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Some things are too heavy to carry.

Some things are too heavy to carry.

Having the right things with you can make or break a trip. Every pound matters when trekking between train stations and hostels, especially when you find yourself with four hours before the hostel opens for checkin. I prefer traveling with only one carry on bag. In that bag I fit a messenger bag for the day and all of the clothing and supplies I need for the entire trip. Many websites and guidebooks say not to bring jeans due to their weight, size and slow drying feature. I scoffed at this advice and took a pair with me to Europe (in early spring so I needed warmth), I also brought a pair of lightweight quick-dry pants (or trousers) and some long underwear. I wore the pair of jeans for the entire trip so I never had to pack them away. 

No matter where a trip is going to go clothing is an important decision. Everything from weather and local custom influences what to pack. An example is white socks in England. Short white socks are normally worn for sport and exercise only and not for day to day activities. I had been living in Scotland before my trip to Europe so my clothing did not make me look like a tourist (the backpack gave that away), I wore relatively plain brown shoes, blue jeans, long sleeved shirts (dark blue and green) and if it was cold or raining black gloves and a black rain jacket. I did not have any bright colors or t-shirts with prints on them. For particular countries guidebooks are handy for helping with ways to blend in.

Weather also plays a role in what to wear. While a wool scarf helped greatly in Copenhagen in December it would have just taken up room for Ireland in May. My best friend in all my trips no matter the country or season was a small, thin, bright green umbrella. It easily fit into bags and jacket pockets. A bandanna also helped as a very utilitarian item: tablecloth, hand towel, small sack, packing cushion, sweat rag and I suppose it could double as a head band as well. Flip flops are good for sketchy hostel bathrooms.

Other items that are useful:

  • Locker lock – needs to be thick enough (3/8″ or 1 cm)
  • Security cable – a discreet cable to lock bags to bed frames (make sure the bed frame is secure!)
  • Fabric wash – Small bottle or a solid to get through airport security
  • Clothesline – Clothes need a non-dusty place to dry
  • Ziplock bags – For leftover food, preventing leaks or to keep papers dry
  • Alarm Clock – I forgot this on my first trip, I never did again
  • Flashlight – For searching through bags in a dark hostel room
  • Reusable water bottle – Save money by drinking tap water, I use Klean Kanteen (Can carry on airplanes if it is empty).
  • Money belt – Never worry about your bag if you have your passport and credit cards with you at all times

Of course you don’t need any security items if you don’t bring anything worth stealing. The only valuables I had were on my in my money belt, with the exception of my camera. I have seen some people bring laptops with them and I could not imagine ever doing that. I can only see the need for a laptop for two reasons: downloading photos and e-mail. It would be cheaper to either buy more camera memory or utilize photo download services, there are kiosks and stores everywhere that will download all your photos to a CD or DVD for you for a small charge.

As for e-mail internet cafés are in every city if not in the hostel. Many hostels have a free internet terminal, some tourist information centers (Rothenburg is one) have free internet, public libraries are a great place for free internet (Amsterdam has a good one) or pay a few euros to use the internet every few days. The only exception for cheap internet was a small town in the Swiss Alps, that was not cheapest but still cheaper then lugging a laptop around with me.

Another packing tip: bring enough socks and underwear for at least four days, then wash and dry while wearing the last pair. Any sink will work for washing clothes, use a drain stopper or a rolled sock to hold the water in. I suppose a laundromat could work but I see no reason why a bathroom sink would not function just the same. Though be prepared to miss a laundry day or two if there is no place to do laundry, while wearing the same underwear and socks more then a day or two in a row may seem odd, no one will know (unless you wear socks for three days or more days in a row, then someone might notice).

Now what to put everything in. I have been using the same bag for the past thirteen years, a durable green Jandd bag. I prefer soft-sided bags with should straps without an internal frame. Waterproofing or at least water resistance is important, rain can strike at any moment (notably in Scotland). I also use a messenger bag from Timbuk2 as my day bag, it is less obvious then other means and holds just the right amount of stuff: camera, water bottle, guidebook, journal and some food. For my camera I used a small plain black case, but as my travels went on I just threw the camera into the bag. Recently though I upgraded from a superzoom camera to a Nikon D60 DSLR camera, for this new camera I am going to get a camera bag from Think Tank Photo (I also currently work there, mostly for organizing inventory).

A final tip I picked up from a travel site or a guidebook: pick up every item and think whether if it is worth bringing or if you can buy it abroad if the need arose.

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