I’ve dragged myself out of my hibernation that started nearly as soon as I boarded my plane until I got home yesterday to write this (still at my temporary housing without wifi) and do some errands before the Korean New Year closes everything. I learned very very fast on my trip that I was vastly under-prepared. I blame this on the idea that I had survived my trip last year to Bangkok with relative ease and escaped with barely a cold, I didn’t research anything about the places I was going and jumped without looking. I thought I would be fine. Totally fine. I misunderstood some of the writing on the tour itinerary and all this with the fact I booked the tour last minute and threw all my stuff together into my backpack last minute meant that I returned to Korea in a somewhat more beaten up shape then in which I had left it.
Tours tend to have suggested packing lists. Read these. Pack those things. Seriously. Our tour suggested swim suits. I didn’t pack this. I laughed at this. Where would I find a swim suit in Korea in winter? I regretted this. It suggested a headlamp, I hadn’t a clue where to find one let alone time. Only one or two other people in our entire group packed one. In the dark of an almost electricity free village we were staying at she had the easiest time getting around and most importantly finding and using the
Sunblock I had this idea that I’d buy sunblock there. I did that when I went to Bangkok. So I figured I’d just wait. But at our first stop I was there for less than 24 hours and moving nearly the entire time so I didn’t find any. At the airport the only place selling sunblock was the Duty Free Kiehls brand which did a round house kick to my wallet which I felt throughout the rest of my trip. I honestly regretted not packing any (or even retrieving from my apartment before I moved, Etude House’s sunblock stick)
Bug spray I honestly prefer less chemical filled versions of bug spray but when you’re in places where mosquitoes carry all sorts of diseases that will wreck havoc on your immune system you need something with high protection. Everyone on my trip had bug spray with 50% DEET. I went into a small shop in Laos and got something with 20%, the highest I could find. It worked about 90% of the time. However towards the end of my trip I had several bites. Remember they can bite through clothes so pack a big bottle and don’t wait till you to get it there.
Medicine I took the things I have. Allergy medicine and basic pain medication. I use my allergy medication often because I’m allergic to the yellow dust here in Korea and other random stuff in the air, and took the pain medication just in case. When I came to Korea I had a ton of medicine almost none of which I managed to use before it expired. So I didn’t have much or really anything else to take with me. You know how I said I came back beaten up? Outside of bites, my left elbow is a mess, not broken, but I fell and scraped it up pretty bad. Bumping against anything causes a stinging pain. I didn’t have anything to clean it with or bandage it up with other than some ridiculously tiny band-aids. I was very very lucky that the place I got hurt was willing to sit with me while my tourmates had fun and clean up my arm with medical alcohol and bandage it up (with cotton that I later had to take tweezers to remove) and that I was in Thailand and could go to a 711 and get something to clean it with later and some gauze. It’s healing, I’ve gotten it in pretty decent shape. But I also came home to find all of my Neosporin has expired and have kicked myself for not keeping my emergency kit up to date.
Also you should pack something for your stomach. When I travel I tend to stick to modern looking restaurants or places friends suggest and food they suggest.I also try to eat yogurt wherever I go. But this time I didn’t have time or access to yogurt in some of the places we went. Though we went to local places and modern looking shops we also ended up in places that were the only option, local local places. By the end of the trip to now, that wrecked havoc on my stomach and I ended up having to borrow from my fellow tour group members medicine, like charcoal tablets and Pepto Bismol and I felt pretty terrible about this because I was traveling a shorter time then they were and they may have need of it later.
Hand sanitize and baby wipes. Lots of places don’t have soap. I’m use to this. Not all bathrooms in Korea offer soap. Not even all bathrooms in the USA do either, honestly. And sometimes when you travel there might not be a shower or a hot shower and you’ll just be happy to have them.
Tissues Not every place is going to have toilet paper. It depends on where you travel to. But it’s true. Where we went there almost wasn’t any unless we were at a hotel. And a lot of my travel mates were sick and what seemed like a cold was being passed around like a cute puppy till everyone got sick. (I managed to avoid getting it while with them, we’ll see if I still got infected in a bit) Carrying around rolls of toilet paper just took care of all of this pretty easily. I carried around multiple packets of tissues which worked fine for me. It’s whatever you know you’re more comfortable with/will need.
Towel A towel is incredibly useful, even if your not hitchhiking through the galaxy. While some hotels are prepared for tour groups to borrow towels for their trips some are not. Taking a white towel on a muddy trek is probably going to get you in trouble with the hotel or guest house you’re staying at. I have a microfiber towel that dries incredibly fast and it’s probably the best travel towel. There are different brands and different sizes, so I would suggest going to your local camping or sports shop and asking about quick drying light weight portable travel towels and I’m sure someone will give you a recommendation. You won’t regret it.The fact that after a trip to a water fall all I had to do was give it one good wringing out and it was no longer soaking wet meant that tossing it into my bag wasn’t as nightmarish as when I put my wet clothes in.
Money for laundry My tour mentioned laundry and I hadn’t really thought about it. I packed enough clothes for my entire trip without having to do laundry and by the time I shoved my winter coat in among everything else and lugged it around I began to regret that decision. Especially when we kept ending up at places that did cheap laundry. All we needed were plastic bags big enough to carry the dirty laundry to the shop. Sure I would have looked like a cartoon character if I’d brought less clothing, but I ended up looking a bit like a cartoon character anyway. I always do gravitate towards the same outfits that I’m comfortable in. I really wish though I hadn’t packed so many pairs of socks. I ended up wearing flipflops nearly 99% of the time so they just added weight to the bottom of my bag and took up space. If there’s a laundry option use it. Especially if you have wet clothes. You don’t want to keep wet clothes in your bag for a long time. It’ll get gross. Believe me.
