When we travel to third world countries, I usually start packing about a month in advance of the trip so that I have plenty of time to meditate on the travel list and decide what I really need and what I don’t. Less is more if you’re going to be traveling overland in third world countries. Don’t bring seven changes of clothes. And leave the extra pair of shoes at home. Bring what you need and nothing more.
Below is a list of travel essentials if you’re going abroad for a month or longer…
Travel Essentials Checklist
When we went to Nepal to live for six weeks, I took along rechargeable lights. When we went to Egypt we took along a portable reverse osmosis system (see “Checked Baggage”). Every destination is different, so consider this as you put your travel essentials together for your trip to a third world country! Sometimes it makes sense to take some extras with you, but otherwise, pack smart by packing light! There’s nothing worse than carrying non-necessities on your back for months at a time!
What to Wear
Though you might pack up to 3 changes of clothing and a week’s worth of underwear in your checked baggage, be sure that you choose clothing items to wear on plane-day that you’d be willing to wear every day of your life while you’re traveling. That way, if you get separated from your luggage for any length of time, it won’t be a major crisis.
- Pants that dry easily when washed and that have zippered pockets. Ideally, if you’re going to a third world country in a warm climate, your pants should be “convertible” into shorts or they should at least be able to be tied up to your knees so you don’t suffocate on hot days. Spray them down with permethrin before you leave if you’re traveling to a malaria zone.
- Underwear that washes and dries easily like ExOfficio travel undees for men and women. Consider getting a pair of Clever Travel Companion underwear for women or Pocket Underwear from Stashitware for men to keep your valuable safe in sketchy areas. Use the pockets to stash your passports and some extra cash.
- Wear layers on your upper body, but keep in mind that it can mighty chilly en route on the airplane. Again, if you’re going into a malaria zone, put permethrin on your clothes before you leave home.
- Consider taking along either a rain jacket or coat that rolls up into an airplane pillow. Attach the pillow to the handle of your carry-on and then it won’t take up extra room in your baggage.
- Wear shoes, not flip flops. Most people don’t realize that they can catch diseases like hookworm infection through their feet. In tropical climates where malaria is endemic, you can also get bitten on the bare skin of your feet. If there’s a crash landing or your plane needs to be evacuated, it’s easier to move toward the door quickly in tie-on shoes. And you never know who you’ll be traveling with on an airplane. We flew between Ethiopia and South Africa during the Ebola epidemic, for example, when any kind of contact with the blood and body fluids of another person could have been deadly. Why risk it? Wearing flip flops also makes you a good target for pickpockets as you’re waiting to pick up your bags too. The best kind of shoes to wear on an international flight is either Lems or Vibram’s toe shoes, in my opinion because feet swell at higher altitudes making less roomy shoes uncomfortable. Lems especially don’t pinch your feet into an unnatural position like most shoes do so you can wear them for long hours and they won’t hurt your feet.
What to Put In Your Pockets
- Hand sanitizer (enough said.)
- Put your Mobile phone in a zippered pocket and use it as a travel camera, a communication device, and a source of information.
- A tiny bag of emergency meds, enough for one dosage of headache medicine, a stomach antidote like Pepto Bismol in pill form or Ginger Trips (safer for kids), and an anti-diarrheal like loperamide. And, if possible, include one dose of a broad spectrum antibiotic in this little bag as well. That way, if you get sick en route somewhere and you know what’s wrong, you can take the first dose of antibiotics without having to scavenge through the Med Bag. Zithromax is a good choice as a broad spectrum antibiotic. I prefer Zithromax, but Ciprofloxacin is another good choice.
- A tampon or other women’s hygiene item (because I’m a woman). I always take a stash of Kotex compact tampons with me because it’s hard to find tampons in most third world countries. You can read my article here about how the presence or absence of tampons can say a lot about the country’s views on women’s rights. In India, for example, some girls must drop out of school simply because they can’t obtain the hygiene supplies they need to deal with their periods . But I digress.
