To travel is to be free, to discover yourself and the world around you. It teaches more about humanity than you could possibly find in any book. But it also means getting out of your comfort zone, putting yourself in exotic situations and feeling insecure. Though if you do it right, it will be totally worth it in the end, and it will make you so rich in terms of cultural experience! I present to you seven simple steps that can allow you to live a fun and safe trip. Here you will find useful tips on how to prepare a backpacking trip, including organisational, packing and safety tips.
1. DECIDING WHERE TO GO
The destination(s) you choose may depend on many things, such as the cost of life there and the cost of specific tourist activities, your knowledge of foreign languages, the kind of experience you want to live and your different interests in life. Of course, if you’re travelling with other people, you may have to make a compromise on the destination(s) and many other things, and that’s why communication will be very important. First of all, I find it essential to have at least a basic knowledge of the language they speak at your destination(s), especially if you’re travelling on your own, although not everyone feels the same way about this. Personally, I believe you can better interact with the locals and understand different issues and situations when you can break the language barrier, instead of staying far away from the local life by interacting only with travelers and being seen simply as a tourist. However, I have met many people travelling who didn’t speak a word of the local language and managed well by themselves. The next step is also very important since in order to decide your destination(s), you may want to know what different places have to offer according to your budget and interests, so I would say the first two steps go together, since some basic reading and research is necessary even before choosing where you want to go!
2. RESEARCH, BOOKING AND PREPARATION
Regardless of where you choose to go, you may want to do your research on your destination(s) before going, to learn basic sentences in the local language(s), know a bit of the region’s history, culture and current situation. You can start to do that by reading the news of the region you’re interested in, wikipedia and travel blogs. Talking to people who have been there is also an interesting part of the process. My favorite travel blogs are:
Once you have decided your destination(s), you can consider buying a travel guide book of the country or region, which is helpful especially if you’re visiting a region for the first time, or if you’re going to a place where internet may be unreliable, or simply if you don’t have enough time to prepare the whole trip before going, or simply prefer to be spontaneous but still safe when travelling, which is often the case for me.
If you’re looking for study, work or volunteer opportunities, you might find the following sites very helpful: http://www.vergemagazine.com/ ; http://www.goabroad.com/ . I have volunteered with IVHQ, absolutely loved it and highly recommend it, so you might want to look into that too: https://www.volunteerhq.org/ .
Regarding safety instructions, it really depends on the country you’re coming from and region you’re going to, so that should have an important place in your research as well. For vaccination and medication, for example, you should visit your local travel clinic in a few weeks or even months in advance.
Plus, you should always research a few months in advance about your legal status at your destination(s), if you need a visa or not, depending on where you come from and how long you’ll be travelling for, as well as if you’ll work or study there.
To find cheap flights to your destination(s), whether you’re buying a one-way or a round-trip, google flights is my main recommendation, since it’s a great database that finds the cheapest flights for your date and destination. You can also look it up on your country’s airline companies’ websites, though there it’s often hard to get an overview of the flights and prices, I find. To organize my trips and keep track of my responsibilities regarding transportation, activities and lodging reserved in advance, I like to use the Free App TripIt. It lets you compile all your flights and transportation, you can add your hotels/hostels/homestays, as well as activities and places, so that you can better organize your schedule and see everything at the same place.
Regarding accommodation, it depends on your destinations once more. I largely recommend hosteling international (https://www.hihostels.com/) if you’re travelling alone and/or looking for a young and fun kind of experience. If you’re looking for a more authentic one, I largely recommend airbnb, which is amazing when you choose the good ones, way cheaper than hotels and more comfortable than hostels, especially if you’re two people or more. When trying to find the best airbnb, look out for = the apartment (depending on what you want; maybe a private room in a local’s house if you’re travelling alone, with a close friend or boy/girlfriend, or an entire place with one room and a sofa bed if you’re two couples with less budget, an entire place with two bedrooms if you feel like it’s worth it to spend more, and so on. Also, make sure there is everything you need in the place; ‘essentials’ mean linen and towel are available for no extra fees, also look for washer/drier, wi-fi, etc.) + the location (depending on your budget and priorities; I like to stay a bit further from the city center if there is good public transportation easily reachable and if I have more time in that place, that way you can get into the local life and routine; but if I have less time I choose somewhere close to the center and attractions or places I wish to visit) + the host (there are “superhosts”, which are the most recommended ones with the best scores and reviews; if you want to be certain to find a good apartment or room and have the best experience, you really want to look out for those, it’s worth it!) + the availability (according to the dates you want to book it). You will find those things in the description of the apartment as well as in people’s ratings and comments on the place and host; the more comments there are, the better it is.
