With our first backpacking stint having begun just over a week ago we thought we would share with you a check list we made when we were organising our trip. Backpacking for the first time can be an intimidating prospect and despite all our excitement we were also often overcome with what we needed to do before we could set off! Part of why we wanted to set this blog up was to make more people realise that if this is a dream of theirs then it can still become a reality…we have a mortgage and had full-time jobs for many years! So part of that is taking you through our process, here are our best Backpacking tips for an enjoyable and memorable trip!
Backpacking tips: Packing!
Packing can be a double-edged sword, you have a huge bag and yet you are travelling long-term! How much do you bring, how much is enough and what is too little! It really just is a learning curve and checking out other people’s packing lists really helped us. Often in the past we travelled carry on only for some trips which really helped us to realise what it is possible to travel with!
* Really think about each and every item you put in, do you really need it, could you buy it out there, how often will you use it? An extra t-shirt can seem like nothing but it adds up! We originally took a small tent and sleeping bags!! We never used them! As time has gone on our packs have become much more simplified for sure!
* Use packing cubes! These are a godsend especially in a backpack that can easily become disorganised and chaotic! Packing cubes help you keep different things like t-shirts, underwear, dirty clothes etc organised and separate and are a lot easier to pull in and out.
* Get a bag that opens out like a suitcase instead of a toploader. We recommend the Ospray farpoint alongside packing cubes as it’s a great size, comfortable, durable (3 years and going strong) and easy to organise! Top loaders become a nightmare quickly!
* Pack everything and then unpack a few times! Go through it again and see what you can get rid off!
* Take a walk with your bags on! A proper walk too, a good few KM and in hot weather if you can. Is your bag too heavy, is it comfortable, are the straps right? Know how it feels before you arrive tired and flustered!
* Bring along a front/ day pack. We keep our valuables in here and keep it with us when in transit. Practice having a front pack on with your backpack and be more selective about what you pack in here!
* Don’t be afraid to let things go along the way. We’ve sent stuff home on numerous occasions such as expensive clothing or souvenirs! We’ve given clothing or guidebooks to other people in hostel or donated clothing or equipment to either local people, charities or other travellers. Be responsible and don’t just dump stuff as that is wasteful, but don’t be afraid to let things go especially if they will help others!
* Unless you are going into some incredibly remote places straight away you can actually buy everything you might need along the way if you figure you need it… and if you’re in places like Asia it’s usually going to be a fraction of the price it would be back home too!
* An example might be. You’re travelling around SE Asia for a few months, no real hiking planned beyond some warm weather trails you can do in your trainers. But you decide to go up to Sa Pa in the winter lets say. Well, you can buy incredibly cheap jackets and boots in Hanoi, head up to Sa Pa and go hiking for a few days in chilly weather. Then you can either donate the clothes etc to some locals in need up in Sa Pa or some fellow travellers or if you’re feeling frugal then sell them to a backpacker! Either way you save money, bag weight and help others out!
* You’ll get better at packing! Honestly, it seems like such a nightmare at first, but 3 years in and a few short trips home and we can pack for 18 months away in an hour or so! We basically know what we’ve used along the way and what we didn’t, what we can do without or buy along the way and what we really did need! We’ve mostly stripped back what we carry as you really don’t need as much stuff as you might imagine! The worst thing for me is cameras and laptop… my backpack is probably lighter than my front!
Backpacking tips: What to do before you set off!
Sometimes you just want to pack up and leave…which is great because we think you should travel NOW rather than putting it off. But then again it helps if you have a few weeks to make sure you have everything organised and in order to make sure that your trip of a lifetime goes as smoothly as it can!
Backpacking tips: Our check list:
Know your visas
Check your route and which visas you need, also if you need to apply in advance or if you can get them on arrival via your method of transport! Sometimes it can differ if you fly in or go via road. You should be sure to have enough space in your passport and carry passport size photos with you too. When crossing borders you should also have some money on you just incase there are unexpected fees. Crossing into Vietnam for example we had to pay $1 for a “health scan”!! Carry small denominations of USD.
Sort your banks out/ budget
Pay off your debts, Get your savings in order and in a high interest account, Set up a few separate accounts to keep your money safe and give you a back up. Research Credit Cards or accounts that don’t charge for foreign usage and maybe even earn you rewards. It would also be handy to set out a budget from the beginning to stick to, you can alway reevaluate this as you go. We use the app based UK bank “starling“. They charge no fees for foreign transactions and their app is really easy to use to save, transfer money, temporarily block cards etc. We then have the bulk of our savings in another account and transfer some each month to keep they separate. (Not an ad, we really do use them and they are really great!)
