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What Was I Thinking? Top Ten Things You Should Leave At Home


No matter how manageable your backpack might seem in the comfort of your bedroom at home, I can guarantee that the minute you step off the bus, train or airplane it will feel like you’re lugging around a dead body. Unless you’re starring in a Hostel-style slasher movie, the likelihood is that you’re not actually dragging a corpse round Europe with you, but rather that you’ve fallen for one of the most common backpacking myths. Contrary to what the Boy Scouts will tell you, there really is such a thing as being Too Prepared.

Part of the joy of the open road is being free to go wherever you want to. The last thing you want to do is find yourself so burdened down with survival kit/emergency rations/half the contents of your wardrobe that you can’t walk for any distance with your bag on your back without keeling over. You also don’t want to have so much crap with you that there’s no room to bring home those dodgy bottles of local liquor or that tasteful stuffed camel. So in order to save you a whole lot of heart and backache, here’s my top ten tips on the things you really, really shouldn’t be squeezing in “just in case”:

1. Hair-straighteners / electric eye-lash curlers / body-hair trimmers
When you’re living out of a rucksack you’ve got every excuse to look a little rough round the edges. For God’s sake, take it. There’s a reason people put their hair in dreads on their gap years. And it’s not just so that they look more “authentic”.

2. Work or study folders
Stop kidding yourself; you’re on holiday and you’re never going to open them. Not even if you’ve got an eight hour bus ride ahead of you.

3. Smart shoes
I love high heels as much of the next girl, but when you’re travelling you need flip-flops and hiking boots. That’s it. Same goes for guys. Look again at your budget: are you really going to be going out to enough fancy restaurants to warrant humping round those shiny leather numbers?

4. Piles of books
Many hostels have facilities for book-swapping, and most tourist hubs will have cheap second-hand book shops. Sure, take a book or two, but don’t feel like you have to carry your own personal library around on your back.

5. Pillows
Use a sweater instead!

6. Multiple tins of baked beans
Unless you’re hiking in the Himalayas, everywhere you go there’ll be ample opportunities to sample the local food. Do you really want to spend your trip abroad eating your way through the contents of your kitchen cupboards?

7. Water purifier/emergency flare/blood transfusion kits
Camping shops are thrilling places, but unless you’re going somewhere really adventurous, you probably don’t need to stock up on survival gear. See what your guidebook recommends, but don’t be too bowled over by all the shiny gadgets. A decent first-aid kit and a torch is really all you need in many places.

8. Guide to Travelling the World on a Shoe-string (when you’re just heading to Prague for the weekend)
It’s always annoying to have to carry around a huge tome when you’re only actually using a few pages. If  you’re going on a short break, invest in a country or city guide, or else download the chapters you need from the Lonely Planet website.

9. Your laptop
As a general rule, try not to take anything travelling that you can’t afford to lose. There’s now apparently an internet cafe atop Table Mountain, so you really don’t have to worry about being out of contact with the folks back home. And if you were thinking of getting some work done, see no. 2.

10. Illegal substances
Hate to be a party-pooper, but for some reasons many governments don’t take kindly to you crossing into their country with a joint or two in your wash bag. A decade in the clink will almost certainly kill your buzz.