Everyone probably knows the stereotype of the dirty, smelly backpacker, who’s been wearing the same shirt for 3 days and looks a bit crusty around the edges – here’s how to avoid being them.
The truth of it is that backpacking can be nasty business, especially in the summer. Smelly shoes and toxic waste socks, sweaty shirts, dirty pants, backpack scraped shoulders and stale hair are often a part of it, if you’re doing it right and are too tired to do much else than fall into bed at the end of the day, so here’s a few of my hacks to alleviate the nasty aspects of backpacking:
Always start any longer journeys with a fresh, relatively new toothbrush. Trust me on this, it may seem trivial, but after a while your toothbrush will get quite disgusting if it hasn’t had the chance to air dry while you were accommodation hopping. You’ll be glad it was in a good state at the start, as it will be less horrible later.
#2: Dirty laundry storage
Keep your dirty laundry in a cloth bag, the sweaty toxic mess will stink less there than in a plastic bag + it’s reusable and more sustainable too.
#3: Baking soda
Always bring baking soda. For everything! If your shoes smell horrible and you don’t want to unleash chemical warfare on your hostel roomies, put a bit of baking soda in them over night. Also works great as a face scrub or a mouthwash/toothpaste in a pinch, a treatment for heartburn (drink a teaspoon dissolved in water), emergency relief for insect bites or sunburns (just add water, make a paste and apply) and can be used to clean practically anything, including food containers (why pack food containers at all? here). A little goes a long way, so I usually bring only a small package.
#4: Laundry soap
If you bring only one thing from this list, then bring laundry soap. If you’re travelling light, you’ll have to do your laundry quite often and you won’t always have access to a washing machine (or the time and the will to use it). It’s quite quick and easy to do your laundry in the sink if you bring along some detergent, which is probably one of the oldest backpacking hacks around – I learned it from my mother. Personally I prefer to bring laundry soap bars instead of liquid detergents, as they can’t spill inside your luggage, take less space and will last longer. You can store them in metal tins or waterproof cloth bags like the one in the photo below – I bought mine here.
Make sure that you’re only washing items which will dry by the following morning if you’re moving around a lot, such as socks, shirts and underwear. I don’t recommend washing pants, sweaters or towels this way, because it’s harder to properly clean them and they take a very long time to dry, so chuck that into the washing machine along with everything else when you have the option. If you’ve ever been a backpacker, you’ll know that pants or even a shirt can always last one more day in a pinch, but there’s no way I’m wearing the same underwear twice. 🙂 If you force yourself to wash your socks and underwear every evening, you’ll never run out and it won’t take you more than 10 minutes.
Washing sensitive clothes is also better done in the washing machine, as you have to hand squeeze the water out of the clothes to avoid dripping everywhere and that can damage the fabrics if you’re not careful. You could try wrapping them in a towel to remove the water instead, but that’s usually less successful and will leave you with a very wet towel that may not dry until morning.
It’s not much, but it really does help with the overall nastiness. If you need a more basic packing list, here’s a good list of backpacking essential items. Let me know if you also do/have tried any of these backpacking hacks in the comments! 🙂
P.S.: You can also find this one on Triptipedia, an online travel encyclopaedia.