You’ve handed in your notice at work and dropped everything to begin your backpacking travel trip around the world. You’ve already begun planning your trip, packing your bags, and seeing the world as your oyster. All of a sudden, fear sets in. Where do you want to go? What do you need? Will you be able to handle your backpacking travel adventure? What will it be like? Will you be homesick?
Now before I continue, I will say that this article makes me out as a hypocrite. I pretty much did all of the mistakes I talk about below. But dear reader, I hope you can learn from my mistakes and take my advice when you begin your adventure backpacking the world.
Before you set off, there are a few things you need to do:
The all-important documents, with the passport(s) as the most important one. Now, before I begin this section, I want to admit that I made this fatal error. Before I set off on my backpacking travel endeavors, I did not renew my own passport. I had believed that I was only going to travel for two months… I ended up being gone for six months. This was one of the biggest reasons why I cut my trip short. *Each country is different but this is certainly good advice.*
Make sure your passport is valid with sufficient time to extend your trip if you want to. I would recommend ensuring that your passport doesn’t expire for at least a year beyond your planned return date. That’s if you want to return…
Take any and all identification with you: ID cards, driving licences, etc. This can come in handy in the most unexpected situations. If there is an emergency or if you need some way to prove your identity, an ID can quickly resolve the situation — even if there’s a language barrier.
Some Documents to Keep in Mind While on a Backpacking Travel Adventure
An International Driving Permit (IDP) is not vital, but very useful. A lot of countries, especially in Asia, have very lax scooter/moped/motorbike regulations. In places with relaxed driving laws, you don’t necessarily need an IDP when renting bikes. However, if you have neither an IDP nor a motorbike licence, you may be left open to arrest and/or a hefty fine. These situations might require you to bribe a police officer, depending on where you are. Unfortunately, there are still some corrupt police officers out there. You can apply through your local driving agency. For example, I applied at the British Post Office.
Some countries and/or regions also require a Yellow Fever certificate to enter. Even if it is not required, I recommend obtaining the vaccination and its certificate just in case! Don’t let ignoring a vaccine prevent you from an incredible experience.
Check if you need a visa before you travel! The best way to check if you need a visa before you arrive is to Google the country’s visa policy to see if you can get one on arrival or if you need an e-visa. Then check through your country’s foreign office or state department. For example, in my case, I went to the British Foreign Office to obtain my visa.
Vaccinations Before Going Abroad
When I think of vaccinations, I think of them as queasy, unsettling, costly, and, let’s be honest, not enjoyable. However, they are very necessary for your health as you begin your backpacking travel adventures. As mentioned previously, some countries require certification of certain vaccines, such as yellow fever, before they allow any visitors to enter. There are other vaccines that are also strongly recommended when traveling abroad, such as the cholera vaccine, typhoid vaccine, the hepatitis A vaccine, etc. Depending on which country you are reading this from, the prices of the vaccination and administration do vary. For more information on vaccines, please consult your local doctor before planning your backpacking travel trip.
Personally, for more information on vaccinations, I went to the UK’s National Health Service page on travel vaccinations. I cannot stress having the appropriate vaccinations before you leave on your trip abroad. I have personally dealt with vaccinations abroad and have heard others’ many horror stories. Not only was it a challenge when it came to receiving the treatment, but also when figuring out payment. Paying for vaccines abroad is important to think about, especially if you do not ensure that you have adequate travel insurance before you set out abroad. I recommend checking the World Health Organization for updates before traveling about vaccinations recommended per country.
Travel Insurance is Important
One of the last tips on any backpacker’s advice list is travel insurance. Some backpackers decide to take the chance, not seeing insurance as necessary. However, if you do choose to forgo travel insurance, you run the risk of receiving hefty prices for treatment abroad. Not only does travel insurance protect you from any serious financial hits in the case of emergency, but it can also give you peace of mind while having fun on your backpacking travel trip.
Travel insurance has a lot of fine print. Make sure you read what your insurance actually covers. Many insurance companies do not cover activities such as scooter/moped rentals and ‘extreme sports’. Read it a couple of times to ensure you understand what your insurance will cover. This way, you won’t be surprised if something does happen and you aren’t covered. Knowing what your insurance does and does not cover could influence decisions you make abroad.
Recommended Apps & Websites for Backpacking Travel Trips
If you are trying to escape all the modern mod-cons of the 21st Century, you may be disappointed that even in far-flung corners, modern technology is not far from one’s pocket. However, you will be glad to hear there are still many remote and ‘untouched’ areas where there is little or no evidence of modern 21st Century life. Regardless of whether or not you consider yourself a technophile or a technophobe, there are a few really useful apps to download for before you start your backpacking travel adventures:
- Maps.me – Mobile offline maps. This app allows you to download offline maps of the regions you are about to visit. In some areas, it can be more accurate than Google Maps.
