Backpacking – The Ultimate Guide

backpacking ultimate guide

In this post I’d like to cover a variety of things about backpacking, making this the ultimate guide.

I’ve made a sort of checklist for you, going through exactly what you need to pack. You’ll even find suggestions on where to go backpacking!

Did you know that you can even make money while backpacking? I’ll let you in on a few ways at the end of this article.

To start us off, you might be wondering what the benefits of backpacking are. If so, read on.

Why Go Backpacking?

First off, if you’ve never been backpacking before it’s likely that you’re asking yourself why someone would want to.

Well, I’m here to tell you that there are somany benefits to hiking and backpacking. Rather than asking yourself why you should go backpacking, try asking yourself why shouldn’t you go? I bet you can’t think of a single reason.

If you’re not convinced just yet, below you’ll find a couple of the benefits of backpacking, and why you’d enjoy it.

Save Money

In a way, backpacking is like a vacation. Obviously not everyone’s holiday go-to, but if you do choose to look at it that way then it’s a very inexpensive holiday.

With a very small budget, you can easily have the experience and adventure of a lifetime.

If you’re not committed to backpacking, you can even rent the gear you need.

Or, even if you do like to book a proper holiday for yourself, there’s no reason you shouldn’t go backpacking there. Obviously, if you’re in another country or just far from home you should do extensive research about everything before setting off. It’s a great way to see some hidden gems that nature offers.

It’s Healthy

Not only is it good for your physical health, but also your mind.

Going backpacking doesn’t have to be exhausting, because you can go at your own pace and limits. It can be as chill and relaxed, or as strenuous, as you’d like it to be.

Physically, it’s great because of all of the walking you do. Carrying a hefty backpack also makes you stronger. I’m the kind of person who doesn’t enjoy going to the gym, so backpacking is a great alternative workout.

As for your mental health, the benefits are endless. Let me lay it out for you.

You’ll be disconnected from the virtual world. Even if you do have cell service wherever you go, you won’t be spending much time on your phone. This can really help to quiet your mind, as we’re really unaware of the long-lasting effects social media has on us.

On your trip, you might find yourself. With no distractions, you get to just think and relax, and probably learn some new things about yourself.

Backpacking can boost your confidence because you will be more self-sufficient since you’ll rely on no one except for yourself. 

Being surrounded by nature makes us happy, just because it’s gorgeous. I bet you didn’t know that it also boosts your immune system. This is according to a study by the University of East Anglia.

It is believed that Phytoncides, which are emitted by plants and trees, have antibacterial and antifungal qualities that help plants fight disease. When we breathe in this substance, our bodies increase the number of a type of white blood cells which also help us fight infections.

There are even more benefits that you might not have thought of.  A study that was published in the Journal of Travel Research suggests that backpacking can even increase your productivity and problem-solving abilities. The researchers looked at 500 backpackers, from different places in the world, and measured their personal development based on how they felt before and after their trip.

Make Friends

It’s quite likely that you’ll run into some hikers or fellow backpackers on the trail, and you might end up making a friend for life without expecting it.

Plus, if they’re coming from the opposite direction, they might provide some insight on the trail conditions ahead of you.

I’ve met some amazing people whilst backpacking. When I’d come across someone else, it would be a great opportunity to sit, take a break, and have a chat. I’m still friends with some of the backpackers and hikers I’ve met on the way, and we even plan trips together sometimes.

This is also a great reason to stay in hostels throughout your trip. Sure, it’s also because they’re cheap and convenient, but meeting others is at the top of the list.

Where Can I Go Backpacking?

If you’re not looking to go far, all it takes is a quick google search for some local trails close to you.

Some of us prefer to make a proper holiday out of it and see other parts of the world. Here are some ideas for your next trip.

Southeast Asia

Many have said that Southeast Asia has one of the best backpacking routes. It’s cheap there, has high safety levels, and a great network for local transportation links.

The Banana Pancake Trail got its name way back when people had just started to go backpacking there, and local vendors would sell banana pancakes to travelers passing through.

It takes roughly $1,000 a month to backpack there, and whatever kind of vibe you’re going for you’ll find it. As an example, it is known that there are backpacker party scenes along the trail.