Backpacking tips: get your documents in order
Scan your documents and take copies as well as saving them online. Have your insurance documents saved somewhere and contact details for them and your banks handy. Give your parents or someone you trust at home all your information/ bank account details incase you need emergency money and insurance details incase they need to contact them on your behalf. Take note of the serial numbers of your gadgets too and keep the receipts. Bring your driver’s licence too incase you want to drive and also as another form of ID.
Photos and docs
Set up cloud storage for photos and documents so that if your laptop gets stolen or damaged you don’t loose your priceless photos and important information. You can also use hard drives or even better memory sticks (less likely to get damaged) to keep an extra back up or in between cloud uploads if you don’t have access to the internet. Keep your backups in different places too so if one bag gets stolen or damaged then you’ve got a back up somewhere else!
Backpacking tips: Book first bits of accommodation and transport
Of course you won’t be able to book everything before you go and neither should you. Part of the appeal with long-term travel is the idea that you can change plans at the drop if a hat and have the freedom to go where ever you want. But when you first arrive on this crazy adventure you will be way out of your comfort zone. Booking your first few places to stay and methods of transport will make getting used to this new lifestyle so much easier. Most people then book or organise their next accommodation a few days in advance as they travel.
We always recommend staying in hostels! Don’t be put off or intimidated, just be sure to read the reviews and get a good one. This is THE BEST way to meet new people, get tips and advice about where you are travelling and is also the best for your budget. We LOVE staying in hostels for these very reasons! You can book private rooms in hostels too and if you’ve just flowed half way across the world you might want to have a private for the first night or two just to be sure of a good nights sleep!
We also love homestays, guest houses and airbnb. Check these out too because they often offer you a great way to stay with local people and can also work out cheaper too depending on where you are. Home stays are perfect if you want to get to know the local culture.
Check out our post on hostels here: Why Hostels are better than Hotels & our guide to staying in one for a first timer!
Plan a rough route /scope out main places you want to see
Again, you don’t need to stick to your route religiously and the fun of backpacking is how easily we can change our route. But especially on your first time it is ideal to have a rough idea of your route. That way you can do some research before you go and as you are travelling as well as seeing which cities are the easiest to transit between or organise meeting up with family and frIends along the way!
We tend to basically list all the places we want to go, have a look at a map and see what route makes the most sense. Along the way we change all the time on advice from others and other challenges that come our way. But it does help to have an idea of what direction you want to go in and what you really want to see so you don’t miss out on it!
Book your bus, train, ferry or flight for Asia and NZ here:
Backpacking tips: Roughly plan a time scale if you need it
If you have an idea of your route then you will also be able to estimate how long the route will take you. I know as a first time backpacker making a rough plan helps when you have certain events you want to visit or deadlines (such as working tourist visa in AUS before Shorty’s 31st birthday). Not everyone is lucky enough to travel on an open-ended schedule. Basically the less time you have the more you have to plan and be aware of your timescale to avoid missing out on places!
Backpacking tips: Travel Insurance/ Gadget cover/ EU health card if applicable –
Travel insurance is so important and so is getting the right cover. Never skip this cost because in the unlikely event of you needing it, not having it could cause real health and finance problems. Make sure you look out for backpackers insurance and disclose any health issues you have had. Also be aware that some of the adventure activities you want to take part in whilst away might not be covered. We choose to get general backpackers cover and then take out specialist cover for the days we will be taking part in high risk activities with Insure and Go. We also took out extra gadget cover which was available for items up to £1000 with Alpha. Also remember that if you are an EU citizen and travelling within Europe you should apply for your free of charge European Health Insurance Card or your insurance might in invalid. This card entitles you to medical assistance at the same cost as locals.
Check travel insurance prices with World Nomads here!
Research which vaccines you need for the region you will be travelling in, sometimes these vaccines are needed for your visas and insurance too. Don’t skimp on these either, it could save your life! But also bear in mind sometimes your doctor will recommend some vaccines that are just precautionary where as others are necessary. Do some research to see which is which. Also make sure that if you need medication that you have it covers, this also includes contraception which you can get implanted to last you up to 3 years.
Check expiry date on passport/ ID
Make sure your documents are up to date and also have a good few years to spare. Many countries require you to have at least 6 months validity left. Best to air on the side of caution and apply for a new passport if you are worried about the date or condition. Also check that you have enough spare pages in your passport for a long trip too!
