This post may contain affiliate links, including Amazon Associates. This means that I will make a small commission from any purchases you make, at no extra cost to you.
When you first decide to go backpacking for the first time, you’re going to be keen to start planning your trip as soon as possible. But as a beginner backpacker it can be very overwhelming knowing where to start! How to start backpacking, how to start backpacking and just simply how to backpack, are undoubtedly some of the anxious questions you have.
So I have created this beginners guide to backpacking to give you the best backpacking tips for beginners. In my case my first time backpacking properly was to Southeast Asia. This is a popular place for travellers nd therefore should be near the top of any list of backpacking destinations for beginners. Bearing this in mind, this is definitely more of a beginners guide to backpacking Southeast Asia, but lots of the information is definitely transferrable to any beginners backpacking trip.
‘This has all the information you need about how to go about planning a backpacking trip. I’ve done some travelling before but nothing like Emma and this is definitely something I would use when planning my next trip.’
When I went backpacking for the first time I could’ve done with a post like this to help, so I really hope this is useful to at least one person! Consider this a sort of ‘backpacking starter kit’. So, here’s my:
- BEGINNERS GUIDE TO BACKPACKING
- 1. Ascertain (generally) Where and When
- 2. Get Yourself a Lonely Planet
- 3. Use Social Media Proactively
- 4. Have a VERY Rough Plan
- 5. Research the Important Stuff Early On
- 6. Use the Foreign Office Travel Advice (UK only)
- 7. Talk to Your Bank
- 8. Choose Reputable Accommodation
- 9. Take American Dollars With You
- 10. Don’t Be Scared to Ask Questions
- 11. Lightweight Backpacking!
- Beginners Backpacking Gear – what I couldn’t survive without
- Backpacking Basics: Booking Transport
- Enjoyed my Beginners Guide to Backpacking?
BEGINNERS GUIDE TO BACKPACKING
1. Ascertain (generally) Where and When
To start my backpacking guide, you of course need to know where you’ll be going and when! Sort out when you have the free time for the trip and think about what route you might like to take. One of my best backpacking tips for beginners it use an actual map! I knew I wanted to go to backpacking in Southeast Asia so I looked at the different countries in the area to ascertain a logical route. Southeast Asia is a great backpacker hub and therefore one of the perfect backpacking trips for beginners.
When you are working out where you want to fly to first think about where you can go direct, where is cheapest and where is a great ‘hub’ to start your trip from. When backpacking in Southeast Asia Singapore is a great option to start with. I could fly direct from London to Singapore. Make sure you book with a reputable airline too!
2. Get Yourself a Lonely Planet
I got myself a cheap copy of Southeast Asia on a Shoestring from eBay. Check out second hand options online and on eBay because they’re so much cheaper. I also had the Thailand Lonely Planet Book.
It helped me no end when planning my trip as a backpacking beginner. It literally has EVERYTHING in it from things to do, to accommodation and food. So make sure you add ‘Lonely Planet Guide’ to your backpacking gear checklist.
3. Use Social Media Proactively
Often in todays society we are all negatively affected by social media, but I found it super useful when looking for backpacking advice. I posted on my Facebook and Instagram asking for tips for backpacking / travelling Southeast Asia, especially as a solo female. Lots of people got back to me with great information and shared their backpacking experience with me.
Another great way to get some first hand backpacking information is by looking at travel blogs. Here are some of my favourites:
- The Broke Backpacker
- The Wandering Quinn
- Culture Trip
- Crazy Tourist
- The Blonde Abroad
- South East Asia Backpacker
If someone you follow on social media is doing a similar trip, don’t be afraid to drop them a message asking for some backpacking tips. It’s highly likely they were once in the same position as a beginner backpacker and know how daunting first time backpacking is, so will be more than happy to help.
