Below, we have a list of things you will want to consider doing when preparing for a backpacking trip in the weeks before your departure. While there is plenty to be said for going with the flow when you’re out on the road, doing as much prep as possible beforehand will increase the chances of you having a safe and enjoyable trip. Here are some steps you will most likely need to go through.
Please note that this article was last updated in December 2021. At the time of writing, there are many reasons why now might not be the best time to travel and that may continue to be the case for some time. However for those with a certain window of time when they are able to travel or simply sick of waiting, hopefully this article can be of some use as planning any kind of trip at the moment is not easy!
Backpacking Checklist: Preparing for a Trip (in a pandemic!)
Deciding where to go travelling
The first decision of all is of course that of where to go. You may be somebody who has long had a destination in mind but you won’t be alone if you find yourself wanting to see the world but being uncertain of just where to start.
There are lots of great options for long backpacking trips but there are some pretty big differences between independent travel in Southeast Asia and South America for example.
During times of Covid-19, you will also certainly want to take into consideration the rules and restrictions across the world when deciding. Finding countries you can enter without any complications like quarantines and ones where life is pretty much back to normal is clearly advisable. However you do need to be aware that things can still change at short notice in almost any part of the world and at the time of writing, we are still a long way off normality in many of the most popular backpacking destinations.
Getting Travel Insurance
Getting proper travel insurance can become very useful if you’re unfortunate enough to have something go wrong on your trip.
Unfortunately many travel insurance companies are not really geared up to covering longer term independent travel but there are a few that do. Here are a few companies that specialise in covering backpacking trips.
Vaccinations for Backpacking Trips
Depending on where you are going, where you are from and your history of vaccinations, you may need to get vaccinated before your trip and we’re not just talking about Covid-19. The best idea is to head to your local doctor’s surgery or health centre and ask for their advice. That being said, recommendations do vary between health professionals so there’s o harm in doing your own research as long as you use reliable sources.
This is one of the first things you should do when preparing for a trip as travel in some regions can involve the need to have several shots over a period of a few weeks and it can take longer still for them to kick in. You also want to find out whether you will need malaria tablets as some popular regions with budget travellers are high-risk for malaria.
When it comes to Covid-19, being vaccinated should make it easier for you to travel without lengthy and often expensive hotel quarantines although it really does depend on your destination. It may also open doors once inside new countries as some attractions, bars and restaurants may require proof of a Covid jab. You will also want to check whether proof of being vaccinated in your country is accepted in the country or region you are thinking of visiting.
Either way, making sure you have as much up-to-date documentation (both paper and mobile copies if possible) is advisable. Also be aware that some vaccines (not just Covid-19) have expiry dates when they are no longer considered to offer suitable protection so cross-reference that with the likely end date of your trip.
There are pros and cons for booking single or return flights, largely depending on the length of your trip and how much flexibility you want with regards to the end of it. We’d suggest using Skyscanner to search for flights and where possible consulting a travel agency which has special deals for youth and student backpackers that don’t show up on flight comparison sites. Unfortunately STA Travel, which specialised in such trips, folded in 2020 but there may still be smaller agencies in your country which offer similar deals.
We have a post on how to find cheap flights in Europe which you may find useful. Essentially being as flexible as possible with your dates is likely to yield the best prices and you may be able to find some bargain fares at this present time when people are still reluctant to travel. Many airlines also currently offer free rescheduling if your trip is affected by Covid-19 so be sure to check all the relevant T’s & C’s when you book.
Getting Visas & Researching Entry Requirements
Luckily a lot more countries these days are offering visas on arrival or ones that can be arranged online. Meanwhile if you’re fortunate enough to be from an EU country for example or from another with a more desirable passport, there are a large number of countries around the world that you can visit without any need for a visa at all.
If you do require one, the process of how to get visas will depend on where you are from and where you are going. However the rules can change at short notice. The best advice is to keep checking in with your own government’s foreign travel advice pages, as well as the embassy or consulate of the country or countries you are planning to visit. For example, the UK has separate pages that are regularly updated for every country around the world and you will want to keep checking the latest info right up to the days leading up to your flight.
