10 backpacking tips for beginners!

Heading off to explore the world for the first time? Unsure what to expect? Here’s 10 great backpacking tips for beginners!

1. Stay in Hostels

Of all the backpacking tips this one is the most important as where you sleep and who you meet will have a big impact on your trip. They might have a bad reputation in ‘mainstream’ society but in reality hostels are great for backpackers, not only as a place to sleep as a hub to meet people and get involved with activities and sign up for tours! I have many great hostel stays and thoroughly recommend it. Use websites/apps like Hostelworld to research potential places to stay. They let customers leave reviews which is great for figuring out where you want to stay. Not only can you go by location and price but also the atmosphere, security and so forth. 

2. Don’t worry about being a cliché

Indifference seems to be a trend these days, but travel should be about enthusiasm.  Just because something has been done countless times before by countless other people doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy doing it yourself! Don’t worry about being a cliché, go see the top attractions and understand why they are so popular! Who wants to go to Paris and not see the Eiffel Tower? Cambodia and not see Angkor Wat? Go do it! 

View across water of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Backpacking tips - go see the big sights!
Angkor Wat

3. Learn a few words of the local language

Being able to speak a few words like please or thank you will help your interactions with locals greatly and make you feel more connected to the place you are visiting. It’s no fun just pointing and shouting in English all the time, and it will be appreciated if you make an effort. Simple phrases go along way. Which needs nicely to the next point….

4. Don’t ignore the locals

The place you are visiting? People live there! Say hi! Backpackers shouldn’t just hang around in their own groups, use opportunities you get to mingle with locals and you will appreciate the interaction! Don’t be put off by those trying to sell you things – it’s just their job – and there are plenty of other people whose only interest in you will be friendly curiosity.  Just be safe and apply the same principles as you would sensibly do at home and you’ll be fine. 

The People Of Myanmar - posing with a family visiting Shwenandaw Monastery in Mandalay. Backpacking tips - don't ignore the locals!
Posing with a family visiting Shwenandaw Monastery in Mandalay. They asked me for a photo and I was happy to oblige!

5. Keep your stuff safe

Don’t leave your bags unattended, make use of your accommodation lockers, watch out for pickpockets, it’s all obvious stuff and you should follow it to make sure your trip is ruined by a thief. It’s recommended before heading to a new city/country that you have a quick look at the safety tips – not to get paranoid, but just so you are prepared. For example Hoi An in Vietnam is a beautiful town but you have to watch out for motorbike snatch thieves. The solution? Don’t wear a bag over just over one shoulder, always over two. Simple tips like this will go a long way to making you feel more secure.

6. Use public transport

It’s normally cheap and usually efficient, gives you a great insight into local life and presents opportunities to meet other backpackers doing the same. Don’t listen to the naysayers who preach fear about using a foreign country’s transport system, as long as you are cautious and do a little research first you will find that it’s a great way to get a round in a new place. Just jump on google and check out the routes first! Also get the app as you can use it offline. Simply download the map for the region you are exploring and away you go. That way if you are unsure where to get off the bus you can just use your gps to check!

7. Watch how much you drink

It’s easy to get carried away in a new place, particularly if the booze is cheaper than at home. Sure you should enjoy yourself but don’t get blind drunk – not only could it be dangerous (for example if you get lost in unknown streets with no friends around) but the hangover could ruin the plans you had for the next day!  Alcohol is also a big drain on any travel budget – sometimes you’ve got to prioritise! Moderation is the key. Know when to party, when to take it easy, and you will do just fine.

backpacking tips - watch how much you drink! Bottles of beer in bulgaria
Beer in Bulgaria is cheap. Really cheap!

8. Don’t just take selfies

Sure, it’s nice to take a few photos somewhere to show your friends, family and instagram followers. But don’t let that distract you from enjoying a place for what it is! In 20 years time do you really want to look back on a bunch of photos of you pulling a funny face or do you want to be reminded of those cool places you visited? By all means pose for a photo, just capture some of the background too!

9. Be flexible with your plans!

It’s smart to have a rough route planned out but you should be prepared to change it without hassle. Backpacking doesn’t always work out perfectly, sometimes events happen that mean you can’t get to somewhere – be they personal, transport related or even a natural disaster! And other times you’ll hear about new places on the road that you simply have to check out or you’ll meet someone and want to travel with them, so you need to merge your plans with theirs. For all these reasons and more it’s important to have some flexibility, achieve this by not booking hostels too far in advance, not buying transport tickets until you know yours plans are set (dependent on costs of course) and keeping an open mind!

10. Slow down

Too often the temptation to cram as many sites into a short trip takes over and you see people dashing around a country (or countries!) like crazy, exhausting themselves and not enjoying a place as they should. Simply put, slow down! Don’t try to see everything, you won’t enjoy the stress that brings. Instead focus on a few priorities, allow some ‘rest days’ and take into account actual travel time between places. Only have a week to see a country? Then stick to 1 or 2 cities, anymore and you’ll wear yourself out. Have a month to go to Southeast Asia? Stick to one country, you can do other countries in future. Take the time to savour a place and you’ll be glad of it!

backpacking tips - slow down! Table and beach chairs with sun umbrella on Koh Rong, Cambodia
Taking it easy on the beach on Koh Rong, Cambodia

Thanks for reading these backpacking tips! Travelling solo? Check out my solo travel advice here!

The featured image on the post was taken in Tonsai, Thailand. I don’t know who the artist is.

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