole pile of underwear and socks. You can recycle the rest of your clothes for a couple days at a time if you’re careful but please don’t think of that with your underwear and socks! Finally a beanie (get one you can pull over your eyes which makes it double as a sleep mask).

1x toothbrush. Start keeping an eye out for a new one when your’s is getting a bit long in the tooth – it might take a couple days to come across one which meets your standards. 1x toothpaste. 1x deodorant. 2x bars of soap. I actually had 4 as a bar of soap only lasts me about a week. 2-in-1 shampoo anti-dandruff shampoo. Why the anti-dandruff? Because it also kills fungal outbreaks on your skin. You will pick up one or two of those from all those lovely communal showers along the way.. 1x waxed dental floss (it doubles as incredibly strong thread for fixing things – ie if your bag tore, you could probably temporarily fix it with a strong needle and the floss). 1x SPF 20 sunscreen for day to day use. 1x SPF 45 or stronger sunscreen for your face. As a guy, I skipped the normal disposable razor and shaving cream and went for a small AA-battery powered beard shaver. You don’t need to lug heavy shaving cream/gel around and you can shave without water. Sure it won’t be as close as a bladed shave, but the stubble is better than getting infected hairs cause the water you’re trying to shave with is a bit dodgy. Wet wipes/baby wipes are worth their wait in gold – make sure you’ve got a pack or two in your bag. They’re your shower when there’s no water (or if its too cold to shower), and generally help cleaning up when you don’t have easy access to water. Try get the biodegradable types, but if they’re not available get something. Even if you don’t plan to use them, take condoms. Someone will ask you for some along the way, and if you do end up in a situation where you need them, you would like to know they’re ones you can trust. And never ever think of trying unprotected horizontal aerobics. The risks are just not worth it ever.

Medic Kit.
Plasters, headache tablets (both ibuprofen and aspirin), hay fever tablets (even if you don’t have hay fever, anti-histamines help with stings and insect bites. I was really glad for them when I got stung by a sting-ray on the beach the one day..!), anti-diarrhea tablets, plenty of rehydration sachets. This is your day-to-day medic kit. Also pack one of those “sterile surgery packs” you can get from good outdoor shops – the ones which have sterile sutures, scalpels, hyperdermic needles, swabs, gloves, etc so that if something happens to you and you need to be seen by a doctor/surgeon in a place where you can’t ensure the cleanliness, you can use the kit. Have it and you won’t need it, don’t find yourself in a 3rd world country half a days drive from the nearest town trying to stop yourself screaming as a doctor stitches you closed with a needle and some sewing thread..)

Big beach towel. Microfibre towel (not only do they dry you, they’re also amazing insulators. I’ve kept a tub of ice cream frozen for an hour and a half in 40 deg C temps while i made my way back to a hostel! Also excellent for keeping beers & cool drinks cold for sundowners on the beach). Sarong (has a million and one uses). A Leatherman – I use the Leatherman Juice as it is the only one which includes a cork screw for opening wine bottles. Also look on amazon or at your outdoor shop for a pocket knife sharpener, I have a smal ceramic one which works perfectly on the road. 2x decks of playing cards. UNO cards (you get awesome clear plastic ones, called UNO splash, off amazon). A tennis ball and/or a keepy-uppy (hackee-sack) ball. We had a tiny “fishing kit” – basically some hooks, sinkers and swivels in a small plastic container with a heap of fishing line wrapped around it. You can make a small hand-line fishing rig with it and catch your own dinner (which I’ve done!). A field kitchen. We had a rectangular plastic tub – the ones with a tab on each side of the lid to clip it closed. Inside a knife, fork and spoon for each person the kitchen is for. A small hiking salt-and-pepper set. A further small hiking salt-and-pepper set with mixed herbs and something spicy, like peri-peri flakes. A small water-tight container with some washing up liquid. A sponge. And if you’re a marmite eater – LOTS AND LOTS OF SQUEEZY MARMITES!!! Two months in you’ll be craving something savoury to spread on your bread & toast. You can thank me later (met a Tasmanian on the way once who had 12 tubes of Vegemite. Smart man. Take his lead). If you’re going to be anywhere along the coast, a good mask and snorkel (goggles and snorkel) if you’re one of those sort of people. 1x lonely planet or rough guide or equivalent guide book for the next area you will be heading to (get the most recently published one – when you get to the edge of the area your guide covers, you’ll probably find a book-swap where you can swap it out for a guide book covering the next area). Locks for all the zips on your backpack. Another big padlock. I had a snowboard cable lock and used it all over the place to lock several bags together or to lock a hand luggage bag onto something immoveable – its not going to stop a focussed thief, but it stops the opportunistic theft which is so commonplace. Finally, get a SILK (not cotton) sleeping bag liner. The silk is a very fine weave, meaning it stops nasties like fleas and bed bugs getting through to you, plus the silk provides some thermal insulation too – usually around an extra 5 def C, and it packs down to a minuscule size. They’re not cheap, but totally worth it for places where you’re not 100% sure of the cleanliness of your next nights bedding. A metal hipflask – start off with rum or vodka, and replace as needed along the way. Remember to make sure its empty for border crossings!

