Packing for an upcoming trip is part of the whole travelling experience, people tend to create huge packing lists and then take lots of time to prepare their bags. Everything has its own place, and every backpacker seems to have an own packing strategy. Seeing all your stuff together should bring you already in some kind of backpacking atmosphere where you feel like your journey has already started.
Well, not me! I hate packing!
Packing is something that happens when I really really don’t have anything else left to do. After I cleaned the kitchen, went shopping, watched some TV, googled my own name, read the newspaper and watched some more TV, I might start to think about packing.
The next fifteen to twenty minutes you will see me running around the house, from room to room taking everything I think I need and putting it all on the table in the living room. The next phase is a revision of what’s on the table, where – without exception – my favorite clothes are missing because they are still in the laundry. When about everything seems to be there, I start putting stuff into my backpack, from the bottom up, where the things you need last go on the bottom – I never put the extra pair of jeans on the bottom, but it’s always the last thing I need.
Even though I’m a very light packer – also known as a smelly backpacker – I still tend to take more than I need. With the years it’s getting better, every time I take a little less and I’m waiting for the moment that I will think: “Damn, I wish I did pack that extra pair of boxers”. But up to now, never happened.
I often wonder what other people take with them while travelling and to find an answer to that I started reading some packing lists which are available everywhere on the internet. Now what seems, my backpack is like the common denominator of those lists. Everybody seems to pack the basics – some socks, some underwear, a couple of T-shirts, a guidebook, a knife … – but almost everyone also packs some very specific things like a big picture of mom, a teddy bear, half a liter fuel and – this one I really found hilarious – candles. Someone takes candles because you can use them to give light, but also to make stuff waterproof. Come on! Ever heard of waterproof bags? Jackass!
What you pack is mostly influenced by where you’re going, but I can’t think of a single place where you will need one of the following items.
1. Sleeping bag
While travelling, I’m always amazed by the amount of people I see carrying a sleeping bag and I can’t stop wondering why the hell they need it. I have never thought: “Gee, I wish I took my sleeping bag” – or maybe once, but that had more to do with the person next to me. What makes people think they need a sleeping bag? In every hostel I have ever stayed there were sheets on the bed, or at least you could rent them for a little more than nothing.
Maybe people are afraid that the local sheets won’t protect them against the cold?
Now here’s a rule of thumb, you never have to be afraid of this when travelling through a country at a time that it has its average temperature, because people are used to protect themselves against this. However, what might be a problem is travelling to a country where it’s normally hot but at this time of the year extremely cold, but even then it’s no big deal to ask for a second, third or fourth sheet.
Another reason might be because of the cleanliness of hostel sheets.
Everybody has his own hygiene standard and I have to admit that – only while travelling of course – mine can be a little low. I can imagine that my theory that fleas have never killed anyone and that you can’t get an STD from dried sperm does not sound very alluring to everyone, but again, if you ask new sheets or a room upgrade you will more than likely get it.
If you’re taking a tent with you, you might want to consider to also take a sleeping bag.
Why are people still bringing guitars while travelling?
Don’t understand me wrong, I love guitar music but we live in a digital age. Every traveler has an iPod and every hostel has a TV with about thousand channels of which certainly ten play music at any given moment of the day.
There are two reasons I can think of to bring a guitar, first one is to impress people. But please be aware of the fact that the only ones you’ll impress are little kids, first time travelers and a drunk Aussie who wants to sing along.
The second reason builds further on the first one, you bring a guitar to get laid. Seriously, if you are willing to drag the damn thing every day with you only to get some occasional sex, how sad is that? And again, who will you attract? Indeed, kids and drunk Aussies.
On the other hand, I once met a guy who did bring a guitar and he could play about every song we could think of and we had a great night, but that was a rare occasion. And not forgetting to mention he was travelling by car, which makes carrying bulky items a lot easier.
If you’re Keith Richards, please take your guitar with you.
3. Expensive camera gear
This counts for lots of expensive stuff, just don’t take it. How you look has everything to do with what the odds are that you get mugged.
As I think about this, this could make a good video game. At the start your character is naked, and during the game you have to go through several levels where you have to put items on him, but the wrong combination of items will have him mugged. For example, level one is to give your character pants before the cops put him to jail for streaking. You have the choice between Armani jeans or scruffy worn pants. The Armani raises your chance to get mugged by 15%, the other pants only by 2%.
Thinking about it again, this will make a very dull game. But did you get my point? Your expensive camera raises the odds by at least 25%, where the compact camera only raises them by 10%.
If you’re a photographer, please do take your camera stuff, but try not to wear it around your neck the whole time, and don’t take a special camera bag but put it in a regular daypack.
