The Art of Backpacking
Backpacking is a wallet-friendly method of travel that is particularly popular with young people and any adventurous soul who enjoys seeing the world with just a few meagre possessions strapped to their back.
I started backpacking in 2006. On my first backpacking trip, I went to Malaysia, Cambodia and Thailand for 14 days and it cost me as little as Rp 5 million. Backpacking for me is the smart way to travel, because not only am I as free as a bird in setting out my itinerary, but the cost of the trip won’t break my bank account. Backpacking also gives you more opportunity to interact with locals and learn new languages and cultures, the kinds of things you don’t get on package tours. While backpacking can be fun and exciting, there are a few things you should be aware of so that your trip will be the journey of a lifetime.
- Before setting out, get all the information that you need about your destination, such as places to visit, where to stay, what to eat and how to get there. You can do your research over the Internet, and it is always handy to read through “Lonely Planet”, the best book for backpackers. “Lonely Planet” guides offer important tips and information for independent travellers, including maps, accommodation, local transportation and local attractions.
- Plan your holiday well in advance for the cheapest air fares. Airlines often offer promotional rates a few times a year. Also, choose to travel midweek and on night flights for cheaper fares. It is better to travel during the low season, when everything from air fare to accommodation is cheaper.
- If your journey starts and ends in the same city, buying a return airline ticket is worth the money. However, if your journey starts and ends in different cities, you will be better off flying with low-cost airlines on one-way tickets.
- It is better and easier to travel in a group rather than alone. That way not only do you have a travelling companion, but also someone who can share the costs.
- Arrange everything before you embark, including local transportation. However, not all countries in Asia have online booking systems for local transportation, so be ready to purchase tickets after you arrive. In China you will have to wait patiently in long queues to get a train ticket, while in Thailand tourists can buy train tickets at special windows, without all the hassle and tussle. In Xian, China, I had to fight for a train ticket, but that is part of the charm of backpacking.
- Make sure to check the validity of your passport and have all of your travel permits ready.
- It’s important to prepare a dictionary, especially when you want to go to a non-English speaking country. When we visited Thailand and China, only a few people understood English, and we had to get by with hand gestures and the few simple words that we knew.
- Bring all your medication.
- Before you leave on your journey, make sure to visit these websites to get more ideas and information on backpacking and your destination: www.lonelyplanet.com, www.backpacking.com, www.travelocity.com, www.budgettravel.com.
Now that you have everything ready, you can enjoy a different way of travelling – backpacking style.
When packing your backpack, it is important that you only bring things that are absolutely necessary for your trip. You don’t want to end up lugging around an overweight and overloaded backpack, because that is a sure way to ruin a trip. So, what do you need for backpacking?
- Clothes. Don’t bring too many clothes, and make sure what you pack is appropriate for the weather in your destination country. For a 14-day journey, you don’t have to pack 14 outfits. Just bring five to seven items of clothing, because you can always do your laundry or buy a new shirt.
- Backpack. Bring two backpacks, a little one for carrying a book, maps, mineral water, etc., and a big one (about 60 litres) for everything else. Also, buy a padlock for your bag. You can also add a money belt to carry money, passport, tickets, credit cards and traveller’s cheques.
- A “Lonely Planet” guidebook for your destination.
- Personal-care items like toothpaste, liquid soap, shampoo sachets, towel, sunglasses, hat and sunblock.
- Don’t forget to bring paper, a pen for filling in immigration forms, a cellular phone and charger, an international adaptor, a camera, a pocket-knife, a torch, plastic bags to separate clean and dirty clothes, and laundry detergent sachets.