Travel Advice for a 3-6 Months Backpacking Trip
If you have a dream to go on a backpacking trip that lasts more than two weeks, continue reading! If you don't like planning, just skip the parts on making a budget and booking things in advance, but keep on reading for tips on certain things that will be very useful to know before venturing in to a longer backpacking trip. (This is based on a personal experience with a 6 month backpacking trip.)
To plan or not to plan
Some people just buy a one-way ticket to some place and just research and book things along the way. That is one way to do it, however, you should be prepared that there can be limited availability for both hotels and certain activities so you might not get to see everything you want to see and live exactly where you would prefer. Also, you do have to spend some time on your trip researching, planning and booking. If you prefer to have complete freedom to go whereever you would like and the possibility to follow whatever advice you get along the way, then this is the way to do it for you. However, be aware that more and more countries require you to present a return ticket when you enter the country and/or a hotel or an adresse on where you are staying.
Another way to travel is to have everything booked of flights, hotels and activities. You have a plan, you know what you are doing and where you are going and no need to spend time researching or planning on your trip. However, this leaves you little room for spontaneity to for example join somebody who just told you about this awesome place or country right nearby. So a combination of the two ways to travel is usually a good way to go. For example, book a ticket to Paris and then a ticket out from Rome will leave you lots of options and time to spend in different countries.
A good advice to maintain your energy is to not have too many travel days and moving around in a short period of time. Sometimes it is better to see less, but being able to enjoy it. Leave some room for relaxing after big flights or long bus rides etc and don't try to squeee in as much as possible because you really don't get to enjoy it. In my experience, four nights in one place is the minimum. The first day you are relaxing and unpacking after traveling to the new destination, the next two nights you can have fun and discover and the last night you are packing and getting ready to travel again. Of course you can do less sometimes, but not two nights here and two nights there and another one night here with flights or buses in addition. It will get tiring, and you might not be able to enjoy it as much.
It is a good idea to start planning at least 6 months to a year ahead. You might need to take a gap year from school, or get a leave of abscense from work, or actually quit your job. You need to book airline tickets, train tickets and research what kind of season and when is the good time to go to different places. Further, you need to get vaccines, apply for visas, get travel-equipment and prebooked trips etc. If you are doing a big trip around the world and there is something particular you want to do or see, you should plan it and book it so you know you get to do it, like going to a music festival or seeing Angkor Vat in Cambodia or Macchu Piccu in Peru, getting a diver sertificate in Mexico or Thailand, going surfing in Australia or Costa Rica. And, which takes us to the next advice.. You need to start saving that money!!
Money, Money, Money
My experience was to start planning actually over a year in advance. We started planning how much we needed to spend to do the trip we wanted and how we could save it. Then we divided it on the number of months before departure to see if it was possible to save that much. If you do this and see you can't save that much per month, then lower your trip standards or postpone the trip so you have more time to save money. This depends on your own flexibilities. It is so worth it to live on as little money as you can for a short period of time to be able to save as much as you can. Keep pictures of your destinations to keep you motivated, track down the time until departure, keep thinking about what your money will be spent on and keep having conversations about all the fun things you will get to experience.
You can find online suggestions on daily budgets for certain areas and continents to help plan your travel-budget. It could also be good to have a buffer so use the suggested budget even if you for example will stay with friends or if you already have booked a hotel/bus that normally would go in the budget.
Some countries are naturally more expensive than others, but if you have a mix of low cost and high cost and traveling for 6 months you probably will need around 150 000 kroner/around 15 000 EUR/17 000 USD per may 2019. This includes everything like plane tickets, accomodation, extra travel insurance (for example for diving and more extreme activitities), vaccines, visas, travel equipment and pocket money. It is helpful to think that some of the preparation costs is an investment and a one-time-cost which you will be able to enjoy on other trips.
Visas, vaccines and verifications
Remember to check the most updated travel requirements as these can change over time. Do you need a visa? Do you need to go to the embassy to get the visa or is there an online application process? Do you have an embassy for that country in your own country or do you have to go to another country to find the closest embassy? How long is the application period? Does your passport have to stay in the embassy for a long period of time and do you have to pick it up or will they send it to you? Remember to schedule some time in between visa applications as your passport may be kept in an embassy for some time before you get it back.
