HOW TO PLAN A BACKPACKING TRIP
Taking in the scenes in Bali, Indonesia
Along with packing, this is my favourite part of getting ready for my trips - planning and organising! You need to plan your trip by a certain standard to be prepared, save yourself money, feel confident and ready to take off but my advice would be to actually book as little as possible!
The best way to travel is by going with the flow and plans can change so quickly on the road. Say you meet a group of friends in a hostel and they are all heading to another part of the country you're visiting and you would love to join them -- you can't really do that if you have paid for accommodation somewhere else for the upcoming month....
So research as much as you can, make lists, take notes, put together a rough itinerary and book what you have to (like the flight) and then let your journey unfold!
The following are ALL the steps (20 of them) I take when planning a new trip -- I've covered everything for you (IN ORDER) so you can be completely prepared and board the flight with confidence!
#1 DECIDE WHERE YOU WANT TO GO
First things first! Where do you want to go? How do you decide if you don't have a clue? The world is huge, there are so many places to see and things to do! If you haven't dreamt of visiting a certain destination, only longed of travel in general then choosing where to go can be a daunting task.
There are some factors to consider to help narrow down your decision.
COST - Your budget will of course last longer if you visit places that are cheap to get by! It doesn't mean you can't visit expensive places, just keep those trips short and sweet or work while you're there.
ELIGIBLE TO WORK - You might want to include working abroad in your plan. Maybe for the experience or to top up your funds! Check which destinations you will be able to work in and that offer the job you would like to do. Have a look at my page about Making Money on the Road
ACTIVITY OR EXPERIENCE - There may be a certain type of trip you want to go on or activities you dream of carrying out that would conclude your decision on where to go. I love to read travel books if I have an experience in mind or to get inspired! Check out the books 1000 Ultimate Adventures &1000 Ultimate Experiences by Lonely Planet.
LENGTH OF TRIP - For long term backpacking trips, some destinations are more suited than others! Same goes for shorter trips, you may be more flexible with your spending if your going away for a shorter period and returning to work at the end of it.
MY TOP PICKS FOR LONG TERM TRAVEL: South-East Asia (THAILAND, MYANMAR, INDONESIA, CAMBODIA) Asia (SRI-LANKA) Central America (GUATEMALA, EL SALVADOR, NICARAGUA) Eastern Europe (CROATIA, CZECH REPUBLIC, HUNGARY)
TOP PICKS FOR WORK & TRAVEL: AUSTRALIA, CANADA, NEW ZEALAND, THAILAND
For more ideas and inspiration on where to go, explore my Destinations Page that has all my Itineraries, Adventures, Tips and Guides that have been carried out by me!
#2 RESEARCH YOUR DESTINATION(S)
Research time! This is where you print out a map, take out a journal and write notes, find as much information as you can on where you're going! To be super organised I like to keep track of all my findings and make lists on the app Evernote. You can make all sorts of lists, save websites/pages, images and loads more all on one file. I have 1 file per country that I can access through my phone or laptop.
Ways you can research could be through Travel Blogs, Travel Guide Books (Lonely Planet), Online Travel Forums, YouTube or by Talking to People who have been there already (a one to one with someone who has actually been there can give insight that travel guides may have missed)
These are the different things I make sure to find out when researching a new Destination and what Resources I use:
Day to Day Costs - Find out how much its going to cost you to travel there, most importantly, accommodation, activities, eating out (& drinking) and ways of transport. Accommodation makes a HUGE difference to your daily budget, I like my overall daily budget to be £30 - quite hard to do if my accommodation is going to cost over £15 a night.
RESOURCES: (Booking.com - Lonely Planet -Travel Blogs)
Visa Requirements - Check with each individual country you're planning on visiting for the following:
If you're allowed to visit temporarily by receiving a Tourist Visa on Arrival (Visa Exempt)
If you have to pay for a Visa on Arrival in a certain currency or
If you have to obtain a Tourist Visa before your flight.
Also, if you're planning on working while in another country, you may have to get a visa that lets you work legally in said country (like a Working Holiday Visa or a Business Visa)
Plus, even when you've been given a Visa on Arrival, it may only allow you to stay in that country a certain period of time. If you're planning on staying somewhere for more than 14-90 days (depending on the destination) check if you should obtain a tourist visa that will last longer before you go or if you can get a visa extension once you're there.
RESOURCES: (Government Immigration Websites - Wikipedia - Lonely Planet - Travel Blogs - Travel Forums - Word of Mouth)
It can be a lot of information and I know it confused me when I was preparing for my first trip away! Check out my page on Visas for more information!
Activities - It's a good idea to find out what there is to do in your country of choice. You may have one or two activities in mind but there could be other experiences that suit you perfectly that you haven't heard of yet ---- check what's available, the cost and reviews. This is an exciting time, start planning on what's going to make your trip memorable and worthwhile.
RESOURCES: (TripAdvisor - Travel Blogs - Lonely Planet - Word of Mouth)
Weather Season - If you have a travel date planned then you need to check what the weather will be like that time of year to see if it suits your needs of the trip. Summer / Winter months can differ from country to country. Other countries have Rainy / Monsoon / Tornado seasons you need to take into consideration.
Check when High Season and Peak Season are in a particular country --- this will be when the weather is at it's best. But it's also when tourists visit the most and the prices are at their highest. Shoulder season is a good time to go for cheaper prices and still good weather.
All you need is a little common sense. You wouldn't book a flight to the Philippines during Typhoon season to save some cash when you won't be able to do any activities.
RESOURCES: (Lonely Planet - Word of Mouth - Travel Blogs - Travel Forums)
Customs & Taboo's - It's important to respect cultures around the world and be aware of some where's DO's and DON'T's. If you offend someone accidentally and they challenge you about it -- it's important to stay calm and polite, don't lose your cool, apologise and move on.
For example, it's extremely rude to wear your shoes while inside temples in Thailand, or placing your feet ever so slightly on a seat in-front of you while on trains in Austria (I got screamed at by a ticket collector for this)
RESOURCES: (Lonely Planet - Travel Blogs - Word of Mouth)
Polite Phrases - As we're thinking about respecting the culture and customs of a country, you should really learn how to say Hello, Goodbye, Please and Thank You in their language. It's respectful and knowing a little about their language can go a LONG way.
RESOURCES: (Google Translate - Lonely Planet)
How much does it Cost to Fly there & Do you need Proof of Onward Travel? - Check flight prices in order to alter your budget. If it's looking too pricey then check neighbouring countries --- it could be MUCH cheaper to fly somewhere near by, spend a few days there then get a short flight over OR you could arrive by land border from a country next door.
Also, find out if you will need to have evidence of Onward Travel from your planned destination(s). This will be asked for at the airport when you check in for your flight.
RESOURCES: (Skyscanner - Wikitravel)
For more information on how to get the cheapest flight, make sure to check out my Flights Page!
#3 WORK OUT HOW MUCH MONEY YOU WILL NEED
Now you have an idea of where you're going and what everything costs, you will be able to roughly calculate how much money you will need each day. This is your Daily Budget.
From there you can determine how much you will need for a week, month and so on, which will also give you an idea how long your trip could be.
The next step is to work out how much you now need to Save and put together a Savings Plan. This is when you write down all of your bills, direct debits and expenses and figure out how to cut down. You should take a certain amount from your pay each week/month and put it into a separate Savings Account and stop yourself from touching it. Its up to you to survive on your remaining pay. Sell things you don't need, stop splurging and start connecting to nature more by doing things outside that cost next to nothing.
Read more on Travel Money Here.
Don't worry if you go over your Daily Budget on your travels -- it has a funny way of working itself out. If I have a few expensive days, I have some quiet / chill out days to make up for it.
If there is somewhere you want to visit that's expensive in general, just visit it for a shorter period of time. Or if you're planning on visiting for longer, find some sort of job while you're there to fund it. For example, I still visited Singapore when I was budgeting and backpacking, I just went for 4 days then flew to Malaysia where it was a lot cheaper.
#4 BOOK YOUR FLIGHT
Once you have enough cash for your flight - Book It!
After you have booked the flight you will have a set date --- this will force you to Save Money, Plan the Rest of your Trip and Board the Plane. It's a lot harder to back out of plans once a flight has been booked.
