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Have you always traveled with a rolling suitcase, a giant carry-on, and a packed personal item you can barely squeeze under your seat? Are you looking for a way to travel that gets you more in touch with fellow travelers and locals without breaking the bank? Or are you trying to become a more “go with the flow” traveler? Either way, a backpacking trip is the answer. It may seem daunting to jet off to a foreign country with nothing but a backpack, but with these tips, you’ll be on your way to your next adventure in no time!
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The best place to buy your bag is your local outdoors store. When you shop in person you can try a variety of backpacks on to ensure you pick one that’s comfortable for long carries. Most likely, you’ll want a 40-55L bag, so it will fit into overhead storage on your flight. This means no checked bags, no lost luggage, and no waiting around baggage claim. It’s also a good idea to invest in a smaller shoulder bag for daily use around cities and on transportation where your backpack will be stowed away. Some backpacks even come with a detachable day pack.
What To Bring vs. What To Leave Behind
One thing people always want to know is how to fit everything you need into just one backpack. There’s two parts to it.
Think of what you use in your everyday life
Bring only what you wear regularly, so you know you’ll be comfortable. Then, expand on these items depending on weather conditions and cultural customs where you’re going. For example, if you’re visiting Thailand, but you normally can be found wearing shorts and a t-shirt, make sure to bring one long skirt to visit the temples. Research ahead of time, so you know if you have to bring those “just in case” items.
Remember that you’re most likely going to a place where many people live
There’s going to be stores where you can purchase necessities if you miss anything, so don’t stress too much. It’s a good idea to bring just enough toiletries to last you one or two days until you can venture out and find a local spot to pick up larger quantities. This way, you’re not lugging a full size shampoo from New York to New Delhi! Also, on your backpacking trip there will be ways to wash your clothes, so don’t feel the need to bring a change of clothes per day.
Quality Over Quantity
So you’ve mentally packed your bags and now you just need a place to go. Many first time backpackers make the mistake of choosing quantity over quality when choosing their destinations. They see a map of Europe and think, “Amsterdam really doesn’t seem that far from Barcelona!” It may seem impressive to say, “I went to seven countries in seven days,” but if all you saw was the inside of their bus terminal, you missed out!
You will get more out of your travels if you slow down and really get a chance to explore the places you’re going. Let’s say your heart is set on a European adventure. Choose one country and go to three distinct cities or regions within it. For example, in Italy, you could spend three days in Rome to get the Italian city sightseeing and history experience. Then, take the train to Florence, where you can venture out for two days of enjoying the Tuscan countryside with wine tours, bike rides, and natural beauty. Finally, head over to Cinque Terre for coastal hikes, picturesque small towns, and amazing seafood. Itineraries like this mean less time on the train and more time actually enjoying yourself.
If one of the reasons why a backpacking trip appeals to you is the social aspect, the best way to achieve that is by staying in hostels. The best website to search for hostels is HostelWorld. Hostels are typically a cheaper choice than most hotels, so they’re a popular choice with backpackers. They are incredibly social environments and a great place to meet people to join you on day trips, nights out, and other adventures. If you’re worried about safety, look for hostels with all female dorms. There’s also usually ratings depending on how safe past guests have felt, so look for hostels with high safety ratings.
Your first backpacking trip can be stressful. The best way to set yourself up for success is by lowering your expectations and only concretely planning out the essentials. Make sure you have a way to get where you’re going, any necessary health items, and a safe place to stay. Otherwise, have a general idea of what you would like to do in your destination, but don’t try to plan out every second of every day.
The best part of backpacking is how flexible you can be when you only have what you can carry on your back. Ask the front desk at your hostel for their favorite coffee shops, bars, and stores. See what fellow travelers in your hostel are doing and ask if you can come along. Remember, if anything goes wrong, most likely, it’ll just turn into a funny story you can tell when you get back, “one time in Paris, I…”
Just breathe and trust yourself. In no time, you’ll be backpacking around the world!
Megan is a community educator, focusing on project design and management training for nonprofit groups. She’s passionate about protecting the outdoors, going out of her comfort zone, and learning new things. She’s currently building her own house in Fiji, so her dogs, Reggie and Scooter, have a nice place to live.