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Packing Philosophy


THE PACKING SURVIVAL GUIDE.

Everything you need, nothing you don't.

 

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Packing Philosophy


THE PACKING SURVIVAL GUIDE.

Everything you need, nothing you don't.

 

The Smaller (& Lighter) YOUR Bag, The Better The Trip

Here you'll find a list of what you really need on a backpacking trip, put together by those who have learned the hard way -- not someone who is trying to sell anything other than the concept of traveling light. 

The happiest traveller will be one who can fit their bag/pack under the seat of a bus or take it as hand luggage on a flight. It might seem impossible, especially when first throwing a few things in a bag, but after learning the hard way you'll start taking less and less on every trip.

In reality, you might have to learn most of these lessons yourself but once you collapse under the weight of your corpse-sized bag, we'll try not to say "I told you so". 

For the record, you will have to think very hard of something not recommended on the list below that could not be bought abroad and normally much cheaper.
— Editor's Note
choose a backpack guide
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The Backpack


PICKING THE PACK.

You'll cross paths with all different types on the road, but there is a right and a wrong way.

The Backpack


PICKING THE PACK.

You'll cross paths with all different types on the road, but there is a right and a wrong way.

CONSIDER YOUR OPTIONS.

 


PICKING THE PACK.

SIZE DOES MATTER: CHOOSE VAGABOND, NOT VAGABONDAGE

A small, portable pack will make or break your trip. That means under 50 Liters, but the smaller the better.

You might have to ditch that 3rd pair of shoes, but believe us, the freedom it offers & hassle it removes is worth what you sacrifice 10x over. Most people have to learn this lesson the hard way. More on this here.

Do NOT choose this.

WHEELS ARE FOR TOOLS (AND FOOLS).

First, you'll immediately identify yourself as a mark to local touts looking to make a buck off of a wealthy tourist-- it doesn't matter if you're actually wealthy.

A worn-in backpack says, "I wasn't born yesterday and I probably don't have anything worth stealing, so don't mess with me". A large rolling bag says, "I'm rich and vulnerable".

Secondly, you'll be tempted to pack more if you haven't backpacked before, figuring you won't have to carry it on your back that often. Believe us, you will -- whether it's lugging it up 3 flights of stairs to your hostel or wrestling through a giant pack of passengers to get on an overcrowded train, bag in hand.

Your cute wheelie bag won't help you here.

 

Lastly, you'll run into logistical problems. Wheels add weight, making it harder to lug your bag around. They also make it difficult to maneuver through tight spaces -- think of yourself dragging a wheeled piece of luggage through a crowded street, weaving through fruit stands and warding off offers from local porters to carry your bag.

Not fun.

 

 

A BACKPACK DESIGNED FOR HOSTELS, NOT HIKING.

Almost as important as the size and weight is the design of your bag -- although this is often overlooked by first timers. The ideal bag zips all the way around to open and close (like a suitcase) vs. opening from the top via a drawstring (like a hiking backpack or stuff sack). 

Why? It allows for max security (locks with combo lock) on the road/hostels AND allows for easy access.

 It might sound like no big deal, but in a critical moment nothing is worse than packing an entire bag, remembering the one thing you need is at the bottom & then having to take everything out to get to it.

guide to packing for backpacking trip

The Osprey Bag (above right, blue) means no easy access & many pockets that don't lock. The Kelty bag to the left (black) is a good choice. It zips open like a suitcase, letting you grab and go, but also lock with one lock.

 

Lockable vs. Normal Zippers or Drawstings.

travel guide lock zipper backpack

 Normal zippers are fine and can be “locked,” but zippers designed to be locked are better. When the loops for the lock are on the sliders, instead of on the pulls (see below), the zippers can’t be pulled apart making them less accessible to thieves.

 

May We Recommend...

Conversation Starters, But Not American Flags

Founding editor, Laura, always recommends slapping something on your backpack that's comment-worthy.

If you've been to a ton of countries or cities, get a patch from each. Canadian pride? Get a few flags and stick them all over your pack. It might seem like you're bragging, but once you do it you'll be amazed at the number of curious locals and backpackers alike who will notice and initiate a conversation which can be invaluable when it comes to traveling alone and meeting new people.

What to avoid? American Flags. Sad, but true, displaying your USA pride is an invitation for hostility from fellow-travelers and also from locals in certain countries. I always travel with a Canadian “decoy” patch on my backpack, because you never know when a bit of anti-American sentiment is going to surprise you
— Editor's Note

 

What do we carry?

