Posts Tagged ‘overpacking’

Backpacking in the News

Monday, May 24th, 2010

Link to article: What not to bring backpacking: 10 things to leave at home

Chad Norwood's gear for a 6-month, round-the-world trip.

Chad Norwood's gear for a 6-month, round-the-world trip. (Source: chadn on Flickr.com)

I agree that the unnecessary weight of jeans and hiking boots should be avoided, especially in hot, humid places. (Looks like Chad packed both, in the above photo).

I’ve packed a sleeping bag before but rarely ended up using it (only while camping a couple times). I never backpack with a laptop — I use Internet cafes instead (see 9. Lost e-mails). I do travel with an SLR camera, but I don’t bring any additional lenses or flash units.

The author, Steve James, also concludes that “there is a common consensus that people who travel with guitars are tossers.” Good stuff (see 18. Playing Guitar).

A couple other packing techniques that chap my ass:

backpack-locknet

I think Spiderman shot a load on your bag.

- Backpack locknets: What is the point of these? To prevent people from unzipping pockets or cutting into your massive pack while you’re wearing it? And when it’s stowed in a cargo area or closet on a train, bus or in a hostel, I’m pretty sure a would-be thief could cut through it with a standard pair of wire cutters.

This look should be avoided.

This is not a good look for you.

- Double packing: You’re not carrying a baby. You don’t need to hang gear off your chest if you’re already hauling a load of shit on your back. Better to keep it all on your back and not have to bother with two packs. Besides, it looks ridiculous.

15. Dormitories

Friday, June 26th, 2009

If you don’t know what it’s like to sleep in a dormitory, you’ve obviously never backpacked in Europe (beenou), North America  or Down Under. The reason there’s a difference is because backpacking in the developed world is expensive as hell (See 8. The Lonely Planet). Meanwhile, in underdeveloped countries, one can procure a luxurious private hotel room for the price of a Happy Meal in Western currency.

hostel-dorm1Because affordable lodging space is so limited in the former, it becomes possible to charge a premium for not only a room, but for a tiny fraction of a room (literally one-16th). There are, of course, varying levels of expensiveness. For example, North American backpackers know what it feels like to pay outrageous sums of money (after converting their meager dollars to English Pounds or Euros) for half of a bunk bed. It’s a sensation akin to non-consensual jailhouse sodomy (i.e. ass rape).

Aside from obvious disparities in global currency and real estate values, the inflation in high-traffic tourist areas is senseless. The average minimum cost of a dorm bed in Prague in July is 15 Euros (21 USD) per night; 23 Euros in Rome; 26 Euros in Barcelona; 22 Pounds (36 USD) in London; 30 Euros (43 USD) in Paris;  and a whopping 35 Euros (49 USD) in Amsterdam. Go to the same cities in, say, November and the price is 30 to 40 percent cheaper. That’s the beauty of supply and demand, folks.

Remember: a) this is for a wretched dorm bed, and b) backpackers have no money.

So what makes dormitories so awful? Hygiene is a major issue. Before going on my first backpacking trip, I brought a sleepsack (a bedsheet folded over once and sewn) as it was suggested to me to avoid using hostel bedsheets, which could have bedbugs. Long story short, the sleepsack was excess baggage and I’d overpacked to begin with, so I ditched it early on. Besides, I was too lazy to use or wash it, so I went ahead and used the hostel bedsheets. Bad idea. I got bitten by bedbugs and it was terrible - but that’s for another post altogether.

hostel-dorm2Regardless of the hundreds of online reviews you read about competing hostels, they are all dirty. It’s not the hostel’s fault. Consider their clientele. A typical backpacker’s day consists of sightseeing and heavy drinking, both of which involve perpetual movement and perspiration. Piles of unwashed and reworn clothes, especially socks and underwear, contribute to the dormitory’s signature potpourri. At capacity, there can be 8 to 16 people in a room (on 4 to 8 bunk beds), depending on its size. The room smells of other people’s feet, breath and sweat. It’s disgusting. Every morning, a sour, humid stench hangs over the place as sunlight begins to cook it through the windows.

The mattresses are uncomfortable and sometimes squeaky. The really bad ones have uneven springs that dig into your back. So, it’s hard enough to fall asleep, and then there’s the element of noise. Whispering, giggling, snoring and, God forbid, fornicating. Like bedbugs, dorm sex requires its own post. There are also the drunks that stumble in, yelling belligerently, turning on all the lights and crashing violently into their bunk… which is incidentally right beneath yours.

Because other backpackers are generally untrustworthy, there are often large lockers in the corners of the dormitory, consuming whatever residual space that would have allowed for orderly room navigation. Lockers must be large enough to fit a 90-liter pack. Thus, occupants bump into and step over each other attempting to get from one end of the room to the other. Doing so in pitch darkness, while drunk, is no easy task.

Sleeping in close proximity to foreign strangers is creepy. Movies like Hostel or Taken are not particularly inspiring cinema to watch prior to going on a cross-Europe dormitory tour. You never know what kind of nutjobs are sleeping in there - above you, under you, or beside you. Some of them are Aussies, others are Israeli - both are crazy. Sweet dreams, everybody.

