Backpacking is one of the best ways to experience the great outdoors. It’s said that you can truly find yourself while on a solo adventure. Here’s the A-Z of all the things you may want to pack for your next trip.
You may not need these, but when booking a trip it’s vital to check whether you need to take antimalarials. Using websites such as Fit For Travel or even Superdrug is probably the easiest way to quickly check the risk of malaria in whichever country you are visiting. If you do need some, they can be purchased over the counter with ease. There are a few different types of antimalarials with different costs and side effects, so have a look online before you buy! Remember, some countries it’s completely up to you whether you want to take antimalarials at all, depending on the risk factor and how comfortable you feel. Regardless, always take plenty of insect repellent.
It seems pretty obvious, I know, but ensuring you have the right backpack is key. Too big of a backpack and you’ll be lugging around unnecessary weight, trying to fill it with things you don’t need, and too small of a backpack and you’ll struggle to get by. It’s also vital to have a number of compartments in your backpack to keep (and hide) different things in. For example, I used one of my separate compartments to keep my dirty washing, and my side compartments were brilliant for keeping things I needed quick access to such as insect repellent and wet wipes! I also found it handy to have a smaller rucksack to act as hand luggage or a day-pack, or even if staying at a homestay for a night where there won’t be room to take your main backpack. The bottom line is – make sure you do a bit of looking around when choosing your backpack to make sure you buy the best one for you.
This goes without saying! Whether you decide to bring a big fancy DSLR camera, a small digital camera, or even just use your phone camera, remember to make sure you have something to take photos with to capture your memories. You’ll see some incredible things whilst traveling and will love looking back on the experiences you’ve had and share them with others later on in life. A GoPro (or similar) may also be a good investment if you plan on doing activities like kayaking or climbing so you can capture things you couldn’t necessarily do with a normal camera. I also turned my GoPro videos into a longer movie of my trip which I love watching and reminiscing over!
Nowadays, pretty much everything can be stored electronically, however it’s important to pack a small plastic wallet of important documents and papers you may need. For example, a list of your vaccinations – some countries require proof of certain vaccinations before you can enter the country. Also any bookings you have made that you feel should be in print, like an excursion or a flight on a low-budget airline, and perhaps an emergency contact number. It’s also handy to pack a few extra passport photos, especially if you’re crossing any borders!
Eating strange foods and constantly being on-the-go can take its toll and energy levels can fall low, especially on the likely occasion/s you become ill. It’s always handy to have some emergency energy in your bag to boost yourself up when you need it – I don’t think one of the girls I met whilst traveling would have made it out and about each day without them! Remember, you can also buy electrolytes whilst you’re traveling (in most places) so it may be worth picking some up along the way.
First Aid Kit
It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, but even trying to buy painkillers from a foreign country’s pharmacy can be a struggle. In Laos, we found tramadol on the shelf to buy in place of paracetamol, and you probably don’t want to mistake the two. It’s always handy to take in your bag a basic first aid kit; plasters, painkiller, bandages, wipes, antiseptic and bite cream, and arguably the most important of all for some people – Imodium. Some may find it a bit awkward to discuss, but when you’re traveling around with a group of strangers, you get to know each other pretty quickly, especially when your roommate’s had some dodgy dinner… It could happen to anybody, and it’s the last thing you want when you’re constantly on-the-go traveling, which is why you can never have too much Imodium and rehydration sachets in your first aid kit for whoever needs it!
There are loads of different guidebooks around, some of the most well known being Lonely Planet, Rough Guides, and National Geographic Traveler, and they are packed with tons of useful information. I used mine more in the planning process of my trip, making note of top sights, good places to go to eat, and other helpful tips, but you can also get mini pocket-guides which will fit nicely in your backpack and provide you with a source of reading material for long journeys or nighttime reading. It’s especially always handy to have some paper information rather than relying on your phone or tablet, as we all know technology isn’t always reliable (especially in an unfamiliar country!)
It may seem obvious to some people, but a torch was honestly one of the most useful items to keep on you at all times throughout my travels. Camping across Africa, for example, got pretty dark pretty early when night approached, and you don’t know what’s crawling around when making a trip outside your tent; you don’t want to step on a scorpion whilst heading for the bathroom. Similarly, walking down any streets at night in Asia can be daunting, and a torch is always handy to keep on you in case of a lack of street lighting. Remember: phones are not always reliable so don’t just depend upon the torch on your phone!
