Tips and tricks to the backpacking life
What you need to know for a successful trip
by Rhia Will
Credit: Rhia Will
Before the Covid-19 pandemic became a part of our lives, I was on the coast of Australia, sailing Whitsundays with nothing but a backpack and a smile. I know there are many of us — myself included — who are itching to get away into the sunshine. Hopefully, it will be sooner rather than later, but while we’re waiting, I’d like to share my tips and tricks to the backpacking life so you are prepared when you finally set foot in your dream destination.
I have backpacked my way around Europe, Australia, New Zealand, India and Peru, sometimes with friends, but most of the time alone.
And I can say with complete confidence that travelling solo is the better option. It’s a daunting thought, venturing out into the world on your own — but the key thing is that you’re not alone, as the backpacking community is endless. For the entire year I was travelling, there were very few times I felt alone and even when I did, the universe always had strange ways of showing me that I wasn’t.
I was exploring Melbourne city ten days before heading to India and I was anxious about my visa being approved in time. I was wandering the busy streets with my heart thumping in my chest when I had the chance meeting with a couple selling handmade chocolate at a market. After chatting and tasting their chocolate — honestly, the only reason I stopped — we all realised that we were from Aberdeen and all had a mutual friend.
How insane is it that on the other side of the world, at the moment I was feeling alone, I was reminded how close to home I actually was?
Moving onto the practicalities of the backpacking life. Before you head off on your adventure you want to pick the right backpack for yourself. This is an important decision because this backpack will carry your life. My advice is to go into a shop like Cotswold or GO outdoors, where someone can fit a backpack on you. There are many to choose from and all are made ergonomically different; there are ones made for men, women, tall and small, so don’t take the risk of ordering online without knowing what will fit to your body, because if it isn’t a good fit, it may cause pain and discomfort. However, here’s a money saving tip: once you know what backpack is for you, do some online research and see if you can order it for a better deal elsewhere.
Next is choosing the size of your backpack. I managed a year in an array of climates with a 50L bag, but in comparison to a lot of people, this was small. You have to decide what kind of adventure you’re looking for and what climate you’ll be living in, but anywhere from 50-75L should be fine. Packing is a skill you will learn but my top tip is to roll everything! When packing your bag for the first time, pack what you think you need, then remove half. I promise you don’t need all that you think you do. Once you're happy with your packing, you can utilise the outside of your backpack — something a lot of people forget about. Often there are pockets, hoops, adjustable elastic and zippers, where you can fix some bulkier items too, like a large jacket or a neck pillow, or tie a pair of shoes to the hoops. I bought a set of carabiners for £2 to hook my shoes and water bottle to and filled the zip pockets with cotton pads and earbuds. I’d also recommend investing in packing cubes. You can buy a set from amazon from £7 and they save so much space in your bag and help keep everything organised.
Hostelworld is where to go when looking for accommodation. It has links all over the world and I have never met a backpacker who hadn’t used it. You want to strike a balance between location and price and always check the reviews before you book — you don’t want to be stuck in a room with a mice infestation (speaking from personal experience!). If you're heading into hot climates, make sure that the room has air conditioning and free Wi-Fi (two essentials). You also want to check if it has a free shuttle bus and its destinations, because often it will have drop offs at the nearest transportation centre and a main tourist area. So, when you arrive into the city you can phone the hostel telling them you are going to be staying with them and they will come and collect you. Better than spending on a taxi or navigating unknown transport systems.
‘Free’ isn’t a word we are used to in 2021, but in hostels it’s a community and everyone looks out for one another, meaning there are plenty of ways that you can save money. First is sun cream: if you're in a sunny country, sun cream is essential but is a constant cost. At many hostel receptions you can find a big bottle of it for guest use, so take advantage of this and save your money and your skin. You can take this a step further and use that bottle to fill up your own supply, it’s a bit sneaky, but hey, it’s free.
At many big chain hostels there are free meals you can claim. I’ll be honest, the food is always in tiny portions and needs a lot of seasoning but it’s free and works as a snack. The goldmine of hostel life though is the ‘free food shelf’— I didn’t pay for food for weeks by using this trick. In every hostel kitchen there is a corner/shelf/box of food that people don’t want anymore — I once found an entire cake that had two slices missing, and it was delicious. When buying food, I managed to save money by buying unbranded supermarket food — it needs some seasoning but there’s a trick for that too. I love beans on toast and I can’t count how many times I ate that whilst travelling, but if you get the cheap cans of beans you can season it with the salt and pepper you find on the ‘free food shelf’. It’s a small saving, I know, but it all adds up. You can find things like earphones, sunglasses, adapters and chargers (that easily get lost) in lost and found boxes at the front desk too.
In keeping with our budget friendly outlook, next is outfits. This obviously depends on how long you’ll be travelling for, but if you find that your jeans have just died or your jumper has just ripped, you don’t need to fork out for new clothes — try going green and embrace your vintage side. I arrived in a little ski town in Australia and all the clothes in my backpack would not have kept me warm, so I found a charity shop and walked out with a whole winter outfit, thermals, and a Ralph Lauren jacket for just £20!
So now you know some key ways to save money while travelling and you can focus on spending your hard-earned cash on anything from a skydive to a round of shots.