How To Backpack Like A Pro

Backpacking as a method of traveling became popular in the 1960s and has been a global phenomenon ever since. It’s a cheap, efficient way to see a lot of places and travel lightly—it’s easy to stay a night or two in a location, pack up, and move on.

However, this type of travel comes with its challenges too, so here are some tips to make your backpacking trip as seamless as possible.

No Backpacking Trip Is The Same

group of backpackers smiling
Photo Credit: GREG WOOD / AFP via Getty Images
Photo Credit: GREG WOOD / AFP via Getty Images

Even if you have tried backpacking before, attempting a similar trip in a different location naturally poses a lot of different challenges. Make sure you specifically look into national and local customs, travel requirements and restrictions, how communication tools work, and what electrical outlet plugs you’ll need.

Solo Or Nah?

two backpackers with matching bags walking together
Photo Credit: Kai Schwoerer / Getty Images
Photo Credit: Kai Schwoerer / Getty Images

In addition, backpacking with one or more other people is different from backpacking alone; some activities aren’t safe to do alone in specific locations, and traveling in a group makes it harder to secure lodging for everyone at hostels, often requiring booking much further in advance than you would as a solo traveler.

Make A Budget To Start Things Off

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Photo Credit: Chung Sung-Jun / Getty Images
Photo Credit: Chung Sung-Jun / Getty Images

From the beginning of your trip planning, divvy up your budget per location for accommodations, travel, activities, food, and drinks. When planning a vacation to multiple locations, it’s important to make sure you plan accordingly so you don’t blow all your funds in the first few locations.

Make sure you have a cushion in case things get dicey because there’s nothing worse than being stranded abroad with no money.

Monitor Flight/Train Prices To Catch The Best Deals

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Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

When backpacking, you generally have to coordinate a lot of different train/bus/plane rides, and the costs can really add up. Put together a general plan for your travel itinerary and monitor flight prices as they fluctuate so you can catch them at the lowest costs.

However, remember that time is essential on a backpacking trip, so sometimes it’s worth paying a little more for a better flight time.

Pack Clothes That You Can Dress Up And Dress Down

suitcase of clothes
Photo Credit: Getty Images
Photo Credit: Getty Images

Since you have limited space in your bag, you need to pack clothes that can work for multiple occasions—items that can work as casual wear during the day, but can be paired with shoes or a jacket to look good enough for a higher-end restaurant.

Ideally, choose items that don’t wrinkle easily to avoid the need to iron.

Keep A Physical Copy Of Your Itinerary

paper handwritten planner
Photo Credit: Unsplash / STIL
Photo Credit: Unsplash / STIL

While you’ll likely have your phone on you at all times, you never know when technology might fail you. Make sure you have a full paper copy of your itinerary, including all the addresses you’ll be staying at and the booking confirmation numbers for flights, hostels, and other excursions you have pre-booked.

Plan Your Lodging Location Wisely

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Photo Credit: Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images
Photo Credit: Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

When booking accommodations, always make sure that you are located close to accessible transportation (e.g. a subway or bus line) and preferably within walking distance of a variety of sites you’d want to see. In addition, see if your area has a laundromat nearby and that it’s a safe location for tourists.

Choose Clothes That Can Dry Quickly

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Photo Credit: Abid Katib / Getty Images
Photo Credit: Abid Katib / Getty Images

When traveling from city to city at a rapid pace, there isn’t always time to stop and do laundry. So bring clothes that will dry quickly, specifically, clothes that are made of fabrics that air dry quickly, such as athletic materials, light cotton, and microfibre. This way, if you end up needing to wash a couple things in the sink of your Airbnb/hostel, they’ll be dry and ready to pack the next day.

Most Of Your Clothes Should Be Functional

man in jacket and shorts
Photo Credit: Mark Anthony Cudal / Scopio
Photo Credit: Mark Anthony Cudal / Scopio

Obviously, when on vacation, you probably want to get some nice pics of you looking fly, but you also need clothes that you can wear for a whole day and feel comfortable in. You’re likely going to be walking several miles daily, and the weather might not always be forgiving, so make sure your outfits can survive the daily hustle.

Travel With A Person Who Has The Same Mindset

female backpackers standing together
Photo Credit: Andreas Rentz / Getty Images
Photo Credit: Andreas Rentz / Getty Images

You can be best friends with someone and end up being annoyed with them the entire trip if you don’t have similar traveling styles. Backpack with people who like similar activities and attractions, have a similar planning style as you, and openly communicate, or else you will hate each other by the end of the trip.

Learn All The Fundamental Phrases In Each Location’s Main Language

phone with duolingo
Photo Credit: Rafael Henrique / SOPA Images / LightRocket via Getty Images
Photo Credit: Rafael Henrique / SOPA Images / LightRocket via Getty Images

Luckily, as an English speaker, it’s easy to navigate a lot of tourist locations because many of the locals there know basic English. However, learn to say “please,” “thank you,” “where are the washrooms?” and any other regular phrases in the local language (especially if you have a food allergy and need to inform restaurants or something in a similar vein).

How To Pack Properly

things to pack laid out on floor
Photo Credit: Instagram / @builtbybrie
Photo Credit: Instagram / @builtbybrie

Since you’re trying to pack a lot of items into not a lot of space, you have to be strategic. Consider using packing cubes or other organization tools to compress your items to take up the least space possible. Roll your clothes rather than folding them to optimize space, and place shoes on the edges to act as cushioning.

Communication Is Key

man inserting sim card into phone
Photo Credit: Ryan Pyle / Corbis via Getty Images
Photo Credit: Ryan Pyle / Corbis via Getty Images

If traveling through a specific continent or region, research to see what cellphone providers are available and what countries they operate in. For example, providers in Europe often span across multiple countries, so you can purchase a data card for your cell phone at a relatively cheap price and use it for the whole trip.

Find Substitutes To Lighten Your Luggage

pink shampoo bar
Photo Credit: Amazon
Photo Credit: Amazon

There are a lot of necessities you need to travel with, which can add a lot of weight to your backpack, but there are ways to lessen that load. Substitute body wash, shampoo, and conditioner bottles for bar versions of all three.

These Shoes Are Made For Walking

running shoes with check mark and
Photo Credit: Matthew Lewis/Getty Images // Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images
Photo Credit: Matthew Lewis/Getty Images // Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images

You’re limited on space, so only pack shoes that you need and that you can remain comfortable in. Pack one pair of shoes that have a lot of support and you can walk long distances in, like running shoes. Take one pair of shoes for other casual wear, and take one shoe you can dress up for high-end places.

Stay Organized At All Costs!

travel wallet
Photo Credit: Amazon
Photo Credit: Amazon

Organization is the key to staying on track and managing all your important documents during a rapid travel schedule, and using a travel wallet is a great way to do it. Most fit your passport, boarding passes, foreign currency, identification, and credit cards, so you have all of your important items in one place.

Look Up The Cultural Basics For Each Location

store closed on street
Photo Credit: Emilio Rappold / picture alliance via Getty Images
Photo Credit: Emilio Rappold / picture alliance via Getty Images

While countries in the same general region might have similar cultural norms, you still should try to look into the local culture for each country/city. For example, there’s a period of a few hours called “siesta” during the day in Spain, where all the stores are closed, and it’s rude to wear shoes in shops in certain parts of Thailand.

Keep A Portable Charger On You

black and white portable charging packs
Photo Credit: Amazon
Photo Credit: Amazon

You’re on the go most of the time while traveling, and that means you don’t always have time to stop to recharge your phone. Carry one or two portable battery packs with you on your daily excursions so you don’t end up stranded without any means of communication.

Look Up Restaurants And Cultural Delicacies

cultural foods
Photo Credit: Getty Images
Photo Credit: Getty Images

One of the best parts about traveling is that you get to try foods from other locations. To make the most of your trip, do some light planning around the main local delicacies you might want to try and what restaurants are within your price range for every city.

Make The Most Of Each Day

backpackers hiking
Photo Credit: Sean Gallup / Getty Images
Photo Credit: Sean Gallup / Getty Images

When you only have a few days in each location, you really have to make the most of your time there. If you try to party hard every night, you’ll not only burn out quickly, but you’ll end up tired and hungover, and you might not enjoy—or even miss out on—an entire day’s worth of activities.

Pace yourself, plan ahead, and enjoy your time backpacking!