When I first created this site, I read a lot of books on how to create a successful blog. Each and every guide told me that the first step was finding my niche. I’ve read blogs catered for budget backpackers, ones for luxury jetsetters and some for adventurous expats. There are so many travel blogs out there that it is almost impossible to create something unique. This is when I thought about the ways I might travel differently from the average backpacker.
I discovered my niche – bartending your way around South East Asia. Since my first ever visit to Thailand, I have traveled the area whilst working on and off in bars. I unexpectedly fell into it and have continued for a multitude of reasons… I don’t have a lot of money so it saves on my expenses. I like entering a community and connecting to people who will become my lifelong friends. I like getting comfortable and staying in an area for long enough I can call it home. And finally, I find that working with locals gives you an insight into the country’s culture that you wouldn’t otherwise see.
I was a couple of clicks away from starting a blog focused on Western Expats Working in South East Asian Bars. I seriously considered centering my blog on this subject but then quickly realised my audience would be very limited. And drunk.
Even though working around South East Asia’s bars will not be my main focus, it will inevitably be featured a lot. This year, I will be primarily based in Vang Vieng, Laos, so it is with this thought that I present my alternative packing list for 6 months bartending in South East Asia!
When it comes to essential backpacking paraphernalia, my arsenal is pretty minimal. My carry on luggage consists of my electronics along with my passport and any other travel documents I will need. I have a one way flight and no other planned travel arrangements, so I’ll just keep my e-ticket in my passport.
I know many of my fellow backpackers carry around a document holder with all their hotel bookings and flight details enclosed. However, I know that my trip will consist of one night in Bangkok, an overnight train to Vientiane (the ticket I will buy at the train station) and a 5 hour minibus ride through the mountains to Vang Vieng (which I shall book at the bus station). I only usually have one travel arrangement booked at a time because I’m unorganized and overly spontaneous.
Apart from my passport and my hair straighteners, a combination padlock is my most essential travel item. It’s incredibly useful for staying in dorms when you leave you bag unattended and for keeping piece of mind that your belongings will be safe. I’d never use a key padlock as there is still a padlock on my backpack from 2011 that I’ve never found the key for.
I always make sure I leave England with as many passport pictures of myself as I can get my hands on. This just means that I’m always prepared for applying for visas and it cuts down queuing times at immigration. You’ll often find in South East Asia that you need a picture for your visa form, if you don’t have one to hand then you’ll have to queue up to get one taken. And pay an increased fee.
The last essential item on my list is a microfibre towel. These fast drying towels are lightweight and will make traveling on to your next destination so much easier. No one wants a soggy towel stinking up their backpack, so these towels are perfect for being on the go. My towel usually dries within 10 minutes once I hang it up in the heat. Hostels will usually provide you with a towel, but having your own is one of the only luxuries you might experience when backpacking.
I have a confession about my luggage. I pack far too many clothes. I pack more clothes then most people have in their wardrobes at home. I do this because I know I will be based in Vang Vieng for a long time and won’t have to repack my bag every couple of days. I also know that I will get bored of my clothes and will probably leave some behind.
I only take clothes I don’t care too much about (I leave all my Moschino and Versace dresses at home) as I know some of them will inevitably be lost in the laundry. My backpack looks a little something like this:
5 pairs of shorts
3 skirts (one over the knee length for religious ceremonies and formal events)
6 dresses for parties and going out
1 long sleeved woolen jumper (for cold bus rides and chilly airports)
1 long sleeved shirt (for temples)
1 pair of harem pants (for traveling comfortably and for temples)
4 bras and 15 pairs of knickers
1 pair of flip flops and 1 pair of trainers (for trekking)
My clothing packing list is absolutely ridiculous and I advice anyone who is traveling to South East Asia to look at my list, and then half it. Maybe even quarter it. Basically, don’t pay any attention to me, save yourself some trouble and pack light.
The objects that take up the most room in my backpack and that are equally the most unnecessary, are my costumes. Yes. I travel to South East Asia armed with an armory of fancy dress outfits. I’ve previously traveled as a pink pirate, Wonderwoman and Superman. This year I have opted for a sailor, a cheerleader and a mermaid.
