17 November 2012

Backpack, Check. Passport, Check. Hip flask, Check. What Else?

When I first started backpacking I remember thinking, “what the hell do I take?” I asked my friend for advice and she said I can’t take any form of denim; I need to take a million and one pills for the illnesses I could potentially get, and then she taped together any liquids I had to prevent leakage, so much so that I struggled to get in most of them.
I feel now that I've travelled enough to know what I do and don’t need; and therefore offer advice to any new backpacker. Many factors will determine a different list of essentials for each backpacker, obviously because each time you travel may involve a different 'essentials' list. For example, don’t bother taking your mosquito repellent to the mountain treks of the Himalayas, but then again don’t take your hip flask around the mosques of Istanbul. I feel that I've gathered enough of a list to provide a new backpacker with the essentials of what to take, if you feel anything needs adding or taking away just let me know.

Firstly, the backpack – I for one don’t have the best advice on this important item. Many travel blogs that I read argue that a 60 litre backpack is plenty, I have a 110 litre backpack and I’m still struggling. The size of the backpack will vary depending if you’re travelling for two weeks of if you've packed your whole life away, like me. All I’d say on the backpack front is make sure you leave with it half full or ¾ full as you’re going to pick up things along the way, especially if you’re just going on a short trip, then you’re bound to grab some souvenirs. Pick a sturdy backpack, with enough straps to alter, and I’d recommend getting one with different compartments and one that opens at the front as if it were a big duffle bag, it’s much easier to grab stuff quickly

Documents – I always take a photocopy of my passport, emergency phone numbers and a copy of my insurance statement, policy and flight tickets

Clothes – pack less! Advice I wish I follow every time I travel. We all like to look good, we all like a new outfit but carrying a lot of clothes is more effort than it’s worth, plus you’ll probably ending up buying more on your travels anyway. All I’d say is take a waterproof jacket and pack according to the season. Always take some kind of bathing wear; you never know when you’ll come across a pool, a beach or a hot spring

Shoes – flip flops are an essential for any country, mainly to wear in the hostel showers. Some people think this is really OCD of me, but some hostel showers are vile. Secondly, a good pair of trainers/sneakers is useful for the amount of walking you will do. And girls, don’t bother taking heels, you’ll be the only backpacker in them and they take up a lot of room

Toiletries – I once tried 2-in-1 shampoo/conditioner, and it made my hair feel like shit, so don't bother with those products. Just take the latter and a bar of soap. The soap can be used for your face, body, clothes washing, pot washing, so versatile... Use after sun lotion as body moisturiser and always take hand sanitizer. And, if you’re going to the right countries then pack your suncream. For girls, take a supply of your ‘monthly-friends’ as you may find yourself a bit lost when stuck in the middle of Vietnam, trying to explain to a male shop assistant what you’re after

Medical – pack a small first aid kit, plasters, painkillers and diarrhea tablets (especially for Asian countries where the food and water might leave you crouched in bed all day.) If you’re going to a mosquito country then don’t be a fool, make sure you get malaria tablets. Also, take some insect repellent with at least 50% of the deet ingredient (should be read easily on the packet.) I’ve never needed much else, but I have friends who are insistent on taking every tablet under the sun. You can buy these things abroad, they often can be pricey but it saves having to buy and carry them round in the first place

Towel – get one of those microfiber easy dry towels. Or a thin beach towel as they're usually huge but fold up tiny

Small bag/rucksack – make sure you have a bag to take around during the day, and girls remember you’re bound to want some kind of ‘night’ bag. Make sure it has a secure zip

Earplugs - man alive I would be tired without these! Can't argue the significance of taking earplugs, and maybe a sleeping mask travelling. Earplugs will cancel out the loud Burmese cartoons on the night bus, and the couple having sex in the hostel dorm

Padlock – always important for lockers in hostels and your backpack

Notebook and pen – safer to use than making notes on your phone

Purse – leave all unnecessary cards at home. Buy an international student card if you can, worth every penny for the amount of discounts you get

Travel book – sometimes a Rough Guide or Lonely Planet has saved the day, for example when arriving in an unknown city in the middle of the night it’s easy to point to a hostel in your travel book than having to explain to a taxi driver what you're after. But try and buy one that covers the range of countries you're visiting, rather than three different books

Book – can’t beat a good book, and useful for when your iPod runs out of battery in the middle of a 36 hour bus ride. I usually find a dusty copy of George Orwell for 50p in a charity shop, pretty light and easy to throw away/swap in a hostel book exchange when done. Don’t take a hardback obviously, and if you’re a keen reader then maybe worth investing in a kindle

Sunglasses – don’t be ‘that’ person like me and take about five pairs of different coloured sunglasses. And don’t take expensive ones; they’re just likely to get broken

Washing powder – useful in the more expensive countries. However, if in places like South-East Asia then pay for laundry. It’s crazy cheap; they’ll dry it for you and even tag your socks together

Cards – a pack of cards never goes a miss, and can be played universally with pretty much any language barrier. Also a great way to start a drinking game with new friends

Travel sewing kit – useful for long-term travelers, and really compact and cheap

Adapter – look on eBay for a universal adapter, and perhaps one with a USB charger to charge your iPod. They should be about £5

Laptop – only take a laptop if you’re travelling for a while, which if you are then invest in a travel size one/iPad. If you’re just doing a few months or less then don’t bother. Most hostels have computers with free internet, and if not then internet cafes are really cheap. Basically, judge the situation. For example, my friend did a ski season in one place for four months and was lost without his laptop, but then another friend went on a three day island break and took a huge MAC...

Camera/GoPro – some travellers love a good SLR with fancy buttons, fair enough if you do, but prepare for the damage costs and the expense it carries. I bought a normal digital camera, and broke it two weeks later drunk…so now I use my phone which actually takes pretty good pictures. I’d say take a digital camera, which can be purchased pretty cheap these days. Also remember the charger, maybe buy an extra battery off eBay, and take a memory stick so that you always have enough space for more snaps

Chargers – camera, phone, iPod

IPod – sync a ton of music, films and podcasts 

This list might seem obvious to even a new traveller, but it doesn't harm to always have a checklist. Overall, my main bit of advice is to pack light. I’m no good at this and it’s the biggest burden of travelling. No one looks good as a traveller, so leave your fashion, accessories and shoes at home. Also, leave your valuables; it’s really not worth the hassle.

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