Packing Essentials – Things You Should Never Leave Home Without

I am a great advocate of packing light and making do with bare necessities because let’s face it, if you wanted to travel to another country to experience all the things you love at home (re: McDonalds), then you might as well stay home. To be fair, I make it a point to try the local KFC meal just because. This is what it looks like in Bangkok.

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(Expert’s note: When they say spicy, they really, really, really MEAN IT!)

Jokes aside (but seriously, the word ‘Spicy’ in a meal is a warning, not a description!), there are somethings that you should carry with you no matter how large or small your luggage space is. It has helped turn travels into journeys into unforgettable adventures and the best part of it all is that they are ABSOLUTELY FREE!

In no particular order, I give you my packing essential list.

Packing Essential #1 – An Open Mind

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Right alongside your handy travel adapter (even though being phoneless can have great perks!), bring an open mind. There will be times when you are called on to drink cocktails from shady bars in buckets, there will be times you will have to drive on the other side of the road, times when out of sheer hunger you will say yes to the man selling roasted scorpions. These make great icebreakers when you’re on your next adventure but mostly you will remember having the time of your life!

Packing Essential #2 – Patience

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If you don’t have an annoying sibling, find an annoying friend or go stand in the queue at Nilgiris (a supermarket that just can’t bill your products without also making you wait for 500 hours) in India. It will help you develop this great thing called Patience which is also free but you won’t believe the things it will help teach you. That delayed sky-train ride, those long hours being lost in translation, those cancelled flights, those times a terminal becomes your second home – these are things that help you live a realistic day-to-day life in a foreign country. It could lead you to holidays you never planned for – like an island trip to Zanzibar or breath-taking views because walking through dangerous hills was your only chance out. When you aren’t trying to follow in Bill Murray’s footsteps, life happens to you.

Packing Essential #3 – Greetings 101

I have always been the kind who doesn’t read much about the place or its culture till I am actually smack in the middle of living it. It is not always a good idea. There’s always a chance that somebody speaks English and will help you out, but it could just as easily go the other way. If you are like me, just observe the words that are being said in greetings. Saying hello is a big deal in all cultures and even if you speak no more than the word for ‘whats up?’, you will find your journey that much more easy because of it. It gives off the impression that you are trying (which, of course you are) and it helps you make friends with the locals which can lead to even more moments you won’t soon forget. Find a way to bond and if you can get them to smile (or laugh) back at you, you are set!

Packing Essential #4 – Manners

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While not all rituals seem logical to you, when in a foreign country, it is good to practice your manners. They do things different two streets down from where my parents stay and yet, when I’m in their neighbourhood, I respect their way. As a guest, it is your duty to be mindful of what goes and what doesn’t. Keep your eyes open and read body language where you can. Take your shoes off where you need to, cover up where it is expected, and stand up for the anthem even if it is in the cinema. At the end of the day, good manners will take you where your money won’t go.

Packing Essential #5 – Curiosity

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This great characteristic to develop is deadly to cats, or so I hear, but great for us humans. Wanting to know what that particular shrine is, or what is down that colourful street is a great way to discover things that aren’t on a Lonely Planet Guide or on Trip Advisor. Yes, you can see and do and all touristy things that your heart desire, but there is something appealing about finding a canal and pointing and ordering the greatest dish you have ever tasted. Forget the taxi and get on that rickety boat. You never know what treasure you will find on the other side!

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Universal Languages – Travel Tuesdays

Amidst the concrete jungle that is the heart of Kuala Lumpur, you often find lush green gardens and parks that you could stroll in for ages. Quite like magic, sometimes you happen upon cool lakes and fountains in which you can rest your sore feet. This is an amazing place to not just get away from the noise and restlessness of corporate Malaysia but to find yourself in the middle of vibrant stories.

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The garden just behind the Petronas Towers

Like of old men who walk slowly but with purpose with their canes and backs bent without a care in the world. They have little bags under their armpits – old, faded, leather. Sitting on one of the benches of the park near a water fountain, I observed how the whole park was dotted with similar looking old men.

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Eventually they made their way to these unique benches and took out their priced treasures from their leather satchels – well used chess pieces and begin some of the most entertaining matches I’ve ever laid eyes on.

Sometimes, there are languages that transcends words – the li’l grunts on frustration or victory, the fist bumps, folding your hand over your chest and the most impressive of all, the toothless grin. These are universal and wherever I go, I keep my eyes peeled for them. They tell the best stories.

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Read more of my adventures abroad here – a story about my first time in Europe and the things I had to teach myself! : )

Who you gonna call? GHOST BUSTERS!

