Ten tips for overland travel!
We learnt a lot on our epic overland journey from London to Oz, so thought that it’s about time we shared some of this newfound travel wisdom! Most of our travels have been by bus and by train, so a lot of these tips will relate to that…
Top ten tips…
#1 Travel Light
This is by far the ‘golden rule’ of overlanding. You will find that many border crossings require you walk in some form or another so the last thing you want is a 30kg backpack weighing you down. When we crossed from Nepal into Tibet, we faced a 30 minute walk up a mountain to reach the Friendship Bridge where Chinese officials were waiting. This, coupled with a few mudslides did not make for easy going.
Even our backpacks (which only weigh 11kgs) were a struggle! You’ll find that you can survive with far less items of clothing than you think – so this is the first way you can lose some of that bulk. For example – an absolute max of 5 days underwear is all you’ll need and probably only 3/4 tops with varying sleeve lengths!
As well as travelling light you need to travel ‘right’ – bring the right kind of clothing. Think lightweight and waterproof – leave the heavy hoodies, leggings and trousers at home and invest in some light weight ‘travel trousers’. You can get these with zips so that you can convert them to shorts or three-quarter lengths.
#2 Food Stash
If you’re travelling overland this will more than likely involve lengthy journeys on buses and trains (as well as potentially long waits at border points). Get prepared by starting up a food stash, filled with the essentials to keep you going. You may be in remote areas without shops so will want to have at least enough food to cover you for the next day or so. Again, think practical – high energy, healthy and non-perishable. The sorts of things we keep our food bags topped up with are dried fruit, some fresh fruit, biscuits, nuts, cereal bars (when you can find them!) and water.
You may also want to consider packets of instant noodles if you are able to get hot water, along with bread and some sort of filling that won’t go off too quick (think cured meats). The most important item of course is water, and plenty of it!
Since you will be packing so efficiently and won’t have a suitcase-full of clothing, keeping on top of your laundry while you’re away should be pretty easy. Buy small packets of washing powder (easy to find in Europe, requires a bit of digging elsewhere) and hand wash your stuff approximately every 3 days. If you’re staying in hostels you’ll most likely have access to washer and dryer machines so can afford to wait and do a load of washing at the end of the week. But once you get into the realm of hotels, steer clear of their laundry services as they charge per item and this can get quite pricey! Some of our fellow travellers forked out over£20 for washing their smalls at hotels, but we just dunked ours in the sink, gave them a scrub and hung them up to dry! The best times to do your washing are when you have a stop over of more than one night, as you’ll find that it sometimes takes a while to dry – particularly in humid climates.
#4 Little Essentials you may forget
There were a few items that we forget (or just didn’t think about taking with us) that we had to buy along the way or go without. In our view, you should definitely pack the following before setting off on your overland adventure…
Umbrella: Speaks for itself really and despite the fact we are visiting Asia during monsoon season, we didn’t bring one! Silly us.
Knife: Whether a simple penknife or full-blown Swiss Army knife with all the attachments, you’ll need to bring one of these. We use ours for peeling fruit from street stalls (or any fruit that we buy really!). To stay healthy, you’ll want plenty of fresh fruit where possible, but you don’t want to risk a dodgy tummy – particularly if you’re travelling in countries not known for their high hygiene standards. We first had a desperate need for a knife when we hit Pakistan, and since then, we’ve been using it to peel all our oranges and apples!
Micro travel towel: Hostels don’t provide towels etc, so get yourself a travel towel which packs up small and drys a lot quicker than normal towels.
Mosquito Nets: We had heard rumours that these could be purchased easily en route, but decided to invest in one before we left. We were glad we did, as many other people struggled to find them and have had a few nasty surprises after waking up!
Sleeping Bag: Whether this is to guard against dodgy sheets, to give you some extra warmth or in preparation for a spot of camping, a sleeping bag is definitely an essential.
Torch: You’ll be surprised at just how many countries suffer from long and persistent power cuts. We got caught out a number of times – particularly in Nepal, Pakistan and India where blackouts combined with torrential rain made getting around in the dark nearly impossible!
