Going backpacking can be a thrilling, hands-on way to see the world. But what you toss in your bag can make or break the experience.
by Ani Vrabel
Backpacking veterans agree — there are a few cardinal rules you should never bend, whether you’re trekking around Spain for a week or Asia for four months. Here are their tips:
Think conservative. Before you go, research what locals wear so you don’t stick out too much as a tourist. When in doubt, dress respectably and simply, even if you plan on going out at night. “Make practical clothes look nice instead of packing nice clothes,” suggests Erika Aragon, who has gone backpacking in Asia and Egypt.
Plan to be dirty. Getting sweaty and feeling grimy are almost guaranteed when you’re backpacking. Daily showers, however, aren’t. A pair of clean socks and a quick swipe from a moist towelette can go a long way toward making you feel fresh.
Make every inch count. Be creative when thinking about making more room in your bag. Pack a vest instead of a full coat. Leave your wool and jersey knits at home and opt instead for lighter fabrics like cotton and linen. Rolling your clothes instead of folding them also will help you save space.
Never underestimate a scarf. For both guys and girls, this simple item can be a pillow on a long train ride, a blanket on a bus with the A/C set too high, a sun repellant, a protective wrap for fragile items or a fashionable accessory.
Leave room to grow. You almost never need as much clothing as you think you will. “You can get away with bringing two pairs of pants and four or five shirts,” says Samantha Sais, who has gone on several backpacking trips, including a four-month tour around Europe. It’s better to end up buying an item of clothing than packing something and never wearing it. Also, remember that you won’t always take the time to pack your bag as precisely as you do the first time around, Aragon says, so make sure everything will fit even if you start to get sloppy a few weeks in.
Shop around. When it comes to picking a backpack, don’t rush the purchase. Look for a waterproof one with a ventilated back that you can open from the top and the front. Sais recommends buying a couple of different styles and testing them out at home. Pack them with about as much as you think you’ll take on your trip, carry them around for a while and return whichever one is least comfortable.
Abroad View helps you decide what to make room for and what to leave stateside.
|Shower shoes — you never know who else has soaped up in your hostel’s shower.||A smaller backpack — great for day trips or if you plan to go hiking.||Expensive jewelry — you don’t want to entice muggers.|
|Garbage bags — make a poncho on the spot and then throw your muddy clothes in one after the storm.||Favorite toiletries — most of the time, you can buy as you go, but if you don't think you'll be able to find a certain brand or product you'll need, it could be worth the extra weight.||A transformer — a simple adapter should be enough.|