Before to start traveling in 2007, I just had a vague idea of what would the real needs of a hitchhiker who wanted to travel around the world.
At the end of this journey, here are my impressions of the necessity of each piece of equipment that I carried with me at one moment or another.
You will notice that very few objects made it for the whole 5 years. Dust, extreme heats and wet monsoons were powerful enemies!
Have a good preparation then!
Backpack and tent :
-Backpack 40 liters
I left with an army bad of the Swedish army. This equipment was offered to me and I have to say that the military technology was a total success. I almost didn't need to fix anything and the backpack made it the whole trip. Thumb's up !
-Backpack 15 liters
I choose to acquire a second backpack after 6 months traveling. Smaller, it allowed me to divide my stuffs and to keep with me the most valuable objects.
Very useful while hitchhiking, when I put the big bag in the trunk, while keeping the small one with me. Very useful too for sightseeing between two legs of the journey. I had consecutively 4 bags.
-A cheap one that I bought in a random shop in Cairo. So cheap that it broke very quickly.
-A Nike school backpack, that should have been used exclusively to go to school. Further was definitely too much for him...
-A Timberland hiking backpack, that has been offered to me in San Francisco. Very good quality, it traveled with me for 3 years.
-A North Face hiking backpack, bought 15 dollars in Hoi An in Vietnam. Very good quality too, I still use it.
Conclusion : A second backpack was very useful. I would advice to buy one of good quality, but a discrete one. Another information, I really appreciated the net on the side to put the water bottle. Thumb's Up !
I didn't bring any tent when I left. This cost me around 100 nights outside, but also push me to meet the local population.
I would advice a tent if you consider to travel by foot or bicycle. This will give you more independence and get you closer to nature.
For hitchhiking or a journey essentially centered on meeting people, the tent doesn't appear to me so necessary, as you will probably have to stay closer to civilization to find vehicles. This means you will probably have to “bivouac” in bus stops, construction buildings, under bridges...
I had between 1 and 5 pairs.
1 is useful during the hot seasons, if you eventually go to a place where you have to “dress well”.
5 is useful when it start to get freezing.
Here too, I had between 1 and 5. Anyway, in summer or winter, I definitely advice 5!
Here is something useful to invest in. A simple bathing short can become short if needed, or being used as a swimsuit in a river, a lake, or a sea. I totally advice it!
Thumb's up !
The cap is necessary when you spend your days outside. I had several on the road. The cheapest and simplest was always enough. Thump's up !
Add -Winter cap
I left without. I regretted it quite quickly. This doesn't take any place, and during the hot season, I let it on the bottom of my bag. How good to have it with me when winter was coming.
I just use a simple keffieh. Useful to cut the wind, to filter the dust of the road, and to warm a bit during winter. Multifunction and very light. Thumb's up !
It is surely useful for walking of biking, but quite optional for hitchhiking. Something to cut the wind and the rain is enough, something light where you can add layers under it. However, when I had to face the Himalayan cold, I was still quite happy to have a big coat. I found one in a «Salvation Army » in New Zealand. So, it all depends where you intend to go.
-Tee-shirts (1 long sleeves)
I left with 2 tee-shirts, and it was maybe a little light. 4 tee-shirts seem to me better. When you travel in tropical areas, it is not impossible to change 2 or 3 times your tee-shirt every day.
I finally used a blue jean and a light trouser. The blue jean, though, is quite heavy in the bag during summer, but it last long enough to be a good investment. Also, you can use it in almost any situation.
Very useful too. A simple tee-shirt is sometimes not enough. Even in summer, I always traveled with a light pull-over and a sweat-shirt.
-Winter wool socks
I really invested in winter wool socks when the temperature went very low under 0. In Kazakhstan, I even bought socks made of dog wool, which was very useful at -29°C. However, it is not useful to pack up with those heavy socks because they take a lot of place in the backpack. Anyway, you will surely find directly in the place you need, for generally cheaper than in France.
