I’ve done two backpacking trips. One through Europe and one through South America. I’ve also done the whole, “Stay at a classy resort and eat really bad over priced food,” travel experience. I must say, the prior is much more fun! Not that 4-5 star hotels aren’t beautiful, but while you’re young and up up for anything , I most deff. suggest you travel with some spontaneity. Backpacking allows you to experience authentic culture, see and do more for less, meet new and interesting people and acquire skills and life experiences that can only be gained through these types of adventures.
The toughest part is deciding to do it. Yes, I will admit, choosing to take the backpacking route can be scary. But man,oh man is it so worth it! Of course, you have to be smart when backpacking or traveling alone. You can’t be walking around empty streets late at night by yourself, accepting car rides from random people or getting belligerently drunk (you have to be responsible and make smart choices). But backpacking is not as dangerous as you may perceive it to be. Pick-pocketers and thievery are what one usually has to worry about the most. I think I’ve felt less safe in the U.S. than I have traveling abroad, at times lol.
So, where do you start!? The beauty with backpacking is that you really only need an arriving and departing city. And what I mean by that is, that you only need to book your flight to your first destination and book your flight back from the last destination you will be staying at. You can also book all the transportation before you even leave for your trip. However, waiting until you actually get on the continent you are visiting to plan how you’re going to get to the next city leaves room for flexibility and allows you to change your route if you decide to visit a new place.
While I would love to give advice on all preferred modes of transport from traveling within any continent, I’ve only backpacked through Europe and South America.. and so I can only give advice on what worked for my while I was in those places . (sorry guys! More tips to come as I venture out some more 😉 )
1. Airfare– Sometimes you find cheap one way tickets to the city you plan on visiting next. Check all prices and flights, just in case.
2. Trains– Europe has a EuRail train system that offers high speed trains, night trains, regional trains and even scenic route and multi-stop packages. These trains are generally cheaper than a plane ticket. Check http://www.eurail.com/trains-europe for more details.
3. MegaBus – Possibly the greatest invention ever lol MegaBus has busses that take you to big cities all over Europe. I took MegaBus from Amsterdam to Paris. It was a 6 hour ride (with a stop in Brussels) but I only paid less than $10.00 for my ticket! (yes, really) Check it out!
4. The Metro– Different cities have different types of metro systems. Some are more extensive than others, nonetheless ask your local hostel or hotel for a metro map. You will most likely be able to get anywhere without the need for a taxi. The metro system in Paris was deff the best (in my opinion) ! =)
Central/South America- The transportation in South America is not as tourist-friendly as it is in Europe. However, It’s much less expensive, which is always a plus ! Make sure to utilize…
1. Air Travel– Use Central/South American airlines over American airlines any time you get a chance. They may be cheaper and the customer service is way better.
2. Busses– I used the bus system a lot in Brazil. It was super cheap and relatively easy to get around. Bus systems will vary depending on the city you are in. Make sure to look into the bus routes in your host city.
2.Taxis- Also cheaper in Central/South America than in Europe or the U.S. Sometimes the only way you can get around is by cab. If you’re a female traveler, though, be extra careful. Try not to take a taxi by yourself. If you absolutely have to, attempt to flag one down in a more crowded area versus a secluded place.
Best time of the year to go to SOUTH AMERICA (below the equator) – Our winter. Jan, Dec is summertime there.
Where to Stay
The best option, in my opinion, are hostels. BUT WAIT…I hear you cry. “Haven’t you seen the movie hostel?! Aren’t you scared!?” Yes, I have seen the movie.. and no, hostels are not scary. lol
The reason I love hostels is because travelers from all over the world stay in them. You can meet people from India, Spain, Peru, Israel and Thailand … just in your room. For those of you not familiar with the hostel experience, you basically pay for a bed that you “rent” to sleep on and share a room with 6, 8, or 12 other people (depending on your budget, preferences and other specifications). There is a communal bathroom shared amongst all the people on one floor , usually.
Hostels tend to have great recommendations on local (and cheap!) dining, bar crawls and tourist activities. They also offer lockers (to keep your money and passports).
The concept of a hostel is slightly “hippie-ish”, but you meet the coolest people who will tell you the best sites to see in the city and even give advice on other countries and/or cities you should visit. Your room buddies can become great international contacts.
You can either book your hostel (s) before you leave, or even shop around for one the day you plan on arriving. Here is the website I’ve always used, http://www.hostelworld.com. It holds over 35,000 hostel locations in over 180 countries. It’s both safe and reliable and will give you detailed information on each hostel you are interested in.
Note: I’ve added some hostel recommendations in the captions in the photos below.
What to Pack
So if you’re backpacking, you’re going to have to get used to the idea that you WILL wear the same outfit, not only twice, but several days at a time. You have to be ready for two minute showers (sometimes COLD) and sharing a bathroom with at least 20 other people. It’s safe to say, you can’t expect to dress up and look your best everyday. Simplicity and low-maintenance are key =). Here’s a list of the essentials
1. Clothes (obviously)- BUT, make sure you stick to older clothes that you aren’t afraid to rough up (or get stolen) lol. The thing about staying in a hostel is everyone has access to your stuff. So, you wanna keep the brand name and luxury stuff at home.
2. Passport and Money – These are pretty implied =) but make sure not to carry too much money. I’ll bring a couple hundred and just go to an ATM and withdraw money once I’m already in the foreign country I’m visiting. Thievery does occur, a lot, and it would suck to be carrying ALL your money for the trip and get it stolen.
3. Backpack or Small Luggage with Wheels– I honestly prefer the small luggage with wheels (the big backpacks hurt my back lol) Whatever you decide to bring, make sure its big enough to carry all your essentials, but not so big, it becomes a hassle to move around from city to city.
4. Adapter– SO IMPORTANT. You’ll need to charge your phone, camera, or utilize a plug sometime during your stay (guaranteed) so don’t forget to leave the country without one. You can find adapters for different regions of the world at Target and Walmart.
5. Locks– Sometimes hostels will not provide locks for lockers to keep your passport, money , camera, etc. It’s always a good idea to take two or three locks, just in case (or to use to lock your backpack and luggage as well, while you’re out).
6. Travel Fanny Pack- I know, it sounds weird and lame but these deff come in handy. I’m not talking about the typical fanny pack, but about a kind they sell that is specifically made to wear UNDER your clothes and carry your money, credit cards, etc. to keep these items safe from pick-pocketers. The fanny pack came in handy, for me, when I was staying in Barcelona and the lockers got broken into at my hostel. I slept with my money and passport in the pack on me that night lol. It’s a really great item to have with you for safety emergencies.
7. Towel- I literally always forget a towel! lol I don’t know why! But make sure to bring one, because a lot of hostels don’t provide them for you.
8. Flip Flops- Especially important for when you shower, make sure you put them on beforehand so your feet won’t be exposed to the shower floor where thousands of people have had their feet on.
9. Travel Sized Toiletries – You can always buy more shampoo, toothpaste, hair gel, etc. once you arrive, but these travel sized goodies are necessary the first couple of days in your new city (plus its annoying to have to buy them the day you arrive when you aren’t familiar with the area and where the super market is).
10. Change- Make sure you carry change in whichever currency you are utilizing, especially for the metro, busses and to do your laundry! =)
TIP: Don’t forget to call your bank or debit card holder to let them know you’re leaving the country (so they won;t put a hold on your funds) and your cell phone service provider to make sure your phone will work in the countries/ cities you will be staying at.