It Could Make or Break a Trip

10 01 2010

One of the things that we [you] worry about when planning a trip is how and what to pack.  Packing correctly can make or break a trip.  Pack too much and you waste space and energy; pack too little and you either run out of stuff or leave yourself high and dry.  These days it’s pretty easy to find packing suggestions for trips that you plan.  However, most of these packing lists are pretty generic and miss some things that may not be obvious until you get there and wish you had them.

My wife and I do a lot of international traveling to both conventional and non-conventional places.  For instance, last year we spent time in Italy and then later in the year went back to Africa to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro.  For the most part when you travel, there is a contingency plan for being able to pick up something you forgot.  My sister-in-law didn’t take a coat to Italy in later December and quickly learned she needed one and grossly overpaid for a new one in Rome.  However, while standing on the side of a mountain in Africa, contingencies are harder to come by.  So I have talked to some friends and travel mates to come up with a supplemental packing list that includes some lessons we learned from our travels (mainly to places that are off the beaten path) along with things that we wish we would have had but didn’t.

1.  Gatorade sachets:  Amanda learned right away how important these are.  The morning we left Arusha, Tanzania to begin our climb up Kili, she was violently ill with a stomach bug.  Day one was a fairly easy day but with depleted energy reserves, she had a rough go.  Luckily our travel mates had some Gatorade sachets that she could add to her Nalgene.  The electrolytes and extra calories in the Gatorade got her through that day and set her up for the rest of the trip while being gentle on her stomach.

Amanda Sick at the Trailhead

Amanda - Sick at the Trailhead

2.  Good Snacks:  Before we climbed Kili, a normal breakfast for both Amanda and I would often be a Clif Bar.  There are many different flavors and pack the right amount of energy and calories to start off the day.  So we decided that we would take them with us and supplement our meals on the mountain with them and carry some with us for an extra boost when we needed it on summit day.  Oh man…the thought of a Clif Bar now makes me ill!  I compare it to the same feeling you have about that alcoholic beverage that you can’t stand anymore because it made you so sick one night.  Although we never got sick from Clif Bars on Kili, there were plenty of times while climbing that you have to force feed yourself for the sake of getting energy.  We both decided that we should have found another kind of energy bar that we could stomach and taken those instead.  Also, we would have taken a wider variety of snacks and not just Clif Bars.  Nothing against Clif Bars – I could have taken pizza up there and not been able to eat it again (thank God I didn’t make that mistake!).

I would also recommend candy of some kind.  Especially on summit day (or any other strenuous day wherever you are), there are times when you need calories quickly and in a fashion that you can stomach.  Jelly Belly’s are good because they are delicious, hit your blood stream quickly and hold up in extreme temperatures.   Candy also mixes up flavors and textures which I was craving while choking down Clif Bars.

Finally on this point – and going back to drinks – on the summit of Kili, one of our guides had a Nalgene full of Pineapple Fanta.  This sounds crazy and I don’t know how or where he got it, but that Fanta made all the difference to me.  Again, I think it was calories and flavor but there was nothing on earth that tasted so good as Pineapple Fanta at the time in my life that I felt the worst.  I think the most important note on the issue of food and snacks is variety in flavors, textures and types.  Get creative, make sure it is packable and will hold up in extremes.  Also, decide whether or not you are willing to possibly hate those snacks afterward…

3.  Antibacterial Wipes:  This also may sound weird but in places where you can’t clean yourself in any other way, these things make you feel like you are at a spa!  I’m talking wipes (I loathe that word) not the gel – save that for meal times.  I won’t go in to the details of how and when to use these because I hope you could figure that out yourself…just take some with you…A LOT of them…more than you think you need or could use – trust me!

4.  Ear plugs:  You don’t ever know when you may need them but in many parts of the developing world, you may go crazy without them.  Chickens, goats, stray dogs, car horns, diesel engines and people walking around at all hours of the day and night create an inescapable cacophony that leads me to the brink of insanity while trying to grab some jetlagged rest.  You may also find yourself in an overcrowded campsite with people who don’t care that much that you are really tired, and ear plugs could end up being your best piece of gear.

Chris in Overcrowded Campsite 1

Chris in Overcrowded Campsite 1

5.  Liquor:  Our travel mates on Kili brought some individual serving bottles of whiskey and gin.  No, this was not to have a “proper session” (as my great British friend calls it) on the mountain, but it helped one night with a stomach bug that one of them was developing.  I’m sure that it could have also been used to disinfect a wound of some kind or deaden the pain of an injury.

6.  Needles / Syringes:  We have some new friends that have recently been to Bhutan (now that is some serious travel-cred there).  Bhutan may be one of the most remote and exotic places on the planet, and if you don’t have something there, you may not get it.  They took with them a veritable pharmacy in a suitcase and one thing they talked about taking were syringes.  Strange, I know, but the number one rule when traveling in exotic foreign places if you have to get shots or I.V.’s is to always make sure that you SEE the nurse or doctor take the syringe out of the sterile packaging to ensure that it is clean and has never been used.  Syringes may not be easy to come by and you would want to be careful about how you packed them, but if you end up being treated in a place with sketchy sanitation, you will rest better not worrying about all of your future blood tests.

7.  Pharmacy in a suitcase:  When preparing for an exotic vacation, look in that drawer or medicine cabinet where you keep all of your medications, Band-Aids, Neosporin, cough drops, Pepto, Imodium, etc. and think of everything that you have taken or used in the last 6-8 months.  Take at least one of each of those things.  You never know what you could come down with that something in there would help you with.  I could go on and on about this but there’s not always a Walgreen’s around the corner once you leave the States, so leave prepared.

My wife also took an old prescription that really paid off.  A while back she hurt herself and was given a prescription for Hydrocodeine.  It made her sick and she certainly didn’t need a full bottle of it so there was a lot of it left.  So, thinking ahead, she took it just in case someone got really hurt and needed something to alleviate pain while awaiting help.  On the descent from Kili, one of the people that we had been climbing alongside all week was having some serious issues with her bad knees.  Amanda was able to give her the bottle of painkillers and from what we could tell it really helped her get down the mountain.  [Now, I have to qualify that I don’t endorse the swapping of prescription drugs and we don’t make it a habit of dishing out things like that but this a unique situation and we wouldn’t have used the medicine otherwise.]

8.  Shoelaces:  For some crazy reason, I decided at the last minute to take an extra set of shoelaces.  Luckily I did because on the final morning of our Kili trip, I had to use them.  I think I could have taken some 4mm cord and that would have been as good and could have been used for a number of other things as well.

9.  Duct Tape:  When I was a rafting guide, I learned many of the virtues of duct tape; we used it for everything.  One of the great things about duct tape is that it can be re-used.  On Kili, I wrapped some duct tape around an AAA battery (that could have been used too) and was able to used it on a couple of different occasions.  Duct tape can be used in so many scenarios if you can employ a little bit of creativity and ingenuity and you don’t have to bring an entire roll.  (I plan on doing a short piece on a use for duct tape pretty soon).  Don’t forget it!

So this is a short list but includes some of the lessons we learned that would have made a difference in the trip(s).  This is one topic that I would really like to have some input from readers on.  Have you ever been somewhere and took something with you that you were glad to have, or are there things you wished you would have had?  Let me know and I will add to this post occasionally.  Also, let me know about some of the wild places you have been because I love to hear about other people’s travel stories.

Bon Voyage ~ Dan