It’s been a few years since I bought a one-way ticket to a new continent, strapped on my large backpack, and went exploring. *sigh* While this makes me sad, I thought I’d pass on some of the things I’d learned about how to pack your backpack.
Don’t take more than 15kgs: You’ll really feel those extra kilos when you’ve arrived in Lisbon with no accommodation and are schlepping to the third floor of ten different pensions looking for a room (definitely earned my Portuguese tart that day). Also some of the cheaper airlines have a 15kg limit on checked baggage with hefty fines if you inch over this weight ( and there are only so many pairs of pants you can wear at one time).
Don’t pack so much into your carry on you can’t even lift it. Your fellow passengers will hate you, the airline staff will hate you and your back will hate you when you slip a few discs.
Do remember they have shops too: most of the places you’ll go will have shops where you can exchange money for items you need.
Don’t buy those zip-off pants. They may seem necessary when you’re strolling the aisles of the Kathmandu sale (50% off!), but do you really want to be brushing past the prettiest French people on the Champs-Élysées in these bad boys? Also…
Don’t buy one of those ugly Kathmandu jackets either. Unless you’re actually going to climb a mountain and face subarctic temps you don’t need this. People will photograph you and those photos will go on Facebook. Only bring clothes you would want other people to see you in.
Do bring jeans. I know the travel books tell you not too: “they’re heavy”; “they take ages to dry when you wash them”; “they’re impractical” they say. Well who washes their jeans anyway? Stains = precious memories.
Don’t bring exercise clothes. You won’t go running in central park. Really you won’t. Save the room for some comfy pants to wear on the plane instead. You’ll need them after all those smoked salmon bagels and fried chicken.
Do pack lots of underwear. More underwear = less laundry. Like, heaps. Seriously! When you’re wasting a day in Istanbul sitting in a Laundromat instead of getting some turkish delight you’ll wish you listened to that crazy blog lady.
Do pack earplugs: When one of the people in your 20 person dorm room decides to repack their entire backpack at 6am, rustling 300 plastic bags in the process, you’re going to want earplugs… especially if you have a sangria hangover.
Don’t bring sexy pyjamas: even if your mum gave them to you.
Do pack an eyemask: night sleeps at the airports and overnight bus-rides go much quicker if you can sleep right through them. Don’t worry about your stuff, your friend without an eyemask will keep watch for you.
Do bring a pillowcase for the hostel pillows… have you seen the state of your fellow travellers heads?
Don’t bring a shitty travel towel unless you are desperate. Mine barley covered me, never dried, and stank. But it did save room so it depends how far you’re willing to push your hygiene/modesty standards (mine = far).
Do buy travel insurance: You really don’t want to end up in hospital while you’re backpacking. But if you do, you don’t want your first call to your folks back home to be asking for $50,000 to pay for your airlift out of the Swiss Alps where you broke three limbs in a drunken snowball fight. As for hospital facilities in the Greek Islands, just ask my mate Silvia* how good they are (life tip: don’t go down a waterslide head first).
Do bring a pocket knife: My pocket knife saved many picnics with its knife for slicing tomato, can opener for tuna and a bottle opener for the wine (backpackers gourmet). I’m not saying you can’t open a bottle of wine with a bobby pin, I’m just saying it’ll be much quicker and have a lot less cork in it if you use a pocket knife.
Do take photos: but not of everything. Be sure to soak it up while you’re actually there.
Do bring an acceptance that you may put on weight. All those bocadillios and pain au chocolat can’t eat themselves now, can they? Accept it and try to enjoy the (slightly tighter) ride.
Do bring the acceptance that you will be bitten by bed bugs. Sorry.
Do bring patience. You’ll miss flights, trains and buses and there’ll be strikes, cancellations and mishaps. You’ll just have to make the best of it. And in the really bad times just remember – it’ll probably make a great story (one day).
Most of all…
Don’t bring a plan: Having a few ideas about what you can’t miss is good. But keep the in-between bits free so you can follow your nose. The best part about travelling is the unexpected gifts.
Do bring your instincts, and trust them.
*Name has been changed to protect identity of the stupid.
Got any other suggestions?