Get onto Skyscanner to start comparing flight prices. You should only be booking the flight to your FIRST destination (if you're planning on more than one country). To figure out which country to fly to first --- search how much it is to fly to each country on your list -- it might be surprising how cheap it is to fly to one compared to the other.
Also, be flexible with dates. It can make a huge difference to the flight price if you fly a few days before or after originally planned.
Be careful which days you're researching on. This might sound weird but I've found after looking up flight prices on the weekend, they reset and are cheaper when looked up on Tues/Wed (Mid Week) - strange!
Check if the country you're flying to requires you to show proof of Onward Travel. This will be a flight ticket for evidence to prove you're leaving the country when you say you are (it doesn't mean a flight home). This is the only time I would book a flight to my next destination, otherwise, I would book all my onward travel once I'm on my travels. If you have no idea where you will be heading to next yet, just book a flight to the cheapest place you can find if you need to show evidence of onward travel.
If you're planning on visiting the one country or know for sure where you will be at the end of your travels then of course book your return flight home at the time of booking. If you're planning on being away for more than 4-6 months, I would only book a one-way ticket. A lot can happen in that time, you might be somewhere completely different than originally planned.
For more details about booking flights then please read my Flights Page!
#5 SAVE MONEY
Time to put your Savings Plan in motion. For me, saving money is never ending. I know what I want to spend my money on --- and that's first and foremost --- Travel. When you are focused, strict with yourself and realise that buying that new expensive wardrobe or new car you think you need, will cost you an unforgettable experience ---- your funds will soon grow.
Write down your outgoings and direct debits and work out how you can cut these down as much as possible.
Open up a Savings Account and put in a set amount every week/month. It's up to you to survive on your remaining pay.
Sell your stuff, take on more hours or find an extra part time job.
Stop spending money on things you don't need.
Get in touch with Nature -- Walk, Swim, Cycle, Hike, Camp. These activities cost very little and are good for the soul.
Stop going out for food and drinks so much. Invite friends round to stay social and learn how to cook.
#6 KEEP YOUR ENERGY FOCUSED
During the months of saving money and waiting patiently for your trip -- it can be easy to lose your focus and let your mind wander elsewhere.
You may forget why you booked the trip in the first place or let the discouraging words of others scare you or you could even begin to doubt your trip.
Its important to stay inspired and excited about your upcoming travels and educate yourself even more than you have done already.
Check out my thoughtful post on Travel Inspiration.
#7 APPLY FOR YOUR VISA (IF YOU NEED ONE)
Lots of countries are easy to travel to and offer a Visa On Arrival/Visa Exempt which means you don't do much preparation at all regarding getting a visa before your flight.
Once you have arrived in said country, you will be stamped in and put on a temporary Tourist Visa. Other countries you may have to pay for a visa on arrival or obtain a Tourist Visa in advance before your flight.
If you want to stay longer than a Temporary Visa on Arrival allows you to do so, you should either obtain a Tourist Visa before departure or it may be possible to get a Visa Extension while you're there.
Wherever you're going or for whatever reason, you should find out the correct information from a Government Immigration Website, Wikipedia or nearest Consulate in advance and then apply for the most suitable visa online/in person if needed.
If you're planning on working while you're abroad and need to apply for a Visa that will let you legally work in said country, this is a good time to do so.
For a Working Holiday Visa in
Australia - Click Here
New Zealand - Click Here
Canada - Click Here
United Kingdom - Click Here
United States - Click Here
Head over to my Visas Page for more detailed information.
#8 MAKE A LIST OF THE THINGS YOU WANT TO DO & BOOK ESSENTIALS IN ADVANCE
Around this time, I like to get back into researching Travel Blogs, Books and Guides in order make a list of all the activities and experiences I'd like to do in each country I desire to visit. This is just rough preparation though --- I wait until I'm actually there to book anything and to ask fellow travellers what's most worth doing and if there is anything I should check out that I haven't heard of yet.
However, even though this is the case the majority of the time because most day tours and activities can be carried out almost everyday and spaces aren't hard to come by. Sometimes you HAVE to reserve in order to secure a space. This could be because it's extremely popular with limited availability or maybe can only be done on certain days you're there. This is also a good time to research if you should book certain modes of transport in advance like a Car Rental, Japan Rail Pass or Eurail Pass if you're planning on using them!
