Into the wild: five tips for new backpackers

Ditch the vanilla trips in favour of a more earthy experience with unexpected forks in the road

Mongolian tents, also known as ‘ger’ or ‘yurt’. PHOTOS : MOIN KHAN

Embarking on a backpacking adventure can be a life-changing experience — whether you decide to go on a camping trip for a few days, explore your country for a week or venture into different corners of the world for months at a stretch. I can guarantee that once you start, you won’t stop. That first taste of backpacking will most likely turn you into an adventure addict. But unfortunately, a very small percentage of people are willing to do away with their wheeled luggage.

A rocky road trip across Hunza valley. PHOTOS : MOIN KHAN

I place travelling in two major categories. First, there are the vanilla trips. These are planned trips to places that cost an arm and a leg. They are vacations for which hotel rooms need to be booked months in advance, research is needed to create a touristy itinerary and exhaustive lists are prepared, ranging from must-eat restaurants to how much one would expect to spend on taxi fares. The second category of travelling is a ‘rocky road’ trip. They are full of spontaneity, obstacles and wonderful surprises. Sure, those who decide to travel this way have an idea of when and where they want to go, but they don’t have limitations. Maps are used only to guide the traveller in a certain direction, but the destination is usually left to fate. Experiences are dependent on chance happenings because travellers understand that the word “must” narrows the avenue for potential adventures.

Breathtaking view of a lake in Hunza valley.  PHOTOS : MOIN KHAN

Most people travel the vanilla way because it’s a safe bet. There is nothing wrong with wanting to go where others have been before or to take pictures of things that have already been photographed. Some simply prefer a path already beaten. But if you’re like me, you want to be the one to trample down paths yourself; you feel that the journey is just as important as the destination and you don’t want to limit yourself to one point on the map when you can roam and play connect-the-dots at the end of the day. Sometimes, the desire to depart from these planned trips is hindered by lack of knowledge on where to begin. Here are a few pointers that will hopefully give you a starting point.

1) Get yourself a reliable backpack

A bag on your back gives you the freedom to carry your belongings with you through both cities and jungles. You might end up in countries where there are no paved streets. You might be trying to catch a train that is already moving. You might be forced to trek a long distance to get to a certain location. Mind you, this isn’t the type of backpack that you would use to carry your books to class. It needs to be big enough to carry everything you’ll be taking on the trip. The pack should fit your frame nicely — not too small, but definitely not too big. You and the pack will spend many long years together and share countless adventures with each other. The bags I am generally fond of are the ones with full-length zips, weather protection specs and feature a compartment that fits my laptop.

View of a school in Kashmir. PHOTOS : MOIN KHAN

2) Pack light

This is where you practice how to become a minimalist: you don’t want your bag bursting at the seams and you don’t want to break your back by packing unnecessary, heavy items. Make a list of what you need and then go through each item to make sure that they are in fact “needed” and not just “wanted”. The items you need will vary, depending on where it is that you want to go (location, climate, terrain, etcetera).

3) Learn to relax

You are supposed to relax when you’re on vacation, not scurry around trying to hit all the cool tourist spots. The more uptight you are, the more you deny yourself the pleasure of living in the moment. I’m not saying you have to let go of your structured life, but giving yourself a vacation from a schedule will allow you to fully enjoy the backpacking experience.

The author outside his tent. PHOTOS : MOIN KHAN

4) Don’t Panic!

There will always come a day when nothing goes right. Every traveller has experienced it. Your wallet may get stolen or you may lose your passport or you may be unable to find a single bed in town to rent for the night. Maybe it’s pouring on a hiking trail and you’re stuck scrambling to set up camp. But to every problem is a possible solution. Staying calm and collected will give you clarity of mind and allow you to think of a way to get out of the funk you’re in. This is one piece of advice that I received from a fellow motorcyclist at the start of my San Francisco to Pakistan motorcycle trip. It was the best advice I had ever received; it’s a mantra I repeat to myself whenever I’m travelling.

The author outside his tent. PHOTOS : MOIN KHAN

Tents pitched by spectators at Shandur, the highest polo ground in the world. PHOTOS : MOIN KHAN

5) Be open-minded

This is probably the most important pointer. Be receptive to learning about the places you visit — the culture, the food and the people. Backpacking is a time when you can shed the ethnocentric attitude and appreciate the diversity this world has to offer. Be open-minded about trying new things. Try to be a “yes person” and step out of your comfort zone. Backpacking is all about letting go of limitations (safely, of course) and giving yourself many options.

Moin Khan is a traveller who has motorcycled from San Francisco to Lahore.

He tweets @DifferentAgenda. You can also follow his visual diary on Instagram @adifferentagenda

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, June 14th, 2015.


Stranger | 6 years ago | Reply BTDT - used to do that a decade back. Now growing old and cant move much.
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