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One of the most common mistakes of those backpacking for the first time is simply being over-prepared.
We’ve all been there – the night before a big trip, packing, unpacking, repacking, giving up and returning hours later only to realise there’s no way you’re ever going to need 5 pairs of shoes. Ironically enough, it’s exactly this pre-trip irrational ‘what if’ anxiety which travelling helps us learn to manage. ‘Just going with it’ becomes a catchphrase when asked about plans, and we come to calmly accept that there are many things in life we’ll just never be fully prepared for.
This is the beauty of it all really – leaving behind the weighty worries of unknown outcomes, and learning to pack lightly. Frugally filtering through the bare necessities for your destination and weeding out any excess baggage that would ultimately only lead to sore shoulders and overpriced luggage fees.
With this in mind, we’ve compiled a list of 8 things you definitely will not need to pack in that squeaky-clean backpack of yours…
1. A Hairdryer
Take it out. Now. Aside from being completely impractical in every way (the opposite of Mary Poppins, who ironically in this situation would have some incredible packing advice!), do you really think you’re going to need to use electricity in a swelteringly hot country to dry your hair? The inevitable mane and frizz resulting from humid climates and salt water slowly becomes commonplace whilst backpacking. You’ll soon realize how unnecessary your €200 Remington was in the first place. Au naturale, baby! Embrace it!
2. Too Many Books
We know, we know, there’s nothing quite like buying a brand new shiny paperback as you go through Departures and hiding your nose in the never-before-read pages during a bumpy take-off. But trust us, the novelty wears off after the 3rd or 4th attempt at squishing it in the top of an already bulging backpack. Thankfully, modern-day technology in the form of ebook readers has ensured we no longer have to choose between the multiple titles of ‘must-read’ books set in our chosen destination and complete boredom during layovers. While it may be preferable still for some to bring a physical copy or two, we guarantee going digital in this case is well worth the money. Thank you, Kindle!
3. Any More Than 2 Pairs of Shoes
This one may be slightly more location/activity dependent than the others. Unless you plan to engage in some extensive trekking or other physically demanding activities during your backpacking travels, 8 times out of 10 you’ll be set with a lightweight pair of flipflops or sandals for beach days, and a comfortable, practical pair of trainers for walking.
Word of advice: if you have to choose 1, always, always choose the comfortable pair for walking. Flip flops can be bought anywhere.
4. Large Amounts of Cosmetics
Another example of items that are universal: shampoo, conditioner, and a variety of basic hair gels and beauty products can be found pretty much everywhere. Don’t weigh yourself down stocking up with a few months worth of product (again, see number 1 – the humidity will deem them worthless anyway!). Take enough for a few weeks, and go from there, reusing bottles and containers where possible.
Although we get that you want to save money and that you’ll be gone for a while, cheap equivalents of your favourite brands can be found all over Southeast Asia at affordable prices that won’t blow your backpacking budget, add to extra luggage kgs, or run the risk of exploding all over your ‘carefully-packed’ (yeah, right!) backpack.
5. Heavy Towels
To whatever genius is responsible for inventing the travel towel, we salute you! Towels have always been an unfortunate necessity that take up an annoying amount of space in any backpack or suitcase – until now! Enter the trusty, light, and quick-drying travel-towel. This is a blessing in disguise for any backpacker. Free up at least a couple of inches of space in your pack by investing in a lightweight alternative to your woolly post-shower comfort blanket. They do the job, they’re easy to clean, dry, and …overall just great! Not a bad review to be heard. All bow to the humble travel- towel. We like these ones.
6. More Than One Jacket/Jumper/Over-Garment
Again, dependent on your exact destination/choice of activities, it’s generally not a practical idea to bring more than one ‘warm’ jumper or over-garment to Asia. With the exception of the stylish and colourful plastic-ponchos which appear out of nowhere during sudden downpours in monsoon season, there is every chance you’ll never need to layer up during your travels here.
One thing to consider is a light jumper/jacket in your hand luggage to don during chilly air-conditioned layovers in airports. They can often prove colder than the outside environment and it’s never ideal to be shivering as you transition between destinations.
7. Valuable Jewellery/Personal Items
A bit of a no-brainer here, but some people still need to be told. Don’t bring any valuables that run the risk of getting lost, broken, or stolen along the way if you’re not prepared to be constantly conscious of their whereabouts. While many hostels have private lockers to safely stow personal items away during the day, many do not provide this luxury and you’ll end up either keeping your personal items on you at all times, or worrying about where you’ve left them. Laptops, iPads, cameras, and phones are common items which backpackers take along for the ride nowadays, and should you choose to do so at least be prepared to take full responsibility for them and make sure they’re covered in your insurance!
8. A Wheelie Suitcase
Just don’t be that person. The nature of ‘backpacking’ and most of the hostel environments you’ll encounter really just doesn’t cater for bags that can’t be easily transported from one place to another. Most, if not all, of the hostels we’ve stayed in throughout Asia have had at the very least a few flights of stairs. Unless you’re planning a longer stay in expensive accommodation with minimal movement from place to place, the ‘wheelie suitcase’ shouldn’t even be considered an option if it’s an actual ‘backpacking’ experience you’re after.
We hope this has helped to calm any packing anxiety you were experiencing! If you’re still in some doubt, remember that less is always more. You will always be able to find what you need on the road, and your back will always thank you for packing light. Embrace the simplicity that comes with living out of a backpack. If you’re still keen for more packing tips, check out these links:
- How To Pack For Southeast Asia, And What To Leave Behind by Wanderlust and Lipstick
- Ultimate Female Packing List for Southeast Asia by Her Packing List
- 21 Packing Tips by STA Travel
- How to Pack a Backpack for Your Gap Year by GapYear.com