When Carey and I decided to quit our jobs and move to Thailand, we initially wanted to leave that very night. When the sheer ridiculousness of that idea gave way to some degree of common sense, we instead gave ourselves a week to put our affairs in order. I was more than a little relieved, because if we had left that night, I would have shown up at the airport with the clothes on my back (given that I was coming straight from work, I’d be arriving in Bankgok wearing stiletto boots, a cocktail dress, and blazer – with only the contents of my purse as luggage). In the week that it took for us to get everything together, I agonized over what to bring with me.
I wouldn’t say I’m a typical girly-girl who packs a suitcase to go on a weekend camping trip, but I am sentimental and get overly attached to seemingly random things. So, when it was time to think about what to bring on our travels, it was less about wanting to stuff my entire closet into my backpack because I needed 4 different outfits to see Angkor Wat, as it was about letting go of all the crap I had developed such strong feelings for (yes, apparently you can become emotionally attached to a unicorn onesie).
Buying A Pack
The first thing we did was buy backpacks. This was a god first step because packing became more of “what will fit?” as opposed to “what do I want to take?”. Even though money was tight, we agreed that splurging on a good quality pack was worth the investment. We went to ‘Atmosphere,’ a camping and equipment store in Toronto that’s considered ‘high-end’, but had a good selection of packs in a range of prices. I’ll admit, it was daunting to see a wall of complicated looking pack gear for “trekking” and “expeditions” that looked more like bondage accessories than backpacks. I had a moment of panic where I imagined myself climbing Mount Everest or exploring the jungles of Borneo and not having a suitable pack (yea right, I get winded just riding up an escalator), but we got past all of the intimidating gadgetry, and were able to narrow down our search based on the kind of travel we’d actually be doing.
For female packs, the cheapest we found was $115 (on sale), and the most expensive was $379, with most hovering around the $250-$300 range. The men’s packs were more expensive (because, obviously) and they ranged from $275-$500. We both bought Deuter packs that were advertised as expedition packs. Mine is a 60L model that cost $265, and Carey’s is 65L and cost $330.
I definitely recommend engaging a salesperson to help with trying on the packs and adjusting all of the straps to fit your body. The first pack I picked out I was convinced was perfect for me, but when the salesperson pointed out how top-heavy it was for my 5’4 frame and that it didn’t sit right on my hips and back, I realized that what was comfortable now, wouldn’t necessarily be comfortable when I was schlepping 30 lbs in 40 degree weather. Having now walked with my pack on for several hours at a time, I want to stress how important fit is. When I’m too lazy to adjust the straps for that particular day’s journey ( I have to tighten/loosen depending on what I’m wearing that day, whether my pack has decreased/increased in weight/how far I’m walking, etc.), then I pay for it with pain in my lower back and kidneys, and sometimes my shoulders and neck. If it’s your first time buying a pack, let the salesperson teach you how to use all of the straps, and how to adjust them yourself.
Now, I realize that a more economical option is to buy second-hand, and that most big cities will have a decent selection of used packs on sites like Craigslist or Kijiji (and also on specialized camping/travelling community sites), but we simply didn’t have time to go looking for sellers. We were also ok with spending money on new packs because we knew we were getting quality products that would last us for years. We didn’t know how much walking we’d be doing with our packs on, so in case we weren’t just going from taxi to hotel to taxi, we’d have comfortable packs to make longer hikes with. The packs were our biggest expense outside of plane tickets, but I’m glad we decided to splurge, as I can’t imagine having to walk for 3+ hours with an inferior product on my back.
What To Pack
Once we had our packs, I was eager to start filling mine with things I thought I’d need. Given that we were moving to Thailand as opposed to just travelling on a 2 week vacation, I had major anxiety when it came to knowing what to bring. I read a bunch of other travel blogs to get a basic idea of what other people packed, but all I kept thinking while I saw their sparse packing lists was, “that’s it?” and “geez, they must smell really bad if all they brought is 2 pairs of socks” I also stumbled upon a particularly hilarious blog post that sounded like it was straight out of Cosmo magazine, where the writer taught female travelers how to make the most of their wardrobes so that “he’d notice you”. Ha! Yes, because when I’ve been roaming the alleys of Saigon in search of a hotel, and my face is beet red and dripping sweat, it’s my wedged sandals and feather earrings that will make the boys take notice, and not the fact that I’m a chubby white foreigner on the verge of an asthma attack.
