Backpacker Travel: What to Pack
There are many questions that get asked before you set off on a trip: How much money will I need? Should I get travel insurance? Do I need to book ahead? and the list goes on. But in my experience no question gets asked more times than: What should I take?
Deciding exactly what to pack is daunting from a couple of angles. Firstly, your one bag needs to effectively contain your entire life for the course of the trip, providing all the essentials for both comfort and survival. Secondly, you need to be able to lift it. And therein lies the conundrum. How do you separate life essentials from plain dead weight?
The advice that follows is based on what I call 'lazy minimalist' packing, which means it's strict on culling excess baggage, but not so militant that you're forced to wash the one pair of undies night after night. (Also this isn't exhaustive. I missed some vitals like toiletries and first aid supplies, but my only advice there is go travel-sized and you're unlikely to need five types of bandage.)
For starters, having a decent bag is critical to your packing success. It's worth investing the time and money into finding one that offers convenience, durability and comfort. In my opinion, the best sort is a backpack that zips right open, so that the entire front flaps down and you can access things at the bottom without having to take everything else out. It's also very handy to have a separate day pack that can be zipped off the front. I'd advise against wheelie bags as they don't go so well on stairs or uneven ground. Though having said this, they can be just the thing if you have back or lifting problems. My 77 year old Nan for instance just got back from 'wheelie packing' it round Europe and she seemed to do fine.
Now what to put in it. First comes the easy stuff like passport, visas and travel insurance papers. These shouldn't be kept in your main pack, but ideally in a money belt or other small, secure bag. It's not a bad idea to keep photocopies of your important docs in your backpack just in case the 'very important, can't lose' bag somehow goes walkabout.
Will you need a sleeping bag? Well they do take up a lot of space and it's likely that most places you stay will supply enough bedding. However, my advice is if you're going somewhere really cold (and especially if you're going to a really cold developing country) take one. I would be a corpse frozen to a Bolivian bus seat to this day if I hadn't had that snugly duck down to crawl into. And like packs, it's worth forking out the extra cash to get something of decent quality.
Next comes items of clothing and footwear. In terms of shoes, you can't go wrong with thongs and boots. With the boots you've got sturdy, comfortable, all-terrain footwear (that you can wear when travelling to and from places to save on backpack space). With the thongs you've got shoes for strolling, swimming and showering that weigh next to nothing. The only place these foot pieces don't really cut it is in the discotheque. You won't feel particularly hot hitting the dance floor in hiking boot (good thigh workout though), so you may want to throw in a pair of sandals or sneakers.
You really need to choose clothes based on your destination, but remember minimalism is the key and you do get used to rinsing things out. Plus, the more flexible the item of clothing, the better. For instance I rate leggings as an absolute a winner. They take up little space, are very comfy and you can wear them under pants for extra warmth. (Maybe not so good for blokes though.)
Travelling gives you the opportunity to discover what you can do without. You'd be surprised at the things you just don't miss like XBOX and nail polish. So once you've packed the vitals, think hard about what else you really need to keep you happy. I travelled around Morocco with a friend who carried her hairdryer with her. Although I thought this an unnecessary use of space (having opted for a kind of hair-hiding headscarf myself), I know she would have been miserable without it. So my burden may have been lighter, but she looked prettier in all our holiday snaps. And in our own ways we had both packed to perfection.