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Preparations of a Novice Backpacker

By on Apr 28, 2011 in Uncategorized | 11 comments

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In exactly 33 days time, I shall be hurtling (or more likely crawling) towards Heathrow airport to catch a flight bound for Lima. I will watch England disappear beneath the clouds and my four-month adventure in South America will begin.I would like to be able to say that I am taking my “trusty” backpack and give you that knowing nod, indicating that I am a seasoned backpacker, who can set up camp in the wilderness, survive with just two t-shirts and a pair of trousers for over a year. Sadly, this is not the case. I had to buy a backpack specifically – usually any trip lasting more than 3 days requires luggage on wheels in my world – and already I have encountered problems. Now, I did my research. I visited forums, asked stupid questions, all to determine which was the right type of backpack for me. Then I compared web prices, found the perfect thing, bid for it on ebay and bingo! An absolute bargain price and a few days later my Vango Freedom (sounds suitably backpackerish, doesn’t it?) arrived. Only it wasn’t the right one. This one is 80 litres, rather than the 60 litre one I thought I was buying and it is MASSIVE. Now, when talking suitcases, the bigger the better in my book, but when I have to carry this thing on my back and it is nearly bigger than me, it doesn’t work.

Backpack issues aside, I’m also trying to co-ordinate the biggest adventure of my life, in which I plan to see as many places as humanly possible, while still enjoying everything and experiencing the local culture. A task not helped when people say: ‘Oh you HAVE to go to [insert name of South American city/village/beach] and I excitedly write it down, only to remember that Rio de Janeiro and Santiago are on opposite sides of the continent and unless I am going to hire a private jet, to do it all is just not possible. I toyed with the dreamy idea of travelling by bus back to Lima from Santiago – giving myself a luxurious 3 days, only to discover that the journey takes at least that. Before you scoff and think that my sense of geography is appalling, you have to realise that I come from an island where everything is close by, and the majority of my travels so far have been around small corners of Europe, where a 5-hour journey seems like an endurance test. Now I’m trying to travel round a continent in a month. Reality is slowly but surely dawning.

I’ve barely given a thought to the fact that for the first three months I will be volunteering in Huaraz, Peru, and that I need to get my teaching resources organised, find out about the local climate, culture and customs and generally get my head round the idea that I will be living and working in a town halfway across the globe.

Unlike sensible people who plan such major trips years in advance and book everything up months beforehand, this whole thing is happeneing on a wish and a prayer. I booked my flight to Lima less than 3 weeks ago, with empty space in my diary between my arrival and departure dates, none of the appropriate ‘backpacking’ items and only the vaguest ideas of how to get from one place to the next. Now things are beginning to take shape, but if anything I am becoming aware of just how much there is left to sort out.

Having said all that, the overriding feeling is one of excitement. Whatever happens, I am going on an amazing adventure. I am going to see places I’ve only ever dreamed of, doing things I’ve only ever dreamed of doing. So I might not get to Santiago on this trip, but I will be trekking the Inca Trail, hanging out on Copocabana beach, learning to Tango in Buenos Aires and teaching in Huaraz. Despite Backpack dramas and only a very loose plan, I feel like the luckiest person on the planet and very, very Starry-Eyed.

If you have any backpacking experiences to share or tips to offer, please do!

During my trip, I will be hiking the Inca Trail to raise money for the Motor Neurone Disease Association, a cause very close to my heart. I would be grateful for any support that you can give. You can read more or donate by clicking here 

11 Comments

  1. Iain Mallory

    28 April 2011

    Post a Reply

    Awesome Katy I am so excited for you even if also a little jealous. Laughing just a little at the huge backpack you have, just be careful you don’t actually fill it as that is the temptation.

    Really looking forward to your ‘journals’ from South America sure they will be amazing. Do not worry that you have not planned it for years down to the most finite detail, you will have a fantastic adventure and will enjoy almost every moment.

    Good luck and safe travels

    • Katy Stewart

      28 April 2011

      Post a Reply

      Not surprised – I am going to change the backpack – it’s way too big for me! Thanks, I’m not good at planning, and I’m just looking forward to the adventure!

  2. It sounds like your going to have so much fun. It feels like only yesterday that I was in exactly the same position! My main tip is that you don’t need to plan too much, if anything! Plans and ideas come and go with the wind and its more fun to make up a plan as you go! Can’t wait to start reading about your adventures

  3. Paul

    28 April 2011

    Post a Reply

    Love your writing Katy and look forward to reading about your travels. South America is the only continent I’ve not been to and I’m dying to going to Machu Picchu so very jealous.

    How long are you going for?

    As for any tips – lean forward when you put your pack on. Nothing worse than tipping over backwards :-)

    • Katy Stewart

      28 April 2011

      Post a Reply

      :D good tip! I’m going for 4 months altogether, 3 months volunteering and 1 month travelling. I am so unbelievably excited about Machu Picchu! Still, this is only my 3rd continent – minus a short trip to Morocco – so I have a way to go before I catch you up!

  4. Nerea

    28 April 2011

    Post a Reply

    Katy, this is a great post and a great benefit cause for your trip.

    I´ll read all your posts before you go, as they will help me organize my trip. I haven´t bought my backpack yet. I haven´t done any serious camping either since my scout days. Loooong time ago.

    I don´t know if we´ll be able to meet in the Inca trail or somewhere in Perú. I will let you know our changed itinerary. By the way, an American friend goes to Perú in July, doing volunteer work. Isn´t it a small world? :-)

    Good luck with your fundraising!
    Nerea
    I hope the buses run as well as the Alsa ones ;-D

    • Katy Stewart

      28 April 2011

      Post a Reply

      Thanks Nerea! It’s nice to know someone else is in the same boat! It’s such a small world – the possibilities are amazing. I hope that we can meet somewhere along the way :)

  5. Emily

    30 April 2011

    Post a Reply

    Wow! It sounds so exciting even though a bit stressful. Sounds like you will have a blast :)
    Can’t wait to hear about tango dancing in Argentina! It’s on my life list!

  6. Fraser Balaam

    30 April 2011

    Post a Reply

    Crumbs, that’s going to be one heck of a trip Katy! Very much looking forward to seeing all the stories appear.

    When I went away on my first ‘big’ adventure I didn’t have the foggiest about the logistics of backpacking. Most of the prep I did was, at best, misguided. I bought a bag because it had an ex-display discount, bought some clothes I thought looked rugged and then bought several things I wouldn’t normally use, but was tricked into thinking I might need because they were available in travel-size. What I didn’t really do, beyond brief research and a lot of looking at pictures, was actively plan where/when/how and what I was going to do when I landed.

    I’m not really sure why that was, but I’m very glad for it. There was a lot of confusion at times, but I learned an awful lot about adapting that way and gave myself chance to notice and enjoy my ability to make it up as I go. Not something I always need, but it’s a useful tool (certainly the source of many of my stories!).

    That doesn’t really approach advice, but I think that sometimes, when the ‘oh bejeesus only a few days ’til departure’ stresses come crashing in, it’s worth remembering that not having a plan is a plan in itself. The plans are over there waiting for you.

    Good luck with all the pre-travel, and I hope the fundraising goes well too.

    Fraser :)

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