Anxiety, apprehension, and excitement—trust me, I know how you’re feeling. Venturing off on a journey to another country is admirable and takes a lot of courage. You’re diving into the unknown, without a clue as to what’s going to happen. But that’s one of the best parts about traveling.
You’re about to embark on a journey that’s going to change you for the rest of your life. You’re going to see the world from a new perspective, learn about other cultures, try new foods, see beautiful landscapes, and spend your days and nights constantly learning about yourself and about a new country.
I’m here to help you prepare for this journey, since I was in your spot only one year ago.
I was clueless on how to prepare for my trip. I packed too much, brought unnecessary items, and wandered my way around aimlessly until I finally realized exactly how to backpack the world.
Here is How to Prepare for Your First Backpacking Trip.
Buy Travel Insurance
I use World Nomads for travel insurance. It’s a necessity; especially if you’re ever in an emergency- it will save you thousands and thousands of dollars. They also cover for lost & stolen items, cancelled flights, and medical expenses.
Buy a Good Backpack
When I first started backpacking, I had a 60 Liter backpack that I couldn’t lift without putting it onto a chair first. That’s inefficient and inconvenient. A few months into my trip, I mailed my bag home and got the Osprey Farpoint 40 Liter backpack, one of the best decisions I’ve made. I LOVE this backpack, it zips open fully, has a ton of pockets and really great back support, and even has a place to put a lock on the zipper.
Osprey Farpoint 40-Liter Backpack: My favorite thing I own
Small Daypack: Great for keeping electronics close to you in transit and great for having when hiking or walking around a new city
You don’t need to pack a lot. Make sure you pack clothes you don’t care about. They’re going to get lost, dirty, and stolen. You’re going to trade clothes with people and find used ones that you love in boxes in hostels.
- Waterproof Bag Cover
- 2 Tank Tops
- 1 Long Sleeved Shirt
- 4 Shirts
- 1 Rain Jacket
- 1 Pair of Leggings
- 1 Pair of Spandex
- 1 Cute Outfit (Females; a dress or a romper)
- 3 Shorts
- 1 Pair of Sneakers
- 1 Pair of Flip Flops
- 1 Light Sweater
- 1 Pair of Trekking/Hiking Shoes (Women’s/Men’s)
- 1 Bathing Suit
- 8 Pairs of Underwear
- 8 Pairs of Socks
- Females; 1 Bra
- Females; 1 Sports Bra
- 1 Headband
- 1 Small laundry bag
- 1 Sarong (This is SO great to have when a hostel doesn’t have a towel for rent, when you’re at the beach and need something to lie on, when you want to hang something up for privacy in a dorm, when you’re cold, when you go to temples and need to cover up… the list doesn’t end)
I don’t travel with a towel since most hostels usually have towels for rent. If they don’t, I’ll use a shirt/sarong.
Don’t worry about bringing too many toiletries when you first leave, you can buy toiletries at your destination (and usually for very cheap, especially if you’re going to Asia!). A lot of hostels give you shampoo and body wash, so I wouldn’t worry too much about that either (I also use shampoo as body wash, but… that’s just me)
- Toiletry Bag
- Nail Clippers
- Shampoo/Conditioner (Buy small airplane containers)
- Body Wash
- Feminine Products
- Any Medication
- Activated Charcoal (this is a LIFESAVER if you ever have food poisoning/upset stomach/horrible hangover. The charcoal absorbs everything like bacteria, viruses, even vitamins and minerals, which is fine when you’re throwing up from bad chicken or hunched over in pain from dirty water. This has saved me heaps of times!).
- Makeup (But keep this to a minimum, you’re not going to really wear makeup, females!)
- Hydrogen Peroxide, Band-Aids, and Iodine
- Ziplock Baggies (throw a few in there, they’re small and great to have for whatever reason)
- Plastic Bags (you’ll come to love and need these for various reasons)
- Hair Ties
- Driver’s License
- Bank Card
- Any Certifications (SCUBA, First Aid)
- Fanny Pack/Money Belt: A great way to keep your passport, money, and anything else small and valuable close to you.
Here is a list of my favorite books that are perfect for long bus and plane rides!
- The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo: probably my favorite book of all time, it’s about a murder mystery that involves a newspaper editor and a computer hacker. The two books below are part of the Millenium series (there’s 3 of them)
- The Girl Who Played With Fire: Part of the Millenium Series
- The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest: Part of the Millenium Series
- Pillars of the Earth: This book takes place over the course of 40 years, starting in the medieval times. My other favorite book of all time.
- Adaptors: Definitely a necessity, especially if you’re moving around a lot and constantly experience new outlets!
- Camera: I love this camera, it takes amazing photos and is really convenient for nature shots and shots around a new city. It’s also a great camera for beginners.
- GoPro: I love my GoPro Silver 4! It allows me to take wicked action shots and videos, and is even waterproof so I can bring it SCUBA Diving & when I’m in pools, waterfalls, etc.
- Laptop: This is the reason I even travel!
- Cellphone: I will always be an Apple lover, the iPhone takes great photos and allows me to stay connected and show my followers the world (especially through Snapchat, make sure you’re following me! ‘globetrottica)
- iPad/Tablet: Very convenient if you don’t want to bring around a laptop
- Headphones: A necessity when staying in dorm rooms
- Small Hard Drive: to back up your photos!
