Whatever course you decide upon there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising which tempt you to believe that your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires courage. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
There is one important rule when selecting and purchasing the right gear for your travel experience, especially extended travel–DON'T GO CHEAP! Having traveled more than 38,868 miles and experiencing almost every type of climate on Earth, with the same clothing and equipment (that wasn’t stolen, lost, or purposefully given away to new friends) has actually held up. And the main reason for this is because I didn’t look to save a few dollars where in the end it really did matter. For example, back in my previous career life of broadcast television, I was still a pretty budget-minded person even though I had quite a comfortable lifestyle, but still the idea of spending $20 or more on a single pair of socks just seemed ridiculous to me. BUT, the best advice I received from a good friend, Jeff Schenker, I met via the Thorn Tree Forum, and has now been backpacking for more than 10-years told me something that I still continue to pass on to other newbies, current backpackers, or those planning to travel, and that advice is, “when all of the material possessions you own fit into a single bag and your clothing is limited to between 3-5 different pairs of everything, you want quality goods that WILL last.” Believe me, everyone, this could not be more true. Also let me say, that just because it’s the most expensive doesn’t mean it’s the best. I advise people to take a look at my packing list, which I extensively put together with a few other veteran backpackers' help prior to leaving the States and most items are hyperlinked for convenience and price, plus I can confidently say that I have used absolutely everything in this bag over the past 600 days. If you are planning a backpacking trip and have not done so, or have not done so in a long time, these are just a few tips and items I’ve found to be helpful:
- SMARTWOOL®: While there are just so-called claims that SmartWool® is moisture-wicking performance and odor-reducing, anti-microbial properties, I find this to be very true, and trust me I’ve worn the same pieces of clothing for days, weeks, months!
- QUICK-DRYING FABRICS: You will be amazed at how often you may be hand-washing clothing and the one thing that you want is items that can be wrung out and dry quickly, because shoving a bunch of damp clothes in a backpack before catching a bus and reopening it to the smell of mildew is the worst. While I do have a few cotton t-shirts and one pair of jeans, they do take quite a while to hang dry when all you have is an enclosed dorm room with not much air movement. Plus jeans can be worn for a long period of time for days without washing. Again, I can hear friends and others shrieking at this thought because we are used to often changing outfits after work before going out, let alone wearing something that hasn't been through the washer and dryer–giving you that Downy freshness. That's why receiving your laundry back after getting it washed properly feels like a magical day full of sunshine and rainbows. I have never appreciated clean laundry so much in my life!
- MULTIPLE LOCKS: First and foremost, get one of the old school thick gauge high-school combination locks, the type you would need a pair of bolt-cutters to break the lock. If you are worried you will forget the combination email it to yourself, because there is a very small security risk with having this three digit combination online. Secondly, carry a variety of a several other locks in different size gauges, I can’t tell you how often I’ve arrived at a hostel and while they may have lockers my combination lock’s gauge is slightly too large, so thankfully I use a slightly thinner gauge lock, and sha-zam ba-dadda-bing, Kelly Kapowski, my things are locked up safely. Word of advice; avoid locks with keys (I've witnessed too many people either losing the key or end up locking it inside their locker) and definitely avoid the thin gauged locks–working hostels I have seen people snap these without any tools (by hand with enough applied pressure) and within a 5-day period while managing a hostel in Bangkok I had two guests come up to me because they had locked their key for these small locks in their lockers. Worried I could tell instantly that I could solve this issue quickly, but I had to ask them if they were ok if I were to break their lock entirely so they could gain access to their belongings. Each time they answered, "yes," but also questioned how I was going to be able to do this without a pair of bolt cutters. Within 10-seconds the locks were ripped open with something as simple as a small hand tool, a Leatherman®. Another example was when I was co-managing another hostel in Nicaragua, we had two people that checked-in and because our lockers were inside the dorms they ended up snapping off the smaller lockers by hand and got away with stealing credit cards, smart phones, cash, etc. Do NOT be a victim! And please DO NOT leave your items out on your dorm bed or whatever even for a few minutes while you take a shower or use the toilet because this is often when things disappear, during laziness. Trust me again, I've been a victim of being lazy and that's when things tend to happen (i.e. when my netbook got stolen I should have locked it up in the locker in my room, but thought because it was a private room with a lock on the door, nope..shoulder-checked the door and got in quite easily). So again DO NOT BE A VICTIM and think about how it would feel if you didn't have your smartphone, iPad, laptop, credit cards, or even passport all of a sudden.
- TECHNOLOGY: This area is ambiguous because more backpackers are traveling with smartphones, laptops, ipads, etc. I find them to be invaluable, because I put them to work for me by saving me money researching flights or other types of work-exchange sites as well as having previous skills in editing, some graphic and website design, and social media management. I have also found people doing technology exchange work for free accommodations or meals.
- ELECTRICAL ISSUES: Don’t just think you need a global adaptor YOU WILL NEED a power converter as well. I have electrified and killed two-sets of hair clippers because I was lazy and chose not to plug them into my Walkabout Adaptor/Converter/Surger Protector (All in One) and a puff of smoke and this item was dead. I was just always thankful it was not my iPhone of Laptop.
- WATER BOTTLES: I cannot emphasize enough the Berkey Sport water bottle or other portable water filtration systems. Guaranteed, this WILL save you hundreds or thousands of dollars depending on how long you are traveling! For example, even if a 1-liter bottle of water is as cheap as .25 and you purchase even two per day, over the course of a month you have racked up $15 and $45 in 90-days and over $180 in a year. Plus most countries, water will be closer to $1 for a liter, so you see my point. Also bring a 16-32oz Nalgene big mouth type water bottle, because when you are able to have access to clean free drinking water this is the time to save your filtration system or even use it to fill up the secondary bottle for long bus rides etc. The reason I suggest the big mouth versus the other sizes or even a CamelBak® is because cleaning these can be a huge pain because you don't have the tools as you do at home like running water that is hot, brushes, or a dishwasher (obviously).
