I have been wanting to share some of my hacks for a long time, but somehow the time was never right. I have been travelling since I was a toddler with my parents, almost always remote and on a low budget. My aim when travelling is to find a balance between getting to know a country and its culture, while staying safe, as comfortable as possible and all that on a somewhat sane budget. Plus, I am German, so some of these hacks may be about how to organize yourself, because as you know, organizing is in our DNA. 😉
(The products I link here are all products I personally regularly use and think are great. I have not been asked by anyone to promote these, I just like them and I don’t include affiliate links.)
1. Be practical – Backpack with a backpack
Obivously it depends a little on what you are planning to do, but if you want to backpack, you should have a backpack. 😉 It’s as simple as that. And as long as you aren’t planning on going somewhere, where not thousands of other tourist go everyday you are going to need a backpack. Because guess what, pulling your trolley through the ankle deep sand on your way to your bamboo beach hut really isn’t fun. Truth is, in order to get to exciting places sometimes you might need to walk a bit.
What backpack is right for you? Depends on your body size and strength and what you are planning to do. Unless you plan to go camping and carry all your camping gear, there is absolutely no need to carry more than 50 liters max. In fact, you can go by with a lot less and you should – because carrying a 20 kilogramm heavy backpack in humid 45 degrees Celsius isn’t fun either. You may think: “But I am going on a 2,3,4,5,12,400 month travel” – trust me, you do not need more. If you travel long enough or diverse enough to hit different clima (like russian winter and tropical asian summer), send the other set of cloths ahead to a hostel or hotel before you start your journey (please talk to the hotel before you do that). And for the rest: Less is more. You are going to want to buy those Jodhpur pants in India and the Hippie Shirt in Bali anway!
What to look for in a backpack? If you are a woman, I suggest buying a special woman backpack (Deuter and Decathlon both have those and others do to). In a travel backpack look for well padded hip straps (and straps in general), a front opening backpack and – if possible – something that keeps the backpack away from your back (e.g. a net or pads or so). Don’t safe money on backpacks and go with well known quality brands or really really good reviews – nothing sucks more than when your backpack breaks. Finally, if your plan is to go really remote and your backpack is not waterproof – get a raincoat for your backpack (many have rain coats nowadays). I know from experience it really sucks, when all your stuff is wet. On the other side, you feel like the smartest fellow in the entire world, if your cloth are the only dry ones. 😉
2. Be organized – Put bags in your bags
As weird as it sounds – put bags in your bags. This is particularly true for people travelling with backpacks. If you’ve stuffed all your belongings just like that in a backpack, you will go crazy by at least the third place you are staying. If you use packing bags to organize your stuff, life will be easier: You will need a lot less time in order to pack, you will find things faster and your stuff will stay dry in case say, you bag sits to close to the reiling of the little boat you are taking to that remote island. Get superlight, waterproof and robust ones, like for example the dry sacks from sea to summit. I have had these for two years and they are still like new – and I am known to break things easily. I have four bags in different sizes – one for shirts, one for socks, one for underwear/bikini and one spare one. Yes they are pricey, I know, but I believe they are totally worth it!
I could also recommend to get special phone and/or padcases that are water and sand proof, but to be honest, I have them and I have never used or needed them.
