Roman circus arena at Sfax, TunisiaTravel – Before you go (Part 3)

Planning your holidays – Things to get or take with you

Mobile and smartphones

Equipment and clothing


Mobile and smartphones

Taking a mobile or smartphone on holiday can be a wise choice – particularly in some less developed countries, as they have only a small number of landlines.

In cases, they have proved to be literally lifesavers, as people were able to either contact people or emergency services in the UK to summon help.

However, you will need to ensure that your phone is set up for global call and data roaming in advance. Also, depending on your service provider you may have a set option of which overseas networks you can use – and they may not be the cheapest option.

Overseas call charges and the temporary use of an overseas network have been known to be extremely costly. So it may be an idea to simply buy a cheap phone to use over there (although check in advance as it may be a bureaucratic nightmare to register for one).

The huge variety of apps (maps, language and currency converters...), built-in camera and internet access can make smartphones seem like the ideal travelling accessory.

However, be very careful of using smartphones with automated updates set up – these have been known to automatically call UK-based host services to check for updates without the owner being aware of it – until they got back and received a bill for several thousand pounds, which they were legally obliged to pay.


Clothing  and equipment

Camera or camcorder

It's generally nice to have photos and / or video of your trip and your travelling companions to look back on in later years.

These days with digital cameras and miniaturisation you don't need to lug bulky camera bags around. If you're also taking a notebook or laptop it may be an idea to create back ups of your pictures or film in case of theft or loss of your equipment (especially as a single memory card can hold hundreds if not thousands of images).

If you have a mobile phone or a camera or camcorder than needs charging check the voltage of the country you are going to and you may need to get a travel adaptor if they use two-pin instead of the usual UK three-pin sockets, or different voltage.

Tip: carry spare batteries and memory cards as you may not be able to get the ones to fit your camera in rural areas – or they will cost a small fortune. And it's always better to have more pictures than fewer. Plus, if you use the flash a lot – night on the town or if you're exploring a cave system – your battery will quickly run down.

Remember also to check your insurance policy to make sure you have adequate cover if you're using top of the range equipment. You may need to take out additional or special cover. If you do not insure a item for its true value (known as under-insuring) your insurer may refuse to pay out.

Be advised that in certain locations / attractions there are additional charges to pay if you are taking in a camera or camcorder.



Military style or travel clothing with lots of pockets and often built in ultra-violet protection is best if you're on a touring or activity holiday. However, avoid camouflage or military surplus – you could be mistaken for a serviceman by people with unpleasant intentions. Also, in some countries, it is illegal to possess items or clothing deemed to be of a military nature (and that extends to most camouflage print clothing).

Military equipment is designed to be rugged and durable. However, in the current security climate, avoid buying used military surplus – they could bear traces of explosives or the sorts of chemicals that will set alarm bells ringing – literally.

Depending on the location, you don’t always have time to wait for your laundry / shoes to dry out, so gear that is quick drying / breathable is a plus feature (as is non-iron!).

Cargo pants and travel trousers are useful because they have a number of securable pockets (although it’s best to avoid putting anything valuable into the mid leg pockets) and some can be converted into shorts. Good ones are made from durable material, often uv-protected, and are quick drying.

Also useful are 2-in-1 travel trousers and jackets with detachable legs and sleeves.

Additional information under Being there – Link


Bag or backpack

If you’ve got the travel bug then it’s worth buying good quality, durable gear – like a backpack.

If you’re on a touring holiday then you’re likely to be carrying your bag a lot – on and off buses; in and out of hotels; so overall weight is another factor to bear in mind.

It's generally easier to carry weight on your back and shoulders, when it's evenly distributed. A single strap shoulder bag often will leave you sore and can cause backache.

Bags with built in wheels or casters have been known to let their owners down – some appear to have been scientifically designed to lose a wheel at the start of your holiday.

A backpack cover is very handy – it keeps your bag clean and dry; prevents loose straps and buckles getting caught in the baggage handling machinery; offers a measure of protection against theft (if you padlock the zips – remember also to loop it around one of the carrying handles or twist it, otherwise the zips can be pulled apart enough for someone to get a slender hand through).

Remember: even with locks, in some places thieves use knives to slash an opening (although you can get bags made from Kevlar – a bullet-resistant material. But they are expensive).

Hard shell bags offer more protection but are more difficult to carry. Also, they may not fit in airline lockers.


Day bag

Essentially, a small shoulder bag or backpack to carry everything you're likely to need for that day's activities – water, towel and swimming costume or suit, shopping...

Foldable travel rucksacks are useful to use as a day bag or for carrying water bottles or shopping.

Some models of backpack include a detachable day bag.


Door jams / Wedges

You could sleep safer at night by investing in one of these. Budget travel often means a trade off in security – hotels may not have cctv or a 24-hour reception. And someone else may have a copy of your room key, or a connecting door (latches can easily be unhooked using a flat, thin object – like a knife). There are special travel wedges which prevent a door being opened from the outside. However, bear in mind, they also make it harder for someone to reach you if there's a fire.



Appropriate footwear is vital. It needs to be comfortable and offer good protection – especially over rocky ground, even a gentle incline can have very sharp edges. Make sure you wear already broken in shoes or boots – breaking in a new pair while carrying a rucksack and / or going on long hikes is likely to be a pain – literally.



