Learn to Pack Your Travel Backpack Like a Pro

I didn’t know much about packing lightly before my first backpacking trip. Was it really possible to pack all your belongings into a small bag and travel? The more I traveled, the more helpful tips I learned to make packing easier. Here’s how you can learn to pack your travel backpack like a pro!

Group of people wearing summer clothes on tropical beach in Indonesia

A group of backpackers I met in Indonesia.

1. Find a quality backpack

First of all, I did a lot of research before I found the backpack I liked most. I have a Kolon Sport Attack 40 L travel backpack in blue (a well-known Korean brand). Things to look for:

  • Does it have adjustable straps?
  • Does it rest comfortably on your waist and shoulders?
  • Does it open up like a suitcase for easy access?
  • Does it have water bottle holders?
  • Is it big enough to carry your belongings, but small enough to fit in carry-on?
  • Does it have a rain cover?
  • Does it have enough pockets / pouches?

2. Take only what you need

When you travel, you end up wearing the same clothes over and over, so why not bring less? I mean, do you really need that fancy clubbing dress you’ve worn once or those heavy jeans you can barely fold up? Just take the minimal and you will survive.

3. Don’t fold, roll

Folding seems to take up a lot of space, so roll your clothes and they will fit better. This will also make it easier to see what’s in your backpack and help you choose your travelling outfit of the day.

4. Bring your gadgets, but be selective

Okay, so it’s hard to go without some form of technology these days, but try not to bring every gadget you own along with you. If you’re not too keen on photos, then your cellphone should suffice. Otherwise, bring one camera (I travel with my GoPro Hero for great action shots). Maybe bring a tablet over a laptop if you can, or go without. Unplugging when you travel is actually super relaxing.

5. Think compact

Along with that cellphone, you need a charger, and wires are not so easy to roll up. So, use an old pencil case or makeup pouch to organize all your chargers / adapters. They’ll be easier to find as well.

6. Take only carry-on size products

Not to sound like an anti-Maybelline commercial, but maybe you should show what you’re born with. Meaning, you’ll realize how little you’ll need makeup, hair gel, etc. when you travel, so again, pack less and in small sizes. This way, you also never have to check your bag in.

7. Leave room for gifts / impulse buys

Even if you’re not that into souvenirs, something will end up catching your eye that you might want to take back for your family or yourself. Especially if it’s super affordable. I’m not a big shopper, but the deals at the local markets always get me.

8. Don’t forget your refillable water bottle, light jacket, and good shoes!

  •  Invest in a sturdy water bottle that you can refill as you go. I found BottleWorx at a tradeshow, and it’s an awesome bottle for travel!
  •  A light, water-resistant jacket comes in handy more than you think. It’ll protect you a bit in rain, or keep you warm on a cool evening. I use a Kolping jacket (another Korean brand).
  • Your feet are super important, so buy some good travel shoes! Waterproof-ish and comfortable. I either travel with my Columbia boots or my Teva sandals (super versatile!)

For more info, check out our video on how to pack your travel backpack like a pro!

The Ultimate Guide to Sustainable Travel

If you love to travel, you’ve probably realized how each trip is unique and leaves you with memories that will always follow you around like a bright shadow. So how can you take your love of travel and make sure you do it right? Easy, by respecting where you go and what you do. Here are 10 tips from the ultimate guide to sustainable travel! Read more

Vegetarian Food in Korea

When you mention food in South Korea, you’ll get offered meat, meat and more meat. But don’t be scared if you’re a vegetarian – vegetable dishes can be found everywhere, too. These dishes are eaten as side dishes (banchan) with most meals and are a great option for vegetarian food in Korea. Read more

The Best Travel Backpack: Osprey Farpoint 70L

Backpacking is awesome. And having the right backpack for your travels is a must. I realized this after trying out a few bags and finally settled on what I think is the best travel backpack: Osprey Farpoint 70L. I absolutely love this bag, and here’s why. Read more

8 Things You Need to Know When Travelling to Korea

After taking an awesome tour with BAMtravels, I was shocked at how different the culture in South Korea was. It was my first time travelling to Asia and I didn’t know what to expect. Here are 8 things you need to know when travelling to Korea.