Of course if you're planning a 2-3 week trip then I'd book some things in advance if you wish as your time is precious but for me I prefer to just turn up.
Whatever the reason, if you have highlighted some experiences on your list that's most important to you and you just can't miss. Then do a quick research and place a reservation if need be.
#9 CREATE A PACKING LIST
Make a list of everything you want to take with you. Remember less is more! Don't take everything you own and leave room for things you will want to pick up along the way. While on the road, if you buy something new, throw something old out!
For My Full Personal Packing List - CLICK HERE
Once you have written out your list, highlight the things you still need to get. Search Ebay, Gumtree and Amazon for cheap buys! When preparing for a trip I always head to Primark, SHEIN & Depop (Clothes&Shoes) Home Bargains & Lush (Toiletries) and Amazon for everything else!
Quick look at some things to remember
Backpack! You won't get far without one. I use the OSPREY FARPOINT 70L VOLCANIC GREY. Can't fault it in the slightest, strong zips, great quality and brilliant design.
Travel Organiser! Keep all your valuables, paperwork and extras -- safe, neat and organised!
Head Torch! Great for dorms after dark and overnight jungle treks!
Travel Journal! Remember to keep a diary of your travels and write down your thoughts. You will be surprised how much you will forget.
For everything else check out my Packing Page!
#10 GET VACCINATIONS
12. GET TRAVEL INSURANCE
Around 8 weeks before your travel date, you will need to find out which kind of Vaccines are advised for each country you're planning on visiting. Check out Travel Health Pro for loads of information and to look up any country of choice.
Some vaccinations are required -- such as Yellow Fever when visiting Africa and South America -- but others are only advised. It depends on
where you're going
the level of risk
if you will be visiting rural areas (trekking/farm-work)
how long you will be spending there
You must make an appointment with your GP or medical clinic and ask for their advice. They will be able to look up your vaccination history, tell you for sure which one's to get and book you in to get them done.
There are travel vaccinations available to fight against Hepatitis, Yellow Fever, Typhoid, Polio, Tetanus, Tuberculosis (TB), Japanese Encephalitis, Cholera, Rabies and more.
Diseases to be extra aware of are Malaria, Dengue Fever and Zika. These are Mosquito-borne diseases transmitted by infected Mosquito bites. Take antimalarial tablets when advised and if there is a Malaria outbreak in the country you're visiting. There is currently no vaccine for Dengue and Zika so be extra careful by preventing mosquito bites as much as you can.
For more information on Travel Vaccinations -- Click the link!
#11 BOOK ACCOMMODATION
Now you know your travel date from you flight, it's a good idea to book a place to sleep for your arrival!
If I'm visiting a new country, I never book accommodation for more than my first few days -- never! There's no need, budget accommodation is plentiful and there is no better way to hear about a great hostel or guesthouse than from fellow travellers. Also, plans and routes can change. Don't limit yourself.
Moving from place to place, you will soon build your confidence and realise how to find the cheapest accommodation. This is just by 'turning up', wandering around and asking a few places in person, sometimes you can make a deal with the manager.
Something I often do if I'm about to begin a long-term trip and I know I'm going to spend months in cheap rooms and busy dorms -- then I like to spend my first couple nights in a decent hotel. It's a great way to unwind and get my bearings after a long flight. When I know it's going to be my last bit of luxury for a while, I appreciate a comfy bed and powerful shower so much more!
While searching for any kind of accommodation before or during my trip, I like to use Booking.com , Airbnb and Hostelworld the most. Make sure to read as much information provided on these sites as you can, like Location and Overall Reviews! These are the biggest factors I take into account when choosing a place to stay.
For more detailed information on how to book the best accommodation for the cheapest prices, check out my Accommodation Page!
#12 GET TRAVEL INSURANCE
Travel insurance is SO important. Don't let your dream trip turn into a nightmare if something goes wrong on the road --- make sure you're covered!
I use a comparison site like https://www.moneysupermarket.com/travel-insurance/
when searching for the best travel insurance at the time. You need to read through the policies offered and know for sure what you will be insured for. Be careful when looking for the cheapest travel insurance going. A lot of the cheaper ones have high excess fees you will pay out when making a claim.
