How to pack; a dissection of my backpack

     A brief note: my website was out of action for much of the holidays, which caused me an inordinate amount of grief, not because I know there were thousands of you who wanted to check out my toilets page on New Year’s Eve, but because, the company that hosts my website, was yanking my chain at every turn. I don’t want to relive the agony here, so just let me profusely thank Bruce Wampler, the designer of the theme that runs on, for all his help and time. There might be one more outage later this year when I move away from to a company that won’t shorten my life span, so brace yourselves.

     Below is what my backpack looked like just after getting home from three months of traveling. Be happy that you can’t smell this pile. Packing was tricky as the only thing I had planned was a one-way ticket to Seattle in September weather, and that’s it. Everything here fits inside the backpack, which is always the goal for mobility. I am semi-fanatic about minimizing weight, but not one of those extremists who count every milligram and cut their excess backpack straps down to the nub.
     I have a packing page on my website dedicated to what to bring that I will probably contradict myself often here. Just because I’ve done this all my life doesn’t mean I’m necessarily smart about it.
     This is the whole shebang. Not pictured are my camera and a water bottle. Let’s break this down into seven parts:

     I got this blue and green canvas backpack long ago on for $15, never mind that it is a woman’s backpack and too small. Backpacks are like exercise equipment: people get tired of them and sell cheaply. Just make sure they are a dark color. (As you will see, the general theme here is: do as I say, not as I do.)
     The red backpack needs to be lightweight and malleable to fit inside the big backpack. It’s a little ragged. I need to upgrade my stuff, but if you are one of these young punks asking me how I get the money to travel (a mailbag might be due for my next post; if you have any questions about anything, feel free to ask), I always say it isn’t how much you earn, it’s how much you save, and then the only challenge is to spend that precious, saved money wisely. Would you rather spend $500 on a new backpack, high-tech pants made of space-age fibers, and an iPhone7 or would you rather spend $100 for functional but not flashy stuff and then spend the $400 you saved on a month bed-ridden with dysentery in India?
     A friend rags on me for using a towel that takes up space instead of a chamois, and I guess it is old-school of me. The green sarong could act as a towel, too, though I often use it as a sheet on sketchy beds.

     I always go with the trifecta of shoes, sandals and flipflops, though usually they’re tennis shoes. Teva sandals can quickly smell like death, but if you put them in a freezer for at least 24 hours, it kills the bacteria and the smell. The flipflops are a godsend in scummy showers and for shuffling around hostels. I am always surprised by how many people travel with heavy boots, which can’t be a good idea unless hiking is the focus of your trip.
     The mound of underwear is an homage to my college roommate, Pat, who went to Brazil with hardly more than, as he put it, “10 shirts, 10 underwear, shorts.”

     Dark colored, lightweight pants and shorts are the way to go, but almost all of mine are neither. My excuse is that it’s hard to find pants in a 35 waist, so when I find something, I get it. I always take a bunch of t-shirts and one collared shirt in case I need to impersonate a respectable person. If you visit only warm countries—and why wouldn’t you?—a lightweight jacket is fine, and you only really need it for the intense air conditioning in buses and trains. If your swim shorts can double as regular shorts (ie. with pockets) you’re stoked.

     Those are moist towelette packets next to the Q-tips and yes, in America they can come with the stars and stripes on them. It’s no coincidence that I feel most patriotic when cleaning curry stains off my fingers. See that thin yellow tube on the far right next to the razor? That is a Japanese device where you suck on the end and it gives you fresh breath. Japan is the best.
     Refillable bottles for liquid soap, lotion, and shampoo. Bacterial ointment is something I always have for cuts that can become infected quickly in dirty surroundings or tropical climates. Is kid’s sunblock any different than adult sunblock?
     Quick, boring story: that orange bottle next to the sunblock I keep for sentimental reasons. My first time hitchhiking in Japan a Turkish guy picked me up out of pity and said I would never have luck in Japan, but then a traveling salesman took me for a long ride and then plied me with a pile of beauty swag. I have been in Japan ten times since, hitchhiking literally thousands of miles, and I have always kept that bottle as a reminder that hitchhiking is always possible, to stay positive, don’t let negative people get me down, follow my dreams—you know, crap like that.