1. Shopping as a foreigner

Woman wearing gray shirt and black pants standing in busy shopping street in Seoul

Shopping in the lively streets of Hongdae.

Shopping in Hongdae, Seoul is perfect for all your gift and personal shopping because they have everything! And its cheap! The only thing is there is only ONE SIZE called “free size” as the majority of Koreans are petite. So if you have slight curves or any other body type, good luck trying to find anything that’ll fit. I even experienced workers tell me I cannot try on clothes, some would even put the items back on the shelf. LOL!

2. The friendly people & safety

South Koreans are very friendly people. At times, they tend to keep to themselves and pay you no attention. So, you can walk through Seoul alone after a night out partying and you feel safe because no one will try to approach you. Zero creepy vibes!

3. Nature, scenery, and beaches?!

Secluded waterfall pouring into clear blue water in forest

Beautiful secluded waterfall on Jeju Island.

When we left the city, I was not expecting the amount of nature surrounding Seoul. There are huge mountains, valleys, rice fields, and rivers. This made it perfect for outdoor activities such as bike riding, hiking, and ATV-ing. Also, we visited Jeju Island where we swam in the China Sea and dipped into an icy waterfall. Who knew Korea had this much to offer?

4. Clean environment

Clean streets and sidewalks with trees lining them in Seoul

The clean streets of Yeonnam-dong in Seoul.

Despite the smog, Seoul is a clean city. I have never felt less grossed out by public washrooms until I used the ones in Korea. The stalls feel like your own private bathroom, fully equipped with plastic around the toilet rim and a bidet (to keep you extra clean). Although there is a lack of garbage cans, there is surprisingly no litter and the subways feel clean.

5. Food – cafes, bars, restaurants

Cup of cappuccino on wooden table

Cappuccino at Cafe Ronin

I never thought I’d ever say this, but Korea by far has the best coffee ever! There are so many different cafes serving the most delicious coffees, hot or iced. Also, there are tons of different themed bars. If you’re not feeling the Korean cuisine, you can still have pizza, mexican, jerk chicken and more. Let’s not forget, there is no ‘last call’ at bars and public drinking is the norm.

6. Beauty standards

If you’re an ethnic foreigner, don’t bother entering make-up stores. You’ll only find extremely light shades from foundation, eye shadow, lipstick, and blush. Koreans consider light skin to be beautiful. Girls casually walk down the street with bandaged faces is not surprising as plastic surgery is popular.

7. Pollution

Girl with white tank top and shorts standing in front of Korean traditional palace

Hazy mountains in the background.

I was shocked when I landed as I was flying in clear blue skies and landed in a cloudy city. The pollution mainly comes from China and at times you can barely see anything around you. Sometimes I forgot that there were huge mountains in the distance as the smog covered them. However, it doesn’t affect how amazing Korea is.

8. Convenience stores

Colorful packages of noodles in Korean convenience store

So many choices!

Hence the name ‘convenience store,’ the ones in Korea offer the coolest things for on-the-go. They sell coffee in bags that you pour over a cup of ice. You can also get ramen noodles in cups that you can make and eat on the spot. I tried ice cream in a pouch so your hands don’t get all sticky as well. Also, their unique snack flavours are endless!

Want more posts from Nikki? Visit her blog!

Trekking the Himalayas: Part Two

The best sunrise ever!

Woman in green clothes and two men in jackets standing next to Poon Hill sign while trekking the himalayas

Finally reached the top of Poon Hill (3,210 metres).

Our journey of trekking the Himalayas continued when we reached our intended height on the third day after a 7 hour hike through quiet towns with small houses and past trickling streams with clear water. We had to spend the night in the town of Ghorepani from where we would depart to watch the sunrise at Poon Hill—the goal of our trip. This night was to be the coldest yet. We found a box in the hall of our lodging that had extra bedsheets that we used as added layers for warmth. The next morning at dawn, we set off up the steps for an hour, using the extra sheets as scarves under our clothes. Once at the top, we found a spot among the many tourists eager to watch the skies slowly awaken over the jagged peaks of Annapurna. People took the opportunity to snap away at what was truly deserving of such camera-ready travelers. Now that the climax of our Himalayan adventure was reached, it was time to begin our descent. However, the beauty of the mountains was not nearly over.

