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Packing Tip for Backpackers: 3 S’s

Planning on being on the road for more than a week or two? Remember these three S’s while packing your bags:

1. Small passport-sized photos (at least 20).

After three and half months of traveling, my fat stock of these official-type photos is already rapidly dwindling. Why? Because I have needed to use at least four per month. Here are some instances of when:

a) Every new country’s visa I had to apply for necessitated one or two small photos with the application. For example, on the Cambodian border, you can get your visa on the spot and don’t need to apply ahead of time, BUT if you don’t have passport-sized photos with you, you may be either charged extra or detained. It seems border officials need your picture on file in case you do naughty things and need to be identified.

You will need small passport-sized photos while backpacking!
You will need small passport-sized photos while backpacking!

b) For some courses or activities, you must submit photos. My massage course this week mandates that we hand in two pictures! If we don’t have them, we must pay extra and wait to have them taken.

c) There WILL come other random-as-heck times when you will need passport-sized photos. Get them taken before your trip, or early on in a cheap country, and stash them in your bag. These photos save time, hassle, and money.

(Disclaimer: As you can perhaps see from the image above, the passport-sized photos I’ve been using these months are incredibly dorky shots from ten years ago in which I am sporting a secondhand mock-neck turtleneck. Hey — these photos are for utility, not high fashion!)

Tiny scissors are useful to pack.
Tiny scissors are useful to pack.

2. Scissors (small but sharp).

(I had WAY too much fun doing a scissor photo shoot. Please forgive me.)

I looove my little scissors that my mother kindly donated before I set off! Some backpackers carry camping knives, but I find baby snip-snips perfect. First, there are always hairs that need to be trimmed, be they nose hairs or stray curls. Second, there are forever loose threads, oversized papers, or other items that must be carefully snipped. Remember those passport-sized photos? My wee scissors are perfect for cropping them to the different size requirements.

Small scissors, looking pretty.
Small scissors, looking pretty.

Most recently, I discovered a fantastic scissor application: modifying clothes! Snipping shirts or other clothing items proves surprisingly effective in enhancing your wardrobe, especially if you’re careful to leave seams intact to stop fraying. As an example (sorry, it’s kind of nasty but needs to be said), one of my two tee shirts rotted in such a way that the part under my arms instantly started reeking after two minutes of wear. The solution? Cut off the sleeves (leaving the arm hole seams intact) to produce a far less smelly tank top. Give it a try someday!

3. Soaps (of the very small hotel variety).

In about twenty percent of the places you stay while voyaging on a backpacker’s budget, you will be given tiny bars of soap along with your ration of toilet paper. Whenever you are given two bars, or whenever you don’t need to open the one you’re given, stash the extra bar in your bag!

Why? Inevitably, the next place you stay will not have soap provided, and you will tearfully recall that tiny pink packet sitting idly on your former hotel’s dresser.

Those small hotel soaps are useful for backpacking.
Those small hotel soaps are useful for backpacking.

I’ve stopped using soap on my body in the shower and am now using shampoo for whole-self-cleansing (streamlining, baby! …and also I left my big soap in Tokyo), and thus it’s a pain in the butt to get the shampoo from the shower and click it open every time I want to wash my hands. The solution is to pull out that hotel soap packet, using the whole thing for stays of three days or more, and snapping the bar in half for short stays. It’s a small comfort that makes a world of difference in quality of life!

So those are my additions to a backpacker’s packing list. I’m sure more items will be added as my months of travel continue on. Now, what are some offbeat packing suggestions YOU would add to the packing list?


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evan p

Wednesday 7th of May 2014

i wont stray from your S's category but in relation to your Small Passport Photos i would also suggest (depending on how 'non-tech' your country of travels is) to carry some photo copies of your passport. many lodges, hotels require a copy and will often keep your passport til they can copy it themselves. this eliminates them keeping possession of it usually.


Wednesday 7th of May 2014

Great suggestion! Very true.

Imported Blogger Comments

Wednesday 26th of May 2010 said... Headlamp for when the lights go out and you need your hands.

People swear by masking tape but I've never had a need for it.

The ziplock plastic bags are great for separating, keeping small items organized and keeping spills contained.

November 30, 2009 4:48 AM

Eli said... For tape, I wind about 5' of duct tape around a sharpie (or water bottle.) You never know when you'll need duct tape. Also, I always carry around one of those needle and thread kits that they give you at shmancy hotels. With duct tape and thread you can fix anything!!!!

December 1, 2009 12:25 AM

Dave said... I second duct tape and plastic bags - essential!

But baby snip-snips sounds pretty helpful too :)

December 6, 2009 7:19 AM

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