I’d jump at any opportunity to explore a rain forest. I find them to be among the most fascinating environments to explore. Having toured a few, I’ve gotten a good grasp on which items will always show up in my luggage.
A hand fan. When I first saw the palm-woven hand fans in the cabins of our riverboat in the Peruvian Amazon, I thought, “Well isn’t that quaint?” No, it’s essential, and of the smartest tourist tools I’ve ever seen in rain forest. You see, researchers have determined that mosquitoes tend to avoid places where the wind speed is 0.9 to 3.6 miles an hour—equal to their own flying speed. On the days when even mosquito repellent wasn’t doing the trick, a slight flicker of the wrist to fan my face was enough to keep the critters out of my eyes and off my neck.
Mosquito repellent. I prefer biodegradable lotions over sprays; lotions give you more control over what you’re covering—in other words, you get the spray on you, not on the floor, furniture or plant life around you. Wipes are ok, as long as you dispose of them properly.
Pants. Your instinct might be to wear shorts in a warm environment like Borneo. I advise light-weight field pants instead. You’ll be better protected from splashy mud and insects.
Long socks. There’s no need to don circa-1970s striped tube socks—you want to look for birds in the rain forest, not look like Larry Bird. But socks that are long enough to pull up over the cuffs of your pants will help prevent insects from nibbling your ankles. Some guests, especially on Borneo tours, prefer leach socks, which are woven tightly to present the seemingly-scary-but-not-really bug from latching on.
A poncho. Between my fancy, big-name outdoors retailer rain jacket and the $3 hooded poncho I bought at my local convenience store, I’ll take the poncho any day. The jacket stays home. Ponchos repel the water from downpours wonderfully, and they’re large enough that you can wear your day pack and tote your camera around your neck. Just be warned: they aren’t very breathable.
A well-worn bandana. Tied around your neck or your head, it can absorb sweat. And it can clean steamy eyeglass or camera lens when you don’t have a chamois handy as you hike among misty waterfalls such as those found in China or Iguacu Falls in Brazil. (Just make sure the bandana is well worn in, because the softer fabric won’t scratch glass.
A pencil. If you plan to take notes along the way, bring a pencil. Why not a pen? If there’s rain, your ink will smear (unless you’re one of those hardcore birders who buy water-resistant notebooks and writing instruments). You may want to take notes as you take in the vast amounts of flora encountered throughout the Great Amazon River Cruise.
Trail mix. You get hungry out there! A word of caution though: don’t bring the trail mix with orbs of chocolate mixed in. In a humid place like a rain forest? The chocolate—and you, once you dip your hand into it—will become a gooey mess that may attract unwanted attention from wild animals!