Equipment on a long journey
We did quite a bit of research and had many considerations regarding equipment and supplies, before embarking on our great journey around the world three months ago. And now it is time to do the first status, to find out what we have actually used and what is in reality just “dead weight” in the backpack.
From early on we took the changing seasons into consideration. Hence a great deal of the contents in our backpacks did not even see the light of day whilst in Thailand and northern Australia. However, by now it is absolutely necessary.
One of the many recommendations that we chose to follow was to pack everything into smaller “compartment bags” or “cells”, in order to “categorize” or “group” our clothes and to keep it just a bit more tidy inside the backpacks. This has proven to be excellent advise! In fact, along the way we have bought even more of those compartment bags, so that the summer wardrobe that is currently not really in use, can be tucked away for a while. And the daily underwear, t-shirts and socks are always within easy reach. No messing around during the cold mornings while searching for clothes for the day. And shorts and bathers are put away at the bottom until we reach California later this year.
Our guideline about only bringing clothes for 7 days has proven to be just right. It is the right number of days and thus we have a weekly laundry day at whichever caravan park we happen to stay at. Everywhere we have been up to now, have all had pretty good laundry machines that could even take big loads. Dryers have also been available at all parks. The average cost is 4 dollars per machine load. The same for drying. At home we would never use a dryer, but now we simply cannot wait until our clothes dry on free hanging lines for a couple of days. By using the dryer, all laundry tasks have been completed within just a few hours, and are not due for another week.
When it comes to Anton's wardrobe we have also packed the right things. Clothes for a week, and then a few extra t-shirts and some extra underwear. Just in case accidents should happen. And they do! Of course we have also had incidents where his clothes got so dirty during hikes or other adventures in the wild, that we have had to do the laundry at odd times in order for him to have some clean clothes to wear. We might be travelers on a tight budget, but the cleanliness and tidiness he is used to from home, should not be completely abandoned. Just loosened a bit... We do allow dirty socks. They are only fresh for about 5 minutes anyway!
On a few occasions we have bought new things. Apparently I have lost quite a few kilos since I last bought any shorts, so one of the pairs I brought with me had become way too big. I did not really notice this, apart from the fact that they had become a bit loose. However, Alexandra insisted that they were due for an exchange. And as we have the standing rule that whenever we buy something new, something old has to go, I had to let go of my old favourite shorts. We have bought some long sleeved t-shirts after our arrival in the cold south, without throwing others away, but this is only allowed as long as it can all fit into the backpacks. I also had to upgrade my jacket. The one I brought with me turned out to be unsuitable for the trip. It was a soft-cell jacket, water proof, but only within reasonable limits. The downpour in tropical Queensland that we had, turned out to be too much, and we decided that it had to be upgraded to a REAL water proof model before we got to some REAL winter. The new jacket is thinner and lighter, which improved matters in the backpack. As we are now experiencing the south Australian winter we have bought some insulating thermo clothes that we use for sleeping. This was not a surprise at all, however, so nothing had to be thrown away on that account. We have also bought some socks in Merino-wool and Alexandra upgraded her beanie to one in Merino-wool as well.
We each have a fleece-jacket and a waterproof coat jacket. Plus a couple of hoodies. In other words, we use the “layers” principle, and this works perfectly. Alexandra does however have a tightly rolled down-feather jacket in the bottom of her backpack, which will come in handy in the New Zealand and North American winter. She is convinced that both Anton and I should upgrade to something similar before we get to those areas, and the cold really kicks in. She might be right. But so far we have not been able to let go of anything more, and only time will tell just exactly how we can and will make room for this in the backpack. Inevitably these add-ons and throw-aways will happen all the time as we are traveling for a whole year. It is just a part of life on the road. The Salvation Army in Sydney got a bag of clothes that we could no longer use. We hope that it will make someone else happy!
