Backpacking for Beginners: Top 6 Backpacking-Specific Travel Tips

Are you a backpacking beginner? Read AIG’s Top 6 Backpacking-Specific Travel Tips to start your trip off right.

1. Which Pack to Pack: Choosing The Best Backpack for Your Trip

There’s no “one size fits all” backpack for a backpacking trip. The size, type, and features will depend on you and where you’re going. That said, small and light always trumps big and bulky. Think it through—if you’re running for a train in a crowded platform in Marrakech, what do you want to have on your back? Not something half your weight. And just in case your lazy side is wondering; no, you don’t need wheels.  A good general rule is to pack in order of necessity. Which leads us to…

2. What to Pack: Keeping it Light

While 2 weeks in Croatia verses 2 months in Chile might mean a different packing list, how much you pack shouldn’t really change too much. If you’re genuinely backpacking, you’ll need the same types of items. When it comes down to the nitty gritty must-have items for any trip, make sure you’ve got a Swiss Army knife and a sewing kit. Pro tip: Make sure your Swiss Army Knife has a bottle opener and corkscrew. There are few things as heart-breaking while travelling as a fine Italian wine in the Dolomite Mountains and no means to drink it!

3. Train Travel: When to Skimp

There’s a very delicate cost/benefit analysis that occurs when deciding to take an overnight train. Skimp on cost and sleep in a tangle of open seats or splurge a bit and sleep in your own cot? There are many types of quarters for sleeping (or trying to), including private sleepers where you might be alone or with your travel companions, couchettes that function as the mixed dorms of overnight trains where you might be sleeping in a room with strangers, and  the shoestring traveller’s favourite: snagging as many free seats as possible and stretching yourself across.

As a general rule, if you’ve got a tight travel schedule and need to be sharp the next day it’s worth the extra cash to sleep horizontally. Consider it a deposit towards tomorrow’s adventures. If you’re going somewhere entirely foreign to you where you’ll have to navigate a new city, language and culture, the extra shut eye might be worth the extra change. More loose timeline travellers who don’t mind being a bit bleary-eyed the next day should consider putting their savings toward a future sunny day adventure.

4. On the Rails: How to Secure Yourself and Your Pack

We’ve mentioned this in another travel safety post, but a money belt is essential to peace of mind and keeping thefts at bay. Assume that every train has at least one thief aboard and act accordingly. If you’re free sleeping on a train, make sure your pack is near you. Loop the straps around you, clip them to a rack or your chair or lock them if you’ve got that capability with your pack. A thief who might try to swipe your bag is less likely to do so if you add extra obstacles. It also never hurts to make friends with those around you—better to have more eyes, even if you can’t be sure you can entirely trust them alone with your things, than none.

 If you have a nightmare on an overnight train and something happens to your pack or your valuables, make sure you’re covered with travel insurance and that you keep information on your policy, as well as copies of your passport and other vital information, in a few locations.

5. Odd Bedfellows: Staying Safe While Sharing Rooms With Strangers

Things can get intimidating quickly when you’re travelling on your own. That’s why it’s wise to play it smart with where you stay. Particularly if you’re a woman travelling alone, staying in a female-only dorm can be the better option rather than a mixed dorm, especially if you’re in a location where drinking and late-night festivities are frequent.

Location-wise, take care to look where your hostel is—is it above a pub? In a shady part of town? In the city centre? Far from public transport? Ask yourself these questions before you book. Doormen are also handy to know and make yourself known to as well—they act as both a deterrent to trouble and security for you and your belongings. 

6. Lock it Up: Securing your Valuables in Shared Spaces

Part of the magic in backpacking or international travel is the people you meet. At best these impromptu travel companions form the backbone of an experience, they challenge the way you think and even guide you toward a new future adventure. At worst, they can leave you empty handed if you invest too much faith in them. Especially with temporary roommates, the best rule of thumb is to err on the side of caution. Most hostels will have lockers where you can lock your belongings up with a rented lock or one you bring yourself.

Don’t make a potential crook’s life easier by advertising you have a tablet in your backpack or by keeping leaving out your laptop because you’re naïve about your new roommate, even if it’s just to shower. Travel insurance, such as our specific backpacker travel insurance is always handy if something gets stolen, but save yourself time and the stress of replacing your things by locking them up.

From Córdoba to Casablanca and beyond, these backpacking tips should serve as a solid first step for travel safety abroad.

Learn more about how to keep yourself and your belongings safe while travelling with AIG’s travel insurance


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