3. PREPARING A BUDGET
It is a myth that you need a lot of money to travel! Of course you need savings, but some destinations in the world are very cheap, and if you agree to simple food and accommodation, you can have the time of your life with very little money. Also, you can find small jobs while travelling if you’re gone for longer, such as working at hostels for free accommodation (which is great to meet people all over the world and take a break from frenetic travelling, while still being immersed in another culture). So go ahead, make a plan, save some money and live an adventure!
In order to know how much you will spend on a particular trip, you need to know where you’re going and have an idea of what you want to do there. For example, if you’re going to Peru, you should know in advance that food can be very cheap there, but that your Machu Picchu trek will cost you at least 2ooUS$, depending on the length of your trek and the agency you choose to go with. Also, you must be prepared to spend differently depending on your way of travelling, and for that, you have to know yourself. Personally, I mostly stay at hostels so I don’t spend a lot on accommodation, but since I have many food restrictions, I know in advance that I will spend more money in food than your usual backpacker, since I can’t always eat in cheap local markets. You have to really think about what kind of trip you want to do before making your budget, and research the average prices beforehand, since transportation, accommodation and food prices vary immensely according to your destination(s) and the length of your trip.
Plus, I like to use a simple Excel sheet to prepare a budget, where I separate paid and predicted expenses by category. Check out a sample sheet (where ‘already paid’ is the sum of the paid fees, ‘non-paid costs’ is the sum of the unpaid fees, ‘total’ is the sum of the two last categories, and the approximation costs are created according to the destination, length of the trip and the research you’ve done on the costs):
For organizing my money and keeping track of my expenses while travelling, I am a huge fan of the free App Toshl finance, which is updated on local currencies and creates helpful visual expense graphs and lists. Which takes us to the next step…
I am a LIST-freak! They help me keep track of what I need, of what I already have and of what I have to do/buy before the trip. They also help me not to forget anything important!
Here’s my sample list for the documents you need when you travel:
–Documents: Passport/Passports; Visa if needed; Vaccination documents (for example, in some countries in South America, the authorities may ask for a proof that you’ve taken the Yellow Fever vaccination); International Student Card if you’re a student (it’s great for discounts at museums, national parks and other attractions, but again it depends on your destination); Airplane tickets (even though you have them in your e-mail or travel app, it’s always better to keep a printed copy as well); Credit/Debit Cards (don’t forget to inform your credit car company that you’ll be travelling); Personal cards for identification; Travel insurance number (I like to keep two printed copies of that, stored in different bags in case I loose one or it gets stolen).
Those things are indeed very important, but remember, it isn’t the end of the world if you forget something less important such as toiletries or clothes; you can (almost) always buy it there, so don’t panic!
The next step also includes many lists…!!
I have my own ritual for packing my backpack, making sure I have everything I need and that I don’t over-pack. First, I make a list of what I need, depending on where I’m going (see my sample packing list below). Second, I turn on the music and start laying out all the stuff I want to pack on my bed. Third, I go over the stuff that’s on my bed, asking myself “Will I really NEED this?”. If the answer is no, I don’t pack it. It’s as simple as that. Otherwise, you might find yourself bringing lots of stuff that you’ll never use unless under unlikely circumstances. Fourth, I go over it again, with someone else in the room, to have a second opinion on what I’ll need there. At last, I pack my bag (see packing tips after the lists).
