This is the fourth part of 5 in a series of backpacking basics. You can catch up with Part 1 (What Is Backpacking?), Part 2 (Picking The Right Backpack), Part 3 (What Is A Hostel?), and Part 5 (The Backpacker’s Dictionary) if you missed them.
Where To Start?
For those of you who’ve never been backpacking, it can seem an intimidating task figuring out where to go. You’ll have a limited amount of gear with you and you might be afraid of being mugged, getting lost, or not having enough underwear. Traveling in conventional ways, with a suitcase staying at hotels and booking tours makes you feel safer and insulated – because generally you are.
Look at backpacking as an experience like a ‘home’ experience somewhere else. You aren’t as insulated, might cook your meals, forget to wash your socks, and live on a conservative budget. Much of the backpacker experience is “normal” and not a vacation where everything is taken care for you.
That’s what makes backpacking fun. Going to a new place is always a bit scary and good and bad things will happen. Most likely you’ll only have to rely on you – but you’ve been doing that up until this point, and it’s not turned out too bad has it?
Some of the easiest places to backpack are the locations where the culture and infrastructure is similar to your own. If you live in the United States, Western Europe, Australia/New Zealand, and Canada will make the easiest transitions. If you’re Chinese, South East Asia might be more familiar and easier for you to adapt to.
- Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. As different as other places seem, people and life around the world share far more similarities than anything else.
- There are some compelling reasons Americans shouldn’t make their first international trip to Europe.
The more you travel though, particularly as a backpacker, the easier it will be for you to notice and adjust to cultural differences no matter where you begin.
Popular Backpacking Destinations
There are some places and regions around the world very popular with backpackers have good infrastructure for travelers in general.
- Western Europe
- Australia and New Zealand
- Costa Rica
- Backpacking in Brazil
This is a very small list and there are backpackers everywhere. You’ll almost certainly run into others if you stay in hostels.
The Best Place Is Where You Want To Go
As Mark H (Travel Wonders) so eloquently put it,
Personally, I think people (subject to budget) should go to the place they have always dreamed of going for their first international trip. Whether it be because of your heritage, a fascination with that country, a relative/friend who lives there, a smattering of that language or whatever, you are more likely to enjoy a place that you have a true enthusiasm for and some background knowledge.
The best places to backpack are ultimately the ones you really want to explore or meet your methods and goals. If you’ve got time limitations go closer…sticking to a budget – figure out the best places to travel on a weak dollar. Backpacking isn’t as hard as it may seem and you’ve got more wits than you give yourself credit for.
For those of you who have been backpacking, where are some of the first places you went?
Tomorrow in the final part of the series I’ll give you some backpacking lingo and define some common acronyms that you’re likely to come across.
[photos by: woodleywonderworks, Jon_Marshall, Zhang Erning, cash-if]
Thailand is a great suggestion. That’s where I did my first backpacking trip and it was so pleasant. I commend the Thai tourist industry for making it easy. Nowadays, I seem to go for stupidly challenging. However, your advice is sound – start small, then build up.
It’s getting easier and easier. I think the backpackers come first and it’s easier to accommodate them. If the backpackers keep coming the rest of the tourism industry in a place seems to form around it.
It’s so hard to suggest a spot isn’t it. You give some goods one for sure, but it just doesn’t suit any one concept. It’s really whatever you want it to be. A cheap country like India? Absolutely. An expensive one like Japan? For sure. A small region you can get around easily like the Greek islands? Perfect. A whole continent? Australia maybe? Yup. I suppose that’s what makes it so attractive to so many people.
For the record, I did my first backpacking through Bali and Java and thought it was great.
Yeah, I don’t think there is any one best spot. It’s all up to the individual and along with the practical limitations (money, time, etc.) really a matter of personal choice. Some people like to start off slow and others head straight to the furthest place possible.
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I’d add China to your best places to backpack list simply because its affordable, hostels are cheap and so is transportation, and infrastructure for both are stable, plus there is alot to see. The only downside is camping in China really isnt an option.
Thank you so much for the kind words and for adding a great place to backpack. China doesn’t seem to make the radar for many backpackers (or the newer ones I’d say).
Thats fair. China is also difficult without knowing the language, and is so big it can be intimidating.