A 3-in-1 jacket is easier to carry, and enables you add or take off layers according to the temperature (remember desert areas can become very cold at night).


Journal or diary

Useful to keep track of where you went and what you saw, ate, experienced, and the contact details of the people with you. This can come in handy if you are planning on putting a trip scrapbook together later on. On touring trips you see so many new and different things you can lose track after the first week.

You can also use it to keep track of your daily spending, which apart from an interesting reminder in years to come, may help you stick to budget.


Medication and First Aid

Obviously, if you've got a pre-existing condition then you should discuss the trip with your doctor, and take any medication you need with you.

Remember to warn the guide or other group members if you have any allergies or medical conditions (and tell them where you keep your adrenalin pen or medication – like insulin; even better make sure someone else knows how to administer it).

Backpackers can either make up or buy their own first aid kits. Although items like headache or anti-diarrhoeal pills will need to be bought separately.

Please remember: if you suffer from serious diarrhoea, particularly in a hot climate, you can become dehydrated rapidly. You can buy sachets of oral rehydrating salts (basically a mix of sugar, salt and water).

Silver foil-like heat retentive sheets / emergency blankets are lightweight and fold down to pocket-size. A must for activity holidays in colder climates. They can also make good distress markers to signal to aerial search and rescue teams. They can also be used as a shelter from rain (as a tent, lean-to or poncho), catch rainwater or used as a moisture trap to obtain water by condensation (unlikely to be used in this fashion unless something has gone badly wrong and you're in survival mode).


Mobile phone or smartphone

Covered above – Link


Padlocks or combination locks

Backpacks or day bags (especially when worn on your back) are tempting targets for opportunist thieves. You can give yourself a measure of protection if you lock the zips together – but remember to give them a twist or else there will still be enough give for someone to get at the smaller items. You’ll need padlocks with very narrow arms – usually available at most travel stores / supermarkets in packs of two. It’s better to have at least three (one for your rucksack cover, one for your daysack and a spare).

Tip: you could end up with a set of identical looking locks and keys, which can be a hassle finding which key fits which lock. You can avoid this by marking the key and its lock with coloured paint or a marker pen (one which won’t wipe off!).



If you’re with a group, then timekeeping is important. A travel alarm or a wristwatch with an alarm that will wake you up is something else to pack. Or it may be included on your phone.

Please note: plastic watch straps can quickly become brittle and snap in very hot temperatures. While a metal strap can become uncomfortable in these conditions.



A head torch is another good investment – they can be very bright, automatically move when you turn your head, and keeps your hands free.



Travel towels are very absorbent, very light and quick to dry – so a worthwhile investment.


Travel guides

There are a variety of these. Some are aimed at the backpackers, others for more luxurious travel (described in more detail under 'Information Sources').


Travel mac or poncho

If you're going to somewhere like a tropical rainforest you probably want more substantial protection than a travel mac. However, they are ideal for smaller showers or even keeping warm on a night out (the rapid drop in temperature at night in desert areas can be quite marked).

Travel ponchos are not particularly stylish but are also lightweight and compact.


Criminals have been known to target families of gap year students.

Basically, they hack into email accounts and assume your identity and tell your parents that you are in jail or some sort of trouble (while you're off out of contact).

Ensure you arrange a codeword or signal to 'authenticate' any real distress messages back home. Or even sound the alarm without alerting anyone.

Wallet and money belts

Pickpockets are a common hazard for tourists around the world – zip pockets and a wallet on a chain are useful deterrents. Or you could create a decoy with a few notes and coins in it to hand over if threatened.

Money belts are usually worn inside your clothing – often around the waist (but you do get underarm and others that go around a limb). Generally, it will foil pickpockets but be advised muggers will probably check if you're wearing one.


Water bottle or platypus

If you are travelling in a hot climate you need to drink a lot of water.

Remember there are a number of serious waterborne diseases so make sure you only use a recommended brand of bottled water or boiled water.

Get a water bottle or Platypus (bladder-like water carrier that can be put into a backpack and accessed with a drinking tube. However, these are more likely to leak; also, if the mouthpiece is left uncovered, it could get contaminated by flies landing on it).

If you are travelling off the beaten track, especially in hot climates, use a larger capacity bottle (2 litre) or two smaller bottles – it weighs more but running out of water kills you a whole lot faster than running out of food.

Additional information under Being there – Link


Waterproof bag or wallet

Your valuables are most at risk when you’re in a pool or in water. There are a number of waterproof containers / wallets but these could get ripped off if you encounter a strong current in the sea or in a river. Or even worse get snagged on an underwater obstacle.



Small compact but with a suitable loud blast. Useful if you're going off the beaten track or on water and even as a crime deterrent in urban areas. A few blasts will attract attention which usually discourages would-be thieves or muggers. However, be careful – certain criminals don't like to be thwarted and could become violent. It is always better to hand over your valuables – they can be replaced, you can't.



Tip: once you know what you need, shopping around may save you money and there may be student discounts to be had (if you’re not in a hurry, a cunning plan is to draw up of list of equipment and wait for the sales to do your shopping).

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