- Selfie-Stick: if you’re a GoPro lover like myself, you’ll come to love your selfie stick and the angles it captures.
Get Your Vaccinations
I’m not a medical doctor, so I am not going to give any medical advice, however, I will tell you to make sure you’re up to date on routine vaccinations before you arrive in your destination (Hep A, Hep B, Typhoid, Tetanus etc.) Always make sure to talk to your healthcare provider to determine what’s best for you.
I am currently traveling through Southeast Asia and am not on Malaria pills.
Call Your Bank
It wouldn’t be a great start to your trip if you arrive in a new country to find your bankcard is frozen! Call your bank and tell them you’re traveling so they can put an alert on your bank account.
Try and find a bank that doesn’t charge international fees, which add up very quickly while traveling abroad.
Get Cash in the Country’s Currency
Go to your bank a week or so before departure and order money in the currency of your destination. This is good to have upon arrival so you don’t have to worry about immediately finding an ATM, which can be stressful, especially after a long flight. It’s also good to familiarize yourself with the new currency and exchange rate.
Unlock Your Phone
Many phones are country locked so you’re unable to use a new SIM card when you arrive in another country. Call your phone provider to unlock your phone. That way, you can buy a cheap (and I mean, cheap- in Thailand a SIM card is $3 USD for internet, data, phone calls, texting) SIM card.
It’s so convenient having a SIM card to use Google Maps, Google, make phone calls, use Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, Uber, etc. especially in a brand new country.
Research, Research, Research
Although you probably want to leave most of your trip up in the air, it’s important to research the customs, traditions, cultural etiquette, local food, language, and major sites of a new country and city. It only takes a few minutes to jot down some important notes.
Learn a Few Phrases in the New Language
Knowing how to say “hello” and “thank you” goes a long way in every country.
Book a Hostel Prior to Arrival
It’ll majorly reduce any stress and anxiety if you have a hostel or hotel room booked prior to arrival. That way, when you land in the airport, you’ll already know where you’re going and will have a place to relax before setting out to explore the streets of a new country.
Use Google Maps
Google Maps is a lifesaver. You can save areas to use when you’re offline (the blue dot still works even if you’re on airplane mode) and star areas on your trips to use for later.
Sign Up for Workaway.info or Helpx.net
If you’re planning on working while abroad, these two websites are great for finding jobs at hostels, bars, guesthouses, or schools. The work is typically volunteer work in exchange for accommodation and food, and covers a huge variety of countries throughout the world. I’ve used these sites numerous times and have successfully gotten jobs through them!
Sign up for WOOFing
WOOFing, or Working on an Organic Farm, is another great way to live for free and work while abroad. Farm work is a great way to be outside, exercise, meet other travelers, and live comfortably for a while. I have not personally done this yet, but am definitely considering it for the near future!
Set a Budget BEFORE You Leave
My daily budget for Southeast Asia is $20-30 USD/day. Most days I’ve been under, but there have been some days I’ve been over.
Decide on a budget that works for you, whether that’s living on $10/day or $50/day.
How to Budget While Traveling
- Read my posts Budget Travel: How to See the World on the Cheap and Tips for Staying on Budget While Traveling
- Take local transportation: This is one of my greatest tips, local transportation in some countries is less than $1 USD. While it may not be the most comfortable option, it saves you money and allows you to travel as the locals do
- Eat local food: Local food in some countries is less than $1 USD, is delicious, and comes in heaping portions. Try and avoid Western food while you’re traveling (yes you’ll miss it, so when you do eat it, it’ll be a treat)
- Cut back on booze and coffee: This is standard advice, even though I don’t typically stand by this rule some days (I love my coffee and my G&T’s)
- Find the free attractions: In every city there will be free things to do, whether that be relax in a park, observe unique architecture, watch an outdoor performance, or just walk around!
- Write down every penny you spend: I’ve kept track of every cent since day one in the back of my notebook. This has allowed me to see exactly how much I’m spending on a day-to-day basis and if I’m ever going over or under budget.
- Couchsurf: I love Couchsurfing! It’s free and you get to see the side of a city with the locals that you otherwise wouldn’t have. Read my Traveler Newbies Guide to Couchsurfing.
- Travel slowly: This is one of my best tips. You actually save money when you travel slowly. You learn where the cheap restaurants are, aren’t constantly buying bus, train, plane, or boat tickets, and really get to experience a city as a local.
- Buy generic toiletry brands: We as backpackers don’t need (or, can’t afford) high-end toiletries!
- Take advantage of the Lost & Found Box at hostels: I’ve found some of my favorite articles of clothing in these boxes.
- Work abroad: Last but not least, working abroad is one of the greatest ways to save money and live for free!
Backpacking is one of the most incredible, life-changing things you can ever do, trust me- it’s why I’m still on the road.
Let me know if you have any questions about backpacking, or want any specific advice (especially for Southeast Asia!).
Maybe I’ll see you somewhere in the world ;D
Some of these links are affiliate links, which help me travel longer and continue to show you the world!