4. Have a VERY Rough Plan
Next on the beginners guide to backpacking is one of my top backpacking tips for beginners! Keep your plan very loose, especially if you are backpacking alone. Your plans are likely to change so quickly and you are going to want as much flexibility and freedom as possible. When I was backpacking for the first time around Europe and SE Asia I met lots of people, some of whom I became good friends. Therefore I decided to stick with them and this changed my intentions entirely.
That’s the beauty of travelling and backpacking alone, and in order to truly embrace it and make the most of it it’s best to have nothing booked. There aren’t any backpacking rules as such, but in my opinion having no plans and making new friend is truly how to backpack. Before I left home I only had my outward flight and first three nights accommodation booked.
5. Research the Important Stuff Early On
By important stuff I primarily mean two things:
- Entry Requirements
- Anything Medical
What do I need for a backpacking trip?? You’ll most likely need 6 months validity on your passport! Passport applications can take a while to process, especially in high season so it’s good if you get this done sooner rather than later. Some places also required you to have a visa. More often than not you can get a visa on entry on apply online, but if you need to go to an embassy it’s best you sort this in advance.
I had a bit of a panic because didn’t sort my vaccinations early on enough and had to make very quick decisions. Make sure you are prepared for these because they are super expensive. Be sure to check the malaria risks for where you are going.
If you check early on what vaccinations / medication you may need, then you can do your research. Account for them in your backpacking budget and make an informed decision about what you want to do! Travel Health Pro is great for all things medical!
Some of the most stressful parts of travelling happen when you’re preparing for backpacking, so make sure you do all this research plenty of time in advance.
Decent and comprehensive travel insurance should definitely be part of your best backpacking gear! Do your research and shop around so you get a reasonable price but make sure you get cover that protects you for all your activities and pre existing medical conditions. Sometimes this might be referred to as specific backpacking insurance, but it varies between providers. I got mine with LV.
6. Use the Foreign Office Travel Advice (UK only)
This is a life saver for all backpackers not just beginner backpackers. This was my GO TO for all travel advice, whether it be entry requirements, information about laws and customs, or checking if somewhere was safe for me to go. I would say this is definitely the most trusted website for all of this information.
(Note: This is the UK government foreign office)
7. Talk to Your Bank
I couldn’t compose a backpacking guide without talking about money! When preparing for backpacking check how much it costs to use your bank card abroad. Ask your bank if you can open an account which doesn’t incur fees on transactions abroad. Also consider getting a separate account in case your normal card is lost or stolen. You can then easily transfer money between accounts and still be able to spend or withdraw money.
Use a credit card for any transactions over £100 because you’re covered by ‘section 75’ of the Consumer Credit Act. This means the credit card company have equal liability with the seller for whatever purchase you’ve made, so you’re just protected if what you don’t get what you were promised on purchase.
A lot of people get either a Monzo or a Revolut card to avoid ATM fees. You just top these up with money as and when you need and it gives you the best possible exchange rates. If you are using your regular bank card, one of the backpacking basics is to inform your bank you’re using your card abroad, otherwise your account will likely get blocked for suspicious activity.
8. Choose Reputable Accommodation
The sites I use religiously are Hostelworld and Booking.com so I’d definitely recommend these for any first time backpacking trip. More often they not they both offer free cancellations which is perfect if you are uncertain of your plans or itinerary. Another website spoken about on lots of travel advice blogs and vlogs is Agoda, but I’ve never really used it.
One of my top tips for backpacking is to check recent reviews. I especially like Hostelworld’s rating system as you give it a mark out of 10 for different categories. A key one for me is how clean somewhere is and how much of an atmosphere there is. Atmosphere normally means more socialising which is essential for solo travel.
9. Take American Dollars With You
Across all the Southeast Asian countries this is often accepted as foreign currency. If you don’t have the correct currency for the country you’re in, you are usually fine paying in USD. This is also the currency you use to get visas on entry.
