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Posted on: Thursday, 8 August 2013

My New Buzz Word – Flashpacking – What It Means, And Why I’m Doing It

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I was recently discussing with my better half (I say this with complete candour as when it comes to shoe-chucking, word spewing bouts of frustration, my husband has a lot more control than I; which must make him a better human being. He also plants great vegetables, builds legendary lego towers, and ignores the phone more readily than I) the ins and outs of packing for a just over three-week holiday.

There are more outs than ins when packing. Of the bulging variety. As in bags; the sit-on-to-close variety. Whether we leave for a week or a month we generally look as though we’re going away for at least a year. And then some. There is something about the desperation of leaving that has one trying to fit every little thing one can possibly imagine needing, including the kitchen sink, into the car. Are you sure we shouldn’t take the blender, hon?

But this trip we’re going by train. Admittedly there is a car at the other end of the attempt to lower our carbon footprint, but getting onto and off the train with my dignity intact, and anything remotely representing ease, entails careful packing. Careful is not even close to what I’m going to have to carry out in order to limit my baggage. It’s going to have to be a ruthless process of elimination. And a change in packing style.

And so I stumbled on the term ‘flashpacking’ and decided that this, or at least a version of this, would be the very thing to practise this trip. Without a strategy I will likely come unhinged. And I love having a word or description for what I do.

The idea with flashpacking is that you take along more tech tools, and a few more Rands than you usually would. And a lot less stuff. It’s been called ‘backpacking with bucks and toys’ and Wiki describes it as a neologism (a newly coined term) referring to an ‘affluent backpacker’.

Whilst I’m hardly in the latter category, I rather like the idea of taking the bare minimum and using a couple of gadgets like our laptop, camera and code-thingie from Capitec (Capitec bank gives each of its clients a code-generating disc that provides access to Internet banking) to get us out of the odd pickle for which we didn’t pack.

Flashpacking also refers to those who, though they travel with a backpack, stay in far nicer places than backpacker lodges. To be honest though, we’re not taking backpacks for a start. We’re doing the suitcases on wheels thing. And who, these days, leaves home without a cell phone and laptop. Add to that your SLR camera, and requisite Blackberry (I have yet to succumb to one of these and do not intend to unless someone gives it to me as a gift, and even then…)




But back to flashpacking. The idea is that you do not pack any clothes that you’re not planning to wear within the first couple of days – no camping gear or sleeping bags, and no oversize backpacks. Those in the know advocate that your gadgets include cable locks (no idea what these are for), a good-size USB memory stick, two cameras (the little in-the-palm-of-your-hand type and the larger version like the Canon 600D), a phone, an MP3 player, alarm clock and camera on your cellphone to use as backup.

I see the sense in a laptop. Both of us write, so having something on which to compose, edit, store one’s work, manipulate photos and save what we’ve downloaded off our cameras, makes complete sense to me. Taking an entire wardrobe’s worth of clothes suddenly loses its appeal. I’m the type who usually squeezes in that extra pair of jeans, just in case it cools down whilst we’re away, that I invariably never use.

I have also forsworn any food. In the suitcase, that is. Usually I leave home armed with a litany of wholefoods, supplements and special food items that goodness knows, they probably have on the other side of the same country (we’re not talking about a year spent walking across China here).

So, now I know that flashpacking is all about the gear. It’s about travelling ‘flash’ (or is that ‘flush’?), in other words, with money. Which is all very well and good, but how much time do you want to waste, when on a four-week trip, shopping? In a place that you don’t know very well. Interesting that one of the articles I read listed ‘shopping is fun’ as one of the reasons for flashpacking.

Must be an age thing. Maybe in your twenties shopping is fun. But once you’ve had a child and shopping becomes a juggling act at the till (do you know it’s illegal in the UK to display sweets at that height at the check-out?), then I don’t know if I regard it in quite the same light.

Other reasons for flashpacking include the obvious: luggage is heavy (I’m with them on this one), gadgets are fun, plans change (on a year-long journey around the world, maybe), travelling light doesn’t mean leaving everything behind (that vital laptop), people miss you (if you can bear an incessantly ringing cell phone), and there is downtime (you need something to do whilst waiting for aeroplanes that never come, changing a tyre, staying in a B&B without TV).

Am I flashpacking? Well, in the sense that I fully intend to downscale the amount of ‘stuff’ I take with me on this trip, bearing in mind that I’m supposed to cater for three home-made meals on the train (leaving it up to the dining coach is taking one huge risk) and that there is a very big chance that the train will not have enough bedding for everyone (hence we might just need a couple of sleeping bags), after all they say as much on their website, and that taking toys to occupy a five-year old are essential. Well, yes, we’re flashpacking. Just in a family kind of way.

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Wanda Coustas


Wanda Coustas has written in one form or another for 10 years, seven of them as a copyblogger. She has travelled the Western Cape extensively and the rest of the country in protracted road trips that have given her both joy and an ongoing relish for experiencing what she writes about first-hand. She is a trained opera singer, poet, eurythmy dancer, philosopher, and bee whisperer.

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