Central America

The Gringo Trail has so much to offer. Jungles, beaches, volcanoes, lakes… who would’ve thought all of these could be found in just one region!

‘Gringo’ is a local slang word for foreigner, and the trail loosely follows the Pan-American Highway that stretches from Mexico to Chile. You could do the whole trip in about 3 months or less.

South America

The same trail as just mentioned, the Gringo Trail, continues down from Panama to northern Chile. There’s also a side route that goes East into Argentina and up to Brazil. This part of the trail is slightly more challenging that the Central American one because you’ll have to sit through some long-distance buses in order to cover some ground. This is due to the fact that key points are spread apart quite a bit.

There are loads of major attractions though, so it is worth it. Such as the Inca ruins in Peru, or the waterfalls of Foz do Iguaçu, just to name a few.

Europe

Easier to travel around, but not as cheap. Not exactly tropical either, but if you’re keen to travel through a lot of Europe, then backpacking is a great way to do it.

There are dozens of ways you can do this, and it really depends on exactly which countries you want to go through.

The best way to get around would be by train and bus, but mostly train because the rail network is amazing there.

Depending on your preferences, you could just travel from city to city – or the opposite, avoiding cities completely and sticking only to the countryside. Don’t forget about countries like Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, and Romania, because they have a lot to offer.

From my own experiences in Hungary and Romania, not only are the locals’ great people but the nature there is just spectacular.

Southern Africa

If you’d like to see Africa, consider the southern part for your first time because it has good international flight connections.

The public transportation can be quite frustrating because the fact is it’s not very good. This is where the Baz Bus comes in. It’s a hop-on-hop-off backpacker bus service and can take you from Cape Town all the way to Johannesburg. Although you’re being limited to their schedule, it’s definitely worth it.

I’d say you would need 6 weeks or so to really cover ground properly and see everything there is to see. It can be done in less, depending on just how many places you plan on visiting.

What to Pack

Here’s essentially a checklist of things you need to take with you backpacking. Anybody who has been backpacking before already know what they should bring – although some of us had to learn the hard way…

Before we get into what to actually pack, choose the backpack itself and your hiking boots wisely. Don’t forget that the backpack needs a rain cover.

Even though there are a lot of things you need to carry, opt for the lightest options.

Without further ado, here’s a list of backpacking essentials in no particular order.

Personal Items

These are the most important;

Identification (passport or ID and/or driving license), money (credit cards and/or cash), keys, and your mobile.

If you intend to backpack through a national park, you’re going to need to get a permit first.

Tent

Even if you plan to stay in hostels or wherever else, it’s still good to keep a compact tent on you. This is just in case you get stuck on the trail unexpectedly, or it takes longer than you had planned to get somewhere.

Make sure you have everything you need to pitch the tent, like poles, ropes, and stakes.

Emergency shelters are great to keep on you at all times. They’re better than tents because they need much less to be pitched. So much so that some emergency shelters can be put up with just a stick of the right length. You’d need two trees of a certain distance to make it work, though. In the case that you can’t pitch it, it can always be used as a sleeping bag instead.

Light Sources

Battery or solar powered flashlights and lanterns are good. Although you don’t want to pack too many, take a spare one in case one is faulty. If they’re battery powered, keep lots of extra batteries on you.

LED headlamps are ideal because they’re hands-free and quite small in comparison.

Food & Water

Snacks that don’t spoil quickly and can be eaten on the move are ideal, such as energy bars, trail mix, jerky, hard cheeses, and nuts.

Meals need to be planned carefully. Each person needs between 2,500 and 4,500 calories a day. Simply choose lightweight and portable food that you like. Try not to rely on cooking much, and always take extra than you think you’ll need – but don’t overdo it either because of weight.

If you can dehydrate some food before you go, this could save you money and weight.

It’s important to create an actual meal plan. Whether you prefer writing it up or creating a spreadsheet, plan out each meal for every day you intend to travel.

Staying hydrated is even more important. Obviously, a water bottle is essential to take with you – Ideally, one that you’ll reuse. Hydration bladders are great too because they’re flexible, can carry up to 2-4L, and don’t take up much space when empty.

