10 Tips For Backpacking
Backpacking is popular form of world travelling whose roots date back to the hippy days of the 1960s and early 70s, though some may argue that its true roots stem from ancient nomadic cultures dating back much farther. The essence of backpacking differs greatly from that of regular travelling, commonly thought of as holidaying or vacationing. What sets it apart is the very ethos of backpacking – it’s not just a way of seeing different tourist sites and destinations, it is a lifestyle (if only a temporarily one). The backpacker seeks more than a holiday. The backpacker is looking for a life-education whilst exploring the different terrains of this great planet and absorbing him or herself in its diverse cultures along the way. Usually, the backpacker also endeavours to travel for a greater length of time than the ordinary tourist, which often means that he or she is also governed by tighter budget constraints, directly affecting his chosen mode of travel and accommodation. All this so that the backpacker may one day return home a more cultured, experienced and well-rounded person, whose immeasurable growth in character is equalled only by the size of his address book and mounting credit card debt. And so the term backpacking is a rather all-encompassing one – it can refer to anything from hiking in the Andes to bussing around Australia to taking the Eurorail across Europe. It’s not the mode of transport that unites backpackers, it’s the spirit behind the travel.
Although every traveller should research specific details about their destination(s) of choice before setting off, here follows ten important considerations and tips for the backpacking in general.
1. Do your research. Before your plane takes off, you should have done a bit of research about your travel destination either through sifting the internet, consulting a travel agent, or talking to people who have been before you. I don’t mean that you should know the country’s entire history, statistics and demographics. Just know the important things like customs and cultural mores, laws that may be drastically different from your own country, and idiosyncratic things like whether or not you should eat raw vegetables (I personally recommend a strictly meat-and-bread diet in Egypt) or how to get from place to place at your destination. Usually, your best resource for this kind of information will be someone who has backpacked that country already.
2. Make sure to get the right gear. Gear, in this instance, obviously refers to the equipment you will need to assist you with your travels, like a backpack. Try it out before you set off and talk to other backpackers to find out what they recommend. For instance, a ‘top-loading’ backpack is great for being able to jam more stuff into your backpack, but is a real pain when it comes to retrieving that stuff out of your bag later. A Swiss Army Knife is a ‘maybe’ for some places and a necessity for others, while a bottle/can opener is a definite for most. Hiking boots, rain macs, mosquito nets – all these will depend on where you are going. Hence, another reason doing your research is important.
3. Don’t pack too much. Unless you are backpacking the Sahara (never tried it, so I cannot comment!), there are few places you will go where you won’t be able to get your basic necessities. Most things you will be able to buy at your destination, and to be honest, you will probably want to buy them there too. So leave your tattered Roots sweater at home and opt instead to buy a locally tailored knit or jumper. Remember – when you’ve got to lug all that stuff around with you on your back, less really is more. It didn’t take me long backpacking Australia to realise that my steel-toed hiking boots really weren’t that useful, just as I learned the hard way that a sleeping bag (hot countries do get cool at night!) was an absolute necessity!
My basic essentials list includes –
- a few t-shirts, in neutral colours so as to match anything
- two or three pairs of jeans/trousers
- decent walking shoes (trainers, running shoes, etc.)
- socks & underwear
- one or two ‘going-out ensembles’
- sleeping bag
- headache tablets, birth control/condoms.
5. Take your bible. Whilst I do believe that there may be times the Koran, Torah, and Holy Bible would be useful, these are not exactly what I mean. What I am referring to in this instance is the travellers’ ‘bible’, also known as The Lonely Planet, The Rough Guide or any other traveller’s reference material. These books prove their worth by suggesting affordable accommodation or a decent place to eat in almost any town within your country of destination. This can be particularly useful when you take impromptu detours from your itinerary and head to somewhere off the beaten path. They are also quite informative about the important things you should know about laws, customs, health hazards, or just fun things to do, and so would be also good choice when doing your research as suggested in tip #1.
6. Be open to change. Just because you planned a specific itinerary before you left home doesn’t mean that you will want to follow that plan once you get there. Things change – you’ll meet people who will recommend never before heard of places that are too good to pass up, or you will fall in love with a place (or someone!) so much that you simply have to stay just another week or two. Trust me – my one year trip to England ended up turning into seven! By all means have a plan, just don’t be too rigid about it. I guarantee – the best things you will see and do will be the things you’d never dreamt up until you got where you were going.
7. Don’t depend too much on a travel partner. Although it can be really great travelling with someone else, especially if you have never travelled before or are going to a somewhat dodgy destination, it is not always necessary. Most of the popular backpacking destinations are geared up towards travellers and make it easy for one to get around and meet other likeminded travellers. Staying in youth hostels or backpacker accommodation is a great way to meet other people with whom to travel the country. This also affords you the freedom to say your fond goodbyes and go your own way when your new friends want to go somewhere different from where you want to go. A travel partner brought from your homeland is not so easy to shake off and can be a hindrance at times. Unless you are completely compatible and identical in your desires, be prepared to compromise your plans from time to time if you set off with a partner.
8. Call or email home at set intervals. No matter how old or experienced you are, parents worry when they haven’t heard from you in awhile, or when you don’t call when you say you will. Discuss with them beforehand what arrangements they would feel comfortable with in terms of ongoing communication. Maybe you decide that you will ring them every Sunday night or email them fortnightly – just do whatever you agree upon together. If something comes up that you will not be able to speak to or correspond with them at your usual time (say, if you decide to spend a night or two in a swag under the outback’s starry sky), let them know in advance. Just remember one important rule – if you say you are going to call, then call! Getting too drunk and forgetting is no excuse. They have no idea what you’re up to while you are away and it is definitely better to ease their trepidation than to let them run wild with their imaginations.
9. Get health insurance and your jabs. The first part of this instruction becomes twice as important if you fail to heed the second. Not everywhere you will travel will necessitate immunisation, but it is almost certainly easier to get it before you leave your country than once you arrive at your destination. Some travel inoculations, such as Hepatitis B, come in a set of the three injections that must be done over a space of a few months, so these will need to be done beforehand. These things are easily neglected beforehand but no so easily forgotten once acquired. Word of advice – Malaria and any of the Hepatitis’s don’t make great souvenirs. And neither do exorbitant doctors’ and hospital bills. For the sake of a few hundred dollars at the most, don’t chance it! I don’t necessarily believe in Murphy’s law, aka Sod’s law (anything that can go wrong, will), but I also don’t believe it is a good thing to tempt fate!
Don't leave home without them...
10. Have reserve funds available. Whether in the form of a second credit card or some cash stored away in an unused account, just make sure that you have access to some reserves in case of emergency. Although there are plenty of ways to economise while on your travels (i.e. sharing rides, hostel accommodation, picking up odd jobs here and there), you must always account for the unexpected. Unless you’re an expert at budgeting, money could easily come close to running out. Without reserves, you may be faced with the only option of cutting short your journey. In extreme case of emergency, a bag of spaghetti and a half-used bottle of Thai sweet chilli sauce will stretch quite far at meal times…
So there you have it – my top ten tips for the backpacker-in-training. Whether or not this is your first trip abroad, I am sure it will be one of many to come. My only real warning is that once you embark on the path of a rolling stone, it becomes extremely difficult to stop. I hope that these tips prove to be useful. However, as an addendum to the above I have saved my best piece of advice for last: Whatever you do, HAVE A BLAST! Godspeed and let the good times roll!