Over the past two years of travel we’ve learned a lot about ourselves and how capable we are of adapting to our surroundings and situations whether it’s a country with a completely different culture to our own, or whilst sharing sleeping arrangments with someone we’ve just met through our love of Couchsurfing.
One of the things we’ve learned the most from backpacking is how little we require to be happy whilst travelling. It’s not so much the things we carry with us or the items we buy as souvenirs (though we’ve never bought a single one over the last two years) to take with us when we leave a country, it’s more the people and experiences we’ve had together – so what do we need? Not that much, as it happens, and recently we’ve begun to realise just how minimal our lives have become with just the few things in our backpacks as a summary of who we are and where we’re heading.
Our Backpacks Are Our Home
I think the best way to describe how we feel can be summarized in this quote by Democritus who said, “Happiness resides not in possessions, and not in gold, happiness dwells in the soul” and as we become more and more minimal with our backpack and what we pack in it, we know that for every item we choose not to take with us we’re leaving that space for a memory of something more important; but in truth, there are some things we couldn’t backpack without.
“This is my packing list. There are many like it, but this one is mine“
We’re not huge fans of packing lists, in fact, we even once explained why ours and everyone elses packing lists can go to hell, but we’re not stupid enough to say that you should never pack certain things into your backpack, and we ourselves do have a few items that we would never go backpacking or travelling without, plus also some we wish we’d never left with at all.
Never Without A Camera
It’s the one item that no traveller should pack without, whether you’re on holiday or vacation, or backpacking around the world, but it took us a while to realise how important it – and the quality – is.
When we left in June 2012 we were probably a little too worried about losing one item or having another stolen, probably due to all of the terrible stories that you read on the news or on certain travel websites or blogs who are trying to grab your attention; but we fell for it. We took the decision to take a small ‘Point & Shoot‘ camera that we’d be less worried about dropping or having taken from us by the most nimblest fingered of our dorm roommates or passers by on the street. Fast forward a year or so and our camera finally died, we spent a few weeks without a camera travelling through Slovenia and Croatia and we don’t doubt for a second that we saw some of the most beautiful pictureworthy places we’ve ever seen. Also, we started to realise that so many of our favourite moments in pictures weren’t quite how we’d like to remember them, and whilst we do know we have the memories, having the pictures is great for sharing with you, our friends.
Buying our Panasonic GF6 has brought a lot of clarity and colour to our pictures, and we’ve never been prouder of the resulting pictures that we’ve been capturing over the past six months, and we hope that you too are enjoying the benefits.
Our Five Packing List Essentials
As we’ve said before, packing lists can go to hell, but there’s a handful of items that we now know we’d never go backpacking without, some of which are obvious, others are suited to our tastes and also, to our addictions.
A Sealable Plastic Cup
Why is this top of our five items we’d never pack without? Because we’re massive caffeine addicts, and when we don’t get our coffee first thing in the morning we’re both grouchy with each other and with anyone else who comes by, plus, we’re both prone to huge withdrawal headaches if we don’t get our fix. Pathetic, we know. Having this and a bag of instant coffee with us means we can take even the hardest day of travel on just as long as we can find some hot water – but don’t put it past us to use the hot water tap in the hotel bathroom. Now, that’s a sign of true addiction.
After becoming the next in a long line of backpackers who went from meat eaters to veggies whilst travelling, we’ve had to come up with new and creative ways in which to eat whilst on the go, and this has at times been troublesome, especially in meat-centric countries like Spain. Having a spork with us has saved us on more on one occasion when we’ve been stuck searching for something to eat, and being able to open up a can of vegetables from the supermarket to eat straight away has certainly helped on those darker days.
We both picked up a sarong right at the beginning of our travels for less than 10EUR for the pair, and they’ve been just about the most amazing piece of gear that we could ever have packed. First of all, they weigh nothing; secondly, they make great beach blankets should you ever suddenly find the waters edge; thirdly, when we’ve needed to cover our heads for religious buildings (such as the time we ate in a Sikh temple); fourth, rolled up and placed behind the neck (not the head) they fill in that little gap between you and your seats headrest on the bus or place and make it more comfortable; and lastly, they make for great bed covers to trick your brain in to sleeping whilst flying, or sleeping in a Korean bath house.
A Sleeping Liner
The only way to improve the sarong is our last item of essential packing gear; a sleeping liner. On the recommendation of a friend we bought this tiny and almost invisible little ball that’s saved us when we’ve been in the dirtiest of dorms. Though typically used inside of a sleeping bag for extra insulation, the liner itself serves as a really good extra layer or a makeshift bed when all you have is the floor, but also, it’s great to be to shove your possessions inside of just before you jump into bed.
