Whats the best backpack for long-term travel?
I originally drafted this post early in 2010, before I had even started to travel.
My initial advice was this:
- go to an outfitters, ask for advice.
- when road-testing packs, put weights in the pack, and walk around the shop (you have to know how it’s going to feel when you’r away).
- smaller is always better.
- buy used, you dont need to stand out with a brand-new shiny pack.
- get some [amazon_link id="B005OMW13S" target="_blank" locale="US" container="" container_class="" ]luggage locks[/amazon_link] for chaining that sh!t down to something when you’re not around.
- get a day pack for your ipad/iphone/camera/netbook etc. even better, use a smaller pack for your main pack (around 40L), and get one of those compressed duffle bags that scrunch up into nothingness for packing your daypack stuff. [amazon_link id="B004VFQD1U" target="_blank" locale="US" container="" container_class="" ]Here is one[/amazon_link] I found that is made from recycled materials, how good can you get?
Now, after successfully travelling Europe for over 6 months before becoming an expat in Spain, I think I can better answer the question based on my own experience. I’ve already written about choosing the right backpack for your trip, but it’s an important topic.
Don’t make the same mistakes I did. You don’t need all the exta room just in case you buy souvineers. My biggest advice after my first BIG overseas trip:
Travel Lighter, Travel Smarter.
I bought a used 80L high-quality MacPac backpack. I got it for a steal, so I had to take it. I paid around 13% of the retail price. No, thats not 13% off, thats 13%, as in 87% off!
Even after paying such a great price, 80L is still too much. The dimensions are as such that in some airports I had to check it in as oversized; and of course, all experienced travellers know that budget airlines, while amazingly low-priced, charge you through the nose for any extra comforts.. like check-in, paying with your own credit card, or printing a boarding pass at the counter — a 15€ flight can quickly turn into a 80€ flight.
You don’t need 3 pairs of shoes (a mistake I made). You can get away with:
- a pair of shorts
- a pair of jeans
- a pair of boardies (bathers, swimmers, budgie smugglers)
- a few shirts
- 5-days of socks and jocks
- a pair of shoes
- [amazon_link id="B0055T2HGG" target="_blank" locale="US" container="" container_class="" ]a travel towel[/amazon_link]
- thongs (flip-flops, jandals)
- [amazon_link id="B004KKZ0HY" target="_blank" locale="US" container="" container_class="" ]your camera[/amazon_link] (my favourite is Lumix DMC-ZS10 because it has built-in GPS)
- [amazon_link id="B00414WBT4" target="_blank" locale="US" container="" container_class="" ]your iphone[/amazon_link] (smartphone)
- and your passport
(packing list for guys.. obviously.. girls can pack even more, using less space).
Some things I threw away: first aid kit, tent (after camping season), dress shirts, dress shoes, extra shorts, extra hoodie (sweater), all the extra toiletries crap you can just buy as you go.
There’s no big issue with washing every 4-5 days; or, as most of us have done (but few will admit), wearing the same clothes dirty.
You know you’re a traveller when your facebook photos are all of you wearing the same clothes.
Using a [amazon_link id="B0016XR6R0" target="_blank" locale="US" container="" container_class="" ]40L or 45L pack[/amazon_link], you can still get by with carry-on, and you will feel “Oh so much better” carrying only 8kg in 40L pack when you do a 7km walk to your out-of-the-way hostel/campsite because there are no buses running (I’ve done this.. but with 20kg in a 80L pack).
Travelling for 6 months, I’ve seen it all. All kinds of possible backpacks and luggage. I’ve seen the 100L suitcase, the army style duffel-bag, the plastic bags (even did it myself once), the 80 and 90L backpacks, and even the 30L daypacks. I’ve seen the top-loaders, the front-loaders, the high-security and the unusual.
Security is important
Just get something quality and simple, like I said, you don’t need to stand out as having lots of money. Get some security: padlocks, combination locks, or [amazon_link id="B001V0AJEU" target="_blank" locale="US" container="" container_class="" ]cable locks[/amazon_link]. You don’t need to go the whole-hog and buy the slash-proof mesh, but a cable lock comes in handy if you’re travelling solo and not with your luggage at all times. Most theives, I’ve found are opportunity theives. That is, they see a bag sitting unattended, and they take it. If its chained down, they can’t. Sure they can slash it, but if it’s in plain sight in public, this is a bit extreme. Or, they see a bag in a hostel room, and its not locked, they rummage through it. It happens, I have the stories to prove it.
I don’t mean to scare you
Travel is the greatest experience. You learn to laugh at things when they go wrong, you learn to adapt, and you quickly learn to approach strangers. But just be careful with your things, other travellers do steal.
So we good? Get a small pack. Don’t take what you don’t need. Yes, they have toothbrushes, soap, hair gel, and razors in Europe too. Get some security. You will thank me when you find yourself walking 10km’s between accomodation, your new travel buddies are bitching and complaining, and you’re quite comfortable.
If of course, you travel with a base; that is, you find an apartment and stay for 3 months at a time, making only small weekend and day-trips to nearby towns and villages, then you can probably get away with taking your whole wardrobe. But I’m talking about backpacking; moving from location-to-location (and occassionally going back to the same place twice).
Good luck with your choices, and let me know about your experiences (comment,
To buy any of the products I mentioned here, you can see them by clicking through to my Amazon (and help me out with some support):
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* header image credit (cc) flickr