What if ATMs did not work, what if border patrols detained me, what if someone slipped a bullet or a little packet of shabu in my backpack, what if I lost my luggage, what if I lost my wallet, what if I lost my passport, what if I met an accident — these misfortunes that befell to others and could possibly happen to me.
It was harder than I thought. Suddenly, the art of the five-minute packing, the adventure that I have somehow mastered over the years, proved to be useless. The packed was unpacked; the unpacked packed. It became a ritual, this endless battle, this zigzagging feeling between hesitation and certainty.
But eventually I found the unlikeliest allies for my trip. My own travel minions.
A backpack is meant for a backpacker. That is how stereotypical a language can be. A quality backpack can cost P8, 000 or more. A backpacker is supposed to be poor. At the top of my head, eight thousand can see me through a whole week in Malaysia; so I was hesitant to buy one to replace my battered, well-traveled Jester. The staff at an outdoor shop eventually got tired in tailing me around; he must have sensed my stinginess.
Today in the midst of the afternoon heat, I walked from UP to my small place. Today's blue mirrored the unlikely blue on my last day in Old Bagan, one of the places that have suffered massive floods in August. In Yangon, I've read on the news that the sought-after places remain safe and navigable, ensuring us travelers that our trips would go as planned. But I wanted to know about the locals. How about the affected? How are they? Do their lives continue as planned? Sometimes this whole affair of staying and knowing a place is too shallow a relationship. #travelphotography #travelasia #myanmar #oldbagan #culture #ootd
Finding my hybrid bag was coincidental. I passed through the department store when I saw this staff eagerly demonstrating the function of a luggage to a customer. He looked enamored to the product himself; so instinctively, I approached him and looked at the bags. And there, I found Hybrid, a backpack that can be a luggage, a luggage that can be a backpack. The size? Exactly the dimension most airlines advised: 56cm X 36cm X 23cm. And the price? One third of the backpack’s.
A Bundle of Elastic Bands
How to save and maximize a limited space? How to fit in two weeks-worth of #ootd in a cabin baggage? Elastic bands. The greatest joy, I called it. I individually rolled all my clothes and tighten both ends with a rubber band. In some cases, I paired shorts and tops in one roll. One wrap, one outfit. It was easy to grab one from the bag without messing the other outfit. My clothes looked like shanghai rolls inside a big plastic bag. And my worried mind finds them delectably neat to look at.
Pouches for the Small Necessities
One of the many what-ifs I entertained: what if an airport security opened my backpack and my undies, in their entire splendor, came rolling out? Humiliation would render me boneless, I think. So I put my intimates in a pouch. Pouching small and necessary things saved me some time. Instead of wasting minutes in looking for something, the hand automatically grabbed the needed purse: the map pouch for the weekly budget, brown leather for the passport and tickets, purple for the intimates, blue for the toiletries. Traveling is a world for, of the erratic. But this certain unpredictability does not have to reach its arm inside my backpack. Having these little organized compartments provided me that much needed sense of sanity.
Scarfs: Versatile Powers
Scarfs are rather versatile in their purposes. Crossing borders translates to long air-conditioned bus rides. I wrapped the scarf around my head or my shoulders to fend off the cold. It was an instant cover for my bare shoulders or a wrap-around skirt upon entering temples. It was an instant towel, a shed in a shadeless rocky beach, a cute accessory on the tote, and not to mention, it added color to my travel portraits.
Plastic Bags: Separating Dirty Clothes from the Clean Ones
Backpackers do not wash themselves. Backpackers have greater pursuits in life that they find clean and fresh clothes a trivial matter. Their backpacks have the unmistakable stench of all the places they have been to; and perhaps unconsciously they want others to be part of the experience: here, smell Southeast Asia!
Generalizations exist for a reason, and sometimes they are believable especially if you have stayed in a windowless dorm for a week. To avoid this, I compartmentalize my clothes in three plastic bags: one for dirty, another for my week worth of #ootd, and the last one (placed at the bottom of the bag) for the clothes I would not be using for that week. They are all air-tight and secured with an elastic band.
Wet Wipes: a Day Saver
Our country is archipelagic, we cross seas to arrive on an island that resembles ours. So it was fascinating, almost surreal, to cross a border and find yourself using different bills and hearing a different language. With our ASEAN neighbors, it takes at least eight hours by bus to go to your next destination. Inevitably, you started to feel sticky and smell like unwashed armpits. A pack of wet wipes is really a day saver. Face Towels Instead of a Body Towel Some hostels do not provide a towel, if they do, sometimes it looks unfit for using. Already anticipated this, I brought my own three face towels and a towel. Bringing a towel, although mine is pure cotton and very light, is unnecessary. A face towel is more practical. I washed it after my bath and hang it to dry, and I still have the other two to use for the following two days, and by then the other is already dry for using. I labored on packing, but it was far from perfect: two weeks-worth of #ootd, for one, was too much. I should not have brought the portable tripod and the pair of sandals; they were, as mountaineers called, dead weight.
After unpacking the lives I lived during my five-week trip in five ASEAN countries, I patted the dust away from my backpack and mentally patted myself for a job well-done.
In retrospect, there is no room for should haves.
How about you? Any packing tips to share? Would love to hear from you. Email us at [email protected] so we can curate your packing tips and share them to fellow travelers and future travelers. Or follow our prime witch on Instagram: @travelingjona
(An earlier version of this post, “New Travel Packing Tips and Tricks 2015,” was originally posted on my weekly column “Down South,” on interaksyon.com on October 19, 2015.)
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