Important note that these are my generic packing tips.What you bring/pack for is situational, always know the situation you’re travelling to such as weather, transportation and political situation.
In addition to the typical conferences, if you’re doing civic tech research or investigative data journalism, you are going to need to do some legwork. Verifying and collecting information as well as recording media, will require you to travel and do your work in a variety of places. We should also be prepared for problems such as flight cancellations, storms, floods and political unrest.
2013, Jakarta was flooded, and you had to wade waist deep in some places before you got to drier parts where you could catch a taxi (maybe) to get somewhere else. In 2008, protesters shut down Bangkok international airport for 2 weeks. I flew out just a day before Bangkok airport shut down, if my flight was the next day, I would have needed to take a long bus ride to Phuket or Hat Yai and then more buses to get home.
You don’t want to get stuck in these situations lugging a suitcase, heavy backpack, no change of clothes or water damage to your equipment.
It should be small, usually called a day pack. As a general rule it should not be bigger than 40L in capacity. It should be small enough to for cabin luggage on smaller airplanes, and not too bulky to have on your back on a motorbike or bring onto a crowded bus. 30L size backpack will also ensure you pack light and carry only what you need. Weight is everything, we want to keep our total weight below 10kg, ideally 8kg. Both for practicality but also some airlines are stricter on this, especially Air Asia and small local planes.
It should be expandable, to be able to handle sometimes bulky items possibly externally such as umbrellas, extra shoes, water bottles and tripods. Roll tops are good. So are bags with netting or straps for items that won’t fit neatly into a small bag. We pack light, but should be flexible to carry additional items if needed.
It should be waterproof, especially if you’re going to work in tropical areas. Alternatively, you can also get a strong waterproof cover that you wrap the entire backpack in. Small airports don’t have Passenger Boarding Bridge (PBB). If it rains, you’re going have to walk to the terminal in the rain. Ditto for places only reachable by boat or bus. You don’t want to get your equipment and change wet.
Rule of 4. Wearing one set, pack the other 3.
This rule is basically to have 4 sets of clothes. If you’re travelling for extended period of time, you will have to do laundry. A set of 4 will generally allow you to go for maybe 3 days without doing laundry.
For tropical or hot weather.
- 4 sets of “dry” lightweight shirts and underwear. They go by multiple names depending on brand, Airism, Dryfit, Climacool etc.
- 4 sets of socks.
- 2 short sleeve collared shirts (for work/smart casual)
- 3–4 sets of “dry” pants.
- Light training hoodie or light pocket-able rain jacket (depending on situation). Light rain jacket keeps you warm in forests when it rains (it does get chilly) or long flights, but not too hot.
- Cap / Hat
My personal preferences are for Uniqlo Airism and also Adidas Climachill for light shirts and underwear. For pants Columbia Silver Ridge convertible cargo pants, because in addition to being lightweight they can also convert into rather uncool but very practical shorts in a pinch. It also comes with nice lightweight plastic buckle that is convenient for going through metal detectors.
For colder weather (0–18C).
- 4 sets of lightweight thermal underwear long sleeve top and leggings.
- 4 sets of socks.
- 2/3 sets of long sleeve cotton/flannel shirts.
- 3–4 sets of “dry” pants.
- Cap / Hat
For colder weather, layering works best to stay light. I personally like Uniqlo Heattech for thermals as they are lightweight.
Except for hoodie or windbreaker, and the set you’re wearing, the rest should be able to fit into a single packing cube around the following dimensions 26x40x10cm that will neatly fit into your backpack.
For 2 week trip from Kuala Lumpur, London and Buenos Aires, I could still combine both weather combinations and still fit all my clothes into a single cube.
Every chance you get for your underwear and light shirts, usually at night. One benefit of quick dry clothes, is that they will air dry overnight in a room, and as quickly as an hour or less outside in sun. You can just hand wash them in a sink with a bar of soap.
Finally, don’t stress out too much about clothes. Unless you’re going out into the wilderness for weeks on end, if you’re short on anything, you can just buy something you need locally.
