Ever wondered what it would be like to flip a raft in the middle of a category 4 rapid, or zip-line across a giant valley between two mountains hundreds of meters up in the air, or watch a guy get his head crushed in a bullfight that you drunkenly decided to join in?
There are many things that can go wrong when you’re backpacking the world, but there are many more that can go right. In either case: whatever happens, happens and it will all just have been a great adventure in the end, a story to tell your grandchildren over the artificial fireplace in the augmented reality of the future.
Even though I’ve had a van stolen and burnt to a crips, I don’t let it bother me – I got some really cool photos of the wreck instead. Even though I’ve lost my passport and had to pay 3 times the normal price for a new one – at least my passport says “Issued by the Swedish Embassy Canberra” which only gives me a few more travel cred points.
Have you had similar stories of loss and adventure? Do you have any questions or comments on the tips in this post? Feel free to share in the comment section below. If you feel like this post has been beneficial for you feel free to share it with your friends, young and old, you’re never the wrong age to travel.
Being penny wise on the road is a crucial skill to stretch your trip even further
When going backpacking you have 3 choices for finances:
Either you go with a fixed budget – money you earned before the trip – and when it runs out you go home.
You can also go with money and plan on working during your travels – a working holiday visa is recommended, read more about that in the post Working Holiday Visas – this may allow you to stay away for longer than the fixed budget.
Your third option is to leave with money constantly coming in during your trip. There are a few ways of making that happen. You can either have a remote work deal, meaning you will have to work during your trip over the internet most likely, or you can be a remote student getting student grant while studying in a far cheaper country than your home country has many benefits, while stretching your money further it also brings more money into the local economy of a poorer country and funnels it out of a richer one. Think of yourself as Robin Hood. There are of course other ways of having money keep on rolling in while you’re travelling, like retirement or royalties for example. But I’m going to assume you’re a regular Joe like me.
Whichever of these categories you belong to you will obviously need to adjust your budget thereafter. I don’t need to tell you how to budget, if you’ve been able to save up for a big trip you already know how to budget. But keep a few things in mind:
Spending $50 on an attraction will most likely be a better memory than spending $50 on a night out. In many countries $50 worth of food and alcohol would be enough to knock out a horse, how then were you going to remember the new “friends” you made when the booze was flowing? I’ve seen plenty of backpackers spend a few months simply partying their money away with other backpackers at night, while their days were spent hungover in bed just to venture out of the cave for an afternoon meal. Minimal interactions with locals and never any money to spend on attractions or spontaneous trips anywhere.
The highest value of accommodation is not it’s price, but it’s location in the city. A centrally located hostel/hotel in a safe area is worth 10 times as much as a cheaper hotel on the outskirts of the city. This means less time spent travelling to the city, you will get more time to explore, less money spent on transportation and more excitement around you. Of course the best is always if you have a friend in the city and you can stay on their couch or maybe even an extra bed. That is, however, a luxury you can’t depend on for every city you go to.
Be smart with your meals. Don’t eat restaurant food every meal you have, as that is a sure fire way to have your expenditures run wild, save that for your lunch to replenish your energy stores for the rest of the day. Lunch is quite often cheaper than dinner as well and you don’t really need a lot of energy at the end of the day anyway. Many people who gain weight while travelling do so because they simply indulge too much, so keep that other benefit of staying fit in mind. Eat lots of fruits for snacks and find alternative ways of meeting your daily calorie needs.
Look at alternative routes and days for travelling in and out of places. It might be half the price to travel one day later, or earlier, and by having a stop over somewhere for a couple of days your flights might end up being cheaper. Don’t see the days you will be spending in the extra location as a higher cost for the flight as they are costs of living, not transportation. You will be enjoying yourself in another location, it’s just more travels.
Again, research is key. Know the location you’re going to and it’s festival times. Unless it’s something you want to see it might be a better idea to stay away as cost of accommodation goes up during national holidays and big events and even restaurants may increase their prices during that time. Do your homework and you will be fine.
Make sure you’ve got the right gear for your trip. I definitely recommend a backpack over any other kind of bag, and I’ve travelled with them all, including a convertible backpack/roller bag.
A backpack is simply the most flexible bag, easiest to move around with in all kinds of terrain, like up stairs, over broken pavement, gravel and dirt roads. It will force you to consider weight and what you pack a lot more than a rollerbag. A backpack is often designed with compartments in mind. That means you can easily seperate different items to make them easier to find later on. Another bonus is that you get a bit of exercise by carrying everything you brought on your back.
If you go the way of the wheels you will regret it. You will curse everytime you knock the bag over and it’s dragging upside down behind you. You will curse when the wheels come off, or you get to some stairs and you have to carry it by it’s crappy handles just for said handle to come off as you’re at the top. You will curse when the telescope handle breaks and won’t retract.
Don’t even think about going the way of the duffelbag, or the old fashioned suitcase. A duffelbag will destroy your bag by it’s unbalanced weight hanging off of one shoulder or being carried in your one arm. The same obviously goes for an old fashioned suitcase. A duffel bag has the extra disadvantage to not having many compartments and the handles easily coming off.
Apart from the bags you might want to consider the kind of trip you’re going on, if you will be hiking a lot you may want to bring (or better yet: wear on the flight) your hiking shoes/boots. Don’t bring snorkelling gear as it’s easier (and often cheaper) to buy it on site. Think and plan for the kind of climate you’re going to. Bring warm clothes to keep you snug on the coldest day for the destination you have in mind at the time of year. This links back to the first tip on this list: Be prepared. Do your research, know where you’re going and prepare for it.
One of the more essential things to decide is how you will keep in touch with friends and family. These days I don’t think there’s much use for you to bring your laptop, unless you’re a professional photographer, a writer or someone on a remote work contract. An unlocked smartphone is more than enough for most people. You might not even need your smartphone, maybe internet cafes are enough, although it is a piece of equipment I definitely recommend bringing as it carries weight off your back by acting as a map, a guidebook, a phrasebook, a notebook and in some cases your boarding pass among other things. Read my post Make travel easier: 10 reasons to bring your smartphone if you want more tips on how to use your smartphone, or if you’re simply not convinced of the benefits.
Be flexible enough to hop along with your new travel friends to the next destination
It’s a good idea to not have your plans set in stone when you go out on a backpacking adventure. You will meet people on the way, and sometimes they’re going somewhere the following day, asking you to come along. Some days you will just wake up and feel you’ve had enough of a place, then it’s good to just be able to hop on the next train out of town.
Being flexible also means you might have to switch up your means of transportation as well as accommodation. One night you might be staying in a hotel, or a single room in a hostel, the next you might be bunking in a dorm. Take it as it comes, lock up your most valuable things and don’t be afraid to wing it!
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
– Mark Twain
With an open mind you are more likely to have an amazing time on the road. If you are open to new experiences you will come back with memories and stories of a whole other world, and you will forever carry it with you. Try new things, talk to new people and make new friends. To travel is to open doors.