You will probably think that I am strange when I tell you this. I’ll admit it; even I think I’m a bit weird.
The thought of packing my backpack for an impending trip really excites me. The thought of simplifying my life down into the contents of one bag really gets me going.
Yes, folks, it’s true: I actually enjoy living out of a backpack.
In this post I’ll explain why I like it so much, share my process of learning to pack my bag for the first time, learning what the essentials for backpacking are, and how backpacking changed my attitude towards possessions in general.
Understanding your pre trip packing
Soon after I purchased my first backpack, I was feeling a little stumped.
What should I pack for a year long trip, through different countries and all weathers, and how on earth was it going to fit in there?
I read books and articles on what to pack for a round the world trip.
I wrote lists detailing all the things I would and wouldn’t need. I ignored them. I packed. I unpacked. I cursed. I halved the contents and bargained with myself.
I did more research. I rewrote my list. I packed again.
‘Wouldn’t need’ was, and still is, certainly the most challenging category. You know you need a few pairs of underwear, for example, as that goes without saying, but do you need a mid-length pair of trousers, or will shorts and just one long pair suffice? Will you want a thicker sweater, or can you make do with a thinner cardigan and a wrap if needs be?
Jeans are out. Lightweight, dark colours are in. A sarong can be a cover up in temples, an emergency towel, useful on the beach and a Godsend on long, cold overnight buses.
It’s all compromise, rationalise and economise. And I don’t know about you, but thinking about all that is enough to make me start wringing my hands.
You are trying to predict the scenarios, weather and activities you haven’t yet experienced in places you’ve not yet visited. The clothing you bring will have a direct impact on whether you will be hot, cold, wet or just generally totally inappropriately dressed for the occasion.
Yet, I find all of this somewhat exhilarating. Once you have whittled down your selection, stuffed it in the bag, zipped it up and hoisted it onto your back, you are good to go.
Travel tips for planning your first solo adventure
I’ve written loads on the topic of getting ready for your first time solo trip. You may like to have a read of:
- Packing essentials for every first time backpackers
- Staying in a hostel for the first time
- First time aeroplane travel tips
- Where to on for your first time solo trip
- Tips on booking your first time trip.
Your backpack and you
You and your bag become a team, a unit. Together you hit the road and explore the world. It’s your pillow, your emergency seat, your lifeline and your rock.
When you realise that all you need can fit into one bag, it can be very liberating.
You see, what I did not appreciate as I agonised over my pre-trip packing in 2011, is that you can get by on just the bare essentials of clothing and personal items.
And funnily enough, when all you own fits into one bag it is amazing how much less you even focus on what you have and don’t have. You wake up, choose to wear one of the three t-shirts you have packed, pull on a pair of shorts and you are out the door.
Admittedly, you will be sick of the sight of the same clothes after two months, but that’s ok. At that point you’re past even caring.
And if they are worn, torn or lost along the way, you realise that clothes can just be replaced. If you replenish your wardrobe from the bright colours of a Cambodian market, from that day onward the dress or t-shirt you chose will always have a cool story behind it.
But it’s so much more than just the clothes on your back. In addition to your incredible capsule wardrobe, all you will probably have packed is your travel diary, chargers for your electronics, a book and toiletries.
And that, my friend, is all.
The minimal life of a backpacker
Of course, I know that leaving behind your home comforts can be a wrench – the soft bed, the fluffy towels, your hair straighteners, your Playstation. It is tough, I’ve done it (well, apart from the Playstation).
Take my friend, Debbie, for example who quit her job only a few months ago, packed up her apartment and headed out to Australia for three months. She managed the whole process of minimising her existence and embracing life in a backpack marvellously.
But these are all aspects of your home life that you choose to shelve for a few months whilst you step outside the comforts of your cosy cocoon to experience life slightly differently. You can live without these things, as horrific as it may be to rip yourself away from your favourite catch-up TV programmes, but they will still be there for you on your return.
And you realise you can get by perfectly well without them. Who needs WiFi when you’re sleeping in a thatched roof hut on the beach of a Thai island?
Isn’t life simple when you’re not bogged down by all this extraneous stuff?
Live out of a backpack
I am planning my next trip away and thinking about my backpack lying in anticipation in the attic. I think I may bring it down in advance, just to look at it, and picture cramming my life into its trusty seams once more.
Could you pare down your life to live out of a backpack?
I bet you could.
Give it a whirl and you will get a sense of what you need, what you value as essential and what you can do without.
If you’re anything like me, I’ll bet you will come away from the experience feeling lighter. And I’m not just talking about the backpack either.
Inspired to travel? You might like what I’ve got to say on:
- Why I think travelling alone is something you should do
- What it feels like to embark on your first solo trip
- Smashing your fears on solo travel
- My tips and tricks on how to meet people on the road.
Over to you. Do you think you could live out of a backpack? Would you struggle or would you find the whole thing strangely liberating? Share your thoughts with me in the comments!
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