Chapter 1: The Backpack

It’s there in the name: backpacker. In order to be a backpacker, you need a backpack. I’ll admit to you straight off the bat, I know next to nothing about mine. Here’s what I’ve got: it’s understated, holds a surprising amount, is freakishly comfortable and it’s meant for a man (apparently I have a very long torso for a woman. Go figure). The only other thing I can tell you about the backpack is that when you’re a solo traveler, this bag will become your home. You want to invest in one that will last, treat it well and fill it with everything you need to feel safe.

Packing a backpack can be a little tricky. The general rule of thumb is to put the lightest objects at the bottom, heaviest in the middle and lighter ones on top. The idea is to avoid making the bag bottom heavy so it doesn’t pull on your shoulders and strain your back. It’s also important to consider how you load and unload your backpack. If you have one that loads from the top, for example, you don’t want to put items you use frequently near the bottom, no matter how light they are. My backpack has an opening both at the top and at the front. I try to place things I use most often at the very top or somewhere near the front flap for easy access.

On this trip, I’m backpacking for 3 months through South America (Zika virus be damned). I wanted to have enough t-shirts for 2 weeks (plus a couple long sleeved options for cooler evenings), as many socks and underwear as I could fit into a Ziploc bag, a few light dresses/pants, hiking, walking and shower shoes and of course all my toiletries. I’m also bringing a small day bag which holds most of my electronics – especially while in transit – and a few useful extras such as a sewing kit, sleeping bag liner and an umbrella. You can see everything I’m bringing on this trip pictured below. If you have any questions, feel free to ask!

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**Side note: there are many different types of vacuum sealed bags you can purchase to compress your clothes for travel. In my personal experience, I have never been disappointed with extra large Ziploc bags. They’re cheap, you can push all the air out of them, they mean never having to root through your entire bag for a t-shirt and if you roll your clothes properly you can fit quite a lot into them.

When you’re living out of a backpack, efficiency is key. You want to abandon your favourite skirt if it’s too bulky and that cute top that looks good with those dry-clean only pants needs to stay in the closet. Especially when there are so many essentials I feel I need to bring (curses for being a woman who requires both bras and tampons) some of those favourite clothes are simply too inconvenient to be taken along.

But that’s okay! Dressing down is good for many reasons. First, and in the most practical sense, you may not always have easy access to laundry as you travel. Bring clothes that are machine washable and that look good in many combinations. Second, while it’s always nice to be stylish, if you look like you have money while you travel, you may find yourself more of a target for pickpockets. Leave your nice jewellery at home and carry only small purses that are easy to keep track of. Last, different cultures have different standards for what is and is not appropriate, both in terms of behaviour and attire. In many places low cut tanks and short skirts may attract the type of attention you may hope to avoid. Without getting into a discussion on rape culture, it’s generally a good idea to know the standards for countries you plan to visit, and to have a number of different options available so you’re free to sightsee in peace.

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Check out the power stance on that dork. Ready for addventure!

Well, we’re about to start boarding so I suppose this is ciao for now! Stay tuned for my next post from Santiago, Chile!

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