Also add a small laundry bag to separate unwashed laundry. I carry and use a small odour reducing pack-able bag from Muji to Go.
This one will vary quite widely depending on individual.
- Meds — Flu, antihistamine and indigestion tablets. Anti-fungal cream (especially for tropics)
- Roll-on deodorant
- Travel toothbrush and toothpaste
- Nail cutter
- Travel sized plastic bottle of shower wash (you can restock on these at nicer hotels that give new ones, even if you don’t finish current one)
In a simple small bag.
Documents, pens and cables
Boarding passes, passports, notebook, headphones, phone charger cables, receipts, tickets, pens.
I keep this neatly organized in a small folio, the Scribblebook Journal from Greenroom136.
Always good to bring along a small and light compact umbrella for when you need it. Flat ones are the lightest and smallest, and because they’re flat don’t take up much space, but they also tend to be smaller with diameter of 90–100cm. Will keep you less wet in heavy downpour if you’re caught out, and fine for light rain.
My laptop of choice is Thinkpad X270 with external swap-able 72khw 6 cell battery. It’s barely over 1kg with 15–20hr battery life. With a spare charged battery you work for 2 full days without power supply. Best of both worlds, long battery life and light. It’s US MIL-STD-810G compliant too, and having used a Thinkpad X variant since the X40 10 years ago in a variety of environments, dusty, cold and wet, on bumpy buses on dirt roads, they haven’t failed me yet. I don’t even use a sleeve, saving more space and making it easy to take out at airport scanners.
Any modern smartphone with water resistance and largish battery will do. A small battery pack just for the phone is not a bad idea.
Tip: Print your boarding passes, itinerary with e-ticket and booking number, along with phone and address of accommodation and local contact person if it is safe to do so, especially if you are from a country that has strict visa requirements for entry or transit. These are standard information that you will be asked for to fill in for entry forms and by immigration. I usually have it as a pinned note on my phone, but it’s always good to have hard copy backup.
I have a simple stationary bag to keep charger and other cables. To organize and keep things neat and accessible inside the larger stationary bag I organize them into coloured stationary see through mesh bags.
- AV (HDMI, display adapters, audio)
- Storage (USB keys, SD cards, card readers)
- Spare USB cables
For longer cables, the most flexible way to keep them neat is using, Velcro tape.
Sometimes if I don’t need much, I have single mesh bag with two separate compartments like the blue one below, with both VGA adapter and SD cards. You should be able to find these or something similar at stationary section of shops.
A bit more expensive, there are also dedicated tech bags and pouches such as Lowepro Gearup Pouches which might fit your needs better.
To reduce weight and carrying multiple chargers and cables, I standardize on USB-C. A single USB-C laptop charger and cable, also charges my phone, Bluetooth headset.
My choice of travel adapter also doubles as additional USB-A and USB-C charger too.
Since I’m literally living out of a backpack, I also bring some creature comforts such as this small portable waterproof Sony SRS-X1 speaker. An audio cable + FIIO BTR3 bluetooth headset, can also turn any existing speaker in room or cheap stereo set into a bluetooth speaker. Bring a spare HDMI cable and you can use hotel TV as secondary display, or bigger display or speakers for entertainment.
Again. Small and light. My personal choice is Sony APS-C mirrorless. I have a6000, it would be nice if I had money to have a6500, but it’s more than adequate for photography and video.
Usually I carry just one slightly bulky 18–105mm zoom lens. If weight was crucial then I would just carry kit 16–50mm compact zoom lens. If I need to take photos from a distance, then the 55–210mm has really long reach, while being a very compact and discreet telephoto lens.
For mobility and access, I highly recommend the Peak Design Capture clip. It allows you to easily holster your camera securely. When you need to run, climb or use both hands for other things, you can quickly clip it on, and when you need to access your camera to quickly take a shot, it’s right there. No need to put it in or take it out of any bags, or straps that just move all over the place when running or hiking.
This is a live document, and I will keep refining my tips and equipment list. This current set up alone, was refined by over years of experience and trial and error.