It’s undeniable that backpackers in general are rather thrifty creatures. This is completely understandable. From the moment you hit the road your bank balance goes into flat spin, each day plummeting closer toward harsh letters from the bank manager. In essence, the size of your bank balance will have a direct affect on the time you have experience wonders that life on the road can bring.
For the most part, budgeting begins the moment you step from your front door and into the unknown. But why not start this trend a little earlier? Surely if you can save a few dollars in the preparation stage then there will be a little more in the pot for your forthcoming adventure.
And with that in mind, here are 5 ways to ensure you start that journey with both a healthier road fund and greater peace of mind.
1. Rucksack waterproofing. There are many shiny options here – of which vacuum sealing, space making bags, kayaking dry bags, and rucksack rain covers are but a few. So what do you opt for? The cheapest thing that does the job, of course. Rain covers are out because they are just that, Rain covers. Not only do many of them look the same, which can lead to confusion if your pack ends up as one of a large pile – as sometimes happens if you are on a heavily trodden backpacking route – but if your pack ends up in the drink as you embark/disembark a boat then you may still be sitting in wet underpants and updating your soggy journal the same evening.
To avoid this, line the inside of your pack with a large, durable, plastic sack. It’s such a simple concept, yet seldom utilised. A well washed out agricultural fertilizer sack is first class, but there are many other similar types out there, such as refuse or rubble sacks, that may be more suitable for your style of pack. When full, roll the top down a few turns and fold the remainder over, tucking it tightly in the space between the inside of the pack and the outside of the waterproof bag.
Never again will you worry about putting your pack on the roof of a Honduran Chicken Bus in monsoon season. Instead, you can opt to either rest easy with your latest book or just wallow wholeheartedly in the palpable malaise evoked by shoehorning four adults onto a seat primarily designed for two schoolchildren.
2. Rucksack security. Sakbags (lockable bags in which to put your pack), Pacsafes (slash proof wire meshes that cover your pack) and Wrapsafes (cables to wrap around/secure your pack) are among the many arrangements on offer to the security conscious traveller. Most have their merits and do the job admirably. Unfortunately they aren’t cheap, whereas I am.
Several lengths of multistrand steel wire (off the roll from many hardware stores) about 3mm diameter or so and around 50 to 100cm long will serve the purpose.
Fold one end back on itself to form a small loop and slide a collar cut from a length of copper pipe over the two bits of steel wire that are now side by side. Choose a diameter of copper pipe that is snug when over the two bits of steel cable. With the collar in place, simply crimp it as tight as possible in a vice – hey presto, one secure loop. Repeat this on the other end and you have a ‘padlockable’ strop. Photos of the finished article can be found in my associated post entitled 5 cheap ways to safeguard travel gear. Its worth a lookee just for the phots.
Anyway, make one strop for your pack, one as a leash to attach your now secure pack to a permanent fixture (such as a stoned hippy on Lake Atitlan, Guatemala), and a couple of spares to see you through. It'll all become clearer with the photos...I hope.
All these gadgets are by no means impenetrable, but they serve as a good deterrent for would be thieves. It may sound a little cutthroat - but if it makes your pack less attractive than the one next to it then it’s served it’s purpose. It’s a quick and easy method of affording you a better night’s sleep - be it in a 12 man dorm in New York or on the sleeper train between the Thai Islands and Bangkok. In addition, this cheapo method is a little more subtle than the commercial offerings. It states that ‘I’m not easy pickings’ but doesn’t scream ‘valuables inside!’.
3. Valuables. Most people these days will travel with some form of gadgetry – be it iPods, Digital cameras and spare memory cards, Memory sticks, or other such items. If you want to prolong their life and protect them, then I have one word for you. Tupperware. Procure a couple of small, airtight containers and the world is your oyster. Now there’s a statement if ever I heard one.
With so many different shapes and sizes available you are sure to find one almost tailor made to the traveller’s needs. Not only are they such an inexpensive way protect sensitive electronic goods and afford a durable shell for smaller breakables, but they are a great place to keep all the odds and ends that inevitably accumulate after months on the road. Embrace Tupperware and gone will be the days of hopelessly foraging for your padlock key amongst the fluff, shards of broken soap and candy wrappers that will eventually dominate the bottom third of your rucksack. To some, this prospect of a semblance of order may come as welcome news, to others it may be perceived as an invasive and unnecessary evil. If this is so, then I will apologise to them in person the next time I drop by to unlock my rucksack.
4. Toiletries. Again, this one is very simple, but extremely effective. Forget bulky toiletry bags – too much space and too much weight. It really does all add up. Three plastic bags do a fine job. One to wrap up your toothbrush/toothpaste, one to wrap your soap, and another to put those in along with any other sundries you may. The beauty of the bags is not only the weight and space it saves, but also the damage containment factor should you do have a blow out on one of your bottles/tubes whilst going from A to B. Sure, a plastic bag will inevitably get a little slimy from soap after a while, but they are all replaceable. If, however, you are worried about the environmental impact that this may have, then use an existing bag that someone else is going to discard. Cheap and a little green to boot – who could ask for more?
5. Documents. We all have to carry some form of documentation – passports, photocopies of traveller cheque numbers, birth certificates and the like. They are all valuable documents that enable us to travel, and can even get us out of the poo from time to time, so its well worth keeping them in good order.
And although we now all have a rucksack so waterproof that we could sit on it and paddle from Borneo to the Philippines, it doesn’t stop ourselves, and therefore our precious paperwork, from getting soaked through. This is why a handy roll of A5 size ziplock (or similar – read cheaper) bags are invaluable. A passport, a few dollars, and some well folded photocopied documents slip into an A5 sealable bag perfectly. They offer excellent protection against penetrating sweat, sudden downpours, and my pitiful inadequacy in a kayak. Only costing pennies for a big bundle, you can take more than you think will suffice thus enabling replacement when they wear out. I don’t know where I would be without them – probably in an Indonesian Prison, but that’s a tale for another day.
Some may argue that some or all of these items are unnecessary. I agree that you could travel without them and save yourself the outlay of a few pennies, but in view of the increased protection and security that these small measures afford, I wouldn’t leave home without them - and for me to choose functionality over frugality, they’ve got to be good…