Take everything bar the kitchen sink – what to pack on a 17,500km rail trip.
Let’s get one thing straight. I NEVER TRAVEL LIGHT. Even on a three-day Press trip across the channel to Amsterdam I have to take a suitcase plus a small carry-on for my gadgets and chargers.
Here’s what turned me into a three-bags-full lady:
I needed some food for the overnight train journey from Poland onwards. I knew the Russian trains have a samovar with constant hot water, so I got several packets of my favourite Korean ramen noodles (without monosodium glutamate). Prawn sambal would be a good accompaniment while serunding (Malaysian meat floss), would be the perfect sandwich filler. Zaharah Othman, our veteran journalist and broadcaster in London stepped in with a fresh supply.
I also got 20 sachets of 2-in-1 coffee and 20 tea bags and 24 little pots of milk. For treats I have two small packets of toffee and a packet of biscuits. I transferred the sambal from the heavier glass jar to small plastic containers and sealed them. My utensils include a small thermos flask and a water bottle, a big plastic mug for making noodles, a small enamel mug for tea and a set of cutlery.
Zaharah told me the solo biker, Anita Yusof who is is currently on her world tour, only carried two pairs of trousers. I have three: one cargo pants, two slacks, two culottes, two blouses, four t-shirts, eight pairs of socks, eight sets of underwear, a sarong, flip-flops, trainers, a photographer’s vest, a summer jacket, a microfiber winter jacket, a hoodie, a thin hammam towel I bought especially from my recent trip to Istanbul and three face towels for the tropical heat.
My GP gave me prescriptions for three month’ supply of medication which my pharmacist, Vijay nagged me to pack. I got my friend Tajuddin to bring a bar of laundry soap from Malaysia to take with me but staying three nights in each city does not give me any time to hand-wash anything large.
Who packs curtains on a rail trip?
When booking my train tickets I learned to my horror that the bunks on the “platskartny” (3rd class carriage) on the Trans-siberian train from Moscow, did not have curtains so off I went to Poundland, my favourite London store, to get a shower curtain which I thought I could hook onto the rails, On close scrutiny I noticed that the bunks did not even have rails, so I bought two boxes of safety pins and hope to be able to pin the curtain onto the bunk above me. It is one thing sharing sleeping quarters with strangers and quite another doing it in such close quarters without a curtain.
A bicycle lock is essential to tether my luggage to a secure place or to each other, on the train and in hostels. A set of carabiners would come in handy at some point. I found a collapsible bottle for camping, which would be ideal for taking ablution in awkward places. Even praying in an open carriage would be an added problem with the current hostility towards Muslims throughout the world. Instead of my obtrusive white telekung (white prayer hijab commonly used in Malaysia and Indonesia) I will make do with a hoodie. Even my toiletries are minimal. I did not even pack my face or hand cream, which I am m
issing desperately). Zubaidah has given me hers.
The Other heavy things are the tools of my trade: writing and photography implements, including brochures and notebooks from a couple of Press trips I had gone on in May and June, which still needed to be written up.
At Zubaidah’s I removed two t-shirts and a face towel and ate some of the biscuits. I know I did not even make a dent in the weight but it is a good start. Soon the food will all be consumed but the bulk will remain.
Don’t lose your faculties
If there is one essential item you cannot fail to pack, it has to be your faculties. At 60 I am given to forgetfulness; getting up to get something and forgetting it by the time I take one step forward. You really must have your wits about you when travelling with so much luggage. A grey-haired woman carrying three bags heavier than her total body weight, trying to read a map (badly) is easy prey for robbers who now work in teams. They have the patience of a crouching tiger and will be watching and willing you to make a small mistake before they pounce.
Finally, with all this precaution and the best insurance policy, we must remember that man proposes and God disposes. You take all the precaution
s you can and then you have to pray that God protects you from any kind of harm.
In 2014 I travelled all over Malaysia with a crutch, keeping my jewellery safe in my cousin’s house and it was only when I thought I was safe in my sister’s car, three days before going back to London that I was robbed and all my cameras and phones, cash, documents and the jewellery in their little pouch kept in my sling bag was taken.
Having faith in God does not mean you cross the road without looking and assume nothing will hit you.