Per day, you should drink around 2 liters of water.

You still need to plan for what to do if or when you run out of water on the trail.

It’d be good to carry something with you to treat the water such as filters (squeeze, pump, or gravity), tablets/drops, UV pens, or you could always just boil the water. It doesn’t matter which method you choose, so long as you do it so that you don’t get ill.

Drinking water that’s flavored will motivate you to drink. I’m not talking about electrolyte water (although that’s good too), but also tea, broth, hot chocolate… there are so many options.

Clothing

You’re going to need a change of clothes. Check the weather forecast and pack appropriately. Also plan for the unexpected, because the weather is unpredictable. Make sure you have clothes that will be useful whether it’s hot or cold.

The footwear and socks you choose are crucial. If your shoes aren’t comfortable, or you end up getting blisters, your entire trip could be ruined. The shoes you choose also need to be suited for the type of terrain, so don’t forget to look into that.

Consider getting moisture-wicking clothing because sweating is expecting while walking.

Even if it’s hot, you probably want to wear a shirt with sleeves. This will protect you from getting sunburned as well as bug bites.

A hat is necessary. Really necessary. Whether it’s hot or cold. A cap will protect you from the sun, and a beanie will keep your head and ears warm.

You can never go wrong with a water-proof jacket either.

As usual, take a few extra bits than you think you’ll need.

Navigation

Do keep a compass and an up-to-date map on you. A map with a waterproof sleeve is preferable.

Even if the trail has clear signs, do not rely on that. There are other ways you can orient and navigate yourself besides the classic map and compass, such as using GPS and/or a satellite messenger/Personal Locator Beacon.

I don’t like to rely on just my phone, and the alternative options I mentioned are great for emergencies.

First Aid & Emergency

Accidents happen. It’s quite common to slip and scrape your knee. You should always carry a medical kit wherever you go. If you cut yourself, you’ll be glad to be able to disinfect it and stop the bleeding.

Or, even better, a survival kit – this would come with a first aid kit as well as lots of other things you could use at a pinch. Such as fire starters, a whistle, tools and/or a tent repair kit, etc.

Whether you purchased a survival kit or put together one of your own, it could save your life. Always plan for the worst-case scenario.

Hygiene

Your toothbrush, toothpaste, hand sanitizer, toilet paper, and menstrual products are a necessity. These are just the absolute essentials, but you may want to add some more items to your list.

Extra

If you have additional space, you might want to take some other things. I can only name a few examples to give you some ideas because it really varies from person to person.

Additional items that aren’t necessary, but you might be glad to have are: a camera, a book, a deck of cards, and binoculars.

Where to Buy Backpacking Needs?

Even though you can get everything online these days, it’s better if you find a store specifically for outdoor needs. REI is a perfect example of one of these outdoor retail stores that are very widespread.

By going to the store yourself, not only can you see exactly what you’re getting before purchasing, but there’ll be someone there who will gladly help you.

These kinds of shops should have absolutely everything you could possibly need for your backpacking trip.

How to Make Money Backpacking

So, you’re wondering if and how you can make some money while traveling. I was too before I set off, and I eventually found the perfect way for me.  Even though backpacking is technically a cheap way to travel, this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t earn some money while doing it!

Teach English

Any native English speaker can easily teach English as a second language. Take it from me, an actual ESL teacher. There’s usually just one course you need to do that takes about a month and isn’t expensive at all. With this, you’ll be able to find English teaching jobs easily (more so in the Summer months from my experience).

At Hotels/Hostels

Hotels and Hostels almost always need someone to do something – be it cleaning, at the reception, or even waitressing if the hotel has a restaurant. As long as you’re open to it, there are all sorts of positions.

During busy season you’re almost definitely going to get hired for a short time. If you remember to get a reference from each place you work, then the chance of getting hired increases.

Domestic Work

Jobs like house sitting or Au pairing can be done anywhere. The latter in particular revolves around traveling, and almost anyone can do either of these jobs.

Conclusion

Now that you know all of the ins and outs of backpacking, you’re ready to start planning!

I truly hope that this guide was useful to you, and I wish you an extraordinary adventure.

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