Best tips for beginner backpackers

tips for beginner backpackers

Hello backpackers, I hope that you’re well, in this article I will give you the best tips for beginner backpackers and advice, and no matter what the same frequently asked questions always seem to keep reoccurring, so in this article, I will be addressing all of your most frequently asked backpacker questions.

1. How big should my backpack Be?

I have done both ends of the spectrum I’ve traveled with an 85-liter backpack and a 40-liter backpack. So 45 to 50 liters tends to be the cutoff point for having hand luggage only. So if you know that you definitely only want to travel with hand luggage only, you kind of really want to make it smaller than 50 liters.

I feel like the majority of backpacks if I’m going at like a bog-standard average. The average is about 65 liters and I think that this is a really nice size to start with, obviously, that does mean that you’re gonna have to get checked in luggage if you’re going on a plane. But that’s very normal, not a lot of backpackers get very many issues from that, 65 liters is a nice compromise.

Because it’s not too big, but you can still fit loads in because I used to travel with such a big backpack, but now I travel with a 40-liter backpack and it’s completely fine, and I never thought that was ever going to be possible.

I’ve come to the realization that you will just fill the space that you have. If you buy an 80-liter backpack, you will fill that space and you will think that you need all of that space. If you buy a 40-liter backpack you will make compromises to fill that space that you have, and you will probably be okay as well.

So just keep that in mind the size of your backpack isn’t really a big deal, but it is good to remember that you probably don’t need half as much stuff as you think you need.

2. How do I know how much my trip will cost?

The second question is how much money do I need? or like how do I budget? how do I work out how much a particular trip is going to cost?

There are very many factors when it comes to working out your specific budget for your trip. You’ve got to think of your daily spending in the country, like accommodation, food, travel, activities.

You have to think of things beforehand like your flight, travel insurance, visas, vaccinations, and medical, and you have to think about the type of backpacker that you are.

If you are super frugal, you like to do things in the absolute cheapest way possible, or you just want to have an epic trip, but you just don’t have that much money to spend. Then you’re obviously going to travel a lot differently from people who are perhaps going on a shorter trip, or they just have a lot more money to spend. And that’s going to be two very different types of travel, and you’re going to have two very different types of budget.

3. How long should I go for?

My personal answer to this is as long as you can. And as long as you can afford to. Because I feel like when I’m in destinations I often feel like I’m rushing and I’m like oh I just wish I had the time to relax in this destination as opposed to being like go go go.

I’d say the shortest amount of time that I personally would want to go on a solo backpacking trip is two weeks. Because I feel like it always takes at least a couple of days for you to settle down into the backpacking life. But you know some backpackers are on the road for over a year and are thriving and loving it.

I guess it just depends on your job situation. If you’re able to work on the road, or if you’re able to take a sabbatical. How much annual leave do you have? I think if I was in a job where I only had like a certain amount of annual leave. I think personally I would want to take that all at once and do as big a trip as possible.

That’s just a personal preference, you may be someone who chooses to like split up your annual leave in chunks. And go on different trips throughout the year.

4. Shall I book a one-way or return flight ticket?

If I was on a very specific time frame and I was doing a very specific trip. I would book a return, just because the dates are a little bit more set in stone you’re not quite as flexible. If you do have a bit more flexibility in terms of dates you can travel and you also want to be a bit more flexible in where you travel. And you kind of is one of these people who is like I just want to go where the wind takes me which really is like backpacking is the time to do that in your life.

I personally would say always book a one-way flight. This is what I do every single time, when you do a flexible search on Skyscanner you can find some really really cheap flights, and so I really don’t think it works out to be that much more expensive if any more expensive at all than booking a return flight.

And as for the question that I know will follow is, what will happen if I need a proof of return, so often when you arrive in a country they will ask for where’s your onward going flight or where’s your onward going travel, so we know that you’re not going to overstay your visa in this country.