In terms of footwear we obviously also have strict rules as to what we can carry with us. Hiking boots is standard equipment for us all, and is works great. In warmer areas we have all used hiking sandals. I had never thought that I would wear something like that, and frankly I was a bit sceptic. But they really proved their worth in Thailand and the first 6 weeks in Australia, and I rarely wore anything else. They are comfortable and practical. In fact I used them so much that I had to do an emergency repair in the middle of the rainforest in Queensland. Some twine and a pocket knife can be very helpful! It was a bit sad though, as these sandals were not exactly cheap. I could complain to the store back home in Munich, but to what good, when I am currently in Australia?
Apart from hiking boots and sandals, we also have some Nike trainers and thongs. Alexandra use her thongs extensively, but I only use them to and from the beach or the pool. In Thailand we bought a pair of Crocs for Anton. Instantly they became his favourite footwear at all times. However, the first pair got lost on a playground in Bangkok. They were only cheap China copies, but he was very upset about losing them none the less. So we upgraded them to the “real thing” - original (and much more expensive) Crocs which he, up until now, has been taking very good care of.
I carry a special backpack, completely dedicated to all the “technical stuff”. At times it is rather heavy, I must say. But this is necessary to keep as “carry on” on all flights. In this backpack I keep lenses and DSLR camera, filters and external flash light. Also our external hard-drive (1 TB for photos and back-ups) has a special place here. And then we have an Apple MacBook Air 11”. This is Apples smallest and cheapest computer, and it works perfect for us. Plus, it easily slips into Alexandra's handbag when needed. Not the “evening model/clutch” but the one she uses at all other times. But mostly it stays in my backpack when not in use. And then we have the iPad, packed with Anton's movies and my e-books. This is an absolute necessity! Alexandra has a Kindle for her e-books. We both have an iPhone. We do not really use them, as we have chosen not to buy Australian SIM cards. We use the WiFi networks wherever available. All devices have apps such as Skype, Viber and WhatsApp plus twitter and facebook. This makes it possible for us to communicate with friends and family quite easily. Albeit only when we are online. But our families are able to send us emergency SMS’s or call us if necessary. We still have our european SIM cards installed for that same reason.
As I am a big music lover, I also carry my good old friend, the iPod Classic, at all times. On this I have my entire music collection. It is 6 years old, but I hope and trust that it will follow through during our entire journey. We use it every day for music during our trips, and I often listen to podcasts at night if I cannot sleep. Anton also has an iPod, carrying his music collection. One of the things that almost did not come with us, was the small JBL speaker that I have. It is the size of a pencil case. It is not absolutely necessary, but really nice to have in hotel rooms or flats, where we stay a bit longer. So far it has been heavily used, and I am glad we brought it along with us. Another item that may seem a bit needless to keep carrying is my camera tri-pod. Absolutely necessary when taking photos in environments with little or no daylight. But I do not use it very often, so most of the time it seems to be taking too much space in my backpack. However, when I see the photos that I have shot with it, I am glad I brought it along.
One could argue that a small computer, iPad, camera and smartphones is nothing in terms of weight. The thing is, that all of these devices come with a battery charger and cables, and as we often have several devices to charge at a time, we are also carrying extension sockets and adapters. It all ads up! In our special, small bag with chargers, we also have extra headphones, clip-on lights for reading books at night, and a small flashlight. This is good when you have to go to the toilet on a dark campground in the middle of the night.
Anton's stroller is one of those things that we never doubted we would bring along. We did have a vague hope that he would grow out of it before we left. But in fact we are now grateful that we have it. Oftentimes it seems somewhat annoying and “un-handy” to carry it with us, but we are mostly allowed to bring it all the way to the gate at the airport, and as it is actually easy to fold it is not that bad at all. Furthermore, as adults we simply do have more fun and relaxation when we are on sightseeing through the cities, because Anton can still rest his legs and have his afternoon naps in it, while we sit down in a café enjoying some peace and quiet. When hiking in national parks or other wildlife places, we do not bring the stroller with us. In spite of that Anton does remarkably well. But we do plan the hiking-trips accordingly, so that he will not get too tired.