You need to make sure you're covered for (and the price of your travel insurance will depend on)
Each place you're going
The length of your trip
Specific activities you're planning on doing, such as Diving, Skiing, Rock-climbing
Expensive items such as Laptop, Camera, GoPro
Personal details are correct (age,medical conditions)
There are different types of Travel Insurance to take into consideration and will save you money if its the right one for you. I would look into Backpacking Insurance when planning to be away for more than 60 days and I saved loads when travelling with my boyfriend on Couples Travel Insurance.
For more information on all things Travel Insurance -- Click the link!
#13 APPLY FOR AN ATM/CREDIT CARD BEST FOR TRAVEL
The last thing you want to do after saving your hard earned cash to travel, is to waste it on heavy fees and charges that arise when taking money out around the world.
Search, compare online and find an ATM card that doesn't charge to withdraw money abroad!
(UK Address needed)
They charge NOTHING when using abroad, give the best possible exchange rate and have excellent customer service.
Also, I like to take a Credit Card with me on my travels for emergencies and to collect travel rewards like Air-miles. There are loads of travel credit cards out there with many perks way beyond points. Click Here to read about the best travel credit cards this year - keep in mind which is the right fit for you and that you are able to use it anywhere in the world. It's safer to book flights and hotels with a credit card when booking online!
Use Money Martin to compare the best Debit and Credit Cards for your travels.
For more on Accessing and Spending Money Abroad -- Click the link!
#14 GET AN INTERNATIONAL DRIVING PERMIT (IDP)
An International Driving Permit (IDP) allows you to drive anywhere abroad that it's recognised in. Some countries it's required in order to rent a car.
It saves SO MUCH hassle when renting out mopeds on your travels. Police checks are often and they will try and fine you (even if you've done nothing wrong).
From my experience -- especially in South East Asia -- having an international license has led police to just wave me off when I've been stopped. Resulting in paying no fines!
In the UK, International Driving Permits are available from the Post Office and cost £5. You will need your UK Driving License and a Passport Photo in order to apply.
This is also a good time to find where your passport is?? (keep it somewhere safe for your flight) and check if its valid for at least 6 months from your travel date and it has a sufficient amount of pages for your length of trip. If not then you should apply for a new passport now!
#15 PLAN A ROUGH ITINERARY
What I like to do for this step is print out a map of the country that I'm visiting.
On the back, make sure you write the details of the hostel/hotel/apartment you have booked. This should include
the location, address
instructions on how to get there -- taxi, bus, train?? -- better to be prepared than worried and alone at an unfamiliar airport
Of course have this typed up on your phone but good to have a back up. Too many times has my phone died when arriving somewhere new.
Also, write down the dates and locations of any experiences or activities you have booked already.
On the actual map, I like to draw a route I'm planning on taking and research how I'm going to navigate round the country. How will you get from place to place?
Find out what are the best and cheapest ways to get around for the destination you're visiting. I like to use Rome2rio for this https://www.rome2rio.com/
Domestic Flights - Check if it's worth flying by checking out budget airline sites. Some flights could be as little as £15
Buses - Public buses can be uncomfortable but CHEAP. Some locations offer sleeper buses for long journeys!
Trains - When travelling the likes of Europe or Japan, look out for rail passes that can save you ££££. A slow sleeper train is also cost-effective and a great way to experience new surroundings.
Car Hire - In places like USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand where the area is so vast, hiring a car is your cheapest and best option. If your trip is long enough, buy the car then sell it again at the end of your trip
Car Sharing - Check out >>> BlaBlaCar
Taxi/Uber - If you have travel buddies to split the costs, sometimes a taxi is the most cost effective way to reach your next destination.
This is for purely research and preparation only! I don't formally book anything until I'm actually there because from my experience the best way to travel is by going with the flow and filling in the gaps while I wander.
I'm weirdly organised though and like to have everything planned and ready before I go. :)
#16 NOTIFY BANK YOU'RE LEAVING - CANCEL DIRECT DEBITS - REDIRECT YOUR MAIL
Contact your bank and let them know you're leaving the country. Your account will be updated and your funds will be easily accessed abroad. If you fail to notify them of your planned trip, a red flag could show up when trying to withdraw money and your account and funds could be frozen. So annoying.