I forgot too in the beginning. I regretted it even more than the winter cap. I even had to use my socks to cover my fingers, which was just useful for emergency. A pair of gloves are very useful when you hitchhike in winter. Once I bought one, I always kept it on the bottom of my bag and I never regret it. Thumb's up !
Add -Long John (long underwear)
I discovered this when I cross China and the Tibetan plateau during winter. This long and warm underwear totally changed my life. Warm, wind-cutting, I totally advice it for the cold winters. You will find it easily in China, if this is where you intend to go. Thumb's up !
As it is important to look at the drivers in the eyes, I don't advice it for hitchhiking. Indeed, sunglasses seem to break the eye contact, which is so important while hitchhiking.
For the walkers and cyclists, it can be useful, especially when the altitude is high as in the altiplano, or when the landscape is very clear, as with the Himalayan snow, or the Thailand white sand beaches.
I found second-hand Nike hiking shoes in the Eugene's « Salvation Army » in the United States. Those shops that sell everything second hand are really treasure caves. For 5 dollars (yes!!), those shoes followed for 2 intense years of walking. I was using them especially for my hitchhiking days, so for the effort.
Then, my host offered me a new pair in Kunming, China. They followed me all the way to Romania. I advice them for winter, as they cover pretty well the extremities.
-City shoes / Converse
I have a little preference for the Converse. Cheap, available everywhere, light, I always had one for my sightseeing days, between two legs of the journey.
Add - Flip flops
For half of Africa, Middle East, Southeast Asia, the Amazone and all the tropical areas, it was my choice. Easy to carry, no value at all so no damage in case of sudden disappearance, useful for hazardous showers, easy to replace, the flip flops were for me a “must have” during this journey. Thumb's up !
Very useful. A little bit like the Mac Gyver tool that can save a situation. I used for example to make a fire in the Bolivian altiplano. It might have saved my life. I would even advice two, just in case. Thumb's up !
It has been useful many times. For making sandwiches, uncorking a bottle. Enough to bring it along.
This could eventually be useful when you want to change money in the black market. I sometimes used a cheap cellphone for this, even if it couldn't calculate anything, just to bluff. Anyway, it is important to always know the exact change rate before to change anything. Easy to say maybe, but not always to do.
Add - Mountain bag
The most important is that it doesn't let the water go inside. Also, with the air that it keeps, the shocks are minimize. It takes place, but if can protect effectively your most valuables items. I used it as a computer bag and it protected my netbook until the end of the journey.
A real good idea. Unbelievable maybe, but many economic hotel rooms in some “Third World' countries don't have anything to lock the door. Sometimes, it is even better to substitute the padlock given by your own. Some employee are not always nice. Useful also to lock your backpack in public areas, or in the bus. I heard so many stories of travelers who got their bag open during their bus travel, especially at night, that it can be worst using it. Thumb's up !
I never had candle, and never needed it neither. In case of electricity cut, your host will surely have some. If you are outside, I doubt that the wind let you keep your candle on for a long time. False good idea?
In my situation, the compass was totally useless. In the extreme cases, I was using the sun. Raising on the east, going down on the west. But as my journey was mostly happening on the main roads, I was rarely in a situation to be lost. However, it might be useful for hikers or cyclists.
After a second thought, I don't advice to give gifts for “nothing”. Worst, it can encourage the youth to keep begging and to take them off totally from school. If you want to help, try to make your gift “deserved”. To help financially is, strange enough to be told, a full-time job. It must go after a deep study of the situation, of the problem, of the culture...
Not very useful, except for the one who go to hike for a long time. There, a little rope can be used to dry the washed clothes.
-Towel, the one that dries at 90%
Wonderful item. Useful, light, small, and that dries very quickly. A good investment. I had 2 during this journey. Not because the first was overused, but because I lost it in the ocean. Thumb's up !
