Top Tips For The First-Time Backpacker

So you want to go travelling for the first time, but have no idea where to begin. Travelling is an amazing thing to do, it opens your mind to completely unique and colourful experiences. Expect to be thrown out of your comfort zone and when you’re alone with just your thoughts you’ll learn a hell of a lot about yourself!

From a very young age, I’ve always wanted to travel. To explore the world; to see how people live in different countries, learn about history, cultures and traditions. And over the last two years I’ve been very fortunate to be able to do just that.

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But when I first decided I wanted to travel and backpack around Southeast Asia for 6 months I felt just as much anxious and scared, as I felt excited.

I didn’t personally know anyone who’d travelled or backpacked for such a period of time. I had no family or friends to go to for advice. So I took to the internet with my 101 questions. I pretty much googled everything you could possibly think of.

A few weeks ago a cousin of mine messaged me with those similar questions I originally had. He’s never been travelling before so all of those nerves I had, he’s experiencing them now too! He’s currently working this way through Cambodia – hope the travelling is going well Akash! So after answering his many questions, which still keep coming in daily, I decided to write a post for anyone else in the same boat.

So whether you’re booked and ready for your first travel adventure, or you’re still figuring things out, but want to get away someday, hopefully this post will answer some of the common questions you have.

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BEFORE YOU GO

What country should I start in?

This really depends on where you want to go. If you’ve already picked the part of the world you want to travel to, that’s great! The next thing to do is get the map out. Look at the geography of the country or countries you want to visit. Circle where exactly you want to visit, and what you want to see in each country / city. From there figure out the logistics. Is it better to travel from North to South, or East to West. You don’t want to be wasting money and time going back on yourself.

Also if you’re planning on visiting a few countries take a look at flight prices, sometimes its cheaper to book separate flight tickets instead of a return. It might be cheaper to begin your journey by flying into one country, and flying home from another.

How long should I stay in each place for?

This is where I would say have a rough plan, but be flexible! You might decide you love one place and want to stay there longer, or you might get somewhere and realise you hate it and want to leave right away.

You might also end up making some friends who you’d like to travel together with, so its always a good idea to be open and flexible. I roughly set aside 2-3 days in each place*. This gives me a day or two to check it out and then I decide if I want to stay there a bit longer, or move on to the next destination. Not having a strict plan was something I felt very scared about before, but I’ve slowly learnt to enjoy the unexpected and be more spontaneous.

*by place I mean town, city, beach, island etc.

Will I need a visa? If so, how do I get a visa?

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Now this will really all depend on the country you’re from. I’m British and for me travelling and getting into all the countries I’ve been to has been pretty easy. But unfortunately the same can’t be said for everyone I’ve met. Where you’re from, how long you plan to stay, and whether you choose to work can influence the type of visa you need. Some countries allow you to get a visa on arrival, whereas in some other countries you must go through a process beforehand which might require a visa invitation letter. The best way to check what exactly you need is to go onto the official government embassy website for that country. Alternatively you can go on the government website for your home country. For example if you’re from England visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice .

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How much money will I need?

This really depends on your budget, how long you’ll be travelling for and what kind of traveller you are. I’ve met people in Southeast Asia who stay in £2-3 hostels, eat for less than £5 and spend no more than £10 a day. On the other hand I’ve also met travellers who’ll spend £10-20 just on one night in a hotel, and others who’ll spend the same amount of money just on alcohol alone each night.

When I was travelling I budgeted £25 a day. Most days I spent far less than this, but then that meant the money I’d saved, I could then put towards a treat for myself. Perhaps a full body massage, manicure & pedicure, a night in a fancy hotel etc. If you’re travelling for a long period of time you’ll thank yourself for all those little savings because it means you can afford to spoil yourself every once in a while.

Keep on top of your travel budget with one of these cool journals.

Will I have enough money?

Well this all depends on how you budget your money and if you stick to it. It’s great to have an ideal budget in mind, but remember to be realistic as well. Try and research how much things cost: food, accommodation and activities that you want to do. If you do find yourself in a bit of a struggle and want to find ways to get back on track with your budget whilst you’re out travelling you could always pick up some work. Not paid work, because the chances are you probably won’t have the right visa for that and you don’t want to get yourself deported for illegally working. I just mean, get yourself a job in a hostel, bar or restaurant. Ask around if you can work somewhere in exchange for food, accommodation and drinks. I’ve met a lot of people who’ve ended up working in a hostel to save a bit of money when the cash flow is no longer flowing.

How do I know if the place will be safe?

The reality is anything can happen anywhere you are in the world. But you can prepare for it by taking extra precautions. If you’re worried the whole country is not a safe place to visit you can check out your own government website. It’ll tell you the potential dangers going on in that country right now. But if you’re more worried about being safe travelling alone, the best thing to do is just be cautious. Always lock your valuables away and keep money, passport etc on you at all times when you’re out and about. Don’t leave your things with a stranger to ‘look after’ while you quickly go to the toilet or go to get a drink. Don’t walk around alone in seedy or dodgy areas late at night. If you do like to take evening walks alone ask your hostel / hotel if there are any places you should avoid, and AVOID those.

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Should I book ALL my flights and accommodation before I set off on my journey?

In my experience, I’d say don’t do it. Yeah sure, go ahead and book your return or connecting flights to another country if you’re on a strict schedule and only have a limited amount of time. But if you’re going to be travelling around for a few months and have time to spare, or even have a unlimited amount of time to travel, then I’d say it’s best not to have everything planned out to the tee. The main reason for this is because your original plan will probably change. You might meet people along travels who you might go on to travel with, you might decide you love a place and want to stay longer, or you might even hate a place and want to leave to and head to the next destination right away! Chances are, at least one of the above mentioned, will happen. It’s best to have a rough plan with dates in mind but if you can afford to, be a little spontaneous, be open minded to don’t be afraid to say ‘yes’ if someone asks you to join their travels.

Do I need a backpack or can I take a suitcase?

Go with whatever suits you. It is more convenient to travel with a backpack as you can just chuck it on your back and get going. However, it is a strain on your back when you’re walking around for a long time. You can usually fit more in a backpack and when you’re getting on and off public transport (buses, trains, boats etc), travelling with a backpack is a lot more easier. That said, I’ve travelled with friends who’ve come with suitcases and have preferred that. Just a word of warning, pulling suitcases along sandy beaches doesn’t really go down well. (Tami & Tanya – you girls in Gili T & Lombok 😂)

What size backpack should I get?

This really depends on how long you’re travelling for, where you’ll be going, what you’ll be needing and what’s most suitable for your body type. As I learnt when choosing a backpack, it’s not a one size fits all job. If you really want to help your body out and get as much comfort as you can it’s a good idea to try a range of backpacks on first. Go to an outdoors or adventure type shop and speak to an advisor. They’ll be able to offer you the best advice for your trip! Check out my previous post How To Choose The Right Backpack For You for more tips and advice on choosing the right travel bag for you.

What if I get ill or have an accident?

As much as we take precautions to stay safe, fit and healthy, sometimes it’s just not enough. We might get food poisoning, be involved in a motorbike accident or break a leg. I’ve got friends who’ve gone through all of the above whilst they’ve been travelling. The most important thing is that you have insurance to cover you in any of these incidents. Even before you set off on your trip, make sure you have travel insurance. It’s one less worry to have when you’re sat in a foreign hospital waiting to see the doctor. Check out this article on Money Saving Expert for more information on insurance for backpackers.

ON THE TRIP

What’s the security like in hostels? Did you keep all your belongings with you at all times?

If it’s a decent hostel security should be good. Check reviews on TripAdvisor or Hostelworld before booking any hostels. You’ll get a real sense of what the place is like if you’re worried. Usually hostels will keep your passport when you check-in. Apart from that, most hostels will have lockers or safety boxes in your room to keep all your valuables locked away in. You’ll be sharing the room with others so it’s a good idea to keep all your things locked away to eliminate theft or things going missing.

Top tip: It’s a good idea to take a padlock with you because some hostels I’ve been to charge you a deposit fee for a padlock. I also prefer the padlocks with the code because I’ve been known to lose keys a few too many times.

What if I don’t like it?

That’s ok. The travelling / backpacker lifestyle isn’t for everyone. You might find that you hate being out of your comfort zone, you don’t like the country, people, food or place you’re in, but that’s ok. My piece of advice is give it your best try, and sleep on it. If you wake up still hating where you are then move on. Move to the next destination, next country, or even move back home if you really just want to call it a day. But go in with an open mind. Be curious. Be open to trying new things and experiences.

What if I hate it and want to come home?

Again, I’d say give it a second, maybe even third chance. If you’re still feeling like this isn’t for you, then that’s ok. But before you make any hasty decisions perhaps speak to family or friends at home. Speaking to others about how you feel and what options there are for you can often help you clear your mind and come to a fair resolution. If flying home is what you want to do, then go for it!

How can I make friends if I’m going to be travelling alone?

Even though you’re going travelling ‘alone’, you won’t really find yourself in many situations where you’re actually alone. You’ll meet people and make friends where you stay, on tours and day trips and even nights out. Some of the greatest friends I’ve made, have been while I’m on a night out. And if you’re still nervous about meeting people and making friends check out my previous article…. How To Make Friends When Travelling

How do I use my phone? Can I get a local SIM card easily?

From everywhere I’ve been in Asia it’s been pretty straightforward to get a local SIM. Simply go to a phone store and they’ll sort it all out for you. (Sometimes they do require seeing your passport). There are different types of SIM cards you can get from weekly to monthly ones, so just have a chat with the store and find the best one for you. And usually if you’re out of data, minutes or calls you can usually just top it up at the phone shop or a local convenience shop.

Tip: The only problem is if you’re phone is locked to a service provider from your home country. If it is, explain to your phone company that you’ll need to get it unlocked because you plan on travelling abroad and will be using a local SIM.

Where do I get my clothes washed? Will I have to wash them myself?

Pretty much every hostel I’ve stayed in whilst travelling through Southeast Asia had a 24 hour laundry service. It worked out at around £1 per 1 kg of clothes and they come back washed, cleaned and smelling lovely again. So there’s no need to worry about having to traipse around looking for a launderette.

Tip: One of two pieces of clothing of mine have gone missing whilst getting my laundry done so it’s a good idea to check you’ve been given all your clothes back.

Is it easy to find toiletries out there?

Funny thing about toiletries. They’e more expensive in Southeast Asia than they are back home in England. So I’d say bring big bottles of your day to day products and don’t forget about the sun cream. Although you can find it out here, it is very expensive! Also, a lot of the skin care products, especially the ones for your face, contain skin whitening ingredients. Be careful and always read the labels if you’re picking up face wash or scrubs as many are known to contain bleaching ingredients.

So there’s all of my answers. If you’re travelling soon, or thinking about it but have a tonne of questions that I haven’t included in this post, then drop your question below and I’ll try my best to answer it.

Until next time…

Thanks for stopping by and reading.

Maya

❤️

Current location: blogging from home with a cuppa in hand.

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