Now that I got your attention, I’ll be honest – this is an article where I would like to give some tips for novice backpackers on what to take with you on your long trip. But the tip is real – size matters, and a lot. I mean the size of your backpack of course… Here’s my opinion why backpacking light is a great choice.
Pack according to your travel plans
Now to be fair, it all depends what are you going to do on your trip. Not everyone is a hardcore hiker or rock climber, not everyone is going to spend the nights in a tent in a middle of a forest. Actually, the most backpackers I’ve met were there just to explore. Sightseeing and food tasting enthusiasts are actually the most common type of backpackers out there. And for that, you do not need any special equipment, compass or hiking shoes. I’ve done some hiking and trekking in South-East Asia and most of the time even my sandals were enough for the terrain. And even though I looked stupid in my sandals, it has done the job.
When you plan your trip look at the temperature of the countries you are planning to visit. If the weather is mostly good and the temperature does not drop bellow 12-15 degrees Celsius, you are perfectly fine without the puffed jackets, warm hats or gloves. Even if it will be raining like hell, most likely you will be staying in your hostel and watching it from the inside. It’s not like you will be running around in your poncho in a storm (I did it once, but only because I had to buy beer before a storm landed in Vietnam).
Even if you plan to travel for a long time, if most of the destinations are countries where it’s warm, you would still benefit from backpacking light. Even if there’re one or two destinations where it’s cold, it’s cheaper to buy a winter jacket there for that reason than to carry it with you in Pacific islands or South-East Asia where it’s always around 25-35 degrees.
In South-East Asia, I only had a 45-litre backpack, my warmest thing to wear was a hoodie and long jeans. If I had to stay outside longer and it became chilly I would just put on another t-shirt under my hoodie. And clothes are really cheap in that region.
Backpacking Light is cheaper, easier and safer
On my first backpacking trip, I took a 45-litre backpack and a big 70-90 litre side bag with me. I was not sure what I need, I thought I did not pack enough. That’s always the case, you take things you will never need, thinking about craziest situations that might occur. After I found a hostel that was kind enough to hold my big bag while I go to Indonesia I was only using the 45-litre one. After a month in Indonesia, I returned to the hostel not even remembering what I had in the big bag. And then it hit me – I don’t need it. So I asked them to keep it until I come back to take it before I go home to Europe.
I only saw benefits of backpacking light. Firstly, it’s a lot cheaper. I never had to buy registered luggage for a flight as I kept my backpack to 7 kg on the day of flying. Of course, on that day, my pockets were full of phone chargers, camera, other equipment; I had a few t-shirts on me and I was wearing more clothes than I needed but this kept my backpack under 7 kg and I was saving a lot of money. So a few hours of being uncomfortably dressed and with pants falling from the heavy stuff in my pockets was a reasonable thing to do to maintain a low budget for flying.
Now I think I would not even need that extra stuff that I had to hide in my pockets to make the backpack lighter on the day of the flight. Just keep it around 7 kg and it will save you hundreds of dollars.
Not to mention that you need to carry the backpack everywhere so it saves a lot of energy if you are keeping it light. Sometimes I had to walk kilometres to a bus station or a ferry. If I would have had to carry a 15 kg backpack, I would most likely be spending more money on taxi services. But when you keep it light, it’s fairly easy to carry around with you everywhere.
And being able to carry it everywhere with you makes it a lot safer too. There’s a lot of bad stories about people hiding in the luggage compartments in buses (seen it with my own eyes) and stealing stuff from the bags, stories about other people stealing a bag that does not belong to them when they leave the public bus before you, and so on. Basically, every time you are separated from your backpack, you increase the risk of losing your valuables. Backpacking light allows you to take your backpack with you on the bus/ferry/plane, not having to put it in any special compartments. Sure it’s a bit less comfortable, but it’s safe. Believe me, when I say that everything you have on your trip is in that backpack. Sometimes losing even the smallest thing can cause you huge problems.
Essential items for the journey
If you are thinking that backpacking light is the choice for you, you still need to know what to take with you. The first thing that you really must have on the trip is a small backpack for the most valuable belongings. Even if you have a 35-45 litre backpack with 7-10 kg stuff in it, sometimes you will have to put it somewhere, where it would not be in the way. But do not put any valuable things in there. Keep them on you in a small backpack, carry it on your belly if you need. I had my bigger backpack on my back and a small one, with a camera, wallet, phone, if needed, on my chest. So even if someone digs through your big bag you’ll know that all they are going to find will be dirty underwear and a toothbrush while all the important stuff is with you.
Some other stuff that I think is useful to have:
- medicaments: don’t think that if it’s hot you will not get sick. You will. You will get a cold, you will get food poisonings, you will get diarrhoea. Pharmacies are not always easy to find, so keep some basic but useful medicaments with you. Things like paracetamol, hayfever tablets or Imodium are really useful. Keep in mind that sometimes you will have to get from point A to B even if you are not in a good condition.
- travel guide: yes, it’s a lot more fun to get lost… But it depends on the region you are in. Keep a travel guide for contact information, basic language expressions and tips about destinations and their safety. Usually, they take up a lot of space so my suggestion is an e-reader. I had all the guide books I needed plus something to read when I was chilling near my bungalow.
- a smartphone: not to sit in Facebook or Skype, but to be able to call someone if it’s an emergency. Anything can happen, better safe than sorry.
- long sleeved clothes: a jumper/sweater and a pair of jeans/long pants. Also some full sneakers. Their useful if it’s chilly and they’re a big help if you go into a jungle, to cover yourself from the insects. Mosquitoes are very annoying and they spread diseases.
- mosquito repellent: mentioned above.
- some simple fixing gear: Swiss knife, super glue and a needle with thread might be a good idea. Backpacks get ripped, things break. Sometimes you just need to fix a small thing and you’re good to go again. No need to search for special services when you can fix it yourself. I have fixed zippers, buttons, glued my sandals. This saved me time and money.
Surely there’s more stuff to take, but these are the really important ones. All the rest is up to you. You know best what you need to feel safe and comfortable. Just keep in mind that you don’t need that much stuff if you want to enjoy travelling itself. Backpacking light is a great choice for warm regions.
If you think we forgot something important do let us know in the comment section. All opinions and comments are much appreciated.