My name’s Craig Martin, and I’ve been travelling around the world since February 2006. Trust me when I tell you I’ve seen a lot of hostels. And trust me when I tell you I’ve carried a lot of useless crap around with me.
I’m currently on a mission to get down to one airline carry-on sized bag containing everything I own. Once I find the best backpack in the world I’m going to be able to do that easily, but the real question is how can you travel light, yet still have all the things you need to enjoy the world of hostelling?
These are boring, so let’s get the out of the way:
2 t-shirts and one 1 shirt
A pair of shorts and a pair of hiking trousers — these are lighter than jeans and dry quicker. Consider an extra pair of one or the other, depending on local weather conditions, or add a dress or skirt.
Some socks and undies, plus bras if you’re that way inclined.
A warm and a waterproof layer. Lighter is better. Thermal underwear if it’s winter.
A pair of shoes and a pair of sandals or flip-flops. No more!
A hat, sunglasses and some swimming gear.
All the toiletries and medical gear you need. Remember you can probably buy everything you need at your destination … but if you get the runs, you’ll want that kind of medication close at hand.
Now, go sell the rest of your wardrobe on eBay to fund your travels, and let’s get into the interesting stuff.
The more of these you can leave behind, the better, but you’ll probably want:
A decent point-and-click camera, or a DSLR if you’re serious. Consider upgrading to a waterproof camera, so you don’t need to panic when caught in a downpour.
Something to communicate with. If you’re not working while you travel, a good smartphone or an iPad is going to do the trick. Remember that most hostels supply free wifi (unlike most hotels!) and may have a computer or two sitting in the lobby.
If you’re not an online junkie or you need a break, you’ll find plenty of Internet cafes that you can use once a week or so.
I tend to listen to audiobooks or podcasts when I’m on long journeys and when I’m going to sleep. I have a good set of Ultimate Ears headphones, Sleepphones and an iPod touch to keep me going on that front. I also carry a laptop, but unless you’re working leave it behind.
A tiny, HD video camera can be great — maybe a Flip Mino HD, which is what I use. It fits in a pocket and shoots great-for-youtube 720p HD.
Of course, you can probably roll all of this into one device, with the iPhone 4. It has a good camera sensor taking 5mp photos, shoots video at 720p HD and has all the wireless and data communication sewn up too.
Check you can plug your gear into the local plugs or get an adapter.
Other fun stuff
Many hostels around the world have a plentiful supply of cups and dishes in their kitchens, but it’s always handy to carry a set of Orikaso cups and plates just in case. These flat plastic sheets fold up to make your dining experience that much more pleasant. They weigh next-to-nothing and folding them up is a cool party trick.
Match that with a spork from Light My Fire. I’ve broken a dozen or so sporks and these ones have the best durability, weight-to-strength ratio and mouthfeel that I’ve ever encountered. What on earth is a spork? A mutant spoon/fork, of course.
A pocket-knife or bottle opener is a must in my pack. Unfortunately they keep getting taken off me at airports because of useless anti-terrorism laws. (If you disagree, explain why I can carry scissors with a 3″ blade, but not a corkscrew.)
Also pack some cards or a small magnetic board game, a book to read (and swap at the book exchange).
You should fit all of this into a 30 litre pack without problems, but top it off with a padlock for each set of zips on your bag. Use a combo lock (so you don’t have to worry about losing the key) and make sure it’s one authorised by the US air regulations if you’re going to be flying in their territory. You can use this to secure your pack or to lock any lockers you encounter along the road.
Remember if you carry less stuff from hostel to hostel, it’s easier to run after that departing bus. Your shoulders will love you for it and you’ll probably save money when booking flights.