An Essential Travel Guide for First-time Backpackers
Used to staying in 5-star hotels and want to try something different? Or perhaps you are planning for a graduation trip or a 6-months long sabbatical and looking to save cost on travelling? Backpacking, a low-cost, independent way of travel can bring new light to your travel experience. While the thought of carrying a 15-kg backpack everywhere, staying in budget hostels and using your legs instead of taking a bus may not sound like fun to many people, what you learn on a backpacking trip usually impacts you in a positive way for life.
If you’ve toyed with the idea of going backpacking, especially alone, fret not. Many people have done it and you can definitely do it too. But preparing yourself physically and mentally is vital, along with good planning, especially when things don’t always turn out according to plan. Never forget your travel insurance too! So here are some vital tips to get you started on your backpacking journey!
Planning – Picking a destination
Where do you want to go and for how long? Keeping this front of mind can help give you an idea of the budget you need to set aside, plan your itinerary and what to pack. If it is your first time travelling solo on a backpacking trip, you might want to choose somewhere a little closer to home, or a country where you can speak the language. Getting lost in the middle of nowhere and being unable to communicate can bring about unpleasant stress, but then again, that’s part of the learning process as well.
Once you’ve decided on the country, start planning a rough itinerary. It doesn’t have to detail every single day, accommodation and stops, but you need an idea to help you plan out the transportation options you have, how long you need to get to each location, as well as whether you can do it physically(don’t forget you are carrying a heavy backpack!)
Take into consideration any weather changes since this will impact what you need to pack and how you move from one place to another. You’ll also need to consider your physical condition, safety issues(is it safe for a woman to be travelling solo in this particular part of the world?), and plan for contingencies( can you survive if you are camping in the nature?).
Once your itinerary is complete, you can start working on your budget. Your budget can be split into 3 major components:
Say if you are planning to go backpacking in Australia for a month and your budget is a total of $3,000, that gives you an average spend of $100 per day. You’ll most likely need to fit in your budget for air tickets and major transportation expenses, such as domestic flights/trains tickets/bus tickets. Using the remaining, fit them into your accommodation, then food.
When it comes to saving cost, don’t just think low cost, think free! For example, we all know that you might be able to stay in dormitories on the cheap, but what about free accommodation ideas, like couchsurfing, Wwoofing or exchanging simple work for a free night’s stay? The same goes for food; while it’s harder to eat entirely for free, you can always find ways to get discounts.
Going local will more than often help you eat cheaper- street food, local markets and even discounted items available at the end of the day in supermarkets and bakeries. Other simple tips include refilling your water bottle, making the occasional sandwich from the supermarket instead of buying one and cooking when you have the chance.
Unlike normal travelling where you can simply dump whatever you want into your suitcase, you’ll need to plan what you bring carefully on a backpacking trip. Walking 10 km a day with or without a 15-kg backpack can really make a huge difference!
First up, get a good backpack. When buying one, take into consideration how much you need to carry with you on your trip, look for options with multiple compartments to let you reach the various items you need easily, consider distribution of weight, as well as how weatherproof it is. Shops that cater to outdoor travel as well as Decathlon are good places to find such backpacks.
Much of what you end up carrying in your backpack will be determined by where you go and what kind of weather you’ll likely encounter. Other than apparel, don’t forget emergency items such as a first aid kit, Swiss Army Knife, GPS/maps/compass, toiletries…etc.
Safety and Insurance
Last but not least, never take your safety for granted. We live in Singapore where it is safe even for a single woman to walk along the quiet streets at 2 am. The situation can be very different depending on the country. Sometimes, you can even be robbed in broad daylight! Spend some time reading about the culture and common scams you need to look out for at the country of your destination.
Other than that, don’t discount the fact that there’s always a chance for the unexpected to happen – a lost bag, missed train, being dropped off by a bus in the middle of nowhere, being pickpocketed, getting lost, meeting with an accident or falling sick while alone. While you cannot predict the future, you can take precaution by getting yourself the right travel insurance.
Make sure you get a comprehensive coverage and know what to do in the event of an emergency or when there’s a change of plans due to unforeseen circumstances. For instance, Directasia’s travel insurance plan now cover trip cancellations due to an act of terror, and even pay for the travel expense to allow one family member or friend to travel to be with you if you are hospitalised for at least five continuous days overseas.
Feel more confident about taking your backpacking ambitions to the next level by getting your travel insurance ready today!