Packing on a Budget
If you are planning a long backpacking trip in Europe, South America, or elsewhere, you have probably started to think about what to pack. Usually, backpacking trips involve a lot of travel by bus, train, or even hitchhiking, and getting from one place to another can often mean getting as close as possible and then walking the rest of the way. The reason for this is that backpackers are traveling on a budget and usually don't want to rent a car or hire a taxi to take them everywhere they need to go. Traveling on a budget means packing light, and when preparing for a backpacking trip this can be one of the most challenging tasks.
Half the Clothes, Twice the Money
A handy rule of thumb for all types of travel is to bring half as many clothes as you think you need and twice as much money as you think you need. Unless you have a natural talent for packing light and being thrifty, it is probably a good idea to follow this advice. For almost all backpackers, from beginners to seasoned veterans, money is the first thing that runs out and excess clothing ends up being a burden. You can wash clothes on the road, whether in laundry facilities, bathroom sinks, or a local (clean) creek, but it's much more difficult to come by extra money in a pinch.
Once you've cut the clothes you plan to pack in half, you will probably notice that you have a little bit of extra room in your backpack. Although it might be tempting to fill your pack to the gills before you leave for your trip, consider leaving a little bit of empty space. There are two reasons that this is a good idea. First, as you travel, you are likely to pick up a few new things. Even if you are not the sort of person who collects souvenirs, you may be given gifts by fellow travelers, you may acquire new books to read on the road, and you may realize that you've forgotten to pack something crucial and choose to acquire it as you go. If you find that you already have enough space in your backpack for these new acquisitions, you will thank yourself.
Packing in a Hurry
The second reason to leave a little extra room in your pack is that, on the road, you often don't have time or energy to keep unpacking and repacking in the most efficient possible way. If you're like most people, you've probably tried several different packing configurations already, just out of excitement for your trip. Although it's good to work packing strategies out in advance, there will surely be some days when you just want to throw everything in the pack haphazardly and hit the road. Having a little bit of extra space in your backpack will give you the flexibility to repack in a hurry if you need to.
Odds and Ends
Every seasoned traveler has a certain number of things they think are indispensable for backpacking trips. The only way to discover what your unique must-have items are is to travel yourself and find out what you keep needing or wanting over and over again. If you are new to backpacking, you will probably hear some packing suggestions that don't make any sense at all to you. It's okay if you don't see why 30 rubber bands could come in handy on the road, but don't shun all these suggestions automatically. Consider packing some things you wouldn't have thought of on your own, and you may be surprised at what you end up using. If you don't find a use for them, you can always get rid of them later.
In addition to lots of rubber bands (useful for everything!), here are some suggestions for useful, multi-purpose items that you can pack without wasting too much space: plastic bags of various sizes, a padlock (this is a must if you plan to stay in hostels), a deck of playing cards, a sewing kit, a knife, a travel towel, a small flashlight, and a small pad of notepaper. Other backpacking and travel websites can be consulted for more comprehensive lists of suggestions, but with these items in your pack, there is not much you won't be able to handle!