Jun 29, 2011

5 Most Useful/Useless Items In Our Backpacks

Packing for this trip was a challenge, mostly due to the fact that we were only carrying 2 main backpacks for all of our things for 2 adults and 2 preschoolers, along with a day bag each.  It was tricky to be able to separate the ‘must have’ from the ‘nice to have’ or ‘just in case’.  Five months and six countries on, how did we do with our initial packing choices? Aside from the obvious clothing, medical kits, etc,

5 Most Useful Items In Our Backpacks:

1.     iPod Touch.  It has been indispensible as we use it not only for our entertaining purposes (music, games), but for the educational apps for the kids, for keeping track of our expenses, for communication (email, facebook, twitter), navigation (Google maps), weather updates, keeping track of our flight details and news updates.  It’s so handy that it’s so small and portable and the battery life is not too bad.  We wish we had more than one!

2.    ‘Poly To Go’ Antiseptic Spray.  Along with a good supply of bandaids, this small spray vial that fits in your pocket has been the most utilised items in our medical kit.  We’re more active than we would be at home and it’s incredible the numerous cuts and scrapes that the girls seem to get on almost a daily basis.  My sister sent it over from Canada.

3.    Self-Inflating Camping Mats, Sleep Sheets.  We have 2 ‘therma rest’ type self-inflating sleep mats which we use together with 2 cotton sleeping bag liner sheets for the girls to sleep on the floor when we can’t get a room with extra beds.   We’ve used them very often, especially in the Philippines, Bali, Thailand and Malaysia as rooms with more than 1 bed are either a lot more expensive or just hard to come by.  

Sometimes guesthouses will supply extra mattresses to place on the floor but they charge you for it, so having our own has given us more versatility and saved us money too.  The mats are light to carry and we strap them to the front of Jim’s backpack.

4.    Sarongs.  We don’t carry any towels with us but do have 4 sarongs which we’ve used mainly at the beach or as an extra blanket at night or while on buses with extra efficient air conditioning. 

5.    Other Technology Items.  Namely travel adaptors, our compact digital Camera and our laptop.  On previous travels, we’ve only ever had a digital camera, but advancements in electronics and technology has changed the way backpackers travel.  

The laptop makes it very convenient for blogging (offline as well), internet banking, and general surfing.  We also use it heavily for entertainment, watching DVD’s on it in the evenings after the kids go to bed (with earphones) and the kids also watch DVDs for some downtime.  Unfortunately our battery died in Vietnam, so we must always ‘plug in’ in order to use it.  The laptop is also very useful for storing our pictures, although we also use a portable hard drive for extra backup.  

When we travelled in 2003, we had a 2.0mp digital camera with us.  Now we have a 11.0mp Canon 'S95'compact camera that is capable of DSLR quality, yet it fits neatly in a pocket.  Can’t wait to enlarge and frame some of our many pictures when we get home!  

Sadly though the more electronic stuff you carry, the more adaptors and accessories you also have to lug around and our ‘technology bag’ takes up a bit of space and weight.  

5 Most Useless Items That We Brought With Us:

1. Pack/Travel Towels.  We originally brought 2 micro-fibre towels with us, having used them quite extensively on our previous travels.  But previously, we generally stayed in hostels and lower-budget places that did not tend to provide towels, especially in Europe.  This time around, we are mostly staying ‘flash-packer’ style in budget hotels which all have provided their own towels and linen.  There’s been the odd time that we’ve stayed in a hostel, especially in Malaysia, where we’ve paid a nominal fee to hire one.  

2. Sneakers.   We started this trip with 3 pairs of shoes each:  a pair of outdoor sandals, a pair of flip-flops/crocs, and a pair of runners.  But in our entire time away, none of us have used our runners at all, dividing our time between the sandals and flip flops/crocs.  

Purchasing the ‘Keen’ shoes for the girls has further replaced the need for runners, which are just too hot for the tropical climate that we’ve been in.  Even when we’ve been in cooler weather, the accompanying rains in these areas results in us just wearing the crocs/flip flops.  

Jim discarded his runners somewhere along the way, and I sent mine home.  We’ve kept the girls’ since if we sent them home, they wouldn’t fit them anymore once we got back anyway.

3. Mosquito Net.  On our previous trip to India and to the Thai islands, we brought our own mosquito net and used it a lot.  We haven’t had to use it at all this time, mostly due to the fact that we are staying in ‘nicer’ places that are better sealed.  We’ve sent it home for now; hopefully we won’t regret it once we get to India.

4. Toys.  Our kids have never been too attached to their toys, but I bought some new smaller ones to bring along on the trip, such as ‘Polly Pocket’ and a ‘mini Barbie’ doll.  They aren’t played with at all.

5. Extra Memory Cards.  I bought 2x 8mb SD memory cards with us, as well as a 4mb one.  But as we tend to download our pictures from the camera onto the laptop quite regularly, we have never even filled a 4mb card. Although it doesn't take up much 'space', it was still a waste of money.

5 Essential Items in the Kids’ Backpacks:

1.     Pens

2.    Crayons

3.    Sticky Tape/Scotch Tape

4.    Writing/Drawing Paper

5.    DVDs

Before we left Vietnam, we sent a package home of these ‘useless item’s as well as purchases which we made for gifts, etc.  We are once again carrying about 13kg and 18kg respectively in our backpacks.  

We haven’t purchased much for the adults in terms of new clothes, although the girls have had a few new items added along the way.  The trouble is that they get dirty very quickly so it’s necessary to have a big wardrobe for them or else we are constantly getting laundry done, which is cheap to do, but the timing sometimes can be tricky. 

Jim and I don't actually have a lot of clothing (as our pictures can attest to), and if it weren't for the kids' clothing, we could probably get away with large day bags only!  But then again, the 'kids' stuff' comes with the territory!!  You really don't need much in SEA.


  1. Yeah, but how much does a memory card weigh? And it doesn't take up any space. It's good to have a spare if one dies, or it gets too close to a magnet...

  2. Yeah, I know it doesn't weigh much, but it's more about being 'useless' and the fact that we spent money on them (8gb are still expensive in australia) before we left for the sole purpose of the trip!

  3. Loads of really useful info on here - thank you. What time of year is SE Asia best for toddlers? Also, can you recommend a carrier for when he gets tired? (He'll be 18 months when we go)


    1. The best time of year to visit SEA really depends on where you want to go. Most of the region has a 'wet season' which is typically the monsoon period of heavy rains and high humidity as well as a 'dry season' For example, June-September is monsoon in much of southern Thailand, including Phuket and Sihanoukville (Cambodia). Bali has monsoon season from about January to March, and we recently found the temperatures during September there to be perfect and comfortable. Monsoon affects regions (North vs South) of the Philippines different--ditto for Sri Lanka. You really need to do specific research on where you want to go in order to get an idea of 'best time of year'.

      As for a carrier, I see many people using the Ergo Baby carrier while we were in SEA. I've used them before when our youngest was under 2 and they are great (even for older toddlers too), but I imagine carrying bubs for too long in the heat can get uncomfortable for both of you. Good to have though and packs up light.

      Thanks for visiting us!