We decided to camp out because as warm nights usually go, this one was beautiful. The stars stretched infinitely above us like we were actually just in a planetarium – yes, I’m trying to compare the Tanzanian night sky to HD quality video. Sad, I know but you’d have to see it to believe it.

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We had a bonfire going where we were roasting strips of meat as was customary and while enjoying our bottles of Serengeti, the topic of local legends came up. And then stories of fairy-tales and magic turn to horror stories.

MK – This isn’t anything like your Mohini/Noorie story from the other week. Our ghost is not a ghost. It’s more like an evil spirit-creature called Popo Bawa that goes around sexually assaulting its victims

Me – Of course, nothing says horror like “Bat Wing“. You sure you aren’t basing your hero on the DC Comic?

MK – Shush, stop interrupting. Legend has it an angry sheikh once summoned a djinni to take vengeance on one of his neighbors. And as you know, djinns are not to be messed with cause they are so clever. This one, like all others, obviously learnt how to dupe his master and escaped.

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Me – Obviously. And then it proceeded to make home in a lamp?

MK – Ha. Ha. It wouldn’t be as funny when it comes looking for you.

Me – Not really a problem. All I have to do is keep a look out for bats. Right?

MK – Hilarious, because the Popo Bawa is a very proficient shapeshifter that attacks at night. It enters a house, sodomizes all the family members and then threatens the family that if they don’t tell everyone about it, it would come back whenever the fancy struck it.

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Me – Yikes, how do you keep it away?

MK – Apparently, a fresh trail would smell like sulphur. When that happens, the entire family huddles outside by the fire and stays awake all night. Some have said that reading a few lines of the Koran will banquish it the same way holy water does.

Me – You’re then going to tell me about staying inside salt circles and using silver bullets aren’t you?

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MK – Popo Bawa has been sighted only near the coast – don’t think salt will have any effect. It’s curious though because the creature only seems to strike during great political unrest. There were reports of it during all the major elections that threatned to get ugly. There are even doctors that are willing to testify that they have treated numerous alleged Popo Bawa victims. They all say they haven’t seen the creature but have seen giant bat wing type shadows fall on them before the attack.

Me – No one’s tried exorcisms? I’ve been threatned a number of times with it cause I’m so “weird”

MK – There are some tribes that place charms at the base of fig trees or sacrifice goats and use its blood to guard their doors. In one village, apparently it possessed a young girl called Fatuma and had a deep man’s voice as it spoke through her and they heard the sound of a car revving on a nearby roof.

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Batman, is that you?

Me – WHAT? This is obviously a very new legend. You sure you didn’t just make it up after watching The Dark Knight?

MK – Hmmm, I might have to take you to the mganga (socerer). Evil spawn of the Popo Bawa.

Me – (looking terrified) What was that?

MK – (Anxiety Attack) What, what, what?

Me – FOOL! 😀

The South China Sea Fish Delegation – Travel Tuesdays

Those of you that followed my journey in Tanzania will probably remember the time when our guide for the day threw us to the sharks for “ snorkeling” purposes.  The thrill of that moment soon changed to crippling phobia like it usually does when you’ve had a near-death-experience. So when I went to Tioman Islands in Malaysia, I felt an anxiety attack coming on.

There is a local legend that a Dragon Princess was once on her way to Singapore from China for her wedding. Exhausted by the long journey, she settled down over the South China Sea to rest a while. The sea was so calm and magical. The sun was warm on her back and filled her with so much peace that she decided to stay and turned herself into Tioman Islands.

(Click photos for larger image)

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The Islands are beyond stunning – with pristine beaches, the place is literally a paradise island with reefs bordering it on all sides and a rainforest to trek through whenever one was tired of the sea. It wasn’t long before I said meh and rented out Mr. Naruto Uzumaki Coconut’s life jacket. I was there for an adventure and even if I were to be drowned AND eaten by the great whites, I’d die knowing that I didn’t back out from a challenge. I mean, how bad could it be? (By some unfathomable miracle, Murphy’s Law didn’t go into effect even though I was filled with dread the minute the thought came into my head)

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The water was so clear that you could see the corals and the fish right from the boat and once you got into the water, the riot of colours that assaulted you was just mesmerizing. Of course I went to pieces the minute I touched the water – even with my life jacket on. My brother let me latch on to his life jacket and then told me stories to distract me from having a full blown panic attack and then slowly eased me into the actual snorkeling. I’m so glad I gave this a try. Snorkeling would make my top 5 list of the most awe-inspiring activities one should undertake as soon as possible and as many times as possible.

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Travel Tuesdays is my attempt to get myself to blog regularly. Every Tuesday I will write about an experience I had while on the road, stories I heard while chugging down local beer, local legends that were shared by bonfire and photos of things that took my breath away. If you have stories you want to share as well, feel free to leave me a message so I can feature you.