We’re celebrating Autostraddle’s Fifth Birthday all month long by publishing a bunch of Top Fives. This is one of them!
Shalom from the road! Back in December I told you guys I was going off into the world to explore and meet new humans and see different places and try to get the fuck offline for a while, and then I packed up a bag and hopped on a plane and did just that. Well, mostly. I’ve sort of bent the rules on the whole “get the fuck offline” part of the deal (see: random bouts of tweeting, gchatting with Stef at weird hours of the night for both of us, this post that I am writing right this very second) but spending 20 minutes a day online versus 20 hours seems reasonable and has not impeded my sense of adventure, so I’m just gonna consider myself a rebellious wild child rather than a failure on this point.
I’ve spent the past three months traveling around Israel, and soon I will be flying to Indiana where I will embark on a crazy roadtrip situation that will involve a lot of farms, a lot of hikes, and hopefully a lot of really beautiful art and poetry and sunsets. I have big hopes and dreams for where my travels might take me after A-Camp, but the only real concrete thing I know is that I plan to keep doing this for a while. “This” being, putting a giant backpack on my back and running headfirst out into the world, hoping that whatever happens next will be awesome, ’cause it usually is. That said, long-term solo travel is definitely a skill, and my beginner status is painfully obvious at times, particularly when it comes to packing.
I am a notoriously awful packer, and packing for this extended jaunt was no exception. Now, ninety days into this new way of life, I feel like I am at a place where I can definitively look into my soul and say “I should not have packed all this crap.” But perhaps more importantly, I’m also at a place where I can look at my overstuffed bag of (mostly) useless shit and say, “Wow, I really should have packed [insert random useful object here].” So that’s what we’re gonna reflect on now: the top five things I wish I’d put in my backpack (instead of three identical pairs of black leggings, four similar-looking floral print dresses, six v-necks I have yet to wear…sigh).
1. A (Much) Smaller Backpack
Ugh, you guys. The well-known traveling secret of the world seems to be that if you have space in your pack, you will find a way to fill it. It’s truly incredible in an awful way. If your bag is 40 liters, you will fill it. If your bag is 60 liters, you will fill it. If, like me, your bag is 85 liters, you will fill it and then want to die every time you have to actually carry it, every time you are seen in public with it, and every time you struggle to get on a bus/tie your shoe/look inconspicuous while wearing a backpack that is actually as large as you. What is the solution to this embarrassing and inconvenient problem? Don’t bring an 85-liter backpack on your travels! Whenever anyone makes a comment about the absurd size of my bag (which happens pretty much whenever anyone sees my bag) I always defensively say, “Well, I’m really short. On a taller person it wouldn’t look so big.” This is a lie. Truthfully, I am ditching this thing, along with 75% of what’s in it, as soon as I can. I studiously check out other backpackers whenever I see them, and most humans my height seem to have a 40-liter pack. I should have brought one of those. Rookie mistake.
2. A Lighter
I don’t smoke so I figured I didn’t need to pack a lighter. I was wrong! I’m generally pretty terrified of fire, and getting my eyelashes and eyebrows half-burnt off in an unfortunate pizza-oven-related accident in January did not exactly help me get over that fear, but lighters are seriously very useful for lots of things aside from lighting your own cigarettes and/or joints. Plus they will make you very popular with potential new friends who do want to light their own cigarettes and/or joints. Also don’t worry, my eyelashes and eyebrows have mostly grown back.
3. Mini Speakers
Whether you want to listen to sad women playing guitars while you write in your journal on the beach, impress your new friends with the Official Autostraddle Cover of “Waterfalls,” or lull yourself to sleep with an acoustic version of Taylor Swift’s most underrated song, “Holy Ground,” mini speakers are your best friends. They’re cheap, portable, and another excellent way to ensure you’re the most popular girl on the goat farm. I’m going to buy a pair of bright pink mini speakers as soon as I can and impress all my future travel friends.
4. My You Do You Flask
I feel like this is self-explanatory. I have no idea why I didn’t bring this. It’s tiny, it’s cute, it’s so gay, and it’s way more useful than the 20 packs of Woolite and the bright pink duct tape I did bring, although one would think both of the former items would be useful too (thus far I haven’t touched either, but I remain more hopeful about those than I do about the two dry-clean only J. Crew cardigans I shoved into my bag at the last minute, ugh, why Past Self, why?!?!) Anyway I feel like any item that allows you to have booze on your person at all times and acts as a subtle flagging device to cute queer girls in the know is A Perfect Item. If you don’t own one you should buy one, and I personally will never leave the country without mine ever again.
