Dear Woman on the Road,

After a month of backpacking in Panama in both hot and chilly temperatures, I started to streamline my extensive packing list and realized there are five things I simply can't afford to leave behind when I travel. I'd like to share them with you.

This monthly ezine, Women on the Road News, keeps you informed of what's new on Women on the Road and in the big broad world of women's solo backpacking. I send it to you on the first Tuesday of each month.

Women on the Road News: Contents for Issue #4

  • 5 Essential Must-Haves for your Backpack
  • What's new at Women on the Road
  • Travel News
  • Cause of the Month

5 Essential Must-Haves for your Backpack

I've already posted a tried and tested travel packing list that I refine after each trip and from readers' comments. This last trip to Panama brought something home to me: there are 5 things I simply cannot afford to be without when I'm on the road.

1. A door lock A portable door lock is easy to find - there are a variety of models but most of them are lightweight and versatile (make sure you test it before you go). But a single lock doesn't always work on every door so in addition, and this may sound silly, I also carry a rubber doorstop. Just slip it under your door once you're inside the room and presto - everyone else is locked out.

2. Nail brush This is not for your nails - but it could be. An all-purpose brush is an ideal way to wash your clothes or scrub your boots. No more rubbing and squeezing - just scrub and dirt disappears magically. If you get muddy - and I certainly do - this is something you'll be glad to have.

3. Universal sink plug One thing you'll find in many cheaper hostels or hotels is a plugless sink. Either someone has taken the plug, or there was never one to begin with. A flat universal plastic or rubber plug will fit any sink! You won't know just how important this is until you've actually tried to soak your clothes in a sink without one.

4. Bandanna On my recent trip to Panama, this was perhaps my most-used item. Wet, my bandanna kept me cool and moist. Dry, it protected me from wind and dust. I wore it around my neck, on my head, around my wrist, or wet and flat on my thighs when the night was too hot. You can also use it as a hat, as an ankle or wrist support for a sprain, as an eye mask to sleep on brightly lit buses or as a plain old handkerchief.

5. Dental floss The need for string is more frequent than you might think, and dental floss is an essential addition to any kit - it's so light you won't even notice it's there. Use it for the obvious - teeth - but also as a fishing line, clothesline, shoelaces, sewing thread, for minor repairs or as a suture. You'll probably find many other uses for it - just don't leave home without it.

What's New: Women on the Road Website

Ethical Travel

Most of us want to practice ethical travel but we often don't know the rules. It's simple: put the shoe on the other foot. How would you want people to behave when they visit your country without harming it?

Benefits of Ecotourism

The benefits of ecotourism aren't always obvious, but following a few guidelines will ensure our impact on the land is lessened and our backpacking experience heightened.

Cheap Ways to Travel

If you're looking for cheap ways to travel, these days you might be spoiled for choice. Whether it's low-cost airlines, local buses, crewing on yachts or plain old-fashioned driving, travel doesn't have to cost as much as it used to.

Cheap Train Travel

Rail is one of the cheapest and most fun ways to get around. Rail passes, especially in Europe, make taking the train even cheaper than flying, especially if you're planning on travel to more than one or two destinations.

Travel News

Some roads narrow, others widen...

Travel destinations can never be a given - today's top destination can be tomorrow's no-go zone, and vice versa.

Take Kenya, for example. Recent violence, sparked by a contested presidential election, has killed more than 1000 people and displaced hundreds of thousands. Governments are posting travel advisories warning people to stay away until a solution is found. Armenia, too, is suffering from post-electoral violence.

Another questionable destination is Kosovo, which recently broke away from Serbia. Support for independence from some quarters, especially the US, has led to violent protests in Serbia, making it wise to wait a bit before a trip to this part of the world.

While some countries may be closing off their travel options, others may be opening them up. Fidel Castro's resignation in Cuba may, for better or for worse, bring about a change in US travel policy to the island (most US citizens are forbidden to travel to Cuba). Plenty of non-US tourists visit Cuba, and the ban only stops the poor anyway: walk along Havana's marina and nearly every single pleasure craft moored there flies a US flag - it is just a day hop from Key West, after all.

Cause of the Month

International Women's Day

We shouldn't need a special day of our own but until all inequality and discrimination is eradicated, International Women's Day - 8 March each year - will keep our issues bright on the political agenda.

Find out which events are happening in your country and if you can, join them!

The United Nations celebrates it on 6 March this year, since the 8th is a Saturday. The theme? Investing in Women and Girls. And for more background and history on March 8th, have a look at this Wikipedia page and its links.

Next Month

Driving abroad, or how to keep your sanity at the wheel in any country. Even if you don't drive, knowing how others do can save your life, especially when crossing a street with ten lanes of traffic coming at you from six directions all at the same time.

Editor's EndNote...

How would you like to publish a page on Women on the Road?

Beginning now, I will be adding a form to a few selected pages that will allow you to write your very own page for the site. The first is on my women writers page. Please scroll to the bottom, fill in the form, and send me your thoughts about your favorite woman travel writer! I'll be adding the form to more pages in future.

And please keep your inputs and comments coming - it's so gratifying to hear how you've been inspired by Women on the Road.

Here's what Ida from Sweden wrote: "This is so beautiful!! Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and experiences. Just looking around on the internet about women solo travel...wondering if this is ever possible to do for me...and finds this site! Amazing! Makes me feel more convinced that this is something I actually can do!"

I hope this newsletter inspires you too - and gives you practical tips and ideas on how to travel better, further, more cheaply and more enjoyably. If there's a topic you'd like to see covered, let me know and I'll do my best. Just Reply to this email or contact me here.

Happy travels! Leyla