Also consider whether you will need to cross any land borders on your trip. Some of these may be closed or have different protocols when compared to entering a country by air.
What to take on your Trip
Packing for a backpacking trip can be a nightmare if you’ve not done any trip of real length before. As a general rule when it comes to backpacking for beginners, most people pack way too much for their first independent travel adventure. You can read our guide on what to pack for our suggestions. There are also loads of videos on YouTube for this kind of thing which you may find helpful.
As well as all the obvious essentials like clothes, most travellers also take some kind of guidebook on their trip. Getting a good shoestring guide can be the best way to plan a backpacking trip, but they are not absolutely essential.
As of 2021, you should also be aware that the advice, companies, timetables and hostels featured in guidebooks may no longer be accurate given how widespread the impact of the pandemic has been. That awesome $5/night hostel that Lonely Planet recommends may no longer exist and that handy night bus may no longer be running. Therefore there’ll be many things you will only really get a feel for on arrival by speaking to locals or other travellers.
Obviously you will also need money! You want to take an emergency fund of cash (US Dollars is generally most helpful if you’re visiting many countries unless you are in Europe where Euros would be better). However, taking too much cash is unwise too. Getting a specialist travel debit card such as Revolut before you leave home is also a good idea for cutting down on exchange fees and foreign banking costs.
Should you book Accommodation in advance?
Most backpackers do not book accommodation very far in advance and it’s generally a poor idea to do so given your plans are highly likely to change quickly when you get out on the road. In some regions such as Southeast Asia and Central America, many of the real cheap places do not have an online presence anyway and there are loads of destinations where it’s easy to show up with no booking and find somewhere to stay.
However, for at least your first destination, it’s a decent plan to get something booked up to spare you the hassle of arriving tired and disoriented after a long flight, needing to find somewhere to stay. It may also be necessary at this time as most countries have some kind of arrivals form to fill in where you need to declare your initial accommodation at least.
Here are two of the most popular booking sites for hostels and budget accommodation:
This site has developed into perhaps the biggest accommodation booking site on the web. Unlike Hostelworld it doesn’t just cater for hostels but it’s very easy to use and you can quickly find the cheaper places by their filter. It also includes a lot of budget hotels and guesthouses that aren’t always featured on the specialist backpacker sites and you’d be surprised how often you can find a room for not far off the same cost as a bed in a dorm
They have an easy to use website that lets you search for beds in almost every country in the world. Larger cities can show up over 100 choices so you can use the rating and price filters to find the perfect hostel for your trip. The advantage here may be that most reviews and ratings are from backpackers and solo travellers which can give you a better idea of what to expect.
As previously mentioned, many guidebooks may no longer have accurate info about which hostels and budget guesthouses are and aren’t open for business. Even if you don’t want to book accommodation in advance, it’s wise to double check places you are considering staying at are still open before arriving in a new town. You can usually do that via a quick google search or by looking on one of the accommodation sites listed above.
Other Things to consider before a Backpacking Trip
We’ve hopefully covered most of the big issues above and you should be pretty well set for your travels if you have ticked each of them off your pre-trip backpacking checklist.
A few other things to consider might include whether or not you plan to do any volunteering or want to find a bit of work to support your travels. If so, signing up to Worldpackers before you leave home and lining up a few placements might be a good idea and can help you extend your travels, save money and potentially have some positive experiences along the way.
You also want to have at least a rough idea of a budget in mind before you jump on any planes. You may find yourself spending quite a bit before you even leave home on some of the things mentioned above. If you’ve not travelled independently before, it can be really difficult to know how much you are likely to spend, but our 2023 backpacking costs guide may help you make some kind of estimate and also features regional breakdowns.
You can also get in touch with any questions via commenting below or emailing us.
This post on preparing for a backpacking trip was last updated in December 2021.