Pack Light and be Free: How to Travel the World with Just a Backpack and a Smile
Drop the Suitcase and Get a Pack
For some reason it never gets old watching someone dragging a roller suit case, or for that matter a regular suit case, around a country full of potholes, puddles, sand, dirt roads and stairs. Solution: USE A BACK PACK! Though they can be heavy at first you’ll get used to the weight and will be very thankful you’re not struggling every time you move from place to place. Take your time when you’re picking a pack, do thorough research and do not settle on the cheaper pack to save an extra buck. Money that might have been spent on one of the extra going away parties might be better invested in some quality gear.
The place, number of countries you plan to visit, the length of your trip (which is always subject to change if you haven’t bought your return ticket), and different climates will determine what pack you will want to select. For example, if you’ll be in warm climates that don’t call for much gear your pack will not need to be very big. Aside from the obvious advantage of a small pack being lighter, a small bag is permitted as carry-on for flights, trains, busses etc, so you don’t have to let it out of your sight in transit. Having it with you at all times significantly reduces the possibility of having things stolen. (TIP: Keep valuables on you at all times during the moving process and locked up once you reach your destination.)
If you take a large pack somewhere where you can wear the same thing for a few days without washing, like dry or cooler weather, you probably won’t see the bottom of your pack until your trip is over and you’re unpacking. You will be carrying at least a pound of stuff you do not need, and believe me, one pound feels like twenty after a few hours on your back. In Asia I took a Patagonia pack no bigger than an average kid’s school backpack and used every single thing in it at least once in the six months. Remember to allow space for things you might pick up along the way – I had room to bring three extra shorts, a shirt, small flute and a rolled up painting back with me. If you don’t use or need it give it away someone will make use of whatever it is.
“One man gathers what another man spills.” -The Grateful Dead
Getting the Pack that’s Right for You
When I traveled through New Zealand and Australia I used an Osprey Aether 70 which proved to be a wonderful and durable pack. Osprey is a popular brand for a good reason. I suggest looking into them if considering a new pack of any size. I was hitching and walking trails all over New Zealand through warm sunshine and cold rain. I carried food, cooking gear, a tent, a sleeping bag and clothes for all occasions, and found this pack to be sufficient for both NZ and Australia. While the weight of the backpack will seem heavy at first, you’ll get used to it and once you adjust it should be much more comfortable. Choosing the right pack will help with the overall comfort. Look for a pack with support shoulder straps (the straps from the top of your pack to the top of your main shoulder straps), well-padded main shoulder straps, chest straps and a nicely padded adjustable hip strap. These are all very important features to find your center of gravity. Without these, there is a good chance you will be miserably uncomfortable and in pain, slowing you down and restricting your ability to do all the things that you would like.
What’s in my Pack
Deciding what to include on your shopping list can be tricky as a first timer. Trial and error and experience will teach you what you find to be most valuable and literally worth its weight. I have recently started carrying a Camelback, and it’s been a great addition to my gear list. Other pieces I have always been thankful for are my head-light, hammock, rain coat and rope.
I was recently turned onto a PETZL L.E.D. water resistant head-light. It has interchangeable sliding light cover (red is proven best to adjust back to dark quickly). It uses three AAA batteries and last for a few months depending on usage.
Hammock (and rope)
A hammock is my second home while traveling, ENO (Eagle’s Nest Outfitters) makes a wonderful durable hammock but there are many on the market and the prices range drastically depending on your needs, so search around. A hammock is quick, comfortable, and easy to set up for a camp, for a break, or for a lazy day – don’t overlook the importance of a lazy day, after all you are traveling to enjoy yourself. Comfort is a big part of your experience, when you see your travel buddy with a hammock you’ll wish you had one as well. Get two good pieces of rope and make them both longer than you will use – rope is always needed.
Pack Cover vs. Raincoat
Some people chose to use pack covers. While they are inexpensive, I have never seen one that works better than a good raincoat and the rain coat will cover you and your pack. Pick one that will fold up small enough to fit in an outside pocket of your pack where it can dry after use.
I know many people that say a good pair of boots is the most important thing to have while traveling, depending on your method of travel. I am usually barefoot while traveling, unless in a city where flip flops are sufficient for me. I also suggest paper and pen, a light fold up day pack, a knife or multi tool, first aid kit, sewing kit and diarrhea pills. I have travel companions that will not leave for a trip without their tent, inflatable sleeping mat, travel towel, water purifying pills and sleeping bag. Remember a few rules while buying gear, the lighter the better, even a few ounces or grams add up (some people even cut the handles off their tooth brushes!)
These tips are for very basic travel/back packing. Thoroughly research where you will be traveling to, the season, the climate and the weather. Always read up before you go and be prepared. Do research before investing in any gear.
Safe travels and happy trails, get out there and experience life of all walks and beliefs, open your mind and arms. We are all visitors to earth so never feel out of place. A tourist is a person that feels the need to see new places but does not feel they belong in them, a traveler is a person who goes to places and knows they belong no matter where they are.
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