- Buyer's Guide
What to Pack When You’re Traveling to Nepal
The tallest mountains in the world, thick jungles, rich tea and amazing hospitality characterize the small country of Nepal. Sandwiched between India and China, it is a multi-ethnic country with over 40 races and tribes speaking over 100 languages. Most people survive through subsistence farming, as most people in the villages make less than $2/day.
As a volunteer and then an employee for an international nonprofit, I’ve been able to travel to Nepal over 20 times, and still can’t wait to go back next month. I’ve taken many bags over the years and have tweaked my packing list to the point of finally achieving one-bag travel on my last trip.
Passport: You need one. And make sure it isn’t going to expire within 6 months, or you won’t be able to get a visa.
Visa: Getting one is easy. You don’t need it before you travel; just arrive at the Kathmandu international airport (the only international airport in the country right now) and pay the fee and boom, you’re approved! You can even pay in USD: $30 for 15 days, $50 for 30 and $125 for 90 days. It’s an easy process and they even have computers now so you can digitally fill out the visa form, take the digital photo and it prints it out for you. (Still carry a few passport photos with you just in case. I make them myself by printing one 4″ x 6″ with six headshots.)
Immunizations: Get them. If you have a travel doctor, consult with them. The CDC has a health information page for travelers to Nepal that is always current and will update the most crucial immunizations. At minimum I’d suggest Hep A, Hep B, Rabies and Malaria meds, but always consult your doctor when traveling. If you will be in a jungle area, specifically west Nepal, seriously consider the vaccine for Japanese Encephalitis. Also, Dengue Fever cannot be cured with more cowbell; unfortunately, there is no vaccine for Dengue right now but it should be ready in the next year or two. Dengue is terrible and will knock you out for days, weeks, even months. Take it from me – you don’t want it. So have a plan for avoiding mosquitoes.
Cash: You can carry up to $2,000 USD before you have to declare it entering the country, but keep in mind that ATMs are easily accessible in the cities. Take $100 bills to get the best exchange rate. Don’t exchange at the airport; go to Thamel, the tourism area for trekkers in Kathmandu, and get a few money exchange booths to all bid for the best exchange rate. You can get at least one or two rupees per dollar more by doing this, which really adds up if you have a large amount of cash.
Phone: When you arrive at the Kathmandu airport, it is easy to get a $10 SIM card for your phone (if it is unlocked). Minutes are inexpensive, and once you buy the minutes, use them to activate a variety of low-cost data plans. I use a lot of data and call home almost every day and spend less than $10/week on average.
There are so many reasons to move to one-bag travel (at least 23), and I highly recommend it. Even with my laptop, camera and audio gear, everything fits nicely into the WANDRD HEXAD Access Duffel backpack.
The HEXAD opens in the middle and has many access points and pockets to grab your gear on the go. The shoulder straps are not great, but the sternum strap and waist straps help offset some of the weight.
This is everything I packed into the HEXAD, minus my REI 16 oz. water bottle and the Kuhl Kollusion jacket I stuffed through the side compression straps. I packed for 9 days, but honestly wouldn’t pack more for my normal 3-week trips. I’ll describe each item going down each of the five columns in the photo, from left to right.
Peak Design Medium Packing Cube: All my clothes fit into this. All of them. Moisture-wicking and odor-resistant shirts and underwear can really minimize your clothes. I’ve tried some merino wool but have found that I prefer the lululemon Silverscent Metal Vent shirts, their T.H.E. Sock Silver, and ExOfficio’s Give-N-Go Boxer Briefs. Along with my Royal Robbins Alpine Road travel pants, I can get by with just 3-4 shirts, 2-3 pairs of underwear, and 2 pairs of socks.
Peak Design Wash Pouch: The best wash bag I’ve used. The small side pocket for your toothbrush and toothpaste is a plus for quickly brushing teeth during travel at the airport. I also use the Matador toiletry bottles for shampoo, conditioner and face wash, and their soap bar case. They will all hang on a shower bar and are super convenient.
Flip flops: Use them in the shower. Trust me.
MacBook Pro 13″: The 15″ is nice but for one-bag travel I like my laptop as small as possible yet still capable of video and photo editing.
Roost Laptop Stand: I work when I travel and I don’t want to be staring down at a screen straining my neck. The laptop stand brings my laptop closer to eye level which is better for your back and neck. Yes, the Roost is a bit pricey, but it’s smaller and more durable than the Nexstand.
Anker Wireless Bluetooth Keyboard: (inside Roost keyboard sleeve) This and the Apple Bluetooth mouse let my laptop rest on the Roost stand and I’m all business and comfortable even in my hotel room or coffee shop. Or tea shop. Seriously, when in Nepal, drink milk tea, not coffee…
Manfrotto Element Small Aluminum Traveler Tripod: I love Manfrotto tripods and this one folds down very nicely. It even fits into the WANDRD HEXAD Access cube pockets. Score.
Peak Design Sling 5L: Unzipping this sling is so aesthetically pleasing. And it holds so much for 5L. Mirrorless camera (LUMIX G85) and two lenses, five batteries, battery charger, 4 SD cards and a few cables. My iPad Mini 4 even slides nicely into the back of this.
