What’s in your backpack?

Packing sensibly goes a long way when you are a solo traveller. You don’t have the luxury to borrow from friends/family and everything you forget to pack just adds to your expenses (in a foreign currency!). I call myself the queen of lists because I make massive ones every time I shift base. Start making a list as soon as you have finalised your travel date. This will give you a long enough period to get organised. I tend to travel light on weekend breaks but I pack a proper bag when I’m travelling for longer than a week.

First Aid
I cannot insist on this enough. I tend to walk an average of 6 hours per day when I travel. Even with the right kind of footwear, this can cause sore feet or cuts from sunburn. Also, you never know what you might come down with. I have had wisdom teeth coming out for the past few years and the pain comes without any warning! Pack cotton, gauze, a few band-aids, Q-tips, and an assortment of pills (paracetamol, painkillers, etc.) It might be a good idea to carry a doctor’s note certifying that those tablets are prescribed.

iPad or a Tab
I am completely against technology on a holiday but this is a really handy tool that has been my saviour in multiple countries. It’s much easier to carry around than a laptop. Need to book a hostel for an upcoming weekend trip? Walked into a coffee shop and need to access google maps? Want to reserve your place in a tour? If these aren’t reasons enough to carry your tab, remember that a lot of tickets these days are validated with a barcode scanner. It’s much easier to keep them on your iPad. It also helps save the battery in your cellphone. Hostels do have computer terminals but (i) the charges are steep, (ii) you can’t access them from your bed, and (iii) no privacy!

Stationery
Yes! I carry a few coloured pens, highlighters and sticky notes. Why? Because I like to mark my route on the maps. It can come handy when you are doing a DIY Walking Tour.

Mini Bathroom Kit
Heard of travel kits? They are sets of palm sized containers that can be used to re-bottle shampoo, conditioner, lotion, etc. Most pharmacies and supermarkets have these in their makeup section. It is absolutely unacceptable to carry a 600 ml shampoo bottle on a backpacking trip! Pack a scrub or a loofah. Being on a holiday doesn’t mean you compromise on personal hygiene. I also recommend hand and foot creams for the simple reason that your hands and feet suffer a lot on the road. Oh and before I forget – sunscreen! I use a dermatologist recommended SPF40 cream and yes, it works! You can buy it here.

Forget-Me-Nots
These are an assortment of things that I tend to remember at the last minute when I’m about to leave the apartment. Cellphone charger, spare DSLR batteries and memory card, power backup, eye-mask, and my toothbrush are just a few of them. Make your own list and stick it your fridge door so that it serves as a constant reminder. Another acquired habit is to check the weather forecast. For example, it was nearly 37 degrees Celsius in Munich when I arrived last August. And no, being Indian doesn’t prepare me for that kind of heat. Pack hand gloves, socks, sunglasses, etc. – whatever you can’t live without. I am a big fan of water pouches. You can understand why they make a great travel accessory.

Clothes
If you’ve read about the KonMari Method, you know how to fold your clothes the right way. But the most efficient way to fold clothes into a backpack is to roll them into balls. Nothing will create space in your bag like tightly rolled balls of clothes. If you end up buying ceramic or glass (yes, shot glasses) souvenirs, just insert them between the layers of your clothes. Don’t worry, they’ll survive the bumpy ride on the carousels. While we are on the topic, I recommend carrying at least two bath towels. They dry slower and it’s just good planning to have an extra one on hand (I speak from experience). You can usually buy washing machine liquid in hostels so don’t carry that along unless you are on 6+week trip (then it’s economical).

I carry a medium sized Quechua backpack and a small cabin bag that can be used when I walk around in the city. I am against hard, wheeled cases because they occupy a LOT of space and are also a pain to drag. Walking around with a backpack that’s roughly half my size (a German policeman had to help me get it on my back once) was tough but I got used to it. I also can’t do without my travel pillow. I used an inflatable one initially but moved on to a shape-changer. What this means is that a small zip at the back allows me to reshape it into a regular rectangular pillow! This comes handy when you need a little extra support and your hostel pillow isn’t fluffy enough. Or, imagine that the seat next to yours is empty, giving you the opportunity to curl up and sleep. I bought it in Paris and haven’t found anything similar in India. But keep an eye out, will you?

PS – This isn’t an all inclusive list. Let me know if you find something that should most definitely be included. Until then, pack well and travel safe 🙂

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