People ask me often how I survive such a long trip. How much stuff do I carry? What did I pack? Didn’t I get tired?
I am not claiming to have it all figured out but after a few months on the road I have learned some lessons that I would like to share.
CLOTH AND STUFF
I hate to carry heavy bags. My suitcase is a carry-on size (if there is no weight limitation) and at this point I have 12 kilos of stuff. I still think it’s too much and constantly trying to get rid of things. I try to pack as little as possible. There is no way that you can carry a year worth of shampoo, conditioner, body lotions, deodorant, etc. The truth is everything is available even in the least developed countries. I pack all my liquids in small 3 oz. bottles and buy the other stuff in small travel size packages and then refill on the road as needed. So it’s not going to be my favorite brand, but it’s not the end of the world. If you are taking prescription drugs on a daily basis, in the US you can’t get more than 3 month supply, but it’s actually cheaper to buy abroad and in many countries you don’t need a prescription. Other minor things like batteries and charges can also be bought along the way, no need to carry extras.
As to cloth, we have enough to last us a week to 10 days then laundry becomes crucial, which means that we are in a constant pursuit of places to do laundry. Some countries like Australia that are very convenient for backpackers have lots of coin operated laundromats and most hostels have washing machines. Other countries can be more challenging. In Azerbaijan, I asked the hotel maids and once the breakfast cook to do our laundry. They were actually happy to earn some money. In Georgia, the owners of some guesthouses did our laundry for free and in some hotels we paid between 4 to 8 USD for a large bag.
Because of the constant washing and drying and other people doing my laundry cloths get ruined. Everything else also gets excessive wear and tear and must be replaced. So far, after 9 months on the road I have replaced 4 pairs of shoes, 1 suitcase, 1 daypack, shorts, several T-shirts, numerous underwear and socks. Things also get lost…in my case its hats, scarves and sunglasses. Thus, I am not taking anything that I am particularly attached to. As things become unusable, and ruined, I can throw them out and get new ones.
Right at the beginning of the trip I realized that some of my stuff was not really suitable for our kind of budget travel. My summer wear turned out to be too hot for hikes and treks and I was forced to leave expensive items of cloth behind in some hostels (mailing them home was too expensive). In exchange, I have discovered stores like K-mart and Target. No self- respecting New Yorker would ever be caught dead shopping there but those turned out to be great stores. 100% cotton breathable and convenient cloths cost peanuts. If I have to throw away that $4 T-shirt after few months, I won’t be sorry. Turned out that Target has some decent lingerie, who knew? Our best buy from K-Mart were 2 thin sleeping bags for 11 Australian dollars. We bought them for a camping trip to the Australian Red Center and have used them since more often than not. Sometimes the hotel blankets are too thin or too heavy or the bedding doesn’t not look too appealing, we have our own sleeping bags. Same goes for night trains. Moreover, they are small and thin and don’t take much space in the suitcase and fit easily in the day pack.
We also discovered the old fashion idea of mending things. Nobody in America mends cloths, maybe just shoes. In poor countries there are tailors that mend cloths since people can’t afford buying new ones. Usually, in the vicinity of central market there are little shops with tailors and they can mend cloth that we do not want to discard. So far, we mended both of our favorite hiking pants and were extremely happy to be able to keep them. As oppose to the US those services are also extremely cheap.
Another great find was a second hand market. It is especially prevalent in Tbilisi Georgia. My sneakers that I used for hiking fell apart and we spent an entire day in Tbilisi looking for new ones. We couldn’t find anything at all my size. Then in one of the stores a salesperson told me to check out an area close to the train station for second hand and knockoffs. Wow, this was a true treasure. I ended up buying used hiking shoes that I absolutely love for 20 bucks. And the best part is that they are already broken in and I didn’t have to get any blisters getting used to them.
As to the choice of cloth, it is advisable that each item is versatile and can be used for different occasions. For example, I use my swim shirt at the beach, as a cardigan in the evening or cool days and also as a thermo- layer when it’s very cold. During my travels I also realized that I rarely used my “nice’ cloth. I was caring a light evening dress especially for the New Year party, which meant that I wore it once in 6 months. This made this item completely unpractical and I left it with my mother. On the other hand simple black leggings with most tops can look nice and can be pulled off as evening wear. Same leggings can be used for traveling, hiking and sleeping.
SERVICES and RESTING
Same as cloth and toileteries, there are all kinds of medical and personal grooming services available everywhere. After all, there are billions of people who live outside of New York City…
So far, I got hair highlights 3 times, teeth cleaning twice, 2 dental fillings, bi-weekly manicures, pedicures and several massages along the way.
Couple of weeks ago I finally realized that I am tired. How can we be tired if we are on a long vacation? Actually, traveling is not the same as resting. We have and intensive program for every day. I am doing a lot of research deciding on the itinerary, transportation and lodging. There is a lot of logistics involved as well and sometimes it’s very complicated especially when there isn’t much information available. I am not claiming that this is as stressful as working but it is involved and sometimes very challenging when things don’t work exactly as expected.
So we have decided to have a vacation from traveling for few days. When we arrived in Batumi, Georgia we didn’t do anything for a week. We sat in a beach restaurant all day and read books during nice days and in a café in a piazza below our hotel during cool days. We went out to restaurants and bars every night and didn’t do any site seeing whatsoever. We also watched a lot of TV for a change and finally got some rest.