This week’s guest post by David Collins is an extremely useful packing list essential for those who are setting off on a backpacking trip. Whether you are traveling for a month or a year, knowing how to pack light is part of the trick to fully enjoying the journey.
So you’ve planned out your itinerary for your round the world backpacking adventure, sorted out flights to your starting destination, been saving like Scrooge for the last year and perhaps drawn up a wish list of ‘must sees’ on your year of discovery.
Flickr photo by obscure allusion
Having a well stocked backpack full of useful travel accessories is essential for any global wanderer. Some are simple tools that can be kept on a keychain or belt buckle, whilst other useful gadgets might require some extra baggage. Here are a few items you should consider purchasing and packing for your backpacking adventure:
· A good sized backpack – the first item you should consider, for the capacity will determine how much you’ll be able to lug around on the road and on and off of buses, trains and your flights there and back.
A good size to start with will be around 50 to 65 litres, be sure to try a few on in your local camping store to find one that’s comfortable for you – both on your shoulders, back and hips (which take most of the weight if carried correctly)
Many rucksacks will come with more compartments than you’d know what to do with, but trust me, you’ll more than likely make use of every one at some point during your journey.
· Waterproofing – many rucksacks come with waterproof bags built into them, attached normally by a Velcro strip or zipper, and these can be more than useful in keeping your stinky wet towels, soaked clothing – perhaps after a South East Asian monsoon and other damp unpleasantries separate from the rest of your luggage.
You can also get waterproof casings to slip over your pack while you’re travelling to your next destination – ensuring that you don’t soak up a few extra pounds of water should you get caught in a rainstorm!
Sleeping bag – essential if you’re after a good night’s kip. Backpacks come with strapping on the front, so a rolled up sleeping bag can be easily attached onto your bag for easy carrying. Don’t forget a silk liner, which can be useful for a number of reasons – if you’re travelling through hot and sticky regions, a silk liner can act as your sleeping bag – this’ll help keep you much cooler than a 4 season Arctic sleeping bag as well as protecting your body from mosquito bites during the night.
Also, the washing process of a simple silk liner is far easier than a huge ‘down’ sleeping bag, a down sleeping bag is very warm but a real negative when its’ wet, weighing a ton and taking ages to dry. Synthetic sleeping bags dry quicker but don’t scrunch down as easily – the choice is yours.
· A Day Rucksack – take along a smaller pack as well as your main backpack, this will save you having to lug around your entire trip while you’re out exploring. Often these day backpacks come with a water bladder, allowing you to take 2 liters of water with you without really noticing the extra weight.
Straps, bungee cords and ‘stuff’ compartments can come in very handy if you need quick access to waterproofs, maps and water bottles.
· Footwear – make sure you have a good, sturdy pair of boots, for you will be doing a lot of walking during your travels, be it up Himalayan foothills or pounding the streets and alleyways of cities such as Rome.
In addition, taking a lighter footwear option, such as a pair of flip-flops or sandals, can be useful for when you want to visit the beach, as well as coming in handy if you’re not too sure about stepping barefoot into the shower.
· Water bottles – these come in a variety of sizes and materials, from hardy aluminium bottles to plastic bladders and that can slip easily into your rucksack.
You can also get hydration packs that can be stored in a compartment of your pack, many of which will have a handy sipping tube for when you need to rehydrate during long days in hot countries. Camelbacks are a sort of hybrid backpack with a built in hydration pack, and are handy to have if your trip includes long hikes, mountain biking and activities such as kayaking which will keep you active for hours on end.
Take a good supply of water purification tablets for the duration of your trip, and make use of them even if the water seems clear and clean. If you’re not sure of the water in the area it’s best not to risk drinking it from the faucet, refill your supplies using bottled water in order to reduce the risk of getting the ‘squits’ – a common ailment of the modern backpacker (and a most unpleasant one at that)
As you plan your stopovers, find out if the hostels or hotels you have in mind can cater for your needs – the most important one being “can we lock our bags away?” To ensure that you reduce the risk of any damage or theft of your property during your trip, here are a few items you should consider buying before you set off:
· Locks – invest in a lock for your backpack and ensure you use it every day, for there’s nothing worse than the feeling of finding you’ve had money, supplies, or even worse, vital travel documents, stolen from your pack while you’ve been out or asleep. A range of locks are available, whether you’re looking to keep a key on your person or simply memorize a combination of numbers to keep thieves out of your backpack.
· Travel document case – keep your vital documents all in once handy place by making use of a plastic folder, and make photocopies of documents such as flight tickets, passports and travelers checks and keep copies at home before you travel, as well as keeping an email account for any important messages. Weigh up if it’s safer on a night out to leave your more important travel documents at the hostel or carry them on your person by using a ‘body belt’.
· Wire covering for your backpack – these handy coverings fit on the outside of your backpack, and can be handy for preventing it from getting slashed or stolen during your journey.
Getting your wardrobe right before you travel is another essential part of preparing for a backpacking trip. Conditions can vary depending on which part of the world you are heading to, and in some regions – such as South East Asia – the weather can suddenly turn nasty, so it’s best to try and think as far ahead as you when packing for the journey.
