Travel blogger and influencer Rose Bilbrough’s guide to backpacking 101
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A decade ago, travel blogger and influencer Rose Bilbrough, who goes by the handle @gotravelbug, left Jo’burg for the Garden Route.
It was a place that stole her heart at 17. Aside from it inspiring her tourism journey, the Garden Route was also where her love for backpacking, hiking and walking started. And she is the tourism spokesperson on their digital platform.
Although the injuries sustained in a car accident in 1992 had a knock-on effect on her hardcore hiking trips, she hasn’t forsaken hiking altogether. Every now and again, she does a long hike but, most of the time, she keeps the duration shorter.
She shares her backpacking journey with us.
How did your love for backpacking start?
As a child, I was always wandering off to adventure up a hill or into a valley, mostly with mates. But the army in 1985 was what changed my mindset for life, they chased us up a mountain for "hardcore" training, I loved every minute of it. At 18, I joined a hiking group.
Can you share your 5 tips for a successful backpacking trip?
It's important to start a hike, prepared. I normally start preparing six weeks ahead of long hike
- Comfort! Comfortable broken-in hiking shoes, clothing (¾ leggings are great) and a backpack. Your feet are your most important asset on a good hike. Make sure your toenails are taken care of. Hiking shoes should always be one size bigger than your normal shoe size. Take a pair of soft shoes with for after the hike.
- Less is more! There is only one thing that you can have more of on a long hike and that is dry clean socks. Plan your clothes, food, water, toiletries and days carefully. My hiking gear works out to about 12kg. I've never done a hike where there is electricity.
- Put everything in black plastic first before you put it into your backpack. There is nothing more horrible than wet gear, especially a sleeping bag. Good rain gear is a bonus and clothes that dry easily. Remember you can wash small items on a hike. Hang them on the backpack to dry.
- A good medical kit of the basics, especially for chaffing and blisters. Rehydrates and water purifiers and always a great idea.
- Extras: A sun hat and suncream. A walking stick is a bonus at times. Good old-fashioned Isotonic Game as a drink mix. Stay away from too much sweet stuff. Snack, instead of eating meals, as you walk: A good nut mix is a great idea. Biltong and dark chocolate. Try to carry some fresh stuff, your tummy will be happy. Remember the evenings can be cold. Take lightweight items such as jackets.
What are some common misconceptions around backpacking?
That you don't need to plan. Plan your gear, clothes, food, water, emergency kits and communication. You are heading into the wilderness, be prepared.
What is your advice for South Africans who want to start backpacking?
Join a local hiking group, it's always good to start with people that have been doing it for a while. You meet like-minded people and build new friendships, too.
What are the best locations in South Africa to plan a backpacking travel trip?
Wow, there are so many.
- I loved the Drakensberg mountain hikes, there is nothing more enchanting than those big mountains. The chain ladder hike was the most challenging but the most spectacular.
- Mpumalanga's hikes are gorgeous! If you love the bushveld try one of the hikes in the Kruger National Park. My personal favourite was the Fanie Botha hiking trail near Sabie.
- The Garden Route has oodles of gorgeous hikes, from mountain to coast. The Otter Trail is a must-do for anyone who loves long hikes.
- The Overberg has the whale trail and many other coastal/ fynbos hikes.
- Golden Gate hiking trail in the Free State plus Clarens has loads of short hikes. This was a very dry hike for me. Make sure you take loads of water.
Which are the items that you always take on a trip?
Walking stick, my bush hat, headlight, camera and good company.
Do you care to share any interesting backpacking stories?
Hmm, that has to be the time I came head to head with a spitting cobra on the Hans Merensky trail in Phalaborwa. I think I jumped about 3m high and 5m backwards, only to become a pillar of salt for about 10 minutes with my eyes facing downwards. I was ahead of the group and waited for them to catch up before we manage to convince the snake to leave. It was scary!
Best accommodation you have stayed at?
For most of my hikes, we camped, but I think the Otter Trail was my favourite. The cabins are well managed, basic, but with beautiful views.
Tell us the secret to great planning for such a trip?
- Check your gear ahead of time. This includes good wet gear. A wet hike is a challenge on its own.
- Make sure you are fit, uphill training makes life easier.
- Plan your meals with the group and your little snack packets should be simple and easy to consume and reach on a hike. A light, hardy water bottle is always a win. Plan your water reserves well.
- Drive if you can (carpooling helps) but if you have to fly, hire a rental car or two or get a good transfer company to take you to your starting point and make sure they collect you from your finishing point.
- If you are flying in, ensure you have enough time to shop for goods beforehand. Rent accommodation close to town, this makes it easier to get around for stuff.
- If you are flying in, make sure there is a place to leave your extra luggage. Do this beforehand, accommodation owners hate surprises.
- Accommodation is up to you, but a lodge or a backpackers are normally better equipped to receive hikers. Most of them have transport, too. Some places are better to drive to as there are no airports, etc.
- The secret to a good hike is good company. Easy going like-minded people are the best to hike with. They are normally all practical and share great ideas.
- Make sure you have all the necessary paperwork at hand on arrival and always keep some cash at hand. Even on your hike.
- Electronics and hiking. There are normally no electrical points on a hike. Take a good solar charger if you need a cell phone at hand. Not that there will be any signal but it's great for photos.
- If you are going to need to use a small gas stove on the hike, make sure you can get cylinders for it at the destination. You can't fly with gas cylinders. Remember a good lighter.
- Lastly, expect the unexpected. There is always something that doesn't go your way. Have a good frame of mind and good packing and a to-do list.
Where to next?
My next hike will hopefully be the Leopard Trail in Baviaanskloof. Time to get training.
⋄Try this app for hiking trails near you: www.alltrails.com/south-africa