Anyway, since I didn’t find anything overly helpful online, we started by making 3 piles. What Jay Needs, What Carey Needs, and a pile for communal items such as toiletries, medication, etc. Then, we reduced each pile by about half, and went through them together. Those piles were further reduced by another half (Carey’s insistence that we bring his Star Wars light saber chopsticks because, “duh, they use chopsticks in Asia” did not pass my veto, and equally my Wario action figure didn’t make the cut). When we thought we had piles we could work with, we tried fitting everything into our packs, and then discovered that we had to halve them again. Here’s what we ended up with:
- 2 black tank tops (white is obviously harder to keep clean)
- 2 comfy t-shirts (also dark colours)
- 1 “nicer” t-shirt that I could pair with my skirt to visit temples
- 2 tops that were casual enough to wear day-to-day, but also could dress up
- 1 long skirt (for temples)
- 1 pair of thick sweatpants
- 1 pair of light cotton pants (mostly as pj bottoms, but can also be worn as casual pants)
- 2 pairs of shorts (1 denim, 1 board short for the beach)
- 2 sun dresses (for going out, to throw on after the beach)
- 1 ‘little black dress’ that I have yet to wear
- 1 lightweight cover-up (made of chiffon, to wear in temples, on beach, etc.)
- 1 hoodie (I mostly use this as a pillow on planes/trains)
- 1 ¾ long sleeve cotton shirt
- 2 bikinis
- 4 bras (I’m a 34DD and I knew I’d have trouble buying bras in Asia, otherwise I would have only brought 2 pairs)
- 10 underwear (I brought mostly black so I wouldn’t have to worry about washing separately, and mostly lacy ones that would dry quickly if I had to hand-wash)
- 7 pairs of socks
- 1 pair of cheap flip flops, 1 pair of good quality flip flops
- 2 pairs of running shoes – my Asics for hiking/walking long distances, and Nike walking shoes for day-to-day use
- 2 baseball caps
- 1 sun hat with wide brim
- Spare glasses + cleaning cloth
- *2 packs of assorted tampons (I took them out of the box and put them in a Ziploc bag to make them easier to pack)
- 2 bottles of Mydol (for PMS and cramping relief)
- 1 razor + 6 razor heads
- **2 sticks of deodorant
- 30 hair ties + 2 hair clips
- Make up bag + assorted skin creams
- 4 lip balms
- 2 notebooks
- ***Shoulder bag
*tampons are a bit hard to find in certain Asian countries, and especially in Thailand. They’re also quite expensive, and you may not be used to the brand they carry.
** I’ve only seen deodorants with whitening products in Thailand, so that’s something to think about when packing (unless you want bleached arm pits)
**Instead of a purse, I brought a little shoulder bag that just about fits my phone, cigarettes, lip gloss, and passport. I would suggest bringing a bag that has a chain strap as opposed to leather or something even flimsier. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for thieves to run or drive past you on a motorbike while cutting the strap from your purse and making off with it, so best to have a purse with a durable strap. Even better if it’s one that your wear across the chest and rests on your hip, so you can access it easily without having to remove it.
- 1 pack of cold/flu pills (variety pack that contained day/night capsules)
- 2 packs of non-drowsy Gravol (for Jay’s motion sickness)
- 1 variety pack of Band-Aids (assorted shapes and sizes + special blister plasters)
- Basic First –Aid stuff (from a First Aid kit we took 10 alcohol wipes, 4 packets of gauze squares, disinfectant)
- 20 antibacterial wipes (individually packaged)
- Around 250 Q-tips that we took out of the box and put into smaller travel containers
- 1 bottle of 2 in 1 shampoo
- *2 bottles of sunscreen
- 1 can of extra-strong bug spray
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 medicated lip balm
- Grooming kit that contains manicure scissors, nail clippers, tweezers, and nail file
- *1 bottle of Aloe Vera (for sunburn relief)
- A couple of Ziploc bags
- Clear garbage bags (to use as rain covers for our packs. Real rain covers are pricey!)
* Sunscreen and aloe vera are pretty expensive in Asia, particularly in Thailand (a small- medium sized bottle will run you around 400-700 baht ($11-22), so worth bringing your own.