With the summer break here for university students, and the June holidays starting this weekend for the kids, the time is ripe to take that backpacking trip we've all wanted. But with that trip comes lots of preparation and planning.
This is how to backpack like a true pro, and reduce your load to about the size of a school backpack.
Put your information in Cloud
Unless you're living in the nineteenth century, there's no reason why you need to print out your itinerary, booking references, maps, and so on. Chances are the pieces of paper will get damaged or lost on your trip, and you'll be stuck with no backup. The best thing you can do is to put all of them into cloud. This means that even if you end up losing your phone, you can easily regain access to all your necessary documents via any computer. Google Drive is great for this.
As backup, it's always useful to have scans of your identification and passport in cloud as well. Should you lose your passport, those will come in very handy.
While the main misconception about backpacking is that you have to look like an oversized humpback, the truth is you can get by without that much stuff towering over your head. All you need is a sturdy and waterproof backpack. Don't go for thin materials that can easily get slashed on the streets, but try to go as light as physically possible. It also helps to have a few hidden pockets that you can secure with a lock if necessary to keep your most important possessions safe, like your passport and money.
The Tortuga Travel Backpack, for example, has hip pockets disguised as a front clasp, allowing you to hide smaller objects like money.
There are a wide variety of choices when it comes to money pouches, because everyone has their preference when it comes to stashing their money. From neck pouches (which are sling bags that you wear below your clothing), to leg pouches that wrap around your calf, people have come up with a ton of creative ways to hide their money. They're great for keeping money safe, but may not rank so high on comfort levels.
Each of them have their own advantages and disadvantages, and it really depends on what you are going to wear. For example, if you're going to be wearing shorts in a hot climate, a leg pouch that wraps around your calf may not be a good idea.
But whatever you choose, don't pool all your money in a single money pouch. Always split your money into different sections - maybe hide some emergency cash in your socks or underwear. My personal favourite, as a girl, is to hide some money in a sanitary pad. That way, even if one of your stashes gets stolen, you won't be left high and dry.
The main rule for backpackers everywhere is "wear one, wash one". This means that you should have at most two sets of clothing to keep your carry on as light as possible. Wear one, and before you lay your head down for the night, wash one in the sink of your hostel with any soap you can get your hands on. Hardcore backpackers have proven time and time again that you can travel with much less, so don't be afraid of underpacking. They're just clothes, after all.
But for the fashion-conscious who need more than two outfits on a one-month trip, make sure that all your clothes fall within a similar colour scheme. That way, every outfit you put together will match. Avoid clothes with religious or political messages on them, so you don't unintentionally offend locals.
Picking what you're packing is equally important. Of course, this depends on where you're travelling, but wrinkle-free clothing are always a lifesaver. If you're travelling to a tropical country, lightweight clothing can easily be rolled instead of folded to avoid creases, and will save you a lot of space. Dry-fit will be heavenly, because they will always dry well after a good wash.
And unless you're travelling to a cold country and plan to wear the same pair of jeans every day, don't bring them. There won't be a single day when you'll be happy you lugged your heavy blue jeans around, and they're impossible to wash.
If you're planning to swim, bring a swimsuit that doubles as something else. For guys, invest in a pair of swimming shorts (not trunks) that you can double as normal trunks. For girls, get a bikini top with some structure that can double as a bra.
It's best to not bring any at all, especially since airport security restricts the amount of liquids you can take with you. When you reach your destination, either go to the nearest convenience store and buy something off the shelf, or use whatever is in your hostel. All you'll need is a single toothbrush. You can always grab a little toothpaste from your fellow backpacker when you're in the bathroom.
For girls, you don't actually need any makeup. But if you do, keep them to small samples, or just buy some when you're there. How much are you really going to primp anyway, when you're lugging around a massive backpack?
Fake Wedding Ring
For women travelling alone, it's safer to wear fake wedding rings. Single women travelling alone may become potential targets to local men, but a fake wedding ring helps ward off unwelcome advances.
It's always best to invest in a good pair of walking shoes. No matter how clunky or heavy they are, these shoes should be where the weight is. After all, they determine how comfortable your journey will be, and on some days even affect how much you enjoy yourself.
But if you're dying for variety, then invest in some convertible shoes. Change your walking shoes into slippers instantly, and give your toes some room to breathe. If not, buy a cheap pair of flipflops from wherever you are. They'll break quickly, but then you can just throw them away and lighten your load.
It's also best to make sure that they are waterproof. Some tropical countries are prone to flash storms, and the last thing you need is to have your only pair of shoes left sopping wet all day.
First Aid and Medication
It's always better to be safe than sorry, so pack a basic first aid kit for anything that might go wrong - just make sure you're not bringing along the whole pharmacy. Some essential items include liquid bandage that can protect wounds from infection, painkillers, as well as tweezers, which are always handy for splinters. Diarrhea pills are a must, especially if you're going to try the local cuisine.
Prescription medication must be kept in their packaging to avoid being mistaken for drugs - this could be troublesome when crossing borders.
Unless you're asking for daily heart attacks and invitations for theft, don't bring expensive electronics with you. It may sound like a good idea to bring an iPad to play games on when you're travelling, but backpacking always opens up possibilities for theft, and you're better off without having to stress over lost gadgets.
If you can afford it, invest in a cheap smartphone. As long as you can text and call your family, or access your itinerary and booking references on them, then you're good. Plus, people won't be eyeing that fancy iPhone 6 that you're lugging around.
Most importantly, make sure that everything you've packed is something that you can afford to lose. The fact of the matter is that when you travel, there is always a chance of theft or even freak accidents where your possessions become lost forever. The less valuable your possessions are, the more likely you will enjoy a stress-free backpacking trip.
After all, the real pros travel with nothing at all.