Last but not least – this might be as backpacker-nerdy as it gets, but, I recommend to get a travelbag for your backpack, like e.g. the Bach Cargo Bag Lite. This is the ultimate bag for the bag and I will explain why it’s useful: The purpose a travelbag serves is threefold: First, it keeps all your stuff dry (again, but as I said, nothing more annoying then all wet stuff). Second, it protects your backpack while you cannot look after it. On airports bags are thrown around with noone careing what happens to your bag. Backpacks have straps and clasps, that oftentimes get caught in machinery on airports and then break. A packpack with only one strap – useless. A backpack that you can’t close around the hips because the clasps are broken- really heavy. The third purpose in my view is the most important one: Nobody can hide stuff in your bag easily. Many, many, many countries have very strict laws, in particular on drug trafficing. Thailand and Indonesia are amongst those who enforce their laws against foreigners passionatly, Indonesia even performs death penalty for drug trafficing on foreigners (see the case of the Bali Nine). It would be absolutly insane to take drugs (and be it “only” a tiny joint) into these countries. But people have gotten in trouble when others stuffed drugs in their bags, as well. A travelbag you can lock, you roll it up tight, noone can quickly stuff anything in there and if it is properly locked, i wouldn’t know how anyone could stuff anything in there. I used to get super nervous on borders like on the Thai one although I have never touched drugs in my life. Now I fly with ease. 🙂 A little scared now? Good! Don’t be stupid, don’t use drugs and don’t traffick drugs!
One disclaimer though: People do give me weird looks, when I stuff my backpack in a bag in front of the check-in counter of an airport. But I can live with that. 🙂
3. Be smart – Travel Local
This one is easy, if you dare to dare. Obviously it feels safer to book everything beforehand. But often you will pay much more when booking from home and you will have the worse deal. Some things you absolutely have to book ahead (think Inka Trail). But honestly I have travelled countless weeks without booking ahead and it worked out 98% of the times. And many thinks you cannot book ahead! Adventure to me means going there and finding out. Fly to Delhi and make your way to the tourist ticket counter in the crowded train station. Ask a guy who knows a guy who has a brother to take you to that special temple in his tuktuk and you might learn something and meet some nice people. Take that local bus and sit in the back with some goats and that old lady that smiles at you. You will strengthen the economy of the country you are travelling in and not some foreign travel agency. Will it always work as planned? Absolutely no. Will you always travel in a climatised well maintained mini bus? No. But will you have the chance to meet some locals? Absolutely! And will it be an adventure? Most of the time yes. I will never forget, that “ayam” in Bahasia means “chicken” because of that lady that pointed to the chicken travel bag (as I call it) and said “ayam” as a response to me wrinkeling my nose about the weird smell. (There is a slight chance “ayam” means “chicken travel bag” – I have been wrong about these things in the past – , but in that case a lot of restaurant owners have some explaining to do to me, because chicken travel bag in peanut sauce….I don’t know. ;))
4. Be comfortable – Find your “portable bed”
(Think famous colombian singer: “whenever, wherever”). Get yourself the travel cushion that suits you. There are many different shapes – the U shape being the most common. Many cushions are inflatable and don’t take up much space. With a good travel cushion you can transform painful long plane rides and trips gone wrong into…well sleep. I have never understood how people can sleep with these u-shaped thingies, for me the ultimate travel cushion is the Travelrest. Man, the guy or woman who invented this seriously saved me some red eye!
5. Be prepared – Have a medical Kit
You might want to say: “Yawn, how unexiting.” Well, shit happens and you might wanna be prepared. Obvioulsy that depends on where you are going – Western Europe, Singapore or Shanghai? Don’t worry, you will get perfect medical service easily. Going to India? Medical Service might be difficult, but medicine is easy and cheap to acquire in many cities. But if you are off to the Banda Islands or on that remote Malaysian Islands, where only once a day/week a ferry goes to? Have some stuff with you. The basics for me are: Bandaids and bandages (duh), disinfectant, something against infected mosquito bites, some Ibuprofen, some wildly applicable antibiotics, medical fluids to clean your eyes in a real emergency, coal tablets (against diarrhea), some strong, fast acting antihistamines (maybe as a shot), ear drops (against ear infections), burn ointment (believe me I have been there) and I always take some malaria prophylaxis with me, if I go to a Malaria region.
Also f****** get vaccined (there I said it) and check your governments information on the country you are going as early as you can before you go. And when you did that – roll with it. 😀
If you like my hacks let me know in the comment section and if you are missing something let me know as well. 🙂