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A Beginners Guide to Backpacking

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Backpacking is swiftly becoming students’ go-to form of travel, a liberating way of travelling the world that removes the hassle of lugging around multiple bags or suitcases. Perfect for longer trips visiting several destinations, backpacking packs all your essentials in one bag so that you can move from place-to-place swiftly and safely.

The prospect of backpacking, however exciting, can also be intimidating when you begin to consider the fine details. There are a million-and-one advice-columns and articles each advertising their own ways of packing and planning a backpacking trip, which can seem overwhelming to a first-time backpacker.

In reality, every backpacker has their different ways of packing and travelling but there are some common hacks used by most experienced backpackers. From one student backpacker to another, I have narrowed down my top eight tips for a first backpacking trip.

1. Choose the smallest bag possible

The longer the trip, the larger the bag you’ll need. However, wherever possible, select the smallest bag on offer since this is most portable and will help to prevent overpacking. Finding a durable bag that fits smugly is also important as you’ll be walking long distances when travelling from place-to-place, so don’t be afraid to ask for help from shop assistants who can advise you on which bag suits your body shape.

2. Pack smart

Packing smart usually boils down to common sense. Limit heavy items such as toiletries and shoes; as a rule, anything over three pairs of shoes is too many; and two durable, comfortable pairs is ideal. Towels should be a no-go unless you are planning on camping, as they are usually provided by hotels and hostels and take up large amounts of space. Other essentials for the backpack are a first-aid kit, re-usable cutlery for food on-the-go and re-usable bags to separate leak-prone liquids or dirty and wet clothes.

3. Take some safety measures

An easy way to protect your belongings from pickpockets is to secure the zips of the backpack with a small padlock. Padlocks are also handy for lockers provided by hostels and hotels where you can store valuables when you go out for the day; bring several different sized padlocks to be prepared for different sized lockers. Often, backpackers are most vulnerable to theft when travelling by public transport where it is easy for a thief to snatch and leave the vehicle with your backpack. Always keep your backpack beside you, never in luggage-racks, and loop it around your arm or leg in case you fall asleep.

4. Weigh your bag before you depart.

Don’t wait until you’ve landed in your destination to realise that your bag is too heavy for you to carry. Weigh your bag before you depart and, most importantly, go on a half-an-hour test walk. If you’re out of breath in the first ten minutes, it may be a sign that your backpack is too heavy for you.

5. Travel in daylight wherever possible

Travelling at night leaves backpackers prone to harassment and theft. If night travel is unavoidable, avoid interchanges at small rail stations which are less safe and less well-lit.

6. Be wary of scams

Wearing a large backpack is equivalent to a green light for scammers, who often operate near big attractions or tourist-centric areas. Popular scams include magic-shows designed to distract tourists whilst a pickpocket makes his rounds, supposedly “free” gifts forced onto you such as bracelets and roses, and over-charging taxi drivers with “broken” meters.

7. Interact with the locals

Fellow backpackers often have great tips to get the most out of your destination but locals will know the place inside out and can direct you to lesser known areas with a cultural charm. If you are too nervous to approach people living in the area, ask your hostel or hotel owners who will undoubtedly have experience living in the area.

8. Enlist some mates

Not only is backpacking with a group of friends safer, making you less vulnerable to theft and scams, but it also allows you to share great, lasting memories with others. Pick your mates carefully, however. Finding yourself cooped up in a hostel dorm with someone who steals your shampoo or riles up other guests will compromise your own holiday experience.

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