Have you been wanting to do a backpacking trip but have no idea of where to start?
No problem! I've got you covered with some helpful tips. I'll do my best to provide you with ideas on what places are easier to backpack to, what to bring with, what to plan, and how to get there!
Let's get started!
Traveling with a backpack is my preferred way to travel for one main reason: ease of navigation. I remember early on in my travel days arriving at a bus station in Venice, Italy and navigating through its narrow, cobblestone alleyways with a roller bag and being extremely annoyed with how difficult it was to roll the bag and just how inconvenient it was to carry around. That was the last time I would travel with a roller-style bag. From that moment on I started traveling with backpacks and haven't looked back. Make sure if you are looking to backpack around, whether it's a week or a month, to invest in a comfortable backpack. There are many brands and styles to choose from but I suggest heading to your nearest REI store (or something similar) to check out the selection. They will do a great job fitting you for a backpack and educate you on types of bags. While you are at it, make sure you invest in a rain cover for your backpack to avoid risking your bag getting wet if you get caught in a storm. Backpacks can be expensive but they are a good investment due to the ease of carrying one around on a trip.
Now that you've been fitted for a backpack, where are you going to go?
There are many routes you can do all over the world but the most popular ones and easiest for beginners are:
- Central America
- Start in Belize and continue through Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and end in Panama.
- South America
- Start in Colombia and work your way south through Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil.
- Southeast Asia
- It should be on every backpacker's bucket list!
- Western Europe
- There are many places to begin and end but you could start in Portugal and continue through Spain, France, and Italy.
- Ireland, United Kingdom, Belgium, Netherlands, and Germany is another route due to their close proximity.
- There are plenty of areas in central and Eastern Europe to backpack around but the more traveled ones, and easier for beginners, are the western countries. It doesn't matter which route you choose, the process is the same everywhere you go!
Why these places?
- These routes are heavily backpacked areas with many travelers you can meet along the way.
- The local economies are adapted to seeing backpackers and cater to your needs.
- Locals along these routes are always looking to help out a traveler with a confused look on their face.
- You will find plenty of budget accommodations along these routes, meet other travelers, and find amazing activities to do and sights to see!
Now that you have a backpack and route selected, what are some items you should pack?
When it comes to clothes, I'll just leave you with this: Laundry is available everywhere you go. There is no need to pack a lot of clothes. Check to see what the weather is like in that season and pack according to that. What I like to do is pack for a week and a half and then do laundry to keep on traveling. Many hostels/hotels offer laundry services and if they don't there is always a laundromat nearby where you can go wash clothes for cheap.
Even though the majority of hostels/hotels have towels, always bring a quick dry towel that will come in handy anytime you have a beach day!
It is a good idea to have a quality water bottle you can attach to the outside of your backpack in case you get thirsty on a bus/train ride. Plus it's great for the environment.
Make sure you have a pouch for necessary chargers, external batteries, and always check to see what kind of outlets are used in each country to make sure you have a good adapter.
Always have a combination lock attached to the outside of your bag, because if you stay in a hostel dorm room you can make sure your valuables are locked in a locker. Lockers are provided at a majority of hostels, locks usually are not.
Along with having a bigger backpack, make sure you have a smaller day bag to use for daily excursions. When you check into your room and place your bag in a locker, it is nice to have a smaller bag you can take exploring for the day with you. Having a small day bag is a perfect way to carry essentials (wallets, cameras, snacks, paper copy of your passport) you might need for the day and keep your hands free while you are out and about.
So now you have a backpack, route selected, and that bag is packed! How are you going to get to your destination you plan to start your backpacking trip at?
One of the most asked questions; "Well, how did you get there?"
I always figure out how to get to my final destination by working backwards. What I mean by that is that I will search my final destination airport on wikipedia and scroll down to the airlines and destinations section. From here I can see all the airlines that fly into that airport and from where. If my airline does not fly direct to that city, I can narrow it down to other airlines that I can fly standby on with a zed fare. With those airlines, I can see where they fly from and see if my airline flies to that city to make the connection. There's always a route to fly even though it might not be the prettiest and fastest. I also like to use the Skyscanner app to check full fare prices among those city pairs. You never know when you might find a deal!
So now you have a backpack, area of the world selected, packed bags and flight itinerary figured out! Wait, we haven't planned anything to do! Oh no! That's bad right?
Not at all! It's okay to plan very little when it comes to backpacking trips.
- It's great to have a general idea of what you want to see and do, but there is no need to have every day planned for a long trip. You never know when you will want to hang out in a city for a few more days or if you want to head out early to the next location so its best to keep an open-ended itinerary.
- Be sure to check entry requirements for the countries you plan on visiting to see if they have any visa restrictions or certain guidelines.
Don't get scammed at the airport with overly expensive private transportation.
- Visit a tourist information area in the airport and learn of cheaper ways into the city (ID90 Travel also has that information in their Destination Guides). There is usually a public bus or a shuttle bus you can take to your booked accommodation.
Book a hostel for the first night or two.
- Hostels have been an amazing source of information for my travels. The majority have a very knowledgable staff who know the area and popular surroundings so they can help you with planning and logistics of how to get to your next spot, what to do, and where to stay. The best reason to start your trip in a hostel: meeting other backpackers of course! Who better to give you information on what's overrated and underrated in that certain city and surrounding areas than fellow travelers? These travelers have been in that current town the past few days or came from a location you are looking at going to next. Between hostel staff and fellow travelers, you'll have plenty of suggestions to plan your next few days as you go! Limited stress for you when others are helping you along the entire way. You might even find someone heading the same direction as you and make friends in the process.
- P.S. ID90 Travel also offers hostels!
It is always great to do a walking tour of that city right away to get some general history and knowledge about the location.
- Get familiar with local public transportation such as buses, trams, or trains. When you are traveling for any period of time, it is good to be efficient and see as much as you can during your allotted traveling time so hop on that tram to the next location. As a budget traveler, using public transportation is also a great way to save a money as you go instead of expensive private transportation.
A piece of advice when traveling on buses: always hug your smaller day bag.
- I have traveled to almost 60 countries and the only time I have encountered a bad experience was when I was too careless. My friend and I left our day bags on the floor in between our legs on an overnight bus and fell asleep. The people in front of us noticed we had fallen asleep so they slid our bags forward and stole our cash and GoPro cameras. We didn't realize until we got to our next stop as they slid the bags back, got off the bus, and never noticed anything different when we woke up. From any bad experience, you learn lessons so you never have to go through that again. Lesson learned, use that bag as a pillow!
Become that backpacker you envisioned yourself becoming.
I hope I have given you a good blueprint to begin backpacking. Do not be afraid to venture out into new and foreign places. Every start of a journey is always a leap of faith but in the end it's always worth it. Try your best to not get stressed out if something doesn't go your way and live in the moment. You are the traveler. Let it become an experience for you and never think that you are alone. In today's day and age, we are all connected so easily and it is very quick to reach out to friends and family back home along the way. If you are traveling on your own, just know that there are plenty of other solo travelers out there and can all be brought together in the common room of any hostel. Meet people from all over the world and learn of different ways of life. Take the positives and negatives along the way and know that it is all part of the process. Enjoy every minute of the trip because it always ends faster than you would like.
Let me know in the comments if you have any other questions regarding planning, packing, or traveling.
Go make moments you will remember for the rest of your life and have a blast!