Backpacking isn’t for everyone, it’s often uncomfortable, inconvenient and slow. But it is the best way to understand the places you go. Before you venture out, there are some tricks of the trade to make your experience easier, simpler and thus far more enjoyable.
How to Backpack – Prepare
It certainly sounds exotic to drop everything and jet off to an unknown, frightfully exotic location. When something turns sour, however, which it is bound to do in some shape or form, you’ll be far worse off. Let practicalities preside over romanticism for a few days and prepare.
This begins with vaccinations; they’re horribly expensive, quite unpleasant and take some planning – but essential. It simply isn’t worth the constant unease that accompanies skipping vaccinations, every stray dog will be a source of tension, hospital visits will hold unnecessary risks , etc. Be aware that vaccinations such as Rabies come in sets of 3, with required waiting time in-between jabs, so you’ll need to address this at least a month before you set off.
Take a trip to the travel shop and stock up. You absolutely need a first aid kit, and spare band aids would be wise. Water purification tablets are useful, though it is recommended to stick to bottled water in most ‘exotic’ locations, including when brushing your teeth.
For hot countries, be wary of mosquitos; mosquito nets, coils and plug-in lights are important, at the very least a strong insect-repellant is essential. Do not buy the mild, European holiday sort from the drug store, you need tropical strength. The best is 100% Deet, though this is strong so try it on the back of your hand first. Try not to wear this all the time, but at periods where mosquitos are more present, such as at dusk.
Of course, most countries you visit will have their own, highly effective, bug spray, so don’t panic if you run out. India has a particularly good one named ‘Odomos’, available in any local pharmacy for ridiculously cheap prices.
For colder countries, a set of thermals (top and bottoms) will save you much-needed packing space. Invest in a North Face-esque jacket, those with zip-in fleece linings are particularly good.
Hand wash is a wonderful thing, as are a portable clothing line and pegs. Anti bacterial wipes and gel are recommended, and not just for the faint hearted.
How to Backpack – Pack Smart
Packing is an art, and luckily, one that can be taught. Your backpack will probably get wet and dirty, so pack in plastic bags or, better yet, packing bags specifically intended for this purpose. It may sound indulgent, but is so very worth it. It may sound obvious, but do not take anything expensive or that you care for deeply, there is a 50% chance that travel will ruin it.
The most important items are underwear and socks; you may not attend to laundry for a good couple of weeks if you’re on the move, so pack more than you believe necessary. Put these in their own packing bag.
For hot countries, follow these ‘how to backpack’ guidelines:
Boys – all the underwear & socks you can squeeze in, 2 pairs of swimming shorts, 2 pairs of shorts + a pair of comfortable, long trousers for travelling in, lots of T-shirts (though think of sweat-friendly colours), a jumper or two for chilly evenings, a pair of flip-flops, a pair of walking shoes and (optional) a pair of Converse or similar.
Girls – you’re in luck! Summer clothing is far lighter than you may think, so you can afford to toss in those beloved summer dresses and tank tops. Again, stock up on underwear and socks, a couple of bikinis (but make sure at least one is well-fitting and won’t betray you during water activities), a couple of pairs of loose fitting trousers, ideally in lighter colours to ward off insects, and skirts, dresses and shorts — though denim look great, they are not the comfiest options— as many tops as you can fit, though try to include varying sleeve lengths to accommodate sunburn/bug infested areas, a cardigan or two and a comfortable, warm jumper. Plus, a pair of flip flops, walking boots, and a pair of nicer sandals and Converse-type footwear if you’re partial.
For colder countries, pack in layers – T-shirts, long sleeved tops and jumpers. Try to avoid jeans which, once wet, are a terror to dry. Keep the swimwear for hot springs/hot tubs if you’re lucky.
Remember not to pack by luggage allowance, but by how much you can physically carry. Unless you’re camping for a large portion of your trip, skip the sleeping bags – you can always hire them. Do, however, take duvet sheets and pillow covers for off-putting hostel beds.
How to Backpack – While You’re There
It is advisable to read up on where you’re travelling to before you set off. While it’s easy in locations such as Asia and India to find a bed or a bus at the last minute, Europe is more difficult. To lessen the shock of arriving somewhere completely foreign, plan your first day or two in advance, including where to stay.
The best advice comes from those travelling alongside you; hostels are social places so pick the brains of fellow travellers, or the staff, for advice. Take a Lonely Planet with you, though.
Take two credit cards, just in case. Hide your cash in various original locations throughout your luggage, though always carry the bulk of it in your hand luggage, which you should have attached to you at all times, including on journeys.
Lastly, don’t sweat the small stuff and be flexible. Such is the joy of no-strings-attached travel.