There's something wildly exciting about leaving your car behind, putting a backpack on, and embarking on an adventure on foot.
Sure, it can be challenging, but that's part of the charm. Besides, backpacking gives you a chance to explore the world at your own pace and get closer to some sights you wouldn't be able to see any other way.
The secret to a successful backpacking trip is having a good plan, a good backpack, and good company. Whether you're planning your first backpacking trip, or you're an experienced backpacker, here is the guide to planning the ultimate backpacking trip.
Pick Your Destination
There must be a couple of places in the world that you've always wanted to see. Make a list of these places and then consider whether you have the time, the money and physical prerequisites for those destinations.
Don't forget to include everyone you're planning to take with you in the decision and make a compromise. Make sure to pick a place that also suits your general preferences. For instance, if you like hot weather, a hiking trip in Quebec might not be the best idea.
Once you've agreed on the destination, the planning can start!
The climate and the time of year will influence the amount of luggage you will need to pack. If you're travelling during the winter, you will need to bring more clothes and probably heavier gear. Whereas, if you're travelling to a warm climate, you can pack lighter, but you must bring more water.
Next, you need to think about the trail type and how much time you will be spending on the road. The whole point of backpacking is enjoying the journey, not the destination, so you need to put enough thought into how you'll be spending that journey.
Will you be on foot most of the time, will you be needing a car, how long are you going to be walking? Make sure you carefully plan your route and the mileage, especially If you're going on a longer hike.
Consider the pace and the focus of your trip. Will you ambitiously try to cover as much ground as you can in as little time as possible? Or do you want to enjoy a relaxed walk, making detours and breaks as you find fit?
If you're going on a backpacking trip through several cities, say in Europe, prepare a plan of the cities you will be visiting. Plan the order in which you will be visiting them, and then decide how many days you will be spending in each one.
Before you go, also make sure to do research on the regulations of the destination you've chosen. Do you need a special permit for hiking on a certain trail? Are you allowed to set up a tent, or light a campfire? Arm yourself with maps and permits, and you'll be ready to get on the road.
Set The Budget
Don't start packing just yet. First, you need to set the budget and estimate the costs of your trip.
It is one of the most tedious topics to think about when planning a trip, but it's a topic you have to carefully think through.
You don't want your incredible trip spoiled by running out of money, borrowing from friends, or having to stay indoors because of the lack of funds for entertainment. Not only would you ruin the trip for yourself in these situations, but also for your travel buddies.
Instead, prepare for this incredible adventure the smart way.
The budget should be set through a combination of how much you're willing and planning to spend and a variety of expenses that you can expect at your destination. Of course, the costs will vary depending on the destination you choose.
Your main expenses will be:
So, here's an idea how to allocate the funds for these expenses.
- Accommodation - 15%
- Transportation - 25%
- Food - 10%
- Entertainment - 50%
If you're going backpacking, we suppose you're not looking for unbridled luxury. Hostels are your best option, and you will be able to find decent rooms almost everywhere you decide to go for the 15% of your budget.
Transportation is one of the most important factors of a trip, especially if you're planning to travel a great distance, or cover several places on your trip.
That's why you shouldn't be sparing any money, and allocate as much as 25% to transportation.
Food is incredibly important, and many of us don’t really estimate these costs very well. As a backpacker, you will be better off without fancy restaurants. Stick with authentic street food, ask locals what the best cheap restaurants are, and find local specialties. If you go this route, 10% should be more than enough.
If you're going on a camping trip, you will need to think about the food plan in a bit more detail. You should pack your own food and make a meal plan for each day of your stay. And always stay hydrated by bringing plenty of fluids. A cool S'well Bottle Satin Collection will make sure you do.
And lastly, entertainment. A backpacking trip should be all about the fun and the adventure. So, take our word for it, you’re best off putting 50% of your budget towards pure fun. Museums, galleries, pubs, even hikes and tours will cost you. No matter what your style of fun is on a trip, chances are, you will need no less than half your budget for this part.
Regardless of your budget, avoid unpleasant surprises by keeping your money and your documents safe with a handy travel wallet such as this sleek Bellroy Travel Wallet.
Choose And Arrange Accommodation
With hostels, Couchsurfing and Airbnb to choose from, you are bound to find something cheap and great – if you just know where to look.
If you opt for a hostel, you need to be prepared for the possibility of sharing a room with up to 10 strangers. But, this is usually the cheapest option, which is why most backpackers go for it.
Not only is a hostel the cheapest option by far, but it also gives you a chance to meet other travellers, make some new friends, prepare your own food, get information, free maps, and even discounts at the reception, along with many more advantages.
But, how do you find a good hostel? Well, if your budget allows it, you can browse the most popular hostels at your destination, because they are usually worth the price. If not, consider the following factors when choosing a hostel: the price, the location, the reviews, the amenities and the environment.
Hostelworld.com, Hostels.com, Hostelbookers.com, and Booking.com are your best go-to websites when it comes to booking a hostel. Browsing through these sites and comparing the prices will make sure you find the cheapest options.
Hostels are an excellent choice, but they are sometimes considered a little unsafe when it comes to your belongings. That's why we suggest carrying an ultra-safe backpack such as The North Face Vault 26L Backpack.
Next up - Couchsurfing.
