Backpacking is an extraordinary way to see the world, and it’s also one of the cheaper ways to travel. Who needs a fancy hotel when you can enjoy the social experience of a hostel? You’ll meet a greater variety of people on a backpacking trip, and you’ll also be able to more deeply immerse yourself in the local culture.
Of course, a backpacking trip can be physically and logistically strenuous. Here’s how you can properly prepare for your adventure so you’ll be well-equipped for exploration and fun.
Book in Advance
The fun part about backpacking is that you can stick with a loose travel itinerary. Still, you should book your flights and lodging far in advance of your trip. You’ll save money on airfare by buying your plane tickets months before you fly out, and early booking is doubly important if you’re doing an international flight.
You’ll also want to book your hostel months in advance, if possible. You’re bound to find a hostel with available beds when you’re travelling, but not all hostels offer the same level of comfort and amenities. Some hostels are designed for social experiences and some have private rooms; other hostels are located in busy metropolitan neighborhoods, while others are more remote. The most popular hostels—and the ones that are located in the most favorable locations—tend to get fully booked several months ahead. Browse hostels online and reserve a bed or room as soon as possible.
There’s a reason they call it “backpacking:” expect to travel with a minimal amount of luggage, and be prepared to carry most, if not all of your belongings, in a backpacking pack. For that reason, backpacking trips tend to be much more physically intensive than a standard travel adventure, especially if you’re going to be zipping from one location to another via public transit, cycling, or walking.
You don’t want to be too worn out by the physical demands of backpacking, otherwise you might be too tired to go hiking, exploring, or pub crawling. It’s not a bad idea to practice healthy lifestyle habits in the months before your trip. Head to the grocery store and buy healthy foods for your fridge. Buy some racing shoes and start going on runs, or get a pair of hiking boots and go hiking on the weekends. You’ll develop plenty of energy and endurance for your adventure.
Pack the Right Gear
The most important piece of gear you’ll need for a backpacking adventure is a backpacking bag. Your bag should be large enough to store your clothing, electronics, and travel essentials. It should also be ergonomic, lightweight (as much as possible), and durable enough to withstand bumps, drops, scrapes, and inclement weather. It also helps if your bag has plenty of different pockets so you can organize your belongings.
Some other types of gear you should bring include:
- Walking shoes
- Travel adapter
- Water bottle
- Emergency whistle
Don’t forget to make copies of your passport and travel documents just in case you accidentally lose the real things while you’re abroad. Be sure to give copies to your friends or families back home so they can send to you, if need be.
Study the Language Basics
If you’re travelling abroad, you might be immersed in a culture that speaks a different language than English. When you’re staying in a fancy resort or you’ve hired a guide to lead your trip, then you typically don’t need to worry about the language barrier. But when you’re backpacking, you’re probably going to be using lots of public transportation and you’ll be more deeply immersed in the culture—so it helps to be able to speak some of the most basic principles of the language, like:
- Pleasantries (hello, goodbye, thank you, how are you)
- Asking for directions
- Understanding prices and reading menus
Consider getting a language learning software and take the first and second course to learn the language essentials so you can communicate with locals.
Preparation is important for any sort of travel adventure. But one of the best things about backpacking is that you’re able to go with the flow. You never know when a local or traveler will tip you off to a great local hot spot, and you definitely want to give yourself some flexibility with your schedule and budget so you can go off on these sub-adventures when they’re offered to you. Even if you have a loose, skeleton itinerary you’re following, be sure to schedule in plenty of free time to do other fun things that are unexpected.
You should also try and have an open mind with food. Not every dish you taste will be your cup of tea, but trying local food is one of the best parts about trying—avoid eating at an international McDonald’s. If you’re worried about the cuisine, find a nearby restaurant in your area that sells food from that country and develop your palate before you go.
With a little bit of planning, and lots of prepared flexibility, you’re sure to enjoy your next backpacking trip to its fullest.