Where do you even start when you think about living out of a backpack for a year?
Do you even need a backpack?
My first piece of advice would be to consider if you even need a backpack at all. The thought of taking a suitcase ‘backpacking’ never even entered my mind but we met so many people in hostels that were moving all of their stuff around in a wheely suitcase and to be fair it looked much easier than hauling around our 18kg, 70L bags in the 30+ degree heat. So if you’re planning to camp, hike or road trip your way around Oz, you’re going to need a backpack. If you’re thinking of hostel-hopping or renting an apartment somewhere for much of your stay, I would recommend investing in a decent suitcase; it may not have the same ‘backpacking’ feel but trust me when you walk off that 24 hour flight and get smacked in the face with the heat, the last thing you want to do is carry a 18kg backpack while you wander around looking for your transfer.
Where do I buy my backpack?
I would strongly advise trying your backpack on before you buy it and not ordering it online! The reason being that your backpack needs to fit your body shape in order to be comfortable and not harm your back. Therefore ALWAYS try it on, give it a good few minutes of walking around and try to wear something similar to what you’ll be wearing in Oz; if you’re trying on a backpack in a huge puffy jacket, its going to feel a lot different to when you’re carrying it around Sydney in a vest top. The best places to go, although probably not the cheapest, are outdoor clothing shops such as Mountain Warehouse, Go Outdoors, Millets etc.
Which backpack do I choose?
There are two main types of backpack to choose from, one that you pack from the top and one with a zip all around which opens like a suitcase. There are countless variations but these are the two main differences; I went for the zip option just for ease of packing and unpacking the bag but go for whichever style you feel would suit your needs best. Some backpacks have loads of features mainly for hiking and camping so if you’re not doing any of those things don’t let the specs confuse you, just go for something simple which maybe includes a waterproof cover, just in case there’s a tropical storm whilst you’re moving hostels up in Cairns. Another key thing to consider is the thickness of the material and quality of the stitching, as my backpack was made of quite thin material and I ended up having to get the sewing kit out 4 or 5 times where holes had appeared in the seams. Finally, make sure its comfortable and easy to carry, you don’t want to stand up and fall backwards every time you pick the bag up!
How big does my backpack need to be?
This was what baffled me the most when we were backpack shopping; most backpacks are measured in Litres, which is really confusing when you’re trying to figure out how many litres your clothes are. So most bags will be around 60L – 80L and these are your everyday ‘backpacking backpack’ size. Some will have a detachable ‘day pack’ which clips or zips onto the main backpack, so for example the backpack will be 60L with a 10L day pack. My backpack had one of these which I actually found really useful to use as a carry on bag and rucksack for walks and day trips etc. My advice would be to go for a maximum of 80L as the more room you give yourself, the more you’re going to pack and the more weight you’ll ultimately have to carry.
What do I pack!?
Again this does depend on what you plan to do in Australia, if you’re going to be trekking and camping you will need to pack with that in mind. However if you’re going to do a bit of travelling, hostel hopping and the odd camping trip, this is what I would advise:
- Clothes – Consider the time of year and where in Oz you are going, as places like Melbourne can be quite cold in the Aussie winter!
T shirts, vests, few nice tops, one hoody, one waterproof jacket, pair of jeans, shorts, couple of dresses/skirts, underwear, swimwear, flip flops, trainers, sunnies.
- Toiletries – Can be quite expensive so take with you what you can.
Toothbrush, toothpaste, hairbrush, make-up, hairspray/gel/wax, razors, shower gel, face wipes, shampoo, conditioner, moisturiser.
- Sunscreen – Do not leave this out! It’s not just a rumour that the Australian sun is dangerous, apply sunscreen regularly, at least factor 30 or more.
- Aftersun/ Aloe Vera – Although you may have applied your sunscreen well, it is inevitable that you will get burnt at some point during your trip so take either after sun or aloe vera and wack it in the fridge to sooth any sun burn.
- Socket Adapter – Don’t forget to take an adapter for your chargers etc. I’d also recommend buying an multi plug extention lead when you get there as it can be a struggle sharing 4 power sockets in an 8 bed dorm.
- Ipad’s/Laptops – I know some people are wary of taking things like tablets and laptops for fear that they will get lost or stolen but most backpackers travel around with theirs, for things like ease of booking things, skyping home and watching films etc. These devices can be a bit of a lifeline when your travelling alone.
- Bug Spray – Jungle Formula, it’s probably the most expensive but when you’re being eaten alive in Sydney at 38 degrees with no air con, it’ll be worth it.
- Medication/First Aid – No need to go to over the top with this stuff, you’ll more than likely be in a city most of the time, not trekking through the outback, so keep it simple.
Pain killers, plasters, antihistamines, sickness/diarrhoea tablets, rehydration sachets.
- Document Wallet – You’ll be surprised by the amount of paperwork you’ll accumulate on your travels, so a document wallet is a great way to keep in all in one place.
- Beach blanket/Sarong – Take something fairly large but thin as it will dry quicker and not take up so much room in your backpack. People also tie these to the side of their hostel bunks for a bit of privacy, which actually works really well.
Those are the main generic things I took in my backpack and actually used whilst we were there. Don’t panic if you forget something as you’ll be in Australia, not Antarctica – you can just go to the shop and get anything that you’ve missed off your list.
I hope this is useful to anyone backpacking it to Oz for the first time! I know it can be quite daunting so knowing what to pack is one less thing to worry about. 🙂