There are a couple of options that you can do, my favorite is to book a flight on expedia.com. So basically, if you go specifically on expedia.com and you book one of their flights there’s a 24-hour cancellation policy, which means that just before I get to the airport of the country that I am going to, I will go on expedia.com I would book a provisional onward flight and I pay for it on my credit card, and then once I’m in that country and I’ve been able to show my proof of that country that I’m going to, I will just then cancel that flight.

This is something that I’ve done two or three times now, and every single time it’s been a success, and the money has been put back into my account within like 48 hours, I think it was pretty quick but they do say allow like 30 days for this to happen. So the reason I like doing it on my credit card is that I don’t actually feel the effects of the money going out of my account and coming back in.

Another option you could do is book a fake onward flight, these are actually completely legal and there are websites where you normally pay about 10 pounds, that’s a non-refundable 10 pounds, and they basically just generate you a fake flight ticket that you can show to the officials who are asking for your onward flight. So that’s a nice option if you Don’t want to pay that initial couple hundred pounds for a flight on Expedia. The website for that service is called onwardticket.com

5. When do you book hostels? and how do you choose them?

I always find my hostels on both hostelworld.com and booking.com. I like to cross-reference the price of hostels on each of those websites, and often sometimes there’ll be some hostels that only appear or one or the other. So I do think it’s a good idea to look at both.

I obviously look at the price of the hostel and all of the amenities it has the location of the hostel, I find to be very important like do I want it to be one that’s close to the airport, or close to other transport links, do I want it to be right in the center of town. But most importantly even more important than that, I read the reviews of other backpackers who have stayed in that hostel, and I see what they have to say.

If I know I want a good night’s sleep, and someone is saying this is a party hostel I did not sleep at all. I’ll go oh okay maybe that’s not the best one for me to book. If I know I’m going to be by myself, I know I want to socialize in this destination then I probably will pick one that’s like a party hostel, and I’ll look for reviews that say that it has a great atmosphere and that it was easy to meet people because that’s exactly what I’m looking for.

Now let’s talk about when you should book a hostel. I recommend if you know the specific date that you’re going to be at that specific destination, I would just book it as soon as possible because then you know it’s definitely not going to sell out. In most circumstances on your trip, you’re not going to know before you go the exact dates you’re going to be in each exact destination, so what I like to do and I would say this is what the majority of backpackers do as well.

You might have in mind beforehand a couple of nice hostels in that area, you will only book them a day or two in advance. I find that when you’re backpacking, you do tend to know where you’re heading the next day, or where you’re going to be heading in two days’ time, wifi is so easily accessible these days everywhere in the world, and the fact that you can book on your phone is so convenient.

I do recommend if you have the opportunity to purchase a local SIM card when you’re in the country that you’re in so that even if the wifi in the hostel that you’re in doesn’t work, you can use just regular internet data wherever that you are so that you’re always able to book your next hostel.

There are some backpackers who will not book anything in advance they literally just rock up at their new destination and find a hostel there and then. I’ve done that in the past and it has been successful, but personally, I just don’t really enjoy doing that because:

  • There’s no guarantee that you’re gonna find anywhere good.
  • You’re not able to read the reviews online before you go.
  • You don’t for sure know that you’re going to have a space at the hostel that you want to go to.
  • You may find yourself walking around with your backpack for a very long time hopping from hostel to hostel.

I think especially if you are a beginner backpacker, I wouldn’t recommend doing that. I’d recommend booking your hostel a day or two in advance.

6. Is it Safe for Beginner Backpackers?

I’m scared, LOL, again it really depends on where you’re going. Most countries that you think are not safe enough to travel to, are probably safe to travel to. But like everything in life, there’s always going to be an element of risk. It is up to you to look after yourself.

What you do need to understand, is nowhere in the world, not even the safest countries in the world can guarantee your safety. There are literally rotten eggs everywhere in the world. So there’s always going to be an element of risk when you just go outside. But you are much less likely to have something bad happen to you if you follow basic backpacker safety. which at the end of the day should just be common sense for you if it’s not common sense currently make these things common sense.

