Does the thought of trying to figure out an epic adventure give you a piercing headache? Travel is an astonishing experience, but as with everything there will be challenges. To be successful, you must take the time to learn the process to plan a backpacking trip.
There is no way around the difficulty of planning the ultimate trip. However, the right process can alleviate, or even eliminate, many of the problems you may face in the future. Use these tips to plan the trip of your dreams. The right prep goes a long way. The ability to properly prepare will remove much of the unnecessary stress associated with traveling. Furthermore, a quick and easy approach is crucial, to plan a backpacking trip anywhere in the world. Follow these steps, be prepared, and enjoy a once in a lifetime adventure.
5 Steps to Plan a Backpacking Trip
- Plan the route, time of year, and activities.
- Figure out flights and accommodations.
- Research general information about the locations.
- Call credit card companies, travel insurance, and packing lists.
- Budget properly for trip.
Step 1: Plan the route, time of year, and activities.
Knowing the location is a must for the planning process to begin. Each location brings unique challenges to conquer, so to complete the rest of the steps a location must be picked. You want to get specific with the location. Plans should be specific so the rest of the planning process can be completed prior to the desired date of the trip. The planning process can be lengthy and may have several obstacles to jump through to be as prepared as you would like to be.
Sources of travel inspiration can come from a few sources like word of mouth, research on the internet on travel blogs, or from Instagram feeds. Make sure to take some time. Write a list and thoroughly research, as the initial list will usually change quite a bit through the process.
Determine the route:
Plan a backpacking trip with endless adventures by deciding on all the locations you want to visit. Once all the locations are decided, a route can be determined. Travel must be planned for how you will get from one place to another, depending on your time frame and budget. A route can always change throughout your trip but having a solid idea on your route will reduce stress while traveling. However, there is a difference from packing your itinerary and having a general outline. A jammed packed itinerary can cause just as much stress as not having any idea how to navigate through your entire trip. Leave extra time for unexpected stops and unplanned setbacks. You will be happy you left yourself some extra time and remove the possibility of a potentially stressful mess, saving you money and a headache.
Determine the time of year and activities:
Flexibility is the most important thing in finding cheap travel and accommodations. Keep several options open, as changing a train, flight, or stay at a specific hostel can significantly reduce your costs. Peak seasons will always be the most expensive and busy. So always keep this in mind when determining when to travel to a specific destination. The activities you want to do while in a specific destination will determine the time of year. Certain activities like canyoning or trekking can sometimes only be done during certain months of the year.
Peak season offers the best weather but is most expensive and crowded. Shoulder seasons are a great combination of decent weather, similar to peak season, while also having less of a crowd. Off- season will provide more affordable accommodations and flights but tend to have worse weather. Plan accordingly so you do not miss out on a bucket list item or end up in a destination during monsoon season unexpectedly.
Step 2: Figure out flights and accommodations.
After you figure out your backpacking route, the next step is to look for flights, car rentals, and accommodations. Each can become much more expensive closer to your trip, particularly if traveling during peak season or around a holiday. So, once you determine the flights or locations you will be staying it is best to book in advance when you can.
A misconception about traveling is flights, especially international, must be expensive. Flying can be an affordable part of your trip if you keep your itinerary flexible, seek travel rewards through credit cards, or reposition with error fares.
Ways to find cheap flights
- Use travel credit cards
- Use reward miles to get flights for free. Travel reward credit cards only work if you are not in credit card debt. There are a ton of travel credit cards offering sign on bonuses and ways to amass points, so keep in mind where you spend the most money to figure out the best rewards card for yourself.
- Repositioning with error
- Airlines mess up pricing sometimes. Error fares are temporarily a lower priced airline ticket. There are websites that search for those errors, like Secret Flying.
- Changing location/book connecting flights yourself
- Sometimes it can be cheaper to fly to a major airport hub, then to take a flight to your intended destination from that larger airport. At times it can be cheaper to take flights from your local airport to major hubs like New York or Chicago, where flights to your destination internationally will be much cheaper.
- Flight search engines
- Use the best search engines to find the lowest airfare prices. (Typically, you will want to search several sites for the best discounted airfare: Momondo, Google Flights, or Skyscanner)
- Flexible flight dates
- Changing your flight by just a few days could drastically change the price of your flight. Staying flexible with travel days is a great way to cut dollars off each flight.
- Keep searches private
- Web browsers will track your searches and increase flight prices after repeated searches. Always search for flights incognito or through a private browsing mode to find the lowest prices.
Ways to find cheap and great accommodations
Be open to different types of accommodations when you plan a backpacking trip. If you are willing to stay in a variety of places, it will create ample opportunities for scoring affordable accommodations. The best approach, even if you enjoy being spontaneous, is to at least do some research prior to your arrival.
- Usually a cheap option with everything from mixed 32-person dorm rooms to private rooms. Great for meeting other travelers and having a fun night out. (Check out sites like Hostel World)
- Hotels can be a great option to relax for the night, have some much-needed quality sleep, or for doing laundry while on a trip. Discount room rates can be found on third party websites or can belong to reward programs if you tend to stay at the same chain hotels frequently.
- Overnight cabins on trains or buses
- Save money on a place by spending a night on an overnight train or bus between locations. Although your sleep will not be the best, it is a great way to avoid wasting an entire day on travel and can eliminate an accommodation cost for one night.