Two men in rain clothes standing under red and yellow sign while trekking the himalayas

Arriving at the town of Ghorepani.

View of Annapurna peaks in the early morning

The peaks peeking out from behind the grass.

Stuck in a hailstorm

Soon after leaving Ghorepani, we came across a field with a spectacular view of the peaks. Mountain yaks grazed quietly in the field. We stopped to have a snack here, and once again admire the paradoxical beauty. From where we sat, the peaks appeared calming and peaceful. But we knew at that height, the force of the wind and snow was anything but.

We felt a touch of the mountain’s force on one of our last trekking days. We were relaxing outside of our accommodation in the middle of the day. In front of us were the peaks of Annapurna and Fishtail Mountain. Suddenly, the skies began to darken and we saw the hostel workers taking the tables and chairs inside. The sky seemed split in half—one side was as clear as day, and the other was quickly becoming gray. Then we heard what sounded like distant rain. We felt it coming closer and closer as we stood outside. It was the first time I have actually seen and felt a storm approach. Then it was dark and the storm was upon us. But we realized it wasn’t rain…it was hail. Pieces the size of small rocks were hailing thunderously all around us and now we had to retreat inside. From inside, the sound of the falling hail rattled the roof loudly. And then, as quickly as it had come, it was gone. The hail stopped and the clouds cleared up to reveal the afternoon sun. The storm returned that night and I awakened thinking that the tin roof was sure to cave in from the heavy hail. Just another reminder of the mountain’s strength.

Woman wearing green shirt and blue hat sitting with blue backpack staring at snowy mountain peaks

Admiring the view from the top.

Darkening skies of approaching hailstorm while trekking the himalayas

The hail storm that appeared out of nowhere.

The descent…

Climbing down was just as challenging at times as going up. The stone steps seemed endless and it would come to a point where you would just let your feet fall onto the next step and your body follow. We talked about anything and everything, and when we ran out of topics, we would continue on in silence. There were definitely things to keep us entertained on the trek. We encountered other trekkers with their porters, many locals going about work, and animals such as chickens, horses, monkeys, and of course yaks. Once, we heard several bells and looked down to see a herd of goats with their shepherds coming up. We had to step aside and wait for them to clumsily trod by.

Man wearing backpack walking down stone steps of mountain

The journey to the bottom

Long grass in field with stone house in the mountains

Change of scenery as we descended.

The Himalayan people were extremely friendly and welcoming. They were always willing to spark up a conversation or help with directions. We were almost at the end of our hike on day seven when we finally got lost. We took a wrong turn and ended up walking through a forest with no clear path. I guess a trek isn’t complete without losing your way at some point. When we finally found our way, we were certainly ready to meet our driver and head back to Pokhara for a hot shower. But watching the snowy peaks disappear behind us definitely left us with a feeling of longing—of sleepy towns, tasty meals of dhal bhat, wintery nights, flowing streams, and indescribable views. Trekking the Himalayas has undoubtedly become one of my most memorable experiences to date.

Trekking the Himalayas: Part One

The Himalayas. A word that sounded so distant and majestic, only heard of in stories of the Far East. I always thought that trekking the Himalayas was a challenge very few daring people took on. That was my sheltered naivety of course. But moving to Asia brought such destinations closer and they became more possible to get to. So, when we researched the Himalayan mountain range, we discovered it wasn’t that impossible to go on a trek. We opted for the Annapurna mountain course due to our time frame and it being our first trekking experience. Thought not as well-known as the famed Mt. Everest, Annapurna is not much smaller in height. While Everest peaks at 8,848 metres, Annapurna reaches 8,091 metres. A common course is to trek to Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) at 4,130 metres in 10 days. We could only devote 7 days to the Himalayas, so we chose the route to Poon Hill (3,210 metres).

