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Published: December 26th 2013
Trekking (or backpacking, or hiking, or tramping) has taught me a lot that is useful elsewhere in life - how to plan ahead and prepare, how to be resourceful, how to navigate, how to make do with little, and a lot more.
Below is a short list of what I've learned trekking that has come in handy while traveling in India for 6 months.
1. Make your own breakfast.
If you are on a tight budget, breakfast is an easy meal to make on your own. Rooms with stoves are very hard to find and cost much more than a regular room so stick to a cold meal. Cereal or muesli and powdered milk is a classic trail meal and easy to find in India. Just add purified water and you are ready to go. True powdered milk is a little hard to find but we have been using creamer, which is milk powder and sugar. Curd, or yogurt, is also readily available and the ever classic jam and bread is an easy fix. For you hot breakfast lovers, never fear! Many restaurants serve breakfast all day so save your scrambled eggs and pancakes for lunch!
2. Bring a Tupperware and spoon
Many restaurants are used to people asking to carry their extra food home; however, packaging seems to consist of tinfoil and plastic bags stapled shut. Proprietors do not seem to mind if you pull out your own container and pack it up yourself. Make sure your container is light weight and a good size. We love our classic Chinese take out pint size soup containers. It also comes in handy for cereal in the morning. Spoons are the universal utensil, good for any type of food, easy to clean and they do not poke holes in your pack.
3. Purify your own water
Purchasing bottled water can really add up and it uses a lot of resources. There are many ways to purify water. Here is a list of pros and cons for some of them:
I like filters because they are easy to take care of and clean, do not run out like chemicals, and never need new batteries or a charge. But most filters need a separate reservoir to pump from (such as a river when hiking), which is added hassle in a city. More importantly, filters do not remove all of the bacteria that can make you sick. Not recommended for India.
Iodine drops, such as Aquamirra, have very little aftertaste, and are fairly light weight. Logistically, you need to mix two different solutions together, then wait 30 minutes before drinking. In my experience, Aquamirra containers often spring a leak.
Iodine or Chlorine Tablets:
These pills are durable and easily available abroad. Con-they leave a bad after taste, can be heavy, take up to 1 hour (for iodine) or 4 hours (for chlorine) to take affect and you will be putting heavy chemicals in your body over a long period of time. After 6 months, this can really add up.
New technologies such as the Steripen use ultra-violet light to kill any disease-causing bacteria in your water. Using this method, your water is ready to drink in 90 seconds or less and has no after taste. The Steripen is light weight and great for long trips, whether you use batteries or recharge it. However, this is complicated technology - it can be temperamental and there is no way to take it apart and fiddle with it, like with a filter, It also requires an outlet/batteries now and then but the battery lasts a long time between charges.
**one final note: all purifying methods only work on the liquid inside the bottle. Be sure to wipe the rim of the container before taking the first sip. Even the smallest drop can contain bacteria that will make all your purifying efforts for naught.
4. Duct Tape!
In college, while walking out of a chemistry exam, my professor remarked, "Vince! I didn't know you were a hiker!" as he pointed at my water bottle. I was surprised on 2 counts - 1) that something so close to my identity, as the VP of Backpacking for my college Outing Club, could come as a surprise to anyone I had known for a whole semester; and 2) that he could confidently tell I was a trekker solely from the length of duct tape wound around my Nalgene water bottle.
In India, as in backpacking, duct tape has been invaluable on a number of occasions - helping to make my handmade Christmas present for Meg while in Diu, McGuivering a temporary way to keep a stubborn window closed on a brisk night bus to Shimla, and fixing Meg's broken watch band.
There is no limit to what duct tape can do. I also love it for its uses as a crude but better adhering form of bandaids or moleskin for cuts and blisters. When my wallet got stolen in Tanzania, I made a new wallet entirely out of duct tape.
Outdoor stores sell convenient and compact rolls of duct tape, or you can make your own by wrapping around a pencil. My preferred method is still the one I used in college - wrapping around the base of my water bottle, which I almost always have with me.
5. How to brush your teeth
In India, you really do not want to rinse you toothbrush or your mouth out with tap water; this will lead to the runs and you will be very sad. However, there is also an art to rinsing with bottled water. 1, spit out any paste/foam. 2, take a mouthful of water and do not swallow or spit. 3, insert brush in mouth with water and brush a few more times; this will rinse the brush and rinse the teeth. 4, when ready, remove brush and spit! Super simple and avoids both the bacteria from the tap and the mess and waste from trying to pour water over your brush!
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