How Can I Best Prepare For My First Backpacking Trip?

backpacking tips

Dear foXy blogger guy, I’m getting ready for my first backpacking trip ever, what’s the best way to make sure I’m prepared for everything?

Sincerely,
Soon-To-Be Backpacker

Backpacking can be an intimidating undertaking the first time you decide to go for it, but honestly, it’s not all that complex. I have been traveling full-time for the past 4 years and before that frequently on the road. These years have given me the chance to narrow down the minority of things that are important and discard the majority that aren’t.

You can’t prepare for everything but there are a few fundamentals you should take care of to ensure your trip is a happy one, letting the wind take you from there. Consider this your first-timer checklist.

How Far Have You Gotten Already?

I’m assuming you’ve already bought your plane, train, or bus tickets but if you haven’t make sure you use the best ways to find cheap tickets yet realize there’s a lower limit on how much you can actually save. Transportation tickets, as an upfront cost are temping to focus on, but you can save much more money once you arrive at your destination. Also, before booking anything (if going on international travel) be sure you’ve got the proper visa(s) and a passport that’s valid for at least 6 months as most countries require.

moldova corner storeEverywhere Pretty Much Have Everything – Don’t Stuff Your Bag

I’ve previously covered picking the right backpack for you and don’t forget a second day-pack (I like the REI Zip Travel Pack and Swissgear Computer Backpack) so you can separate your valuables if you need to check-in your bags prior to a flight. Speaking of valuable electronics, free programs like Skype can save you on calling home so at the very least a tablet with microphone and speakers is a good idea.

Pack Daily Items – Generally speaking, if you use it everyday you’ll need it when traveling – but that doesn’t mean you need to bring said items with you. A toothbrush, contact lens solution, etc. it varies depending on your personal routine. I pretty much run everyday so I always travel with extra shoes to do just that. Don’t worry about forgetting things and over-packing as a result. You can buy basics (e.g. shampoo) anywhere in the world. Do not bother with large liquid containers for long trips, you can get them at your destination and it also eliminates the risk they’ll end up leaking in your bag en route. Pack what you need for about 2 weeks of travel no matter how long your trip is.

The one mistake most experienced travelers will tell you they made initially was bringing too much useless stuff. Use the 80% rule to both avoid airline fees to save time when packing in a rush.

scooter in germanyBudget And Insure Yourself

I’ve found that many first-time backpackers don’t know about travel insurance, two varieties of which you should be familiar with. One is medical travel insurance (prior mentioned recommendations) that covers you in case you need to see a doctor or visit a hospital in a foreign country while the other protects your valuables in case they are damaged or stolen.

One more commodity to budget is your most valuable one – time. Pad your temporal estimates (i.e. what I can sight-see in 4 hours) by 66% and your monetary budget by 33%. Think you’ll need 6 hours to explore the heights of Quito? Plan for 9 or 10. Calculating $1,500 a month? Expect $2,000. Consider any extra leftover a bonus on an estimating job well done.

Get Out Of The Hostel – The Only Planning You Need Is Getting To It

Most of the learning you do when backpacking is after you’ve arrived. Experience is something that can’t be taught, so really all you need to do to be prepared for your first backpacking trip are these 4 things. Contact the place or person you’re staying with and find out the best way to get there; have expected costs from airport to accommodation in mind, and in the case where foreign languages are involved, brush up on these 4 phrases. The rest happens at your destination if you let it. Get away from your hotel or hostel, talk with locals, trust you gut, and be prepared for the unexpected.

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  1. Callie says:

    These are great tips. It’s so easy to fall into packing as if there aren’t any stores at your destination!

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    • Anil P. says:

      Thanks! Yes, it is hard to resist the temptation, perhaps over-packing relieves some anxiety…or makes it seem like it will for many people.

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  2. Monica says:

    Great advice! The first time I went to Asia I genuinely thought I wouldn’t be able to buy anything.I packed a ridiculous amount along with huge bottles of shampoo that would last me for months. I was almost disappointed when I got there and realised I could buy anything I wanted for a fraction of the price. It’s also best to have a half empty backpack so you can fill it with souvenirs and the cool stuff you pick up on the road!

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    • Anil P. says:

      Ironic how it works – most of us leave wanting to fill up all the space in our bags and on the way back we realize it’s more fun to do the opposite!

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