- A small stash of toilet paper for land travel across third world countries. You never know when you’ll need it.
When we travel to third world countries, we take our Osprey travel backpacks that come with both a main compartment and a carry-on that can be zippered onto the front of the main compartment. In my opinion, backpacks are always better than roll-behind luggage in places with poor infrastructure. We like the Osprey travel backpack line because they’re extremely durable and the ability to attach the carry-on to the front makes it easy to move from place to place with just three big bags.
When traveling by air, you can generally take one carry-on and one “personal item” like a purse on board. Choose your purse wisely if you’re a woman. If you’re carrying a musical instrument as a personal item, get a case with some extra storage compartments in it to store things like snacks for the ride.
- Purse or Message Bag – I carry a Travelon Anti-Theft Messenger Bag with me on long trips. All of the zippered compartments have an extra fastening lock that makes them more challenging for pickpockets to decipher. And it’s a roomy bag. I carry extra meds in one compartment and airline compliant toiletries in another.
- The Med Bag + Pajamas & Underwear (Your Carry-on)
This is one of the most important things you’ll carry with you so pack the meds you need into a carry-on. Most of the time, this bag will seem like dead weight — an item that you carry, but rarely open and use. But if and when you need that med bag, you’ll be so glad to have it with you! You can read this article about how I packed our Med Bag for a five week trip to India. Below is an overview of what to include in the bag:
- A small medical book with information about diseases you might encounter, signs and symptoms, and commonly used drugs for treating those infections. The Internet isn’t always available in medical emergencies. Lonely Planet has some helpful travel medicine books for different areas of the world including Central and South America, Africa, and Asia & India.
- Non-prescription medications to treat 1) diarrhea (loperamide) 2) digestive upsets (Pepto Bismol) 3) sinus and respiratory congestion (pseudoephedrine) 4) lower respiratory issues (guafenisen) 5) headache (ibuprophen, acetaminophen, or aspirin) 6) allergy medication (benadryl and diphenhydramine) 7) eye lubricating drops 8) a cavity repair kit 8) triple antibiotic skin cream 9) bandages 10) superglue like VetBond for use as stitches in an emergency
- Prescription medications:
If you have the ability to get some prescription medications to carry with you when you travel, by all means, do so. If you go to a travel medicine clinic, you may or may not be able to get these antibiotics, but your general practitioner may be willing to provide you with a prescription for at least some of these things. Otherwise, you can set out on a quest to get these antibiotics in the country you’re planning to travel to. Just make sure that the prescription drugs you buy are the real deal and not a knock-off. This can be a problem in places like India, for example.
Having antibiotic treatments can literally save your life when you’re in a third world country. Here are some essential prescription medications for travel to third world countries:
- Antibiotic eye drops
- Get a lightweight, compact pair of pajamas to pack into this carry-on along with up to a week’s worth of underwear.
It’s usually best to travel without checked baggage whenever you can, but it’s also realistic to assume that if you’re traveling to a third world country, you’ll probably want to take along a few important “extras”:
- We sometimes carry along a portable reverse osmosis system to avoid having to carry five gallons of bottled water back to our living space each day. Be prepared to have to replace parts for these systems in the country you’re traveling to, though.
- Up to 3 changes of clothes in colors and patterns that are interchangeable.
- Bring a scarf as a head-cover if you’re traveling to countries in Arabia or India.
- Flip flops. Wear them in the shower or for quick trips outside.
- Once, in India, we had to sleep on moldy beds with moldy pillows, which is why we always carry a cocoon silk travel sheet and Cocoon travel pillows with us. It’s not uncommon to come home from third world travel with things like ringworm from dirty bed sheets.
- Bring along an a big bottle of hand sanitizer to refill your little bottles when they run out.
References: Peck, E. (2016). Free Tampons Should Be a Human Right. Available online: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/free-tampons-human-right_us_56deffbce4b03a40567a1e33 January 6, 2017.