Overseas expedition kayaking travel tips
by jesse coombs

These are my suggestions for how to get a kayak on the plane. First of all, book your flight with an airline that is kayak friendly. Research the policies off all your airline options, and select one that explicitly accepts kayaks. US Airways has the best policy I can find for American carriers at the time I am writing this. US Air charges $80 for the kayak. Second of all, some people pack their paddles in a separate paddle bag, but I just don't see the value in it. I don't want my paddles to count as one of my checked bags, because I just wasted about 35 pounds of usable space. Plus paddles are over length, and I wouldn't want to get charged for them. The way I like to do it is to pack four bags:

  1. Personal item: This is my very important and expensive stuff that I want on my person at all times such as
    • Passport, tickets and money
    • Video and still camera
    • Computer, book, chess, note pad, sunglasses

  2. Carry on: This is as big a bag as the airline will allow me to get on the plane. And if it doesn't fit in the over head, then they will gate check it for you. They key is to get this through security. My suggestion is to not even bring this bag to the ticket counter. Have a friend hold it for you, or go back to the car for it. You don't want the ticket agent telling you it is too big and must be checked. You carry on bag will not be weighed, so this is your chance to get all your heavy stuff on the plane without having to pay extra for it. I use this bag to do my best to keep my two checked bags at or under the minimum weight which is usually 50 lbs. I have used a medium size internal frame back pack with good success for this bag. In this bag will be items such as:
    • Bag of power cords, external hard drive, and any other electronics
    • Clothes, toiletries minus knife, liquids and gels
    • Camping gear: bag, pad, bivy You'll be very glad to have not checked these items in case your luggage gets lost for 10 days like mine did on my last trip to Brazil

  3. Kayak and paddle. Your creek boat probably weighs about 44 pounds already if you were smart enough to buy a Jackson Kayak that weighs less than most. That means you only have about 4 more pounds you can add to it, because you will wrap it with about 2 pounds of cover. Take your paddles (1 is okay, 2 is plenty) and use duct tape to tape them to the top of your boat. If you orient the paddle correctly it will lay down nicely on the stern and be off the bow a couple inches.

    Take a layer or two of your light weight paddling clothing and put this between the blade and boat to support it. If you do this correctly it will stand up to the guaranteed beating your boat and paddle will receive by the baggage guys. I have always traveled with Werner Paddles and have never had one arrive broken. If you have any weight left put your breakdown and helmet and other bulky items in your boat. Be sure to positively attach them to the boat. Nothing should be in your boat unattached. Also take a prussik and use a carabiner to positively attach your paddle to your kayak in case some airline employee being 'helpful' somehow pulls the paddle off the kayak. Now use copious amounts of tape to ensure it would take a small army to remove the paddle(s) from the kayak.

    Now take or make some sort of light weight tarp or bag to cover the kayak completely. You want this to look like 'cargo' not sports equipment. The more it looks like cargo, the less likely some will want to be to look inside for something they might want. Remember to keep your packaging light but durable to say within weight. Now securely hold your boat cover in place with tape or zippers or what ever. Remember that bag security is likely going to undo all your nice packaging (they certainly did it to mine) so they can look inside. Package it in a way that they can redo it easily. Try to make spots where the ticket agent can attach the bag tag and your can put your name, address, phone and email on the package. Finally, if possible make it so the front and back grap loops can be used for moving your boat around. One more tip would be that your boat will get dragged around, so be prepared for the under part of your packaging to take a beating.

  4. Your last bag will be your second checked bag. The goal with this bag is too keep it at or under the maximum weight without paying over weight fees. Everything else goes in here. Fill it until you reach weight. Examples of what will go in here are:
    • Kayak gear
    • Knife, liquids and gels
    • First aid kit, climbing gear
    • What ever you don't put in your other bags

If you do all this correctly your only extra fee will be one over size fee. Not bad!

Here are some suggestions on boat and bag considerations. I suggest you take a used kayak that you already know you like on your trip. Don't bring one that is in danger of breaking because it is so old, but you won't be able to sell a brand new used boat in your destination any better than you could sell a used used boat there.

