What to bring- The Ultimate Packing Tip List for Travelers
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After traveling for the last few decades and leading tours to Bali and Indonesia, I have added and deleted perhaps hundreds of items from my Ultimate Packing List. I have compiled a packing list and travel tips that should be of help to the traveler of South East Asia and especially Bali. This list is intended for the standard visitor. The advanced adventure traveler and the travel photographer will find many of these items helpful, but I have compiled a special list for them. For those seeking that information, please see my previous blog post “The Best Tips, Tricks and Gear for Travel Photographers” The tips for the more advanced adventure traveler and the eco-traveler will be out soon.
Most of these tips are for travelers to Bali, but they can be applied for other destinations as well.
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How about we start with what to pack in?
Luggage- I won’t cover this much as it’s fairly obvious. If your staying in hotels the four wheel suitcase is the way to go and if you need to be more mobile on rugged terrain, a backpack maybe the answer. I will say I just purchased my first hard cover four-wheel suitcase from TJ Max for $35 for this trip and I’m loving it. Four wheels is much better than two.
Plastic Bags- Loads of ‘em. You say, “Hey Michael, I thought you were the eco-dude building sustainable villas and all?” Yes, busted, but that doesn’t mean they can't be upcycled and reused. They are super handy for laundry bags, triple bagging your toiletries to prevent leaking, bagging up your wet surf trunks that didn't get to fully dry, carrying fruit or nasi bungkus, etc. Grab a grip of them and then grab a dozen more. They compress down to nothing and you will use them all. Also include a box or ziplocks but ditch the box and just put them all inside a single bag. Assorted sizes can come in handy but the big ones are best.
Transparent thicker plastic zippered bags from comforters and bed sets- These are great as you can put your clothes in one and your travel mates clothes in another and easily see exactly what is in it and prevents you from foraging through every item of clothing until you find you $30 underwear (regrettably more on that later).
Synch Sacks/Compression Bags- Save valuable space but unless you are really trekking probably not worth the hassle of undoing, the wrinkles, etc. However multiple quick closing sacks are great for organizing. Old pillow cases or even nylons (see below) can also work in a pinch. HERE is a good assortment.
Daypack- a backpack or messenger bag work well for this. Just something that you can stuff into your luggage that doesn’t take up much room and can hold a day’s supply of items like your camera, book, water, etc. If you don't have one the bags they give you at The Apple Stores are great and convert to a backpack- plus they take up no space and weigh close to nothing. HERE is a good photo bag/daypack. Or you can go with a full Camelbak pack along with the bladder discussed below.
Duffle Bag- stuff one into your luggage to use as an extra bag to bring home your new purchases.
Small Locks- Combination locks are preferred, as you don't want to lose the keys. Even if they are not the TSA approved ones and you don't use them on your international flight, you still want to use them when your luggage is left in the room and I even lock pockets on my backpack as I carry it around with me. Equally practical is a cable or wire lock that can that can be looped through your bag to secure it to a bed or railing when sleeping on a boat or train and even when left in your hotel room. Sure a hardcore criminal can cut through it but it’s enough to dissuade most theft that occurs in Bali and Indonesia. Some friends have used plastic one-use cable ties but I prefer the above. HERE is a nice cable lock and HERE is a handy combination lock that is TSA approved.
Moisture Wicking Clothing- Lightweight, light colored, breathable items similar to work out gear is perfect. No jeans; too heavy, hot and bulky. After you pack all your clothes, unpack, take half of it out and pack again. HERE is a great pair of traveling pants and HERE is an excellent shirt.
Zippered Pockets- As many as you can get. In your shorts, parts, shirts, bags and whatever else. Pockets without secure closures are a potential way to separate you from your valued goods via a number of means. Velcro is not effective enough in my opinion, but you may be able to get away with a good button (snaps may fail you as well). Devise a memorable scheme to remember where you keep each item to prevent you from looking like you have a family of rabid squirrels in your clothing each time you reach for your phone or cash.
Sarong and Bandana- The swiss army knife of clothing. 100s of uses and small and light too. I use an elastic buff as its even more handy that a bandana. HERE is a link to a great buff that not only has UV protection but it's bug repellant as well.
Good Walking Shoes– Perhaps no item is more important as you want to be on your feet exploring as much as possible. Break your shoes in well before you leave. Sidewalks, I use that term exceptionally loosely, in Bali and much of South East Asia can be quite dangerous. The story I tell our tour participants is that of one of my idols, Lorne Blair from the seminal Ring Of Fire documentaries. Lorne and his brother Lawrence were one of the first modern day explorers of Indonesia back in the 70's. Their harrowing expeditions brought them face to face with death on numerous occasions and it is miraculous that they made it through alive. Despite the unrivaled bravery and determination of the brothers for over a decade of deep, dangerous adventure, Lorne was brought to a sad and tragic end by none other than the sidewalks of Legian only a few kilometers from where I write this. The terrible excuse for a sidewalk is actually a piece of concrete, wood, old sign, rock or any other semi-suitable item that will bridge the gap over the drainage ditch running alongside the road. They are notoriously unstable and care must be used when walking on them especially at night (hence the flashlight mentioned below). I don't want to scare you off, but I don't want to understate the importance of comfortable, stable footwear. After years of searching for the perfect Bali shoe, I have recently come across the Adidas Jaw Paw and could not be happier. It’s a water shoe with sticky traction in slippery conditions, has drainage holes with screens for water to escape but allowing nothing to get in. They slip on and off with relative ease and they look good enough for fancy nights out in Seminyak. Plus I got them online for only $40. Its is the only shoe I need in Bali but I do have an old pair of beat up flip flops I keep in my bag as they are small, light and convenient. I must add that the black ones are true ninja shoes and look the best. I think the other colors did not sell well and that’s why you can find them half price. I went the cheap route, bought a fabric pen and shazam! I have black ninja shoes.
ExOfficio Give-N-Go Boxers- OK, OK, I gave in. Fellow travelers have been talking about these incessantly, so I tried them out. I was embarrassed and ashamed to pay more than $3 for a pair of underwear, let alone almost $30 with tax for these bad boys. Honestly, I am not 100% convinced but I do like them quite a bit. I know this sounds nasty but they say you only need two pair when you travel and they will last you years. They dry quickly so you clean one in the sink and let it dry overnight as you use the other. Full disclosure: I have not had the heart to buy another $30 pair of undies but as my old ones die, I will eventually replace them with these. People have been buying them from The Balifornian Store for only $17 HERE. OK, that’s plenty about my under garments. Let’s move on.
A note on how to pack clothes efficiently
The traditional method of folding clothes individually into squares is actually a poor way to pack – it’s space inefficient and creases clothes. I prefer to roll clothes like a cigar instead and place them side by side with like articles. If you are really crazy about avoiding wrinkles, the ‘packing experts’ will tell you to, “ roll clothes together. Lay jackets, shirts, trousers and T-shirts on top of each – in that order – alternating the thickest parts of the garment as you layer so you don’t get an uneven bulge.” -www.onebag.com. But I think that makes it hard to find each item. I do know that if you have a special item that you don't want wrinkled is to put it inside a dry cleaning bag and roll it inside. I suppose plastics bags might work well to but I am not such a neat freak so I have not tried. Actually, what I do is use my clothes to wrap fragile objects (like booze, electronics) and it does double duty- to protect and to avoid ‘unsightly wrinkles’.
Hat- Unless you have a special one, buy here cheaply and keep it as a souvenir or better yet, donate it on your way out.
Watch- leave it at home. Your phone tells time as do people you will meet. Not only does this give you a great opportunity to interact with locals, you don't advertise that you are a rich tourist. This goes for jewelry as well. Don’t become a target. Buy something here and support the local craftspeople.
Money Belt- I know, I know, it makes you look like an uber-tourist with an unsightly belly bulge, but its your safest bet and you only need to wear it on certain occasions. The rest of the time I keep it locked up. HERE is a nice one.
Sucker Wallet- Actually I don't travel with my wallet at all. I just wrap money around my business cards and secure it with a fat rubberband. The ‘sucker wallet’ is a small wallet or dummy money holder with only a few dollars in it. If you are stopped by police looking for a bribe or want to get that hawker to sell you that Bintang tank top (please don’t) for a low price, just pull out your sucker stash and tell them its all you got. This is why I list lots of zippered pockets above. But be careful, the more pockets, the more you have to search to find what the hell you are looking for, so have a system and stick to it. Remember to leave all wallet contents that are not going to be used on your trip at home. That’s right, the Vons Super Coupon card is not going to do you any good in Ubud.
Snack bars- Inevitably you will be stuck in traffic, on a lay-over or just need a little something to tide you over until you get to your favorite warung and grind down another mie goreng.
Pens- I stash them everywhere. When I see companies giving them away, I gladly take one (sometime two, I wont lie) and put it in my pack, pocket or wherever currently does not have one. I always seem to need one, but then I need something to write on as well so…
Small Notebook- Actually I use this less and less as my iPhone serves this and many other purposes. Get a note transfer ap so it will sync with your laptop as well. I mention some options HERE but a full iPhone ap list for the traveler is coming soon. Email me to get put on the list for updates.
