Several of my students have asked about what to bring with them on an archaeological project, so I thought I’d put together my Official SuperSmart Backpack Checklist Of What To Bring On An Archaeological Dig To Be More Comfortable Than Most. This will tend to be specific to a jungle environment (as Belize and the Maya world is what I know best), but the requirements of most archaeological projects will be very similar. I’m assuming you’ve already had your required inoculations and have your needed medicines (hepatitis A, hep B, Typhoid, malaria pills, etc).
1. The Basics:
Passport – Do not order this last minute! Order you passport at least six weeks before you leave and alleviate last-minute anxiety.
Airline Ticket – Just don’t screw this up (get to the airport on time, etc).
Money (cash) – Don’t bother with traveler’s cheques – nobody likes them.
Credit card – ATM cards are not as good, because if they are stolen, the thief has access to your real money.
Other needed documents (e.g. dive certification, insurance card, etc)
Camera – basic, small, and durable
ipod and ear buds (can be part of your phone)
Computer – an older one with sturdy carrying case (optional – not needed unless you are a grad student or above)
Treats – granola bars, lifesavers, whatever you like. You will be shocked how much joy can be contained in a little taste of home when you’ve been eating rice, beans, and tortillas for weeks. Don’t skimp on this – fill empty crevices of your backpack with junk food (My old school favorite was Jolly Ranchers).
Xerox of passport, maps – keep one copy of your passport with you, and one at home.
Chargers and cords for electronics, and surge protector
Paperback book to read
A handful of pictures from home
A magazine or two (usually bought at the airport)
2 backpacks – one large (check) and one small (carry-on) to carry everything in.
3 pairs pants
5 shirts (1 semi-nice, the rest light colored t-shirts)
6 pairs socks
6 pairs underwear
Sturdy hiking boots
Tennis shoes (optional)
Sweatshirt – great for the plane even if you go to a hot place. Also makes a decent pillow in tough spots.
3. Jungle Survival:
2 flashlights (AA batteries) – see my earlier entry on this.
Clipboard – cheap and junky. Don’t buy one with a built-in box – it just adds clutter and
Notebook (may use write-in-the-rain brand if you will be out in the rain a lot).
2 cans of bugspray – one strong, one weak. See my entry on this.
Permethrin – spray that you put on your clothes before you go to keep bugs off. It works, and can deal with several washings before it goes away (not for skin).
Sunscreen – spray-on is best. You won’t bother to put on the cream ones.
Canteen – holds at least a liter or more. Nalgene bottles are common here. I prefer the wide-mouth ones because you can mix Gator-aid in them much easier, but the narrow- mouth ones are much easier to drink from while driving in the back of a truck on a dirt road.
2 extra water bottles – additional water holders. Keep ones that you buy in the airport on the way down. Buy the expensive sturdy ones with the sport tops if possible and re-use them throughout your entire trip.
Machete (usually bought once at your destination)
Swiss army knife
GPS (optional, but nice to have)
Compass with adjustable declination
Paperwork including many blank pieces of paper
Pencils, pens, a small ruler, drawing stuff
Gloves – not too heavy (gardening)
An embarrassing amount of AA batteries
4. Toiletries and First Aid:
Epi-pen (if you have one)
Tooth brush and tooth paste
Towel (old, crappy and thin – it will dry much quicker than a new thick one)
Pills – Malaria meds, vitamins, Pepto Bismol, Advil, Cipro
Powdered Gator-aid – a nice way to make lukewarm water tasty.
Sting-ease – you will get stung
Aloe vera – you will get burned
Spare plastic bags – a garbage bag or two, some gallon ziplock bags, some sandwich bags, some old grocery store plastic bags – super handy and takes up no space.
5. Miscellaneous Tips:
Collect and horde small change.
You can always buy a spare t-shirt or two while away.
Use 1 large and 1 small backpack to pack everything into – be able to carry everything you brought for a leisurely 20 minute walk by putting the large backpack on your back and the small backpack on “backwards” on your front. Don’t overpack.
Don’t use your phone to call people – turn off all roaming and call functions and only use it when you have wifi (FaceTime or Skype can provide the equivalent of an unlimited call for free!).
Make sure you get more than enough time stamped into your passport. If you know you will be in country for two weeks, ask for three when you enter the country. It is a huge pain to have your passport re-stamped for more time if you let it lapse.
Put pressurized bottles (bugspray, sunscreen, shaving cream, etc) in tight plastic bags in your luggage for the flights – I have had bad luck with these things leaking while in flight.
Don’t pack your trowel with your carry-on – they will take it away as a “weapon.”
Guard your passport!
Send an old-fashioned letter home. The recipient will love it. It usually does take forever (weeks) to get to its destination.
There you have it. This basic list has served me well for two decades of field research. Enjoy your trip – it can be life changing. Reply to this post if you think of anything else that I have forgotten, or other ideas that you found work well for you!
PS – You will get sick. While you are sick, know that you will get better (although it won’t feel like it).