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10 Essential Travel Tips For First-Time Backpackers

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Iman Izzati Azhari  •  Jan 23, 2017

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You probably have travelled in style; flying business class, taking taxis in foreign countries, and eating at 5-star restaurants, but have you ever thought of backpacking your way through a country? Backpack travelling has always been a thing but somehow it started picking up trend recently, as youths nowadays are motivated to see the world at a budget that is affordable for them. So, are you curious enough to get on this trend? If so, here’s a few tips for beginners like you:
Credit: Giphy
1. Know where you’re going
Credit : giphy The importance of research applies to all types of travelling, including backpacking. Being aware of the country you’re heading to is essential for the sake of your safety and the fluidity of your trip. One great tip is to invest in a good map and learn the basics of the language of the country. Find it hard to cram a new language into your head? Get this universal icon t-shirt so that you could just point and ask! 😜
Credit : Iconspeak
For your first-time backpacking experience, choose a relatively easy country to start with for example the food haven Thailand or the nature abundant Australia.
2. Choose a great travelling partner
 Unlike the holidays you go on with your family, backpacking requires you to cut off from all the luxuries that you often indulge in and forces you to be independent. For some, it might be too much of a shock to embark on a backpacking adventure alone. Thus, it is advised for you to get an experienced friend to go with you so that you would have some sort of guidance as you go – books and maps could help with only so much. 
Credit: Sonlight Camps None of your friends had gone backpacking before? No problem, just ask any of your interested friends and create a brand new memory. Aside from that, travelling together, with a strict budget no less, really puts your relationship to a test. It’s time to see whether the term Best Friends Forever still applies to you guys even after hustling through a budget travel.
3. Main star of backpacking: The Backpack
Credit: MenAndWomen
The backpack is your Main Star, and your ultimate companion whom you’ll be carrying throughout your travels; think of it as your BFF piggybacking you. That is why you have to invest in a good backpack. It’s time to gooooo BACKPACK SHOPPING!
Credit : Giphy What should you look for in a backpack? Here are some points: 
  • Water-resistant material (if your backpack of choice doesn’t have this criteria, a waterproof cover would do instead);
  • Lockable zippers;
  • Multiple compartments;
  • Internal frame;
  • Padded hip belt;
  • Padded shoulder straps; and
  • Contoured/padded back
BIGGER is not necessarily BETTER as the bigger your backpack is, there is a higher tendency to over-pack. Remember that your luggage weight should be around 25% - 33% of your own weight!
4. Making a list, checking it twice
Now comes the most important part of backpacking: the packing!
Credit: Giphy The key is to fit your life in a backpack but how do you do it? You can’t exactly fit your entire bedroom in one simple bag! Here are some tips that would definitely be of help:
  • Bring versatile clothes. For Muslimahs, bring a couple of plain t-shirts and pair them with different cardigans. With just two t-shirts and three cardigans, you’d have 6 possible outfits already.
  • Most people suggest choosing clothes within in the neutral colour range such as black, grey or beige as it’s easier to match.
  • A laundry bag is necessary to separate your dirty laundry from the rest of your luggage.
  • Include a small ziplocked bag of laundry powder or bar soap.
  •  Wear your good pair of walking shoes and slip a pair of slippers in your bag. 
  • Pack only the essential toiletries, especially a sunblock or moisturizer. A lip balm is also necessary.
  • To fit more things in, pack your clothes in compression packing bags.
  • Don’t forget your telekung.
  • Never forget your first aid kit that should include the basics such as plasters, paracetamol, and inhaler for the asthmatic people, like me!
If you’re not sure about weight distribution of your luggage, check out the chart below 👇🏻
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Gap Year Travel Store
5. Catch some Z’s
5-star hotels? Pfft. None of that in backpacking travels! One of the necessities that usually costs the bulk of your travel finances is the accommodation. Although Airbnb is considered as a cheaper option compared to usual hotels, it is still costly for some.
Some of the lower-cost accommodations include budget hostels, homestays, or a short-term apartment. Going on a caravan trip is another option that could be considered as killing two birds with one stone as you’ll get accommodation and transport at one price. Also, apparently you can also get free accommodations via couch surfing, house-sitting, work exchange or volunteer programs, camping out in the nature, and overnight trains/buses.
6. Let’s get a move on
 If you’re planning to go around the city, rent a bicycle instead. You can explore much faster on two wheels compared to walking and, you’ll get a first-hand experience of navigating through a foreign city. For cross-country or cross-state travels, some countries or continents offer train passes such as Eurail for travels within Europe and JR Rail Pass if you’re keen to ride the Shinkansen across Japan. The thing about these passes is that the more countries/states/provinces you plan to visit, the more they will help you save.
Credit: Giphy If the passes are too pricey for you, opt for bus rides instead. Although they run for a longer time, you’ll save much more compared to train rides. In fact, you can even save on your accommodation expenses on overnight bus trips. If you’re confident of your driving skills, how about renting a car instead? Just register for an international driver’s license if you plan to do so.
7. Protecting yourself
Credit: Giphy Invest in travel, flight, and car (if applicable) insurances. To elaborate on travel insurances, some of the coverage that you have to look out for is for medical insurance, emergency evacuation, cancellations and loss and/or theft. Buying travel insurance can be as simple as googling and paying. I actually did that once! But remember to read through the benefits and understand what you’re paying for. Contact the insurance company via email or a telephone call if you have any inquiries. Leave your valuables at home. Items such as laptops, hard disks and such only add to the weight of your luggage and are difficult to care for. For your ultimate valuables, such as cash and passport, keep them close to you by wearing a pouch under your clothes. 
8. It’s time to get physical
Travelling on a budget is almost synonymous with walking. Have you ever travelled anywhere and see foreigners with bulky bags on their bag and squeezing their way through the market? That alone requires a lot of stamina.
Credit: Giphy Regularly practice a simple workout plan involving stretching, lunges, sit-up and rope skipping to increase your stamina and muscle flexibility.
9. Money, money, money
 As a general rule of travelling, it’s never wise to carry a load of cash on your body. Doing so increases the risk of losing being a theft victim or losing it as you go. Only bring along a reasonable amount of cash, preferably in smaller denominators, for over-the-counter purchases such as groceries and market buys. For emergency measures, bring along a credit card and cash in the USD currency as it is easier to exchange in most countries. 
10. Keep in contact
Once you’ve arrived at your destination, immediately pick up a local SIM with a generous data allowance so you could update your loved ones of your statuses. Research the country’s service providers in advance and make a comparison of each of their pros and cons so that you will not be too lost in choosing one for yourself at your arrival.
In addition, download the free messaging apps that allow you to make overseas video calls to your family such as Skype, Facetime, Oovoo, Viber, WhatsApp or LINE. Remember that updating your status to other people is one of the ways to keep safe in a foreign country. Now that you’ve gone through all these tips, are you geared up for your first backpacking trip? If you are, then join me for a backpack hunt!