Long-haul Travel/Backpacking

By:  Jennifer Milano, May 2015

I'm sure backpacking has changed since the pre-internet days when I was globetrotting.  But here are a few tips that are hopefully still relevant:

  • Airtreks.com - although you can purchase "round the world" airline tickets through a variety of companies, including the airlines themselves, I have used airtreks.com more than once and have been very satisfied.  The company books  your flights in segments, and there are no restrictions on going east-west without backtracking, for example.  Back in 1997, I paid about $2000 for 30 flights over a 5-month period!  In 2002, it was more expensive, but still very reasonable. 
  • Pack a reasonably-sized backpack that fits your body type, and a small day-pack you can wear in front of your body, that also serves as your carry-on.  If you're worried about your backpack straps getting caught in luggage conveyer belts (believe it or not, I wasn't, but my husband was), you can put your backpack in a plain duffel bag for checking it in with the airlines, then roll it up and put it inside your pack or in the outer straps once you arrive.
  • One of my favorite tricks from my backpacking days came from my mother, who suggested sewing (okay, she sewed them) Velcro inside some of my pants' pockets.  This meant I could stick my wallet in my pocket and Velcro it shut, saving me from having to wear my neck pouch in humid climates.
  • Special items to pack:
    • Duct tape.  Great for temporarily fixing tears in backpacks or other gear.
    • Swiss army knife that contains mini-scissors (obviously, put in your checked baggage).
    • Silk sleeping bag liner. During our 7-month backpacking adventure, my husband and I slept in our Cocoon-brand silk sleeping bags, which pack up very small and claim to add 10 degrees of warmth.  More importantly for us germophobes, it meant we could snuggle inside our silk liners and avoid contact with sketchy guesthouse sheets.
    • Pillow case.  Same clean-freak reason as above.  Pack a brightly-colored pillowcase so you don't forget it or housekeeping doesn't mistake it for a guesthouse pillowcase.
    • Cable lock for locking your backpack to luggage racks on trains or to bedposts in hostels.
    • Mini combination luggage locks, for your backpack zippers.
    • Door alarm.  When I traveled alone, sometimes I carried a small battery-powered door alarm.  It worked like a doorstop, so if someone opened my room door while I was inside, the door would hit the alarm and sound the buzzer.  Except for when I tested it, the alarm never sounded, thankfully.  Recently, I heard a story from a friend whose parents slept through an intruder cleaning out their hotel room of all electronics and jewelry. 
    • Quick-dry towel.  If you are camping or staying in places where you need your own towel, pack a quick-dry towel (available from REI and similar stores).  While less plush than a traditional towel, these towels dry quickly for on-the-move backpackers.
    • Zip-off pants/shorts, which are a great way to save space.
    • Rain covers for backpacks, or the frugal traveler's version, the garbage bag.
    • See "Packing Lists" tab above for more useful items, such as Ziploc bags and small bottle of laundry detergent for quick hand washes of dirty laundry in the sink.