After recently returning from my second backpacking trip and currently planning my third I realised how overwhelmed my brain was with travel tips and information. Having known a lot of this in advance would have really helped me on my travels, so I thought it best to store it in a place publicly in the hope I can help someone else one day.
You can read all the blogs and guidebooks you want, but you’ll never fully be prepared unless you’ve experienced it yourself. I’m no expert on travelling, like I said, I’ve only been on two backpacking trips recently and visited around 20 countries in the past 19 months so there is still so much for me to learn and see, but I hope my experiences from these trips can make yours an easier process.
Let’s get this straight; travelling isn’t cheap. I’m sorry, but when you read “Travel xxx for less than £10 a day” and suddenly start to get hopeful, my advice to you is, don’t. It’s certainly possible to backpack for under £30 a day if; you’re already in the country, covered by insurance/vaccinations and don’t plan on doing a great deal (this includes drinking alcohol – one of the biggest money eaters abroad for the young backpacker crowd). However, once you factor into the equation: vaccinations; travel insurance; activities; and moving around the country or continent you’re exploring, your bank account is going to look pretty empty.
On the other hand, it is certainly possible to enjoy yourself on a budget. The first lesson of budgeting is to always over budget. No matter how cheap that country is, you’re bound to spend more or expect to end up missing out on great experiences. I hope to cover as much as possible to prepare you realistically about travelling to some of the places I’ve been to so you’ll get the most out of your trip.
The first worry most people have is, how do you take time off work to travel? Well, travelling doesn’t have to be for a long period of time. I covered smaller countries in as little as 10-14 days. It depends entirely how content you are with being on the move so often and how much you’re willing to see.
Alongside this, many larger companies (including supermarkets and fast food chains) offer career breaks. This is a great way to save up and then jet off for 6 months at a time. Around twelve years ago my partner did this whilst working at Tesco full time.
It’s a bonus if you work from home/are self employed or a student. Travelling is super easy if you fit into one of those brackets. I once met a woman who had sold her house, quit her job in music production and left for an indefinite amount of time travelling the world. So you could always take that huge leap if you’re daring enough.
The next question is; do you wait for someone to come with you, or take that plunge and travel solo? I’ve travelled with friends, partners and alone and personally I prefer to travel solo, much to the dislike of my overly anxious mother. Travelling solo gives you a lot of flexibility and freedom. You can get up when you want, leave when you want, and make spontaneous decisions of your next stop or night out. It also allows you to become much more approachable as you are often not caught up in your little bubble of who you’re already with. When travelling solo, I met so many more people who I’m still in contact with a year later. I found I was never really alone. Unpopular opinion, but I’ve discovered many times, myself and from others I’ve met, that travelling with your partner limits who you meet and what you do. The same can go for travelling with friends. So, if you’re holding back on that trip of a lifetime because you’re uncertain to go alone, take that risk and book that flight.
Now that you’re set on how, when and who you’ll travel with, the next big step is to decide where. This entirely depends on the sort of person you are. For my first trip, I’d never even left England, so I settled to interrail Europe and stick to mostly capital cities. Personally, this is a great way to start planning and exploring somewhere outside of England if you’re an incredibly nervous traveller. The cons to interrailing Europe are that Europe isn’t the cheapest continent, nor is it going to give you the most of a culture shock. So, if that’s what you’re looking for then there are plenty of other cheaper and perfectly safe options. One, that has become an incredibly common and worn out backpacker route particularly for first time travellers, is the South East Asian trail. Opting for a worn out route can only mean plenty of guides, tours, transport options, safe hostels and lots of people to meet!
I won’t go into too much detail as I’m currently working on an entire beginners guide to this beautiful part of the world but if you opted to go here as a first trip, you certainly wouldn’t be alone in doing so.
One last thought, whether you’re thinking of going for 6 days, 6 weeks or 6 months please consider the right luggage option for you. Buy a smaller bag than you think you might need. I’ve known people to get by on 40 litres for a year and others who might want to invest in a bag up to 80 litres but be aware a lot of public transport have limits on the size and weight of your luggage. Remember, you’ll have to carry this bag. Alot. I’m 5 foot 4 and personally I find 60 litres almost too large for me. For my build a 50 litre bag is just right. I also prefer a backpack with wheels so there’s always both options of wheeling it and carrying.
I cannot express enough about choosing an easily accessible bag. I’ve recently bought myself one that opens fully like a suitcase and comes with a detachable small day pack.You’ll understand my pain when you’re 6 weeks into a trip and you’ve unpacked and repacked your entire bag 16 times just to find the items that have gotten lost at the bottom of your bag. Also, if anyone else has managed to figure out how not to over pack, be my guest at telling me your secrets. I have yet to learn myself.
So to summarise the thoughts on preparation for your first trip: money matters; your budget will be wrong; be realistic; think about what you’ll be carrying; work will wait for you; travel solo and don’t look back.