Obviously there is a great deal of equipment that must be in place when driving around in a campervan. We have brought inflatable pillows and thin sleeping bags made of sheets with us. So far we have not been using these, as our campervans have been equipped with bed-linen and sleeping bags or covers as standard. The same goes for the pillows. In hotels it is, of course, also standard and in our Sydney flat it was all included in the rental fee as well. Time will show if we will use them at all. I cannot just throw them away yet. It wouldn’t surprise me if we would need them two days after I did so! One thing that we have used daily is our micro-fiber towels. We spent a little extra on these, and that has turned out to be good. They dry the skin very effectively and after just 30 minutes in the sun or on a wire they are completely dry and ready to use again. When folding them they really do not take any space either. Nice!
Cutlery and cookware has also been standard in the campervans we have rented. Usually cutlery is for 4 persons and then a frying pan and some pots. Cooking spoons, palettes and knifes are also included. We did buy ourselves a small knife, just in case the standard ones were dull. This turned out to be good, as the included ones really were dull. In the last campervan we even had microwave, toaster and a coffee pot. But that was extraordinary. In our first and much smaller campervan in Queensland we had none of these things. We used the frying pan for toasting bread, and water for tea and coffee was boiled in a pot. It worked just fine. We are not used to a microwave and do not even have one at home. We could easily live without it in a campervan as well.
The contents of our supplies box varies. It all depends on our whereabouts. However, we always have laundry detergent. When it comes to food, we always have pasta and rice in the box, and towards the end of our trip down in southern Australia some lentils also mysteriously found their way into our range of supplies. We try to buy fruit and vegetables at the local farmers markets. Tomatoes, carrots and peppers are the most common types of vegetables that we eat. Plus some onions and a few potatoes. But during a certain period of time, that to me seemed almost endless, we also had celery! We do not eat much meat. In Queensland it was warm enough to do a barbecue every now and then, so we would have either sausages, chicken or the occasional kangaroo steak. Since we have arrived in southern Australia we have only eaten very little meat. We usually have stir-fry sauce in our box and a bit of curry paste (Massaman or yellow curry). This is usually the only spice we use except for salt and pepper. Lately we have had locally produced olive oil, but to begin with we had spray cans with cooking oil. This is a normal and commonly used thing in Australia, but something I had never seen before. It works great!
Oats are also an absolute must have in our box. Without it Anton cannot have his favourite breakfast: Porridge. Usually we mash a banana in his portion as the only sweetener. For breakfast we also have tea and coffee (instant) and then we have two types of jam/spread: Strawberry and my personal favourite: Lemon Curd. Both are excellent on the pancakes that we often make while on the road. It is just an easy recipe consisting of wheat flour, baking powder, eggs and milk. No sugar. The curd or marmalade should be sufficient. Also, we cannot squeeze anymore ingredients into our supplies box!
In both campervans we have had a fridge. In this we keep the occasional beers, but usually its just milk, yoghurt, cheese, butter and eggs, plus some cottage- and fresh cheese. Also any meat, of course, if we happen to have this “in stock”. On the occasions where we find some good white wines we will also make room for that! Especially in Clare and Barossa Valley we had wine in the fridge. We did, after all, visit quite a few vineyards.
In the glove compartment in front of the van we have muesli bars for the rides. They are much cheaper to buy in the supermarkets, than in a petrol station or kiosk. Alexandra always carry some fruit and the most beloved “Scotch Fingers” that we have discovered whilst in Australia. It’s a vanilla biscuit, and they remind me of the “Marie Biscuits” that we have in Denmark. The Scotch Fingers are thicker though. We all like to munch on these. Our water bottles are always filled for the rides, and are also kept in front of the van.
One of the things we really miss is the good, solid bread we are used to in Denmark and Germany. In spite of their many, well meant efforts, Australians simply cannot bake good bread! What is available on the shelves in the supermarkets is in reality simply just fluffy, white wheat bread. Empty calories! The few times we have asked (usually in the beginning of our time here in Australia) for some dark, solid, wholegrain sourdough bread the staff would simply look at us with empty eyes, not having a clue about what we were talking about. Apparently Australian bread has to be sold sliced in the classical “toast” shape, easily fitting into the toaster at home. But in southern Australia we did actually - on one occasion - visit a bakery where they had REAL danish rye-bread. We almost got tears in our eyes for a moment. We have also had our much beloved, german Breze (Pretzels) on a couple of occasions. Needless to say we have bread in our supplies box at all times, but we enjoy some types more than others.