Sweatshirt Not every place your going, even if you’re going somewhere insanely tropical will be hot 100% of the time. Maybe to counteract that heat the grocery stores will be freezing, or maybe it will rain and the temperature will plunge, or you could have to take an overnight bus or train and those might have the air conditioning cranked for the entire trip. During our trip it was hot during the day but rather chilly at night and in the morning so I got a good work out of my sweater jacket.
Hat and sunglasses I tend to bring my sunglasses with me everywhere anyway, they’re prescription and I’ve gotten to a point where I kind of wince if it’s really bright out anyway. A hat though, I tend to not take those with me when I travel. I don’t always wear a hat much anymore. In college I had a hat on almost every time I went outside, but it’s a winter type hat and I needed it especially in winter so I wouldn’t freeze. So before I left I spent the day in Seoul with a friend buying last minute things, and had a hard time finding a basic baseball hat that wasn’t made out of a heavier fabric (it’s winter here so all the hats are winter hats) I found one later and it helped a lot, my scalp didn’t burn at all and combined with my sunglasses made it less difficult for me to walk around in the sun. It came back to Korea with me nearly as beaten up and dirty as I did.
Eyemask and earplugs I have these with me nearly constantly. I have noisy neighbors and my non-temporary apartment faced the parking lot and one wall was made of glass which meant anytime anyone drove in my entire room would be illuminated. My make shift curtains helped only a bit. However I feel like they’re pretty necessary on a tour. You never know how low on sleep you’ll be and how quickly they’ll help you to sleep on a 7 hour bus ride to your next destination. Or if you’re sharing a room and your roommate will talk in their sleep or if you’ll be at a hotel in a party city and there’s a screaming cat outside your door or neighbors partying through the night.
Practical shoes and flip flops When I hurt my arm I wished to no end that I had been wearing practical shoes. I slipped while walking down a path in flip flops and used my arm to stop myself from sliding further. I’m honestly very lucky I didn’t fall more often, and as a group we were probably pretty lucky we didn’t fall or get hurt more often since flip flops were practically a part of our “uniform”. If something you’re doing suggests practical shoes bring them along. Flip flops or sandals are a blessing in hot countries with temples where you’re constantly taking your shoes off, or even in restaurants/hotels where you have to take off your shoes. Suck it up for the extra weight and have both.
All toiletries Not all hotels or guest houses will offer shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, or even soap. Carry these. If you’re concerned about liquids I tend to carry around a tin of solid shampoo that I got from Lush and I love it. There are solid versions of probably any type of toiletry you may need. Also if you use tampons don’t expect to always find them where you’re going, pack those if you need them. Deodorant as well. Not every country sells these, and some places hike up the price (like South Korea).
Contacts As a person who has worn glasses long enough to forget half the time I’m wearing them, it wasn’t until I jumped into a pool of water near a waterfall wearing them and in a panic to realize simultaneously that I can’t see them without them and can’t really swim with them on that I was realized I should have brought/bought contacts with me. This led to some really odd looking swimming until I found land/ a tree to lean against.
Swiss army knife Not all of those little pieces will be super useful. But I was constantly borrowing someones for either the scissors or the tweezers or even the nail clippers/file.
An overnight bag Sometimes you’ll go to spots that are further away and so everyone will leave their big bags somewhere else and you’ll hike to a remote location and stay there. Make sure it will clip onto your bigger bag or can be rolled up for ease later.
Your overall bag While I find a lightweight suitcase with 360 wheels incredibly my favorite type of luggage to take with me when I travel I’m really glad I took a decent size backpack instead. We had to carry our bags up and down steep hills in the dirt multiple times and it just would have been a nightmare. However I do wish that I had just brought everything I needed or might have needed with me and not kept it light and liquid free as a carry on. Plus it’s so much easier on your back to just give them your luggage and move through the airport not like a upright turtle whacking everyone with your bag. A good hiking backpack with a strap to go around your waist will be amazingly helpful.
waterproof camera/case and waterproof bag While we didn’t spend a ton of time on the water we did go somewhat often. Several of my tourmates brought GoPros with them that would survive easily a trip in the water with a float-able stand. But those of us without them had to leave our phones/cameras aside while at watery spots or events. They do sell waterproof cases for phones and waterproof cameras so maybe look into those if a GoPro is a bit too much for you. Waterproof bags were also very helpful on those same activities.
Talk to your bank Tell your bank you’re going abroad, and where all you’re planning to go. This way they don’t freak out and freeze your card while you’re trying to take out some cash at an ATM. Keep an eye on how much you take out and the fee and how much is in your account so that you can let them know if something sketchy does happen. I try to take out enough that I will need and convert the money into the currency I need before I leave. However it’s always nice to know that you have a back up just in case you run out or if there’s an emergency. Plus this time no one had one of the currencies I needed.
The type of tour I did was a “yolo” tour. An adventurous tour for young people in my age range. I had a blast and made new friends. There are a lot of different tours, one of my friends does a lot of tours that are all-included; 4/5 star hotels, food included at all nice restaurants, private room, ect. Her tour packing list I’m sure is vastly different from mine. This was my first time doing a tour for the entire trip. I’m glad I did it. It took a lot of the stress out of the trip. I did learn not to just assume all countries that are near one another are similar or will even have similar things and that I really really should research before I go anywhere. Always check out the suggested list and what is included in the itinerary and pack based on that.