The so-called Flux life I’ve been dreaming of and writing about since this blog began has taken off in a big way this week. So packed has it been, that recounting the facts to you is liable to sound something like a Flux-inflected Craig David ditty. So don your dodgy facial hair and UK R&B garb, and here goes:

On Monday we waved goodbye to our possessions, on Tuesday we moved out of our home in London, on Wednesday we flew to Chicago (to begin six months of traveling in the Americas) before spending 4 days letting the dust settle as the Windy City gently blew our jet lag away and welcomed us into her glittering, beguiling arms. Now come on, whose week do you want to hear more about, mine or Craig’s? Well, okay you cheeky beggar, 2 minutes on YouTube for a re-e-e-fresh, but then back to me, okay?

This week’s Weekly Challenge was, quite naturally, aimed at attempting something I had never done before: becoming a khaki-and-canvas toting, guidebook-wielding backpacker. This isn’t easy for me, because I do feel prejudice towards hostel-botherers. However, I have to report that it has started to happen, and not necessarily in the way I expected, in fact I’m pleased to say that my wife and I are not yet conforming to the backpacker stereotype…in fact you might say we’re taking Fleetwood Mac’s winsome advice and going our own way.

We’ve found ways of easing our way into this new lifestyle, by initially visiting a familiar English-speaking country and staying in an Air BnB Chicago apartment, and other ways of allowing it to explode onto our agendas, like deciding to travel with only carry-on luggage, working to a very low daily expense budget and going purely on random recommendations from people we meet rather than our own pre-defined agenda. This pick-and-mix approach, which sees us going all Lonely Planet when it suits us and retreating back to more comfortable territory at other times is a really good blend for the *slightly* older (we’re both in our 30s) and uninitiated traveler. Below I’ve expanded on some of my pre-trip research and major decisions it yielded; I’ll continue to report back on how backpacker life infects my life, but so far so good.

Lose the Everest pack, napsacking is good
How much luggage do you need for six months? Providing you’re not climbing a mountain, and snowboarding down the other side before attending a fancy wedding, I think you need next-to nothing. I have one 40 litre pack and a 15 litre ‘fly’ pack for decanting day bag essentials into. That’s it. This is travelling light, and it feels great so far.

Having drawn on many, many posts and articles about packing lists from equipment manufacturers and tour operators (who generally advocate taking loads of stuff) to Guide Books (aggregated lists are always a bit bizarre) to experienced travellers (who can take the smallest pack -me, me, me!), I eventually settled on the wise advice of this post alongside the ever-reliable (and regularly updated) packing list of the guys over at Never Ending Voyage.

Obviously, for me, it is too soon to tell if one pair of shoes (plus flip flops), three pairs of pants and a comedy-sloganned tshirt will be enough to keep me going across a long period of ever-changing terrain (okay I packed a bit more, but not much), but so far I love that I can get everything comfortably on my back, in the overhead bins or under my bus seat.

Budget, budget, budget
It took many exasperated nights poring over spreadsheet and calculator to even get a rough budget on this trip, and now I’ve done that work, I won’t let it go to waste. So every expense is tracked on the excellent Trail Wallet app and will be compared with expected spend on a regular basis. If this sounds too anal, it’s because you’re wealthier than me or you don’t mind dipping into the red!

Research began with the Guidebook country-by-country daily budget which I triangulated from Lonely Planet, Rough Guide and other specialist publications. Once I had a rough daily spend figure I began spot-checking the veracity of that number with specific accommodation, food, entertainment and transport costs for the kind of trip we were planning (cheap but comfortable). The budget soon started to rocket, but this quickly informed our trip planning, cutting down time in overly-expensive destinations and clarifying what we should book in advance (major transport, accommodation in small-but-wealthy enclaves).

This approach also led me down a few blind alleys, but rarely with bad results. For example, camping on the W Coast of America sounds fun and cheap but extending this approach north of California was a silly initial idea I had which made the budget look great. However, Washington and Oregon States would be wa-y-y-y too cold and wet in the early Spring, I realised….it simply wasn’t practical, and there’s point in budgeting if it is pie-in-the-sky. As a result of the camping research, though, I did stumble across the Oregon State Park yurts initiative, which may well be perfect for our needs whatever the weather, and still cheaper than hotels!

Time will tell, but budget seems one useful place to put lots of emphasis before and during a long trip – in the end it defines most decisions, and it’s better to embrace that fact than ignore it!

Do a little, see a lot
I can’t afford (nor do I want) to see all the busy and expensive tourist sights in every town and city we visit. When on our honeymoon in Italy a couple of years back we spent one day hurtling around Rome ticking off sights, and a second day mostly sitting in a cafĂ© watching the world go by – I know which sticks in the memory. I’m not getting sniffy about tourist attractions, but we are now very picky about what sites we see, as we’d much rather have a gentler pace and suck in the culture of a place. In short, sights not sites.

Embrace your new character
However I may feel about backpackers and their ways, as we travel around and constantly meet new people, it is pretty essential to get into character and subscribe to a few stereotypes to help new acquaintances understand where I fit into their world. So everyone gets grilled for tips on quirky/off-the-beaten track recommendations, many get subjected to a languorous monologue on our expected trip destinations and I generally keep the Flux thing close to my chest. I think it’s important to understand when to accept the stereotype you’re teetering on the brink of, and during new conversational exchanges, that’s how I roll. It’s just easier that way.

All that said I hate backpacking, here’s why.