Now comes the really fun part: gearing up. Fun for you, but not for your travel funds if you aren’t careful. There are a multitude of products out there (a majority that you really do not need) that target travelers. It’s natural to have a tendency to over-prepare for your first big trip out of the country. Use this part of the guide as a reality check and to help make your pre-trip purchases wisely.
Make a Shopping List
Don’t even think about going to the store without a list! If you wander around looking for things that “might be useful for your trip,” you will end up with a load of useless items left behind once the packing commences.
Remember: HOW MUCH you bring will dictate your trip experience rather than WHAT you bring.
- A heavy backpack is a burden that will severely limit your potential for adventure.
- A bulging backpack will make you a bigger target for thieves.
- Do not bring anything that you care about getting lost, broken, or stolen.
Remember that you will probably be able to buy many things locally for less. Plus it helps an economy that needs the money more than Wal-Mart.
TIP: If you haven’t already, take a look at our backpacking packing list before shopping.
Choosing a Backpack
This is the primary trip purchase that you may want to splurge on (US $150 – $300). Throughout your adventure, your backpack will be your ‘house’, your companion, and your life. Choose one carefully and use your own judgment, not just based on the advice of a sales person.
- Buy a medium or small (45 – 60 liters) pack. This is a guaranteed way to take less!
- The sales person may try to sell you the largest pack with the most bells and whistles. Make your own decision!
- Buy internal framed backpacks only. You do not need things hanging off your pack like a gypsy!
- The two most vulnerable — and important — parts on a backpack are the straps and the zippers. Make sure that both are as tough and rugged as possible.
- Try to stay away from obnoxious colors that will only get the attention of touts and thieves.
- Have the sales person load the pack with 30 pounds (about 15 kilos) of weights. They will fit the straps for proper placement on your back.
- You should be able to look up at the sky without hitting the back of your head on the backpack.
- Most of the detachable daybag features are pointless; you will probably want a proper daybag.
There is nothing wrong with picking up a used backpack to save money for other trip purchases. They can be found quite easily as people return from a big trip and no longer use them.
Lots of students come home from gap years or need cash after travel and sell their backpacks cheap. Try looking on University boards, eBay, and on second-hand websites such as Craigslist for deals on used backpacks.
- See size charts for choosing the best travel backpack based on your size measurements.
What Shoes to Purchase
Your feet are your most valuable asset when wandering around the world. With the added weight of a backpack and the environmental dangers to your feet, footwear is your second-most important trip purchase.
- Shoes are heavy and bulky. Plan on packing only one pair of proper shoes and some flip-flops or sandals.
- Choose a neutral, dark color and a style that can serve as both adventure and ‘going out’ shoes.
- Avoid expensive flip-flops (anything over $15) because they may get swapped or ‘borrowed’ when you leave them outside. You can always buy a pair for cheap locally.
- Get hiking/adventure shoes that are water resistant; Gortex is great. Choose a material that will not smell once it gets wet. Pick ‘low-top’ styles that are not too heavy.
- The foot-beds in some shoes (even expensive shoes) are too thin and inadequate. You may want to replace them with gel inserts if you plan to do a long trek.
Best Digital Cameras for Travel
Unless you are a professional or want the burden of keeping a SLR camera in one piece, get something small and rugged enough to go into your front pocket. This will keep it handy for unexpected opportunities and also conceal it so that no one gets any ideas.
SLRs take great pictures, but they also take precious seconds to dig out which could cost you a memorable photo. Unfortunately, people also tend to act unnaturally with a big lens pointed in their direction.
- Get several large memory cards (I opt for the high-speed cards) because it may be difficult to upload pictures on slow internet connections. In a pinch, you can also copy photos to cheap USB thumb-drives as backups and mail them home or use a free upload service such as Dropbox.com or Box.net.
- If possible, find a camera that accepts non-proprietary batteries. You can purchase “AA” batteries anywhere, but finding a place to charge your strange battery might be another story.
- The Lithium-style AA batteries are definitely worth the extended life you will get from them.
- Invest in a case to protect your camera. But keep in mind that ‘LowePro’ really attracts a lot of attention while on the road.
Misc Trip Purchases
Outdoor and specialty shops are much more expensive than regular department stores. Visit one of the big chains to get misc items such as travel bottles, a small knife first, and other items then proceed to the outdoor store.
You will need plastic bags with zippers, one-quart and one-gallon sized, for packing. These are handy for electronics, bottles, books, and small items.
It is more cost effective to buy regular-sized items and fill small bottles than to purchase the ‘travel-sized’ versions of things like shampoo and soap. Leave the extra at home for your next trip!
Choosing a Money Belt
Choose a money/passport carrying option that is best for you. Most travelers opt for a money belt that goes around the waist rather than the neck.
- The idea is to conceal your money, so don’t buy black! Opt for a flesh or neutral color instead.
- Choose something that is comfortable. This might be the first thing you put on in the morning and the last thing you take off at night. Silk money belts costs more but are lighter and more comfortable.
- A good money belt should rest flat under your shirt, so that there is not an outline.
- Some nicer belts offer anti-microbial materials which are handy because it probably will get sweaty.
- Do yourself and the world a favor: Don’t lift your shirt and reach into your belt in public! Nothing is more repulsive than seeing a grown man at a checkout counter lift his shirt to make a payment. 🙂
The worst thing you can do is go to a giant retail store with hungry eyes and an account full of fresh travel funds. Talk to other travelers, then make a list. Don’t blow your money on a trip purchase – save those funds for the road!