Before and during your trip start shopping your boat and paddle around. The point here is to bring a boat and paddle you like on the trip, and then sell it when you are ready to come back. You can probably bring back your paddle without paying extra fees, but why lug the boat around and likely pay the fees again? You will most likely get a good price for it and have one less headache for your return. I also suggest water proof or at least water resistant (the material is water proof but the zippers are not) for all your bags.

You never know when your stuff will be exposed to the elements such as camping or in the back of a truck, and you are MUCH better off with bags with will keep all your gear dry and happy.

Start packing as soon as you book your ticket. You never know what logistical and gear problems you will find when you pack, so it is better to find them out early rather than late. Don't delay on setting out your stuff and going through your list.

Check for visa requirements as soon as you book your ticket. You'll want to check immediately any requirements for visiting your planned country. You may have to send off your passport to a consulate to get a visa. You better do this right away, because if you show up at the country without a visa they will turn you around and make you go home.

Check for vaccination requirements as soon as you book your ticket. Don't be one of the cases that gets reported to the authorities. Get all your vaccinations well before your trip. Then do your best to keep the mosquitos at bay with nets or deet. You'll be much happier preventing the illness rather than recovering from it. Check online with the CDC for suggestions and requirements and with your doctor of course.

Check for malaria medications as soon as you book your ticket. Again, you don't want to be one of the reported cases. Get the malaria medication suggested for your destination. Different countries have different malarias, so get the right one. And then use nets and deet to do your best to keep the little buggers at bay.

Check on electronics and order them as soon as you book your ticket. You may want a new digital or video camera for your trip. You may want a new small laptop or mp3 player. Regardless you will get a lot better deal on price and research and shipping if you take care of this very early as opposed to having someone rush ship you something that you hope will arrive the day you are supposed to leave.

Pack as if you are leaving a day earlier than you are. Don't leave your last minute packing for the last minute. You most likely will have forgotten a couple small things you will need or want to change in your packing, and it is better to take care of that stuff the day before rather than on your way to the airport. Plus it is a LOT nicer when you are packed in advance, and you are not in a huge and frenzied rush on the day you leave.

Make sure to put your knife or multi tool in checked baggage. Make sure to put liquids, gels and aerosols in checked baggage. Nothing sucks more than bringing your favorite knife or leatherman and forgetting to check it as opposed to putting it with your personal items. You will have to throw it away, try to check it, or pay $20 to ship it back home before they will let you through security. Make a bag of the items they do not allow through security, and make sure those go in a checked bag.

Make sure to really go through your carry on bags before both departure and return and remove all rasors, suncscreen, liquids, fluids, gels, etc. I am sick at tired of them taking my stuff, and I need to be better prepared to prevent it.

Pack your toothbrush in your carry on bag. For these international kayaking trips getting there will likely involve 36 hours of trains, planes, automobiles and busses. You'll be glad to have a toothbrush handy.

I should have brought a bug net. I had several nights where I did not sleep well because of the bugs getting after me. I am bringing a bug net next time to deal with this.

An important thing for me to do in the future is bring a GPS. I have tended to not watch the map that closely and track our route, and I need to be better about this. Plotting our course and logging the towns we go through will be an awesome way to keep track of our path, location and progress. Plus it will really help me and us to know if we are going the right direction in important times were we are unsure. If I would have had my GPS on for the drive to Brasilia I probably would have caught the missed turn a lot sooner.

An important aspect of spending as little money as possible on these trips and in general is to plan way ahead and take care of things right away. These trips can be a lot more expensive or a lot less expensive based on your pre-planning. Go through your itinerary and do your best to think of everything. Try to cover your bases as much as possible. Thorough pre-planning could save you as much as $500 on your trip.

Be prepared to brush your teeth without water from beginning to end. Just put toothpaste on your tooth brush and start brushing. Spit when ever you need to. When you have brushed as much as you like spit out the toothpaste in your mouth. Then suck the left over toothpaste and saliva from your toothbrush and spit that out to. Put you toothbrush away and you are done. If you want to be safe about not drinking bad water, pour nothing on your toothbrush except bottled water if you have it. I don't even do that anymore. I don't want to waste the bottled water. I would rather drink it.

