Monks practise detachment from material things and people. Simultaneously, they become part of a community of others journeying through a life of spiritual solitude towards enlightenment.
A backpacker also learns to let go. This does not have to equate to a ritual of shaved heads and meditative mantras while you silently pad the planet. But be prepared to lose things, people, places…yourself. Few people go abroad with the weight of the world upon their shoulders, because in order to get some perspective you need to be able to lighten the load. A bikini for a thermal top, a snorkel for a knitted hat; trading is a natural, practical and beautiful part of travel. It teaches you generosity and brings you into a sharing community.
1. The Spirit of Detachment
Having a tablet or kindle with you is a wise move if you are an avid book-worm burrowing away for a while. Who wants to carry the weight of a thousand pages? However, a day at the beach just isn’t as much fun when security concerns for your valuable reading device stop you from doing an underwater handstand. Have one book with you. When you’re done: give it away, swap it with a friend or local bookstore, leave it in the guesthouse for other people to read. I promise that the next place you go, there will be a book there waiting for you.
2. Mindful Motoring
Base-camp trekking buddies could become some of your life-long friends… and where did you meet? In transit. Hitching an 11-hour bike ride down the Western border of Nepal and lounging on the roof of a bus on route to the Dalai Lama’s teachings; these memories are what make the moving part of travel so special.
Airports can be sticky. A new currency, climate and culture mean you are likely to cave in on rip-off rides with an overpriced cab or car rental company. So how are you supposed to support the sharing economy and remain invulnerable to predatory prices? If you and your new-found companions are looking for some cheap road trip rentals, check out industries like Turo. Their services allow people to rent cars of their choice from local people- vehicles that would otherwise sit dormant in driveways. They are always looking for ways to make travel easier and cost-effective. So you can now meet your motor as soon as you land, with their new Airport car rental service.
Preventing waste comes in all shapes and forms.
3. Fix don’t throw
Trouser-splitting, button-ripping, hem-mares are unavoidable when you put your clothes through such adventure. So it is always handy to carry a small sewing kit…especially if you’re in a country where one missing button could result in a provocative cleavage assault.
On the other hand, there are plenty of tailors who charge very little to thread it back together. “However much you feel” is often the response I get when asking the price for getting the underarm hem done up on a tunic. Why not support the local economy?
4. Sleep Asana
Yoga mats are versatile companions. They make spontaneous headstands and random rock meditations comfortable in a range of diverse locations.
Take out the word Yoga, and a mat still brings a lot of spring to your travels. The potential tent-sleeping, festival-sitting, sun-lounging wear and tear on bony bums and backs ceases to exist. So a travelling Yogi or not; it’s probably worth the weight.
Check out my Facebook page Yogi Wonderland for more details on teaching Yoga out of the backpack.
Music recommendations, places to stay and email addresses scatter themselves in small notebooks. Memories, jokes and the things you observe might fill your leather journals.
A world of games in 52 cards around a table of strangers. Playing cards provides entertainment when your bowl of rice soup takes 4 hours to arrive. Everyone you meet has a game to share.
I learned Yaniv from Israelis in Northern India, Chinese Poker from my Dutch scooter buddy and Cheat from a pair of Canadian hikers.
Language no longer needs to be a barrier in conversation: it can be defeated by a deck.
7. Sensing Homeliness
Despite using incense and candles frequently, it was never something I imagined travelling with. Until I saw somebody else doing. It can make the dampest room feel like home.
8. Plastic is not so fantastic
On a car journey between Srinagar and Leh, I watched a man finish his bottle of water and for no apparent reason proceed to throw it out of the window. It was heading into what would otherwise be, the first unpolluted haven of beauty I had seen in India so far. Encouraging him not to, only led to further environmental assault. With a tobacco-filled grin, the taxi driver snatches it and throws it out of the opposite window.
I doubt this would have happened had the bottle been re-usuable. It costs half the price to re-fill your tank as opposed to buying a new one. Sure, tap water is a killer in some countries, but there are usually plenty of filtered water options available when the drinking water is unsafe. Live your dream, mindful of waste.
9. Every monk has a blanket
Preparing for India, the last thing I expected to be was cold. Especially since Delhi was a sun-bed of 44-degree heat and a five-minute walk down one of the bazaars would leave you panting like an abandoned street dog next to a half-chewed slice of roti. However, drawn to the mountains in Ladakh, which are only really accessible 3 months a year, I found that long thin cotton shirts were no longer a ‘trending’ traveller thread. Jeans, jackets, boots (the very things I had in my autumn wardrobe back home), were now the more appropriate mountain apparel. But I couldn’t just go back and get those now, could I?
Agonising about the temperature is possibly one of the worst traveller traits you can have. I was directed to the nearest traveller comfort blanket. Made from Yak wool and costing roughly £3, it is my most-used item of clothing from the last 8 months. It wraps me up from the hollering Himalayas, accompanies me on night buses with out-of-control air-con and offers protection from beds with untrustworthy sheets.
10. Good Karma
You do not need lots of money to travel. You certainly don’t need it to share your skills and learn new ones. I volunteered teaching Yoga in ashrams and centres around India in Nepal and in return was given free lodging or a small donation.
Having the opportunity to work in exchange for food and accommodation with people who genuinely want your help and company has made travel more accessible and enticing. Workaway, HelpX and Couchsurfing all allow you to connect with host families and avoid commission-based agencies.
11. Feeling Free
A surprisingly large number of guesthouses uses padlocks to secure rooms. Having your own sturdy and large coded padlock, means you and your roomie don’t have to struggle over the one-key situation. You also don’t have to worry about potentially losing a key!
12. You’ve probably heard of a quick-drying towel…
…but what about the hair wrap?
Travelling does not mean you have to be a stinky sausage, (although we all have our moments).
This small towel is a delight for any long-haired wanderer. Mine is a Soap and Glory product with a button at the back so you don’t have that awkward wet-hair-stuck-on-face-mask-moment.
13. Save it for Prana (our life-force energy)
There are some places where breathing slowly in and out through the nose is not a relaxing or comfortable experience.
Cities are polluted and some places are worse than others. So if you find the dust is blocking up your energy channels, use a scarf or a face mask to prevent any unhealthy infections that could hinder your adventures.
Saucha (meaning cleanliness) is one of the five Niyamas in Yoga. Internal and external purity keep your mind and body strong, which is important when you put them through such extreme conditions. I am sure your 80 litre backpack is probably already leaking factor 12-50 suncream and enough hand sanitiser to drown an elephant. But here are a few things I discovered on the road:
-A bar of soap lasts longer, takes up less space and is usually more ecological. Shampoo, Conditioner, Body wash- you can find a block for all of these cleansing essentials.
-Coconut oil is a natural way of revitalising your rags without being boutique about it. Or you could just use it for a cheeky massage 😉
– As a traveller you are entitled to stink. However, it can be pleasant to treat your body and friends to a fragrance other than sweat and cheap deodorant. My roll-on ‘Pushkar Special’ oil cost £1.20 from the bazaars of Rajasthan (but is best used in a mosquito-free environment).
15. Basic Bricks
Airports are full of local phone companies and buying a SIM is an incredibly simple and useful option for anyone planning to stay a while. This doesn’t mean you have to take your precious iPhone 6.38259 into the wild. Having basic brick unlocked from any lingering 3-year contract is just common sense.
If travelling is all about the people you meet, don’t you want to keep on meeting them?
16. Vintage Vagabond
Sometimes it takes fainting into the sea for you to realise your body is too hot. Never underestimate the heatstroke-resistant, energy-saving power of a simple, old-fashioned fan.
17. Counting Coins
It is one of the hardest things to do when you are abroad so don’t make it worse for yourself by forgetting these. Some banks will not allow you to see your statements without a card reader, others will let you use your log in details…but if you leave it long enough you might forget what those are. For security, make sure you keep card readers separate from your cards. I say cards, because bringing less than two bank cards away with you is like forgetting to pack your underwear.
18. The Fifth Chakra
Chakras spin from the root of the spine to the crown of the head, so your neck is an important line of energy in your body. Look after it! You could be stuck on a night bus with half a bum cheek on your seat and still get a good night’s rest with one of these.
The atmosphere you create and energy you give is paramount to being part of a traveller community. You will constantly be faced with the challenge of saying goodbye to friends and hello to strangers. This is your chance to be yourself and do the things that make you happy so you can share that with the new people you meet. Guitars, sketchbooks, cameras: bring whatever will allow you to do what you love.
20. Be Enlightened
Mask festival at a Hemis Monastery in Ladakh, North India.
A monk spends less time talking and more time listening within because being silent is part of discovery. Our wanderlust carries us away so much that sometimes we forget the people around us that have helped shape our paths. How did I end up in Nepal? Because a sister-traveller inspired me with her stories and adoration for the place she called a second home. There are also plenty of online communities that inspire, help and share knowledge. So let your traveller pals guide you there!
Trade, exchange and share in every way possible, because you can’t take it all with you.
Got any other quirky ideas? Feel free to comment below 🙂