Backpacker Hacks: Travel Cheaper and Easier
Backpackers are a rare breed. They are a people whose main priority is to see the world, one way or another. They are desperate to feel the high of waking up on any given morning on a different corner of the Earth, and experience new things. Out of that desperation, and a need to go as far as possible on a tiny budget, we come up with tons of little hacks and tricks to help us do just that. Here are a few of those backpacking hacks I’ve used along the way.
1. Putting a pen spring on your Iphone charge cable. Every Iphone cable I’ve ever had came apart at the plug. Really got annoying to keep replacing so I put this spring on it, and I’m good to go for a long time!
2. Carry-on size packing. I had a huge 70lbs backpack when I first hit the road. Little by little things started getting the boot as I figured out what I don’t need or want to carry. Now I only carry a small backpack, maybe 11 kilos. It’s saved me on cheap Europe flights and buses where I didn’t have to pay for luggage, and nothing ever gets stolen from the luggage compartment of my bus in Thailand or Vietnam. Not to mention its so light and easy.
3. Having an international student ID. Having a student Id card has saved me bundles at museums and national parks. Most places let students in for free or heavily discounted, and this is awesome. Sometimes you might have to watch for the days when students do get in free, but it still pays off to have. If you don’t have one, or aren’t a student, you can pick one up for $5 in places like Khao San Rd, Bangkok.
4. Having a sewing kit always on hand. I don’t know about you, but I’ve torn and put holes in nearly everything I own. Having a sewing kit to fix these holes, saves way more money than buying new clothes would.
5. A hard drive of movies and shows. In Australia I bought a 500gig hard drive, and traded movies and shows with everyone in the hostel. It seems like they all had the same idea tons of kmovies. Now I have over 300 movies in a tiny drive, that I can plug in and watch anytime. Makes long bus rides tolerable.
6. Using a SteriPen and Nalgene bottle. A SteriPen is basically a wand that you turn on and stick into a bottle of dirty water, and ultra violet light kills all the bad bacteria. I had a hard time trusting this thing as it seemed like magic, but when I was forced to use it with dirty water out of the Zambezi River, I turned into a believer as I never got sick at all. Now most countries I go to you’re not suppose to drink the tap water, and I find myself using tons of plastic bottles. With the Pen I save loads by not buying water at all.
7. Take over-night transportation. If you aren’t hitchhiking, then paying for transportation to the next city is unavoidable. So even when it hurts to shell out the money for a 13 hour bus ride, you can at least offset it a little by taking the over-night bus and saving on a night of accommodation.
8. Get through airport security faster. I have my laptop out of the carry-on, all the things from my pockets out and into my hat or something and in the tray, and my shoes and belt off. Normally I even just wear sandals and a plastic clip belt so I don’t have to be one of those slow people getting redressed on the other side.
9. Meg from Mapping Megan reminded me that it a good idea to line the inside of your backpack or suitcase with a big plastic bag. It keeps everything dry that way.
10. She also says that if camping, use your water bladder or Camelback as a shower! Sling it over a tree and let the water flow. For a little added luxury, leave it on a rock in the sun for a bit beforehand for warm water.
11. Compression dry sacks. Instead of plastic bag linings, I put all my clothes in a water-proof compression sack and compress it down to as small as possible before putting it in my backpack. Not only does it save a lot of space, but keeps things dry too.
12. Get better hotel hiding places. People always think they are smart hiding their money and passport under their mattress, behind pictures or on a vent somewhere in your room. Here are some more creative ways to hid things:
- A fake plug-in or power switch. This is a really good idea but a little
extreme, and most backpackers wont do it because it would mean carrying around a little fake plug-safe. But maybe its a good idea if you’re staying in one spot a while.
- Inside the shower curtain rod. Seriously, Whose going to look in the end of that?
- Under the lining of the ironing board cover.
- Probably the best hiding spot I know would be taking the bottom off of the room phone and putting money and stuff inside, and screwing the cover back on. Never fails.
- Fake containers. You can devise or buy some little safes and hide money in plain site. Little chapstick tubes, a hair spray can, stuff like that. Also a little extreme, but when you’re a broke backpacker you go to extremes.
13. Cheap or free accommodation. I always use Couchsurfing or volunteer at a hostel in exchange for free room, but Charli from Wanderlusters pointed out that doing house sitting in places you want to stay a while is an excellent way to get free accommodation. It’s definitely something to check into.
14. Hitchhiking. Is hitchhiking dying? is it taboo now? is the world more dangerous? All I know is that if you really want to travel, and think that your bank account is too small, than hitchhiking might be a solution. I combined that and couchsurfing in Europe, and saw nearly the whole continent for 2 months on less than $1000. Maybe it was dangerous, I don’t know, but I do know I would do it again in a heart beat. Need help finding the best hitch-points in your city? I use Hitchwiki for just that.
15. A fake/decoy wallet. I carry a fake wallet sometimes, so that if I get held up I can hand it over, they see a wallet with money and cards, and they take off. What’s in it? About $10 in singles, expired bank cards, Safeway, Starbucks, Library and other cards that look important but aren’t. The thief glances at that and is satisfied and leaves. Worked perfectly in Peru, plus it has been pic-pocketed a few times. But my real wallet with money and IDs never has.
16. A phone-charging battery pack. It might seem excessive, but I carry around a portable phone charger so that I can stay charged at all times. It’s really handy for when I’m out camping or at a far out dive site with no electric. Then my phone never dies and I can take pictures and whatever else all day. Great for buses and trains with no power outlets, so you can play games the whole ride.
17. Bring a sink plug and a small length of rope, and clean your own clothes. A tiny rubber sink plug takes up no room, and neither does a small length of rope, but it will allow you to clean your clothes in the hostel sink, and then dry them on the rope that you string up outside or from bunk to bunk. Since you’re not carry many clothes, you will have to wash them more often, and paying every time is out of the question.
18. A lock cable and a lock. To some solo-backpackers, this is essential. Here’s an example of when you’de use it, and be glad to have it. You’re on an over-night train ride through South Africa. Your backpack zippers are locked up, and it’s in the over-head rack. It’s relatively safe there, until you need to go eat, or go to the bathroom, or hang outside the car and take a selfy. Thats when the cable comes in handy. You just chain your whole backpack to the rack and you’re good to go. Saved me a bunch of times. Later at the hostel you can also use the cable as a short clothes line too, and forget the rope.
19. Always have a couple straps on hand. “Geez, for someone who always packs light, you sure have some weird stuff.”. Let me tell you where this will save you a lot of time and headache. Have you ever gone to the bus station and paid for a ticket in a very overcrowded bus, and they start throwing luggage up on top? I have. They just toss bags and suitcases and whatever else on top of the bus, then toss a rope over it to make it (feel) secure. By the end off the long and bumpy ride, half ov the stuff has fallen off the roof and been lost forever. Then you’ll wish you were that backpacker who had whipped out their straps and tied their backpack to the roof rack. Also, another clothes line.