The best bit of the whole lot! First up: Camera. Splash out, get the latest Olympus Tough -the one that is waterproof, shockproof, freeze proof and can be taken to at least 10m underwater. That way, when you’re on the beach, you can take the camera in with you instead of leaving it on the beach to get stolen (I learnt that lesson for you, please listen to it!) It fits in your pocket, takes great pics and videos. Just do it. Next, you want something you can access the internet on – almost everywhere has free wifi, but hardly any places have actual computers anymore. And if they do, they’ll be virus ridden, probably have weird layout keyboards with half the keys not working and you’ll  be limited to 20-3o minutes at a time. When I last travelled, the ipad was just coming out. Having had one for a while now, what a perfect device for travelling! And you can get a small adapter which lets you load photos from your camera onto your ipad (or get an eye-fi card and set it up with your ipad – even better!). Failing the ipad, get an ipod touch or a netbook – something which will let you get online and use skype/google hangouts/facetime for chatting. I’d also advise taking a basic cellphone with a simcard with global roaming enabled. You don’t want to keep it on all the time, but you want it for the day you lose your wallet in the middle of nowhere and suddenly need to get hold of someone to wire you money (or when your bank cards get blocked cause they’re being used overseas for the first time, or its your birthday and you want to hear your family wish you happy happy or or or…). In the past, book exchanges were awesome all over the place, so you’d take one book with you and when done, swap it out for something new. With ebooks around, the book exchanges have rapidly deteriorated, meaning you’ll struggle to get anything vaguely ok. So take a kindle or ebook reader on your ipod touch / tablet and load it up with a whole HEAP of books. You will really appreciate it on your next 28 hour bus ride. Please just make sure at the end of the day that you’re backing up your photos on the web. Use Google’s PicasaWeb or Apples iCloud, pay for extra space if you need it but do it. This is not optional. You will lose at least 1 camera on your trip and assume that it will go walkies with your ipod/ipad/laptop too, but they are replaceable. The photos on them are not – back them up online and be religious about it.

Last Note.
Get a travel folder wallet thingy to keep your tickets, passport(s), itineraries, etc together in one place. Guard it with your life! In your travel document wallet thingy, and in each of your bags, keep a printout of your details and your next of kin details. Once again, one of those things you’ll never want to use, but if something happens to you and you cant speak for yourself, this page will. Make sure you have at least two bank cards – one MasterCard, one Visa. Some countries randomly wont accept one of the other, and if you’ve got the type that isn’t used in the country, you’re stuffed. Take at least a USD 100 in cash (small, clean, unwrinkled/unfolded notes – new is best, as some places wont accept dirty or even the slightest damaged notes) as an emergency fund and don’t use it unless its an emergency (and no, beers aren’t an emergency). I would highly recommend a travel money card – one of those pre-paid debit cards, so that if someone steals the card, the most they can get is what you’ve loaded up onto it. Take a journal and write in it often! You’ll regret it massively if you don’t once you’ve been back from your trip for a while, and will have no-one else to blame but yourself. Instead of sending out heaps of email newsletters every couple of days, think of starting a blog and putting all your adventures on there (then everyone can keep themselves up to speed on their own time). Try learn the basics of the local language where you’re going – at the very least greetings, basic foods & drinks, how to be polite (thank you, please, etc) and numbers. Numbers are incredibly important to ensure you’re not ripped off when trying to buy or pay for stuff. Once you’ve got the basics, you can always read the rest out of a guide book.

And finally, go off and enjoy yourself! I’m sure i’ve missed a heap off this list, but it gives you a place to start. A big backpacking trip is literally a life changing experience. You’ll meet heaps of awesome people, see hundreds of incredible places and come back with stories to last a lifetime!

2 comments August 16, 2012

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