Trek Towel- the ones that claim to absorb several times their own weight and are fast-drying. A good material is called viscose and feels like soft, plush leather. There are many options these days from "Sham-wow” type stuff to various Microfibers, some of which are anti-bacterial. I don't use them as much as I used to, but it’s better than packing a bunch of beach towels. I recommend THIS one.
Wet-Wipes- Yep, those disposable moist cleaning tissues that are usually used to clean up baby business. Get a small soft sided package as they are great for cleaning your hands after Bali style meals, freshening up on hot dirty adventures, or when the toilet is not as modern as you have become accustom (but don't flush them). HERE is a 12 pack plus they are anti-bacterial.
Toiletries- The bare minimum. Its easy to pick up just about whatever you need here, but if you need hair gel or whatever it is people use these days and you MUST have it, bring as small of a container as you can find. Soap, shampoo, conditioner… its all here and inexpensive. Your hair will not fall out if you use another conditioner for a couple weeks.
Sheet- A lightweight silk sleeping sack/sheet is good for an extra layer on your bed to help avoid bed bugs (yes, even in the nice hotels), but a sarong maybe just as good and has more uses. THIS one should work well.
Anti-bacterial Hand Sanitizer- After that toilet visit or before meals, this is a handy item.
Books- Just one or two, as you can always trade or buy more. The Ring of Fire is a must read for anyone coming to Indonesia. It will enrich your trip ten-fold. Sekala and Niskala is a close second and a great insight into the sacred and magical aspects of Balinese culture. And HERE is one last great suggestion.
Nail Clippers- Hard to find in Bali (especially if your not a “mani/pedi" kinda guy). Just put them in your checked bag because you know how easy it would be to hijack a plane with them. Don’t get me started on TSA’s ‘Security Theater’.
Water Bottle- I just bring a Camelbak bladder as it takes up no space when its empty. I have read about some bamboo bottles that are environmentally sound and insulate very well also. Let’s really try to cut down on plastic one-use water bottles. When I started traveling there was no such thing and we made it through just fine. (man, I sound old... and grumpy)
Duct Tape- Next to the multi-tool, it’s an adventure travelers best friend. Literally 1001 uses if not more. I ditch the cardboard tube in the middle and just roll it on itself to save room. A must on all my trips and you can get a good roll HERE. Gaffer’s tape is great as well. Drapes wont stay shut? Now they will. Other uses: fix broken luggage, luggage ID helper, blister covering, hem pants, lint remover, chip clip, book binder, screen mender, shoe repair, and on and on...
Ear Plugs and Sleep Mask- Personally I don't usually travel with either but they are small and I have had times I wished for both of them. HERE is a inexpensive but deluxe set of both. And HERE is a box of several disposable pairs of ear plugs.
Medicine- Be sure to bring enough medication and your prescription as well.
Aspirin/Tylenol/Pain Killers- Many uses from legit injury pain management to hangover remedy. Hard to find quality brands here so BYO as they are small. Tip: stuff tissue into the bottle to avoid rattling. But, one of the great things about Asia is you can go to an apothecary and get antibiotics and other medication at the prices they should be ($11) vs. $40 just to talk to a doctor plus $100 to fill the prescription for something you knew you should get anyway. Personally, I avoid antibiotics at all costs, but sometimes here in Asia you’ll get a hold of a bug, or should I say it’ll get a hold of you, and you will have no choice. If you are on a short trip, it maybe worth it to hit up an apothecary and get the heavy duty stuff early on, rather then think you can kick it and waste a week of your trip. That being said, since I am blessed to spend so much time in paradise, I always prefer the natural remedies and Ayurvedic treatments over the napalm methods. If your interested, check out colloidal silver. My friends at Green School swear by it and I have had some good luck with it as well.
Condoms???- I’ll leave that to you.
Mosquito Spray/Lotion- I used to think this was a must bring from The States, but they have some great (and cheap) ones here. I don't play DEET on my skin but if I am going deep into Borneo I will bring it to spray on my clothes and on a possible entry way to my sleeping quarters.
Sunscreen- No brainer and this one is really the must bring from home as here it is crazy expensive. I have seen it for as much as $25 US in Bali- no joke. But to be honest, I hardly ever use it here, but don't tell my mom or my wife.
Portable Water Filter- It depends where you are going. Bali-no; Borneo-yes.
