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16 October 2013 / leggypeggy

On what to pack for an overland—travel light and don’t forget your toothbrush (and charger)

buying long pants

Mosquito protection—buying long pants through the truck window in Mauritania

People often ask me what I usually take on an overland trip.

Almost two years ago, I wrote a post on what I took for the six-month jaunt from London to Sydney. We travelled across great swathes of remote Asia, so I carried more than I probably needed, just to be sure.

So now, having done road trips in Africa (twice), Asia (once), South America (twice) and Australia (lots), I realise that I can buy almost everything I need along the way, so there really is no longer the pressing need to take a three or four-month supply of things.

For our most recent South American trips, with one lasting six months, I took a 65-litre Berghaus backpack with its attached 15-litre daypack. I also took a 15-litre MacPac daypack and my camera case, which held a 600D Canon with two lenses. Poor John takes a similar size backpack and daypack, but no second daypack. So he gets to carry the camera. 🙂

my backpack

All set to head to South America

Last time, my Berghaus combo weighed in at 14.5 kilos. Tucked away in it was seven packets of TimTam biscuits (1.2 kilos) for presents, a glass jar of Vegemite (500 grams plus weight of jar), a plastic tub of peanut butter (375 grams plus tub) and 6 paperback books. So my actual gear probably weighed less than 12 kilos.

It weighed 14.5 kilos when I headed home, but a lot of that was Libby’s skirt.

What to take to India

We’re heading out soon on a six-week road trip in central India, focusing on national parks and plenty of camping. We’re also spending a few days with a dear friend in Delhi, so I am taking at least one dressier outfit.

Here’s what I’ll be taking for that trip. I’ll note anything I’d do differently for a much longer trip. Tents and all meals are provided for this trip and I haven’t yet decided whether to take much/any Vegemite.

• 1 three-season sleeping bag (need a four season for more extreme temperatures)

• 1 Therm-a-Rest sleep mat—buy the best, you won’t regret it

• 1 merino sleeping bag liner for the cold (take a silk one too if it will be super hot)

• 1 travel pillow

• 1 pair rubber thongs—flip-flops, not underpants

• 1 pair runners/sneakers/whatever you call them

• 1 pair sandals or dressy flats

• 2 bras (3 for longer trips)

• 4 underpants

drying laundry

Drying laundry in the Western Sahara

• 2 pairs long pants, one with zip-off legs (3 for longer trips) (no jeans because they take forever to dry)

• 2 pairs shorts (3 for longer trips)

• 2–3 sleeveless or short-sleeve merino tops

• 3–4 long-sleeve merino tops of varying weights

• 1 thermal leggings

• 1 skirt

• 1 blouse

• 1 sarong (indispensable, follow link to see why)

• 1 bathers/swimmers/swimsuit

• 1 belt (to hold up my shorts)

• 2–3 pairs sport socks

• 1 pair thermal socks (2 for longer trips)

doing laundry

Poor John has a go at some of the laundry in the bathroom of a hotel room in Cameroon

• 1 travel towel

• 1 Goretex rain jacket with hood

• 1 travel umbrella

• 1 pair lightweight but warm gloves

• 1 lightweight but warm beanie

• 1 head torch with 1 set spare batteries

• 1 electric toothbrush, extra brush and charger (indispensable)

• 1 tube Colgate Sensitive toothpaste (this is something I take with me)

• 2-month supply of blood pressure tablets

• small selection of antibiotics, water tabs, cough lollies etc

• handful of plasters (bandaids)

• minimal toiletries (easy to buy replacements)

• 1 small notebook (easy to buy replacements)

• 1 Swiss Army knife (with scissors)

• 1 heavy-duty nail clipper

• 1 sunscreen

• 1 bug repellent

• 2–3 pens

• 1 soft-pack tissues

• 1 sewing kit (with rubber bands wrapped around it)

• 1 packet zip-lock bags

• 3 waterproof bags in various sizes

• 1 Canon 600D camera with 2 lenses, case and charger

• 1 Kindle and charger

• 2 plug adaptors (both 2-pin round)

• 1 external hard drive (for back-ups)

• mobile phone, iPod, MacAir laptop (in Hard Candy case) and chargers.