The first advice I was ever given when backpacking was to always travel with a hanging wash bag. Sounds simple but it really did make life that bit simpler. When you’re living in the comfort of your own home, everything has it’s own place. Hostel bathrooms usually come with very limited surface space and a hanging bag keeps everything organised so you know where to find it.
The second piece of advice I was ever given was to travel with as few liquids as possible. Over the years I’ve managed to narrow my liquids down to next to nothing, which is handy as nobody wants a bag full of shampoo drenched clothes.
My main lifesaver has been the cosmetic I use for almost everything, and that my friends is coconut oil. Seriously, if you don’t use this stuff already, it will genuinely change your life. It’s hopped up with nutrients and is incredibly versatile. I use it as moisturizer, body oil, deep hair conditioner, shaving cream, make up remover, deodorant, lip balm, hand cream… the list goes on. Hell, I could even eat it if I found myself starving in the jungle. Little tip though, solid coconut oil will melt in hot countries so be careful when opening the tub.
Another game changer for me was switching to solid shampoo and conditioner bars. They’re completely mess free and last a hell of a lot longer than your regular liquid shampoo. In terms of cleanliness I use Dr Bronner’s soap. It’s another all-in-one product that will last 10 times longer then your regular shower gel or body lotion.
First of all, yes that pink rectangle thing covered in hideous stickers is my laptop. Yes, that is the object in which I write all these deep and meaningful blog posts. Sometimes I feel like I take life too seriously, so having a stupid looking laptop sort of reminds me not to be so solemn. It’s not much but it’s the little things that count, right?
I’m super organised when it comes to cables. I carry a cable for each device I own and also a back up for my laptop and for my iPod, which are tied individually with colour coded hairbands. I bring 3 USB power adapters with me. There are usually two sockets available at a time and I have one for back up.
My most treasured electronic device is my iPod video. When I first started traveling in 2011, it was the only thing I owned that was worth any money. I loaded it with all my favourite music and movies so it was perfect for long bus journeys. I could bounce around to the latest party tracks, or relax to an informative podcast or just veg out in front of a rom com.
I supplement my iPod with what I think are the best headphones ever made – Tweedz. The sound quality is awesome and they slot perfectly in my ear. Above all else, the defining factor of Tweedz is their durability. The cords are wrapped with nylon, which means they’re invulnerable to snapping – perfect for chucking in your backpack. I’ve had a pair of Tweedz for 2 years now and not once have I come across any problems. Having said that, I do travel with a spare set of headphones – just in case!
The rest of my electronic collection includes a pink diamante encrusted mouse, a Sony W830 compact camera (I don’t trust myself with a DSLR), an Anker PowerCore power bank (losing power on a 24 hour bus ride is my worst nightmare), an X-Mini compact speaker (sometimes you just wanna pump the music) and lastly a DBPOWER Action Camera (like a GoPro but very cheap and a bit shit – I’ve used it once).
Here’s some more unconventional and silly stuff that I travel around with. This year I’ve decided to go out with 400g of glitter, which I will glue to my face with eyelash glue. Working behind the bar gives us an excuse to dress as weirdly as possible and lets face it, everyone likes a bit of sparkle. I’m also bringing with me two flower crowns, 3 bandannas (for when my hair looks rubbish) and a plethora of jewelry.
On most travel blogs these days you will find a packing list waxing lyrical about packing cubes. They come as individual bags that help you stay organised and allow you to easily pack and unpack your bag. I can’t believe I’ve never used them up until now as I am incredibly messy and I have a feeling they’re going to save me a lot of time.
The first thing I do when I arrive in a guesthouse is throw my bag on the floor, open it up and riffle through it’s contents. The t-shirt I want to wear is usually right at the bottom (sods law), so by the time I find it my clothes are strewn all over the room and I have to pack the whole damn thing again. This is the absolute bane of my life, so I’m hoping that now my clothes are categorized in these packing cubes, I will be a bit more organised.
Even though this packing list has been a bit alternative as I am a lunatic and pack a lot of useless crap, I’m hoping you guys will be able to find some useful advice in here. In conclusion, don’t pack as many clothes as me, cut down on your liquids and make good choices.
Each one of these products are both used and personally recommended by me. Although not product placements, some of the links are affiliate links, which means I will receive a percentage of the profit, but at no extra cost to you. This helps me maintain the site and keep bringing you awesome content.