5 years ago I spent 6 months ‘flashpacking’ around Europe. Really this meant stuffing 40 pounds of clothing and supplies into a 70 liter bag that I could barely heave onto my shoulders without assistance. I was a baby backpacker, a poorly acclimatized first-timer – but I loved the tired and accomplished feeling of hauling my own wares like a pack animal. It also afforded me the right to scoff at 18 year old girls hosteling it with rolling suitcases. And while I still really love backpacking and the freedom it holds hands with (no rolling wheels necessary! Am I alone in despising these?) I do not like having anything on my back. I think it comes back to my long-neck-small-head diagnosis; any weight on my shoulders hurts! My first backpacking experience put kinks in my neck that I’m probably still working out. I have learned a lot since.
I do not need 5 pairs of shoes (or 4, or 3 even!).
I do not need full sized cosmetics bottles.
I do not need sheets! (although they saved me from being very cold sleeping on a ferry deck from Athens to Santorini)
I do not need a large towel.
I do not need a giant backpack.
And I most certainly do not need to bring backgammon boards and pillow coverings home as presents.
Some of you may know that this summer I won’t be coming back to Canada for a visit (cue homesickness!) but traipsing across India…I think. We could say that my plans are ‘fluid’ but a more accurate descriptor would be ‘non-existent’. We may also go to Thailand and Bali…
In an effort to save my neck and my travel partner’s patience I’ve decided that this will be my most impressive stint at backpacking minimalism. You obviously have to be able to carry your own pack but you should also be able to carry your own pack without excessive complaining. Since I’ve been working abroad I’ve been on 8 or so backpacking ventures ranging from week longs to 6 month longs and with each trip my backpack has become smaller as I refine my packing skills and navigate my vanity. It can be hard to pack the practical instead of the pretty! I’m not a master, but much improved and a couple of things have helped me along the way.
– Whatever you need for a week you need for a month (or longer) with minimal exceptions like medications.
– You are at the mercy of weather. Be prepared for anything within reason but if possible try to travel places with similar temperatures and seasons because packing for extreme winters and summers will destroy small pack plans.
– Be culturally sensitive. Think about where your going and what people there wear. You will awkwardly stand out enough, you don’t need someone eye ogling your bare shoulders or midriff to ice the ‘one of these things is not like the other’ cake. (This goes for you too males! The highest offenders of cultural sensitivity in Pakistan are foreign men in shorts)
– Small indulgences are good, but not if there a pair of stiletto heels. Bring something small that will make you happy.
– E-reader. It’s risky to add another valuable to your bag but the added weight of books makes this one worth it for me.
– Buy as you go. You don’t need to bring your entire shampoo or sun block supply. Yes, this means forgoing favorite products but chances are you’ll find new favorites and then reminisce about ‘that time you found delicious smelling pure almond oil and coconut oil moisturizer in Sri Lanka’ (true story). This does not apply for medications – I am cursing the quality, but not the price, of Pakistani meds.
– Bring lightweight materials…you will not miss the added weight of your jeans.
– Roll don’t fold! I think this one goes without saying for most people. You fit more clothes into your bag, they come out less wrinkled and are easier to find.
I am lucky that India is HOT. This means lightweight clothing is necessary. I am not lucky that India is conservative! This means skipping the tank tops and shorts. This is seriously disappointing for me as I can’t wear them in Pakistan either. Imagine its 47 degrees outside (and inside) and that you have PANTS and LONG sleeves on. Sure they’re light and breezy cotton but your entire body is a sweat producing machine and you have cloth sticking to it. It drives me mental, especially on my arms; I just want to show a lil’ shoulder!
This is everything I’m bringing for my three month journey. It actually looks like a lot all spread out but it fills just half of my 37L pack and only weighs about 12 pounds, very manageable for my long neck. If your interested in the specifics here comes the breakdown. *Note* I have on more occasions then once, been called OCD in regards to my packing. Please keep that in mind if all the details here are a little much for you.
5 t-shirts – 1 long sleeve light sweater – 1 raincoat (it’s monsoon season) – 1 pair of ‘india pants’ – 1 shalwaar kameez (the local dress of Pakistan and India) – 1 long skirt – 1 pair of hiking/yoga pants – 1 pair of shorts (just for my hotel room and sanity) – 1 scarf – 1 travel towel – 1 pair of ‘free’ running shoes (so light!) – 1 pair of flip flops – 7 days worth of underwear – 1 bra – 1 sports bra – 1 bathing suit – medications – 1 macro camera lens – toiletries (mostly small bottles that fit in one small bag but I did bring a large facewash because it was light and a decent sized sunscreen) – diva cup (didn’t want to bring along three months worth of tampons because they can’t be found here) – spare passport pictures & passport copies – three pairs of earrings – very small bendable journal – e-reader – underwater camera – sunglasses – waterproof bag – shopping bag that folds up itty bitty – ipod – three chargers – hat – day bag/ purse – hand sanitizer – wet wipes – laundry soap bar – That’s it.
Again, kinda sounds like a lot but most of those items are small, lightweight and necessary. The only thing I don’t have that I would like is a headlamp. Mine seems to be MIA. I am also lucky to have a traveling companion. This means we can split up things like shampoo, sunscreen and that we’re sharing one large Nikon D7000 camera. I’m carrying the extra lens, Neil is carrying the camera.
Well, our visas finally came yesterday so we’re officially off to India! The border is only 10 minutes away by car but we’ve been help hostage by paperwork for the past 5 days! Wish me luck!