- Airbnb or Couchsurfing
- Anything from rooms to private villas, you can find some very cool places to stay at a relatively low cost. Airbnb is one of the best ways to find accommodations for large groups traveling together. (Check Airbnb or Couchsurfing)
Step 3: Research general information about each location.
The worst thing you can do is step off a plane and have no clue what to do. When you plan a backpacking trip, you must familiarize yourself with the new country. Researching some general information about a location beforehand can prevent a ton of future headaches. Here is general information you will want to know before you leave:
- Does the country require a visa?
- Can you use a credit card or is cash required?
- Where is the best place to exchange cash?
- Accommodation address and transportation from your arrival site (airport, train station, bus drop-off)
- If you do not book an accommodation in advance it is still helpful to at least know the general area you want to stay, if within a large city
- Typical cost for general things like transportation or clothing
- Depending on location in the world some countries, especially in Asia, do not have a set price. Transportation from airports can be hectic and many will try to overcharge. Know what typical price ranges are to avoid scams and locals taking advantage of you.
- Research activities you may want to do because some may require reservations well in advance
- Food hygiene
- Know what to avoid while in a certain country. Not all places may be up to standards that you are used to in your home country.
- Does the country tip?
Top Tips For Research
- Download a map of the city (Maps.me is a great option for travelers that will not have an international phone plane – the map works offline if downloaded ahead of time)
- Emergency fund of cash (usually about $500 is what I have in different locations within my pack, you never know when you need money and your card is not working at an ATM)
- Create email folders for all reservations to be able to quickly find when needed
- Copy of important documents (birth certificate/passport/license/visas)
- Know where the local embassy is or the number in case of a stolen/lost passport while abroad
Step 4: Call credit/debit card companies, travel insurance, and packing lists.
Credit Card Companies
If you are traveling abroad, make sure to call to let your credit and debit card companies know prior to leaving, to avoid any issues. Make sure to look in to using a credit card that does not have any foreign transaction fees. For example, the Bank of America Travel Rewards credit card is a great travel card. The card occasionally will have a sign on bonus, has no annual fee, and earns 1.5 points per dollar on every purchase. Also, the card does not restrict travel rewards to any airline, so the points can be redeemed anywhere with no blackout dates.
Travel insurance is crucial for an extended backpacking trip. Insurance gives you peace of mind as a traveler. Do not let an event outside of your control ruin your backpacking trip due to a lack of having a backup plan.
Travel insurance varies depending on the carrier, personally I use world nomads. World Nomads has a range of options for travel insurance covering anything from emergency evacuations to medical injuries from extreme sports. World Nomads is a great source for finding affordable insurance plans, however only use if you have insurance in your home country.
What is Covered?
- Trip Protection – protect a trip from unexpected cancellations
- Emergency Medical Insurance – covers medical and dental costs
- Emergency Evacuation – Medical transport to hospital or home quickly
- Gear Protection – Cover loss, theft, and damage
- Plans to cover all extreme and adventurous sports/activities
Regardless of the company, travel insurance is a must for any traveler who does not want to be stranded and surprised when something goes wrong. Just save yourself the headache and get travel insurance to have support 24 hours, 7 days a week while on the road.
Do you plan on leaving for a lengthy trip with only a backpack worth of belongings? How do you decide? Packing does not have to be stressful. Instead with some planning and a well-thought out list, it will become one of the easiest. However, the belongings you choose to bring will determine the quality of your trip. Depending on where you are traveling to, sometimes certain equipment can be a challenging task to find. So, be prepared and make sure to have it in your pack before your departure.
Check out my adventure travel packing guideline Adventure Travel Packing List or my downloadable list Travel Backpacking Gear List.
Step 5: Budget in advance for a backpacking trip.
First off, the budget for a trip is highly dependent on your travel style – the accommodations, meals, transportation, and activities will all have a huge impact on the total spending. Here are a few tips to start off on the right foot.
Items to Budget
- Identify your big-ticket items (try to pay for these prior to leaving for the trip)
- These expenses include long flights, accommodations for extended time, and some excursions. For example, book round trip flights, accommodations for events like if you know you are going to the Full Moon Party or an event with a set date, and activities you know you want to do while in a specific location.
- Estimate expenses with accommodations, meals, and transportation.
- All these expenses can be estimated by knowing the typical price of the region you are traveling to and the type of traveler you are. Hotels will typically be more expensive than hostels, restaurants are more expensive than cooking your own food, and transportation methods like private taxis will be more pricey than public transportation.
- Include known prices for vaccinations, visas, and travel insurance before departure.
- Search for recommended vaccinations for each country, if visas are required for entry, and always buy travel insurance prior to departure. All these exact costs can be known before leaving for your trip. This will help keep your budget on par when on your trip because unexpected costs will always come up while on it.
- Activities and excursions, you want to try!
- Make sure to determine your priorities before leaving for your trip. Decide where to put your money to make sure the trip is one you will remember. Personally, I believe in splurging while on a trip as you may never go back and do not want to regret missing out.
- Always budget extra money for the unexpected. Period. Do it and it will alleviate a ton of stress on the trip. Because trust me emergencies will occur, so be prepared.
How to Save for a Backpacking Trip
The creation of a budget is an important consideration when starting to plan a backpacking trip. Saving is not easy, so begin as early as you can and hold yourself accountable. Try using spreadsheets and budget apps to help you save. Remember, a backpacking trip through a bunch of foreign countries will be an incredible experience, creating life-long memories. Although, saving may not be an enjoyable part of the process, once on your trip it will be worth all the hard-work.