A carefree style of traveling, backpacking is a memorable opportunity to experience the world through a different perspective. Whichever route you choose to take, these tips will guide you through the incredible journey.
1. Check the Calendar
The backpacking experience evolves throughout the year with the changing seasons. As most destinations are crawling with tourists in the summertime, it is recommended to escape to the least expensive region of Europe — the Balkans. The beginning of autumn marks the end of peak tourist season, meaning the picturesque Mediterranean coastlines and islands can be admired in peace. Winter is also an exciting time to backpack with an abundance of holiday-themed markets and parties to explore. The blooming flowers of spring are best admired in Northern Europe, where longer days mean more adventures. Some travelers might also consider planning their trips around festivals, such as St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland.
© Devin Poolman
2. Map Out a Plan
The beauty of backpacking is the spirit of spontaneity, the ability to pick up and change direction at any moment or spend more time in an area than expected. Traveling with nearly no restrictions, however, does not imply that planning can be tossed to the side. Spending time researching the region can yield valuable insight such as opportunities to save money. Certain regions may offer train passes for extended periods of time, cutting transportation costs in the long run, and popular tourist attractions may feature free admission on certain days of the week. Compiling a list of such promotions, including budget-friendly hostels, will make the spontaneity of the trip less stressful and more enjoyable.
3. Train to Backpack
Purchasing the gear and reading through an endless stack of pamphlets will not prepare you for the strenuous journey ahead. Developing a workout routine at least six weeks ahead of your trip that focuses on cardiovascular strength will make backpacking much easier. Experts also recommend familiarizing yourself with your gear before heading out for the big adventure. Whether it means spending the night in the woods or in the confines of your own backyard, knowing how your equipment works will make you more comfortable and confident when it’s put to the real test.
© Zach Dischner
4. Pack the Essentials
Those extra pair of shoes may seem like nothing, especially when you are standing in the middle of a messy closet. Dismissing the added weight, no matter how light it is, can come back to haunt you while hiking through the countryside. The secret behind a successful backpacking trip, as cliché as it may sound, is “less is more.” The most effective way to minimize your load it to create a detailed list, marking off each item as it is neatly packed away. It is equally important to exclude items off the list such as sentimental objects that cannot be easily replaced.
5. Fill Up on Snacks
When the adrenaline rush of an adventure fades, the underlying fatigue kicks in and can take an extreme toll on the body. Carrying nutrient filled snacks can help replenish the body, allowing you to continue making the most of your backpacking trip. Local vendors, selling light foods such as protein bars, can spot tourists even if they are not sporting the traditional fanny pack. They are known to hike up the prices for travelers, assumed to be unaware about the average costs of basic goods. Making space for granola bars in your gear will not only energize you throughout but also save you a few dollars.
6. Splurge on the Culture
Just as frugal spending is a cornerstone of the backpacking experience, so is culture in any type of travel. With food as an essential component of culture, tasting the local cuisines is a must for backpackers who have traveled thousands of miles to explore the unknown. Sharing meals with friends is an option for those who are hesitant to splurge, as they can taste multiple dishes for less money. Immersing yourself in the culture means not being afraid to spend a little bit for the experience.
7. Stay Alert Abroad
Whichever part of the world your backpacking trip takes you to, it is important to stay alert at all times. Con artists can try to take advantage of tourists’ vulnerability abroad, often times promoting packages that turn out to be scams. To avoid the risk of being pickpocketed, consider wearing money belts or clothes with hidden pockets that enable you to keep your valuables on you at all times. When traveling overnight on trains, be sure to padlock your luggage to the storage rack to prevent theft. Authorities also recommend making multiple copies of your passport, leaving one at home and taking at least one with you, in case it is lost or stolen.
8. Favor Public Transportation
It seems much safer to hop in a cab to reach your next destination yet the price of cab rides can soar exponentially. Factoring in the mileage, the tip and sometimes the secret surcharge for tourists, cab rides can quickly deplete your budget. Instead, consider walking to your destination if feasible. This eco-friendly mode of transportation not only saves you money but also gives you a chance to explore the city by foot. When walking is not the best route, favor public transportation options such as trains or buses that bring you closer to the everyday life of the locals.
© Rob Dammers
9. Learning the Language
In the globalized world, it is increasingly common to find English-speakers any country. However, this may not always be the case and knowing basic words can bridge the language barrier. Traveling with a cheat sheet of common phrases shows respect for the people of that country and their unique culture. With modern technology, this is made much easier with apps that translate phrases in an instant.
10. Manage Your Money
Losing track of your daily expenses while backpacking can rapidly spiral into budget depletion. Jotting down your expenses in a small notebook can help you stay in control of your budget. Traveling with universal debit cards is also highly recommended, as you can pay directly from your account without needing to carry cash with you. If you want to withdraw cash, any ATM can provide what you need but it is encouraged to take out larger sums to avoid the hefty service fees. Before traveling, be sure to call your credit card companies so that your accounts are not frozen while abroad.