What (Not) To Take Backpacking!

Planning a trip to every country in the world? Worried about what you should and shouldn’t pack? My advice? TRAVEL LIGHT! It’s best to have too little and purchase stuff on the way than to have too much stuff and have to carry things that you never use for the best part of a year.

Here’s A Bunch of Stuff You Can Leave At Home:

1. A Towel
Don’t do it. PLEASE! DON’T TAKE A TOWEL. Despite what The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide tells you, you DON’T need it. You’ll dry yourself with it in the morning then stuff it in your bag (soaking wet) and get on the bus/train/whatever and it will STINK. It will also double the weight of your bag. FORGET IT. Ask at the hostel you are staying at, they’ll give you a nice clean dry one for like 5p. Failing that, use your bedsheets. Or if you’re really desperate, your t-shirt. Then put it on.

2. Extra Shoes
You need ONE pair of shoes. Comfortable, light, trainer (sneaker) shoes. You are not going to be visiting any swanky restaurants or attending any film premieres in Bolivia, so LEAVE YOUR GOOD SHOES AT HOME. They will weigh you down, dig into your back and you will wear them once. Maybe.

3. Travellers Cheques
Utterly utterly useless. Just give American Express twenty quid for no reason and then spend the night in a bus-shelter. Nobody will swap the little blighters, and on the few occasions that they do, you get walloped for commission when you buy them AND when you use them. Avoid like the plague. Take some emergency US dollars instead and hide them in your shoe or something.

4. Rough Guide
Impenetrable, counter intuitive and the thinnest bloody paper in the world make carrying a Rough Guide a frigging nightmare. Trying to suss out how much the local hostel costs in the middle of the night in the monsoon rain while touts are pulling at your arms, stray dogs are biting your ankles and all they give in the book are ‘codes’ which are explained on page 132 (instead of JUST SAYING HOW MUCH IT COSTS) will have you soon using the book for something more useful. Like wiping your bum.

5. Optical Camera
Alright, I know you want to take the photos you see in National Geographic, but please, for the sake of all that is holy, TAKE A DIGITAL CAMERA. Download your pics as often as you can and put them on facebook, flickr, shutterfly or something, because somewhere, at sometime you are almost guaranteed to LOSE your rolls of film and even if you don’t, they cost a fortune to develop.

6. Anything you cannot afford to lose
Seriously, if you want to take something precious around the world with you, make it your better half. Otherwise, LEAVE IT AT HOME. It’s not just the fact that you might lose it, it’s the fact that you will spend every moment of every day worrying about it.

7. Bar of Soap
The traveller’s worst enemy, next to malaria. It’s slippy, it’s slimy and there is never a good place for it in your bag. Take liquid soap instead, or just use your wet-wipes.

8. Beauty Products
While you’re travelling, you’ll look the worst you ever have in your life. But paradoxically, you’ll also look the coolest you ever have in your life. SO WHO NEEDS BEAUTY PRODUCTS?! If you need a bit of make-up, go to a big pharmacy and ask to ‘try out’ a few of the products. Works for me 😉

9. Jewellery
When you’ve quite finished being mad… IT WILL GET NICKED! DON’T TAKE IT, leave it AT HOME. I’m looking at YOU, girls.

10. Somebody who doesn’t really want to go
This is the biggest no-no there is. You will have a miserable time, any difficulties or problems will be amplified fifty-fold, the constant whinging and whining will make you consider stabbing orphans in the face just to make it stop, and you could end up destroying a great friendship. If none of your mates want to do it, don’t drag them along against their will, go on your own instead – you’ll have a much better time. Trust me, you’re never alone for long!!

Stuff I Never Travel Without:

If you’re going to be getting on and off a ton of planes, trains and automobiles, your combined luggage shouldn’t weigh more than 10kg.  Seriously!  If you need a new pair of trousers, buy them on the way. If you finish your book, swap it with somebody for something else. All the rest is needless baggage. Now go pack your…

1. Lonely Planet
Anyone who claims that Rough Guide/Footprint/Time Out is better is a liar and a thief.

2. Sleeping Bag
Even in hot countries, a sleeping bag can be a lifesaver on overnight buses where the AC is set to zero Kelvin.