You should also go check vaccine recommendations. If you haven't got the hepatitis vaccines before, normally it is recommended to take several doses over a period of time (like 6-8 months) so you will be covered for life.
Finally, when you are on your trip remember to confirm or verify your next destination with flights and hotels if you booked a long time in advance. Sometimes things happen, and it is much better to figure out a solution while you have the time and energy before you are standing in the hotel reception tired from traveling and they can't find your booking.
That backpack, what's in it?
Think about the climate of where you are going, is it hot, cold, rainy season? We went traveling with some clothes that we could give away when we left the "winter destinations" and headed for warmer weather for 5 months. This really depends on where you are going, but if you are going on a backpackertrip to countries in warmer weather where you plan on staying in budget accomodation then these things are useful;
- waterproof backpack (or a cover for your backpack when it's raining)
- a small bag with anti-bacterial/wipes and kleenex (to go to bathrooms with no water/soap and/or paper)
- mosquito-net and silk linen (since a lot of budget accomodation require you bring your own linen)
- coded padlock (a lot of budget accomodation have lockers for you to use when you stay in a dorm, but usually you need your own padlock)
- microfiber towel
- electronics such as kindle, iphone, computer etc
- waterproof electronics - very useful with waterproof camera and-or waterproof bag for your iphone/kindle/ipod etc
- waterproof watch for surfing/hiking/diving
Also, remember to take a copy of your important documents and phone numbers (both electronic and print-out is useful) and to let someone at home know your planned route or when you are traveling or where you are staying.
During your trip; keep track of money and communicate
It is smart to keep an eye on how much you have spent per country or per continent while traveling. Have you spent too much already? Maybe you should make some more meals in the Airbnb, hostel, apartment you are staying (if there is a kitchen) instead of eating out at restaurants? Sometimes the currency changes and it is much more expensive than you budgeted. Or maybe you haven't spent as much as you thought and you can go buy more souvenirs. it is quite easy to get big purchases (like a floor carpet from India) sent home or you can ship a big box home if you have bought several small things when your backpack starts feeling heavy.
Keep your friends and family involved by writing a blog, or make a vlog on Youtube, use social media, and take pictures. When you get back you can make a film/video of your trip, print out your pictures or blog in a book. It is easy to get connected with other travelers through apps and social media and keep in touch even when you get home.
However, remember that not all countries have stable wifi/internet and phone signal. Sometimes you have wifi, but no phone signal (which for some people means no access to your online bank since you need a code on your phone via sms/BankID). The other way around is you have phone signal, but no internet or wifi or superslow internet - well, congratulations you are now in a SoMe detox! However, it might be smart to finish any research or e-mails you need before getting to that destination without access to internet.
Some final words
Please be cautious and respectful when traveling to other countries. Remember they might have other laws and regulations than your own country. For example it is illegal with chewing gum in Singapore, and you can't bring certain fruits or foods in to the U.S. or Australia. Read up on general travel advice for your destination. If you are traveling alone then listen to advice for traveling alone or traveling as a woman to certain destinations. In Mumbai in India they have taxis where women are driving for example.
If you are traveling with a buddy, then really get to know each other before traveling together and make sure you have the same expectations for the trip when it comes to how much time you will spend partying or working out, what standard you are going to be living in hotels, etc. Remember to make compromises, give each other space and treat each other with respect and kindness. If there is something that is bothering you, discuss it with your travel partner in a calm and reasonable manner when you are not agitated and try to think how you can find a solution or a way to make things work better. If you do that, then you might have a friend for life which you have experienced something truly unique with that can bind you together for life.
Be prepared or watch out for the stomach flu, bed bugs or showering in salt water or some weird experiences. Last, but not least; prepare to fall in love with places and never want to leave. Luckily, you probably can return at another time in your life or maybe you will move there and never go home. Here are some of the best experiences from our trip;
The Great Wall, China Maya Beach “The Beach”, snorkling, seing sharks, taking a diving course and reef diving, Thailand Couchsurfing experience, Malaysia Snorkling in Great Barrier Reef and surf-course, Australia Living in a fale, Samoa Seeing celebrity houses, world's biggest honkey-tonk, Disney World, USA Staying at a Mayan house, Tikal ruins and volcano-trekking, Guatemala Cave diving, Mexico Seeing Cuba World cup in football, Brazil