     I have a paper fetish. I keep all my receipts, business cards of every place I stay, scraps of paper with email addresses from people I met, used tickets, maps, I collect small denomination banknotes, plus I have USB pen drives, a photocopy of my main passport page, too many coins—it’s a little ridiculous.
     I have a small lock and at least 2 keys. Some people go overboard with big, heavy locks. The lock is to make it harder for the casual, opportunistic thief to mess with your stuff. The hardcore thieves won’t be deterred by any lock. I always have toilet paper on me, and a melange of dicey foreign medicine that I pick up on the road: Filipino antibiotics, Indian diarrhea medicine, Serbian paracetamol, etc.
     Top left are airline headphones—they’re complimentary, aren’t they?

     American flag with velcro to put on my backpack for hitchhiking, balloons for making animals, extra velcro for sealing my pockets, sewing kit, camera battery charger, marking pen for hitchhiking signs, and beads that I should probably stop bringing. Normally I like Canon products, but I’m not a fan of my Canon PowerShot SD1200 camera. The startup time and lag between photos is glacial.

     More airline headphones—they’re complimentary, aren’t they?—an Indian cell phone that doesn’t work in North America, and an Acer Aspire netbook computer. I baby that computer as much as possible, but when I think of all the times I’ve had to throw my backpack in the backs of trucks when hitchhiking and being outside in the heat, I’m relieved it’s still going strong.
     That’s me. Then there is my friend, Philip, who travels with the world’s smallest bag and thus makes me hang my head in abject self-loathing.
     What about you? Do you pack anything special that would be good to share or have a different strategy? Do you bring any nonsensical things “just because”? I’ve seen travelers carry jars of peanut butter and vegemite, duct tape, scissors, peacock feathers, enough gadgets to start an electronics store—you name it, so speak your mind.
     Why don’t you stay with me? You can follow along with RSS or subscribe to an email feed.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...


How to pack; a dissection of my backpack — 14 Comments

  1. i carry (and steal) tea bags.
    I always keep at least one pregnancy test on me, and the morning after pill. If not for me, then it is really really good to be able to help out a girl in need, especially if travelling in the Middle East.
    I just started carrying valium too – man that stuff is awesome.
    I always carry my notebooks and a good book.
    And finally incense to make a smelly room a Buddhist paradise 🙂

  2. Nice tips! I finished my book and gave it away before I took this photo: “Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim” by David Sedaris. Thanks for the retweet, too!

  3. Nicely done Kent.

    I prefer a plastic bag twist tie to a lock…safer and lighter…,bandaids for inevitable blidtersvfrom walking too much in the heat, cheap tinted eye protectors…look and act like sunglasses but cheaper, more sturdy and usually scratch resistant and tiny flat flashlight….super bright, compact and only a buck….mandatory for finding addresses, keyholes and toilet after dark…..

  4. Oh yeah….one more thing… keep backpack under the pesky euro airline carrier weight restrictions I also use a cheap photographer/hunter/fisherman vest when needed.

    The more pockets the better. WEAR as much stuff, especially heavier items, if you check in at counter and again BEFORE boarding the plane. Once on-board simply remove the vest and put in overhead bin… like a charm. The mesh net ones are lightweight and best for hot weather travel. Avoid safety orange color.

  5. Wow, you are a bit of a hoarder, aren’t you ? Maybe there’s a a reality tv show in there somewhere. But seriously: please enlighten me why you take two backpacks and why one has to fit into the other ? And a collared shirt ? How do you unwrinkle that ? As for me: I don’t leave home without these: imodium and condoms – for those occasions on which nature’s forces simply overpower a man’s resistance.

  6. Nice!
    Hoarder? Are you a minimalist compared to me?
    The daypack fits inside the big pack so you only have one pack and not two for extra mobility when cops are chasing you running for a bus. I didn’t think of how to unwrinkle a collared shirt. Good question. Damn, you think I would have learned something by now.

  7. Pingback: Lifehacks: Don’t Waste Your Money on Expensive Gadgets before Travelling – followkarina

  8. I love the website. Just a note – I use a tote bag as my day bag. It is easier to fold up and put in my backpack. Though after a week of traveling, there’s so much crap (snacks, maps and whatnot) that I end up carrying the tote all the time.

  9. Using a tote isn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I also don’t put a lot of things in there, so that helps too.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *