Whether you are a group of friends planning a gap year or you are a family planning the trip of a lifetime, there are a few rookie errors that most people make. Follow our advice and make your backpacking trip as stress-free as possible.
Error Number One: Lack of Health Advice
When you are planning a big trip, and thinking about the incredible things you are going to see and do, checking the vaccination advice and requirements for each destination may not even occur to you. However, unless you fancy spending a proportion of your time in hospital (and have the appropriate insurance to cover it), it is advisable that you find out what jabs and medication you need. The NHS website gives you a good idea of the vaccinations needed for each country. Our advice is to make a list of all the countries you are going to visit (and the ones you may visit, too) and book an appointment with the travel nurse at your local doctor’s. You are likely to be charged for some jabs, but it’s no exaggeration to say they could save your life.
Tip: Until now, the chemical-filled Deet has been the only recommended mosquito repellent. However, over the past years, a substance known as Picaridin has been recognised by the CDC as being as effective as Deet – and it doesn’t melt plastic.
Error Number Two: Buying Gadgets
As the Big Trip approaches, it is tempting to stock up on countless gadgets. The chances are that family and friends have hopped on the band wagon too and are offering to buy you “things for travelling” for Christmas and birthdays. Which means you will have 8 travel guides, a few travel towels, some flight socks, numerous luggage alarms, battery chargers, portable speakers, a gizmo that transforms a drink can into a speaker, a selfie stick (at least one), a first aid kit, a sewing kit, a water bottle and a roll-up toiletry bag that you can hang in the shower…. The list goes on. The fact is, the travel towel is a good idea – it can stay. A basic first aid kit is a good idea, too. The portable charger isn’t a bad idea, but you will be able to pick one up in a market in Bangkok (or wherever) for a couple of pounds. Everything else is just likely to weigh you down – literally as well as metaphorically. There is something liberating about having the basics, coping with what you have, and learning to adapt. So ditch the gadgets and enjoy a brief period of time unencumbered by surplus tech.
Tip: The best gadget you can get for your trip is a spare memory card, so you never run out of space for photos. If you are using your phone or a camera connected to Wi-Fi, get some kind of cloud back up. If not, take time out now and again to go to an internet café and download your photos to an online account.
Error Number Three: Overpacking
We’ve all been there: we are not sure what to pack, so we pack everything. After all, more is more, right? Wrong. Overpacking for a couple of weeks on a package holiday, where you have arranged car hire or hotel transfers is one thing, but if you overpack for travelling, you will be unpacking, repacking and carrying those extra, unused items for around with you for the next 4, 12, or 52 weeks. That’s long enough to make you want to ditch even your favourite jumper (that you haven’t worn at all because it’s 30 degrees and you only packed it “just in case”). Same goes for heels: unless you are a WAG or a Kardashian, the chances are, you won’t need your stilettos whilst travelling.
Tip: Don’t feel under pressure to pack your bags to the brim: you are bound to want to buy mementoes of your trip and will need luggage space to bring them home. Oh, and remember: unless you’re going to be spending your trip on a deserted island, there will be shops!
Error Number Four: Over-planning
Just as you want to keep space in your bags for those irresistible souvenirs, so you want to keep space in your itinerary. The whole point of backpacking is that you have a little freedom. If you love a place, you may want to stay longer; if you hate it, you may want to ditch it and move on. You may meet a group of people and decide to head somewhere different with them. If every moment has been pre-booked, prepaid, and prescribed, you won’t have that flexibility.
Tip: While it’s not good to over-plan, it’s not a great idea to under-plan either. If you have booked your flights, so your arrival dates are set in stone, book your first one or two nights’ accommodation in advance; arriving at your destination and finding the hostels fully booked can really ruin your experience.
Error Number Five: Failing To Budget
The budget is a tricky one: you don’t want to get yourself into massive debt while you are travelling, but equally you don’t want to spend the whole time eating rice and sitting on the beach because you can’t afford to do anything else. First, work out just how much you can afford (the upper limit). Set aside a bit for “emergencies”. Then work out what you think the trip will cost – and add another 50%. Once you have come to a figure that you think seems reasonable, allocate yourself an average daily budget. This will give you a rough guide and some days you can sleep on the beach and eat rice, allowing you to splurge on other days. Don’t be tempted to blow the budget on a helicopter ride, but do splash out on that bungee jump you always wanted to do. It’s a fine balance between being practical and making the absolute most of your experience.
Tip: Working your way around the world is a great way to get more involved with the backpacking community and earn money, too. Most popular holiday locations have plenty of job opportunities, providing your visa allows it. There will be lots of competition for casual work and the pay won’t be great, but it should be enough to pay the youth hostel and buy a couple of drinks.
Error Number Six: Uninsured = At Risk
Yeah, yeah, insurance is for grown-ups, not for free-spirited, intrepid backpackers like you. Well, actually, unless you want to end up with bills of potentially thousands of pounds, you need to be insured. Nobody likes paying for insurance, until they need it. The fact is, you just don’t know when you will need it.
Tip: book your travel insurance before you even book a single flight, that way, if your plans are changed due to circumstances out of your control you may get some, or all of your money back.