How to pack

Roll versus fold

Right up there with the wheelie-bag versus backpack debate, rollers versus folders is another debate going back to the Neolithic period. As with most things, with compromise lies the most sensible path to packing.

Certain things lend themselves to rolling: Socks, underwear, stockings, T-shirts and the like can all be rolled up very tightly and the wrinkles will either shake out quickly or (unless you’re walking around in your underwear) not matter.

Other clothes, button-down shirts, dresses and blouses may well roll up real tight, but they’ll be a wrinkled mess when you unroll them—a problem unless you’re travelling with an iron... you’re not are you? (Or you just don't care.) So these you may want to fold rather than roll.

Heavier clothes, like denim jeans, slacks, jackets and the like should not be rolled as if you fold them they’ll take up less space than when they are rolled (and in the case of slacks, retain more of their crisp lines).

Toiletries and medical kit

Some people travel with a toothbrush and some roll-on deodorant, and others with enough gear to start a chemist. There is no hard and fast rule here, but what you will need, regardless of quantity, is a water resistant bag to put it all in. This might be a smart, zipped toiletries bag, or it might just be a plastic bag from the corner store—it doesn’t matter how it looks. The bag needs to protect your toiletries from water (in the bathroom and so on) but also, in the event of your toothpaste or deodorant breaking and/or leaking, protect the rest of your gear in your bag. Take our word for it: It takes a while to get a full tube of toothpaste out of your clothes.

As far as the contents go, toothbrush, toothpaste and deodorant is pretty much your base level for not grossing out the person stuck next to you on the bus. Bear in mind that all mainstream toiletries can be purchased in Southeast Asia, so if you’re coming for a year, you don’t need to pack a year's worth of toothpaste.

Regardless of what's in the bag, it belongs near the top of your pack—both for ease of access, but also to minimise the damage when the perfume or toothpaste explodes.

Plastic bags

Just because your pack or suitcase says it's waterproof doesn’t mean it's monsoon-proof. What about when a luggage handler drops it in the ocean? You’d be amazed just how often this happens. Anything important, be it paperwork, electronics or anything else, should be kept in plastic bags. If your bag does get accidentally thrown off the ferry (or the ferry sinks), then the important stuff has a better chance of surviving.

Order of packing

If you’re travelling with a backpack, the order of packing is much more important than if you’re using a suitcase. You want what you’re going to be using most frequently near the top and what you’re less likely to need at the bottom.

It sounds like common sense, right?

You’d be surprised (or not) just how many times we’ve found the thing we need is right at the bottom of the pack. The order can shift obviously. On the islands, swimming every day? Jeans at the bottom. Trekking through the northern mountains? Swimwear at the bottom.

The middle is a morass of the in-between stuff, like T-shirts and underwear, while at the top you have toiletries and other bits and pieces you may need quick access to—perhaps a laptop power cable. It depends really on what you’re packing (you read that bit already right?).

Further reading

Planning well is an integral part of getting the most out of your trip. Be it picking the right backpack, the right vaccinations or the right country, the simple decisions are often the most important.

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