I got a very light one. Brand Quechua, extreme limit at -10°C. Very small (as a bottle of water), light, it has been very useful during the journey. Definitely not accurate for the night outside during winter, it still allowed me to have a sleep pretty much everywhere, letting me waking up alive in the morning. This one follow me too for the 5 and a half years on the road. Thumb's up !
I discover a good function during this journey, that made it essential afterward. As a very thin an extra light cover that I put on the floor, it helps me to keep my clothes quite clean. For the size of a packet of tissues, I totally advice it to the extreme travelers, who don't mind too much sleeping outside. Thumb's up !
I advice it, but you can wait to be on the road to buy one. This is extremely expensive in France, which is not the case in most countries. For just few dollars, you will get what you want, and this will definitely help you.
I spent half of my journey without cellphone. To not have one gives you more freedom. In close contact with the local population, I still found an interest to get a cellphone. It made easier to access my hosts, to meet the schools, eventually contact journalists, help to contact the boat captain and offer a last solution if you are stuck somewhere with a problem. I unblock it for almost nothing in Uganda, and I could buy a simcard for one or two dollars in most countries.
Much more useful than the candle, it really helped me during my night walks or at night in general. The headlight was also very useful on the boat. I never was disappointed. Thumb's up !
Add – Flexible box
A little flexible box, that can also be an empty first-aid kit, can be useful. I used one to put camera batteries, phone, sewing kit, simcards, Swiss knife, lighter, glue, black marker, scissors, little rope, headlight, multi-plug, emergency blanket, and all the little objects that I found useful.
To keep all the bathing items together, I advice it. Mine followed for the all journey. Nothing special in the brand, but having one seemed to me quite useful.
Thumb's up !
-Toothbrush and toothpaste
Long term traveler doesn't mean to become a caveman. Keep a fresh mouth, if not to keep your hosts happy!
Having not, or so few, hair, I found that shampoo was quite useless. For those who have hairs, it might be useful.
It can save a situation in an emergency case. Otherwise, it's always pleasant to have the underarms that don't smell super bad. Once again, if you don't do it for you, do it for your hosts!
-Shaver, gel, aftershave
Hand shaver and soap were enough for me. No gel or aftershave. I could use blades of Wilkingson, and Gillette for a very long time. It scratches a bit, but the most important is here: to be clean and presentable.
-Soap in its soapbox
The soapbox is also a “must have”. I saw some travelers who were trying to keep their soap in plastic bags, or tissues. Come on! A soapbox, created especially for this, can save your clothes and will keep you soap in a good shape. It doesn't even cost a dollar. A real Thumb's up !
First-aid kit :
Having some aspirins can't hurt, also some disinfecting antiseptic, and some pills against diarrhea. For the rest, it is better to see in the pharmacy as the local usually know better what are the treatments for local sicknesses.
During this journey, I almost never had medicines with me. I was indeed very lucky, but the fact to always stay connected to civilization helped a lot.
I never really used it. I recommend it though for the cyclists, the hikers and those who have very clear skin.
-Glasses / Contact lenses
I started my journey with contact lenses, that I had to change every day. I must admit that it wasn't really easy to follow with this way of traveling! I heard it was possible to get contact lenses that just needed to be changed once a month. To confirm.
For the glasses, I had several during my journey. It was a good surprise to see that I could even buy some in the street. In Colombia, Iran, it cost between 5 and 10 dollars.
Very simple and a “must have” too. I always had toilet paper with me. Even a little bit, and it saved me so many times. How many bathroom without paper neither water did I see during my journey? Almost 50% I would probably say. Thumb's up !
It can save life, as well as being totally useless. Hopefully, it was for me useless. As we never know, just take some in cases. It could s ave a life the time to reach the next hospital.
-Mosquito and insect repellent
I almost never used repellent. However, I found as fast as I can a mosquito net, especially during the crossing of Africa were the mosquito are quite notorious to carry malaria. A mosquito net was for me the best solution. I also use my little rope to fix this “cage”. Successfully indeed, as I didn't get sick.