- DITTY SACKS: My only regret is actually not purchasing one more set of the 3 pack, because they are enormously helpful. I already travel with three sets of the 3 pack (picked up one more set in LA). Think about all the things you shove in your bag besides clothes: fingernail clippers, locks, toiletries, books, pens, paper, hats, bandanas, etc and etc. These are all rolling around when organizing things in these draw string sacks makes life so much easier, especially when packing up.
- CABLE LOCK: I thought about placing this under the locks category but I feel that this should be addressed as a separate issue. So for those that don't know what this is, a cable lock is something exactly as it sound. I’m actually using a Dakine Snowboard cable lock. This is extremely useful and I’ve used it many times. For example: when I've gone to the beach and I have a small daypack (with my camera, maybe a hostel key, and some money) I will climb up high and cable lock my bag to a tree brnach so when I go swimming I can keep an eye on it and if someone starts climbing up there I’m power swimming in to give a lesson on a beat down of a verbal assault of unpleasantries and unflattering comments, maybe even a few 'your mom is so fat…insults. Who knows? Try stealing my bag at the beach and see what ninja you release my friend. Ok I've calmed down, going a bit It's Always Sunny Charlie there for a moment. Also when sleeping in airports or staying at hostels without lockers you can wind the cable through your backpack (or backpacks) and secure it to a permanent fixture, such as a water pipe or in the case of the airport to myself. Ninja high alert again. This has also come in handy when we’ve been on some rather sketchy overnight buses and both of us are exhausted and neither of us can be bothered to watch to make sure someone isn’t walking off with our bags so we’ve cable locked them together. Because, often the local buses will be making stops constantly to pick up and drop people off in random areas on the side of the road and each time they will typically open the cargo area under the bus and dig through bags to reach theirs, which means sneaky thieves trying to walk off with both bags receives a surprise of about 80 pounds or more most likely. And believe me, two-65 liter backpacks or more is not only heavy but awkward heavy, it's like trying to carry a person when they are deadweight-passed out. Even the small lightweight people you think would be easy to lift somehow develop the mass of a blue whale and you need a can of spinach just to move them an inch.
- PACK AND REPACK: Prior to leaving you may have everything in their just nice and snug and perfect…well this will NOT be the case because you will unpack and repack this bag hundreds of thousands of millions of bazillions of times, so do this in the comfort of your home instead of a crowded dorm and see how things fit and what you can get rid of or replace with a smaller lighter option. Plus, do this multiple times! It will be so much easier on you especially if you leave and have a handful of empty space.
So these are some of my backpacking tips regarding gear and clothing over the past 600 days of traveling. I hope this helps. Feel free to email me with any other questions or inquires on things. Also just know that I am not sponsored by any company etc (it would be great if I were) so the gear and brand names are just what I have. So my recommendation is again take time researching for the same type of products online and see if you are able to get them cheaper, but once again don’t go cheap on the material for the sake of price. Cheers everyone, and happy packing and gear hunting.
Accomplishing 600 days of travel is something that I still cannot believe myself. When I first set out on this journey, I could have never imagined exactly how it would have gone, the experiences that I would have and of course all of the amazing people that would come in to my life. There was something I saw that inspired me, and it talked about the three rules in life: #1) If you do not GO after what you want, you’ll never have it. #2) If you do not ASK, the answer will always be NO. #3) If you do not step forward, you’ll always be in the same place. The last rule seems to resonate with me the most, as I feel as though I am in a constant state of moving forward and living life–not to say that if you aren’t traveling that you aren’t, but I feel that for many people life passes them by without truly fulfilling dreams that they may have had while they were younger or just in general. And, just as the quote that I used for this blog talks about, there will always be people in your life–the critics, the naysayers–that are there to try and discourage you and tell you that you are wrong or crazy. And I know that for many people when they heard about what I was planning almost two-years ago they thought I was a fool and expected me to return to Colorado within a matter of months, if not weeks, with a face full of regret. Well you know what? Even if that were the case I would still feel better about my life by taking a leap of faith and not being that person in their 50s, 60s, 70s, or older with regrets for not doing something because they felt the risk was too great or they were too afraid. While I don’t think that I would define myself as courageous, I know that others have been inspired by what I am doing, and for that I feel humbled and hope that what I am doing continues to inspire others and help them to examine their own lives from the monotony they may be feeling, but to feel hope and passion for living.
Another rule for many of us budget backpackers (thinking of my Scottish buddy Andy Ward here) that also keeps us in shape, whenever there is an opportunity to save money (i.e. walking rather than spending it on a short bus or taxi ride) we will utilize this option most every time. The exception to this rule seems to be bad weather or the possibility of dangerous areas where my my Nerf ® foam covered nunchucks or a series of bad puns will not do the trick in assisting with a successful escape. Since the day is nice and I’m in the country whose nickname is ‘land of the morning calm,’ (even though it's the afternoon) I’ve decided I can easily just walk back to the subway station. Even though Seoul is the world’s second largest metropolitan area with a population over 25.6 million people, it is extremely safe and easy to navigate in my opinion. The short 35-minute walk gives me some time to process all that has happened this afternoon, and all I can think is that it’s been a great day and I have the tune by Nappy Roots, because it was playing out of a shop yesterday.