Packing Light for Travel

My plan for our recent trip to Thailand was to travel light. Coming from Winter to a 94F degree average in Thailand is a little tricky. We wore warm, but light coats to the airport and on the plane when we needed to. We also had a long layover in a chilly Tokyo. We only traveled with carry-on bags to reduce having to check anything. When we got to Thailand, we located a Lock Box in the Bangkok airport. I understand with the app that they are working on you being able to reserve a box. Otherwise, there were only like 6-9 lockers available. It wouldn’t have been a problem since most of the major subway (Skytrain, BTS, MTS) stations had Lock Boxes. And some of the shopping malls too (like the Siam Paragon). We stashed our carry-ons and warm clothes and socks into the Lock Box. The attendant gave us a 24 hour window at the end of our 10 day adventure to get our stuff and a key code to get them out. So after our trip, we just unlocked our stuff and loaded our carry-ons. That was one of the best choices we’ve made. Even on our last day, we checked out of our hotel at Noon but had a midnight flight. So we went to the mall, I got a Thai massage, and we went to a movie and had dinner. So we locked our backpacks in the mall. It works great!

As for packing light, I ordered two small backpacks that, when folded, measured probably 2x2x4". Super light. One had more pockets but the other was just one big compartment. The biggest thing is, make sure you have water bottle pockets on the sides. You can also put wet clothes or swim suits in the mesh. I waterproofed them with silicone spray. We were pleased with their performance. We also kept a spare copy of our passports and other IDs in each pack.

When we got to the airport, we went to the 7-Eleven and bought laundry soap, deodorant, and other liquid items that are easy to get anywhere. We used up our 1 quart allowance on things that we couldn’t get in Thailand easily: Picaradin insect spray (since my wife doesn’t tolerate DEET; and believe me, NO natural products work effectively), SPF 30 sunscreen (all Thai products include a whitening agent, so don’t buy it if you want to look whiter), and a few other items. Fortunately, we didn’t need the anti-diarrheal, but we sure bought a good amount of Tylenol when we were there. I also took Malaria meds the entire time. Next time, I would bring activated charcoal since I couldn’t find that anywhere. And electrolytes. I had water purification tabs that I didn’t use since bottled water was available everywhere.

For clothes, we each had conservative pants and my wife a dress that covered shoulders and knees for Temple Touring. A sarong or something is also good, but the Temple Police can be strict sometimes. It was a bummer for me to wear pants most of the time in Thailand since it was so hot. But I got used to it. The lifesaver was the sheer linen gauze shirts I bought. I had both long sleeve and short sleeve variations. When I would sweat, they would end up in the shirt and kept me super cool with even the slightest breeze. I never tried that trick before but it worked great. We kept looking at hats but never went that route. It was just too hot. Sunglasses were a definite must though, especially when on water and if you are driving.

I brought running shorts that doubled for many purposes. I worked out in them, swam in them, and sometimes walked around with them. They were the coolest things I had and they would dry easily. I wore flip flops sometimes, but even for someone who wears these often, your shins and feet will turn to cramps if you walk too long in them. So having huaraches, sandals with strapped heels came in super handy. I made mine myself for running. You also want something that slips off easily for temples, which rules out Tevas, Xero shoes, and others. Those are difficult to take on and off. I never needed shoes the entire trip.

So we would wash clothes in the sink every day the first chance we got after dinner. I washed my pants maybe every 2 or 3 days. But my shirts & undies got washed daily. Then I hung them to dry. Often they were still moist in the morning which felt so good when I got outside. Really, you don’t need any clothes. I think people change clothes just because of what other people think. As tourists, nobody will notice you wearing the same thing every day. And, I couldn’t say enough about the bamboo silk bikini undies I bought. Believe me, having undies bunch up on a hot day is no fun. Briefs and boxers would have been too much. These bamboo silks made me feel good and mostly cool all the time. I think cotton would have gotten baggy and gross and anything non-natural (polyester, nylon) would have been too hot.

The only really heavy things we packed were our toilet articles and electronics. I had the nicest power converter with multiple outlets and USB ports. Instead of my larger DSLR camera, I took a waterproof, shockproof FinePix XP130. It took such great pictures and has lots of effects and options. The screen layout is slightly clunky but I got used to it. I thought I’d regret that choice since I know my DSLR takes really good pics. But I appreciated the lightness. And if it rained hard, I’m sure my DSLR would have been compromised. Keep the weight down on toilet articles and electronics is key to traveling light.

Also, it looks super touristy, but a fanny pack was priceless. I carried two water bottles and had a camera pouch on the outer belt. I kept sunscreen, anti-diarrhea pills, and anything else needed with me. My wife had a much smaller passport pouch with RFID protection. She also kept lip stuff and other odd items. You really don’t want something draped on your back or shoulders in that heat.

The other things that are super hard to find is Guaifenesin (Robitussin, Mucinex). We looked at all the pharmacies. All they had was brown cough syrup of unknown ingredients. No thank you! With the smog and pollution, our lungs took a heavy toll. We wore masks as often as we could (bring your own with a more breathable filter; and they are often sold out in Asia). But the coughing and breathing was fierce. Bring Mucinex in its box for sure (illegal drugs result in heavy penalties. Keep the box & prescription bottles so you don’t end up in a Thai jail).

I used to be in the Army. We’d do training road marches with a (light) 40-50 pounds, which is what I ended up carrying as a civilian backpacking too. That gets old really fast. On heavy patrols, I’d carry 110 pounds. Believe me, carrying under 20 pounds in your bag is a lifesaver. When you figure out you don’t need as much as you thought, it makes life so much easier. And if you want to buy trinkets, wait until your last day. Then you can pack it in your carry-on at the airport.

Happy trails!

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