The art of living out of a backpack is a commonly discussed and debated topic among travelers. Just how much clothing do you bring? To laptop or not to laptop? Where do you keep this, or store that … the list of questions go on.
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And after as little as one month on the road, there were some lessons that became apparent to me pretty quickly. Some of the following are common backpacker tips that are worth reinforcing, and others are more creative ideas:
Don’t Be A Clothes Horse
Everything you read and hear about packing too much clothing is right. You just don’t need that much. The “wash one wear one” adage isn’t far off the mark. Bring a small amount of well-chosen pieces of clothing, and you will be able to function fairly well with them. It wasn’t until half way through my first month of traveling that I realized I had packed an extra two shirts I forgot about.
My “girlie” objection to this rule is that most of the clothing I initially traveled with was very utilitarian. Everything was functional quick-drying and non-wrinkly material, but lacking on the style side (which doesn’t have to be the case). I felt my femininity waning each morning as I faced my drab wardrobe. Shortly thereafter I made sure I had clothes that are both functional and stylish. (You can take the princess out of the castle, but you can’t take the princess out of the girl)!
Sure, there may be times when the weather is a little nippy and you are relegated to wearing all your layers every day (this happened to me more than once). And yes — all your pictures will look the same. But just suck it up; beggars — I mean backpackers – can’t be choosers.
Dr. Bronner’s Rocks
This is a liquid soap available at most health food stores. It is an all natural 18-in-1 soap. It is body wash, shampoo, laundry detergent, industrial cleaner, and even toothpaste and mouthwash (just don’t swallow it … it tastes vile). It is a very useful addition and widely available at least in North America.
The weight of your pack is directly related to the amount of enjoyment you will have on the trip. On one particular trip, my partner and I made the mistake of bringing 60meters of rope, harnesses, and other pieces of miscellaneous climbing and caving gear. Every time we mobilized, our monstrous packs were more debilitating than liberating. The rub is that we never even ended up using the gear.
There is a school of thought used when packing for a trip: lay out all your belongings to be packed on the bed or floor. Then eliminate half of it. Pack it up, then unpack again. Get rid of another half. What remains is what you need to bring with you on your trip.
The reality is that most of what you may end up needing on the road that you didn’t bring will be available to you somehow — you can purchase, order, or trade for what you need. Guidebooks: trade with other travelers at the airport or in hostels. Clothing: if you get cold in Chile, purchase a locally hand-made wool sweater; not only will you help the local economy, but you’ll have a practical souvenir that is likely higher in quality than that fleece thing you wanted to bring from home.
Budget Eating Can Still Be Good
I see so many hostelers eating poorly in the name of being on a budget. Boiled macaroni with salt and pepper is NOT a balanced meal! It may be out of the way, but your wallet and your tummy will appreciate the trip to a local grocery store or farmer’s market in search of fresh foods that can be creatively prepared. I have been in Hawaii for a while now, and loving learning how to eat all sorts of funky fruits I didn’t even know how to pronounce much less prepare. And the cost of local foods is usually not prohibitive.
However, sometimes a nice warm familiar easy-to-prepare comfort-food sort of meal is just what the doctor orders. That was when I discovered Campbell’s Chunky soups for the microwave. You can heat it up in the container it comes in (no need for a bowl — this is very handy), and presto: a minute and a half later you have filling, comforting, warm soup for the soul. Beats a soggy sub or macaroni meal any day.
Entrepreneuralism Applies No Matter Where You Are
Okay, I knew that already. But I have had a chance to stretch my entrepreneurial legs even on a small scale when traveling, and I helped out fellow travelers in the process.
For example, I rented a car on Vancouver Island; one of my more luxurious travel decisions. When I headed back east from the west coast to drop the car off (a 200km journey), I posted a sign at the hostel I was staying at indicating that I’d be making the journey and offering a ride for interested passengers. I charged a paltry $10 for the trip (to take public transportation would have been considerably more expensive and inconvenient). So I benefited by offsetting my cost of gas and the car rental, I met some really interesting fellow travelers, and my passengers saved a pile of dough and had a more comfortable ride.
I also attracted quite a bit of attention on that trip with nightly gourmet crab dinners after spending the afternoon crabbing off the dock. I took some eager students under my wing, taught them the ropes of crabbing, and then sold them my gear when I left. Once again, no profit was made from the venture, but I certainly managed to offset my own costs and live well in the meantime.
This is by no means a comprehensive list of backpacking travel tips. But it can take care of some of the rudimentary details, and is handy for both the well-seasoned travelers as well as those just starting out.