5 Backpacking Basics

Whether it’s a gap year, a way of living or a month’s vacation, when you’re backpacking, you’re like a turtle – your bag contains your bed, your wardrobe and all the basics for daily living.

Here are 5 tips before you pack that bag.

1. Travel light is an understatement

'They're pretty helpless if they get stuck on their backs.'Take the bare minimum – 2 pairs of shoes, one closed, one open, 5 tops, 3 pants, 1 cardigan, 1 light jacket. When they get dirty you wash them, it’s as simple as that. In most places, laundry comes at pretty affordable prices, so don’t even bother hand washing.

And please, forget about the ‘just in case’ items. Pretty dress? Really? When will you wear it – while you’re climbing that mountain or while you’re sitting on the floor eating at a restaurant?

That said, as bulky as your sleeping bag might look, never go without one. Most days you’ll pay for a bed and a blanket in a guest house, hostel or hotel, but that night you’re freezing on a train cause gushes of wind keep coming through a window that won’t quite close, you’ll know the importance of it.

2. Go solar

Any sort of portable light is indispensable. You don’t know the importance of it until you get to a place with no power, the sun goes down at 6pm and there’s only a little crescent moon. Or maybe something gets stuck underneath a bed and you need to look for it. Just trust me – you need a light.

This is the light I bought from a Nepali young woman. It’s solar, it empowers women and it’s very practical. Click on the pic for more info.

I used to have a head torch I loved, until the batteries died and I couldn’t find their replacement in any shop. So my suggestion is go solar.

I bought my self-standing, solar rechargeable light from a Nepalese young woman who is part of a social business, empowering women in Nepal while assisting families with having light, in a country that gets hour-long power cuts every day as a standard.

At first I just wanted to support the project, but I got much more than I bargained for, cause now I don’t need to worry about finding batteries anymore and I know I can rely on it anytime, whether I’m walking up an unlit path in Nepal, putting it at the front of a bike in Cambodia or hanging it on a dangling water pipe in a makeshift shower on an almost deserted island with no power whatsoever.

3. Keeping clean

Prickly pear soap from Soap Cafe’, Malta

Do not, I repeat, do not take huge tubs of shampoo, conditioner and shower gel, just in case you don’t find them wherever you’re going.

For one, they’re heavy.

Two, you don’t want any of them leaking in your bag.

Three, think about it, somehow the people wherever you’re going do get cleaned up, so just trust that you’ll be okay.

Walk through a market and you’ll find loads of options, they’re probably even cheaper than back home anyway.

Golden tip #1

Opt for a bar of soap.

  • It’s lighter than a shower gel container.
  • It won’t leak.
  • You can dry it up with a towel in a few seconds and place it into your backpack with the rest of the things, keeping them smelling rather fresh.
  • It lasts very long.

4. Small and big plastic bags

I once packed a friend’s laptop in a big, black garbage bag, when a storm hit 5 minutes after he walked away in a scorching hot sun. It saved his laptop, and me, the stress of caring for someone else’s uncovered laptop in a thick curtain of rain.

Another time, rain hit when I was out in my sandals. I wore 2 small plastic bag on top and voila, I saved myself having to clean up the mud from my sandals later on.

I can’t tell you when exactly you’ll need them, but trust me, you will.

I’m sorry environmental warriors – I do feel your pain, but they do come in handy. What I can say to make it better is, if you can reuse them, then please do, if not try to throw them away somewhere where they can be recycled.

5. Cable ties (aka Golden tip #2)

The new, durable, pull tab on my backpack zipper.

I will always owe this advice to my friend, Becky, who suggested I buy a pack of cable ties before I left for India the first time. They were 100 a pack and cost only €2, so even though I didn’t quite get why – I went for it.

Never has an advice been so spot on.

Sometimes a bag gives in and you can tie it with them.

Sometimes a bag of whatsits is open, but you don’t need the rest of the whatsits just then and you don’t want them to scatter all around your bag.

Sometimes your backpack zipper gives way and you turn a cable tie into your new, durable pull-tab on your backpack zip.

There go your basics wanderer – now go pack up and leave!

Other articles you might like –

Money-saving tips on the go

Taking the bus?

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