Don't drink juice or eat lettuce or eat other non cooked vegetables that still have their skin. Many times you will be okay with raw vegetables, sometimes you won't. If you want to gamble that is up to you. You will probably begin to know what sources of food you can trust and which ones you can't. But let me tell you from several first hand experiences that bad water, food poisoning and bacteria are the shits. Literally. They are absolutely terrible. And once you experience these things you start getting pretty picky about what you will eat. I once had 3 glasses of juice from a nice river resort in Colombia that looked very clean. I even asked if it was made with bottled water or tap water before I drank it. They told me bottled water. They lied. I was terribly sick for 2 weeks until I took a full course of anti-biotics. Don't mess around with getting ill on your vacation. Wait until you get home to have juice made with water and fresh vegetables. Of course you still need to eat vegetables on your trip to stay regular, so pick ones that do not risk you getting sick. Fresh juices not made with water but just fruit juice are fine. Also don't drink tap water or river water. I carry the Katadyn Exstream water bottle filter combo, and have never gotten sick using this. This product is a life saver.

Wear flip flops or sandals. Pretty much every day you are in central or south America in their summer you will want to wear sandals or flip flops. Plus if you get your feet wet a lot from walking and hiking through rivers, sandals are the best choice of shoe. Sandals may be the most versitile and practical choice, but I tend to bring flip flops. Sandals are also perfect for long drives and just getting around down. You will still want a pair of sneakers though. Some times the weather may be too cold for sandals. Also sandals are not as good for technical and muddy hiking. Bring both and you will use your sandals more often. You do not want to wear your sneakers exclusively, especially if they get wet. You need to keep your feet dry as much as possible. Also the filp flops are great for showers. I prefer to ever step barefoot in showers as this is a very likely way to pick up athlete's foot or some other fungus. Don't skimp on price when buying sandals. If you get the ones with the soft black sole and it gets wet, your feet will slip right out of the flip flop. Also, be careful with wet straps and grit between your foot and your straps. Your skin can get irritated and need a break from the rubbing and grit especially if wet.

Bring a light but durable pair of full length pants and long sleeve shirt. There will probably be times when you want to protect your self from the little bugger mosquitos and/or sun, and clothing is definitely the best way to handle them both.

Don't skimp on your personal hygene. I see a lot of kayakers who go days and days without showering or brushing their teeth. Don't be that guy/gal. Shower when the opportunity presents itself. Keep your small bar of soap in a zip lock back handy for the times when you can bathe in the river. Swim every chance you get. Brush your teeth at least twice a day and use floss once a day. Be sure to clean your under carriage every chance you get. When you take a shower or have an extra moment in the river do your laundry. I like to use my bar of soap to lather up my clothes and then rinse them thoroughly. You'll be surprised how nice they smell afterward. You may have no problem being Pigpen from Penauts but, you are risking the growth of fungus or worse on your body and you will probably smell too ripe for your friends. Just because you are traveling does not mean you will want to take a vacation from personal hygene. You don't need to be overly militant about it, but I would stay on top if it.

I like to get a short hair cut before I leave. Usually you do not have the opportunity to shower in the mornings, so pillow head is a constant on these trips. Short hair is easier in my opinion and easier to keep clean.

Bring a decent shirt for going out. The key is always packing lightly, but at the same time there will be opportunities to go out for a drink or dancing. I have had no problems using sandals or sneakers and my light weight pants out for the evening, because a decent going out shirt is all that really matters.

Bring a large external hard drive for photos. On kayaking trips friends will bring cameras, and they will take some photos you will want. If you are a blogger or professional kayaker, you will want a lot of their photos. Be sure to bring a large storage device for photos.

Be able to ftp large files. If you are a blogger or professional kayaker you will want the ability to share large files internationally. An ftp site is the only decent way to do this. If you want to keep others updated and share video or lots of photos, an ftp site is what you will need.

