Backpacking 101

A bunch of students at my school are getting ready to go on a study abroad trip to Europe. They’re going to visit England, France, and Italy. They know I’m a traveler, so several of them have been asking me a ton of questions. What should I pack? Should I take my laptop? What shoes should I wear? Well, here’s my guide to backpacking.

1) Pack light. This is kinda “duh”, but you need to be able to easily lift your bag, because, let me tell you, you’re going to be lifting, carrying, dragging, throwing it around A LOT! Only take a few mix and match items. You can wash clothes often while traveling; buy some laundry detergent once you get there. And remember you’ll probably buy a t-shirt or 2 or a piece of traditional clothing from the place you’re visiting as a souvenir, so you’ll have those to wear as well. And, of course, take comfortable shoes. When I am travelling where it’s warm, I hate taking sneakers. I’d rather take some type of comfy walking sandal, like a Teva. You can wash them and they dry quickly, or if you get them wet you don’t have that wet sneaker feeling.

2) Pack your own towel. Some hotels/hostels don’t provide them if you’re budget travelling. Have you ever tried to completely drip dry? It’s really not as easy as it may seem.

Also, don’t take your own pillow. I was asked about that specifically. It’s too annoying to cart around. If it’s a must to you, take a small travel pillow that can fit easily in a bag. But I still recommend no pillow. Your own pillow case is a good idea though. It will help things feel a little homier, and you’ll know what you’re laying your face on is clean.

3) Don’t take your laptop. In the US, we often leave valuables in our hotel rooms, and they are fine. But when travelling abroad, I never leave anything in my hotel room that is valuable. Too many people I know have had money, cameras, laptops, and so much more taken. So, don’t take so many gadgets that you can’t carry them on your person. Keep your camera with you. Keep your passport with you. I know a lot of people want to take their laptops for 2 reasons. The first reason is to stay in touch with people at home. There are SO many internet cafes that are dirt cheap. Make use of those. The second reason is to upload their photos. My suggestion is to buy a large enough memory card that you don’t have to do that. 8 GB should work for most people.

4) Take a messenger bag, something that you can sling across your shoulder. I prefer this over a backpack, because you can keep your eyes on it better. (Watch out for thieves!) I know guys don’t like to carry bags. We’ve all made fun of someone for their man bag before, right? But, you end up with a lot of stuff! You’re carrying your valuables, and you wanna throw a bottle of water in there, you get a ticket you need to keep safe. Everyone needs a purse! :]

5) Take a notebook and a few pens. Every night when I finish a day of adventure I write down where I went and what I did that day. After going to place after place, it is too difficult to just remember it all. I love looking back on the notebooks from my travels. I include what I did, what I ate, interesting people I met, and something funny or crazy that happened. Don’t assume you’ll always be able to e-mail or blog about it everyday. And also don’t think you have to write pages and pages. Usually by the end of the day you’ll be too tired. I usually just do bullets.

6) Remember, people in foreign countries do many of the same things we do- wash their hair, take showers, get mosquito bites. :] You don’t need to take a month’s supply of shampoo, soap, and itch cream. You can take a bit to start you off and then buy some once there. I also suggest leaving whatever toiletries you have left at the end of the trip there, so you have more room for souvenirs!

I’m sure I could come up with a list of 30, but I’ll stop for now. Most of these tips were learned by trial and error. As Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.” Feel free to ask questions you might have.

And I’ll leave you with a few pictures of my experience backpacking through SE Asia (Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, and China).

Me with my travelin’ gear in Vietnam

I loved this sign at my hostel in Cambodia!

Wearing my souvenir Angkor Wat shirt at Angkor Wat

3 thoughts on “Backpacking 101

  1. Great ideas… I also found pack things that dry quick and made of lighter weight material like a fleece vs a cotton hoodie -dries faster, lighter to carry and takes less room. One essential is a pack of travel tissues and wipes… not always can you wash your hands and not all toilets have paper!

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