Poor John's pack

Poor John carries his share—and my camera

Some basics

All my merino tops are black. My shorts and pants are khaki. People probably wonder if I ever change clothes, but I swear I do every couple of days.

Obviously, with such a limited wardrobe, I need do laundry along the way, or ‘send it out’. I have to be careful because my merino clothes will shrink if run through a dryer, so I tend to do my own washing at every opportunity.

I’ve done laundry in bathroom sinks, bathtubs, showers, buckets, washtubs and in rivers. I never take any white clothes and I try to avoid buttons. Snaps are good.

When we’re in a little hotel or hostel, I always ask where the clothesline is. There’s almost always one—somewhere.

Every overland truck I’ve ever been on has had a clothesline and often a selection of clothespegs. I’ve always been able to buy laundry powder and a scrub brush en route. I think it was on the border between Mauritania and Burkina Faso that I got rid of the last of my small change by buying six small sachets of laundry soap.

Sunscreen and bug repellent are sometimes hard to find or are super expensive, so it’s worth taking a good supply. Same goes for women’s hygiene products.

On the other hand, most toiletries are for sale everywhere, so if you don’t have a brand preference, you’ll always find something appropriate. I take small bottles of shampoo, conditioner and body wash. I use large bottles at home and decant into small bottles that I buy at a hardware store. Cosmetic stores and pharmacies charge way too much for what they call ‘travel bottles’. My main must-take item is Colgate Sensitive, which is sold everywhere in Asia but almost nowhere in South America. That said, Bolivia has the cheapest toiletries in South America. Buy up big when you’re there.

drying clothes

Drying my merino clothes on the tall fences at a hostel in Cape Town, South Africa

My toothbrush confession

Electric toothbrushes are an anomaly. I can’t live without my electric toothbrush and I rarely have to do so.

One of mine (an Oral-B) conked out in Namibia during our 11-month overland in Africa. This was a serious setback, but I managed to buy a replacement the next day in a smallish shopping centre in South Africa. Eighteen months later that one conked out in Kazakhstan and I bought a replacement the next day in a huge market.

Last year and at Poor John’s suggestion, I upgraded to a schmick Phillips that is dual voltage and holds a charge for three weeks. I took both two bases to South America, but forgot the charger on the most recent jaunt.

The only thing that could have been worse would have been to forget my passport.

Seriously, my electric toothbrush is an important part of my life. My mother drummed the you-only-have-one-set-of-adult-teeth-in-your-life mantra permanently into my head.

So I went toothbrush hunting in Rio. I spent hours and days hunting and finally found, in a small shop in a huge shopping centre, a battery-operated one for $22 and an electric one for $140. These were the only motorised toothbrushes of any kind I found on the entire continent.

Reluctantly I bought the battery-charged one and then followed Poor John’s advice. He’s a true lateral thinker and offered a brilliant suggestion. I had two bases, each with a three-week charge for two brushings a day (or a total of 84 brushings of two minutes each). We were going to be away for 75 days (or 150 brushings), so Poor John said use the battery-operated version in the morning and the heavy-duty Phillips at night.

You know it worked. I even got back to Australia with a couple of brushings left in the Phillips.

You can bet I’ll never forget the charger again. I firmly believe you can buy most things in most places in the world. Electric toothbrushes fall outside that theory.

P.S. Remind me to tell you how I worked around losing my camera-battery charger out of the back-end of a 4W-drive vehicle as we bounced across the Sinai desert.

P.P.S. Sorry if I got side-tracked on the toothbrush. Happy to answer questions on what to take.

