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travel tips


Traveling to the developing world?

Very exciting! On the chance you're visiting India, Laos or some developing country, I have written these travel pages as a resource for you. I've spent a year traveling with a backpack and kept good notes along the way. This is information I wish I had before my first trip as a Canadian to less traveled parts of the world.

Most of this guide was originally written when I was single and in my 30s. Twenty years later I still think about how great my travel experiences were. This short guide is about visiting developing countries or traveling anywhere on a shoestring budget. Just adapt it for your age and lifestyle.

Traveling with family or friends in the developing world?

If you are not traveling solo you have additional considerations. These days when planning to visit India with my wife and daughter, for example, we're at a different stage of life and have no need to be frugal. But we maintain an interest in real life and real people, not using luxury as an escape. Today I would take advantage of small-but-obvious luxury choices that make travel in developing countries easier: like having a car and driver 24/7 at my call, or hiring people to perform mundane tasks like buy tickets, wait in line or, of course, to do my laundry. When traveling with family we'll stay in nicer hotels including former palaces in various countries, plus rustic but sometimes expensive and charming cabins, and sometimes luxurious beach resorts or hideouts. In some countries, staying at a fomer palace with uber luxury and great service can be less expensive than a dingy, cheap hotel on the side of the highway back home in Canada or the USA.

I believe more and more in spending money on experiences not on acquiring things.

Despite changing needs and a desire for simplicity and luxury as we age, I still believe in the virtue of traveling light. And I'm in my 50s now.

Traveling light

When traveling by myself I set a goal to always travel very light -- as light as possible. I didn't want to get bogged down and appeciated the idea of minimalism. With some restrictions. In addition to good clothing, as a technologist I always carry a laptop computer, its power supply, adapters and cables, a mobile phone and adapter to charge a phone too, a often a geiger counter (because I'm a nerd). Often I carry an underwater camera and electronic gear as needed. A jacket, even in the tropics, a week's worth of attire, a notebook, a bathroom hygeine kit, a snack or two, a bottle of water and a tiny medical kit. I had one goal with all these posessions. All must fit in a small sub-50 litre travel pack.

Why? I wanted to get off the beaten path. I wanted to be able to walk long distances to find out of the way places. I wanted to be travel by motorcycle (bought a Royal Enfield!), or by foot up a mountain, or with just carry-on luggage on a plane or bus, or auto-rickshaw, and I didn't want to get bogged down with stuff. I had to travel light if I wanted to see the real world and remote places.

It wasn't easy. At first, my pack was stressed to the seams, overstuffed with m∆ost of my clothes inside but without a few "essential" items and without the computer that I desparately needed to take. I stuffed those extra things into a daypack and ended up pretty weighed down. It wasn't going to work. It was too much stuff and also too heavy. I had to pare things down.

What items are truly essential?

Whatever item you need, can you buy it where you're going? Almost everything can be replaced on the road. Clothes, personal items, even some electronics.

Over time I figured out what was was essential, what I could buy when needed then dispose of (give away), and what I could leave behind. After a year of travels many so things were lost, stolen, given away, left behind or mailed home for future use. Most things we carry are not essential. Many things can be purchased along the way, in a pinch. Twelve months on the road and able to move fast, a year later I was still carrying my travel pack and it was looking just slightly worn. But it worked fantastic.

Travel pack, backpack, or suitcase?

For traveling light I recommend a "travel pack" as opposed to a backpack or suitcase, meaning a quality pack that is a little more upscale, a little more durable and somewhat of a cross between a suitcase and a backpack. The main functional difference between a travel pack and a backpack is that the entire front zips open to expose everythings inside. Backpacks are usually stuffed from the top down. Suitcases with wheels are great but hard to carry on your back.

Spend the money and get the best pack you can either find or afford. Mine had only a single compartment with a zipper that opened the pack completely, like a giant flap. Simple and there was nowhere for things to hide. It had shoulder straps so it could be carried like a backpack but the straps could also be folked inside so the pack looked and acted more like a carry-on suitcase, much more suited for air travel. After 12 months it was well used and at that point, not overstuffed either. I found my 45 litre pack to be just right.

If you must have wheels then get a carry-on size suitcase and figure out how to use every single milimeter of the space inside. You won't regret sticking with a carry-on size, which is probably around 45 litres anyway.

I should not have to mention this

Light does not mean cheap. Wherever you are in the world, quality clothes and shoes are important. It might sound funny and obvious to many folks but this is good advice particularly for people in their 20s and 30s: wear stylish, comfortable clothes that look great and show off your best features. Tropical and sub-tropical weather allows for thin, light clothes which you can often purchase at your destination. A sweater or jacket, even in hot climates, can be very useful at night, especially if you rent a motorcycle or scooter. And don't forget an extra pack of extra large condoms, if you are single. Haha

Spending money on quality items like Merino wool and various high tech fabrics is worth it. Plain and simple.

