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HC Leeds Perfects the Backpacker Style

In approximately three weeks time I will be hopping on a flight to Uganda, along with forty-two other eager-faced philanthropists, to embark on an exciting project organised by Leeds RAG and Soft Power Education. For four weeks we will be building and renovating schools in the town of Jinja, staying on the school site during the week and then planning our own activities on the weekends. Of course, I couldn’t resist booking an internal flight to Dar Es Salaam post-project, so that I can spend ten delightful days on the white sanded beaches of Zanzibar with cocktail in hand…obviously. These six weeks will be the perfect combination of work and play. But of course, this poses a problem; with only a 60 litre rucksack for six weeks, how do I balance my work wear with my beach wear, the sensitive culture of Jinja with the tourism of Zanzibar? Now that my exams are finally over I can begin to plan the perfect backpacker’s style to fit both lifestyles.

When travelling, particularly in religious and rural continents like that of Asia and Africa, you must be quite conservative. It may be perfectly acceptable for us to walk the streets of Leeds in our trendy high-waisted shorts and tie-dye crop tops, but for a lot of cultures this would appear particularly shocking and unacceptable. Not only would you look quite out of place, but you would attract a lot of unnecessary attention from the locals. The perfect solution to this is to wear loose trousers or skirts which cover your thighs, and loose fitted tops which cover your shoulders. Here are some more specific tips…

Hareem pants are essential for the backpacker; loose, thin and easy to pack without taking up too much room (if I can’t get something to roll up into a neat ball then I don’t pack it!). They are perfect for both work and play. You can find a wide selection on Ebay if you don’t already own a pair and you will be relieved to know they will not burn a hole in your purse. Cheap as chips. I find that you should keep your work clothes and evening clothes somewhat separate, so it’s handy to have a pair of hareems for any work or activities and then another for weekends and evenings.

With t-shirts it is quite self explanatory; try not to wear low cut or cropped tops which either reveal your chest or stomach. Strappy tops aren’t exactly forbidden, as long as you balance it with a pair of long hareems which cover your thighs. But the best t-shirts to wear are those which cover your shoulders. I’m already terrified of working in 29 degree heat with so much material covering my skin, but I feel the trick is to keep the material thin and loose; avoid clingy, elastic cotton and particularly light grey colours where sweat marks will embarrassingly reveal themselves.

With so little packing space you need to be quite ruthless with choosing your outfits. Conservative evening clothes can be transformed into beachwear. Long chiffon skirts are perfect for evenings as well as the beach, they are conservative but equally stylish and easy to pack without the fear of creasing. Maxi dresses are also an essential staple for the backpacker, perfect for both the conservatism of rural towns but also an integral piece for the beautiful beach look. Don’t forget the trusty hareems, you’ll be surprised as to how often you can incorporate them into your outfit. They are very handy to throw on to go to the beach, as for me, there is nothing worse than trying to slip a pair of denim shorts over soggy bikini bottoms. Nightmare.

Yes, do try and accommodate for the conservatisms of rural life, but equally don’t forget to pack a few pairs of shorts and summery tops for the Islands of Thailand or for the white sands of Zanzibar. Make sure you have all of the usual essentials; flip flops, bikini, board shorts, tanning oils, all the good stuff!

When living out of such a small bag you become very OCD about packing, and in the end, the greater your packing skills, the more outfits you can actually pack. Here are a few tips to help with packing so that you can utilise your 60 litres effectively. Rolling up your clothes tightly helps save space, and equally helps prevent your clothes from creasing. Try to avoid taking too many pairs of shoes; I would stick to a working pair of shoes like converse, a pair of plimsoles or espadrilles, a pair of sandals and a pair of flip flops- but no more than that. A travel towel is essential; it rolls neatly into a very small bag, it is fast drying and perfect for both personal and beach use. Toiletries are particularly bulky and take up a lot of space, and although it seems logical to buy enough shampoo and sun cream for 3 months, it is actually quite unnecessary. You can purchase toiletries when you’re out there to save on space.

So the trick is to be very organised with what you pack, it isn’t something you should be doing the night before your flight, but should be considered in detail so that you can utilise your 60litres and perfect your backpacker style.

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