5. A Diva Cup And An Understanding Of How To Use It
Okay. Okay. The thing is, even as I type this, I’m cringing. I don’t want to use a Diva cup. I’ve never wanted to use a Diva cup. I’ve had my period since I was 10 and in the past 15 years never once have I sighed wistfully and thought, gosh, if only I could take a rubber cup type thingy and shove it inside me to catch my menstrual blood once a month. It’s just not the stuff my dreams are made of (sorry Ali!). And yet. And yet. Dealing with tampons while traveling is a pain in the ass. I’m not that picky but I guess I’m a little bit picky because it turns out I don’t like all tampons. Plus they take up space in my bag that could be filled by a lighter, mini speakers, my Autostraddle flask, and okay if I’m being honest I’m not getting rid of my four similar-looking floral print dresses, so. And they’re expensive! I always resented paying for tampons once a month but now that I’m working with a very frugal budget it’s even more of an indignation. I know if you’re a Diva cup user I’m preaching to the choir and if you’re not you are likely doing what I always did when Diva cup enthusiasts tried to tell me how superior cups are to tampons, which was roll my eyes and ignore them, but this is where I’m at right now. The thing is I can’t just say “fuck tampons” and throw a Diva cup in my bag because I have no clue how to use one and I am frightened of it and honestly the last thing I need is to use it and have it leak while I’m on a public bus in a country where I don’t speak the language, or have it overflow on the bathroom floor in a grimy hostel when I try to remove it, or have it get stuck inside me while volunteering with a bunch of dudes on a farm oh god the horror, but… I guess I kind of wish I knew how to use a Diva cup, because I think it is probably the best way to handle my period every month while I’m traveling. So, I am willing to admit that if I could magically procure both a Diva cup and an understanding of how to use the damn thing, then I would trade in my trusty tampons for now. Reluctantly.
Okay, what do you guys think? Tell me your necessities when traveling light. Tell me how silly I am for packing dry-clean only items. Tell me where you think I should go next! Tell me your hopes and dreams and what you ate for breakfast yesterday and how you’re feeling and your new favorite song and really anything else that comes to mind ’cause I miss you weirdos, I really do.
Oh man. I am so sorry about you and your backpack. Mine is a 40L and was the best buy I’ve made, travel wise. So super comfy as well. :)
I’m heading to Barcelona for Easter and I actually need to pick up a fanny pack. Which sounds so super loserish (even though lots of 20-somethings wear them here around Madrid) but I’m quickly realizing that it will probably make life so much easier, accessibility/handsfree wise.
I am just randomly jumping in to say that I am also going to Barcelona for Easter! (Or, not FOR Easter, but I’m going to Barcelona and it happens to be over Easter.) Have fun!
Oh that’s great! If we have overlapping days, would it be weird for me to say we should meet up and have coffee/wine?
Sent you a PM!
You are so right about finding a way to fill whatever size bag you bring…I’m travelling now for a few weeks with only a 20L bag and it is the best travel decision I’ve ever made. You can do it! Just need to walk out the door with a smaller bag, sure you’re missing ton of important things, and force yourself to deal with it as you go – you’ll be so much happier wandering new places when you can walk freely!
This was such a nice surprise to wake up to.
Random thing that I always travel with: a spoon. Seriously. Because impromptu picnics happen and you need to be prepared. And if you’re smarter than me and remember not to try to get it through airport security, a pocket knife with a corkscrew is invaluable.
An alternative to a fanny pack is a holster bag. Type in “holster bag” on google and you won’t be disappointed! Convenient, still keeps you hand-free, bad ass, and makes you feel like Lara Croft, or someone from a zombie apocalypse movie :)
The picture accompanying #1 is the cutest thing I’ve ever seen.
Vanessa! You are the cutest backpacker of all time!
I would probably bring bags and bags of tea if I were going on a backpacking adventure, and forget most other necessary things.
I’m so glad your adventure is going well! Are you still Wwoofing once you get to Indiana? Or was the Wwoofing just in Israel? Super curious about your travels.
Maybe someday I’ll have the guts to travel like you!
Oh man. I just started using the Diva Cup last year, and I wish I’d done it sooner. It is SO convenient, especially for traveling! I totally get all of your concerns though. I had them too. But then I gave it a shot, and now I’m never going back.
I always travel with a pillowcase, for those sketchy sleeping situations that inevitably arise. It also can be used as a laundry sack, etc.
Ok this is kinda off-topic but I was so disappointed when I clicked the link to ‘sad women playing guitars’ and discovered that it was not, in fact, an article entitled “Sad Women Playing Guitars.”
Because I am ALL about that life.
Your loss of that super cute hat is a loss for all of us who would like to see your cute face in a cute hat at all times.
