About to head off on your very first backpacking trip? The idea of long-term travel with nothing but a pack can be daunting.
Here are some backpacking tips to help you prepare for an unforgettable journey:
1. Invest in a great backpack
Having a backpack that fits both your needs and your body is absolutely essential.
First, decide how big of a backpack you are going to need, and size accordingly. How long you plan on travelling and how many climates you plan on visiting are two great deciding factors in how big of a pack you will need to buy. Too big of a backpack and you’re going to notice the extra weight, too small and you’re going to have a hard time fitting the essentials in.
Keep in mind that your backpack should be proportional to your body. You don’t want to carry 3/4 your body weight on your back.
Some other factors to consider when purchasing a backpack:
- Is it waterproof?
- Are the zippers lockable?
- Are the straps padded?
2. Bring earplugs, an eye-mask, and a lock
As a backpacker, you’re going to be staying in hostels and travelling on planes, trains, and busses. In order to get some decent shut-eye, spend the extra dough and get yourself a good earplug / eye-mask set. When it’s 3AM and you’re in a hostel dorm room with nine other people, you’ll thank me for this suggestion.
Also, it’s a good practice to bring a cable with a lock on it. These items are great for securing your belongings in your hostel dorm or when you want to sleep on a train and not worry about theft.
3. Backpacking is best done slowly
While backpacking, you are likely to be on a budget; even the less-expensive options of hostels and public transit will drain your bank account over time. To combat this, many first-time backpackers mistakenly try to cram too many activities into their precious time. However, regardless of budget feasiblity, this almost always leads to the widespread illness known as ‘Backpacker Burnout’.
I get it, you’re only in this new place for a few days, you want to see all you can. Just remember that you’re not bionic and sometimes going to bed at 9PM on a Friday night is totally okay if it means not getting sick later.
4. Limit how many gadgets you bring
Before a big backpacking trip, it’s tempting to go out and blow a wad of cash on new tech gear. However, keep in mind that everything you bring, you’ll have to lug around on your back. Instead of a GoPro, a DSLR with five lenses, an iPad, a tripod, a 15″ MacBook, etc., keep it simple. Bring a good camera, sure, but stuff the rest of your pack only with essentials; socks, undies, and the like.
Any seasoned backpacker will tell you that less is more. Simplicity is key.
5. Always have travel insurance
Travel insurance always seems like a waste of money until all of a sudden it doesn’t. Maybe your grand kite-surfing adventure went awry, or you lost a tooth fighting Muay Thai in Thailand, or you fell off that camel you were riding in the Sahara. As a backpacker, you’ll be testing your physical limits more than an ordinary “stay-in-a-hotel-on-the-beach” kind of tourist. Don’t get caught with your pants down, so to speak, and get insurance.
A popular choice among regular travellers is World Nomads. Check them out for a quote.
If you don’t have enough money for insurance, then you don’t have enough money to travel.
6. Choose your time of year wisely
Before choosing a start date, consider where you are going and the climate of your destination. For example, if you are not acclimatised, you might not have a great time heading to the equator in the middle of summer, or you could run into some serious logistical problems road-tripping the Alaskan outback in January.
On a different note, travelling off-season in many places can be noticeably cheaper than not. Flights to Europe, for example, significantly drop during the winter months and many European destinations are drop-dead gorgeous blanketed in snow.
Make sure you do your research on the appropriateness of travel during specific seasons… and develop your mind-set accordingly!
7. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is
Sorry to break it to you sunshine, but that pack on your back and that camera slung around your neck absolutely screams “tourist.” I know, I know, you’re a traveller, but that’s not how the people keen on scamming you will see the situation. Don’t get me wrong, you are going to meet some great people out in the world and kindness among strangers totally exists. Just… keep your wits about you.
If someone offers you a deal that seems too good to be true, then trust your instincts. Your safety is your top priority, and when you get a bad feeling in your gut, it’s best to walk away.
8. Research any visa or vaccine requirements
Did you hear of that guy who decided to head to the amazon jungle for a year only to get to the airport and realise that he didn’t have any of the necessary paperwork? Okay, well maybe there isn’t a specific story attached to this, but, don’t be that guy and don’t make this story about you!
Anti-vaxxers need not apply.
9. You can wash pretty much anything in a sink
It’s a sad fact of life, but not every hostel or Airbnb you grace will come equipped with a washer/dryer combo. So, if you plan on being gone for more than a week, there will be a point where you lock yourself in the hostel bathroom, plug the sink, and give your undies a rinse.
10. A little planning is good, a lot of planning is not
Last but not least, don’t over or under plan your route. Guaranteed your plans will get interrupted along the way, and it’s best to keep a “go with the flow” attitude. However, if you decide to head to Europe for a summer and don’t book any accommodation, know that you might end up sleeping on the street or Couchsurfing.
Leave your itinerary open just enough so that if you fall in love with a place, you can stay longer, and if you hate it, you can bail.