It’s incredibly freeing. Walking along a road, far from home, with a backpack weighing on your shoulders, knowing all you really need is with you.
I had a few moments like this whilst backpacking, where you realise, when you really get down to it, you don’t need so many of the things that you might own. When you’re moving around, living through experiences, and not rooted down in on place. The bare minimum is all you need. Clothes, toiletries, gadgets, head torch, maybe a snorkel, a passport and rehydration sachets (y’know, just incase). Your pots, pans and bed are sat waiting at the next hostel.
So, what’s it really like travelling and living out of a backpack for a few months, or even a year? Constantly moving around, with a bag that carries everything… I’ve decided to break this down into ‘before’, ‘during’ and ‘after’ segments, as your opinions and thoughts will likely change throughout the whole experience!
Packing for long term travel is a challenge. It’s a balancing act of determining what’s essential, what you’d like to take, what you need and how much you can actually physically carry. As well as other factors like baggage allowances and security issues.
Everyone is different, and we all need different things with us. You might need to carry a laptop for remote work, a menstrual cup, specific medicines, or you might be bringing a gift to a relative you haven’t seen in forever!
If you’re minimalistic the whole issue of choosing a backpack (if you don’t already have one), and the packing process, is fairly straightforward. As a minimalist you know exactly what you need to get by, you have a select number of versatile and simple clothing items, and know what your toiletry, gadgets limits generally are.
But for the majority of people, combing through the items that you assume you need is difficult. You’ll make compromises, and might have little regrets in the form of “why on earth did I bring this?!” and “why didn’t I bring that?”. But an important thing to remember is that most small things, e.g. toiletries and clothing, can be bought at most locations you’ll find yourself in. Medicines, glasses and specific gadgets are a little different.
Remember the most important thing is to ensure you can physically carry your own backpack, and that it meets airline standards with weight and size. When you get back from long term travel you may find your lifestyle behaviours change and you turn into a minimalist traveller!
The first week or so will likely knacker you out if you’re not usually super physically active. You’ll have hopefully picked a great bag with good support to minimise any pains or strains. But don’t worry, you’ll get used to carrying this new hefty load pretty quickly. I mean, you’ll have to! This bag contains your life for the foreseeable future.
You’ll soon become physically stronger, and will even develop a level of fondness for this trusty companion. It’ll be with you through the highs and the lows, apart from the super low of actually losing the bag… but don’t worry that’s fairly rare!
Every pocket and zip will become familiar, and you’ll rework its internal organisation as you move around different locations. If you’re in the mountains, socks and blister plasters will take a prestigious place in the easy access pockets. And if you’re near clear water or the coast, your snorkel, mask and swimmers will start living near the top of your bag. You might even decorate it with little badges, patches or ties you collect along the way. But make sure it’s nothing that could get caught in an airport luggage carousel!
When you’ve been moving around for a long time, you may have moments where you miss the stability of staying in one place. I know I definitely felt that, but I’m sure it’s different all round. You’ll always love your backpack, but after a while you might start craving a permanent location where your backpack can sit open, or even be emptied and stored for a little while…
If you’re on a long trip, you may be able to stop somewhere for a period of time, to settle down for at least a month or so. If you have a form of working holiday visa, perhaps you’ll rent somewhere short term, or if you have the ability to work remotely perhaps you’ll rent out an Airbnb somewhere for a while. Being constantly on the move can be draining, so if you feel like you need a pause, try and schedule something in.
Coming back home, or setting up a new home somewhere else. What’s it like when you finally have your own space to spill out into, rather than sharing a dorm with plenty of other people and a limited amount of space. For me personally, it was pretty eye-opening. I looked at a wardrobe and drawers full of clothes, uncovering items I forgot I even had, and thought this is too much.
I found that I just ended up rewearing the same few items that had been in my backpack. No longer used to having something known as options. Now I’m not a fashion influencer by a long stretch, I buy the odd few items a year: a new dress, a wooly hat. After you start earning your own money when young, I think you reach a point where you’ve got everything covered and the novelty of buying new clothes wears off. But even what I had amassed made me think deeply about fast fashion, and buying for the sake of buying.
You might find yourself questioning even general items that you own, not just clothes! I did a deep sort through of everything I owned, and donated suitable things to charity, sold a few items online and made a commitment to favour locally, sustainably and ethically made items going forward.