A Bruin Guide to a Great Summer


By Mark Davis

Published Jul 1, 2007 8:00 AM

A Better Backpack: Kristin Richter '06

A year ago, Kristin Richter had barely been beyond the U.S. border. That changed with a two-month, 10-country European adventure. After eight weeks of hauling her own load, Richter mastered the art of backpack living. For those with a strong sense of wanderlust, she's happy to pass along the tips she picked up along the way.

Pack perfect

It starts with choosing the perfect backpack. "Look for a backpack with a few separate compartments [to keep liquids away from clothing], hefty straps [including the around-the-waist clip] and one that feels comfortable to carry. Wheels are a big no-no, unless it's a convertible version with backpack straps attached; cobblestone streets and rolling suitcases are a bad combination."

Keep it light

Always think light and versatile; the less stuff you have to lug, the happier you will be. The necessities, according to Richter, include one pair of comfortable shoes, up to seven shirts, two pairs of jeans, two pairs of shorts or skirts, one sweatshirt or jacket, seven pairs of socks, one swimsuit and lots of underwear. Buy toiletries at your destination, she says, but for emergencies, pack a shampoo/conditioner 2-in-1, cologne or perfume (for long, shower-free train rides), bar soap and one washcloth and towel. "Bring plenty of Ziploc bags for packing," she adds.

Limit the gadgets but bring a Swiss Army knife, a few paperbacks, a journal, MP3 player, granola and energy bars, copies of important travel documents (passport, plane tickets), digital camera (and batteries or a charger), an outlet converter and a small first-aid kit. "Typically, hostels provide linens either for free or for a small fee," Richter says, "so unless you're planning on camping, you can forgo the sleeping bag."

Fitting in

"Always fold clothes. Pack the items you use less near the bottom and put more important items where they are accessible. Pack toiletries in the bottom compartment, so they're separate from clothing and electronics. Leave some extra space for souvenirs." As for valuables, Richter says, "Don't bring anything that would upset you to lose. For iPods and travel documents, most hostels in Europe provide free or inexpensive lockers, but you may have to provide your own lock."

Look, listen and learn

"Can you get your backpack on without giving yourself a hernia?" Richter asks. If you're struggling, reexamine the contents and eliminate. "Ask if you really need to bring your hair-dryer or security blanket." Before you travel, Richter suggests, "Try to book your hostel ahead of time because of the high volume of tourists." That can vary from a few days to a month before your arrival. Finally, glean information from your fellow travelers. "I looked for hostels that had a bar, common room or a social atmosphere in order to meet people. I learned a lot, made some amazing friends. Often the best travel advice came not from a guidebook, but from the person who just came from my next destination."