Depending on where you’re going, insect repellent can be one of the most important things to bring with you. Even in countries without malaria, the last thing you want when traveling around hot and sticky environments is to be constantly filled with the urge to scratch. Not only are insect bites a right pain, but also don’t look great for your photos! One good thing to know is that you can (usually) buy insect repellent wherever you are in the world, and these ones are often better than the ones back home as they are designed to be used in that country – so don’t fret if you don’t think you’ve packed enough!
Many of the people I have met whilst backpack traveling, including myself, have kept some form of a journal or travel log. Some I’ve seen have been jam-packed full of detail down to each individual, interesting element in Paan – an Indian snack or after-dinner treat of sorts which was somewhat difficult to eat, and I’m far from a fussy eater! My travel journal, however, was slightly more concise, simply due to the fact that sometimes there wasn’t enough free time to write daily, and my memory isn’t always the most reliable. Despite this, I frequently adore reading my summaries of each day and each experience, transporting me back to my idealistic heaven. (Note: my journal was also a handy place to store things like tickets and leaflets I collected along the way!)
I don’t mean a literal knife – I just struggled a bit with the letter K. I’m referring more to something like a Swiss Army Knife which has many different functions. For example, a bottle opener tool, which came in very handy as it was difficult to find actual bottle openers in hostels or if you’re having a drink on the beach. Mine also had a fork, which, again, was handy for eating on the go. There’s often a choice of which tools you want on your Swiss Army Knife, so pick the ones you think would be most useful to you, based on your planned trip and what you already have.
Take a padlock with you. If you’re camping, use it to lock your tent. If you’re using lockers, you may need to use your own lock. If you’re using public transport – particularly overnight – and leaving your bag perhaps unattended, you may want to lock your bag in place somewhere. The bottom line is, it’s better to be safe than sorry in an unknown country, so pop a padlock in your bag just in case.
Traveling across multiple countries and continents can make keeping track of your money and all the different currencies very challenging, especially if maths and trying to work out exchange rates isn’t your strong suit. For instance, the exchange rate of Vietnamese Dong to the British Pound is roughly 30,000 to 1, which can be pretty difficult to work out quickly when browsing through the market. I found two things that helped me manage this, the first being having the right purse or wallet. You can buy special travel wallets, but just ensure that whatever you bring has multiple compartments – particularly ones that easily show notes. It was also useful to have more than one wallet or money bag, to not only keep different currencies in different places but also to break up your money so you’re not carrying around too much at any one time. You don’t, for example, want to flash all your cash in front of the market salesman, out of courtesy and so they don’t up the price! Additionally, some areas may have a higher crime rate, so if one wallet gets stolen, at least you’ll still have money stored elsewhere. The second thing that helped me combat the issue of money was a currency converter app (I used XE), as you can download any currency and speedily work out how much money you’re spending on lunch without fretting about your mental maths skills.
It doesn’t have to be big, but just keeping a notebook handy to jot things down is always handy. You may hear the name of a place or restaurant from a fellow traveler and want to visit yourself, for example, so just jot down the name of it in your trusty notebook because, let’s face it, none of us has a perfect memory. A notebook may also be useful for keeping track of expenses along the way to make sure you don’t go completely over your credit limit!
I’ve been on a few different overnight trains during my travels, some more preferable than others. The quality of your journey on the train will somewhat depend on the ticket you buy, as, like most forms of public transport, there are different classes. Traveling on a higher class, however, doesn’t necessarily mean you should expect luxury travel. This will all depend on the train and the country/area you’re in, and unless you’re an avid train-goer, prepare to be surprised. Typically, the cabins start off as more of a living area, with the beds getting made at 7/8pm. There will be people coming on and off the train during the night, some of whom will not be very considerate of the fact that there are others sleeping around them, and so if you’re not a heavy sleeper you may want to take earplugs! Try not to get too annoyed with anyone who may be around you (e.g. people shouting at 1 am and resting their elbows on your bed whilst you’re asleep); cultural norms differ to what you may be used to, and you just need to try and embrace the experience!
When you’re constantly on-the-go, it’s difficult to know when you’ll next be able to use an electrical output. Having a powerbank in your backpack won’t go unused – one thing you really don’t want is for your phone to die and be left with no source of contact in an emergency, or lose access your online documents. Similarly, if your camera dies, you’ll lose out on those irreplaceable photos you take along the way. A decent powerbank won’t usually cost much more than £10, so it’s worth packing one (along with the relevant charging cables) just in case.
