I started backpacking in my early forties and now that I am in my fifties, I still do not get enough of it. Some may say that backpacking is for the young and restless. Guess ….. I must be a late bloomer with tons of restlessness residing in me. It’s never too late or too old to start if you are adventurous and bold. Yes… my dorm-mates were half my age and some were even younger than that but never once did I feel out of place. In Marakkesh, I was the only female backpacker staying in the same dorm with 9 hunky young man from different parts of the world. Yet…. it didn’t feel strange. What I am saying is that there are no set criterias for a backpacker. You just need a zeal for travelling at a shoestring budget and loves mingling and rooming with strange people from all corners of the earth.
So…. you are new to this and would like to know how to go about it. Where do I start? What should I be checking out first? Let me give you a few pointers basing on my own experience of 10 years of backpacking.
1) HAVE THE RIGHT MINDSET
Backpacking is not just travelling on a shoestring budget. One needs to be flexible and adaptable in all situations. If you can’t sleep with people moving around the dorm at odd hours, the smell of dirty socks, snoring and grinding of teeth, please reconsider because you are going to be frustrated and walking like a zombie due to sleep deprivation. If you can take all the above, you should also be able to take those long long overnight buses, not-so-great food, dirty toilets, obnoxious fellow dorm-mates and so much much more. When I was in Chengdu, China I had the misfortune to room in with a middle-aged Korean guy who could could not stand any noise whatsoever. He literally shouted at me in the wee hours of the money when my handphone gave a alert notification of an incoming sms. Sleeping in airports would be your preferred choice as flights departing and arriving at ungodly hours are normally cheaper.
2) BE WISE WITH YOUR DESTINATION
If you have not backpack before, I would suggest that your first destination should be the country that is quite near to your home country to ease yourself into this way of budget travelling. For instance, I live in Malaysia and my first choice would be Thailand and Indo-China. These countries are backpackers’ haven and cheap accommodations are abundant. Transportations and food are also very affordable and can be edible and very delicious at times. In Vang Vieng, Laos, you can have a scrumptious local pancake with fillings of your choice for less than USD2. Now…. that’s a sweet bargain for something so delectable and easy to eat.
3) BE FLEXIBLE WITH YOUR TRAVEL PLANS
After you have decided on the country / countries, then you have to allocate the duration of your travel. This is necessary for you to plan your itinerary. Bear in mind that your well-planned itinerary may not happen due to unforseen circumstances. Recently I had to stay an extra night in Jiuzhaigou, China due to a landslide. Buses from Chengdu could not pass through and therefore no buses were available to transport passengers out of Jiuzhaigou. My American dorm-mate had to buy an exorbitant air ticket to Chengdu as she can’t change her plan.
4) BOOK YOUR FLIGHT & TRANSPORTATION EARLY
Transportation plays a very big part in backpacking travel. We will always try to find the cheapest fare and take the most economical mode of transport to get from one place to another. For flights, I normally check out the flights on Skyscanner as it will list out all the available flights and the fares. Budget airlines are my fav way of flying as the fare can be dirt cheap if you buy the ticket way ahead of your travel. I subscribe to several budget airlines locally and internationally and will receive first hand news of any promotions. If you wish to travel domestically within a country, google for their budget airlines to check whether it’s cheaper to travel by air or by land. Off-season flying can be cheaper and needless to say, faster to travel than land transportation.
5) KNOW WHERE TO CHECK FOR AFFORDABLE ACCOMMODATION
Hostelbookers.com, Hostelworld.com, Booking.com, AirBnB and many many others are the sites I use to book my dorm bed. They provide information of the hostels, including reviews, price, location, etc. Most of them do not charge any booking fee and one need to pay a small percentage of the dorm’s price first. The rest will be paid directly by you to the hostel upon check-in.
6) DO YOUR HOMEWORK
After deciding on the countries you wish to visit, it’s time to check on them. In Trip Advisor/Virtual Tourist/Lonely Planet, you are able to obtain information regarding the culture, weather, scams, places of visit, transportation, reviews, etc. It’s so easy to google for information of all sorts and it’s very wise to arm oneself with all the knowledge so that your travels could be hassle-free without any unnecessary hiccups which could spoil your long-awaited holiday.
7) NETWORKING WITH FELLOW BACKPACKERS
It is imperative and advisable to sit around the dinner table with your fellow hostel mates. I obtained tons of information and relevant advice sharing meals and drinks with them. Some of them had already been to the places you are visiting next and invaluable tips will ease your travel. So … don’t stay in your dorm and read a book, socialise with the people around you and whose know, you might be able to get a free bed and guide if you connect with the right person. Two backpackers I met in Morocco visited me in Malaysia and we had a great time together. And anytime I am in Bristol, I am guaranteed a place to stay and a fabulous time.
In my books, nothing is impossible or too difficult to achieve. There are many ways to skin a cat and you can come up with your own way of travelling and ignore what you deem is stereotyped. You charter your own course and there is no right and no wrong…just different perspective and attitude. Do not wait any longer. Go ahead …. you only live once!!!!!