Tidy up your bills and cancel any direct debits like your phone contract, subscriptions or trade union fees.
Remember to redirect your mail before you leave! Choose to send your mail to a local / overseas address of your choice. This service is usually offered for up to 12 months. Otherwise, go paperless with your bills.
#17 DOWNLOAD TRAVEL APPS & OFFLINE MAPS
I like to download any new travel apps on my phone before I set off on my adventure. It saves me fiddling around with them at the airport and lets me go straight out exploring when I arrive.
For my must have Travel Apps -- Click the link!
My current favourites are Trail Wallet (Keeping track of budgets and spending) and TransferWise (Best and cheapest way to carry out international transfers)
Also, I always make sure to download any maps of the countries I'm planning on visiting. I do this through the app Maps.me
I download the maps of my choice when I'm connected to internet then I can use them normally when I'm offline! It's so so handy -- I don't know how I survived without it. You can pin places on the map too so your hostel / parking space / meeting point are all easily found!
Time to print off and organise any paperwork needed for your trip! They can get damaged and ripped easily on the road so make sure to protect them with some kind of plastic folder.
Documents you should take
Resume & Qualifications (if planning on working while abroad)
Copies of Passport
Accommodation Booking Voucher
International Driving Permit
Your itinerary notes including how to get from the airport to your hostel / hotel
Remember to have a copy of this information on your Hard Drive / USB Memory Stick and Email it to yourself
In a notebook, on the back of your travel journal and/or on your phone make sure to write down any
Names & Addresses of Friends/Family you're planning on sending Postcards and Letters to
Insurance Claim Number
Your Banks Contact Number for Overseas
When I say change currency, I don't mean all of your savings. You should only be changing a small amount of cash into local currency to get you from the airport and see you for your first couple days. I would also change some money to a Global Currency like U.S Dollars ($100) that's easily changed if you have an emergency or can't withdraw funds. I always use Travelex when purchasing new currency.
Only carry as much cash with you as you're willing to lose!
#19 PACK BAG
Wooaaah it's starting to feel real and you're almost ready to go --- time to organise everything you're taking with you and pack!
Remember to Roll your Clothes!
#20 GO FOR LEAVING CELEBRATIONS & BOARD FLIGHT!
Time to relax, celebrate with friends, and have those last special moments with family, for a while!
Board your flight with ease knowing you've covered everything.
Look after yourself, live your dreams, make life long friends, have fun and let your journey unfold.
For a quick overview of the 20 steps I've covered in this post
Read below! I really hope you've found this page helpful!
Hey Everyone! I'm Emma from Scotland & this is my new Travel Blog to inspire YOU through my experiences. I believe everyone should live their own dreams & love life to the fullest. I want to show how easy it is to travel & help you plan your ultimate trip step by step. Explore my personal guide to see how.
click here to read more
#18 PRINT OFF YOUR DOCUMENTS & CHANGE CURRENCY
CHOOSE YOUR DESTINATION
RESEARCH AS MUCH AS YOU CAN
WORK OUT HOW MUCH MONEY YOU WILL NEED & CREATE A SAVINGS PLAN
BOOK YOUR FLIGHT
KEEP YOUR ENERGY FOCUSED ON YOUR TRIP
APPLY FOR ANY VISA'S YOU MAY NEED
MAKE A LIST OF THINGS YOU WILL WANT TO DO & BOOK ESSENTIALS IN ADVANCE
CREATE A PACKING LIST
GET TRAVEL INSURANCE
APPLY FOR ATM/CREDIT CARDS MOST SUITABLE FOR TRAVEL
GET AN INTERNATIONAL DRIVING PERMIT (IDP)
PLAN A ROUGH ITINERARY
NOTIFY YOUR BANK YOU'RE LEAVING, CANCEL BILLS/DIRECT DEBITS & REDIRECT MAIL
DOWNLOAD TRAVEL APPS & OFFLINE MAPS
PRINT OFF DOCUMENTS & CHANGE CURRENCY
BOARD YOUR FLIGHT & HAVE THE TIME OF YOUR LIFE