3. Anti-Malaria Pills
Malaria is one of the biggest killers in the world and one that should not be taken lightly – once you get it, you’ll have it for life.  It’s no laughing matter, take your damn pills.  Although Larium does make you go crazy.  I use Doxycycline.

4. Wetwipes
A total essential anywhere you go.  Flushable wetwipes are the best.

5. Laptop
Seriously, buy a small cheap laptop off eBay.  You won’t know how you survived without it.

6. Debit and Credit cards
The traveller’s best friend.  So far I’ve only been to three countries (Liberia, Comoros and Iran) where I had a problem using my cards – not bad out of 175!!

7. A cheap (unlocked) mobile phone
Eager and willing to have weird and wonderful foreign SIM cards slipped into it. You want one with a little torch in the top of it.

8. A decent camera/camcorder
You don’t want to come home with fuzzy shots of the Taj Mahal now do you?

9. A hat

10. Deodorant
Shower in a can!

11. Enough undies/socks

12. iPod
As much as I hate the cult of the dirty Mac, music is essential and Sony have wasted the last 9 years on a FAIL of biblical proportions, monumentally failing to come up with an alternative.

13. Compass watch
Yeah I know it’s geeky but it’s great for sussing out what’s up and what’s down when you first arrive somewhere where the streets have no name.  Like New York.

14. A Secret Money Pouch
Preferably one that you stuff into your underwear – after a few days on the road, nobody’s going to search you there…!

15. A Deck of Cards
And learn a couple of magic tricks while you’re at it 😉

Hope this helps… and… oh yeah: don’t forget your toothbrush…!

Graham Hughes

Graham Hughes is a British adventurer, presenter, filmmaker and author. He is the only person to have travelled to every country in the world without flying. From 2014 to 2017 he lived off-grid on a private island that he won in a game show, before returning to the UK to campaign for a better future for the generations to come.

This Post Has 9 Comments

  1. Hel

    set aside the malaria tabs (they make me ill) and the hat…you have just describe my bag! only 5kg and I’am proud of it! 😉

    (Helene from cochin)

  2. Jose fernandes

    What about a belt, dude?
    Bring it or not?

    1. Graham

      Oh yeah, defo. You need a belt.

  3. LittleStanJunior

    Oi hughes – though I’d imagine you will only be setting foot into Japan briefly (I assume into Kyushu from china/then onto S Korea?). Foreign cards are a bit of a mare to use here.

    You can either find an open post office (and only withdraw a max of £80) or use an ATM in a 7-eleven – which some cities dont have. That part isn’t mentioned in the LP!

  4. Mr. E

    Are 3,4 and 5 all that essential?

    “You come here with your laptop computers, your malaria medicine and you little bottles of hand sanitizer and think you can change the outcome, huh?”

  5. Jonathan Lin

    As far as shoes are concerned, I do think an extra pair of climate/region appropriate footwear would help a lot.

    Like a pair of warm boots in winter in Russia (where sneakers will do you no good in slush/snow/ice), or maybe a pair of waterproof boots in rainforest/ flooded/mudslide areas.

    But you can buy those in the respective countries, so you wouldn’t necessarily have to bring them with you as part of your luggage.

  6. Judith

    Just found your site and I like it!

    One question though on the cheap unlocked mobile phone: Did you ever encounter problems with different phone standards, as in “This phone isn’t able to catch any signal or not working properly”? I had to buy a new phone for my 6 months in Chile, because the one I brought did not work; and the one I bought there doesn’t work in Europe, so I wonder…

  7. sean

    i just finished college about a week ago and was aboard for 3 months for college and now i really want to travel again and have been looking into it with the last week and found your site from reddit, thanks so much for setting up this site it is A LOT of help to me 🙂

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