Adapter for electronics but no need for a converter- you want the 2 round prong adapter. The Power supply is usually 220 volts, 50 hertz. Normal outlets are European style sockets, accepting plugs with two rounded pins that look like this. As for surge protectors, THIS one rocks and its a USB charger too. Do not trust the electricity in South East Asia and protect your valuable devices. THIS one is cheap and small and there is no excuse not to take it along.
Cell Phone- If you have an old cheap phone that has a removable SIM card, you are all set. You don't want anything expensive, just something functional enough to make local calls and texts. You can buy a SIM card in any town and you are ready to go. I also travel with my iPhone but I don't use it to make calls or text message.
Bose Ear Phones- Yea, basic ear buds are pretty good, but I have gone through dozens of styles to find ones that don't fall out, have good sound and are not ridiculously priced. These are awesome and they work with all iPhone functionality. HERE is the link.
Extra Batteries- ‘nuff said
Mesh Bags- For holding cables, adapters, chargers, odds and ends etc. as you can see through it which makes it much easier to find what you are looking for.
Flashlight- My iPhone serves this purpose but I also carry a headlamp for hands free use. I also put reflective tape on my backpack and carry a rear red blinking bike light for when I am walking on the road at night. HERE is a tiny inexpensive LED lite that you can clip onto anything.
iPhone- Perhaps my most used item. So many uses from a compass to alarm clock and hundreds more. The iPhone has replaced almost a dozen of my must have items. A list of the best travel aps is coming soon. Join the newsletter to be updated.
Passport- with minimum 6-month validity left. You wont get through immigration with out it. Also, if you don't have a departure ticket you may not get in either.
Documents- Color photocopy all your essential travel documents (passport, airline ticket confirmations, medical records, credit card numbers, insurance info, etc.) four times each. Staple each set together and put one in each bag you bring and give one to a friend. Also scan all documents and store them online where you can retrieve them from anywhere like in Gmail or Dropbox.
Travel Insurance- I used to never even consider it. Now I advise all our tour participants to get it. SEE HERE for much more detail and information so you can make the right choice for yourself and your family.
Blood Donor/Type Card- Why not?
International Drivers License- I am not going to tell you not to get it but here in Bali less than half of all drivers have a licence and less than one third of motor bike drivers have a permit. The bottom line is, at the random traffic stops you see here in Bali, they will find a way to fine you if you have a license or not.
Immunizations- Please consult your physician and the CDC for more information.
Extra Traveling Tips
Toys and Clothes for Kids- Great to bring over and disperse along the way. A wonderful way to spend time with local people and its really needed as well.
Tampons- I know this has been a male dominant post but I write what I know. Tampons are not my strong suit but quality brand names are very hard to find. Bring all you will need. But, believe it or not, tampons can be a very useful travel item for both sexes. Tampons are sterile and come in waterproof packaging. They make for a perfect wound dressing and are actually used by medics for gun shot wounds. Lets hope this is not a need for you while traveling. Some other uses that will be much more likely include water filtration, blow tub or straw, fire starter, fishing bobber and more.
Nylons- This one is not just for the ladies. You can put them around your entire suitcase for added safety on inter-Asian flights, trains, boats, etc. they also help identify bags. You can stuff things into them to keep them together. Use them as a laundry line, (but I always bring some paracord- see below), exfoliating soap scrubber, wash delicates inside of them, bank robbery mask (jokes people).
Paracord- Lightweight nylon rope that is used in parachutes. It’s as strong as it is handy. Aside from securing items and tying things together you can make a laundry line, secure doors, replace zipper pull, belt, dental floss (separate strands unless you have ‘Summer Teeth” = some’r over here and some’r over there), pulley system, shoe laces, splint, and much more for the outdoors person but that’s another post. HERE is a link for some good cordage and HERE is a brilliant bracelet that unravels into paracord and even has a compass for the latch. Want to make your own? Click HERE for instructions.
For much more on gear, electronics, photography and more great travel tips, please go to my previous blog post “The Best Tips, Tricks and Gear for Travel Photographers”
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Have great tips of your own? I am sure you do. Please send them to us and we will post them with your link. Send your travel tips to Tips@balifornian.com You can see some tips below...
Here is a tip from Dan from Minnesota.
Dude, good stuff! Hope all is well I enjoy the posts..... Lynn's secret travel item is a "butt pad" for her boney butt on poorly covered bus seats, ferry benches, temple stones, etc. she carries around a neoprene piece of black foam about 3/4" and 10"x12". She uses it all the time and it also serves as a backpad for her daypack when on the move. It weighs nothing and gets lots o use.