Papers and money :
-Photo album (family, friends, country)
Wonderful tool for traveling. I would even say a “must have” too, in the process to meet people, to socially exchange. It will bring a little bit of your world to your host of a night. A pictures talk sometimes much more than words. Thumb's very up!
A small notebook, small enough to get in your pocket. I could write the contact of every people I met, but also details, thoughts. Having this notebook close to me helped me to not forget. At the end of the day, or every three days, I was reporting those little notes to my diary, which was a bit bigger. Thumb's up !
If you have a health problem important enough, you might consider take as much information as you can. On my side, I was just carrying my vaccine book, with a declaration of my blood group inside. Who knows, that could have save my life.
-Passport / ID
Let's say that it is difficult to travel without. An ID too can be useful in some situations where you prefer not to use your passport. Also, as a tip, try to get a photocopy of the information page and visa page of your passport. In some very corrupted countries, as Central Asia, Venezuela or others, it might be better to show this. You can also certified it in your embassy (for French citizen at least) Sometimes it is free.
-International driving license (French)
Good for one year, so not good for the next 4,5 years on my case. It is free to get in the Prefecture. However, no one never ask it to me. I didn't have neither the occasion to drive a lot. The national driving license seemed to be more useful though. As to rent a motorbike in Bali for example.
-Photocopy of important papers
Yes two times. Moreover, scan it and send it to yourself in your email. Thumb's up !
-Cash – dollars
Unfortunately, this is a “must have”. I hate to have too much cash with me, but I have to admit that not having enough has been a problem several times. For example, impossible to use ATM in Sudan, credit card blocked in Colombia, bad exchange rate in Venezuela, Uzbekistan, Iran... I had generally 100 US dollar that I put in different places on my person or bag.
I advice to have an insurance, even though I didn't for three and a half years. I stopped to have one as mine refused to reimburse me on my only request in two years. However, I would advice an insurance for the big needs, as major hospital care or so. For the little sickness, forget about it. There are still many countries where this is free or very cheap. Argentina, Brazil, etc... Though, try to avoid to see the doctor in the USA or Australia. Absolutely non-sense prices there!
-Belt – Documents pouch
Here is another very good idea. I always kept a hidden belt on the bottom of my back. Inside, a ziploc bag where I was hiding my most important documents. Passport, credit card, cash, etc... I never separated from it, and never got it stolen. I also had a belt where was sewed a secret pocket. This allowed me to put my cash a bit everywhere. Thumb's up !
Add - Wallet
Very useful. It is always better to not flash all your cash for minor purchases. I was usually putting my daily budget in it, every day. It also helped me control my spending. Thumb's up !
Always useful to get some in advance. For the visas, for the immigration crossing, for many requests. Get a reserve, it will save many hassles. Thumb's up !
I never felt I needed any. In fact, I found more useful to have cash, and especially US dollar. However, maybe one or two in case of emergency?
-Credit card visa
Source of easiness, but source of problem too. But how to do without? Everywhere or almost (except Sudan, Venezuela, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran), I could use ATM without having to carry cash with me. But sometimes, for obscure safety reasons, my bank was cutting it or blocking it. When I had just 5 US dollars with me at this moment, that was a real problem. Unfortunately, this is always when we need to go to the ATM. Here is why it is important to always carry some cash with you, as one hundred dollars for example. That will give you time to fix the situation.
In my travel book, I had world and continents maps. This was helping me to describe my itinerary, or to spend days of talking with fellow travelers. Useful? Not necessarily. Entertaining? Absolutely.
However, I used a road atlas for hitchhiking in China. This one was in Chinese writing. It changed my life, as communication was extremely difficult and the number of roads too many.
Add – Travel guide
As Lonely Planet, Bradt, etc... Even though those guide are sometimes adapted to a certain demand, I found an interest in them. Country and city maps, history, and some other information were greatly appreciated to get the first information, before to get deeper with the locals.
