Panama: We’ve been on this journey for 2 years now and one of the first questions people ask us – after: why? – is how do we do it? So, I thought I’d compile some sort of answer to this, which may be of help to anyone considering a similar journey.
In terms of practicalities of what to bring, we seem to have made a pretty good job of choosing the right stuff and we’ve used almost everything we brought. There are exceptions: the hammocks with mosquito nets were too heavy, so we ditched them, likewise our camping stove and plastic cups.
Most things you need as a traveller can be bought in even the smallest village, so packing light is the key thing we’ve learned after much back pain. Things you can’t easily buy, which we’ve found very useful, include: books of any kind; silk sleeping-bag liners; weatherproof gear like ponchos, quick-dry clothing, waterproof backpack cover and walking boots; power adaptors and convertors; digital camera and waterproof video; quick-dry towel; clothesline; torch; waterproof bags for your clothes; comfortable packs; and sunblock.
Things are just a part of what you bring along travelling, though. The right state of mind is just as important. Remember that you will still be bringing yourself with you, so the things that pissed you off at home are likely to piss you off abroad. Travel can be boring, stressful and frustrating; it’s not simply a longer holiday, especially if you do it as we are on a shoestring. Looking back to my packing days, I knew I would miss things, and I have. But I’ve also learned strategies for coping with being a stranger, endlessly passing through alien countries.
Travel with purpose. It’s been important to remind myself why I am on this journey, whether it is the sheer joy of experiencing something new, curiosity about another culture or the opportunity to visit a person, animal or landscape different to what I usually see every day. In my case, I am also working and so for me this journey has huge sense of purpose, which I find helpful.
Learn patience. There’s no point in getting a stomach ulcer every time a bus doesn’t run on time or the world’s most stupid person stands between you and whatever you want.
Be kind to yourself. Take a break somewhere relaxing, eat out at a nice restaurant, stay in a better place – anything to get away from the stress of continually working out bus timetables, finding a bed, working out a schedule, etc.
Slow down. We meet backpackers all the time who are racing around the world at a destination a night. That’s not just exhausting, it’s also pointless. You can’t savour a place if you whizz by in a blur.
Be flexible. Plans should be changeable. If you already knew what the world was like enough to plan rigidly, then there’s no point in travelling.
Listen to those with experience. If the locals tell you somewhere is dangerous or interesting, listen to them. If another traveller has been where you’re going, hear them out.
But don’t be paranoid.
Remember, a sense of humour rescues almost any situation.
And: most of the world is made up of lovely, helpful, kind people who are glad you came to visit.
Oh and three more vital pieces of equipment, a pocket knife, a bottle opener and a corkscrew. A tool that combines all three is obviously ok too.