Couchsurfing.com is basically a social network that connects travellers with the hosts. Every year, there are 4 million surfers and 400,000 hosts being connected through the website. This option allows you to stay at your destination for free, meet the locals, the culture, make new friends and experience the city from a completely different angle.
The point of Couchsurfing is to connect people and help them share their experiences and build friendships that can last a lifetime. Their idea is to give something back, so as a traveller you are invited to teach your host something, or cook a meal typical for your country.
As opposed to being a tourist, as a "surfer" you will get to see the world through your host's eyes, attend all sorts of events, and have a truly unique traveling experience.
Finally, you can find accommodation by browsing through Airbnb.com. This accommodation option is a relative newcomer on the web, but it has quickly become one of the most popular for all types of travellers because it offers a wide variety of options. A room in a high-end apartment in the centre of Barcelona, or a cottage in the Alps in Switzerland; you name it, and you can probably find it.
This option is similar to Couchsurfing because it allows you to stay in private accommodation. However, Airbnb is not free and it doesn't give you the chance to spend time with a local. But, you will be left alone to enjoy your privacy and the comfort of your chosen accommodation.
Choose And Arrange Transportation
Let's face it, travelling by air is probably your best option wherever you're headed, although the most expensive. But this comfy and quick means of travelling doesn't have to burn a hole in your wallet.
By now, you've already set a budget and decided to spend 25% of your budget on transportation, but that doesn't mean you can't still save some money.
When booking a flight, your best bet is to be flexible with dates and times of travelling. In most situations, this is not your choice if you've already taken the days off work, booked accommodation, and made agreements with travel companions. But if you can be flexible, you will score some pretty unbelievable deals on flights this way.
Don't shy away from budget airlines either. There are dozens of airlines that offer low-cost flights across the world, some of the most popular being Southwest Airlines, Ryanair, easyJet, and many others. Follow your favourite airlines on social media, and you will always be up to date with their latest deals and discounts.
You can also sign up for frequent flier programs and get special offers, upgrades, and even free flights.
Make sure you have the appropriate luggage when travelling by air, like this North Face Iron Peak 28L Backpack that works as a carry-on but fits all the necessities you might need on your trip.
Some countries, especially in Europe, are great to bus through, which means you’ll be able to save a good deal of money. Buses are much cheaper than flights, although you must be prepared to sacrifice your comfort and time.
The same goes for trains. However, you should be careful when travelling by train, because the prices and speeds of trains around the world vary enormously. Some destinations will even be extremely rewarding to visit by train, before you hop off and start your backpacking adventure.
Don't forget to plan the expenses for the public transportation once you arrive at your destination. Do a research on the city, or cities, and you're going to and find out about the prices for single and multi-day tickets for public transportation.
Pick Your Backpack
You’re almost ready to get going! But, you still need to choose the right backpack to make your trip as comfortable and carefree as possible. You need a reliable and durable pack that perfectly suits your style of travelling and your needs.
First, you need to decide on the capacity of your backpack, which will depend on the length and type of the trip. You can see the general guidelines for choosing the ideal backpack capacity in one of our previous blog posts.
The North Face Recon 32L Backpack is an excellent choice for a short backpacking trip and it will make sure you stay comfortable all day.
Make sure you choose a strong and powerful backpack that can carry all the gear you need and endure a hike through a rough terrain.
You should also consider water resistance, padded back and a hip belt, lockable zippers, and multiple compartments. Patagonia Black Hole Backpack 25L is one of our favourites because it's a perfect combination of all these elements - it is weather resistant, nicely padded, and features several easily accessible compartments.
We have already talked about packing essentials for different kinds of trips. Now we want to discuss how to pack for a trip so you can be the most comfortable, no matter how much gear you're carrying on your back.
So, the general rule is to keep the heaviest objects in the centre of your pack to help maintain your balance. All the lighter stuff can be arranged along the sides of the backpack. You also need to think about accessibility, and place the objects you will need more often in the top and side pockets.
Here's our favourite way of packing: put the food, water, and cooking utensils in the centre of the pack. Clothes should go closer to the top, while snacks, maps, flashlights and other essentials should go in the top lid. The bottom of the backpack is reserved for the sleeping bag, and if you're carrying a sleeping pad, it should be attached to the backpack from the outside.
Prepare For The Trip
You're almost ready to put that backpack on and hit the road. But, be patient for just a bit longer. It's time to make the final preparations.
Backpacking can be extremely challenging and exhausting. You will probably be traveling through several cities in just a few days, walking around and sightseeing a lot with your backpack always on.
If you're headed on a hiking and camping trip, you will have to walk and carry the pack most of the time. Don’t worry, there’ll still be plenty of time to rest – but first, let’s make sure you’re ready for the challenge.
You will need to physically prepare for the trip. Do at least some basic exercises with a focus on cardio and leg strength, for at least 6 weeks before the trip.
Don’t forget to test your gear. You absolutely have to be sure that every little piece of your gear works perfectly. Otherwise, you will be in for a pretty bad surprise. Check everything twice, and you can even try overnight camping in your backyard to make sure everything is in order.
If you bought new footwear for the trip, it won't hurt to try it out first. There's nothing worse than getting a blister, and it can turn the whole trip into a painful nightmare. Wear those sneakers or hiking boots around town to break them in before the trip.
Don’t think of planning your trip as boring – it’s an opportunity for you to maximize the enjoyment once you start backpacking! Once you're done with all the prep work, you’ll be all set for a completely carefree adventure.