Last year I became a backpacker. Not a trek-for-days-through-the-woods backpacker, but a travel-cheaply-with-a-backpack backpacker. I can’t remember what drove me to try this style of travel, maybe it was the idea of being able to carry everything you really need on your back. I was heading to Southeast Asia, the ultimate backpacker’s paradise, and it just seemed like the most logical way to travel.
Fitting what you need in backpack is easy enough for a lot of people (a.k.a. men). But with my passion for fashion and history of chronic over packing, it proved to be a challenge. I bought a large women’s backpack at REI and made the mistake of filling it to the brink before my trip had started. I had all sorts of clothing options shoved in there, many of which I rarely ended up wearing. A fellow traveler, noticing my girlie style and overstuffed backpack, commented that I didn’t seem like a backpacker type to her. I took this as challenge, and made up my mind that I could be backpacker, even if my bag was too big and wasn’t sporting the typical earth-toned clothing and zip-off convertible pants that seem to be part of many a backpacker’s wardrobe.
I started off positively, but somewhere along a long hot and humid walk through no man’s land between Cambodia and Vietnam, I began to curse my backpack. I kept thinking how much easier it would have been to have a nice large suitcase on wheels. But soon enough, on my first Vietnamese overnight train ride, I began to see the merits of having a backpack. Those with large suitcases could not fit their luggage in the under bed storage bin. They were forced to leave them in middle of the tiny rooms where they took up space and could be easily tripped on during late night bathroom runs. When we reached Laos, there were no elevators in the guesthouses and I watched the suitcase-clad people struggle to get up the stairs.
Near the end of my trip, another fellow traveler complimented me on how agile I was with my backpack considering how big it was. After making it that far with my backpack that had only become more full, I had grown stronger both physically and mentally. The backpack I once cursed, I now affectionately call Bessie. She taught me lessons about what’s really necessary and allowed me to prove to myself that I am tough and have the ability to endure.
If I was going to do a Southeast Asia trip again, I would have a much better idea of how to pack. But with my upcoming trip to Bolivia and Peru, I have the extra challenge of multiple climates. I could experience 90 degree humid weather in the Amazon and below freezing night time temperatures in Salar de Uyuni a few days later. I have taken Bessie out of storage and I already fear that I am about to over pack. There are a few things I need to remember as I start to fill up my backpack:
My Packing Mantras
- I will bring clothing that can be easily layered and mixed and matched and will stick to a color scheme that allows for this.
- I will realize that I don’t need to have an outfit in every color of the rainbow. (It’s sad but true that I need to repeat this to myself.)
- I will remember that clothing and accessories that will be inexpensive and fitting for the local climate and style can be bought when I arrive. I will leave room in my bag for purchasing cheap local goods.
- I will not overpack!
Wish me luck, my friends.