Time to reminisce, and go back in time almost a decade, to the moment when I decided to set out and travel all over Europe on my own for the very first time. What a wonderful six months of preparation this was, contacting Couchsurfing hosts, pushing tacks in a map, reading blog after blog on how to do this and making sure you don’t forget that. I was not going to be your average first timer, no sir, I was going to do this right from the get go.
So following that I went on to utterly ignore the ton of advice I just finished reading telling me to not overpack. I filled up my trusty Backtrack 70 backpack with all I could possibly need during my trip. Good lord, the amount of spare cassettes, spare cables, spare batteries. A full size videocamera, a regular camera, a PDA, mobile phone, memory cards, chargers, cables, sketchpads, several pencils, you name it. Even a bag full of high-end yoyos and harmonicas to fight boredom (we all have dark pages in our historybooks, don’t judge me). It was almost ridiculous, and compared to some backpackers who look like trees that grow bags, I wasn’t even doing that bad.
Come 2015, and I find that I’ve come to a point where I know for myself what I’ll need to bring and not to bring. I’ll share my way of thinking when it comes to packing in this post, and the items that make it to my bag. The type of traveler I am is one that’s always in or close to cities and civilization not doing anything too crazy, so take it from that perspective.
There’s a few principles I try to keep in mind when packing:
- Are you going to the jungle? No? Then take out those two spare rolls of toilet paper and that spare spraycan of deodorant. Better yet, just chuck out everything defined as ‘spare’. If you’re like most people, you’ll be spending most of your time within walking distance of a shop or supermarket. If you’re not sure you’ll use something, don’t bring it at all and buy it when you end up missing it. If you’re the kind of person that can’t simplify to the extent of having to bring matching mittens and wool caps for every shirt you’re carrying to a cold place, then I sincerely hope nobody helps you with your bags as you find yourself crying at the bottom of 3 flights of stairs.
- Decide what you’ll be doing. Don’t bring a laptop just because you want to be able to chat now and then with friends back home or read Buzzfeed articles. It’s important to know what your trip is for, because if you don’t, you’ll end up bringing a bit of everything just in case. In this example, if you can do everything on your phone, leave the laptop.
- Be prepared to have 100% of your shit stolen. You are in someone else’s country, you don’t always know how to play it safe enough, and if the wrong person sees your bag at the wrong time, tough luck, it’s time to start washing your single pair of undies in the sink while you wait for your uncle’s Western Union money transfer to come through. This applies to the gadgets in the previous point especially. Don’t bring anything you’re not prepared to break or lose.
- Pack for a week. Going traveling for a week? Pack for a week. Going traveling for two months? Pack for a week. Planning on never returning? You get my point. Every week you can find yourself a washing machine, and if not, then you smell weird for a day or two. It’s all about compromise, baby.
- Bring something comforting. The road isn’t always one continuous stream of fun and engaging experiences as one’s vacation photos on Facebook would lead you to believe. Sometimes, you need your ‘teddybear’. In my case these are headphones for the phone, and a Kobo full of books. Oh yes, and a huge guitar.
That pretty much sums it up. Let’s get packing!
- 2 pairs of jeans. The science is out, kids! Jeans don’t need to be washed often, if at all. So I wear one pair, and on laundry day I start wearing the other.
- 4 shirts. Preferably shirts that I can wear to both fancy parties and beach hangouts. I like being fancy all day long, so I’m mostly good.
- 1 wifebeater. I love that word.
- 1 pair of swimming trunks. These double as my warm weather shorts.
- 7 pairs of socks and underwear.
- 1 pair of regular shoes
- 1 pair of sandals
- 1 belt
- 1 hoodie
- 1 cool leather jacket
- Due to my work, I also bring 1 pair of safety boots.
- Eyewear, as in, a few pairs of glasses, several sets of contacts, contact solution, … I’m pretty blind.
- Toothbrush and toothpaste
- Razors. No shaving cream. My beard’s not that hard to beat.
- Small traveltowel
- Passport. My best friend.
- National ID
- Driver’s licenses, both national and international
- Several credit and debit cards, spread out across my luggage and on my person. They won’t get me a fourth time.
- Medical insurance card and information
- Frequent flyer card
- Cash in several currencies. Not for any conspiracy fueled reason, just leftovers from previous destinations, and can always serve as a backup for a little extra emergency money.
- Work related documents
- Token to log into my bank account with
- Leatherman Skeletool + bitset. Good for almost every situation I’ve needed some kind of a tool in.
- Power plug adaptor
- Power bank for USB powered stuff
- Smartphone, multi-SIM with large screen, plus charger
- Bluetooth keyboard.
- Several pens and a small notebook
- Musician grade earplugs to pretend I don’t have tinitus yet
- Earbuds + spare molds
- SIM card adaptors, for fitting anything into my phone.
- Several locks for luggage and lockers
- Last but not least: my trusty ereader
Task specific tools
On the specifics of these I decide depending on where I’ll go and what I want to be focusing on there.
- Laptop: I drag around my already backpackfriendly Surface Pro 3 if I feel like I’ll do anything crazy I can’t do on my phone. All of my stuff is in the cloud, so I don’t need to bring much more than this to be OK.
- Guitar: I’m past the point of no return on this one. I have to have some form of guitar on me. I have a small travel set and a full sized set to choose from, but I’ll elaborate on that in another post, because I’m just so proud of it.
What I choose not to bring
Medical supplies. I’m not a huge pilltaker, and most head- or tummyaches I’ll gladly sit out with nothing but a big bottle of water. Most places I go to it’s easy enough to ask the person next to you for a pill anyway, and the food’s never too crazy. I’m saying this because trekking through India may cause you to consider taking a pill or two with you, in case travelers diarrhea hits you while you’re en route on the roof of a bus.
You’ll notice I’m not good at adjusting my wardrobe to extreme weather situations either. Usually the difference between hot and cold is one sweater for me.
What I feel like I could improve
I’m thinking of exchanging one of the pairs of jeans for a pair of cargopants to be more flexible in a larger variety of seasons. Maybe an item of clothing or two to make doing active things more convenient in.
Like with anything, this is an ongoing experiment. In most situations I’ll be fine, but one property of rare events is that it’s likely it hasn’t happened to me yet. One day I might find myself on top of a hill screaming ‘Why oh why didn’t I take that adrenaline shot with me!’ (I know this doesn’t sound accurate, but I’m not a doctor). We’ll find out when we find out, but for now, I’ve been fine with this kit for years.
We’ll be happy to hear your wisdom on this in the comments! Does it seem like I’m missing something here? What crazy item you never needed before ended up saving your life that one time?