Backpacking has many definitions and while it’s difficult to peg down what is backpacking exactly, in general it revolves around light travel on a small budget. It’s the primary way I travel and for those of you planning an RTW trip or going backpacking for the first here’s some practical advice that will make traveling with a backpack less stressful. What most people consider inconvenient about traveling are actually a backpacker’s advantages.
1. Get A Smaller Backpack Than You Think You’ll Need
Many backpackers obsesses over picking the right backpack. Your backpack doesn’t have to be perfect in every aspect and while its fun to shop for them, one that’s not exactly what you wanted won’t make or break an entire trip. When confronted with a choice between two sizes, go for the smaller one. As Luke mentioned, you’ll end up filling your backpack up, no matter how big or small.
2. Stay In A Hostel
Most budget travelers tend to stay in hostels to save money and meet other travelers but many people still have misconceptions. Hostels are much like hotels; they vary considerably in terms of quality and amenities. You can learn a lot about a given hostel by reading the reviews on sites like HostelWorld or Hostelbookers, read more about what a hostel is, or get adventurous and save more money with these alternatives to hostels and hotels.
3. Sign Up For Frequent Flyer Miles
I cringe when I meet well traveled people who’ve never signed up to an airline loyalty program. Remember, nowadays you’re not just signing up for a single airline but typically become a member of an airline alliance. So by signing up for miles with Lufthansa for example, you’ll earn miles on any Star Alliance member flight and Award Wallet makes it easy to keep track of all your programs in one place. Miles programs are one of Nomadic Matt’s Secrets To Successful World Travel, how I fly free to many places, and cost nothing to sign up.
4. Buy Multi-Destination Tickets
There is the notion that multi-destination airfare is more expensive than direct flights. You can easily add a few days Europe on your way from New York to Istanbul without paying any more for the ticket; ride a bike in Amsterdam or visit Christiania in Copenhagen for instance. Try a multi-destination search on Kayak to see what turns up, or if feasible, check out one of my favorites, IcelandAir and make the most out of your stopover Iceland under the ash cloud.
5. Learn Some Of The Local Language
A few words go a long way in reducing your anxiety plus the frustration that can come with not knowing any of the local language. Start simple with these 4 word combinations you’ll find handy, all of which you can learn for free on these language social networks.
6. Engage People
That doesn’t mean going up to everyone you see. I’m shy myself but often when traveling the opportunity to be social and meet locals presents itself and all you have to do is take advantage. Servers in restaurants, other travelers in your hostels, or tour operators are all potential people who can tell you about the local culture, things to do, and perhaps are bit about your next stop as well.
7. Keep A Simple Travel Budget
Most travelers are worried about money but don’t bother to track their spending habits carefully prior to their travels. Use Excel (or the free Open Office) to create a spreadsheet and detail where all of your money goes a month prior to traveling and during your trip. Break down your expenses in your simple travel budget and give yourself a better idea of how much you’ll really need to save.
8. Bring Your Laptop
A laptop can double for so many other things like a telephone using Skype, a TV, and all around email and Twitter machine. You’ll likely save money by bringing a laptop as opposed to going to Internet cafes and a small netbook won’t take up too much space in your backpack. Just make sure to lock down your laptop before heading out the door.
9. Don’t Be Afraid
The world is an overwhelmingly safe place and most people in the world are friendly and not much different than you. Go out there and see what you can without fear but also take common sense with you. Brush up on the local scams and things to watch out for, and your travels are much more likely than not to be safe. You’ll see more by getting out from the tours and expensive hotels and exploring on your own.
10. It’s Not That Hard
Traveling is easy. Even backpacking. You can make your life easier and see more things by planning ahead before you go anywhere but it’s not absolutely necessary. Book the transportation, somewhere to stay, and get on your way. Even with the worst budget and forgetting to pack socks you’ll get there just fine and figure out things as you go. The biggest mistake anyone who wants to travel can make is not traveling in the first place. You can overcome the obstacles one by one and travel the world.
Be Flexible And Enjoy The Journey As Well As The Destination
Rigid plans are easily broken and it’s important to incorporate flexibility into the backpacking process, even your plans. Account for lost days of relaxing, space in your budget for that occasional (very) late night out, and turn even the worst ash cloud into a positive experience. You can’t change much by forcing your plans or fretting that you didn’t pack this or that. By letting go just a little bit and realizing most of the biggest stresses are caused by the smallest things you’ll free your mind to wander as much as your body. Enjoy the ride.
[photos by: Squiggle (child’s backpack), nest hostels valencia (Valencia hostel), Chris Guillebeau (miles account summary), craftyhag (bunny hop), Raul Tejero (hola), Kyrremann (hello world), pfala (dollar sign in coins), rblock (cat using netbook), akseez (confident kid), MyFavoritePetSitter (getting on airplane)]