My sample packing list for a one-month trip:
–Pharmaceuticals: Advil (Ibuprofen); Reactine (Antihistamine); Lactaid (for my lactose intolerance); Polysporin (in case of burns… or tattoos); Gravol (for nausea or seasickness); Water Purifier (Pristine or Aquatabs); Vitamin B12 if you’re vegetarian, and/or vitamin B complex if you’re gluten-free; Medication that’s specific to your destination(s) that was prescribed by your doctor (for example, anti Malaria pills if you’re going to Africa or the Amazon).
–Bathroom and hygiene stuff: Microfiber travel towel; Hand sanitizer (depending on where you’re travelling, basic hygiene can be different, and toilets don’t always provide hand soap for washing your hands, so if you don’t want to catch any diseases it’s better to use hand sanitizer); Kleenex/tissue (in many places, especially in South America, toilet paper isn’t provided in public bathrooms, sometimes not even in hostels); Repellent; Sunscreen; Small scissors; Band-aids; Feminine hygiene products; Shampoo, conditioner (or my favorite for travelling, the Pantene 2-in-1); Body soap/shower gel; Hair comb and elastics; Deodorant; Hand/body cream; Toothbrush and toothpaste.
–Clothes (which I usually wash every week or so during the trip): Underwear (8 panties, 3 bras, 8 socks); T-shirts (6); Jeans pants (1); Leggings (2, one which I wear on the plane); Pair of loose pants (1); Pyjama.
–Coats, bags and shoes: Thin waterproof jacket; Warm hoody or jacket; Small/medium backpack; A handbag; Running/training shoes; Hiking shoes; Sandals.
*The clothes, coats, bags and shoes you’ll pack obviously depend on where you’re going and what the weather will be like at that time there. You might have to take a swimsuit, or thermal socks and underwear, or both (if you’re staying for a few months or going somewhere the temperature varies a lot, like Peru in the winter).
–Other useful stuff: Padlocks (I usually take three. Just don’t forget where you put their respective keys, I always keep them tied together in my wallet); A large bag for keeping dirty clothes until you wash them; A few Ziploc and/or Plastic bags (believe me, they will be extremely useful); Travel guide book; A pen and a small notebook to write in (my favorite things!); Cellphone and/or camera and their chargers; Universal power adapter; Cereal Bars, Protein Bars and Nut bags (Always be prepared, but don’t get too carried away and trust you’ll find food there!); A secret pouch (that you can put around your waist) for your valuable documents (especially passport(s) and maybe credit cards) and cash (no, it isn’t comfortable, but yes, it’s mandatory if you want to be safe, and you’ll get used to it. But please, when you know you’ll need your passport/cash/card, go to the bathroom and put those in your handbag/backpack so that you don’t have to reveal your secret pouch in front of everyone).
Tip for packing if you’re travelling with a backpack: Of course it’s hard to pack a bag with everything you’ll need for many weeks or months. But you can do it! Start packing the heavier things at the bottom: shoes, toiletries… Then, roll each piece of clothing tightly and squeeze it on top. Finish with your underwear, which you can place in separate bags and shove on top and on the sides. Be careful not to have a backpack that’s too heavy or full, since although you’ll leave some things behind as you use them (especially if you’re carrying food), you’ll also want to buy things for yourself as well as gifts, so anticipate all that and provide the extra space. Also, take into consideration the clothes you’ll wear on the way there. Lastly, try to always keep your backpack in a locker when you go out for the day, even if you’re at a friendly hostel (you shouldn’t have many valuables, but passport and cash must be protected, and even clothes and the backpack itself; I heard stories about people getting their whole backpacks stolen at hostels…).
Tips on packing your personal handbag that won’t be checked in if you’re travelling by airplane (I always use a small backpack of 25 L for that): pack in this small bag the documents, a change of clothes, your toothbrush/paste, electronics, chargers, and other essential stuff (of less than 100 ml of course). Also, I usually use it as my main bag for the day while I leave my actual 50 L backpack with my clothes and all in a locker at the hostel.
6. GOING ON AN ADVENTURE!
If you already did everything you could do in advance, once you get on the plane, sit back and relax. Of course, some unexpected things might happen during the trip, but stay calm and it will all work out! Go live this adventure and enrich your life experience (: