Text by Teo Hong Jun for Hype magazine
Staring blankly into the screen wishing you could be someplace else? Then you think about the planning, the crowds, the early flights and the long bus rides that all packaged tours entail; then you snap back to work. Perhaps you have contemplated just dropping everything, booking the first flight out and just travelling on your own schedule.
Well, if you must do so, let Teo Hong Jun from hype magazine highlight a few details to look out for before you set off on your your whirlwind trip.
Waking up to the bustling street of Saigon, walking through the ruins of Sukhothai Historical Park, sunbathing on one of Philippine’s Hundred Islands, losing your way in Angkor Wat or a full day shopping spree in Kuala Lumpur. The only way to truly enjoy the essence of these adventurous and exciting Southeast Asian destinations without a tour guide herding you from one location to the next is to backpack.
Before you get all worked up and agonise over where to begin, know that there are many things to do other than just picking the location. Don’t ever go on a backpacking trip with a trolley luggage or a duffel bag as these will hinder your mobility and comfort. If you don’t already have a proper backpack, it’s time to get one. Locally, shops like World of Travellers at Paragon.
Shopping Centre offer a wide range for travelling and everyday use.
There are two basic types of backpacks in the market: the top and front loader. Their names say it all – the top loader allows you
to pack from the top of the bag, while the front loader allows access through the front of the bag.
The downside of carrying a top loader is that the things you need are usually at the bottom. As for the front loader, your stuff may be more accessible but if the zip gets stuck, you’re in trouble. Bagpacks are measured in terms of litres and for a trip around the region, 45 to 55 litres would be sufficient.
When buying your backpack, make sure that the height of the pack corresponds to the length of your upper body – from the shoulders to the hips. The most important thing to do is to try it on. Some main features that you should look out for are zips that allow the use of padlocks, along with comfortable and sturdy straps. You’ll need waist straps as they help to bear almost half the weight of the pack on your hips.
Lastly and most importantly: if the backpack is not waterproof, don’t buy it.
Regardless of how well a good backpack can lighten your load, long hours of lugging it around can be really tiring. So keep to one of the commandments of backpacking: pack and travel light.
Clothes should be light, dark-coloured and easy to dry. Easy-to-dry clothes will eliminate worries of whether your clothes
will dry after washing and dark clothes need less washing unless you’ve got B.O issues. Do not bring clothes that might be deemed culturally offensive to the locals and always bring a long pair of jeans or long pants as you never know when you need them.
Remember to also pack a good waterproof jacket that can keep you warm and also double up as a raincoat. Swimming gear is
also good for you never know when you will spot a nice waterfall.
There are two rules to pack by. Remind yourself that you are not going for a fashion show. After you have gathered all the clothes that you are going to bring, return half of it to your closet. How much underwear to bring is up is at your discretion. Just make sure you have enough to last the trip and not end up with nasty abrasions.
The Swiss Army Knife is considered a traveller’s best friend. A basic knife will have many lifesaving tools such as the can opener (when you’re hungry), the bottle opener (when you’re thirsty) and well, the knife (when you need to cut something).
Remember to check it in with your main luggage and not board the plane carrying it. Have an updated map of the locale you are in.You can buy one at the local airport. Nowadays, we’ve got the luxury of the Global Positioning Systems (GPS) on our phones but the printed map never fails to work (unlike technology). Also remember, if using a map, learn to use a compass.
Wearing boots or shoes to walk around all day is not exactly a good idea. A pair of lightweight slippers will not only let you relax and air your feet but also keep your shoes or boots dry. Sandals are more practical than slippers as they cling to your feet and reduce the chances of slipping.
Lastly, pack in some ziplock bags, spare glasses and/or contact lenses and padlocks for as many zips you have on your backpack.
Before you book.
by Shyanne Wang
So you finally decided that looking out for the travel guides miniature red flag wasn’t you thing, and have found yourself questioning which destination to visit as you scroll the pages of your local budget airline astounded by this thing called airport tax.
Well with a personal resentment for that little red flag, I have been a loyal patron of the backpacking experience for a few years now, and here I am sharing a few more things you might want to look out for before setting off.
It is important to note where you are going and what is going on there during the tenure of your visit. For example, if you want to visit the vibrant fast paced colourful city of Seoul, Korea, going during the Lunar New Year period of late January to February might not be the smartest thing. This is as you will simply find all the shops closed for the festivities as the residents flood out of the city and head off to their hometowns.
If what you are looking for is a bit of foreign culture and wish to see first hand, rituals and festivities of the people, do note if they are open for spectators or are simply for devotees. For example, if you have heard of the spectacle of Hindu devotees carrying vats of offerings making the climb up Batu Caves, Malaysia every Thaipusam, and wish to see this, note that the steep steps at most parts have slithering inhabitants hanging from the canopy. Definately not one for the ophiophobic.
Definately don’t forget the bikini if you are backpacking through Thailand, but if you plan to move upwards from there you might be needing a winter jacket. If you are planning your trip a few months ahead like you should, do take note of weather advisories as your departure date closes in as the earth is undergoing a climate change and the winter months might drag on.
Another hazard of planning ahead of time is ground safety. A few weeks before the Thailand riots, all seemed handy dandy till the airports closed and curfews were implemneted. So if you ever catch yourself in this fix; Option A would be to go ahead and be a part of the action, or Option B you could get a refund for your tickets. If you do decide on Option A, do take note of the contact details of your country’s embassy in the area.
As fantastic it is to travel in a group, what with safety in numbers and all; travelling in too large a group might turn into a hassle, winding up with you holding that little red flag. Try to keep the numbers low, say a maximum of 4 members; an even number always simplifies things when it comes to seating and lodging. A handy tip to help ward off too many people hitching unto your backpacking bandwagon, is to initially only tell those you wish to invite on the trip and then subsequently inform others only a week before departure.
A few websites you might find useful are also hostelworld.com and backpackers.com where seasoned travellers share tips on destinations as well as helpful links to cheap accomodation and flights.
A problem common to backpackers ironically is that there is too much planning involved in a trip. My solution, get a pen and a map put it on a surface, with your eyes closed move your pen around and stop at the count of 5. That is where you are going, set a RSVP deadline for your travelmates and viola you have yourself a trip.
Now pat youself on the back and go pack your bags.