So you're planning a backpacking trip once we can travel again? We all need something to look forward to once we have beaten Coronavirus and are free to safely travel again, so I want to give you some valuable tips that I have learnt on my travels.
After spending over 2 years backpacking through 6 continents, with a budget of around $30 a day, I have come up with my ultimate top 10 tips that I would give to every budget backpacker before setting off on their journey. Whether this is your first backpacking trip, or you're an experienced backpacker but you’re unsure what to pack, how to manage your money, how to spend less money, or where to go, have a read of these tips and they should help guide you.
The best feeling in the world, bombing around in shared taxis and mini vans whenever and wherever you feeling going
Here are my top 15 tips for budget backpacking:
1 - Be prepared before you go
Get all your documents in order before you leave and pack copies!
Insurance, passport, and visas. Yes the boring stuff is important, but if you do it before you leave - it could save you a ton of time, money and tears when you're on the road.
A - Get travel insurance that is designed for backpackers, make sure you have a printed copy of your insurance certificate, and have it saved somewhere on email that you can access easily if you need it.
B - Photocopy your passport - carry some physical copies with you, and send scans of your passport to a next of kin at home.
C - Check every visa requirement for countries you may visit, and check it again, don't get caught out at a border without the right visa.
2 - Money
Money in Djibouti
Get a debit card with no international withdrawal fees and download the XE currency app.
There are some great cards for travel now - I personally use the Revolut card which is expanding massively and is available in lots of countries, but there are also different US and European cards which offer similar benefits. This card will never charge you a fee to withdraw cash at an ATM, anywhere in the world. Charles Schwab is a similar card for people from the USA.
Bear in mind some ATMs will still charge you a fee regardless of the card, so you need to check this too. Out of 92 countries, I have only paid an ATM fee in maybe 5 or 6 countries where it is almost impossible to find a free ATM (Thailand is one of these) . I often had to go to one or two different ATMs until I found a bank which did not charge. There is almost always at least one bank in every country. Once I knew which one it was, I would just use this bank’s ATMs for every transaction. Over 2 years, using these 2 tips saved me hundreds of dollars, if not more in card and ATM fees combined, and is money well saved when backpacking on a budget.
The XE currency App is a free app you can download to check the current exchange rate offline. Always handy when you arrive in a new country and you can’t get your head around the currency, or to check you’re not getting hustled at a currency exchanger.
3 - Your Backpack
Getting the train from Kazakhstan to Uzbekistan
Invest in a decent backpack - It is worth the money.
Get a backpack with the zip at the front rather than the old classic top open style, they are so much more practical and easier to use everyday. When I first travelled with my open front backpack, it completely changed my feeling towards travelling with a backpack, and I really enjoyed using it.
Keep your backpack to 10kg, trust me - you will thank me later. It makes such a big difference. You will probably be walking a lot when you don’t want to take an expensive taxi from the bus station, so you want it as light as possible, but that’s not the only benefit. It is also great because you can take your bag on the bus or plane with you instead of checking it in - which often costs more money, is more susceptible to theft, and takes time. We used to take our bags on the buses, then just ask the drivers to stop as close as we could to our accommodation, and we would just jump off the bus. If we had bags underneath in the hold, they wouldn't let us stop to get the bags off, and we had to wait until the final destination, so it’s well worth having a smaller bag.
4 - What to pack
Pack clothes you know you will wear and you know will last
Take versatile, high quality clothes.
Don't take bright colourful dresses that you won't want to wear every day, as all your photos will be wearing the same outfit. Take a few pairs of shorts, in versatile colours- black, grey, blue, and take some trusty shirts with the same principle. Make sure these clothes are durable and made to last too. Also definitely avoid synthetic clothes that get super wet and smelly in hotter, humid climates - go natural like organic cotton or hemp. Check out our shirts for some great travel shirts - click here.
5 - Where to go
Being a tourist in Samarkand, Uzbekistan.
If you want to travel long term, go where your money will last the longest.