The simple rule is ‘keep it simple’ and bear in mind that you will essentially be wearing the same clothes throughout the duration of your trip, so don’t be tempted to pack all your best clobber in one case as it won’t stay best for long.
Here is a checklist of what you should be looking to include:
- 2 or 3 t-shirts, one of which should be lightweight in order to soak up sweat and keep you dry
- 2 polo shirts, one of which should be long sleeved for mosquito prevalent areas
- 2 pairs of lightweight trousers or cargo pants
- 2 pairs of ¾ length shorts with lots of pockets – combat shorts are ideal
- A pair of swimming shorts, which can also be worn during the day
- A lightweight fleece
- At least 5 or 6 pairs of underwear and socks
- A lightweight waterproof jacket, should you get caught in a monsoon – if you can afford it it’s well worth considering Goretex!
Depending on where you’re going, other clothing extras can include:
- A second lightweight fleece
- Thermal underwear
- Sarongs – a very useful piece of kit, they can act as sunbathing mats, emergency towels, head scarves for sun protection and even a makeshift curtain, handy to have whether you’re a girl or boy!
Be aware that some countries can be sensitive about how much skin you show, so be sure to take plenty of long but comfortable clothing to keep everyone happy.
Organizing your pack each day can help you to keep your dirty and clean clothes separate until you get the chance to wash them. Carry some washing powder tablets on you for when you have to launder on the move.
An alternative solution can be to compress all your clothing for the trip into an airtight ziplock in order to save on space, whilst this may be a good idea for your outgoing trip, try locating a Dyson in the middle of the jungle!
Keeping clean and fresh during your journey is another essential element of your backpacking adventure. You’re likely to be travelling for days at a time, and as a result might not be able to stick to your usual bathing routine. Here are a few things you should have in your pack to help keep you refreshed and clean:
· Antibacterial wipes – these can come in very handy for cleaning your hands and face, ensuring that you feel clean, fresh and ready to take on the day.
· Antiseptic hand gel – when you’re not always able to wash your hands before a meal, having a small bottle of hand gel in your pack can help you to disinfect before eating. Hand gel can be bought in handy travel-sized bottles of around 50ml, meaning that they fit easily into your 100ml limit for your flights.
· Washing powder tablets – usually available in packs of two, you can spread the use throughout the trip – one per wash should be enough to get your clothes clean, saving you some money in the process, and ensuring your clothes feel fresh and comfortable.
· First aid kit – having a small first aid kit in your backpack is useful for repairing any small cuts and grazes, remember to keep an eye on any injuries though, and seek medical attention if need be.
· Wash bag – should contain the following (amongst other things): toothbrush, flannel, small bar of soap, roll-on deodorant and a pack of condoms. Take a small bottle of 2-in-1 shower gel for the beginning of your trip and buy some when you arrive at your destination.
· If you’re wanting to take a razor with you, sometimes it can be better to purchase one when you arrive in your first stopover, depending on the variety involved at the airport that is.
· Basic medication – be sure to take a small amount of medication as part of your first aid kit, including paracetamol, painkillers, anti-malarial tablets and diarrhea-relief tablets such as Imodium.
If you require specialist medication, such as inhalers and insulin, be sure to take your prescription or a doctors’ note with you to show at the airport (if need be) and also if you need to visit a doctor’s surgery or hospital during your visit.
You can also get special ‘cooling wallets’ for storing insulin, making it easier to carry your medication during your trip, it can be worth having a chat with your specialist before you travel, and to find out if you can purchase insulin in the areas you are travelling to and doing as much preparation as you can before travelling.
Flickr photo by sparky_vision
· Ear plugs and face masks – let’s be honest here, sometimes you’re going to come across rooms that back onto busy streets that are active all night, and roomies who snore loudly.
Not the most ideal sleeping environment if you’re trying to rest up for a long journey the following morning. Packing a set of earplugs into your backpack will provide you with an ideal means of drowning out the sound and get the forty winks you need.
· Plug adapters – while many backpackers tend to travel as lightly as possible, there are some who bring several bits of technology with them, including mobile phones and laptops to document their adventures on the road.
Be sure to pack adapters for the country you are travelling to in order to ensure you can always keep your phone or laptop charged up. You can also buy solar-powered chargers for topping up your technology, handy for when you’re visiting somewhere hot.
· Plastic bags – always handy for storing wet clothes, as well as doubling up as a sick bag should you find yourself in discomfort on a rickety bus ride.
· Hard-shelled case for your sunglasses – for flimsy cases + the crush of a backpack = crushed or broken sunglasses, and that can prove costly through the course of your trip.
Take the time to prepare as much as you can before your trip, ensure you’ve visited your doctor and gotten all the necessary vaccinations depending on where you’re going and have plenty of medication and purification tablets on you.
When it comes to packing your case, only take what you need, for there’s nothing worse than an overstuffed backpack causing strain on your back as well as making for a logistical nightmare when it comes to travelling from one location to the other.
Most importantly of all – keep your wits about you and be sure to follow the rules of wherever you may find yourself. And don’t forget to take plenty of photographs to share with your family (and the rest of the world if you’ve got a blog).
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