The Osprey Waypoint is a good choice (also available for men) as is the slightly smaller Osprey Farpoint. Both come with a detachable day bag as well, which doubles as a great "bus bag".

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Clothes. How To Pack For A Backpacking Trip.


CLOTHING.

Choose your wardrobe wisely.

Clothes. How To Pack For A Backpacking Trip.


CLOTHING.

Choose your wardrobe wisely.

COMING SOON.

If the main focus of your trip will be trekking (i.e. away from towns), you are advised to give more thought to packs, appropriate food and clothing options, (especially the importance of waterproof and warm clothing) than is given on this page. 
 

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Stay Healthy On The Road. The Think Less. Travel More. Survival Guide


STAY HEALTHY.

Stick with us & leave that Delhi-Belly in the dust.

 

Stay Healthy On The Road. The Think Less. Travel More. Survival Guide


STAY HEALTHY.

Stick with us & leave that Delhi-Belly in the dust.

 

The Backpacker Medical Kit.

Make your own up and keep it small.

All things medical are available cheaply and plentifully on the road so there is very little point in weighing yourself down with a huge first aid kit unless you're going to be Bear Grylls-ing it off the grid for more than a few days on end.


 Get yer Thai medications here!

Get yer Thai medications here!

our medical essentials.

COLD & FLU PILLS (with decongestant). They're often hard to find overseas in the same form we're used to in Western countries.

SORE THROAT. Something for that, ditto the reason above. 

WOUND CARE. Bandaids, antibiotic cream (like Neosporin), Hydrocortisone cream (2%) to treat insect bites, and plenty of pain killers. This isn't to say you can't get these items overseas, it's just nice to avoid trekking around a remote town looking for a bandaid if you can avoid it.

STOMACH. Immodium or other diarrhea blocker and Pepto-Bismol. Because, you know. We often ask our doctor to write a prescription for Cipro before heading somewhere, just in case. You'll take this if you think you have a situation that warrants more than bed-rest and Pepto.

CONDOMS. Because better safe than sorry and you'll know you can trust 'em (and that they're the right size).


If you feel you'll need IT.

This foolhardy traveler took the Thai ferry and forgot her Dramamine.

MOTION SICKNESS PILLS. Dramamine or the like for long car/bus/boat trips or when you want to read when in motion.

ANTI-DOPAMINERGIC.  Something that suppresses vomiting/nausea such as Domperidone.

ANTI-PARASITIC.  Such as Tinidazole for Guardia or amoebic dysentery.

ANTIHISTAMINE PILLS. If you have allergies or to treat a bite or sting that's itchy or you need the swelling to go down quick. Just remember, these will probably make you sleepy.

SCRIPTS. If you need to carry unusual prescription medicine, check it is legal in the country you are visiting and take a photocopy of the prescription. 

 

MALARIA.

For ideas and details of Malaria medication see our Mosquito Survival Guide, but as a general note, this can be bought cheaply in Asia/Africa too.

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The Guidebook


 

GUIDEBOOKS.

With so many options out there, we break it down so you know which to choose.

 

The Guidebook


 

GUIDEBOOKS.

With so many options out there, we break it down so you know which to choose.

 

Can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em.

Love them or hate them, travel guidebooks are very much a backpacking essential, increasingly dictating to whole generations where to go, how to get there and what to do. 

Throughout this site you will see off-the-beaten-track possibilities mentioned and by simply looking at a map of any given country you will see thousands more. Upon first traveling guidebooks often become a limitation - literary, ‘if it is not in “the book”‘ it is [perceived to be] not worth visiting or simply can’t be. Obviously this is nonsense and all you need is time, inclination and knowledge there is transport there and somewhere to stay when you arrive. Hopping on a bus into the ‘unknown’ once in a while is a great kick. Even in a country a heavily touristed as somewhere like Thailand, there are thousands of great place to get away from the masses, step back in time and see a part of life few of the millions of backpackers to the region ever see.
— Editor's Humble Opinion
guidebook backpack greece

All over the world you can see twenty somethings - and increasingly older - often desperate for succor, with their heads stuck in guidebooks. Reading, re-reading, desperately trying to find the best possible routes and the best possible places as if encoded somewhere in the pages. 

The problem is everyone is doing the same and generally reading from the same text, which means less people are striking out on their own or making use of local tour guides.

 

It is worth investing in a tour guide every now and again for really special places like Angkor Wat. It’ll be much more rewarding than relying on 2 pages from a second rate guide book.
— Editor's Tip

That said, you'll probably need to pick up a guidebook at some point, so here's a quick rundown of the most popular and useful brands:

Lonely Planet. 