I reckon India is the ideal place to start. Its incredibly cheap, exposes you to extreme poverty right at the beginning, subjects you to scams and requires you to develop bargaining skills early on. After India, everywhere else will seem easy, every room will be deemed ok to sleep in and you will manage your money a lot better as you will always think back “I’m not paying $2, that only cost me 10 cents in India”. I loved India and will definitely be returning some day for a lot longer.
Great take – I’ve found for most people India is hit or miss. Personally I loved it and it does put your senses and wits to the test. I completely agree – I learned much about traveling and negotiating while I was there.
I’ve heard Lonely Plant call India as the litmus test for travelers. (I admit I don’t know why but perhaps that’s because I grew up there!) 🙂
India is a tricky place to navigate in many ways – like driving in India, ‘advanced’ level in the video game…well unless you’re from SE Asia I suppose 🙂
I’ve backpacked and lived in South East Asia and Thailand is a great place to start. For those a bit more timid I thought New Zealand was also a great starter place. Sure it’s more expensive but it feels like the country was built for backpackers with great hostels, amazing bus services and lots to keep you amused.
It’s definitely the hotspot and lots of great places to see in the region. I’m looking forward to getting to New Zealand especially. Thanks for the advice!
I think that Western Europe is a great place to start for backpackers. It’s easy to get around by train, has an established hostel network (some of which are VERY nice), and is culturally similar to where a lot of English-speaking backpackers are from. It’s a good way to get started as a backpacker, and after that one can move on to other locales that are off the beaten path.
Seems many of the best hostels are in Portugal…at least according to the Hoscars 🙂
Ya know, years ago when I first got the travel itch but didn’t know when or where my first international trip would be, I swore that Europe would be the last on the list (soy de los Estados Unidos).
Then, a friend threw a Delta buddy pass my way and said “Wanna fly to Paris, first class, for $250”? With motivation like that, Europe became destination uno.
It was great. It was fantastic. And I still think Europe’s ability to meet multiple languages and countries in such close proximity is unbeatable.
Point being, you never really can be sure where your travels will take you. Be open minded but budget conscious and go where it makes sense.
And my favorite location on this planet is South Island, New Zealand. Take all preceding commentary with a grain of salt!
First class for $250 to most anywhere and I’m there! Europe is a good place to travel but like you mention, so is anywhere there is opportunity.
I just finished reading “Vagabonding” by Rolf Potts- which was about how to start a large journey like backpacking Europe or something. He had alot of great ideas as well, but was a bit condescending to anyone who has traveled seriously already.
Too simple you mean in terms of the information?
My first backpacking trip was to Himalayas and north India just after I finished university. It was as adventurous as traveling to another country – different language, food, people but fortunately the same prices, lol.
Not many like to be thrown into the unknown right from the first trip. So I guess starting low risk from somewhere in your own country or a culture closest to your own is a good way to begin.
When traveling to a destination where I know I will doing a lot of shopping, I pack a collapsible suitcase or duffel bag in my checked luggage. It doesn’t take up much room and when returning home, I fill it with my dirty laundry and pack my new stuff or any breakable items in my regular suitcase. Or you could just pack your things in a medium suitcase that fits inside a larger suitcase – either way you’ll have two suitcases available and only have to carry one to your destination.
Can help you avoid fees too. If the limit is 30 kilos and you’ve got 1 bag at 31, you’ll pay a fine. On some airlines though, 2 bags at 29 kilos won’t cost you an extra penny…go figure 😛
Recently I backpacked in Egypt. Amazing country, Friendly people, Delicious food and of course the out-of-this-world monuments (quite literally- at times I imagined aliens from another planet zapping those temples and structures into place!)
Sorry, got my link wrong here 🙂
haha, well you know those theories about the Pyramids… 😛
Our first destinations were Spain and Portugal. We enjoyed the architecture and art so much there. We started backpacking in April, and we chose Mediterranean places because it was already quite warm during those early months. We travel light and try to avoid carrying heavier and bulkier warm clothing. As the northern hemisphere got warmer, we traveled to the north. When it got cooler, we jumped from Copenhagen to the Crete Island (flight was cheap because Danish like to go to Crete, so cheap that the cheapest bus getting out of the country – to Berlin – was more expensive the the flight)
Good way to save money by following the seasons 🙂 I like it!