11. Sightseeing

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009

Backpacking and sightseeing are supposed to go hand in hand, but they don’t. Lugging a heavy pack all over a foreign metropolis is great fun. Doing so with an implosive hangover is even better. The Lonely Planet is mostly to blame since it conveniently lists off, under “Sights” of course, the must-see attractions of every place on earth. And because the LP is the infallible gospel of backpackers, failure to cover a respectable majority of listed sights is greeted with clicking tongues, shaking heads (i.e. judgement) and lifelong guilt. “You went to ____, and didn’t see ____?! (tongue clicking).”

sightseeing3

Cue "The Imperial March," from Star Wars.

We’ve all checked off our share of sights, beenou. Seriously, that’s what it feels like: a checklist. Big Ben? Check. Machu Picchu? Check. Taj Mahal? Check. The LP and our adherence to it have reduced an awe-inspiring list of ancient and modern wonders to an everyday grocery list.

If I see one more museum, gallery, cathedral or temple, I might just go insane. I went to the Louvre and actually liked two paintings and one statue. The statue had no head, by the way. That was out of 7,000 works I made a point to see because it was a “once in a lifetime opportunity.” It took the whole day and I only saw a third of the place. I also bought a $20 sandwich for lunch that day. Awesome deal. I went to the Vatican at 8 a.m. to beat the line-up and when I arrived, it was already snaking around two blocks. It, too, took the whole day. Is it even worth it?

Sometimes, the sights are so spectacular they’re worth it. You’re glad you saw them. That photo of you pushing over the Leaning Tower of Pisa with your index finger is indeed a priceless memento. Very funny and wildly original. But most of the time you’re left thinking, “That was IT?”

sightseeing2The crowds often ruin the experience. Massive throngs of Japanese tourists, although cute (the Tilley hats get me every time), are not people I care to hang out around. Their tour guides are inches away from committing suicide. People are jockeying for position to get the best photo and you’re avoiding collisions more than you’re actually enjoying the sights, exhibits or landscapes around you. Even when you say excuse me, they either don’t understand you or can’t hear a thing ‘cuz they’re knee deep into an audio guide. Besides, Asians (especially old ones) have no concept of personal space.

Some backpackers genuinely enjoy sightseeing. They will bypass boozing nearly every night so they can get up at dawn and see EVERYTHING. Most of these backpackers are women. The sightseeing female backpackers make up one of the two types of lady road warriors - more on that later (see 3. Where are the Hot Girls?).

The rest of us are too busy struggling with our packs or nursing hangovers to care about sightseeing. Or we’re male. Men (especially straight men) are lazy and wonderfully apathetic travelers. Which is why we have so much fun and don’t remember much of our trip. Oktoberfest? Check.

7. Pretending to be “Into Photography”

Saturday, May 23rd, 2009

photography

This is one of the oldest backpacker beenous in the book. Give me a break. Yeah, you’re so “into photography.” I’ve got news for you: Everybody and their dog is into photography. Seriously, my buddy taught his German Shepherd how to take pictures - it’s very Littlest Hobo. Saying you’re into photography is like saying you’re into traveling, while surrounded by other travelers. Not very original.

I applaud Woody Allen for spoofing vacationers who fancy themselves vagabond Annie Leibovitzes. In Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Scarlett Johansson’s character, Cristina, is a confused artist and wannabe filmmaker who spends her time daydreaming and taking shots of children in the streets of Barcelona. She has no idea what she’s doing and it isn’t until she meets Penelope Cruz’s character, Maria Elena (who actually has an eye for photography and convinces her to ditch her digital SLR), that she starts taking decent pictures.

The overestimation of one’s own photographic prowess runs rampant in the backpacking community. Let’s be frank. You’re traveling. You, like most members of the species, are a visual being. You want to remember the fantastic scenes unfolding before your eyes. You bought an expensive camera on top of paying a fortune to get here, so damn right you’re gonna take a few pictures. That’s fine; so is everybody. We agree that photos are wonderful souvenirs. But don’t go telling me you’re so into photography.

I’ve seen the pictures you take. They’re brutal. You don’t even know how to use that grenade launcher you call a camera. Good for you. You’re struggling with your 30-lb. Lowe Alpine bag that’s a bitch to haul, but “is so worth it.” You talk about aperture, F-stop, depth of field and all that mumbo jumbo to people who  just want you to stop pretending you know what the hell you’re talking about.

Give me that thing (damn, it’s heavy). Which button? Oh, OK. Say cheese… I mean, “Say Facebook!” (Kill me now.) There you go, unforgettable good times captured forever. Yeah, I took a good shot, hey? Perfectly framed, two-thirds in. Did I mention I’m into photography?

Upcoming pretense posts to look out for:

  • Playing Guitar
  • Vegetarians
  • Pretending to be “Into Buddhism”
  • Pretending to be “Into Music”
  • Pretending to have lived somewhere but were actually just visiting
  • Rich kids pretending to be poor