“What should I bring for one year?” each child would pester me.
That was a tough question for a parent to answer. In 2008, we backpacked for 3 months in South America. At the time the children were still young. Their needs were simple – toothbrush, 2 sets of clothing, and homeschooling books were pretty much all that are needed. Their clothes were smaller in size as well so they each only needed to carry a small backpack.
Now as teenagers, they wanted to bring fashionable but heavy jeans, matching vests, 4 sets of clothing, makeup kits, ear rings, facial toners and creams, contact solutions, iPads, ukulele, etc. For “important” things, such as tent, floor mats, vitamins, insect repellents, water bottles, and flashlights, it took a lot of negotiations and “rock, paper, and scissors” to distribute to each person.
First strategy: Taobao online shopping!
What teenagers would not jump at the chance of shopping? On Taobao, one can find many lighter substitutes for heavy clothing. Instead of heavy & slow drying jeans, we each bought lightweight, waterproof, quick-drying, and stretchy hiking pants. Instead of bulky and heavy sleeping bags, we bought light, portable ones. Instead of large cotton towels, we bought light, micro-fiber towels that fits on one’s palm.
Second strategy: Bag inspections.
For each child, I had to put on my stern face and go through each bag carefully searching for “smuggled” goods – those unnecessary luxuries that the children try to get pass me. When I find one, then typical process of back and forth negotiation began.
“What is this box?”
“These are ear rings.”
“Why do you need ear rings for the trip?”
“Seriously? I don’t need to answer such a question.”
“Why is there another box of ear rings?”
“The ear rings don’t fit in one box.”
“……(trying to control my tongue)”
“What is this?”
“That is facial cream.”
“What is this?”
“That is hand cream.”
“Why can’t you just bring the hand cream?”
“Dad, do you wear your socks on your head? That is a stupid question.”
Third strategy: Simulation.
We decided the best way to test out if we packed the right things is to pretend we were already on our one year trip. So on a Friday night, one week before we set off, we packed everything into different zipped-lock bags, put them into our big and small backpacks, and set off to the empty swimming pool in our apartment complex to camp overnight!
It was fun to see everyone trying to stuff all the things into the bags and weigh each bag. Jonathan was the lightest at 11.4 Kg and Olivia was the heaviest at 14.5 Kg. Everyone else was in between. We didn’t finish packing until 1AM. Then, we each put our small backpack in front of the chest and the big backpack on the back and as quietly as possible “hiked” for a long 50 meters to the swimming pool trying not to get caught by the apartment security guards. Then communicating by hand gestures, we put the tent up successfully. The tent is only meant for 3 persons so Joani and Nathan slept outside the tent on the floor mat, while Jonathan, Annie, and Olivia slept inside. The first 30 minutes were mostly spent killing the mosquitoes inside the tent. For Joani and Nathan, they could only hide inside their sleeping bags. Lesson learnt – bring outdoor insect repellent.
After the simulation, there was a renewed interest in lightening the bags and buying from Taobao the things we needed, which was the reason we wanted to do the simulation early to have time to order online. At the end, on June 12, 2015, our starting date, adding weight of the small and big backpacks together, Jonathan carried 19.5 kg, Annie 20 kg, Olivia 17.5 kg, Nathan 19 kg, Joani carried 17 kg.
Thus, from a 150 square meter apartment full of things to 93 kg of essentials on our backs, we began our one-year of Su Family Backpacking Adventures.