It is quite remarkable how much variation you can actually bring to the dinner table with such a limited range of supplies. I once read that the average family in fact almost always buy the same 30-40 groceries. Our range is much more limited, but Alexandra is a skilled cook and we never complain about the quality of the meals. I also applaud her “inventory management”! We always have just enough in the box until we come to the next supermarket or we manage to use almost everything just in time for returning the campervan. This means that we literally have nothing extra to carry on any flights. However, the next time we fly, it is internationally and out of Australia. We are not allowed to carry any food with us. So upon arrival in Auckland, New Zealand we will have to start all over again with our purchases. But now that the routine is there, this should not be a problem at all.
A couple of other items that we have had great use of:
A Swiss Army knife. Great as a pocket knife, screw driver, bottle opener, scissor etc. We usually carry this in our medicine bag. This is where we use it the most. For cutting plaster and such. And of course for the battery exchanges that we do on a regular basis on Anton's toys or our small, clip-able book lights. By the way, the medicine bag contains plaster, bandages, painkillers (OTC), nose spray, eye-drops, disinfectants, something for an upset stomach, insect repellants, cremes and sprays for use after insect bites and sunburns. We bought all of this in Munich before we left. A total of about 100 euros. But it is no fun NOT having this at hand when you most need it!
A large scarf for both adults. We use these for providing Anton some shade in his stroller, as picnic blanket, protection from draft winds etc etc.
Re-sealable plastic bags. These are used for ANYTHING. Food, wet clothes, a broken shampoo bottle (they somehow ALWAYS break!) etc.
Water bottles of metal. These are fantastic and even though they get plenty of scratches and dents they remain completely tight.
Carabiners. We use these for hooking water bottles to our day trip bag (the one used for minor trips) or to Anton's stroller. We also use them for many other smaller and bigger tasks. An absolute must have! We have several!
We chose to invest a bit of extra money on the backpacks when we bought them. This has proven to be a good decision. For instance, my backpack is also a trolley with wheels. The straps on both of our bags are extra thick for optimal comfort. This particular advice was also taken into consideration when Alexandra had to upgrade her normal bag. In this she carries all our passports and travel documents, plus water bottles, fruit and biscuits when we are not in the van. We also bought a “cover bag” for Alexandra's backpack, as it has a lot of smaller outer compartments and pockets. This is mainly to prevent others from putting something into these pockets when we are walking through train stations and airports. But it also serves us well as a storage bag for pajama's, sleeping bags etc in the campervan during daytime. This makes it easy to tidy up in the morning and we always know where we have these things.
Lastly I want to mention a couple of things that we are also carrying, which might seem a bit odd:
Pencil case and notebooks. I write a diary/journal and Alexandra also write down her thoughts and ideas. This already has great value to us, but especially at a later stage and when we get home, the diary will remind us about the little details we might otherwise forget. When traveling the way we do it is impossible to remember all the impressions and funny little things and details without writing them down. When we sit down and flip through the pages we always get reminded of things we had already forgotten. I highly recommend this to any traveler: Always keep a journal!
Business cards and stickers, advertising our website, facebook and twitter accounts. We do this to get traffic to our sites, so as a professional tool these are good. But they are also handy just to give to all the great people we have met without any professional purpose, so that they can easily get in contact with us. We are using a surprisingly lot of business cards and the stickers are easy to put into guest books and such.
This may all seem overwhelming. But it is important to remember that we did not just come up with all this by ourselves, and that it was a long process to “boil it down” to what we ended up taking with us. We asked MANY people before we left, both friends and professionals who have all traveled extensively. They helped us out with good advice, hints and tips. Oftentimes we were advised to bring things that we certainly would not have thought of ourselves. The carabiners and in my case the hiking sandals are both good examples of this. But it is a part of the process and another really good thing about this journey. We learn all the time!