Saturday, May 7, 2011

5 backpacker essentials for beginners

Your first backpacking trip you may not know what exactly to bring. I have a kit that I pack every time I go somewhere. I am known as the friend you take traveling who has a backpack like Mary Poppin's bag. Example: a friend broke their shoe on a trip; out I pull super glue and a safety pin. The perfect fix for a broken flip flop! A friend's strap breaks on their bag. Out comes my tiny sewing kit and magical sewing fingers. Now, I do have a bag that is significantly heavier than some peoples. I pack WAY too many clothes because I never know what activities I'm going to do on a trip. (And I'm a girl.) But I typically find that I do use everything I bring and I pick up more supplies on the way, if needed. Most countries have maps at the airport of the public transit systems or city streets: pick one up on the way so you can make the most of your trip. (Or bring that tattered Lonely Planet with you!)

1. Multi purpose tool (Examples: swiss army knife, gerber)
You're at a hostel and out comes the booze. Every one then gets very upset, The beer bottles need a key to be opened! The hostel doesn't own a bottle opener. (Never a problem in France, I would like to point out.) YOU come to the rescue with your multi-tool. Multi-tools are also handy for going through the farmer's markets so you can snack for cheap and have great local product.
I walked the markets of Paris with my multi-tool enjoying bread, cheese, fruit and frois gras. It was a super yummy experience and much cheaper than most French restaurants.It doesn't need to be a super fancy swiss army knife, just something that works!
Swiss Army Knife that has almost everything on it!
2. Rain Shield for Backpack
 The worst thing about backpacking is getting stuck in the rain and getting to your hostel with not only yourself soaked to the bone but all your clothing and possessions soaken wet. My rain shield was my best friend in Taiwan two years ago (during a trip where it rained every F-ing Day!) and during the snow storm in Europe where the snow would soak through your clothes and backpacks it was coming down so heavy. Having a rain shield will protect your stuff and that spare sweater you have stuffed in your pack. And when you're super wet you'll really want dry socks.
Companies like Deuter make rain shields in all shapes, sizes and colors.
3. Watch/Time piece
Most people do not carry their cellphones on vacation. Most people also don't own watches anymore. But a watch or someway to tell time (Sundial, Ipod, something!) is very useful and needed when you are trying to see things before they close or catch a train at a specific time. 
Flavor Flav says, "Wear a watch!"
4. First Aid Kit
Always be prepared, as the Boy Scouts say. I am known as that hostel person whom when someone cuts their finger I have a full first aid kit on me. It makes me useful to have around and although most hostels have a small first aid kit, it's important to have the basic essentials especially if you plan on doing any adventure activities such as biking, hiking or surfing. Carry at least the basics! Bandaids (all sizes), antispectic cream, bug repellent, Tylenol or Panadol, and some antihistamine in case your allergies flair up. 
I was sans antihistamine in Taiwan when I got peanuted and had a bad allergic reaction. My friends helped me out. So, if you have food or any other kind of allergies you MUST bring this. 
If you are bringing prescriptions into a country, bring them in their labeled bottles in a ziplock bag in case of rain (you want the label to stay perfect for customs.) If you are going to a country with strict medication guidelines like Russia bring a doctor's note.
You can also buy one of these pre-made lightweight first aid kits and always keep it in your bag!
5. Ear plugs

People are really loud on public transit.You can use these handy devices to block out annoying yelling in languages you don't understand and you can use them to block out that bunk mate in your hostel who brought over a "friend" and decided to "hang a sheet" (You know what I mean...) They also handy on planes when you are surrounded by crying babies and need to take a nap so you're bright and chipper on your first day in your new surroundings! Or if you're me, so you can sleep and go to work the day you come back!
Use the foam earplugs, they are much better for blocking out sound and keeping in your ears.

Runner Up Item: Sunscreen
This may seem like a no brainer but you wouldn't know the amount of travelers who forget their sunscreen. You should wear sunscreen every day when you backpack no matter the cloud cover or temp. outside. I do not check my backpack when I travel to save time at the airport so I make sure my sunscreen is in a three ounce or less bottle. If it's a super sunny vacation I buy extra because I'm super pale and turn into a lobster very quickly.
Don't be one of the those LAME people who loses half their vacation to sunburn!

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