Here’s a question and you’ve got five seconds to answer it. You’re in a strange country, it’s 37 degrees, you’re feeling a little under the weather and you’re frantically bolting for your plane/train/taxi/tuk tuk/motorbike. How’s your backpack? Too heavy? Around your ankles? Packed with nothing that will help you get over your foreign lurgy? If you answered “Yes” to one or more of these questions, read on mega-muddled traveller!
Probably one of the most important items you’ll need for your overseas exploits is a decent backpack. And there are literally thousands out there, varying in brand, size, colour, weight, cost, portability and gizmos, so how do you choose? Like your favourite pair of grundies, you need to try them on for size first.
Buy one that’s rugged and sturdy with lots of pockets and zip-up bits for storing knick knacks, and if you’re away for a decent amount of time, carefully consider its size, weight and comfort level – there’s nothing worse than traipsing (exhausted) through a foreign country with a dodgily fitting burden on your back.
You’ll also need a smaller daypack you can take onboard, which will store valuable items, documents and daytrip supplies and be comfortably carried round the front, while your larger pack sits on your back. Crazily crowded airports and transit stations? Not a problemo.
And don’t forget packing cubes, which effortlessly categorise your stuff (hello, neat freak!), compression bags that can give you more room for shopping, souvenirs and the odd duty free treat and a sturdy.
Key words? Mix ‘n’ match. Depending on where you’re going and for how long, you’ll need options for a few different scenarios, but anally selecting outfits on a per-occasion basis is just impractical. You really just need enough stuff to last you a few days. Most hostels have washing facilities and if not, spend an hour or two scoping out your local laundromat – hell, you might even pick up a new buddy or two while you’re there!
No-iron stuff is a no-brainer and fast drying, moisture wicking outerwear may cost a bit more but will be worth it in the long run (plus it’s easy to roll-pack). You’ll need to fine-tune according to your destination climate and add a few thermals to the list if you know you’re going to freeze your bits off, but here’s a basic rundown:
- A few pairs of lightweight pants or jeans (zip-off options are ideal), a pair or trackies or boxer shorts, two pairs of shorts and a pair of quick-dry boardies.
- Breathable T-shirts, singlets for layering and a collared shirt or two for nights out on the town.
- Long sleeved, casual tops or hoodies for cooler weather.
- A warm jacket (like a waterproof windbreaker) that’s not too bulky.
- Clean, fresh, new undies.
- A few a pairs of socks (including a wool pair for colder weather).
- A decent pair of sunnies and a shady hat.
- A casual, waterproof pair of shoes or thongs for beachy climates and a pair of dressier numbers for daytime walkabouts and nights out (wear your bulkiest pair on the plane).
- A pair of jeans plus a few pairs of pants, capris or leggings and shorts for warmer weather.
- A skirt or a dress or two that be jushed up for nights out.
- A few coloured singlets for layering, multi-purpose T-shirts and a few longer sleeved tops, a cardi or casual jacket and an easily packable coat (preferably water proof) for cooler weather.
- Your favourite pair of togs and/or bikinis.
- Underwear including a week’s worth of knickers, a couple of bras, a softer sports bar for lounging about in and a pair of PJs (or not).
- A few pairs of socks (including a wool pair and a pair of tights for colder weather).
- Your favourite pair of sunnies and a sun hat.
- A pair of super-comfy day shoes, some dressy flats for more formal outings, a pair of thongs for the beach and lastly, a fancy-ish pair for going out (wear your bulkiest pair on the plane).
Toiletries & First Aid
Mini-up on the basics – body wash, shampoo, conditioner, face wash and moisturiser (for blokes it’s probably just soap, LOL). You’ll want a decent deodorant, a razor, toothbrush and toothpaste and ladies, you’ll possibly want a few primping items including some makeup and hair products.
Your first aid kit should be tailored to your destination (malaria tablets are hardly appropriate in New York!). Pain relief, vitamins, Band-aids, antiseptic lotion, hand sanitiser, non-baby making items, mosquito repellent and sun cream are the basics. But if you do succumb to an energy zapping malady, re-hydration powder, anti-squirt medication, nausea relief, antihistamines and a prescribed antibiotic can help reinvigorate the pep in your step.
You may not be quite ready to enter the somewhat upmarket world of the ‘flashpacker’, however that doesn’t mean you need to forego a few luxuries whilst you’re slumming it around the globe. Again, depending on room, you can always tuck in a gadget or two …
Probably the number one in terms of functionality and size is your mobile phone. Calculator, note taker, stereo, calendar, alarm clock, camera, GPS, video recorder, torch … it’s all here. Plus, there’s a cyber-vortex of travel apps out there to keep you in the know.
A decent camera will ensure you capture shareable memories (a tripod and Go Pro are optional), and if you simply can’t live without a daily dose of your favourite tunes, slip in your MP3 player and a set of portable speakers.
If you prefer the written word, consider an eBook reader or bring along your laptop (yep, you’re going to need a bigger bag). Lappies are also great for on-the-go entertainment, organising photos and checking in with home once in a while. And don’t forget your chargers, adapters and a spare camera battery and if you’re a snap happy, serial selfie taker, a compact external hard drive will keep the memories alive.
A fast-drying travel towel can double up for the shower and beach, a sleeping bag liner is a godsend if you happen upon a skanky mattress and a squishy travel pillow will ensure your dreams are sweeter than sweet. If you can spare the room, a self-inflating mat will mean you can nod off anywhere and for the experienced off-roader, a featherweight sleeping bag will guarantee you’re seriously self-sufficient.
Keep all the necessities together (a waterproof travel wallet is a good idea) including your passport (and a copy), credit cards, itinerary, proof of vaccinations, driver’s licence, a list of emergency numbers (next of kin, home, your bank and the like) and other travel related documents (check here if you need convincing).
Final advice? Decide on what you’re taking and then halve it. There’s nothing worse than a slackpacker!