Ku Ku KaChew

Welcome to the world of Ku! This was originally a food blog, but I am turning it into a general collection of my life experiences :)
If you're looking for my raw food blog, you can find it here: http://atlantarawks.blogspot.com

Friday, January 9, 2015

Backpacking Tips

Wanna know how I survived traveling around Southeast Asia for 4 months with only 2 backpacks? Are you thinking of embarking on your own backpacking journey, but have no clue what to get or how to pack? Are you an organization junkie who thrives on efficiency and being prepared? Are you an awesome friend who loves to read about my wanderlust? If you answered yes to any of these, then this blog post is for you!! :-D Prompted by some good friends of mine, I decided to write a post to encourage anyone who is wanting to backpack but unsure of how to start. I really hope you find some helpful tips here and that you are inspired to get out there and have an adventure!


Let me start by saying that I avoid checking bags whenever possible. Lost luggage is no fun to deal with. I know from experience and I’d rather spare you the hassle! I also have always followed a very simple rule for traveling: If you can’t carry it, you can’t bring it. Don’t pack more than you alone can manage! Sometimes you will find yourself in situations that don’t have luggage carts, people to help, or enough room on particular modes of transportation. Don’t let your luggage bog you down. You will have wonderful experiences whether you wear the same shirt three days in a row or not. My advice is to get over the need to wear something new every day and get used to handwashing clothes. Backpacking is not about being stylish, and clean is a relative term. If you can’t wrap your head around that, then backpacking may not be for you! Even if this kind of traveling is not your cup of tea, I invite you to continue reading anyway, because most of these tips are good for any kind of travel. Flexibility is the most valuable thing you can bring with you when traveling, so don’t worry so much and just have fun! 

Solidly framed backpack : $20.00-200.00 

I really lucked out with my backpack. I went to REI during one of their Scratch and Dent Sales and found a great used backpack that only cost me $20. $20!!! Framed backpacks cost anywhere from $40-500 and it’s important to get one that fits comfortably and properly. Again, I really lucked out because mine fits me pretty well and hasn’t caused me any problems. If there is an REI near you I HIGHLY recommend checking out their Scratch and Dent Sales. I also got a pair of Keens at that sale for really cheap. Be prepared to find a ton of great stuff!

Drawstring camping bags : Pack of 3 for $5.00 

These bags can be found in the camping section of Walmart and are super awesome when it comes to packing, regardless of whether you are backpacking or not. They’re like drawstring sleeping bag bags and you can stuff so much more in them than if you didn't have them. They come in a pack of 3, and each bag is a different color and a different size. This makes organizing really easy and you can access things incredibly conveniently. For example, I put my socks and underwear in the small red bag, shorts in the medium blue bag, and shirts in the large green bag. That way I knew exactly which bag I needed to pull out because I had a system. No more rifling through and unpacking your entire backpack to get the shirt you’re looking for only to discover it was actually in a different place altogether. Hooray for organization! Also, any other small bags (like the ones that are given to first class passengers on airplanes) are super convenient for chargers, glasses, tissues, pill boxes, etc. So next time you’re on a flight and pass the first class rows on your way off the plane, swipe a bag or two! They are factored into the ticket costs, so if they aren’t taken from the passengers who were sitting there then it’s their loss and your gain! But it still never hurts to be discreet about it ;) 

Clothesline (shoelaces and rope are fine substitutes) : <$5.00 
Any kind of rope or string is going to be handy to have on any trip. At some point you will come across a situation in which rope or string will be useful. From hanging wet clothes to affixing extra things to your backpack. It takes up no space and can literally save you. 

Carabiners : ~$1.00 each 

Clip these to all your bags. Just like string or rope, these babies are wildly handy to have. I always bring a backpack with me wherever I go, whether I’m strolling around the neighborhood for 30 minutes or have a full day-trip ahead of me. I often stop in a store or get some groceries or souvenirs and I don’t always have extra room in my backpack. I just clip the grocery bag to my backpack with a carabiner and bam, I am hands-free again! 

Mosquito repellent and sunscreen wipes : $3.00-20.00 

Like I said before, I rarely check bags. This means my liquids are limited. Instead of wasting my liquids on things like mosquito repellent or sunscreen, buy the wipes instead. They can be shoved into those extra pockets around your backpack so they’re also great for limited space. Not to mention you minimize your risk of leakage problems! 

Tiger balm : $6.00+ 
Tiger balm is a natural remedy to help soothe mosquito bites, congested sinuses, sore muscles, you name it. Plus it’s not a liquid so it doesn’t count against your liquid limit! Here are some more uses: http://tiger.the-balm.com/uses.htm 

Microfiber towel : $12.00-24.00 

A microfiber towel is light, thin, and dries super fast. Much better than a regular towel. I got mine on Amazon, and REI has them too. 

Washcloths : $1.00-6.00 

Get washcloths that are not actually cloth, but plastic. These dry incredibly fast and never retain odor or mold. I use these at home in addition to travel. Also, Korean spa scrubbers are similar to these but only cost $1 each. Look for them in Korean markets (Super H Mart) and other Korean stores. 

Travel utensils   : $12.00 
These are fantastic travel utensils. I always travel with these, as well as a pair of compact metal travel chopsticks that was gifted to me by a dear friend. To-Go Ware includes a bamboo fork, spoon, knife, and chopsticks in a convenient carrying case equipped with its own carabiner. Great great product. I’ve never had any problems with these in airport security, although my metal chopsticks did set off a red flag once, but it was no problem and they didn’t confiscate them. 

