What I Packed, What I Dragged, and What I Wish I’d Ditched
After reading article after article on backpacking packs for women, the name that kept popping up over and over again finally won me over as I scoured Hong Kong camping stores for a single Osprey Aura 65L. Surprisingly out of all of maybe five total high-tech stores in Hong Kong, not a single one was supplying the Osprey Aura so I had it especially delivered to my small flat in Sheung Wan. I was giddy with excitement as I opened the large box with a large knife, ready to touch my new home for the first time. It was rated as the best woman’s pack for the Appalachian Trail, which, in my original plan, was the coup de resistance, marking the final end of my travels. I figured if it could survive and be rated highly for the Appalachian, then it would be great for backpacking the rural areas of the Philippines and Nepal.
I had even checked out some library books on how to pack light in preparation for long journeys and slowly whittled away my packing list until the day before my flight I had it all laid out on the bed ready to go. I had left my job just a week or two earlier and my initial unimpeded excitement had turned to curdling, growing fear as I stared into the unknown (it had also turned into uncontrollable vomiting at my leaving party thanks to food poisoning but that’s a story for another time). In response to this fear, I endeavored to pack every single nook and cranny full of ANYTHING I could possibly need while on the road. Black Plague coming for me in Indonesia? Having an itch on a three-hour flight that only a giant Rubik’s cube could scratch? Dual monitors for the copious amount of programming work I was going to do while on the road? I had. It. All.
I sounded like an old fat man getting up out of his lazy chair when I hefted that behemoth of a pack on my back. My very bones creaked, but my fear and need for control had a bigger grip on me than reason, so off I set on this adventure with a mansion strapped to my back instead of the carefree minimalism I had hoped for. My terrible habit of overpacking has thankfully been cured as I lugged around this boulder of Sisyphus but sadly it took a few months for the lesson to really sink in. So, I hope intrepid reader, if you are like I was, sitting at your corporate desk wishing that Susan from accounting would just staple your head in rather than go to your next two hour meeting where MDs use words instead of measuring sticks to waste your life, that you can take some words of wisdom from this article and not repeat the same mistakes that I had made in packing.
Here’s the picture of almost everything I packed (since I added a few things when I saw there were a few empty spaces)
Here’s what I actually used:
Want to know how much of my supplies I actually used?
I’m eyeballing here because I’m lazy and don’t feel like counting but I barely used 40% of what I packed. I carried 60% of dead weight for NOTHING. ABSOLUTELY NOTHING BUT FEAR AND A NEED TO CONTROL. What a ridiculous notion. The whole point of leaving corporate and striking out on my own was to step into the chaos and figure out who I was without imposed structures that I found intrinsically silly. And the idea I was going to be working hard while traveling? Well, I guess I always try to bite off more than I can chew but it would’ve been so, so, so, so, so much better if I had focused instead on just enjoying life. I had my cash reserves, the goal was to sit back and take in life, not work while on an already hectic path. So, I packed my 8-pound laptop and didn’t use it for anything more than typing – which I found out later all I truly needed was a lightweight Bluetooth keyboard that hooked to my phone and I could type all day long for my articles and whimsical observations of life.
One of the silliest parts was my strangely inherent assumption that major cities in the countries I was visiting wouldn’t have what I needed if I needed anything at all. I lost a cable, walked into a store in manila and bought a new one no problem. So, what if I had to wait a few days while surfing in Siargao? Time was NOT of the essence at any point of my trip. Trust me, if you’re backpacking around the world and you plan on flying into capital cities then taking a bus into more remote areas, you can find what you need when you land.
If I could do it all over again (and I will once I get some streams of passive income up and running with my consulting business) I would go as minimal as possible. I wouldn’t even pack as much as I had circled in the photo. I would try to mcgiver any scenario I came across if I could (like when I was in Nepal and needed a chamber pot in the subzero temperatures so used a borrowed knife to cut a water bottle in half – not a good idea but a fun experience). If there is one thing I learned on the road, is that humans are resourceful creatures and brilliant at solving problems that come up. I’d rather miss something than lug around that behemoth ever again; it made me less agile, more tired from carrying it, and tied to something that I didn’t need to be tied to.
The Pros of Lugging my Behemoth:
- I could use the backpack as a weapon if I turned quickly enough
- If I spun fast enough, the centrifugal force of my pack would create a dense black hole
- Watching people trying to heft the thing was entertaining as they always misjudged how heavy it was
The Cons of Lugging my Behemoth
- It was heavy as f*ck
- It was a real punishment while hungover
- The cost of checking it in was way more than any preventative cost of having some obscure object I thought I needed
- Some of the things inside looked reaaaalll stealable.
- I stood out as an inexperienced, wobbly-footed backpacker
- If someone robbed me I couldn’t even lob the backpack at them because it was too heavy or run faster than 2kmph
My best advice is to go for a backpack that is small in size—I’d say no more than 35L—and one where its waist straps and top straps are like a friendly koala bear giving you a hug from behind, minus the smell. Comfort, versatility, and carry-on friendly size is what you should be aiming for. If you’re like me, and you order a larger bag with the intention of not having it all the way full, you’re likely going to find an excuse to keep on filling it until it is ready to burst, so best to get a smaller bag to prevent you from overpacking because trust me, you really don’t need much other than the clothes on your back, comfortable shoes, a good attitude, patience, and something warm to tuck into at night.
Here’s a list of what I would’ve packed if I could do it again and what I will pack when I’m off on my next adventure once I earn some income and bring my current yacht management system app to fruition:
I know, I know, it still sounds like a lot! But trust me, with my experience I could easily condense all of these things into a 20lb, 30L bag max. I am now the pro.
But in reality, here’s a list of the things I truly needed:
- Access to money to pay for logistics
- Snacks to fend off my hangry alter-ego
All I know is that I’ll never be lugging around this behemoth again unless necessary!