All I can say here is be patient! You may be used to queues in England, but if you’re traveling it’s important to keep an open mind about queueing, particularly if traveling to places like India. In India for example, nothing is ever on time, and you should always remember to allow for extra time when planning your itinerary. Queueing is something taken very lightly in a lot of countries, and everyone simply has to be patient and wait their turn – no questions asked.
This is another thing that may depend on where you are going, but also when you are going. Have a look online before you go at the weather for that time of year. Rain season in South-East Asia can be crazy – we were walking to dinner one night and all of a sudden the heavens opened as I’d never seen before; the streets were representative of a child’s paddling pool with flip-flops floating in it that had been swept off of people’s feet. I was so relieved that I had my rain jacket on because finally getting inside and taking it off to reveal dry clothes couldn’t have felt better.
Or a sleeping sack. If you’re camping, then obviously a sleeping bag goes without saying, however, if you plan on staying in hostels and similar, then packing a sleeping sack will take up very little room in your bag and you may thank yourself later. You never know what a place will be like until you get there, including the condition of the bed. If your bed is looking a bit questionable, or you simply want to put your mind at ease, it may be worth whipping out your sleeping sack for that extra layer. Sleeping sacks may also be useful if you plan on traveling on overnight trains as if you’re jumping on the train part-way through its journey the bed may already have been used! (Note: the bedding does sometimes get changed, but you can never guarantee they’ve had time to change yours!) Sleeping sacks are usually just made of a thin material and can be bought at a lot of markets or shops you’ll come across whilst on your travels.
All I can say here is be prepared. Backpacking across places like Asia is incredible, but you need to remain open-minded about everything, particularly the toilets. Guys have it slightly better off, but ladies – you may need to practice your squats. India, in particular, had squat toilets in virtually every public bathroom, and to be honest with the condition and sanitation of some of the toilets you come across squatting may not be the worst thing.. Sometimes it may also be worth bringing a torch into the loo with you depending on where you are as you never know what creatures may be lurking! One thing to definitely bring though is tissue – rarely will toilets in less developed countries come equipped with toilet paper!
Obviously, I’m not telling you to bring underwear with you, because that’s somewhat of a given. It’s taking the right amount of underwear that’s important – too few and you’ll be stuck in the same dirties for too long without having the opportunity to wash them, and packing too many is just an unnecessary waste of precious space. Think about where you’re going and a rough plan of your trip when packing underwear, and remember its super easy to wash underwear and socks in a sink or tub in the hostel or hotel you’re staying at – just also remember to pack some travel wash!
It’s imperative to check what vaccinations you need before going on your travels. The best way to do this is usually to get a form from your doctors stating where you are going and how long for, and they’ll come back to you with the appropriate vaccinations, and you can also double check online. For some countries, you will also require a certificate for a certain vaccination, such as yellow fever (this could also depend on where you have traveled to before entering the country), so make sure you check before you travel! Also, be sure to leave plenty of time before you travel to get your vaccinations sorted, as for some you may need two or three jabs spread out across a number of weeks.
In a case of uncertainty, a water filter will not be put to bad use. Whether a high-tech contraption or a simple yet effective filter or even a water bottle that double-acts as a filter, it may be handy if you’re going somewhere that does not feature clean running water; a peace of mind if nothing else!
I’m not going to lie, I was struggling a bit with this letter, but there are so many new opportunities for sports and activities whilst traveling that you would never find back home (it doesn’t have to be extreme!). Make the most of the opportunities you have whilst traveling and you’ll have no regrets. I was traveling on a budget, but when it came to choosing between skydiving over the clear seas and sand planes in Namibia or having a few extra drinks with dinner it was no question. Overcome any doubts or fears you may have and make your experience unforgettable.
I struggled a bit with this letter too. However, it’s well known that pretty much any backpacker will be staying in hostels during their trip. Hostels are always filled with other travelers, and you might meet some great people there, some you may even continue to travel with. They typically fit quite a bunch of people in, with a great atmosphere and often great nightlife too, where people who aren’t even staying there going over to drink and join in the fun.
Zip ties? Yep. To bring the A-Z of Backpacking to a close, zip ties can ensure that extra sense of security when you’re leaving your bag unattended. Although incredible, some of the countries you may visit may not be the safest, and so just attaching a few zip ties on your bag in the airport or when going on a long-haul bus can be a smart move to prevent anything being taken out, as well as anything being smuggled in. They take up virtually no room, so it’s always worth packing a few in the back of your bag.