Set up a blog to share your own Backpacking tips
Blogging can be an awesome way of letting your frIends and family follow your travels and see what you have done and where you are. They are easy to set up and you never know, you might just start to earn some money of it one of these days too!
Stay connected with everyone back home
Escaping your life back home even if its just for a few months to chill on a beach or to indulge in completely new culture over a few years is what backpacking is all about. However cutting all communication at home isn’t a great idea especially if you’re travelling solo. From emergency situations to just reassuring your mum you’re actually still alive or just uploading a totally idealised photo of your trip to make everyone at home jealous, you want to stay connected. As bloggers this is even more important to us and travelling over a number of years its also important for us to be able to speak to our family and friends back home.
There are various ways we make sure to stay connected.
Firstly we travel with our laptop and make sure to stay mostly in places with a good wifi connection.
Secondly we made sure to buy phones that weren’t connected to a network and in each country we buy a sim card with data as soon as we arrive.
Thirdly is a VPN, in places like China you will need one on your laptop and phone before you travel to still have access to services like facebook, google and skype. But even if you’re not planning on visiting China they are still useful for encrypting your connection to keep you safer online as well as having the ability to mask your country of connection meaning you make it look like you are in the UK which can be useful for accessing practical things like bank accounts as well as watching your favourite TV shows from back home or even having access to another version of Netflix!! There are heaps of different options so check out the comparison on BestVPN.com to decide which one to go for.
We also use facebook, facebook messenger with its free calling facilities, watsapp, skype and instagram as well as email to keep in touch with various people back home and indeed friends we’ve met whilst travelling.
Get a journal
On such an amazing and life changing trip you need to make sure that your inner most thoughts, feelings and experiences are recorded for the future in your personal journal!
Research activities you want to do and who can do them with/ contact
We love adventure activities but many of these amazing things need to be researched and booked in advance, even if you do it as you travel. It is a good idea to research the best places to do them in, where to base yourself and who you should be contacting in order to make sure you get these bucket list adventures ticked off!
A great tip from a friend travelling solo a few years ago too was to start your trip off with a short organised tour if you are apprehensive. That way you can ease into doing things for yourself and meet people who you might be able to hang around with for a while afterwards!
We don’t do too many tours but we have done a few here and there when we felt it was the best way to visit somewhere and we have met some great people along the way on those too!
Find a tour for your destination here:
Backpacking tips: Make sure everything at home taken care of
If you are like us and have a house to rent out or other responsibilities then that doesn’t mean you can’t travel, but it does mean you have a bit more organising to do!! Put everything in place beforehand and I can guarantee you will be far less stressed and more able to concentrate on your amazing adventures when you are out there! It also helps to leave others in charge too, for example, we have allowed my parents full control over the house too for when we are uncontactable.
Ask people who have done it before that you know/ bloggers / ask questions and get valuable backpacking tips!
You’re not the first and you won’t be the last to go backpacking! So use them as a resource, message them, phone or email them! Most people who have been travelling love to talk about it and will love to give you advice and help you out! Don’t be afraid to ask for help! Blogs are also a great way to get some priceless tips and most bloggers will be more than willing to answer your questions too!
Safety and security when backpacking
One of the worries you might have is keeping your belongings safe whilst travelling and staying in dorms. We haven’t had a problem despite travelling with cameras and laptops but we are vigilant. We have our own padlocks and also have security chains if we feel we need them. We are quite cautious about keeping our front pack with us when on overnight buses etc and keep the opening locked and attached to something. We recommend something from “pacsafe” if you are worried or want some extra reassurance.
Read about keeping your valuables safe whilst travelling here: How to keep your belongings safe whilst travelling/ backpacking. Tips for the road!
Get some awesome apps for your phone to help you out –
One of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal is our mobile phones. The most useful app we have is Maps.me and offline map app that allows you to see trails, roads, points of interest, accommodation etc all without internet.
These days they are so useful for booking flights, checking out hostels, seeing what there is to do in a city or getting in contact with your family for free. We recently complied a list of our favourite ones here: Ultimate List of Best phone Apps For Travel!
What are your top Backpacking tips?
Book your accommodation here
Hey, you’ve got your Travel Insurance sorted haven’t you?
Travelling and especially backpacking is a wild adventure, but make sure you are covered just incase something goes wrong, which if you’re living it up to the fullest it’s always a possibility!
Check travel insurance prices with World Nomads here!
Book your bus, train, ferry or flight for Asia and NZ here:
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