Top Packing Mistakes of Rookie Travellers

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Many rookie backpackers believe they need to invest in a whole new wardrobe before leaving home, but think again. That sweat-wicking insect-repelling ultra-lightweight quick-drying performance enhancing v-neck you got for *only* 55 bucks at REI? It’s still a $55 t-shirt. Remember that wherever you go chances are millions of people spend their entire lives there—local clothing will not only be cheaper, but culture- and climate-appropriate as well. Sure, if you’re traveling to the Antarctic invest in good gear, but wandering around a city *slightly* warmer than you’re used to? Forget it.

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This friggin’ thing:

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It’s called a travel belt and it was on every single packing list I saw when I first started traveling. The idea is simple: store your money & passport under your clothes close to your body to avoid being robbed/pickpocketed. The logistics? You practically have to undress to get your money, either lifting up your shirt or reaching into your pants to struggle with a zipper you can’t even see. Hot weather and it’s a giant sweat patch; Cold and it’s under 8 billion layers. Believe me, that merchant is going to feel a bit uneasy after watching you fiddle inside your pants for 6 minutes to pull out a sweaty wad of money for that $2 t-shirt.

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Know where you’re going—off grid in Burma take your antimalarial; rural Africa have your own sterile needles; plan on eating any time during your trip, HAVE IMODIUM. But there’s no need to lug around a sling, finger splints, and 500 tongue depressors. It’s great to feel prepared but you don’t need to be ready for every outlandish circumstance—it only weighs you down. It’s all about the essentials—you won’t need hypothermia blankets in a tropical summer nor an avalanche beacon in the big cities of Europe.

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It’s true that you’ll face a lot of unexpected downtime and reading can be a great way to entertain yourself & stay busy on that 30+ hour bus ride between destinations. However, unless you have a light-weight e-reader, leave the anthology at home. At most, bring one book you enjoy and be prepared to leave it behind—books are heavy, bulky, and easily ruined. Remember that you’re not the only one in the world who enjoys reading—many hostels and internet cafes have free book exchange featuring a plethora of interests and languages collected from travelers from around the globe. Take advantage of it.

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Take a second and google “Christmas gifts for backpackers”. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

What did you come up with? Chances are you saw list upon list of redundant gadgets for taking pictures, storing music & photos, and filtering water nine hundred different ways. While some of these gadgets may sound appealing, remember that they quickly add up. There is no need to be travelling with thousands of dollars’ worth of electronics. You may not be able to imagine life without your phone, camera, laptop, tablet, mp3, e-reader, translator, external hard drive, and backup batteries, but the hassle of keeping all of these things dry, safe & charged while on the road is a struggle you really don’t need. Learn to simplify and take the essentials.

While some gadgets are innovative and could be useful at some point, learning to survive without them has a greater payout in self-reliance and creativity. You’ll eventually learn to jerryrig nearly enough random things to fancy yourself an international MacGyver, and there’s no greater confidence than that.

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4 comments

  1. I just decided to do a backpacking trip across Europe and was getting worried about all the stuff I **needed**. Then, I got this beautiful email this morning with your blog post. I’m so glad I followed you! I never thought about taking little clothing and instead purchasing clothes in your destination-genius!!

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  2. Loved this article – hope new backpackers have a chance to read it before wasting their money needlessly. We’ve been travelling for last two years, Central American, Europe & Asia & only needed a carry on bag. We haven’t found anywhere that doesn’t sell stuff you need, so as you say buy it on the road! I do own one gadget though which has been invaluable my kindle fire, which has served as my library, contact with home, internet access & ability to blog!

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  3. Good article, especially the piece about purchasing clothing as you go.

    I’d say that a money belt is a good thing to have, for passports and large sums of money you’re not using right away. For money I need that day, I’ll carry a small wallet with what I need.

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