To take a trip, large or small, either in your home or a foreign country, requires planning.
If you are like me, planning usually involves throwing things together in a bag, shaking it like a martini and hope all turns out well.
Because I am taking longer trips for longer periods of time, I had to drastically pair down on what I was bringing and actually face my dreaded fear of travel planning. No longer could I afford to take a different outfit for every occasion as baggage fees get really expensive. Not to mention, the lugging around 60lbs of luggage gets old real quick.
For my five month trip to Fiji, NZ, AU and Bali I decided to go hardcore (well at least for me) and use just a backpack and a small duffle bag that doubled as a purse. This presented a challenge, it was September in the States when I left to go to Fiji, so warm weather, and when I landed in NZ (end of Sept) it was early spring and very cold. How was I going to cram everything from beach towels and bikinis, to jackets and clunky hiking boots into one 50litre backpack?
Thus the research began. If I had done as much research on my ex-boyfriends as I did for my backpack, well let’s say I might have made a lot of better choices.
From soaps to socks, I pretty much researched everything. Eight weeks into my trip I want to talk about what has worked for me, and what hasn’t worked as intended. This trip is geared around my experiences in the South Pacific but the products/advice could be used for any travel destination. All of the images are links so click away for more info.
After hours or researching it came down to a Deuter ACT Lite 50+10
and the Osprey Meridian
I was drawn to the Osprey Meridian because it doubled not only as a backpack, but it also has wheels and could be used as roller suitcase. The Osprey has a life time warranty and after talking with loads of professional travelers they have told me stories of their Osprey being torn in some far off place and if they mailed it in Osprey would either repair it or send a new one back immediately. The downside to the Osprey is that it was roughly double the cost of the Deuter. Backpackers also gave me excellent reviews of their Deuter, and in the end it came down to money. So with my blue Deuter I went.
That being said, I now love my Deuter. I was shocked at how much I could pack into it. I thought I’d have to rough it with a single pair of jeans the entire time, but I was able to bring plenty of clothes to last me through tropical heat and the chilly New Zealand Spring. There are lots of compartments and areas to store everything your need. Traveling around I’ve seen loads of backpackers and travellers sporting a Deuter so I also get the added bonus of feeling like one of the cool kids.
Even with my pack fully loaded it does not feel super heavy. I’ve had to run (literally) through Auckland to catch a bus and with the straps in place it did not feel cumbersome at all.
Shoes. Ah, what girl doesn’t love shoes?
For some reason I usually have rotten luck with shoes, by rotten luck I mean I always choose fashion versus comfort and end up regretting it. I literally have bled for the sake of fashion, but not anymore. In my new found practicality I have decided to go for comfort and not bleed and blister my way around the world (somewhere my Mother is out there saying “Thank God! It’s about time.”) I’ve traded in my Michael Kors pumps in for hiking boots and proper footwear.
I personally love the Merrell brand. They are comfortable and not unwieldy. I can go from hiking a mountain to roaming a city and not feel like Xena, Warrior Princess. They fit great into the bottom of my backpack and not matter if I hike in water or mud they clean up nicely and are extremely durable.
I’ve also brought a pair of sandals and I would recommend a pair of flats- I really like Sperrys. Cute and comfy, what a concept! The most uncomfortable thing I’ve brought is my books…I couldn’t decide so I brought eight different hard copy books with me- I suffer for knowledge now, not fashion (how hipster of me).
With all of the research on the above items, the last thing I needed was a camera. I was torn because iPhones really can capture some spectacular pictures, but I felt to go on trip to a country like this I really should invest in a good camera. After surfing around and chatting with some photographer friends I decided to get a Canon EOS T2 DLSR. There new models out there but I found a reasonably priced ($220) on ebay. I got two SD cards, two batteries and two different lenses. One for everyday use and a long range lense. I am so happy I did. There are so many functionalities with this camera and it’s performed better than my expectations.
Products I Love
Some tricks to getting the most use out of my backpack….small packing bags. I am SO grateful that the day before I left I went out and bought Sea to Summit packing sacks.
Backpacks tend to turn into the Bermunda Triangle
Clothes simply vanish into the depths and it is frustrating to dig to find what you need. Sea to Summit’s sacks have really prevented disorgnanization. They way I personally have organized mine is I have four sacks, one for socks and undies, one for dirty clothes, one for swimsuits/swimgear and a large one for the bulk of my clothes. Not only helpful for organization but I was able to pack a lot more because the bags become small and can fit around each other and really maximize the space available in your backpack. I can’t recommend packing bags like these enough.
Going from the Marriot to backpacking has been a big transition for me. When planning this trip I knew I wasn’t going to go as hardcore some backpackers do, e.g. always use a hostel or a campsite and go without showering for as long as possible (maybe the more you smell the bigger badge of honor it is?) Anyways, not bringing a hair dryer or straighter was toughing it for me, so I had to really focus on what small amount of girly things I was going to bring. For me this ended up being, a small amount of make up, my skin care products that I live and die by.
Most importantly quality shampoo and conditioner. I am ashamed to admit the amount of hours I spent researching shampoo and conditioner – I didn’t want to bring loads of liquid products that would render my bag unable to be a carry on, and I didn’t want the extra weight. I also didn’t want to run around with scarecrow dry hair- hello I have instagram pictures to take, there are also my twitter fans…so what was I to do? I found these products from a company called Lush. Organic, and designed espeically for travellers their shampoo came in bars that one traveller said lasted her four months. Sign me up. I bought their shampoo, conditioner, and body soap that came in a little cup that looked like jello. The shampoo I like is the Jumping Juniper Shampoo Bar by LUSH
How have these worked out for me? Well if you see my shinning locks from my previous posts I am quite happy with the shampoo. The conditioner and body soap not so much. The conditioner is awkward, it tends to form little balls and it doesn’t seem to get anywhere except the shower drain. Thankfully I brought some Moroccan oil with me and I put that in my wet hair and it does wonders. Enough said about my hair, I don’t want to turn this into a post that sounds like it was written by Fabio.
The soap, as fun as washing with jello sounds, it tends to come out in clumps and doesn’t liquefy, again populating the shower drain with tiny blue blobs and making me feeling like I haven’t really properly showered. So I guess I’ve won some and lost some. I would still recommend Lush’s products- especially the shampoo, perhaps I just need to get a different type of conditioner or body soap.
Random Travel Items
Let’s chat about food containers, sexy I know.
So far I’ve travelled by car, plane, taxi, bus, and ferry and with New Zealand being remote food isn’t always readily available (unless you spear your own fish like a French dude I met in the North Island). So having collapseable contrainers is really good so you can prep your own food ahead of time and you don’t have to worry about going hungry.
However, be advised about bringing ANY sort of food into New Zealand. The Kiwi’s don’t mess around. Any food/seed/animal product is inspected when you enter the country. Heck I had to unpack my hiking boots and show them to the customs folks to prove I wasn’t bringing anything extra in the country with me.
Sun and Bugs.
No, not the title of my next poem, but a fact about New Zealand that can’t be ignored (at least not for long). Let me just say that the sun and the bugs down under keep it real.
I was devoured, literally by sandflies in Fiji. Since I’ve come to New Zealand I discovered a handy little product called Goodbye Sandfly. It works and isn’t made of Deet. It’s better to come prepared then to be itching for weeks like a methhead from Breaking Bad. My bug bites have taken over two and half weeks to heal. Also, the sun is really more intense down here so if you don’t want to say good bye to the first couple layers of your skin, bring and wear, your sunscreen. Nothing can ruin a good time like itching bug bites on fried skin.
Now, this portion is NZ specific but I will take this lesson learned and apply to any country I spend a significant amount of time in. I knew before I left that there wasn’t a robust train infrastructure in NZ like in Europe or Asia. I found Intercity Bus to be the best deal. You buy travel hours instead of routes, so initially I bought 40 hours of bus time for $225NZD. There are two free tours included with this and when you want to go somewhere you book online ahead of time. I thought that would be suitable for the duration of my journey. If I was spending my time just in the cities that would be fine, but most of what you come to see in New Zealand- the breath taking landscapes, you need to travel by car to get there. New Zealand is roughly the size of Colorado in the U.S. but most of it is really rural; especially the South Island. After spending eight days in the Bay of Islands I was so frustrated I ended up renting a car for four days just to get around to see the things I wanted to see- like Cape Regina. it was $50NZD a day, and unlimited km. Rental cars add up, fast. Talking with a bunch of other NZ travellers I was shocked to discover most had bought cheap cars in country. I had to admit buying a car in NZ never even crossed my mind before I got here. I bought a cheap little banger for $1600NZD (about $1000USD) that has awesome gas mileage. Since I am leaving right before the height of the tourist season I expect to sell it at a profit to another backpacker.
A lot of people buy vans and sleep in them as well, saving on hostel/hotel stays. Since I’ll be spending a lot of my time staying at farms (through WWOOFing- see my other post on that) I really didn’t need a car that I would have to sleep in. I love having a car, the sense of freedom is amazing. I can pick up and go whenever I want and I do not have to worry about bus timetables.
Plus, I’ve picked up a lot of hitchhikers and made some fantastic new friends!
Which brings me to another important travel tip: always have a map. Even if you are taking a posh, tour filled vacation, being oriented is always the way to go. Not only for safety reasons (need to make a run for it? At least know what direction to run in) but if you are driving a map is the only way you’d be able to get around NZ. GPS’s do work here ( I don’t have one because why spend the money when I have a MAP) but in the remote areas don’t expect satellite coverage. Plus there is something rugged and badass feeling that you’ve navigated your way through an entire country on sheer gumption and map reading skills.
Lastly and Most Importantly
Lastly, and most importantly, the best piece of travel advice I can give is to bring the right attitude. Even with all of the research and planning, things aren’t always going to go as you’d like them to go. If you have the right attitude and an open heart I promise you your experience will be richer than your highest expectations.
“The purpose of life is to live it. To taste experience to the utmost. To reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.”
– Eleanor Roosevelt
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