P.P.P.S. And if you’re feeling hungry, please check out my food blog Cooking on page 32.

18 Comments

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  1. Derrick / Oct 17 2013 12:10 am

    I used my sleeping bag to lie on most nights, never got into it (in India)just laid it over the mattress
    I had a travel towel, but just couldnt get on with it, most places have a decent towel anyway, I take just a small towel now, I think it’s worth it
    Rinsing your clothes out whenever possible is a good idea, its usually getting things dried that are the problem
    Avoid jeans, they just never dry, never have enough pockets, end up too big (after all my trips anyway)
    I don’t know how many washing lines I have ‘donated’ to trucks (along with other stuff, handsaws)
    I seem to always take 2 electric toothbrushes (most because I always forget I have one in my wash bag) that has the usual shaving, washing kit, sponge, face cloth, toothpaste
    I always seem to overdo it with the bottles of bug spray (4 is just too many). It’s the after-bug-bite stuff I never have
    I seem to have quite a collection of plugs, cables, connectors now
    I always have elastic bands, sealable bags, a sewing kit (never used it yet though) a first aid kit (never used that eiither)
    Now for me its 2 long, 2 short trousers (as you say, can buy more along the way)
    4 tee shirts, (I seem to take 6 or more home)
    Underwear, socks
    Boots and sandals (can’t get on with flip flops)
    I usually have everything packed a couple of weeks before I go away, then unpack and repack several times, but still seem to end up with stuff I don’t use
    No point in listing all my electronics stuff, I think we all take about the same
    I got my bag down to 16Kgs, last time, but there was still stuff I never used
    Forget about ‘horses for courses’ we all take what we think will be good at the time

    Like

    • leggypeggy / Oct 17 2013 8:12 am

      Thanks for your run-down, Derrick, and for pointing out the shortcomings of jeans.
      I wouldn’t normally take cold weather gear to India, but the last week of our trip is in the foothills of the Himalayas and the temps will be around 8–10°C. Now that I think about it, I probably won’t need the beanie and gloves. Thanks for the memory jog, too.
      The bottom line is—we all tend to take way more than we need.

      Like

  2. Andrea Germany / Oct 17 2013 1:01 am

    I really understand this. I´m using also a oral-B toothbrush and I don´t want to miss it

    Like

    • leggypeggy / Oct 17 2013 8:57 am

      I’m glad to know more people feel this way about their electric toothbrush! 🙂

      Like

  3. Andrea / Oct 17 2013 1:54 am

    Thanks Peggy and Derrick, great advice for my planning for my trip! Peggy, did you have any issues carrying vegemite and peanut butter into countries? I’m thinking of taking peanut butter and teabags, my essential items!

    Like

    • leggypeggy / Oct 17 2013 8:20 am

      Hi Andrea. I think teabags will be okay, but ask Natalie at Oasis to ask one of the tour leaders in South America to confirm. Peanut butter will probably be confiscated as you cross into Chile. The agriculture industry is so huge in Chile that they work hard to keep out any food-related bugs that might damage their crops. They are fanatics on this.
      I didn’t take any food on our first South American overland, which covered eight countries. To be truthful, I did take Vegemite, but Poor John packed it in his carry-on for one flight in the USA and security confiscated it. 😦
      I took Vegemite and peanut butter on the second trip which didn’t enter Chile. Peanut butter is available in South America, but expensive. I wouldn’t bother taking it again.
      As for your teabags, look up the company’s website and see if they sell their tea in South America. You might be able to take some and then buy more there, after you leave Chile.

      Like

  4. Sy S. / Oct 18 2013 10:29 am

    Did I miss something.. LOL shocked that one of the top ten need to bring items is missing from everyone’s list! Hint- When I keep my bathroom door open my dog will run in, grab this item and parade out streaming and shredding it all along the apartment LOL

    Second, there are vibrating throw a-way tooth brushes that work fine (Oral -B)… each one can last two months. Why hassle with chargers and finding an electrical outlet.

