Backpacking, too many, doesn’t exactly seem like the ideal vacation. You have to carry your gear with you at all times, expend tons of physical energy, and take advantage of accommodations that are usually far from four-star.
So why do it? Despite the cold showers and extra blisters, backpacking provides an incredible alternative for those seeking to explore the world on a budget. You may have to spend a little more time planning the nuances of your trip in advance but backpacking is fun, educational, and safe. All you have to do is be prepared.
START WITH THE BACKPACK ITSELF
Preparing to embark on your first backpacking trip will probably be the costliest as you attempt to gather gear. Don’t fret, though. In the end, you’ll still spend less than you would have put out for new luggage and hotel room reservations.
The most important aspect of your packing phase is the backpack itself. If you choose the wrong backpack you’re bound to have a miserable experience as the straps begin digging into your shoulders and your back begins to ache.
The average person will want to opt for the largest bag possible, but this isn’t always the best idea. Decide how much clothing you really need to carry, considering if and when you’ll be able to do laundry, and find something that will accommodate your personal needs. Choose a bag that’s too large and you may have trouble storing it on planes and trains. Choose a bag that’s too small and you won’t be able to bring home any extra goodies.
When reviewing backpacks, make sure you choose one with durable material and strong straps. Remember the first time your cheap backpack broke in grade school and you had to try to carry it home? You don’t want to mimic that experience while traveling. Try finding a side-loading backpack with extra chest or waist straps to help distribute the weight evenly.
PACKING FOR YOUR TRIP
You’ll have to decide how much clothing to pack on your own, but remember – you’re going to be stuck carrying it for a long time. Always pack an extra sweater or jacket even if you’re visiting a warm climate. You’ll be glad you did if you find yourself stuck in a storm that drags a cold front through the area with it.
You don’t need to carry a pharmacy full of medications in your backpack, but make sure you do pack some sort of antacid and an anti-diarrhea formula as these are often hard to find in strange places. Bring earplugs in case you find yourself in a noisy hostel, and never ever travel without a pair of cheap flip flops. You’ll want to wear them in the shower or while you’re doing laundry.
PLANNING YOUR TRIP
Gone are the days where choosing your next destination right before you leave the last one is ideal. If you don’t plan in advance you may find yourself staying in questionable accommodations – that is if you can find a place to stay at all. Even the most seasoned backpacker has a game plan, and you should too.
Visiting websites like airscanner.io will give you the tools you need to find accommodations in almost any city and, contrary to popular belief, you can make reservations at hostels in advance.
You’ll also want to plan your modes of transportation very carefully. Your airline tickets may seem cheap, but the average airport is on the outskirts (at best) of any destination. That means you’re going to have to take an extra cab or train to get to your destination. When added together, is flying still cheaper than simply taking a train that will likely drop you off smack in the middle of the city you’ve chosen?
MAKE FRIENDS AND CONNECTIONS
Did you know you can rent cell phones in foreign places? If you’re in a strange place, do so and use the phone to keep in touch with the friends you make in hostels or in the towns you visit. You never know when you might need their help or cross paths again.
Having a cell phone on hand is important if you need to call for police or ambulance services as well. There’s nothing worse than hunting for a pay phone in a strange place.