When on the move

For a year I visited many different places, hotels and guesthouses. I moved around often. All my shit, if poured out from my pack or suitcase and scrambled in disarray onto the floor, would take me at most 30 minutes to pack tightly for travel on a lazy day. In a panic situation, as it might arise, when I'd overslept and almost missed my bus, ride or flight, I could pack up all my shit in a panic in 10 minutes flat and not lose any of my life's favorite posessions.

Even during a panic when I get packed in five minutes, I always will invest another 5 minutes when leaving my hotel room for the last time to double-check on what I was about to leave behind, lose or forget -- because I almost always forgot something behind in my first few months of travels. That's one way of learning what's truly essential. Can it be replaced? I learned in those situations when I had to move myself and all my worldly possessions toute suite or I'd find myself up shit creek, the bare minimum time I need to move my entire life is 10 to 15 minutes if I don't want to leave anything behind.

How to pack for extended travel in the developing world

Packing light sounds simple but it's not easy, at first. Do you really need it? No, you probably don't. If you're not sure, you definitely don't need it. Will you actually use it? No, you probably won't. But only you can decide what's essential. I'm not a lady and I ain't talking about feminine hygeine products here. Make up an inclusive list of the most essential things you need to travel and then one day you will cross half the stuff off, you don't need it.

Now that you have your list of things to take the question is... how to actually get all that shit to fit into your tiny pack, and quickly?! Do you know kung fu? Can you perform magic? Did you vacuum seal your clothes into tiny little plastic bags? And if so, where you gonna put that vaccum?

Your clothes will take up the most space. They are also the easiest to pack.

I tried several methods of packing clothing tightly in order to travel with a small, light pack. I considered every method out there and ruled most of them out. I do love those vacuum sealed bag of clothing but they will never ever work in the developing work. What about neatly folded clothes? Or it is better to just stuff them in? These are all useless methods when traveling light!

My favorite super-small packing tip is to organize all my clothes my type, separate them into two or three similar-size flat stacks, roll them up and tie them with a cloth into a bundle. That holds them togehter so they don't expand to use all available space. I put these bundles into my pack then used the space between them to stuff in everything else such as my electronics, toiletries like shaving gear, toothbrush etc., all of those small items were most ideally packed up in small zippered bags so I didn't lose everything the moment I opened my pack. Plastic ziploc bags will do for a while until they break, and I later found handmade zipper bags at markets where I was traveling that were so much better.

Electronics are bulky. My computer always went on top of my clothes inside its own padded sleeve. In places of high theft like Thailand where people stealthily cut into your pack while it's on your back and steal things,, I wrapped the computer in a Pac Safe wire mesh bag and it was never stolen. My passport, wallet, money and phone were always on my body. Then I zipped up, tightened my pack's exterior straps, and I was gone.

Read everything you can

Preparation for a year of travel, or even a few weeks in a developing country, is essential. When I needed a break from reading, doing even simple things like packing my bag for fun, dreaming about traveling, and walking around home with my pack on my back for 30 minutes helped me determine if my pack was to heavy.

I spent many, many hours researching the places I'd be visiting. Culture Shock India was one of the best books I'd read about how to adjust to the many cultures, colors, sights and smells of India.

Lonely Planet still has some of the best guides for developing countries. The Rough Guide is good too. There's so much good information out there, in guidebooks, books, and on the web. But the best information comes from other travelers who you meet, who've already been to where you're going.

When I was in India and later Thailand I'd asked around for advice on traveling across Laos. It's a very less traveled country, and one of the 20 poorest countries in the world. But you'd never know it while visiting. The few travelers I met who'd been to Laos before I got there said it was such an incredible experience... their stories convinced me and I made sure I went there, and of course I absolutely loved it. Just an example.

Find people who've been to the places you're planning to visit and ask them questions.

Next up: packing your bags

Package vacations?

Wait, what is this doing here? I took my first all-inclusive package vacation to Cancun in my early 30s, and had a really great time. It's easy to travel this way and requires little planning. Good community websites exist for recommendations, asking questions and getting answers. For Cancun I used,, and the travel company sites (Expedia, iTravel2000, etc). Many people use TripAdvisor and Google Maps to find reviews.

Package vacations don't need much planning, so I won't write about it here. Backpacking, on the other hand, and visiting developing countries is a whole different type of travel and has its own incredible rewards if you are of the right mindset.

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