Not very much. Between two of us, we had one large backpack, a small, loose bag, and two daypacks. Even that was probably too much gear. But what did it hold? Clothes. Camping gear. Medical kit. Books to read. Guidebooks and maps. Extra riding gear. And all in the bike or in the stylish orange tray that you (will eventually) see illustrated here. A friend (let's name names: Fred) donated the tray, bolted it on, and generally masterminded the whole project. The orange tray gives us more storage than almost anything but a Goldwing with a trailer.
Even delivery couriers are impressed by the space weve got on the back and inside our mean machine. Of course, storage is good. But no matter how much space you start with, you'll find that, as in a computer's storage space, your things will expand to fill the available space. At least, if you start out with less, you can fill the space with new and exotic things, rather than another pair of old underpants. (Or you could be caught without clean underwear. Make your own decisions.)
Still not sure? Read on. Heres a chapter from a book that probably wont ever see the light of day. Its mostly for backpackers, but bikers should be able to use it too. Let me know what you think.
Lift Your Pack With Your Pinkie
So youre packing for your trip? First, figure out what you need to bring with you. Only what you really, really need, regularly, nothing you can borrow. Think hard. Delve into your drawers, and make a big pile in the middle of your floor. Include toiletries, clothes, anything you think you need to record your adventures.
Now throw out the hair dryer. And the towel. Make up unless youre dependent (considered a package holiday?). Anything that cant be machine washed with harsh soap, and anything that runs. Your portable musical devices too. The little gadget to heat water can be safely returned if youve kept the receipt. An A4 journal is probably a bad idea, and the watercolours are just going to spill everywhere. Jumbo shampoo and conditioner may save money in the long run, but youll curse them till the day they die.
Find a small shampoo/conditioner bottle. One book, a big one, easily replaced. Something youve been meaning to read for years. One small notepad for when your head screams to be heard. Two sets of clothes and minimal underwear, which dont clash or ever, ever need ironed. A couple of spare t-shirts, and a light, water-resistant jacket. If you think youll be cold, bring a better jacket. A sleep sheet (like a sleeping bag insert) will be necessary to stay in many hostels, and a travel towel, made of space age fabric is small, and dries fast.
So you have your stuff. And probably some other stuff. Things which might come in handy. Pretty things. Cuddly toys. Blankets. Things which should really be removed right now.
Ok; your pile is ready to go. If youve put it in a suitcase, trying to anticipate the next step, take it out again and throw the suitcase away. Suitcases are bad, because they just dont make sense. You have a perfectly good back and a perfectly good set of hips, ideal for carrying your shit around. And no matter how little extra stuff you have now, more will accumulate. More stuff which youll have to lug through strange and wonderful cities after dark, and more stuff that youll have to convince the airline doesnt exist.
A backpack will make it easier to lug stuff about, but there are many models of varying price and quality to tempt you. As usual, your budget will guide you here, but there are a few tips which a dishonest salesperson may not tell. For hostelling, meaning you wont be doing any major mountain hikes or heaps of camping, youll want a travel pack. This will zip right open so you can get to anything easily, and has a flap which will cover the back straps. The internal frame (yes, youll need one of those) and waist straps distribute the weight to where its comfy.
Secret pockets allow you to keep things handy, and to conceal the things I advised against but are bringing anyway. Two sections are a good idea; you can put dirty and wet things in the bottom section. Quite possibly, a day pack (the small one you carry while your big one sits under your hostel bed) will be included, and will zip neatly onto the main pack. Anything to make carrying both packs at once (as you will whenever you carry your big pack anywhere) will make your life easier.
One thing to be wary of is a rucksack. Its cheaper, it looks sort of the same, but it doesnt zip all the way open. With one of these, youll be repacking everything every other day, and will be laughed at by the unkind. However, its good if youre hiking, because it clings to your back better. External frame packs are for hard core campers and hikers; they have extra hooks, straps, and webby bits to strap your pots, pans, mattresses, and tents to. Not unless you need one, and if you are hiking or camping, carrying everything with you most of the time, think twice about a daypack. (Youre probably not. Just get a travel pack.)
Be sure the fabric is waterproof-ish, and make sure the pack fits. Nothing should dig in or draw blood, and your shoulders and hips share the weight. Your cheery shop assistant should ask you all the right questions and show you which of the many straps you should pull, and when.
While in the backpack shop, dont be tempted by space food, wonder blankets, or first aid kits unless youre heading for the wild. Headache tablets and plasters are all youll need, and then only occasionally. Actually, these are the types of things which other travellers often seem to carry. If youre feeling cheap, you might like to borrow them as you need them. Be especially wary of bum bags (in some parts of the world, and dont laugh, called fanny packs). They look bad and beg theft.
Take your bag home, and put all your stuff in it. You will find that if you roll things rather than fold them, they crease less, and seem to take up less space. If youve chosen wisely, you should have at least a third of the pack empty, for food and other things that make their way in.
Stuff your delicates in the middle, documents at the bottom, and keep important travel papers on you. Separate your emergency cards, cash etc. so that if either pack is stolen or lost, youre not. If youre feeling cautious, get a security pouch to wear under your clothes, or tie them to the inside of your daypack (they wont fall out if your bag is slashed). Most places are safe if youre careful, but do get insurance. A friend was once stuck, penniless and ticket-free in Ireland, working illegally because her pack was stolen. There are probably better reasons to work illegally.