There are some countries or parts of countries which genuinely are too dangerous to go to though, and you should be able to find this information out on your local government website, so for me in the UK, I’ll go on gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice and basically you can click on the country that you are planning on going to, and it will tell you if there are specific areas which you should not go to, which are not safe. So that’s how you know if you definitely should avoid an area.

7. Where do you leave your valuables on the beach?

Relaxing at the beach
Credit: Rani26/Pixabay

This is a very good question especially if you’re a solo traveler. It can be a real predicament. I’ve come to the beach, I’ve got valuables, I want to go in the water, what do I do with my valuables. So as a solo traveler, I try to plan ahead for this, if I know that I’m going to be going to the beach by myself, if it’s close by to my hostel, I just won’t bring any valuables. I’ll probably bring my GoPro which is attached to the wrist and it comes with me in the water. But I probably won’t bring my phone, I probably won’t bring my purse, if I do need money to enter the beach or something, maybe I’ll just bring that cash.

This is not always the case though, sometimes you’re not close to your hostel and you do have your valuables on you. It’s not the easiest of situations, I’ll be honest, in the past, I’ve done things like hid my phone and my purse under a pile of clothes that doesn’t look like there are valuables there, and then when I’m in the water I would just be swimming and then every once in a while I’d just look back and make sure my things are okay, I don’t necessarily recommend this option though, this is not the safest option.

I think a nice compromise, is you can get these waterproof pouches, which are just kind of the size that’s like bigger than your phone. They’re normally clear, and they normally come with a rope that you can tie around you, and so you stick your phone and your money in there, and you can literally swim with your phone and your money. But they’re not gonna get wet, obviously, it does restrict you a little bit, however, and that’s why this question is a really hard one to answer.

I guess other things you can do, is try and find someone to go to the beach with, and then you can alternate looking after the valuables, or you could try identifying someone on the beach who’s close by who you think looks trustworthy and ask them to watch your stuff. Obviously, this doesn’t guarantee full security of your things though, so obviously I can’t say oh yes that’s the right answer to this question, but it is something that you can consider. I think generally the best option and the only secure option is to just not bring your valuables to the beach if you can.

8. Am I too old (or too young) to go backpacking?

Many travelers of all ages have this question on their minds, and my answer is no. I don’t think that you are ever too old to go backpacking.

If you want to know the average age of a backpacker, I think that depends on the destination, I think in Australia and perhaps in the most common parts of Southeast Asia like Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, the average age is probably like young 20s young to mid-20s, but then I found that in South America and in Central America, I’d say the average age was probably like late 20s.

Obviously, you do come across some much younger backpackers like down to the age of 18. And then sometimes you come across some backpackers who are perhaps into their 40s. I genuinely think it does not matter as long as you are willing to hang out with other people no matter what age they are. Because you’re all there for the same reason. You’re all wanting to do the same thing, it does not matter.

I like to think I’m still going to be backpacking when I’m in my 40s. But I feel like I’ll probably make compromises, like staying in a private room of a hostel. Just because I feel like I want a little bit more luxury at that time in my life.

And as for asking if you’re too young for backpacking. I think the minimum age is 18, just because I feel like a lot of hostels do have rules saying like you must be 18 plus. So I wouldn’t recommend going if you’re younger than 18.

I don’t believe that 18 is too young to go backpacking. I think it’s all about confidence. If you feel confident to look after yourself, and you’re ready to tackle the challenge. Then absolutely go backpacking at whatever age you feel ready to do that.

Try to remember that even if you’re not fully confident yet, backpacking is about going outside of your comfort zone and challenging yourself, and it’s just down to you to take that leap of faith and say yes I’m ready to try and smash this and try and be the confident person that I’ve always wanted to be.

Conclusion

I really hope that this article has helped you out, and hopefully clear up a few of those most frequently asked questions.

Good luck if you are heading out on your first backpacking trip. I have no doubt that you’re absolutely gonna smash it on your backpacking trip, just remember, you got this, you do, remember that, tell yourself that I’ve got this.

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