The investment is also close to zero. I found my first travel guide in a Backpacker (I exchange it against a novel), then I was trading it with the one of the next country when I was meeting travelers coming from there.
-5 dices – cards
I never really have any games with me. I preferred to let my host make me discover the local interests. Although, I always had a book in my bag. A “must have” while crossing the ocean.
A little bit of music too, that I listened with a cheap MP3. But most of the time, I preferred listen to the silence, or the sounds my surroundings.
I had two camera during my travel. The Sanyo, that was filming as well. High quality, little size. The only problem is that it looked a bit like a gun, which scared some people. I lost it in the Bolivian altiplano.
The second was a Kodak bridge. Bigger, stronger, it followed me for 3 and a half years, and I still have it. Maybe not the best for discretion, but it has the asset to show my pacific intentions.
I think that having two camera, a small one and a bigger, are the best.
-Memory card for the camera
I didn't keep my pictures for long in the camera, as I was transferring them straight away on my netbook. If you want big size pictures, better maybe to also have a bigger memory card, and a bigger computer.
I didn't use video camera, neither film a lot during this journey. I was just using the video mode of the my camera, which actually remained nice souvenirs. If you consider doing something more professional,then it will probably better to consider something else than simple camera.
Very important, but not enough. I met so many travelers who got their pictures and videos stolen, so double, even triple save everything you have.
During my journey, I used 2 USB, an external hard-drive, a netbook. Also, I was always sending my pictures back home via internet. I used this kind of website, that can be useful: www.mycoursier.com
Backpack and tent :
For this long journey, I found a netbook very useful. I could stock my pictures, organize Powerpoint to show in schools, write articles for the website, find Couchsurfing hosts (especially in USA/Australia where internet coffee are rare), sending my documents to France, talk with my family via skype... I had 4 in 5 years, so a real investment, but I finally found how I could protect my netbook to the many shocks he was facing once on the road: “a mountain bag'”. Thumb's up !
- Backpack 65 liter
- Backpack 20 liter
- Two places tent
- 1 pair of cotton socks
- 5 boxers
- 1 bathing suit
- 1 cap
- 1 scarf
- 1 coat goretex
- Jacket long sleeve
- Tee-shirt (1 long sleeve) => seing an establishment of a Tee-shirt “sponsors”
- 2 trousers light
- 1 impermeable trousers
- 1 polar
- 1 long johns
- 3 pairs of socks of mountain
- Sunglasses with rigid case
Toilet bag :
- Multi-fonction pocket knife
- Clothes pins - powder to wash
- Small hand towel
- Dustbins bags
- a stopper for sink
- Opens box - Opens bottle
- Plastic glasses
- 3 locks
- Present (bics)
- Cushion of voyage
- Gourd with isothermal bag
- Flashlight (frontal preferably)
- Alarm clock
- Towel essorable at 90%
- Sewing case - nurse pins - rubber bands
- Bag of bed
- Meat bag
- Cover of survival
Medical case :
- Minis - case
- Toothbrushes and toothpaste
- Glove of toilet
- Razor, foam, after-shave
- Little mirror, small scissors
- Soap in its limps seals
- Lingettes refreshing and disinfectants
Papers and Money :
- First-aid kit travels
- Aspirine (to be crunched)- Bandages
- Solar product
- Glasses of sight/Lents
- Toilet paper
- Small disinfectant
- Anti-paludic Traitement
- Répulsifs anti-mosquito and insects
- Pelletizes to purify water
- Photo Album (family, friends, country)
- Address book
- Health record
- Passeport - Indentity card
- International driving license
- Photocopy of important papers
- Cash (Dollars)
- Writing paper
- Identity Photos
- Travellers cheques
- Visa card
- Small atlas
- Paire de jumelles
- 5 dice - Charts
- Book to learn Spanish
- Numerical Camera (for photographs)
- Chart of safeguard for camera
- Numerical Camera (for movies)
- AVA (insurance voyages and assistance) Plane Health International: 690 euros for 12 months