Packing for Backpacking

I know packing for a trip might seem like a no brainer, but when you are traveling overseas or traveling for long periods of time, there are definitely some things you should know!

Backpack – When you decide to begin a backpacking adventure, Osprey bags are just about as good as they come. After having traveled to a variety of places, including being stuck in the middle of the jungle, somehow our Osprey backpacks still look just as good as new. Well, besides a few scuff marks we’ve acquired along the way. They are durable, sleek, and perfect for compact travel. Kyle and I highly recommend getting the Farpoint 70 “combo” set. This comes with one large backpack and one attachable small backpack. I recommend never traveling with just one big backpack because you never know when a weekend trip might be calling your name. On several occasions, whether Kyle and I were on a border hop or just a weekend trip, we were able to ditch the massive backpacks and just travel without hassle. We have been lucky to have an apartment in Bangkok where we were able to leave the majority of our things when our travel bug was itching, as well as, met amazing hosts along the way that so graciously held our bags when we wanted to island hop. If you are able to find a host or place that you trust to leave your things, it makes the world of a difference to take the load off for a bit and just carry a small bag. Trust me if you’ve been backpacking for a while, you will jump at any opportunity to leave that massive backpack behind. The combo pack is by far the best and leaves you with much more space and also the option of traveling light every once and a while. Though be prepared to look like a complete fool with backpacks strapped to both sides of you for the majority of your travels.

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Medicine – I hate to say this, but it’s inevitable that you’ll run into some health issues throughout your travels. When being exposed to so many different and new environments, it’s actually extremely important that you are informed on the one you are entering. I recommend everyone to visit a specialized travel doctor a few months prior to the start of your trip. Even if you have no intention of purchasing prescriptions through them, they can help inform you on what to expect from the countries you are traveling to and guide you to what you might need to do to avoid certain infections and illnesses. I am not posting about this to scare anyone, I just want to stress how important it is to check up on a country before you visit it so you can stay healthy throughout your journey. I realize travel doctors along with their provided medications can be quite expensive. This is when knowing you can get medications overseas for much cheaper comes in handy. I know in the United States you have to pay a pretty penny to get Malaria and Typhoid pills, where as, at Boots (a popular pharmacy in Thailand) offers the same drugs for ten dollars maximum. Just make sure to look up the pharmacies in the country you are traveling to before hand to make sure they have what you need. If they do, you are sure to get it at a much cheaper price than the U.S. I know medication expenses can sometimes be a very stressful thought when you are traveling on a budget.This is why doing your research beforehand can actually save you a lot of money.

Now as important as it is to be concerned about certain vaccinations and prescriptions, sometimes we forget about the more simple issues…the stomach. When you are traveling in Asia especially, it is almost certain you will run into an issue with your stomach. This has nothing to do with the quality and taste of the food, but simply just a different system. Now, you can be lucky and have a stomach issue hold you up for only an hour or you can catch something like the “Bali Belly” that can hold you up for days. Our first week in Ubud was tough…avoid the starfruit. No one likes to have to cut time out of their holiday to spend time on the toilet so if you can, pop a few Imodium in your pack before you begin. This will relieve a lot of discomfort quickly and insure that you can still have the adventure you were hoping for.

REI Towels – It depends on where you are choosing to stay during your travels, but if you are backpacking, chances are you are going to come across a hostel at some point. This is when having your own towels comes in handy. No matter how clean a hostel may appear, they just aren’t. Anyone who has stayed in a hostel knows this, no matter how nice the hostel is, you never really leave feeling clean. Not to mention at every hostel you have to pay an extra fee to rent a towel. When you are trying to save money the last thing you want to pay for is a towel at every place you stay. We decided before we left, it would be smart to pick up a few “quick dry” towels at REI, that way we would always have one if we needed it. I decided to get a full body towel size so I could use it for showering and somehow Kyle thought just a small face towel would suffice his needs because most places provide towels right? He was quick to find out that just about every hostel charges for towels and alas, poor Kyle was left having to dry himself after every shower with a small face towel. But hey, at least it dries quick right? The beauty of these towels is they take a whole five minutes to dry. This makes it easy to have those last minute showers at 6am before you are running to the airport to catch a flight. For any long term traveler, I highly recommend throwing these towels into your bag before you start your adventure.

Space Bags!! Whether you are using a suitcase or backpack, these magic bags can save you a tremendous amount of space! Especially if you are traveling for an undetermined amount a time, like us, you will need all the space you can get. Shout out to all the females out there..if you don’t know how to cut down those 30 shirts you want to bring, then don’t. Just get yourself a space bag. These plastic bags are a life saver and make packing for backpacking extremely easy and allow for compact travel. You can usually buy them in sets of three at REI and many other shopping markets such as Target and Walmart. These have created so much more space in my backpack and I have even been able to add a few new items. : ) I do have to say, even though the bags make it easy to bring all of your favorite clothes, I would still try to pack like a minimalist. When you are backpacking, the weight on your back is the biggest issue and this sometimes slips our mind when we first discover the magic of a space bag. Even though they make packing a lot more efficient and allow for more clothing items, you have to remember that every item adds weight to your back. You will quickly find out (as in your first stop at the airport) that you are going to want to keep your load light or your back is going to be hurting. My backpack is about the size of me so that doesn’t help too much either…

Technology: GoPro and Google Chromecast 

GoPro – My last minute purchase the day before we left for Asia ended up being the best thing I brought. Our GoPro holds all of the live treasures we’ve experienced throughout our trip. From our 5am march to Angkor Wat for the sunrise to dancing around in the kitchen as we cooked our first solo Thanksgiving, the GoPro has captured memories that a basic camera cannot. It’s waterproof, durable, compact, and perfect for any type of travel. If you’re looking to be able to reminisce over trips and see actual videos of your favorite moments, the GoPro is the way to go. I have the Hero5 Session. It is the perfect size and you can get it at a very reasonable price. Not to mention, there is even a GoPro app you can download on your phone so you can stream photos and videos seconds after you take them and share with family and friends.