In general, I don’t like people who wear a lot of makeup, and while travelling, I don’t think you should wear makeup at all. Who do you have to do it for? We’re all backpackers, we all look scruffy.
If you’re really ugly, please do us all a favor and bring makeup.
5. Hiking shoes
When walking into a dorm room I can always tell if there are people inside with hiking shoes. Either the room smells like feet that didn’t get any air for a whole day or like some kind of chemical product that prevents shoes from smelling bad. Both cases, it STINKS!
What do you need them for? Are your feet that fragile they can’t handle a walk in the woods in regular shoes? I guess not! The first days of my travels, my feet are always full of blisters, that’s normal. On a regular day, I’m used to walk to my car, walk from my car to my office, walk to the cafeteria, walk back to my office, walk back to my car and walk back from my car to my house. Sometimes in the evening I walk to a bar and back, or to the car if my bar of choice is outside walking distance.
Of course I get sore feet if I walk a whole day, but that’s not the fault of my shoes, it’s because my feet are not used to that. But it gets better after a couple of days.
If you’re planning to do tough hikes in the mountains, please take hiking shoes.
6. Umbrellas and hats
For some reason people tend to wear hats on holiday, when you come to think about it, it’s really a strange phenomena. At home they laugh with people wearing hats, but when on holiday they suddenly wear them themselves.
I have only one thing to say about this: If you look stupid with something at home, why would you look any different with it in another country?
The same thing counts for umbrellas. Normally, I never use them. If it rains I don’t walk outside, period. Unless I really have to, but then the longest distance is to my car or from my car to the place where I have to be. If I’m walking somewhere and it starts to rain, I look for a hideout and until I find one, I get wet.
I don’t have a neat coiffure or makeup that I need to protect – see some paragraphs before – so generally I don’t care about a couple of drops on my head.
While travelling, you normally have time enough to wait until the rain is over and if you’re travelling in a country with monsoon, people are selling umbrellas everywhere.
Last but certainly not least: Sandals. Never think you look less like Jesus when wearing sandals in another country.
If you have some kind of disease where your head can’t touch water or direct sunlight, please take an umbrella or hat, but there is never a good reason for wearing sandals.
7. Presents for the locals
Here I have to point the difference. If you’re planning to stay with local people, through Couchsurfing for example, I think you have to take presents so the people you meet have some kind of souvenir. In my opinion, what works best are post cards of your home town.
The presents I like to mention here are the pens, soap and candy travel agencies advise you to take to developing countries.
On my first intercontinental holiday I went to Cuba, I was young and inexperienced and I got about the whole of the trip organized upfront. The company I travelled with told me that the Cubans really appreciate pens, so I bought a whole box of them, intended to make a lot of new friends.
I’m still using those pens at home and I probably will keep using them for another long time. First of all, I found it really humiliating to give a pen to an adult, if I felt any compassion with someone I preferred giving them money, so they could buy a pen. Or something else if they already owned a pen.
Secondly, I’m quite sure that Cuba has an underground pen business. One day – I kid you not – I saw a child receiving a pen from a tourist. The child then walked to an adult, handing over the pen and receiving money in return. Probably the adult exports pens into other parts of the country, or uses them to transport drugs in, who knows!
If you’re Santa, please don’t forget to bring presents.
Getting cash in foreign countries has never been easier, there are ATMs everywhere and they accept several kinds of credit cards and even your local bankcard if it has the Maestro or Cirrus sign on it.
The time that you had to bring loads of cash and traveler cheques is long gone, but still people tend to take cash because “you never know”. They might have a point, what if your credit cards fails – broken chip or so? Well, then I still have my regular bankcard with Maestro function.
“Now”, the smartass will say, “but what if your wallet gets stolen? Eh eh eh”. If I’m stupid enough to put both my cards in the same wallet, where do you think my spare money will be?
If you do carry cash with you, try to spread it.
Oh and waist bags, they score a 50% raise in the try-not-to-get-mugged-game.
9. Zip off pants
I’m not sure about this one.
In the past I followed the theory about long pants and short pants, no combination.
Also, zip off pants were dull, they were for the nineteenth century biologist discovering the Amazon forest but not for the general backpacker whose main intentions are getting drunk or laid or preferably both, climb a volcano now and then and see a bit of the world if there’s some time left.
Lately, however, I was looking at some zip offs on the internet, and I have to admit that they looked quite okay. I’m not yet in the phase of actually buying them, but I notice that I’m starting to make less fun of people wearing them.
If you’re a nineteenth century biologist, no offence.
For more on packing do’s and don’ts, check out: