We’ve all been first time backpackers, whether it was just a few months ago or twenty years ago, every traveller has done it. Knowing where to start, is daunting to say the least. But trust us when we say taking this big leap to travel will embark you on a journey of adventure and life long memories you will never forget! No doubt you will catch the travel bug.
Don’t worry if you’re feeling a little nervous and lost, we’ve created a useful and knowledgable post on our top tips that every first time backpacker should follow.
It’s tempting to take your whole wardrobe to avoid the discomfort of dirty clothes, or even worse, dirty underclothes. However, lugging around a 70 litre backpack full of clothes will be uncomfortable at the best of times. The truth is you end up wearing very few items when you travel, despite how much you pack. Many items just get forgotten at the bottom of your backpack. Take key pieces for warm and cold climates and if you’re going to overdo anything, make it socks and underwear.
We recommend the Osprey Farpoint 55 Litre for backpacking. If you’re unsure which backpack is best for you read out post on: How to choose the best backpack for you.
If you’re wanting a female packing list click here or a male packing list click here.
Research visa and vaccination requirements
Visas and vaccinations vary immensely from country to country and depending on what nationality you are. So make sure to check online before flying out to that specific country. Not having the correct visa can result in immediate deportation back to your home country, and incorrect vaccinations can leave you at risk of life threatening diseases such as Malaria. Make sure to double check on all requirements before heading off on your travels. Lonely Planet has great guides to each country, but do check official sites too.
Choose your time of year wisely
If you’re wanting to get the most bang for your buck, then travel during low season/off peak season. You may not have the best weather, but in countries like Thailand and much of South East Asia, it may rain for a few minutes and then the sun will come out. Don’t base your travels on the worry of weather, as even during high season the heavens can open.
Peak season comes with more people and higher prices and it’s not necessarily the best climatic time of year to go. Do your research and don’t feel obliged to follow the crowd.
Use travel blogs for gathering information
Travel blogs are great resources for first time backpackers, as they are primary sources and can give first hand experiences that many other websites don’t have. We love getting inspiration from travel blogs like Nomadic Matt, ThePlanetD and YTravelBlog, and of course ourselves!
Don’t be afraid to travel solo
Many travellers when they backpacked for the first time, travelled with a friend. This is completely okay, but you should never be afraid to travel solo! You actually meet so many more people when travelling alone than with a friend, and travelling with someone else can restrict you on the things you want to do. To be honest, as soon as you book your first night in a hostel, you won’t be alone for long. Nearly everyone on the road will be in the same situation as you, so don’t be put off by this.
Pick an easy country to start with
You may be thinking, how do you define ‘an easy country’. We lets just say you shouldn’t be heading off to Iraq, Somalia or the Congo on your first ever backpacking trip. Our ultimate favourite and probably the most popular country to start with is Thailand. If you’re wanting something more Westernised (but a lot more expensive) Australia is your next bet. Both these backpacker friendly countries are perfect for first time backpackers and welcome them with open arms.
Don’t plan your whole trip
This is a huge first time backpackers error. Just don’t do it…ever! When you travel, your plans will change on a daily basis. You need to allow time for spontaneity, as less is more. You can always come back and do the rest if you missed anything out.
Just imagine if you had booked you’re whole backpacking trip in advance. Flights, accommodation, activities etc. To then find out, you love a place so much you don’t want to leave, and some awesome people you’ve met have asked if you want to travel with them for a bit? The problem is you would loose all your money if you stayed. So you will leave this place that you like so much and leave behind the people that you just met but get along so well with and you’d miss ticking off one thing after another on your ultimate bucketlist. Don’t be that person!
Which is the best travel insurance? (Don’t leave without it)
We cannot stress enough, that travel insurance is SO important, you should NEVER leave without it. These days there are hundreds of companies out there offering travel insurance, claiming they are the best in the industry. For first time backpackers, this can seem a little daunting, and choosing the best can be difficult. Here are some things to look for when choosing:
- How much do they cover?
- What do they cover, in terms of activities e.g. riding a scooter or skydiving.
- What countries do they cover?/Make sure your destination is covered.
- Is the insurance for an annual or single trip?
- Read the fine print before you buy.
Our favourite travel insurance company is World Nomads. We use them every single time, and have never had any problems with them, they’re awesome and we highly recommend them!
Find a great deal and book your flights
Finding great deals these days isn’t too difficult, read our favourite booking platforms for flights or beginners guide to ITA Matrix for useful information on cheap flights.
We always start with Skyscanner, due to their huge flexibility on the ‘anywhere’ tab, which literally lets you find the cheapest flight to anywhere in the world. We then check on Kayak.com, to see if the deal is even cheaper, and finally we check on Momondo.
Something that isn’t that common but will help you finding cheap flights are Open Jaw Flights. Which is when you fly out from one airport and return to another. E.g. London – Abu Dhabi – Bangkok – Abu Dhabi – Dusseldorf.
Our favourite airline and the one we always find AMAZING deals on (Europe to Bangkok for £280 when they have great deals on) is Etihad Airways.
If you’re travelling solo, it won’t take long (maybe 5 minutes from walking into your hostel) until you meet some awesome like minded travellers. Just remember everyone is in the same vote as you, they’re looking to make friends too. So many of our friends are from travelling, and we stay in connect with them on a regular basis. Trust us when we say you’ll make friends for life.
Make sure to be flexible with your plans, like we said above don’t plan your whole trip, otherwise you’ll have to say goodbye to all these amazing friends you’ve made, and you don’t want to do that, especially when travelling solo!
Keep track of your finances
When you’re always on the go, it is so easy to forget about your expenses, it can add up quickly and before you know it, your bank account is empty. This is honestly a backpackers worst nightmare! For first time backpackers this might be a once-in-a-lifetime trip you’ve saved for years, or it might be one without a fixed end date that will require you to not overspend along the way. Either way, setting a budget is an important part of any trip.
We use the smartphone app: My Finances – The Personal Income and Expenses Tracker. Its a really great app that helps to keep track of everything.
Have you got any great first time backpackers tips that we’ve missed out? Or you’re thinking of going backpacking for the first time and have a question? Comment below!
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Great advice and all of it very important. Especially the vaccination, insurance and visa requirements.
Yes we agree, you should never leave without the right vaccinations and insurance. 🙂
Emma & Yannick
Oh no. I’m a really heavy packer. I tend to over pack even an overnight trip! This would be my greatest hurdle in backpacking, I think.
Don’t worry, I’m (Emma) pretty guilty when it comes to packing over. To help I usually do three piles before packing: Essential clothes, clothes I’d like to take but not necessary, and clothes I don’t need. This really helps me to cut down 🙂
Emma & Yannick
Some really sound advice here! When I knew I wanted to go travelling I decided to book 3 weeks in Thailand to “Cut my teeth’ and see if it was right for me. I loved every mu=inute of it, even the bits where we got lost! I’m so glad I did this first as it’s made me so much more relaxed about backpacking solo. I leave for Central and South America next week!
Really great advice and tips. I’ve never been backpacking before, but it definitely sounds fun. 🙂
Yes backpacking is awesome, especially if you’re a solo traveller. You’ll make friends in no time 🙂
Emma & Yannick
Thank you for these awesome suggestions, Emma and Yanick! Especially for Research visa and vaccination requirements.
You’re most welcome! We are so glad these have come in handy for you!
Emma & Yannick