What Not to Pack
Travel blogs love to tell you what to pack. Fair enough, for new travelers – especially backpackers – it can be difficult to prioritize what to take, especially when you’ll have to carry all of it around on your back wherever you go. But I’ve found that these travel blog suggestions tend to go a bit overboard. Pretty soon you find that you’re set for any situation that could possibly arise – and have a thousand pound bag to drag around. To help eliminate the unnecessary, and give your poor back a bit of relief, here are my suggestions of what NOT to pack.
Sleeping Bag and Hiking Boots
Unless you are going on a camping trip to the Alps, don’t pack a sleeping bag or hiking boots. They’re bulky, heavy and wind up never being used on 98 percent of trips. Sneakers work just as well for all but the most extreme hikes. Other travel blogs will tell you that it’s great to have a sleeping bag around in case the hostel sheets are dirty, or in case you can’t find anywhere to stay. Here’s the truth – hostel sheets are faded and torn but not dirty. There’s no fresh blood on them (mostly) which means you’re fine to sleep right on ‘em. And you can always find a place to stay. No really, always. I’ve been to the touristiest spot in Panama in the height of tourist season on a weekend and still found plenty of places to stay. Hostels are everywhere now. No need to bunker down on some street corner unless you really want to.
Lots of Books
Gasp! How can an English teacher say that? Shouldn’t you expand your mind as you expand your travels? Yes, but you don’t need a whole heap of books to do it. You need two books, paperback. That way you always have one to trade with other travelers and one to read. This is one of those weird things about travelling, particularly backpacking. There is a whole black market in constant operation for books written in English. You don’t need to pack your own library (or an expensive Kindle – more on that later) because anywhere you go that has ever seen a backpacker before will have books up for trade. It’s not always a one-for-one barter system; for those really hot bestsellers you may have to trade in both your books, but that’s up to you.
Anything Expensive, Sentimental or Borrowed
In other words, don’t pack anything you’d really hate to lose. Things go missing when you travel. Sometimes they’re lost; sometimes they’re stolen; sometimes they’re dropped and destroyed. Whatever the cause, you don’t want to be heartbroken on your trip over something you packed. If your friend from home offers to lend you their awesome rain jacket, say no, unless they understand that it might not make it back with you. Even if you love to wear your mom’s high school ring, leave it at home rather than risking losing it somewhere in Bolivia. Leave the Coach purse and Ed Hardy shirts back in your apartment – they will be taken otherwise.
There are exceptions to this – some expensive things are worth packing. My camera is one of the most expensive things I own, but I love taking pictures (especially on my trips), so it’s worth the risk of travelling with it. My I-pod is also just too convenient to leave behind. There may be a few expensive things that make the cut, but make sure they’re things you will really, actually use on your trip.
This one sounds obvious, right? But heavy things tend to accumulate on your packing list without your consent. Shampoo is heavy. Conditioner is heavy. Travel sized bottles are annoying, but it’s still worth bring them so you don’t have to cart around the full sized thing.
I met a guy in Seville who’d been backpacking alone for six months and had another four to go. On his first night in Italy he stayed with a friend who quite nicely gave him a bottle of champagne to drink along his trip. He decided to wait and finish the bottle on his last night of backpacking. How sweet, romantic…and utterly stupid. No bottle of champagne, fine wine or barrel aged whiskey is worth the muscle spasms that come from carrying it around the world. If this ever happens to you, say thanks, pop that cork and drink up right then and there.
Hair Products or High Heels
All the things that make you feel pretty at home make you feel tired when travelling. Unless you are planning on going to Milan for Fashion Week, there’s really no need for fancy outfits and nice shoes. You’ll quickly learn that backpackers are, in general, disgusting. Getting dressed up means changing your t-shirt. We slobs won’t appreciate your efforts to look your best anymore than your body will appreciate lugging the crap around. Put down that hair dryer – no matter how many adapters and surge protectors you have, it will blow out the first time you use it in a foreign plug. Embrace a more natural looking you for the duration of your travels.
This really shouldn’t have to be said. But I seem to have a knack for meeting backpackers who thought it was pretty funny to sneak weed over the border in their toothpaste tube. Really? Have they ever seen Locked Up Abroad? Maybe it’s just me, but I feel quite certain that going to jail is not the best use of your travel time.
Medical Aid Kits
Before every mother in the world shouts me down, let me explain. Having a basic medical aid kit is very responsible. Pack some medicine for upset stomachs and diarrhea. But if this just-in-case kit starts to include multiple gauze bandages and life support machines, you’ve gone too far. The rest of the world has hospitals, too. If your injury or illness requires more than a few Band-Aids or Tylenol you will probably have to seek professional medical aid, anyway. So leave the stretcher at home and travel light with just a few medical essentials.
You’ve probably already thought of this. After all, delicate things break. You’ve opted for plastic bottles over glass and left big mirrors at home. But it’s amazing to see how many travelers pack so strategically and then lose all common sense when it comes time to buy souvenirs. Yes, your sister would just love that hand blown glass vase from the market, but she would also love this indestructible (and much lighter) cloth bag. Sales people worldwide are great at their job. They will swear on their children’s lives that it will not break; it’s stronger than it looks. They will even offer you a full refund if it does break – an easy promise to make when they know you’re not planning on coming back to Antigua anytime soon. So here’s the truth about buying delicate souvenirs – if it can break it will break. Forget bubble wrap or packing extra clothes around it. It’s a lost cause. Stick to buying things made of rubber and cloth.
What are some other things NOT to pack?