- There are now apps where you can transfer money easily from your phone. These apps connect directly to your home bank account with no withdrawal fees. They use the account’s debit card to make card payments abroad and can withdraw money from most local ATM machines. It’s important to note, however, that there can be limits to the amount of money you’re able to withdraw per month. Apps such as Starling Bank, Monzo and Revolut are all good options.
Flights and Accommodations
- Although Uber is now known across the globe, some countries can have their own cheaper and more popular rideshare apps. An example of this is Grab (South East Asia) or Ola (India). This, of course, depends on the country you’re visiting.
- Scan websites such as Agoda, Booking.com, and Hostelworld for the best deals on rooms and accommodations. To learn more about booking rooms abroad, check out Morgan Yearout’s Guide to Hotels, Hostels, and Accommodations Abroad. I also found that in some countries (such as India) there was an ‘online’ price and a price you haggle on arrival. This was usually a price difference of about 15%, which I believe can be attributed to the cut these websites took per booking. If you choose not to book online ahead of time, you run the risk of arriving to a hostel or hotel only to find it fully booked, leaving you without a place to spend the night. These websites can also help in finding great deals. For example, in Asia, hostel prices tended to vary between $3 to $8 USD.
- For cheap plane tickets check websites such as Skyscanner, Ryanair, Easyjet and Air Asia. These apps have great deals and can get you where you need to go.
Tips for Backpacking Travel Trips
- Annoyingly, most countries, especially when traveling by air, want proof of exit. This can be challenging if you do not know which country you will be going to after. Fortunately, Expedia (for some flights) has a 24-hour free cancellation policy.
- Some countries have a “visa-on-arrival” policy. This means the visa is granted at the port of entry. Laos was one such country that had this policy while I was on my journey abroad. Make sure you carry a sufficient amount of cash since some countries do not take credit card for visas on arrival. Check this out before you arrive and prepare yourself.
- Personally, I’ve found that the best way to find out the best places to visit, eat, and drink are by asking the locals. Talk to the people who work at your hostel/hotel. Also, ask fellow travelers places they have visited while they were in the area.
- Before I set off on my backpacking travel journey, I believed that the standard of medicine abroad would not be of the same standard as home. To prepare, I bought loads and loads of pharmaceutical stuff that quite frankly I didn’t need! You absolutely need mosquito repellent and imodium. However, you can buy everything else while abroad for a cheaper price.
- Pack light. Depending on the weather of countries you are going to visit, you only need a few days’ worth of clothes. Anything you need, you can always buy abroad. If you’re going to a hot country like I did, you’ll only need about four shirts, two shorts, socks, boxers, and maybe a pair of jeans. Think of the weight of your backpack while you’re packing. The heavier your backpack, the more weight you have to constantly lug around!
- Always carry toilet paper! Not all toilets have toilet paper or even have western-style toilet seats. Always be prepared.
- Buy a local SIM card. As much as I would like to think that I can do without mobile data, it does make life easier. You can buy SIM cards at an airport. If you’d rather skip the airport, you can usually buy cheaper SIM cards in phone shops in towns and cities. However, be aware that countries such as India are very bureaucratic and the process of getting a SIM card can be a bit lengthy.
- Buy a hand-sized travel towel that is easy to carry. The towel should be light and will dry much quicker than a regular bath towel!
Food and Water
- Bring a water bottle with a filter. If you drink the same amount of water as I do, you may be out of reach of bottled water and will need a backup pretty quickly. Also, it will probably save you from a few unwanted illnesses.
- If you are reading this from a ‘western’ country and are traveling to a ‘developing’ country, it is, unfortunately, true that water and some hygiene standards are not what they are back home. I recommend easing your way into the thick of things by being careful of what you drink and eat. Look to see if the restaurant is clean and if the food is in a refrigerator before eating…
- Eat street food! This is far cheaper and tends to be better than fast food! It has a bit of local flair and often supports small business owners.
So You Think You Are Ready To Travel
So you have finished getting your vaccinations, your travel documents, and your travel insurance. Now what?
I would recommend doing a bit of research on the country you’ve decided to visit first. This way, you can be aware of their local customs, laws, appropriate clothing, any potential scams, currency, public transport, and safety. Personally, I found Lonely Planet a great help in regards to finding out vital information about the country I was about to visit. You can also buy Lonely Planet books in most bookshops. Trip Advisor was also helpful in regards to this, especially in prioritising the sights I wanted to see. I would also check with your government to learn more about the country you are about to visit. In my case, I checked the British foreign travel advice page.
If you believe I have missed anything please leave a comment in the comments section.
Now go out there and enjoy backpacking to places you have never seen!