5 Lessons Learned From Traveling to 33 Countries With Just A Backpack

May 28, 2018

Guest Writer: Tom Wahlin aka Packhacker

I spent a year and a half perpetually traveling the world, living out of a 30L backpack (a GORUCK GR2, for those interested) and jumping from hostel to Airbnb to hotel. The majority of my time was spent in Southeast Asia, but I also did stints in Europe, Australia/New Zealand, and the USA. During this time I started my own company, Pack Hacker, where we review all different types of travel gear, from backpacks to nail clippers to t-shirts.

I learned quite a bit during this time—both about myself and about traveling. Here are my 5 biggest lessons learned while traveling through 33 countries and living out of my backpack.

1. Ditch the Map

When you get to a new country, a new map is good if you’re lost and need to find your way back to your hotel. But that’s about it, as far as I’m concerned. You’re not going to find cool experiences through a map, so just get out there! Walk around, talk to locals, and explore. You’ll stumble upon some pretty cool stuff.

2. Get Yourself Some Merino Wool

There’s a reason why all one bag travelers seem to be obsessed with merino wool—because it really makes some of the best clothing out there. It’s antimicrobial, quick-drying, ridiculously comfortable, durable, and versatile enough to handle varying climates. We love this stuff over at Pack Hacker, and could go on and on about it… So much, in fact, that we actually wrote a guide on how to make the most out of merino wool for your travels.

3. Learn to Say “Thank You” in [Insert Language Here]

I’ve found that learning to say “thank you” in the language of the country you’re in can be helpful for two reasons. One, the locals will like you more for at least putting in some effort. And two, if you're ever in a weird situation, just repeating the words “thank you” can make you seem polite and less threatening. Bonus points if you can learn “sorry” and “excuse me, do you speak English?” before just butting in rudely and speaking your native language in a new country. No one wants to be that guy.

 4. Bring Less Stuff

This is probably the biggest one. Be diligent and think long and hard about what you really need to pack. Prioritize the lightest, most versatile items available. Ask yourself, “can I buy it there?” when making decisions on common items. More often than not, people pack way more than they actually need and they’re left with a heavy pack or being forced to check a bag. That doesn’t need to happen.

5. Don’t Live Life Through Your Device

Smartphones are wonderful devices, and their built-in cameras are amazing for travel. I’m fully on-board with documenting your travels through photos. You should totally do that.

But please be mindful of others, and remember to take in the sights through your eyeballs in addition to your viewfinder. Have you ever gotten to some popular attraction only to be faced by a wall of cell phones and iPads? Yeah, let’s try to cut down on that. Consider taking a few mindful photographs versus mindlessly holding down the shutter only to realize later that 90% of those photos are the same exact thing.

Whether you’re off for a weekend in a new country or traveling for years at a time, hopefully these tips can help you achieve that travel nirvana we’re all looking for. And for the gearheads and travelers out there, feel free to check out to stay up to date on the latest and greatest travel gear.


              Col Forbin
Col Forbin