You’ve packed your passport, you’ve triple checked your flight times and got accommodation sorted. So you’re ready to go, right? Wrong.
Whether you’re enjoying a gap-year after school, a break from your career, or just an extended holiday abroad, backpacking often involves more in-depth preparation than the usual holiday checklist. How far to stretch your budget, how to handle transfers between various places, as well as constantly being on the go, can take some careful consideration.
Here are a few tips on how to get the most out of your backpacking experience and have a stress-free holiday:
Before you go
1. Do your research
Although a large aspect of the backpacking experience should be spontaneity, this doesn’t mean that a bit of prior research should be avoided completely. Not only will having a flick through the guidebooks give you a bit of inspiration on how to structure your trip, it will get you well and truly excited about embarking on your forthcoming travels.
2. Pack sensibly
Besides beating the usual airline baggage charges, you also have to bear in mind that your load will be on your back for longer than the average traveller. So pack sensibly. Do you really need 40 pairs of socks? 10 books? Nine bottles of sun cream? Remember that even though you are abroad you can still wash clothes and buy toiletries, so save that space for more necessities. And although you may be working on a budget, certain pricier purchases such as an e-reader could save you a lot of space!
Similarly, the way you pack could save a lot of hassle. Have essential items such as sunglasses and travel documents near the top and things that you won’t need straight away, like bulky items of clothing or shoes, at the bottom of your rucksack.
3. To pre-book or not to pre-book, that is the question
Back to that issue of spontaneity – do you plan your travel and accommodation in advance or leave your agenda wide open? The answer to this is really down to timing. Are you doing on a three-week trip around France or doing a six-month stint in Southeast Asia? If you are going on a short backpacking holiday (think two months and under) then maybe having a bit of an itinerary will help you make the most of your short time on the road. However, if you have months and months ahead of you it will be almost impossible to make any concrete plans. Maybe book your first two or three destinations in advance but then give yourself the opportunity to let wanderlust take over.
While you travel
4. Save money on attractions
Once you’ve hit the road you may notice money disappearing quicker than you anticipated. But do not fear – there are many ways to save money without sacrificing all the top tourist attractions that you’ve always dreamed of visiting. If you have a student ID remember to flash it as much of possible, it could be your key to free entry and massive discounts on some big attractions, or check out websites like Student Beans for great discounts on travel and attractions (check them out on Facebook too). Also remember to seeif the places you are visiting have free days or evenings. Many museums, such as the Reina Sofia in Madrid, are free of charge in the evenings.
5. Eat local = save money
You are going to be visiting many new places and wanting to try many new things. How do you set a budget for all that yummy world food? As nice as it would be to eat in amazing restaurants every day, it’ll begin to put a bit of a dent in your budget. Allow yourself one good meal per location but other than that try some street food or sample interesting things from the local supermarket and cook in the hostel, which is a good way to get talking to fellow travellers.
Read more: International street food – in pictures
6. Don’t waste long journeys
It can be easy to waste long train journeys zoning out but these are the ideal places to make some fantastic travel memories. If the person sitting near you is friendly get chatting to them, if they are local they might give you some fantastic advice. If not, get doodling, whether it be making a note of things you want to do or things from your previous destination that you want to remember.
7. Talk to people
Often, backpackers can end up in one of two camps: ‘I will only speak English to English-speaking people and this is how I will travel’ or the ‘I want to talk to anyone but English-speaking people as I am cultured and whatnot’. Both camps are fairly flawed. Only speaking to people from where you are from will vastly limit your experience – you may come back knowing everything about New York, Sydney or Dublin, but that’s not exactly useful when you have been travelling around the Balkans for a month. Part of the fun is battling with language barriers and learning from other people. Similarly, avoiding all other tourists will stop you from getting sage travel advice, whether it be what restaurant does the cheapest food or which hostel in town throws the best party.
8. Make the most of a destination
You will spend a lot of time stuck in trains and buses watching beautiful scenery pass by. When you finally reach your destination make the most of being your own boss. Avoid public transport where possible and walk everywhere. You’ll discover things you would never have found otherwise like amazing street art, quirky shops and cool cafes. Or rent a bike for the day and venture out into the country. Take in as much of the location as you can before you have to move on.
When you return
9. Don’t bore people
Yes you have been on the trip of lifetime and you have many amazing stories of romance, adventure and excitement… but for those back home, seeing the perhaps overly frequent Facebook updates and Instagrammed sunsets were enough. When people ask about your trip stick to ‘it was amazing, thanks’ plus one quick anecdote – if they want to know more they’ll ask. After all, you don’t travel to brag, or at least you shouldn’t do.
10. Document your memories
You’ll have collected hundreds of scraps of paper, napkins, beer caps, photographs, tickets and memories over your trip. Rather than leave them lying at the bottom of your rucksack why not use them to make a scrapbook? Or if your memories are stored in a more digital format, why not compile them into a video of photos, stop motion images and videos with that song that made the trip as the sound track? And always bring back a memento, whether it be a small thing like a fan from your trip around Andalucía, or a kimono from your stay in Tokyo. It’s a good talking point for when you have people round to brag… sorry, catch up after your long trip away.
Read more: Travel tattoos – the ultimate souvenir?
Got any of your own backpacking advice? Leave a comment below.
Want more information on how to have an awesome backpacking adventure? Check these out:
We’ve partnered with Student Beans to bring you the chance to WIN a flight for you and three friends. Just click the button below enter: