Planning a gap year or backpacking trip can be a huge task, especially if you want to travel to several different countries. There’s so much to consider, from where you’re going to stay to what to take with you. That’s why we’ve created this backpacking checklist – it contains everything you need to do before you leave, so you can tick off each task as you go along.
Decide where you want to go
The world is your oyster when you’re backpacking; you can go wherever you want! If you’re having trouble deciding, though, here are ten of the most popular backpacking destinations:
Thailand is known as ‘the land of smiles’ and is a stunning place to go backpacking. Everything is very cheap here too, so it’s no wonder it’s at the top of many adventurer’s lists.
The beautiful weather and the amazing wildlife in Australia are big draws for many backpackers, but the fact everybody speaks English is another plus. You’re unlikely to experience much of a culture shock in Australia, since the country is similar to the UK in many ways.
Holland is a really laid-back country, with Amsterdam its most chilled out city. Exploring is a calming experience too, as there are few hills to climb – just many canals to enjoy! Walk through the city and countryside with ease, meeting some incredibly friendly people along the way.
The capital of the Czech Republic is a beautiful city filled with impressive historical buildings. Like Amsterdam, it’s the perfect location to go backpacking if you don’t want to travel too far from home. While you’re in the Czech Republic, why not visit the Budweiser Budvar Brewery?
- Nicaragua, Central America
Nicaragua has everything a backpacker needs – gorgeous beaches, cheap hostels and funky jazz bars. Take some time to soak up the colonial towns and admire the spectacular architecture.
One of the most diverse countries in Africa, you’ll likely spend your time in Morocco exploring medina cities, braving the desert, climbing the incredible mountains and eating your body weight in lamb and couscous. Sounds good to us!
Backpacking on a budget but still want to experience an unfamiliar culture? India could be the perfect location. Getting around the country is cheap, but you’ll need to be prepared for the bumpy roads and crowded trains!
While many parts of Greece are considered rather ‘touristy’ and are overrun with visitors in the summer, the fantastic climate and fascinating history make it a timeless backpacking destination.
For temples and mountains head to Nepal – you could try and climb to Everest base camp, ride an elephant through the jungle, or tour the country’s various villages. If you have time, why not do it all?
- Guatemala, Central America
Another Central American country, Guatemala is a cheaper alternative to popular and expensive Mexico. We highly recommend taking the time to learn the language, which you can do in one of the many Spanish schools in the north of the country and in Antigua. What a fantastic thing to put on your CV!
Of course, you don’t have to travel to the destinations every other backpacker is going to – we very much encourage you to explore somewhere out of the ordinary. Just make sure you research the country before you go. You can do this by:
- Speaking to a family member or friend who has been there before
- Buying a quality guidebook and deciding which cities/towns/villages/areas you wish to visit
- Reading travel blogs about others’ experiences, and joining a forum to get advice from fellow backpackers
Research local customs
A little bit of research can save you an enormous amount of embarrassment and money. No one wants to spend their gap year in a foreign prison or having to cut their journey short because they accidentally broke the law or offended the locals.
Here are some things to bear in mind:
- While women may be able to sunbathe topless throughout most of Europe, it is not acceptable in most Indian and Arabic countries, as well as some parts of the USA
- Sex in public is illegal in most countries and is punishable by imprisonment and a hefty fine in some
- Mooning or streaking on holiday can result in arrest and a fine
- Displays of homosexuality are banned in many countries, including Egypt, Sri Lanka, India, St Lucia and Papua New Guinea, to name a few
Please check the laws and culture of the country or countries you plan to backpack in before you go using the GOV.UK website. If you don’t agree with the laws of that destination, then it’s best to leave it off of your itinerary.
How to pack light
Once you’ve decided where you want to go, it’s time to plan what you’re going to take with you! Remember, it’s called a backpacking holiday for a reason – you’ll be carrying everything on your back for the entire trip. That’s why it’s wise to pack light.
Here’s some lightweight but essential items that should be included on your backpacking checklist:
- Bathing suit
- Sarong/something to cover you up on the beach
- Comfortable walking shoes
- Camera (or smartphone if that’s what you’ll use for photos)
- Compact travel binoculars
- Mini first aid kit (should contain plasters, antibiotic ointment and bandages at the very least)
- Guidebook(s) and relevant maps
- Travel pillow
- List of important emergency phone numbers
- Money belt
- Insect repellent and anti-itch remedy
- Notebook and pen
- Natural sleep aid products
- Photocopies of all important travel documents (including your passport)
- Plastic bags
- Prescription drugs (if you need them) stored in their original containers with a copy of your prescription
- Sun hat
- Sunscreen and after-sun
- Travel health insurance documents
- Small but secure padlocks
- Compact flashlight
- Phrase book
- Toiletry bag with all your essentials
- Travel umbrella
- Waterproof tote sack
- Travel raincoat/poncho
- Travel clock with alarm
- Money/traveller’s cheques
Visa and passports
If you’re travelling outside of Europe, you will most likely need entry visas for the countries you’re visiting. Make sure you have the correct ones before you go, otherwise you could be turned back at passport control – and this can be very expensive, as well as disappointing.
Planning to top up your travelling fund by working during your gap year? Then double-check to see if you require work permits. Working illegally can result in severe penalties, including deportation.
Overstaying your visa could also result in fines or imprisonment. You can extend it in some countries, so again, look into this before you go.
When you arrive
We want you to stay safe during your backpacking adventure, so here are some final tips on how to stay out of trouble once you arrive at your destination:
- Book accommodation in advance for your first night away, as this is when you will be at your most vulnerable
- Make sure you know how to get back to your accommodation, especially if you go out at night. Some hotels and hostels will give you a card to help you with this
- Try not to look like a tourist. Dress sensibly and have respect for the local customs and dress codes; that way, you won’t cause offense nor become a target for thieves
- If you need to change money, only use banks or legal foreign exchange bureaus, otherwise you risk being given fake currency. Keep a receipt of all money exchanges
- Be cautious about hitchhiking – it’s always best to travel in pairs. Remember that some drivers may expect payment
- Always carry a first aid kit with you, especially if you’re travelling to somewhere off the beaten track
- Save important information to your email account, including your passport number, travel insurance policy, etc. so they can be easily accessed at all times
- Always tell someone where you’re going and when you’ll be back if you’re travelling alone
Hopefully our backpacking checklist should help you plan for your incredible gap year or escape away. Just don’t forget to purchase backpacker travel insurance before you go. It won’t get you out of prison, but it will cover you should you have an accident or fall ill during your trip and much, much more.
Any questions? Then please get in touch – we’re happy to help!
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