10. Don’t Be Scared to Ask Questions
This is imperative for any backpacking beginners! Don’t be afraid to ask others for backpacking advice or tips. 9 times out of 10 they’ll be happy to share their knowledge with you — I know I definitely would! Backpacking for the first time, especially solo, can be scary and challenging. From my backpacking experience the best knowledge either comes from just doing it, or seeking advice direct from those who have already done it!
If anyone wants to talk to me about backpacking / travel (or pretty much anything to be honest) follow me on Instagram, and drop me a message!
11. Lightweight Backpacking!
Finally on this beginners guide to backpacking: DON’T TAKE TOO MUCH! Check out my Southeast Asia packing guide to see what I took with me! Even if you forget something you can buy clothing out there super cheap, and it’s nice to bring things back that you bought when you were away!
Packing cubes are top of my backpacking gear checklistfor keeping everything separated in your bag. It’s hard enough living out of a bag for a prolonged period of time, let alone not having everything organised in there – you may as well make it a little easier for yourself!
Beginners Backpacking Gear – what I couldn’t survive without
- Universal adaptor plug (with USB ports)
- 65l back pack – I got the Eurohike Pathfinder from Millets
- Packing cubes
- Bank card
- Another form of ID (driving license)
- American dollars (accepted as foreign currency across Southeast Asia)
- Refillable water bottle – try life straw so you can drink from the tap where water isn’t potable
Backpacking Basics: Booking Transport
- SKYSCANNER – I always opted to book direct with the airline as opposed to through skyscanner or any other providers
- AIR ASIA – the Ryanair of Asia
Bus / Coaches
- 12Go – ‘the best budget travel service for Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, India, China, Laos & more’
- busonlineticket.com (Singapore and Mayalsia)
- Green Bus (Thailand – they also have an app you can download! I found it a little cheaper to book myself tickets on here instead of booking through the hostel)
BACKPACKING HOW TO: You’re booking transport once you’re in the city / town you want to depart from. The easiest and most convenient option is often booking through your hostel, or going around travel agents nearby to find the best price.
Hopefully this Beginners Guide to Backpacking has proved helpful! Beginning backpacking can definitely be very daunting but it will undoubtedly be a great experience no matter what the outcome. Remember this backpacking guide is always here for you to refer to should you need it – enjoy your trip!
Enjoyed my Beginners Guide to Backpacking?
Check out my other Southeast Asia content:
- Backpacking Cambodia: The Ultimate Travel GuideThis post may contain affiliate links, including Amazon Associates. This means that I will make a small commission from any purchases you make, at no extra cost to you.Located in southern Southeast Asia, backpacking Cambodia is popular for any Southeast Asia traveller. I spent 2 weeks there during my 4 month trip to Southeast Asia, …
- 8 Dalat Attractions You Must SeeThis post may contain affiliate links, including Amazon Associates. This means that I will make a small commission from any purchases you make, at no extra cost to you.The boujie city of Dalat in Southern Vietnam was originally built as a French report town during Vietnam’s French colonial period. There is definitely a distinct European …
- Backpacking Southeast Asia Packing ListThis post may contain affiliate links, including Amazon Associates. This means that I will make a small commission from any purchases you make, at no extra cost to you.If you are wondering what to take backpacking, you’re in the right place! Compiling a backpacking checklist can often be difficult but light backpacking really isn’t as …
- Travel Vaccinations for Southeast AsiaWhen you’re preparing to go backpacking it’s important you know what medical precautions to take! Here I discuss medical preparations and travel vaccinations for Southeast Asia.
- Highlights of Southeast AsiaThis post may contain affiliate links, including Amazon Associates. This means that I will make a small commission from any purchases you make, at no extra cost to you.Sunday 18th August 2019 (after 110 days in SE Asia) So today is the day I leave Asia after almost 16 weeks here and I can’t quite …
[…] I have embarked on other solo trips including city breaks to Edinburgh and Lisbon, as well as a backpacking trip to Southeast Asia. Once I’d gained that first experience of solo travel I wasn’t nervous to do anything […]