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How To Go Backpacking

Backpackers

Whether you're sheep-shearing in the Australian Outback, diving off the coast of Thailand, scaling the heights of South America or just lazing around on a sunny beach in Greece, nothing beats the sheer joy of leaving the old life behind and hitting the road. But how do you make sure you squeeze the maximum adventure out of your travels, while keeping your troubles to a minimum?

Here at Essential Travel, we've worked hard at earning our backpacking stripes and like any good travellers, want to share what we've learned along the way. Here are our top ten tips to help you have the smoothest, safest most exhilarating ride of your life.

  • Do

    1. Ask the experts... if you want to know where to go, how much to pay, when the wet season starts or the Munich Beer Festival finishes. Taking the time to plan and prepare pays dividends in the long run. There are a ton of guidebooks, websites and specialist travel companies all ready to help. Try: www.lonelyplanet.com, www.tripadvisor.com, www.wayn.com and www.timeout.com.

    2. Pack light. It's hard to know what to take and what to leave behind. One thing's for sure though: carrying too many bags is literally a drag - your back will ache; you'll be a thief-magnet, and you won't have room to pick up souvenirs along the way. Work out how much you can carry by spending a day walking around your home town with your backpack: you'll soon decide if that third pair of trainers is really necessary.

    3. Scan your passport, airline tickets, visas and insurance documents etc... and email them to yourself - that way you can print them off when you need them. Send them to your family too - if you really get yourself in a mess, they can email or fax copies to the nearest embassy.

    4. Set a budget... and stick to it. Getting your money to keep up with your plans is the perennial problem every traveller faces. Setting a daily travel budget helps you work out what you can and can't afford: like whether you need to live on bread and apples for three days, so you can afford that bungee jump! Some things are cheap for a reason though: like flights - the cheap ones stop everywhere and arrive at your destination in the wee small hours. Whatever time you arrive, go online and book into a hostel with an airport pickup service.

    5. Sort your money out.... Prepaid currency cards save you from carrying wads of cash, stop you spending money you don't have, and give consistently competitive exchange rates. Plus, in emergencies your family can top your account up online. It's worth stashing a £100 travellers cheque somewhere for emergencies (American Express or Thomas Cook - bank and building society 'own brands' aren't always accepted), plus carrying $20 in single dollar bills for unexpected departure taxes. Also keep an eye on exchange rates so you know what you should be getting - you can see most currencies on XE Universal Currency Converter (www.xe.com/ucc/).

    6. Decide are you travelling solo or with friends. Solo travel means doing what you want, went you want, but stepping out alone takes confidence and can get lonely or boring. If you are unsure which is right for you, or just want to spend time building up your confidence, think about spending the first couple of weeks travelling with a friend or taking an organised tour.

      If you are at a major tourist destination there will be lots of local tours available where you can meet people, such as taking a faluca up the Nile, or trekking near Chang Mai in Thailand. Another option is to do the whole trip with a group - good companies include World Expeditions (www.wordwideexpeditions.com) , Journey Latin America (www.journeylatinamerica.co.uk ) and TrekAmerica (www.trekamerica.co.uk).

    7. Try voluntary or paid work. Volunteering helps you get to know a country and its people better. It also allows you to put back - making a contribution, and getting a different view of life. Often food and accommodation are thrown in. What you do will depend on where you go. One word of caution - do your research. Try to ensure you are volunteering for a reputable company and that your contribution is really needed. For more information on working holidays www.goabroad.com, www.realgap.co.uk and www.responsibletravel.com.

    8. Get off the beaten track. Obviously don't put yourself at risk, but remember it's generally more rewarding to take the road less travelled. Always check transport options first though: getting stranded miles from the sites will end up costing you time and money.

    9. Stay in touch. The internet and mobile phones have made the world a smaller place, but technology is there to help you keep in touch whilst travelling, so use it. Agree with your parents or friends before you go, how often you'll be in touch. Maybe a text or email a week - enough to avoid causing loved ones unnecessary anguish, and raise the alarm if you need help.

  • Don't

    1. Forget your common sense.... It's a friendly place the world, and many countries have well-defined backpacker routes with hostels, bars and internet cafes full of travellers just like you. But remember - when bonding over a few beers, stick to the bars near your hostel * don't try to negotiate unfamiliar streets when you've had a skinful * never hitchhike *always say no to drugs (you won't enjoy prison no matter how much the papers pay for your story).

Last Updated: September 2008

Clayton Truscott

Clayton Truscott

Clayton is a comfortable traveller, having grown up in a small city that was far away from everything. He spent lots of time in the car as a child, driving up and down the coast of South Africa on surfing trips with his family. After studying abroad in the United States and spending a year working in London, he moved to Cape Town, where he completed a Master's Degree in Creative Writing. He now works as a freelance writer for various travel, surfing and action sports publications.