Universal adapter and extension cord : $5.00-15.00 

The only advice I have on these is that some are better than others hah. Unfortunately it’s really really hard to be able to tell without trying them whether it’s of good quality or not. I just bought one for $10 and when I plug it in, it falls right out of the outlet because it is heavy. Some have a tighter fit so that it holds better. I just prop it with bags underneath it and it’s been fine. Another option is to keep a small roll of tape in your bag for situations like this. Packing an extension cord allows you to plug in multiple devices from one outlet. Pack smarter, not harder :) 

Flip flops : $2.00+ 

If you are staying in hostels, you will want flip flops to protect your feet against fungus. Get the cheapest pair you can find and use them only for showers. Wear more comfortable ones for walking around. 

Plastic bags 

We all have a surplus of plastic grocery bags. Stick a handful of them in each piece of luggage you have. Use them to hold your dirty clothes, for storing your shower flip flops and other shoes, for trash bags, etc. 

Ziploc bags 

I use these for waterproofing my phone, preventing liquid bottles from leaking, collecting shells and rocks, and saving food leftovers. 

Bandanas are cheap, useful, and come in a lovely variety of colors and styles. I first realized bandanas were amazing when I was 7 years old. My twin brother and I were at summer camp and went to Stone Mountain for a hike. Our counselor had a bandana tied around her backpack, and we asked her why she had it. She replied, "Well, you never know when you might need it." Unimpressed, we both shrugged the answer off and went about our hike. During the hike, Jason (my twin brother), slipped and fell onto a very sharp stick. The counselor promptly took the bandana off her backpack and tied it around Jason's leg to minimize the bleeding, racing him down the mountain on her back. Jason ended up with several stitches in his leg and a very memorable story. Ever since, I have always had a bandana around all my backpacks. They've come in handy for wiping up spills, cleaning sunglasses, use as an emergency napkin, handkerchief, even as a makeshift scarf in cold weather, and luckily not for any injuries (yet). You could even use them for patching holes in clothing/bags. Which segways me into this next item...

Sewing kit 

Next time you stay in a hotel, ask for a sewing kit and keep it in your backpack. These are extremely handy for patching things on the go. I used mine several times to patch holes in pockets and broken seams and everything was good as new. 

Eye shade and ear plugs 

These are included in the first class bags that I talked about earlier. These can be particularly useful if you are staying in hostels where people are coming in and out of the room on their own schedule. Don’t let them interrupt your beauty sleep! 

Tissue paper / moist towelettes / wipes 

Always useful! Especially if you are in Asian countries that only have squat toilets. 


It’s always good to have food on you. There will be times when you are in transit and won’t have the time or ability to get food. Don’t let hanger ruin your adventures! Energy/granola bars, mini bags of nuts and pretzels (save them from your flights!), bananas, apples, oranges, and peanut butter packets are some personal favorites. Keep them in your backpack!


Other tips: 

• Wear polyester/nylon/rayon clothing 

These materials are very quick drying, making them ideal for handwashing situations. They also help keep you cool during summer traveling. Cotton, while soft and comfortable, takes a long time to dry. Also, cotton is terrible (and dangerous) for cold weather camping and will actually make you colder if temperatures drop below freezing because it retains moisture. Jeans take forever to dry, and if you are in a humid climate, don’t expect them to ever get fully dry. 

• Wear long sleeves and hats 

The sun is damaging to your skin. Instead of worrying about applying and reapplying sunscreen all day long, wear long sleeves and hats for summer travels. If your clothing is polyester you won’t be miserably uncomfortable, I promise. If you travel anywhere that is hot, notice how locals dress. You will find that they cover their skin. Do what locals do! 

• NO money belt 

I highly recommend NOT purchasing a money belt. You don’t wear a money belt on the regular so you will be fumbling with it constantly, which makes you very vulnerable to pick pocketing and a prime target. Stick with what’s familiar. 

• Zippered pockets 

Buy clothing that has pockets with zippers. This makes your belongings infinitely more secure. I’ve had a camera slip right out of my pocket during a bus ride. 

• Diversify your money 

Don’t keep all your credit cards, debit cards, and cash in your wallet because you will be royally screwed if it gets lost or stolen. Keep some on you, some in a backpack, and some in a locker at the hostel. That way you always have backup money. 

• Paper copies 

Print copies of your passport, visa, and driver’s license. Again, if things get lost or stolen, you at least have something. It’s also helpful to have electronic copies of these on your phone, tablet, or laptop. 

• Fold your dirty clothes 

I know this sounds weird, but just like folding or rolling clean clothes is more efficient for space saving, doing it with your dirty clothes makes just as much sense. 

• Buy groceries 

If you are staying at hostels and wanting to keep a low budget, buy groceries for some of your meals instead of always eating out. Most hostels have communal kitchens with pots, pans, condiments, etc. Pick up a head of broccoli and a can of tuna and you’ve got an easy, healthy meal for only a couple bucks. 


I also have a small bag that I carry with me everywhere. Fortune favors the prepared, so I like to be prepared. It contains the following items: 

• Glasses and an extra pair of contacts 

• Eyedrops 
• Antacid tablets 
• Ibuprofen 
• Bandaids 
• Moist towelette wipes / rubbing alcohol pads 
• Sewing kit 
• Eye shade and ear plugs 
• Tissues 
• Pens 
• Nail file 
• Safety pins 
• Floss 
• Mouthwash 
• Mints / gum 
• Comb 
• Headphones 
• USB drive 
• Battery operated USB charger 
• Batteries 


I’m sure I have forgotten several tips, but hopefully this was helpful!! I will add to it when I think of things. Hope this has inspired you and shown you that you too can embark on a wonderful backpacking excursion! 

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