WANDRD VEER Packable Bag with inflatable back and camera cube: I started using a REI daypack a year ago and quickly loved the idea and convenience of a daypack. But they are floppy and without form and few features. Until the VEER. The inflatable back gives it form and comfort. The camera cube with side access is super convenient. And the thick durable material (Weather Resistant N100D Robic Dynatec and N210D Robic HD Oxford) makes it a reliable bag beyond what you’d expect in a daypack. While I love the PD 5L sling for dayshoot photography, if I’m doing video with a tripod and audio gear, I take the VEER.
NOMATIC Toiletry Bag 1.0 for audio gear: I go back and forth with the NOMATIC brand, and while it is simple, this toiletry bag is durable and slightly smaller than similar bags. I’ve found it to be great for my audio gear including mountable camera mic, audio recorder, lavalier, at least 9 AA batteries, 3 SD cards, and more. I like having all the audio gear in a separate bag so I can leave it behind when just doing photography.
Boundary Supply Aux Compartment: I’m a sucker for a good sling bag. I’m not down with the whole new fanny pack movement sweeping the nation (although I’m trying), but man I love a good sling bag. This Aux Compartment is among my favorites as it will hold my iPad Mini 4, productivity journal, pens, business cards, battery pack and more. It’s perfect for pulling out of my one bag on the plane to have my essentials nearby during travel.
Incase City Accessory Pouch (black): Great size. Great price. And full of all my additional cables.
Incase City Accessory Pouch (gray): Batteries, SD cards and chargers, oh my. They all fit and are contained in this great field pocket.
The North Face pouch: I take a mobile diffuser and 3-5 Young Living oils in this, and they come out first as I am unpacking in my room upon arrival. It helps me feel at home right away. Along with some Miles Davis “Kind of Blue” playing through my mobile speaker of course.
Small North Face pouch: For all my drugs. Prescription drugs! Malaria meds, sleeping pills and more conveniently in one place.
REI Co-op Trail 2 Waistpack: Okay, again, I don’t get the fanny pack thing but I’m giving this a try. I wear it like a sling (never around my waist) and it’s great for my 16 oz water bottle, Anker battery charger and chapstick. Yes, chapstick. It gets dry on long flights…
Metal Straws: For all the VSCO girls out there. Save the turtles.
Calvin Klein Foldable Glasses Case: Packs up small during travel and tucks my glasses in at night.
Arriving In Kathmandu
Arrival and taxis: It will take some time to fill out your visa information, then pay for your visa, then go through customs. After which you’ll descend to the baggage claim and go through another “security checkpoint” where you will set off the metal detector but they will wave you through anyway. It will take some time for all of your luggage to arrive, and you may need to shove through the crowd to get to it. The luggage carts are free so grab one. Exiting the luggage claim they may wave you over to search your luggage or run it through the security scanner again. You can try to wave them off and confidently say “tikshaw” and they may just let you pass without the added delay.
As you exit out to the right, there’s a money exchange on the left (with moderately good rates but with a transaction fee and not as good as you can negotiate in Thamel), then on the right there’s a phone shop where you can get a SIM card and buy minutes before exiting the airport.
Once you walk out of the airport, taxi drivers and their assistants will try to grab your bags and “help you.” I prefer not to allow this as they want tips (and can’t all be trusted). If it is your first time to Nepal, the taxi drivers will try to overcharge you to drive you to your hotel. $8 should get you anywhere in Kathmandu from the airport, and only $4-6 to get to Thamel. If it is evening and dark out, the rates are $1-2 more than normal.
Booking guesthouses: You can easily book city hotels and guest houses on Expedia and other sites. Just look at photos, especially bathroom photos. What I’ve found is that many photos can be made to look nice, but the bathroom photos will truly reveal how nice a place is. Expect to spend $18-40 for a nice guesthouse. And even if you don’t stay at the Kathmandu Guesthouse, visit there during the day. They have a great barber and restaurant and outdoor napping areas.
Buying souvenirs: Thamel is the main tourism area of Kathmandu, with many shops and trekking companies. Unless the shop has a sign saying “fixed price” out front, all the prices are negotiable. You can normally negotiate down 10-30%. The more you buy at a shop, the better deal you can get. And even though you can get a good deal, keep in mind that every time you buy something you are helping employ someone in a country where the average annual income is about $1,000/year. So don’t be cheap. And check out the Sonam and Sherpa brand shops for good-quality Nepal clothing.
Nepal is a beautiful, rich land to explore. From the jungles of west Nepal, the tigers and elephants in Chitwan, the lush valleys in Surkhet, to Mount Everest and the other 7 highest mountains in the world, it is a country of adventure and hospitality. Our tourism is not only an amazing experience, but also a financial investment into an amazing society with some of the most welcoming, gracious people in the entire world. Travel well.
This article was written by Adam J. Nevins, traveler, humanitarian and founder of citytrekker.co (launching January 2020).
If you enjoyed this article, why not check out these too: