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There is a lot of incentive to spend big bucks on equipment, but don't be swayed by all the hype. I spent $35 for a little two-man, lightweight tent, which, despite occasional leaks, served well for three years on as many continents. Every traveler's favorite travel toy is a Victorinox (or other brand of Swiss Army Knife). I dug a simple, old Boy Scout knife out of my drawer on my first trip abroad and it has become one of my prized travel necessities. On a short trip, inexpensive equipment will last easily if you take proper care of it.

One exception: shoes and socks. Buy new, thick socks, and make sure your footwear is solid. I take a pair of good hiking boots (for use in mountains and anytime I carry the backpack), quality tennis shoes (for cities) and light sandals (for beaches and showers). Be sure to buy boots a size or two too large to accommodate thick socks, and make sure to break them in before traveling.

Backpack or suitcase? No contest for the budget traveler. A backpack is better to lug through trains and over distances, it holds odd gear like camping stuff, and it leaves your hands free to read maps, eat, buy tickets, and fend off overly aggressive gypsy children. Instead of a suitcase, a friend put wheels on the bottom of a backpack for his octogenarian mother-in-law and she had a grand time rolling around Europe.

If you are low maintenance you can get by with a few clothes and items in a daypack as a carry on. A friend's father spent two weeks traveling with nothing but a large fanny pack. I've never been that lucky but more power to you if you are!

Try several styles of backpacks to find which feels the best. I prefer exterior frame packs because they are cooler and distribute the weight more evenly. Interior frame packs which zip up like suitcases for flights are the most popular, but carrying them is like having a huge turtle strapped to your back. Before you buy a backpack, consider how much time it will spend actually on your back. Shop around and remember that there is a tremendous selection.

Campers will need to take bulky extra items (their value is explained soon); a small tent, sleeping bag, and air mattress. The tent should have a plastic floor and rain fly. A wonderful option is a fly that creates a vestibule where you can store your gear while you sleep. The sleeping bag you choose should reflect the time of year you travel and your bulk and weight restrictions. My ultra-compact bag was great in Europe in the summer, but would be nearly useless in the chilly Scandinavian springtime.

Even non-campers might consider packing along cooking gear to prepare cheap meals. Everything needed weighs just a couple of pounds; a small gas stove, a mess kit, utensils, perhaps a plate, cup and small aluminum pot. Few things can bring cheer like a warm cup of coffee in a dreary midnight train station or a hearty cup of soup in a mountain hut.

Other equipment to bring along as you see fit:

  • camera (lightweight, easy to operate in many conditions, extra batteries)
  • canteen or water bottle (rugged, tight seals)
  • knife (large and small blade, can/bottle opener, screw driver and perhaps a corkscrew are sufficient. Very versatile bit of equipment. Even if you are not going to cook, use it for fruits, vegetables, bread and cheeses, pests.)
  • address book, diary, pens, sticky notes, etc. Keep in a waterproof, leakproof bag.
  • toiletries bag (I prefer a net bag, with a long drawstring with which to hang it up in the showers or near the tent or bed to dry. Keep shampoo in a leakproof bag. Leaky shampoo bottles are the #1 spoiler of backpack contents.)
  • daypack or knapsack (holds maps, camera, water, lunch, books, etc. while keeping your hands free as you go about your day)
  • sturdy poncho (large enough to cover both you and your luggage)
  • bedsheet (for staying at youth hostels)

Fight the urge to take everything you'll need for any contingency. Pretty much anything you'd want to pack, you can find there. If you have a film camera, your preferred slide or B&W film might be hard to find, but print film can be found everywhere.

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