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Google Chromecast – When your cable television is in a foreign language and you cannot understand a single word, you start to look for different options for entertainment. When we began our journey we didn’t see that it was necessary to bring a laptop along and we pretty much regretted this from the moment we touched down in Asia. When you are staring at your small phone every time you need a Netflix fix, trust me your eyes will start to burn. This is when the Google Chromecast comes into play. This round circular device plugs into any smart television and allows you to stream directly from your phone. After a long day of teaching, it’s nice to be able to come home, make a big bowl of popcorn, and watch Friends on the TV. Google Chromecast makes this all possible. 

Safety – As many know, tourists at any location are often targets for theft. This is why keeping your things locked is extremely important, even when you are just walking around town. This doesn’t mean that you will run into any issues, but it never hurts to be extra cautious  when you are in a foreign city that you don’t know very well.  I recommend having TSA locks on all backpacks and bags, especially during modes of transit. Kyle and I have been lucky in a lot of ways, but have also had motor bikes come up beside us and try to rip our bags out of our Tuk Tuks. Thank God we were already holding on to everything for dear life or they would have snatched everything we own. This is why I say be extra cautious and just be aware of your surroundings at all times. Most people around the world are very gracious and welcoming when you enter their country, but there will always be some people (from every country) that will take this as an advantage to get you while you are vulnerable. With that being said, if the motorcycle riders would have gotten a hold of one of our bags, it’s comforting to know that we wouldn’t be completely doomed. Thanks to our money belts we wear under our clothes, we can always secretly carry our extra cash and credit cards in case of emergencies such as this one. This is why having reserve cash is a good idea as well because if you were to run into any sort of problem, you wouldn’t be completely stuck. 

Shoes – With shoes, it can sometimes be hard to know what to bring and how many pairs you should have. If I can say anything about Southeast Asia, it would be to expect rain and a lot of it. On that note, you are going to need shoes that can survive through the various climates. REI is basically an adventurers heaven and offers just about everything you could imagine, including shoes. I highly recommend purchasing a pair of water resistant walking shoes. They have a dozen options, so you are sure to find something that suits you best. You may not be the most stylish tourist, but you will by far be the most comfortable. And when you are hiking in the sweltering heat and humidity of Cambodia, the look of your shoes is the least of your worries…

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Another shoe recommendation I have is to bring a cheap 99 cent pair of flip flops. Ladies, I know it’s natural to want to bring your cute and trendy sandals, but they just don’t cut it when you are backpacking. All you really need is a cheap pair of rubber sandals to survive through the wet season. Whether you are playing with elephants in the muddy jungle or protecting your feet from the hostel shower floor, those 99 cent slip ons are going to quickly become your new favorite shoes. The best part is you don’t care at all if they get dirty!

I would try to limit the amount of shoes you bring to just three pairs. You will find that shoes take up a lot of space and add extra weight to your pack. Not to mention your “carry on size” backpack will actually end up weighing more than the “carry on size” requirement and you will be charged an extra fifty dollars to now check in your backpack. Yikes, this is not something you will want to deal with every time you are hopping on a flight. If you are able to cut down on the amount of shoes, you can really shave off a lot of weight allowing you to keep that backpack of yours in the overhead bin.

Extras – You’re going to have a lot of time on you’re hands, especially when you are constantly moving from city to city. Kyle and I have adopted many different habits to keep ourselves entertained throughout our adventure. When you are spending every waking moment together for nine months and counting, you’ve got to learn to spice up those long travel days somehow. We chose to do that through our favorite game UNO. Now we don’t just play any old UNO; we have expanded on the original game and added in ridiculous bets that the loser of each set has to complete. As silly as that may sound it keeps things VERY interesting and the funny memories coming. There have been days that we have had to wear socks on our hands, dress as the opposite gender then go out in public, eat a strange and bizarre food that the other person picks out, and much more! It’s good simple fun that keeps those long bus and train rides bearable! 

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You have made it to the end, but I’m not quite done yet. The last and MOST important advice I could give to you would be to bring a journal on all your adventures. I know this always sounds like a good idea in theory and becomes more of a chore than anything else, but that doesn’t have to be the case. I attempted to make journaling a habit when I first studied abroad in London. The sad reality is, it is very easy to get caught up in the excitement of everything and before you know it you haven’t journaled in three months. Now when I look back at pictures, as amazing as it is to have them, you just can’t remember the small details and memories that happen throughout the day. I did not want history to repeat itself on this trip, so Kyle and I created a weekly journalling session at our favorite coffee shop in Bangkok. It’s hard to believe that both of us have completely filled our first journals and have had to buy new ones to continue writing about our stories. It’s hard to put into words how much we cherish our journals, but they can share and provide memories that a picture just cannot. If you are willing to put in the time just once a week to journal, you will have tangible memories that you can look back on and remember vividly.

You have made it to the end and I hope you feel a little more prepared for what to bring while backpacking after reading this post.

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– Morgan

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