Hand Sanitiser: DO NOT LEAVE THIS OUT. Hand sanitiser has been our lifeline – many public toilets across Europe and Asia are not nice and you’ll want to wash your hands each time you go! Same with before you eat – rub on the hand sanitiser and you’ll feel safe to pick up anything by hand! These can be bought from pretty much any supermarket so stock up before you leave.
#5 A decent pair of walking shoes
This is one of the items we hummed and haaahed about before we left. Do we really need to buy walking shoes when we’ve both got trainers? Answer = YES! These are another essential for overland travel as you will need to do a lot of walking and often over unpredictable terrain. Again, these are one of the things we have worn pretty much every day of our trip. Make sure they are waterproof too as soggy, itchy feet are not fun.
#6 Keep yourself entertained
Whilst looking out of bus or train windows at the new and exciting world you’re travelling through will keep you entertained for a while, it’s sometimes not enough! Bring a pack of cards with you or any kind of ‘travel game’ (we had a mini-checkers board). Even a notepad can act as a form of entertainment as we found on our 48 hour Lhasa to Beijing train. Noughts and Crosses, Pictionary and Hangman all being our notepad games of choice! One thing that we neglected to bring was an IPod or mp3 player. We’ve missed listening to music and they are great for keeping your mind off long hours and bumpy rides!
#7 First Aid
We spent quite a long time preparing our first aid kit. Whilst we packed a sterile needle kit just in case anything went wrong in the more remote Cambodia and Laos, this probably isn’t necessary for many people. Essential first-aid items are painkillers, plasters, anti-septic and tablets for ‘upset tummies’! While not strictly first aid, we thought we would mention to the ladies to bring a supply of feminine products with you – Tampax is not easy to find everywhere in the world and you don’t want to be caught short!
#8 Leave the ‘luxuries’ at home
No matter how much you like to read to while away the hours, don’t be tempted to pack too many books. These simply weigh you down and you can always find something to catch your eye at the book exchanges in hostels. You should also limit your footwear – no need to bring shoes ‘in case you need to dress up’, so ladies, leave the high heels at home. Better to get a pair of black pumps if you want to change into them at night. My pair of ‘Flatmates’ fold up really small and are a nice change from flip flops and walking boots.
I’ll highlight again the need to travel light. Pick clothing that will all match each other if you want some variation, instead of taking the entire contents of your wardrobe. Think about whether or not you really need to take jewellery with you – not only does it attract thieves but necklaces etc will probably just make you feel uncomfortable in hot weather.
#9 Invest in a travel gas cooker
This goes back to the food stash – if you want to save money on meals and carry some instant noodles with you, a gas cooker is the perfect solution. We’d suggest this instead of a travel kettle as you wont always have access to an electricity supply. Plus with a gas cooker you can cook all sorts of things, not just noodles!
#10 Internet Access
It’s worth bringing a netbook with you on your travels if you want to access the internet. Laptops are too big and heavy but a netbook is the perfect size and will probably fit neatly into your daypack. Wifi access is a lot more common than we first thought and 9 times out of 10, it’s free to use in hostels and hotels. The computers that are made available (and not all hostels provide these) will cost you money to use – not a lot but it all adds up. You’re also not always looking over your shoulder at who is waiting to use the computer if you have your own netbook. They are also handy if you want to upload some films to watch on your travels!
So these are our top ten tips for travelling overland. These are based on our own experiences but if you want to do your bit for the novice traveller and give some advice, leave a comment below…!
Some of my best travel memories were made while I watched the sunset over rivers, mountains or cityscapes around the world. I’m sure that the sunsets I’ve witnessed are pretty much unbeatable, but decided to ask a bunch of other travellers to send in their pics too…
Would you love to go travelling, but are nervous or concerned about jetting off on your own? This isn’t an unusual problem but don’t dismiss it, as it can be an incredibly rewarding experience, albeit a little nerve-wracking at times!