People in central and south America are smokers. You'll just have to deal with it. I hate smoking, but there isn't much can do about it down here.

Do your best to pick up the language, even it is only a few basic things. Being able to say things like greetings, thank you, I want, I have, you have?, how much, numbers, etc. can make your life a lot easier. With a few basic words and some gesturing makes most simple travel communication is possible.

Bring a charge converter from auto to 110. If you are on a kayaking camping trip and are trying to save money by not being in rooms every night, you will want an auto converter. There are many times when you will want to charge something important and have access to a car charger but not an outlet. You'll be glad to have this. As alwasy, small is key.

Be prepared to do a lot of sitting around. What would you do if you had to spend 18 hours somewhere waiting for someone or something. It happens. It happens more than you might think. Be prepared to enertain yourself for long periods of time.

Here are my list or what I take on a trip.

Watershed bag:

  • Passport, visa, atm card, money in a small waterproof sleeve
  • Video camera in protective cover
  • Still camera in sock or protective cover
  • Small sunscreen
  • Deet in a bag in case it is inclined to leak.

Backpack

  • Flight documents and important papers
  • Asus eee PC and charger
  • External hard drive
  • Mini storage device
  • mp3 player
  • GPS and charger. You want to know where you are going!
  • GPS extra batteries
  • Note pad
  • Pen
  • Book to read
  • Electronic Chess
  • Sunglasses
  • Light jacket or rain coat

Main Bag

  • Clothes bag
    • 2 pair short socks, not cotton
    • 2 pair underwear, not cotton
    • 1 pair shorts
    • 1 short sleeve shirt
    • 1 long sleve button up shirt
    • 1 pair light pants or jeans
    • 1 rain jacket
  • Small electronic cord bag
    • Video camera extra battery
    • Video camera charger
    • Still camera extra battery
    • Still camera charger
    • MP3 charger
    • Asus eee extra battery
    • Power strip for charging several electronics at once
    • Converter from 12v to 110am
    • GPS auto charger cord
    • Next time bring 2-way radios. Very handy for scouting and river running. These only work well with the right personalities though. People who are not very communicative or not very responsible, won't be this way with your two way radio.
  • Toiletries and medecine small bag
    • Tooth brush
    • Tooth paste
    • Dental floss
    • Small bar of soap in plastic ziplock
    • Small container of shampoo
    • Razor
    • Small bag of q-tips
    • Course of Ciproflaxin or similar
    • Malaria medecine
    • Large sunscreen
  • Small first aid kit
  • Sleeping bag (North Face synthetic is usually better as it stays warm even when wet)
  • Sleeping pad (I use a 3/4 length pad quite happily)
  • Bivy sack (get a good one because the medium and less expensive ones just trap your body moisture and turn you into a steamy hot pocket. No fun!)
  • Bug net. Central and South America has a ton of mosquitos and bugs, and you'll sleep a lot better if you are not battling them all night.
  • Harp's Tarp 5'x8'
  • Full roll of duct tape. This is always usful and I recommend black because it is not as abvious as grey
  • 2 20' cam straps. Always useful, especially with a rental car, taxi, etc.
  • NUUN tablets
  • Trade items
    • 3 t-shirts
    • 3 videos
    • 3 visors

Kayaking Equipment

  • Jackson Kayak: my Super Hero is the perfect length for fitting under the busses in Central and South America. Yeah baby!
  • Werner Paddles
  • Werner break down paddle
  • Shred Ready Helmet
  • Kokatat Drytop
  • Snap Dragon Skirt
  • Kokatat PFD
  • Kokatat Swimsuit
  • Elbow pads
  • Shoulder pads
  • Kokatat Paddle pants
  • INOV-8 River sneakers
  • Throw bag
  • Two stow bags
  • Katadyn Exstream water bottle with filter
  • T-stops
  • 2 pulleys
  • Climbing harness
  • Belay device
  • Ascenders
  • Climbing rope with drybag
  • Carabiners
  • T-blocks or Prussiks
  • Webbing for anchor