    Sy S.

    Like

    • leggypeggy / Oct 18 2013 11:34 am

      Oh Sy, you can buy toilet paper everywhere in the world. Sometimes it feels like sandpaper—I have a sample from Turkmenistan that both feels and looks like sandpaper. So keeping that in mind, perhaps I’d better chuck in a roll. 🙂
      And I have two battery-operated Oral-Bs, but I still love my electric one best. I do play favourites.

      Like

  5. Sy S. / Oct 18 2013 12:54 pm

    I must still have a 1970 mindset of traveling in third world countries… I often ran out of TP and quite a few times had to use a small water spigot or coffee can filled with water (and my hand)… not a pleasant experience.

    Like

    • leggypeggy / Oct 18 2013 2:56 pm

      Ah yes, toilet paper could be a scarce commodity in the 1970s. Very glad the world has gone beyond that. That said, when travelling in the third world, I carry toilet paper with me every day and keep all the clean tissues and napkins I come across.

      Like

  6. Andrea / Oct 19 2013 9:11 am

    Another question for you Peggy! As someone who takes lots of pics, how much memory do you take for a long trip?

    Like

    • leggypeggy / Oct 19 2013 9:20 am

      Hi Andrea. Good question. I’ll do a post on it.

      Like

      • Andrea / Oct 19 2013 9:27 am

        lovely, thanks

        Like

  7. Oanh / Oct 19 2013 6:52 pm

    Hi! Found your blog when searching camping in the Grampians & been happily reading the archives past few days!

    One of my fave items from our 8 month bike tour (Oct 2010 -June 2011) was a little washing line doo-hickey: basically two long strings of elastic twisted around each other, ending in suctions and clips. I removed the suctions early on because they were useless and added carabiners to the clip bit to make it more securely attachable to a variety of things (although I often strung up the line between our two bikes – some pics here and here. We had this one for years and it accompanied us on many car camping trips in Australia & did good service the whole 8 months. It wads a fairly cheap purchase from somewhere like Kathmandu.

    I’m with you on, you can buy most things everywhere! But not Vegemite. We had a friend deliver a large jar of Vegemite to us in Essaoiura and after months of not having any, he was my favourite person in the universe.

    Like

  8. oanh / Oct 19 2013 6:53 pm

    Hi! Found your blog when searching camping in the Grampians & been happily reading the archives past few days!

    One of my fave items from our 8-month-bike tour (Oct 2010–June 2011) was a little washing line doo-hickey: basically two long strings of elastic twisted around each other, ending in suctions and clips. I removed the suctions early on because they were useless and added carabiners to the clip bit to make it more securely attachable to a variety of things (although I often strung up the line between our two bikes—some pics here and here. We had this one for years and it accompanied us on many car camping trips in Australia & did good service the whole 8 months. It was a fairly cheap purchase from somewhere like Kathmandu.

    I’m with you on, you can buy most things everywhere! But not Vegemite. We had a friend deliver a large jar of Vegemite to us in Essaoiura and after months of not having any, he was my favourite person in the universe.

    Like

    • leggypeggy / Oct 19 2013 9:31 pm

      Love the Grampians and so glad you found me through a search relating to them. Your washing line doo-hickey sounds good.
      But Vegemite is a whole nother thing (a very American expression). If you want Vegemite, you have to carry it with you.

      Like

  9. Andrea / Oct 23 2013 4:27 am

    Hi Peggy, I’m back with another question! You clearly do most of the activities on your tours; who do you go with for travel insurance? Most companies don’t seem to cover the range of activities, other than that offered by Oasis of course.

    Like

    • leggypeggy / Oct 23 2013 7:04 am

      Oasis has good coverage that matches the scope of activities you might do. We would use it, but we need to be from the UK to take advantage of it. So we’ve mainly used World Nomads. We’ve never made a claim.

      Like

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