Sunrise over Himalayan mountains in Annapurna range

Best sunrise in the world on top of the mountains

Arriving in Pokhara

To start your journey, you must go to Pokhara, a small picturesque town at the base of the mountains. We arrived in Pokhara via bus—a cliff-hugging, shaky trip from Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu. We found comfortable lodging at Snow Hill Lodge in Pokhara, where we stayed for two days to get prepared. Most accommodations will hold your luggage while you trek, which is helpful. We spent our time getting trekking permits and enjoyed canoeing on the lake, as well as having delicious meals of chai and parantha (hot, crispy, fried “bread”). Then we were ready to go.

Our trip began with an hour taxi ride on the winding mountainous roads (arranged for by Snow Hill Lodge). Our driver dropped us off at what seemed to be a random roadside shop. To the right of the shop was a path we were told to follow. We did, and it lead us to a permit office after which we could officially begin our trek. And off we went!

View of Pokhara Lake in mountain town of Pokhara

Phewa Lake, Pokhara

Room with two single beds in small motel room

Our room at Snow Hill Lodge

Hot Indian fried bread with spiced tea and lentil curry

Chai and parantha for breakfast

The adventure begins…

The first day of our trek proved to the most difficult as our legs were not used to it. We trekked for five hours along dirt roads that still had a few vehicles passing by. After a while, the roads were replaced by stone paths and the vehicles by the jingle of transport mules. The latter became a habitual sound over the next few days. We stopped for the day in a small town overlooking rolling green hills. The accommodation was basic, but comfortable. We got an early night’s rest and woke up fresh for day two.

Man with blue backpack walking alongside group of transport mules in the Himalayan mountains

Some of the many transport mules we came across

Group of women vendors wearing brightly coloured clothes sitting on a stone wall selling their goods in Nepal

Local vendors waiting under the shade

Wooden steps leading up a hill to a traditional Nepalese village in the Himalayas

Our first stop at the village of Tikhedhunga

Cold nights and hot days

The scenery changed constantly as we got higher into the mountains—from wide open roads, to winding stone steps, to lush green forests. We each carried a backpack with rain covers to protect our belongings. During the day, it would occasionally rain, but was mostly very warm and sunny. The mornings and evenings were crisp and we would shed layers as the day grew on. The nights were another thing. The temperature would drop considerably. The accommodations had stone-walled rooms. Thick, warm blankets were thankfully always provided (we had heard otherwise). However, as someone who is very sensitive to the cold, some nights even all the clothing and blankets weren’t enough! The sunny warmth of the day was quickly forgotten as I shivered to sleep. It was as though the mountain was reminding us of its regal power. And power is just what we felt when we first caught a glimpse of the snowy white peaks. We had to stop in our tracks and truly take in the complete majesty of them.

Snow drifting off the mountain peaks in the distant Himalayas

First glimpse of the majestic peaks

Meals on the mountain

One thing I failed to mention so far is what we ate. On the mountains, you will find one staple meal—dhal bhat. Made up of lentils, cooked vegetables, rice, and a dried-lentil cracker, this hearty meal offered the necessary nourishment for our long days. The best part—free refills! Dhal bhat is completely vegetarian. As meat is hard to come by up in the mountains, you will pay about double the price if you want it. Eating dhal bhat for lunch and dinner every day meant there were times when we wanted a change. However, the “pizzas” and “pastas” on the menus were certainly not what the people of the Himalayas took pride in. It was definitely the fresh, home-cooked taste of dhal bhat that we remember.

For breakfast, we ate dried oats that we had brought with us and drank tea (although the only form of milk up there was powdered). We also had other snacks such as nuts and dried fruits to keep us going. Another important thing to bring are Aquatabs to purify your water. This allowed us to fill up our bottles anywhere and not risk the possibility of getting sick from the water. We easily found these tablets in Pokhara. In the evenings, over a game of cards, it was comforting (and warming) to have a drink of local Khukuri rum. We even created our own drink of rum, hot water, honey, and fresh mint called the “Hot Himalayan”. In contrast, during the day we found that a drink of “Cold Lemon” (lemonade with ice and sugar) was perfectly refreshing.

Silvar platter with rice, lentils, vegetable curry, and Indian bread

Hot meal of dhal bhat

Man and woman sitting at a table drinking a cold drink of lemonade with the Himalayas in the backdrop

Enjoying a drink of Cold Lemon

Our amazing adventure on Annapurna continues in Part Two…