What's in Mat's backpack?

Thu, 13 Mar 2008 20:41:05 +0000

What I did on my holidays Index First steps in South America

Absolutely critical to a successful journey is packing light. You always end up late for your train or plane, and running. Knowing that you can run, if need be, is so reassuring in so many situations, that for me it completely outweighs the comforts of whatever other little luxuries I could take with me. And so I'm only taking one little backpack with me. Here is what's inside...

Clothing. First, my jacket. It has a detachable inner lining, so it works as a light raincoat or as a heavy winter coat.

And a jumper. That and the jacket wouldn't get me through Siberia in the winter, but should do for the places I'm visiting.

Seven changes of clothes. Actually, that seems a little much to me. Personal hygiene is great, I have enormous respect for personal hygiene. But two meters of extra distance when running for that train is easily worth six months of smelling bad as far as I'm concerned.

A towel. I was skeptical about these micro-fibre towels, but I have to say these things are positively miraculous. This absurd little rag gets me just as dry, if not dryer, than a full-sized normal towel. Even my hair. Expensive, but worth every cent. Get one.

Sleeping bag. This one was bought in China because we believed it was necessary in order to visit Everest base camp. In fact, as with every time I've taken this sleeping bag on holiday, it was completely unnecessary - the Chinese had built a standard hotel right next door to the monastery (and painted it bright pink, for some reason). Just as well, since this sleeping bag is the least breathable sleeping bag in history and whenever I try to use it I wake up soaked in sweat and freezing. However, I anticipate that this holiday is the one where I absolutely, desperately will need a sleeping bag to protect me from the elements, so in the bag it goes.

Mosquito net. Apparently essential for travel in South America and Africa. I've had a go at setting it up, and let me tell you, the drugs had better work. But I'm buggered if anyone's going to tell me off for not having a mosquito net with me, so here it is. And the company donates one to an African child for every net sold, so I can feel good about it. Malaria causes more hardship than AIDS, by the way. Mosquito nets are probably the single best use of your charitable dollar possible.

My venerable pair of tracky pants, which have been through an awful, awful, horrible lot over their lifetime. Wearable in summer and winter and lightweight, so they're the perfect garment for wash day.

Shorts. For some reason I feel self-conscious in shorts, and never wear them in Europe. But a dose of Singaporean humidity should cure that pretty quick. I'll probably need to invest in another pair somewhere along the way. I was wearing these in high school, now I come to think of it.

Pyjamas. The amount of time I'm going to be spending in the tropics, I hope and pray I won't have much use for these. They're here for occasions where a little modesty is required when sleeping in hostels. I honestly have no idea what the expectations are for displaying naked flesh in places like Iran and Syria, so I want to have options.

Blindfold thingy, freebie from some airline somewhere, and Ohropax. The blindfold is nice to have. The Ohropax is absolutely, 100%, life-or-death essential. If there was no such thing as Ohropax, I wouldn't be doing the trip, it's as simple as that. Just the memory of Berlin youth hostel with the two Brazilian snorers duelling it out through the night... no. Never again.

Hat, sunglasses. Sunburn is the enemy. My hair protects my neck and ears, but I need a cap to protect my face. The sunglasses are falling apart, but I'm damned if I can find a proper wrap-around pair in Europe to replace them. Maybe I'll have better luck in Australia.

Toiletry bag, including the new guilty-until-proven-innocent clear plastic bag for the liquids that's so fashionable nowadays. Still, on the bright side, the new insane regulations created a market for tiny, lightweight packs for shampoo, soap, and even toothpaste. Perfect for someone like me who's trying to shave every gram off their luggage.

Plastic folder containing travel documents. In fact all the real documents are stored as PDFs on my various electronic devices. I plan to print them off in Internet cafes as needed. Initially, only the DB ticket and the Lufthansa ticket are needed.

The spare passport goes in the backpack, in case I lose my handbag. If you has only one passport, you is teh l00zorz.

All the bits of foreign currency I accumulated on previous trips, and will now have a chance to get rid of. US dollars are handy to have. Dunno if you can get rid of nickels in Brazil, but I'm willing to give it a shot.

The only paper book I'm taking on my travels - and when I'm done, it goes in the bin. I never got around to finishing off the Silmarillion, and I just couldn't face the prospect of chucking it without having another shot. A couple of 30 hour train journeys should make short work even of Tolkein.

Hard drive. I invested seriously embarrassing amounts of time in stocking up this little fella. It's got more than enough music, TV shows and ebooks to last me the next year. It's also got an encrypted backup of basically my entire life. I love being able to carry all of that with me in such a trivial amount of space. I fully intend to lose this at some point, by the way.

Some electronickery. It took a lot of shopping around, but I found a compact, robust, all-in-one adapter with a USB output. USB is, finally, the One True Solution to charging on the road, and about time too.

So pack it all in, and zip it up! Hmm. Not looking too promising here, is it? But I'm an optimist.

I... swear... this... is... going... to... fit...

OK, I eventually had to take everything out and put it back in again, but on the second time, after much sweating and struggling... ta-dah!

Yeah, OK, the Silmarillion didn't fit. Meh, I'll carry it onto the plane. Bear in mind that this is the worst-case scenario, where the jumper and jacket are both in the bag. Mostly it'll be slightly easier.

And the moment of truth:

A bit over 8 kilos. Not bad! Technically that's too much for hand baggage on many airlines, but they hardly ever weigh it, and they're ready to chuck it in the hold if need be. Of course, if they insist on only one piece of luggage, and decide that my handbag counts, I'm screwed. I'll have to wear my coat, or check in the backpack. But basically, I'm all set!

What I did on my holidays Index First steps in South America