Of course, Paris and Venice are on everyone’s bucket list, but if you want to travel on a budget now, why not hold off on these places - they will always be there and probably won't change that dramatically.
Visit the cheaper places now, there are many countries in Asia or South America you can visit. This cost per day spending decrease can extend your travel time by over double. If you are set on visiting Europe, you could consider going to the less travelled, cheaper destinations in Eastern Europe.
If I had the option between travelling to Europe for 2 months, or Asia for 6 months, I know which one I would pick. 6 months of travel over 2, every time.
Here are three examples of place swaps that I think could give you similar experience but could cost you a fraction of the cost:
Instead of Here → Visit Here Instead
Dubrovnik, Croatia → Kotor, Montenegro
Korfu, Greece → Himare, Albania
Serengeti, Kenya → South Luangwa NP, Zambia
6 - Keeping your valuables safe
Admiring the view of The Blue Eye in Albania
Always keep your values in your small backpack and have a padlock on it which you can also use for lockers.
Please don’t ever put your passport in your big bag and put them in the hold on buses. I have heard too many horror stories about people getting things stolen from doing this. Always have a lock on your small bag, and always use lockers in hostels - seriously. Even if you think it's ok and you know everyone in there - You don’t. Losing all your money and your passport and having to go home is not worth the risk.
7 - Overlanding
Another train somewhere in Central Asia. They were super easy and pretty comfy to get around.
Travel overland to save on cost, and be more sustainable for the environment.
Do some overlanding - It is the ultimate budget travel experience. Take buses and trains across the continent rather than flying, not only is it much better for the environment, but it will usually cost a fraction of the price, and these journeys always create the best memories. Some of my best memories from travel have been on long train rides, sharing cabins and tea with locals and making new friends.
8 - Where to eat
Seeing what's on the menu in Uganda - salad, fries and chai I think
Eat where the locals eat.
This is probably my favourite part of travel. Eat like the locals. Don't eat at ‘backpacker’ tourist restaurants and hostels, first of all this is the best way to drain your money. I have watched many backpackers in Bali or Vietnam eating açai bowls, avocado on toast, and pizza everyday, drinking espresso martinis every night and spending about the same amount of money that would be at home doing so. Of course, we all like different things but my best advice would be to eat and drink how the locals do, if your diet allows.
My favourite meals have always been street food, and not the tourist markets, but those authentic little carts that have the little plastic stools out front which are always busy with locals. In places like Bali and Vietnam, they can cost round $1 for a meal, but go to the backpacker places and you’re looking $5 or more for a meal. Trying the real local food is also one of the reasons I travel.
One of the best meals I had in Vietnam - cost about $1 and was absolutely delicious!
9 - Avoiding Scams
The Pyramids in Cairo. We walked right past all of the tours guides and camel rides and within 10 minutes of walking we were totally alone.
Don't feel bad about ignoring people- It’s ok when you need to do it. Learn to ignore people if you are going to touristic places like the Egyptian pyramids or Rome. It may sound harsh, but it will avoid you getting yourself into some expensive or scary scams.
I love meeting locals, and supporting local business, but in some places people are very pushy, and there are a lot of scams around. Use your best judgment, I've only ever had to take to ignoring people in a few handful of places.
A good example of this is Egypt. I have heard so many people say they really disliked Egypt because they felt they got harassed by locals, or they got scammed. I totally understand this, but honestly I loved Egypt, and had a great time - I always recommend people to go, it’s one of those places you just have to see at some point in your life. The pyramids, and all of the incredible history is just mind blowing. It sounds harsh, but you need to learn to ignore people in order to enjoy it. We just had to take a really cold approach. We had researched and planned how to get to see all of the sights we wanted to see by walking, using trains, bicycles, or Uber so we didn't need any help. We hired a couple of guides here and there to learn the history, and to give back to the community. But we only did it on our terms if we decided we wanted to before entering the sights. Don’t be scared to ignore people, it’s hard sometimes, but you have to just keep walking like they are not there. The more they do it, the worse it gets and the more they will continue to take advantage of people.
