The best backpacking tips come from experience, maybe you have some, maybe you don’t; but hopefully this guide should help as a checklist for all those everyday items you’re all too used to having at hand.
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Firstly a few things to take into consideration:
• Solo/group travel- obviously the larger your group the more space for shared items. A tent can be split up.
• Climate/season- you probably won’t need those UGG boots in the Gobi desert. Pack sensibly and resourcefully, here space is a precious commodity.
• Personal taste- Do you want to mingle in with the locals or stick out like a Japanese tourist? Walk through you’ll attract attention
• Can you afford to lose it? Living out of a bag, travelling about and sharing dorms with strangers does mean that things sometimes get ruined, lost or stolen. Don’t bring your favourite t-shirt and don’t bring anything too expensive to risk losing.
• Do you need it? Are you really going to use that portable DVD player? Do you really need to bring ten rolls of toilet paper and 50 condoms whilst you city hop through Western Europe?
• T-shirts- you won’t need many three or four should be fine. You can wash them in the sink and dry them over night. You’re probably going to end up smelling a bit at some point, but being sweaty in a t-shirt you’ve worn every day for the past week’s all part of the experience.
• At least one jumper/hoody/jacket- Even the desert gets cold at night, Thai air-con can be pretty chilly and at some point you might have to land back home in the cold. Of course if your destination isn’t particularly warm you might want a few of these.
• Two pairs of trousers/shorts/skirts- shorts will make you stick out as a tourist, especially in Europe but they’ll keep you cool. Make sure they’re thin and easy drying, don’t bring jeans they’re bulky and take too long to dry.
• Swimwear- If you’re going near the coast then you’ll probably want to swim; one pair’s enough just make sure that it’s fast drying.
Females – Touristy areas are usually liberal so Western beach wear should be fine (maybe not topless). If in doubt look about, wear what the locals wear and there’ll be no problems.
• Socks and underwear- You probably won’t need more than a week’s worth of either, it’s always best to take more socks (feet tend to get stinky on the road). Just make sure they’re comfortable and easy to wash/dry.
• Walking boots- Remember they’re bulky, heavy and in hot climates will make your feet sweat. Only bring if you’re going trekking, standard footwear will suffice in most places.
• General footwear- Make sure it’s comfy and makes you comfy. Don’t take your brand new shoes if you’re not going to accept the damage. Always bring one pair.
• Flip flops/sandals- These are great for letting your feet breathe, not so great for long distances or city walking (many less developed areas might not be the cleanest places to stomp your bare feet through). These will probably be cheaply available in tourist areas.
• Towel- It’s safe to assume that you’ll want a towel, at some point you might end up on the beach and hopefully at some point you’ll have a shower. But take note, towels are bulky and difficult to dry, and wet towels stink. Solution: the travel towel. Whilst these feel a bit different to the average bathroom towel they’re worth getting used to, not only are they fast drying and lightweight, but they’re often anti-bacterial too!
• Waterproofs- Be it an umbrella, a poncho or a waterproof jacket. It’s probably going to rain whilst you’re away and no one likes being drenched. The choice between these really depends on your personal preferences and where you’re going; an umbrella can get in the way but jackets can be boiling hot.
• Water bottle- Not really necessary as you’ll probably have to buy bottled water to stop a bad stomach. However, if you’re planning a lot of trekking a platypus might be handy.
• Hat- Want to avoid those rays, protect that sunburn, or cover your head to enter religious sights; then a hat’s definitely worth bringing. Just make sure it’s comfy, lightweight and not too precious.
• Eating utensils- If you’re planning a budget trip it might be worth bringing some cutlery and even a small plastic bowl. Whilst hostels usually provide cooking facilities don’t expect there to be much in terms of utensils; even when there’s a whole range of kitchenware not everyone does their washing up.
• Sleeping bag- It’s unlikely you’ll need a sleeping bag or a pillow, with most travellers visiting during the summer season or visiting tropical locations a sheet sown together will often suffice. Most hostels will provide this (sometimes for a small fee) but it’s nice to have your own.
• Laptop?- Laptops are expensive and internet cafes will probably be abundant in the larger cities. Don’t take unless you really need it, many hostels will have a computer with internet access for guests.
• Camera – At least one person should bring this, makes the best souvenirs.
• Mobile- If your phone’s unlocked you might want to buy a local sim card. It’s always a nice safety net to have and features such as a calculator and alarm clock are always handy.
• Entertainment- Be it a MP3 player, a book or a notepad, you’ll want something to do on transport.
• Cards- Great way to make friends and pass away long journeys.
First Aid and cosmetics
A few months in a foreign country with new food and perhaps some undesirable hygiene and you’ll probably get ill. An upset stomach’s not the end of the world, but it’s never pleasant, make it a bit more durable with some preparation.
• Medical kit- Plasters, lip balm, pain killers, diarrhoea tablets, laxatives. Take what you think you’ll need, don’t prepare for every situation, if you can buy it at home you can probably find it in a pharmacy abroad.
• Wash kit- Bring what you can’t do without. Don’t bring a 6 month supply of shampoo, you’ll be able to find it.
• Vaccinations- If you need them, get them. Get ill abroad and the hospital might not be so great and your insurance might not cover things which you should have prevented.
• Sun cream – Available abroad but sometimes for a higher price. If you need it bring some.
• Washing line- Might be useful if you plan to do a lot of sink washing. Easy to make out of a reel of string.
• Wet wipes and hand sanitizer- Both are useful, it’s likely you’ll find yourself in countries with quite different toilet facilities; better safe than sorry.
• Tampons/ sanitary towels- Usually easily available, stock up before going to remote areas.
• Contraception- There are certain souvenirs no one wants, chlamydia being one of them.
• Vitamins- Fruit and veg decomposes quickly, especially in the heat. Vitamins can be a temporary substitute.
• Bag- size is important, think about the length of your trip, weight and what you really need. Make sure it’s a backpack; suitcases are impractical and just annoying if you plan on moving about. You might want to consider taking a day bag as well; but think about this, handbags are prime targets.
• Mosquito repellent- These things can drive you crazy, whilst there are alternatives (such as B1 vitamin doses) repellent’s the best option.
• Books- guidebooks are useful to fall back on, but with the omnipresent internet they’re not mandatory.