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Backpacking can be a hugely rewarding experience when done right – you’ll make some amazing memories to cherish for the rest of your life. If you’re planning a gap year or simply want to explore the world (and why not, eh?), you’ll want to know what to expect.
Who better to ask for advice than the experts? We spoke to those who had already lived the dream of staying in youth hostels and camping in jungles, and asked them for their top tips. Here’s what they said.
It should go without saying that it’s a bad idea to walk around flashing all of your cash, but if you’re travelling to an area where pickpocketing is common, you should avoid storing any money in a wallet or somewhere easily accessible, like a pocket.
Instead, take a money wallet with you, so you can keep any notes underneath your t-shirt. If you’re a lady, you might want to take Holly Cooper’s advice:
Additionally, it’s a good idea to take some spare US dollars with you, as it’s a currency that’s accepted in a large number of places, especially in countries which have unstable economies.
Of course, you might need to protect more than just your wallet. In these instances, place a bag protector over your rucksack. These are steel wire meshes that will stop potential thieves from taking anything from your bag.
Men rarely have to worry about how they’re going to go to the bathroom when there isn’t one, but for women it’s a different story. Ellie Whiston recommends investing in a Shewee – a device that lets women urinate whilst standing. You don’t even need to remove your clothes!
“99 per cent of the time you’re fine, but those two or three times you need to use it you’ll be eternally grateful,” Ellie says.
If, at any point, you’re going to be camping or trekking through a jungle, you’re going to come into contact with leeches. There’s not much you can do to repel them, but Alex Matheson says there is an easy way to remove them.
“Use a lighter or matches to make them fall off,” he suggests. Be careful not to burn yourself, though!
Remember that you’ll have to carry everything you take with you on your back all day, so don’t buy the biggest rucksack you can find. Be wary of what you pack too – you don’t need 30 pairs of socks and underwear, as there will be places to wash your clothes at your chosen destination. The same goes for toiletries; you’ll be able to buy most things you need on the go.
“You’ll thank yourself in the end for not taking that extra 10L,” says Ellie.
To test how heavy your bag is, and whether you’ll be able to carry it all, wear your rucksack before you go. Pack everything you’re planning to take with you and go walking with it on all day. You’ll soon know whether you’ve packed too much.
Related reading: View our full backpacking checklist for more details of what you’ll need to take with you.
They may not taste great, but iodine tablets will ensure you “always have clean water to drink,” says Alex. If you are trekking through the jungle, clean water may not be in abundance, so you will need to purify anything you collect from a stream or river. Otherwise you will risk getting very sick!
“Before you go anywhere let someone know where you are going and don’t do it alone without a guide,” Alex notes. Indeed, this is great advice, as if no one has a clue where you are or when you’re meant to be back, then how will anyone know if you’ve gone missing? Moreover, a trusted local guide will not only be able to help you get to your destination, they’ll also keep you safe and inform you of the best places to eat, sleep and more. Even the most experienced travellers should avoid going anywhere alone, especially if they don’t know the area.
Alex Jones says a sleeping bag liner can come in handy in many situations, even if you’re staying in a hostel. After all, you might not want to sleep on a bed that thousands of other travellers have slept on, particularly if there are any dodgy stains present! Thankfully, sleeping bag liners won’t take up much room in your pack.
Headlamps are great if you’re going camping, as they make it easy to rifle through your bag, read and go to the loo in the dark without the inconvenience of having to hold a torch with one hand. However, as WanderTooth points out, you’ll want a headlamp if you’re staying in hostels too.
You may be on a budget, but as Alex says, investing in a good pair of boots is vital. You’ll be wearing them all day every day, so make sure they’re comfortable and won’t give you blisters. If you’re going trekking or will be walking anywhere that may be muddy, then your boots must be waterproof and have a decent grip too. Wet socks will make your feet sore and uncomfortable.
If we had to give one piece of advice, it would be to plan thoroughly. Researching your destination will help you decide on what to pack, where to stay and what to do during your adventure. Of course, don’t forget to purchase travel insurance for backpackers before you leave – you’ll need a special backpacker insurance policy, which will cover you for extended trips. We wish you the best of luck on your first backpacking experience; you’ll have the trip of a lifetime!
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