10 - Read about the culture first
In Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on our first day - Both covered up and I am wearing a local abaya and head scarf.
This is important - Always read up on the culture of the people living in the place you are visiting, so you can respect it.
Culture varies massively across the world, and no two countries are the same. To get the most out of your visit, and to be respectful just do a little reading first.
11- Don’t risk losing your photos and memories
Don't lose any of your precious photos - back them all up on Google!
Download and use Google Photos - This is a game changer.
I have met several travellers who have had their phone or camera stolen and they have lost all of their precious photos and memories. Google photos on your phone will automatically back up all of your photos on your phone to the cloud every time you connect to wifi. Magic. Even if you lose your phone, you will always have your photos saved to your account, and it’s free of course. You can also purchase an SD card adaptor to transfer photos straight to your phone/laptop. Travel never got so cheap or easy!
12 - Directions - Maps.me - A life saver
Waiting to catch a ride which never came, so we walked miles down to the nearest town to get a bus.
Download the Maps.me App
Download the Maps.me App before you visit a new place. These maps are really good for helping you get around when you don’t have internet, plus there are lots of tips for bus stations, local eateries, accomodation, markets etc on the maps. If you download it before you go - it is always available offline, and it is totally free (you just need to download each place you need first).
13 - Travel community
Using travel communities helped to give us lots of advice about how to travel to certain countries - like getting the cargo ship across the Caspian sea.
Join some communities online before you go to share advice with others, and possibly meet up with like minded people.
I love the “Every Passport Stamp” community on facebook. It is more for adventurous travellers, with most topics on less visited countries. We were pretty active in the group when we were on the road, helping answer questions, as well as asking questions. It’s super helpful for questions around more difficult places to visit, visas, how to get there, safety, recommendations etc. There are many highly experienced travellers on this group, and even lots who have officially visited every country in the world - so they know their stuff, and are always so happy to help others.
14 - Inspiration
Our lovely new friends for life who we met through Couch Surfing in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Follow some of the beat travel bloggers and get inspiration from them.
Visit some places you don't see on instagram all the time - there are so many good accounts out there of travellers who visit off the beaten path places, and have given me so much inspiration. Here are just 3 of my favourites
15 - Download Google Translate App
Google translate helped us communicate with locals who otherwise we could not speak to- These ladies in Tajikistan invited us in for lunch. We spoke to them on translate in Russian.
It is totally free and an absolutely fantastic tool, which has helped me massively. Just download the languages you might need before you go - Also consider downloading languages like English, Spanish, French, Russian, and Chinese that are commonly spoken and may well help you out if you get stuck. Use the App to help, but also try to learn hello, thank you, please, yes, no, and bye in the places you visit - the locals will appreciate it!
Bonus - Try travelling without a laptop (and a phone) if you can.
Getting away from it all with no phone or laptop is the best medicine if life is getting on top of you.
Try leaving your technology at home to get some real time away from social media, emails, and world news that you probably can live without.
I have travelled for a year or more without my laptop, and even more than 2 months with no phone, it really gives you the opportunity to just switch off. There are some countries I wouldn't go to without a phone and a local SIM card in, and I wouldn't recommend anyone else doing so. When I travelled without my phone I was in Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos and felt safe to do so. The locals all speak a bit of English and you can get by without translation etc. I didn’t struggle to find anything to do, places to stay, where to eat - I just asked people along the way and met a ton of friends.
When you start travelling to third world countries or to more isolated places you will quickly realise just how few people in the world are attached to a phone like we all are these days. If you go travelling and spend 4 hours a day on instagram, this could be time exploring markets, or having tea in a local chair shop, because these hours are precious. Not everyone gets the opportunity to travel to different countries and see culture from all over the world. Or if you can’t leave your phone at home, try switching it off for the day, and just turn it on at night, or something like that. Give it a try, I don’t think you‘ll regret it :)
That’s my top 15 for budget travel guys, let me know if you have any other tips you think are awesome, I’d love to hear them!