A pocket-sized umbrella weighs nothing and costs nothing, and if you don’t fancy grabbing one right now whilst you’re in a warm country, picking one up when the climate changes will certainly save you, as we found out for ourselves. Ours fold up small and lies at the bottom of our day bags so that no matter where we are we’re covered, literally.
Secondary Travel Essentials
We honestly think our travelling lifestyle would be all the more miserable without those essential pieces of travel gear above, but by no means would we get by with just those few items as the entirety of our packing list, and whilst we do like the minimal approach, there are a few things that we would rather have with us given the option, but we could certainly cope without if they happened to fall out or just stopped working.
A Microfibre Towel
Lightweight and quick to dry, our compact travel towel has proved to be another great purchase as it not only weighs nothing and takes next to no space in our backpack, but also it’s small enough to throw into our day bags without taking much space, just in case we’re heading near the beach later in the day.
Now we wouldn’t be very good travel bloggers if we didn’t pack these in our backpacks, but we both know that if push came to shove we could certainly do without them; and whilst we would be sad for a while that we couldn’t relay our adventures and travels with you in real-time (or in typical slow angloitalian time), we’d just manage like we always do and write our posts and upload our pictures every time we got near a free computer.
A Travel Adaptor
And not just any travel adapter, but the God of travel adapters (if there is such a thing). Gone are the days when you have to buy a different travel charger for each country you cross the border into, with our travel charger we can use the same one for absolutely anywhere in the world thanks to its Swiss Army Knife-like construction. Simply, a must
Though I personally don’t need it as Franca is a magnet for mosquitos that thereby leave me in peace, Franca can’t travel to any hot country without having to pack plenty of DEET, a highly effective insect repellent that gives her a break from the bites, and paired with the right loose clothing, works like a dream.
I’ve never been a fan of sandals, the silly noise they make or the feeling of them, but after much convincing from Franca I bought a pair in Italy and have never been so thankful. They’ve proved to be a blessing in certain situations like in Asia where so often you require a pair for indoor use, but their most useful cases have been in dorm showers when you never really know just how clean the shower floor is, and when you’re on your feet everyday, taking good care of your feet is very important, so safeguarding yourself from other peoples current ‘problems‘ is paramount.
Waterproof Bags and Packing Cubes
Carrying electronics is always a concern because the thought at the front of your brain is always related to your gear getting stolen, but you need to keep them free from damage too. Picking up some waterproof bags was the smartest thing we did, and they only cost us four or five pounds in a sale. Not only do they keep our most precious gear safe, but when it comes to packing our backpacks, having everything in it’s own bag or our clothes in packing cubes makes it really simple to unpack and repack our backpacks.
Raincovers and backpacks should never be seen separately. You should never go backpacking with one without the other, especially considering backpacking with only a raincover might be a little too minimalist.
Want to read on the train but they’ve turned the lights off? Headtorch. Want to pack in the dark in your dorm without having to turn the light on and thereby waking everyone up? Headtorch. Want to blind me because you’ve forgotten you are wearing it so you stare straight into my face? Be Franca. Thankfully, I’m not blind, yet; but seeing as you can buy headtorches for just a few pounds, it felt pretty stupid to not get ourselves one each.
Items Struck From Our Packing List
We can’t love every item, and as we become more experienced with travelling we find that we’re requiring less and less to keep us going, some items of which we wish we’d never bought in the first place, but thankfully there aren’t that many. Now they’ve been confined to a drawer at Franca’s parents place where they’ll probably live for a long time to come, and whilst they might be useful, we’d never pack them again.
We both wrote down one PacSafe each when we started compiling our packing list back in 2012 as one of our first measures to restrict any potential theft of our items, but after having used it only once in 12 months of travel, we couldn’t face carrying around that extra weight any longer. Sure they’re a great deterrent against theft, but so many hostels offering better security and individual large lockers for each backpacker, plus, we found that more often than not there are safe luggage rooms at most train stations, if not somewhere in the centre of town.
Don’t. Pack. One. Why we ever did, I’ll never know. Perhaps it was from reading one too many packing lists on the internet; we’ve never needed to use one anywhere at any time, and they just sit there being not heavy and not particularly space consuming, but just there. If you’re not useful, off the packing list you go.
We’ll Keep Refreshing
Seeing as we never buy anything apart from food whilst we travel we don’t think our packing list will change all that much in the future, but you never know what items are going to become more essential to us from one country to the next. Perhaps with us housesitting more and more we might need to keep certain items with us like the really handy housesitting contracts from the ‘Break Free – Ultimate Guide to Housesitting eBook’ that we reviewed last year, but we can of course print them off one of the USB’s we carry around with us.
Perhaps in another two years we might not be packing anything at all, just the clothes on our back and our passports in our pocket?