AKA "LP", "The Book" of "The Bible"

The most ubiquitous of all guides, often with solid information, but not always up-to-date. They do cover some interesting locations (the Caucasus, Iran and Syria for example) but their shoestring titles are often appallingly lacking in depth and information-- it all depends on the edition and author. However, their maps are probably the best of all guides. Newer titles are now published in a jazzy format (with questionable 'authors choice' recommendations), but can be better than older versions.

Rough Guides.

Maybe the most in-depth and informative although their structure can need getting use to if you have only previously used other guides.  RG doesn't cover as wide a range of countries as LPs and older titles are nowhere near as good as newer ones, which are first rate in most cases. European guides are excellent and their alternatives to other popular titles (i.e. LP's India/Thailand) are a great alternative to get away from the crowds.

Bradt.

The best of the bunch (besides Rough Guides) if you can find them especially for African countries and off-the-beaten track books. Bradt guides normally avoid the most popular destinations and going head-to-head with the big-boys of the industry. They can suffer from being out-of-date, having fewer updates (but a few years out-of-date should not worry you), and have a somewhat amateur look to them compared to LPs. Highly recommended.

Let's Go.

New editions have a new format and look a lot smarter, but are less budget focused and often have a slant for Americans as they are written by Harvard students.That said, they are some of the most accurate, being updated yearly. These guides are perhaps best avoided in regions with many young American travelers.

Footprint.

An excellent series and perhaps the only multi-country guides worth having. The South or Central America Handbook is a serious project and puts the Lonely Planet and other versions to shame. In addition, they publish many region guides to specific [regions] areas within large countries (for example India). Footprint authors do on occasion rave about places off-the-beaten track that when you arrive can be less than inspiring. Equally poor town maps and readability are their only other let downs.

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Gear


ESSENTIAL GEAR.

 

Gear


ESSENTIAL GEAR.

 

Coming Soon.

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Books & Entertainment


BOOKS & OTHER ENTERTAINMENT.

Books & Entertainment


BOOKS & OTHER ENTERTAINMENT.

if you are a manic reader a Kindle or similar is the best way forward. If you're not going the e-reader route, bring a few books and swap them along the way at hostels or bookstores.

Either way, we HIGHLY recommend bringing reading material as you'll more often than not find yourself with a lot of downtime on long bus rides and the like.

Luckily, we have a whole page dedicated to why reading will enhance your trip, complete with our favorite travel reads by region.

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Guidebook Tricks


TIPS & TRICKS.

Guidebook Tricks


TIPS & TRICKS.

Keeping The Weight Down.

With large regional guide books (you don't need to do this for single country guides), that you have no chance of reselling, a friend suggested tearing pages out as needed. Not only reducing the weight of the book while traveling, but meaning you need only carry a few pages (e.g. map) around when sightseeing or in town.

If you do decide to rip them apart so that you can only carry the pieces that are/will be useful to you the best way to do this [for the LP among others] is to put them in the microwave. Usually about 30 seconds will do. It melts the glue in the spine allowing the pages to come out effortless and more importantly without any loss of information
— Hot Tip

How To Choose A Guide For A Multi-Country Trip.

If heading off on a long multi-country trip, it's worth knowing that you really don't need to take a guidebook from home for every country you intend to visit. The cost and weight is just unnecessary: guides (okay sometimes not the latest update or small print run editions for out-of-the-way countries) are normally readily available on the way if you look hard enough in regional and traveller centers.
 

Saving Money On Guidebooks.

Many are very surprised at the number of good guidebooks in their local library: these can be used for research or for photocopying sections.

 

Traveling Without A Guidebook.

Guidebooks are necessary as a sort of safety net in most destinations, but it is possible to travel without one. You'll find plenty of information available from locals, guesthouses, tourist information and other sources, not to mention the numerous opportunities you'll have to peruse the guidebooks of others.

Many companies bang out guides for as many countries as they can and many will be happy to recommend restaurants and hotels after only spending 10mins checking them out or maybe not even visiting at all. Thomas Kohnstamm a former Lonely Planet writer in an interview promoting his book in the (Oz) Sunday Telegraph spoke freely of fallible methods used. Best of all was his claim that despite a contribution to the LP Colombia he had never been to the country, "They didn't pay me enough to go to Colombia. I wrote the book in San Francisco. I got the information from a chick I was dating". More amusing were claims such as noting "the table service is friendly" in a restaurant he says he had sex with a waitress on a table after hours. Probably one of the free services he said he would often accept. 


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