I’m sure it’s happened to the best of us—we carefully check off each item in our list as we pack our things and then find out later on that we’ve forgotten to bring one.
It could be as essential as our passport—yup, this really happened to someone I know!—or something not as vital as, say, an MP3 player. When we travel solo, we have no one else to rely on except ourselves, so must be as self-sufficient as possible.
In my solo travels to Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia, and Vietnam, I’d forgotten a number of things. I have learned to take note of them whenever I have to fly off to somewhere. The following are just six of the essential stuff I have learned not to leave home without if I travel alone:
Yes, it seems obvious, but a lot of people still forget to bring this when they go to the airport. Put your passport together with your money, credit cards, and hotel booking in your carry-on bag before even starting to pack.
Check the expiration date at least three months before your flight so that you’ll still have time to have it renewed if it’s about to expire already. A friend of mine arrived at the airport for her flight to Vietnam and realized only at the check-in counter that her passport had expired three weeks before. Remember, a passport has to be valid for at least six months prior to your departure.
Bring colored photocopies of your passport, one to bring with you and another to leave in your check-in luggage. Depending on where you’re going, the hotel may ask for your passport to register you as a guest, and you don’t want to go around without at least a copy of it.
I was reminded of the importance of this when I was in Kota Kinabalu last July 2010. My American friends were quite worried when they learned that I was walking alone around midnight in KK without my passport.
Anything could happen, they said, pointing out several instances before when tourists were mistaken for illegal aliens. They could throw you in jail first and ask questions later. I was quite sad that a Filipino (or anyone) can be treated so shabbily, but after that, I never forgot to bring my passport anywhere with me again.
Printouts of hotel bookings, their addresses, and contact numbers
Not only will immigration officials look for this, but you will need this as well when you arrive. If possible, print out a map of the way to your hotel. Relying on internet connection to check the address again is not very wise, given that you don’t know whether there will be one when you need it.
Have a plan B as well, in case your plan A goes bust. When I went to Shanghai in 2008 with a friend, we couldn’t contact our Couchsurfing host (it was midnight!) from the airport and had to rely on the kindness of a fellow traveler to put us up for the night.
That experience taught me to have an alternative place to stay whenever I’m scheduled to arrive at such an inconvenient time.
I didn’t know how I could have forgotten to bring this in Siem Reap, but I did.
The shawl has so many uses—it can be used as a towel, an impromptu skirt (or dress for me since I’m short), a curtain to hang in your bed for privacy if you’re staying in a dormitory, a head cover, a blanket, and—if it’s new—even a present to a newly-met friend.
Yeah, you probably don’t need an MP3 player; I usually don’t either. But it does have its uses sometimes. On the long trip back to Saigon from Siem Reap, I was the only non-local and everyone was speaking Khmer to each other. I tried talking to a guy sitting across me but he didn’t know any English.
I got bored to death; perhaps if I had an MP3 player, it would have made that trip bearable. (Of course the scenery was good at times, but how long can you keep looking at the same thing over and over again without getting bored?)
Bring a universal adaptor too. I forgot to bring mine in KK and had to borrow one from the receptionist.
Since I’d bought my Kindle though, I have never left home without it! I have over 1,000 books in it, and it helped pass the time on the road. It was one of the most valuable items I carried during my backpacking trip to Europe, when I spent a lot of time traveling on trains and buses.
If you travel solo and you will stay at dormitories, you will certainly need this. They have small lockers where you can put your valuable stuff (for an additional charge) like your laptop and other gadgets.
A stretchy washing line for your laundry
This is not that essential, but you can also use this in other cases where you would need a string. In an emergency, it can also be used to tie knots.
As a solo traveler, even if you go to all inclusive holidays, you would need to pack light. In looking at your stuff to bring, ask yourself if it’s really needed. Remember, you have to leave space for all the pasalubongs (gifts) you’ll be bringing back home!
How about you? What are the things you don’t leave without when you travel alone?