Fanny packs ARE super nice to have, agreed. Also, You’re going to Indiana? Traveling in the Midwest? Iowa is really beautiful in the summer. If you’re looking for a town Iowa City is actually pretty cool. I recommend the Raptor Center.
For something totally different in the Midwest I suggest the Badlands in S. Dakota. I saw a bunch of buffalo, a porcupine, a furry spider, various lizards, prairie dogs, and loads of birds all in one day. Incredible hikes and (free?) camping.
South Dakota actually has the best roadside attractions of all the Midwest states I’ve driven through. Bear Country USA (just a little west of Rapid City, I think?) makes me sad in the way that zoos make me sad, but it was also a pretty stellar (/terrifying) experience to see 30 bears lounging next to the road as we drove through.
And the Badlands are effing beautiful. Slash terrifying if you drive through at night. Silently. For twenty minutes. With coyotes howling. Until your road trip partner whispers, “are you as totally terrified right now as I am?” And you continue on in silence until you leave the national park.
Other SoDak tips: Skip Mount Rushmore. White dudes on mountains are not particularly exciting and $20 to park is dumb. Crazy Horse Memorial: much more worth it if you’re in the market for people carved into rock.
Definitely definitely drive the Needles Highway and drive through Custer State Park (/stay and camp if you have time). The overwhelming amount of beetlekill pine trees are the saddest, but the tunnels and the views are amazing.
And don’t forget Wall Drug!
ohmygod!! I love Wall Drug!! And South Dakota, which is beautiful and strange. It’s better to walk through the Badlands during the day–it is incredible.
I could definitely fit comfortably in an 85 liter pack. Can’t even imagine how heavy that is! I traveled for three months this winter with a 30L, carry-on size pack and I still had stuff in it I never used.
Where I used to work they used to put me in 85 litre packs/bags…to see if I’d fit. Oh how we laughed… :|
Made the mistake of taking a big ex military duffel bag to Paris, our last day was marred by basically being stuck in the train station because we couldn’t carry the damn thing full of winter clothes. I over pack every time. I always have a little sketchbook and an ikea pencil in my pocket. So handy.
The only problem with the Diva cup + travel, in my personal experience, is taking off and landing on a plane. The taking off part wasn’t too bad, except for the fact that it kept making noises and eventually ended up spilling all over the place (that made a 19 hour flight pretty awesome, let me tell you). But then there was the landing. And, holy shit, I thought that I was going to die. It was as if my insides were going to be suctioned clean out of my body. Not a fun time. Everything else about the Diva cup makes it amazing. Just not flying.
wow that is dodgy. Altitude and suction in your jack’s cracker could have left you swallowed into the black hole of your Diva cup riding the Milky Way helplessly making fish mouths in silent protest at random passersby. Just don’t ever go diving or volunteer for hyperbaric therapy.
I’ve really been considering taking up thru-hiking trails across the U.S. and have been shopping around for the perfect backpack. I’ll heed your warning: Bigger is not always better.
Hm if you dont like lighters ypu can try the fire starter from a camping store. Its kind of like a flint you gotta strike it, best thing is even if it gets wet it’ll still work. Backpacks…i prefer something that has a sort of mesh thing so my back doesnt get a smiley sweat face. Lol. A water bottle doesnt go amiss either i use my polar one, has a built in ice pack so i fridge it overnight and it keeps water cold for a longer period of time. I also dont leave without my flashlight and swiss army knife. And comfy shoes!!!
Vanessa!!! I’m so happy to see something written by you! This article made me smile so much! I’m glad your travels are going (mostly) well and I can’t wait to see you at A-Camp!
I am in Indiana! Let me know if you need any help! What part will you be visiting (the whole place is covered in corn and soybeans:/
“Still Don’t Know”, Icona Pop. Constantly tempted to post the lyrics on Facebook but apparently that hasn’t been socially acceptable for a few years now.
thankyou for pointing out the underrated joy that is holy ground! that song is pretty much everything you could ever need all at once in such a happy way.
I also found that a pocket knife (Leatherman or otherwise) was one of the things that came in handy the most.
Also, I read this entire article in your voice and my body cannot wait to see your face at camp.
i love to read what you write! happy travels! i’m reading a book called ‘off the map’ and i think you need the book, like you need it and maybe i can just bring it to you at a-camp.
Binder clips and ziploc freezer bags. It is amazing how many uses they have when push comes to shove.
vanessaaaaa. what a nice surprise to see you n here! I’m currently planning a few road trips for me and my daughter, lots of “ill need one of these and one of those” then came to the conclusion id be better not bothering… she’s 4, she only needs me and to be fed and watered on the regular. So ive invested in a gopro camera instead to document our trips and make memory videos for when she’s older.
hope the trip is going well! loves xxx