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Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Episode 1: So you want to go travelling in 2017?

The decision has been made, the flight has been booked and now a bag must be packed. A bag that you'll be living out of for several months ahead- 8 months in my case. Packing light was my key focus...I hate to be burdened with unnecessary baggage...emotional or otherwise ;)

It's been two weeks on the road here in Columbia and I'm feeling pretty good...haven't needed to buy anything else yet other than sunscreen and a second pair of shorts. When other backpackers see the size of my bag they tend to lose their shit. Then wonder why they packed so much shit!

This really is my bag for 8 months

How many pairs of socks to take? What travel insurance policy? Which gadgets to bring? Vaccinations? How many spare cash cards to take? (Apparently Latin American ATM's can swallow your card leaving you stranded if you don't have a back up!)

Now I realise nothing's life or death're not going to the moon. If for instance like me you forget to pack a universal power-plug adapter, you will be able to find one. Though if possible, one would rather put in a bit of work now, to save inconvenience (and money) whilst on the road. One believes.

And so without further's my key checklist of travel considerations and decisions that I made. If you're also heading off this year then perhaps you can save yourself some time and hassle by following my well-researched advice! :)

1. Choosing a Travel Health Insurance Policy

Yawn. What a boring, necessary chore, but falling foul in another county is no joke. Private hospital treatment whilst abroad can be very expensive - a good policy will cover the costs - including the price of flying you home, if required. You also get access to a 24 hour helpline for localised advise according to whatever ails you. And so without further ado, here's the company I recommend...Alpha Travel Insurance (N.B. If you want gadget cover you'll need to buy the 'add-on')

2. Managing your money

This article by experienced traveller Ted Campbell was hella useful. Following his advice I organised various back-up money cards, in preparation for loss, theft or the ol' ATM gobble. Indeed I have five in total:

Two FairFX 'Everywhere' Cards which are universally accepted and reportedly good value when it comes to exchange rates/ATM fees. You 'load' these cards with cash via their well designed smartphone app...a handy feature that gives you a clear picture of how you're utterly failing to budget :)

One credit card - useful for buying anything really big such as a flight or a guided which you might want the security of credit card protection. (A good thing to know about!) I specifically got the Barclaycard Platinum Travelcard because it incurs no fees at all, provided you pay it off right away.

Two debit cards - my standard cards that I use at home...good to have just in case.  On Ted's advice I also carry a stash of around $200 cash as an emergency fund.

3. Vaccinations

Be prepared for the cost of exotic destination jabs...I paid £200 to get myself up to scratch!

Your local GP will likely have a nurse in charge of vaccinations. What you'll need will depend on where you're visiting. In some Latin American countries they reserve the right to refuse you entry if you don't have a valid Yellow Fever Vaccination certificate!

Try to get this sorted a couple of months before your departure date as some vaccinations are given across several weeks. I didn't leave myself enough time to get a Rabies monkey business for me on this trip then.

4. Gadgets

At first I didn't want to take any; in our everyday life our gadgets often separate and distract us from connection with each other and the natural world. On my travels I'm intending to do the very opposite! On the other hand...gadgets are so fricking useful! My trusty smartphone helps me get from A to B, take great photos and keep in touch. My kindle saves me having to carry the weighty 'Lonely Planet Guide' for whatever county I'm in. My laptop allows me to write and browse without needing to find an internet cafe.
So there you have it...gadgets won. Specifically here's what I chose to bring:

Motorola Moto G4 Plus 16GB
(Value smartphone that does everything you need with a great 16mp camera)

Acer Chromebook R11
(Chromebooks are the JEEP's of laptops...aka Just Enough Essential Parts...great battery and very light at just over a kilo...perfect for simple browsing, youtube etc.)

Kindle 2016
(With instant access to most books available in existence...its...erm...pretty good)

Motorola E 4G
(This was my phone at home but I upgraded to have a better camera)

(Great in case you're off to some place where there's no mains power)

I forgot to get this and had to buy one in Bogota airport for $20.
(Essential if you want to charge your devices in different countries!)



5. The rest

I'll refer you to another article by Ted Campbell  and also a blogger called Marek who wrote this article. Both were really useful in helping me pack light.

For your reference here's every item I decided to bring, aside from the aforementioned gadgets:

5 x underwear
4 x t-shirts
3 x socks
1 x swimming shorts
1 x trousers w/belt
1 x fancy shirt
1 x wolly jumper
1 x scarf
1 x all terrain trainers
1 x flip flops

Other stuff:
Microfibre Travel towel
Draw string bag (useful as a daybag/for laundry)
Toothbrush/travel toothbrush holder/Toothpaste
Citronella Soap/travel soap holder
Tiger balm (good for mossy bites)
Antiseptic cream e.g. Savlon (good for dog bites)
Combination code Padlock
Insect repellent 
Crystal Insect repellant Deodorant 
8 months of contact lenses + solution (monthlies)
Spectacles and case
LED headlamp (great for packing up in a dark dorm!)
Mala Beads
Passport/Vaccination Certificates

So there you have it. 8 kilos of zen goodness. With the added bonus of cheap flight bag counts as hand luggage so I never need to pay extra to check a bag. Hope this is helpful when your hour of departure draws near. Please get in touch if you have any questions or to let me know how your zen bag pack went! Hasta luego! With love from Cartagena!

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