For the last three years I felt like an outsider. Even though I travel a lot, until last month it felt like I was the only one who has not yet been to Asia and not yet backpacked. Even though it has always been on my list, the idea of backpacking in a region that is so unknown to me was daunting.
Well, I recently returned from my first ever backpacking experience in my first Asian country - Thailand - and enjoyed every minute of it. With the right preparation, planning a successful backpacking trip is not as hard as you might think. So let’s dive into the five steps that will make you want to start planning now.
1. Do your research
There's one thing that will make your trip much easier - Research! Even if you’re planning to travel to the other end of the world and have never been out of your own country you can still find out everything you need. When researching your trip, you should make use of all the resources available online. Read different Blogs, analyze Tripadvisor comments and if necessary scroll through the hundreds of Instagram
pictures. That will help you to get an idea of the best route to choose, which cities to visit and what to expect.
• While doing my own Thailand research I found that it is exhausting to use multiple sites, so I used blogs and websites that describe the whole country rather than a region only. A great source for Thailand were www.roughguides.com and www.nomadicmatt.com (my personal favorite), but there are many more out there.
2. Plan your Budget
Next point will set the tone for everything you do while away - The Budget. Unlike what a lot of you might think, backpacking doesn’t mean sleeping in run down tents on the beach and hitchhiking. It can if you chose to, however especially in Asia, accommodation can be as cheap as $3/ night. In order to set a realistic budget you need to consider your expenses on location, including accommodation, food, transport and activities you would like to do. Again do your research and find out how much these things cost. Also do not lie to yourself and only plan in a small budget if you know it won’t be enough. If you usually eat 3 meals a day plus a hundred snacks back home, chances are that $5/ day for food is unrealistic. Therefore, be sensible when setting your budget, but also honest to yourself.
• Our budget for accommodation was around $10/ night and still got us really nice hostels, such as the www.lubd.com (perfect for girls!!!), www.hughostel.com and www.bodegahostels.com, which we pre-booked 2-3 months prior to our stay. However, we underestimated the cost of public transport, which ended up costing us much more than anticipated and resulted in us having to go over budget.
3. What, where and when?
After you do your research and set a budget you have to decide on which activities you want to do, which region/ cities you would like to see and what the time plan will look like. To do this effectively, best is to map out your trip and put together an itinerary. This itinerary is not set in stone and can be rather flexible; all it needs to do is give you a general outline of your trip with or without dates. Write down the major cities/ regions and there activities and when you will be traveling from one place to another.
• When planning our trip it was important to estimate how much time we would need in each region beforehand, given that we only had two weeks. We decided to spend two nights in each city before embarking on the more flexible part of our trip - Bangkok - Chiang Mai - Phuket - Southern Islands (flexible) - Looking back at it now, I wish we would have spent more time in the two major cities, Bangkok and Chiang Mai, as we had to rush our sightseeing quite a bit and learned later on that we missed a few hot spots. Personal advice: Add the weekdays to your itinerary, as not everything you will want to do is available every day. For example we missed the floating market in Bangkok because it only takes place on the weekend (bummer!).
4. Flexibility vs. Organizing
Now that you have done your research, set the budget and decided on an itinerary, there is one more important decision to take. Pre -book everything or go with the flow? Both approaches can be of advantage or disadvantage. While pre-booking means you have a guaranteed spot and can plan accordingly, going with the flow gives you the benefit of being flexible and changing your route as you wish. Secondly, booking hostels and transportation in advance allows you to choose the best providers before they are fully booked, while showing up at a hostel on the go can oftentimes get you a better price if available (at least in Thailand). So here you really need to go with your gut and what level of uncertainty works for you.
• Given that Thailand was my first time backpacking and traveling to Asia, I pre-booked our entire itinerary for the first week. This gave me a sense of relief and I appreciated the clear time schedule. Nevertheless, the second week we did not plan at all, which also came in handy, because the islands we wanted to see, Koh Samui, Koh Tao and Koh Panghang, were flooded. So we had to change our route and headed from Phuket to Koh Phi Phi and then Koh Lanta.
5. Slow down
Backpacking puts the body through a lot, like long flights, sleepless nights and the occasional heartburn from all the exotic food. So make sure to plan in one day per week to just rest and do nothing. Whatever the reason is that you chose to leave home in the first place you want to make sure that you are in an overall better state once you get back.
• When we got to Koh Lanta I was super happy that we would stay on the island for a total of 5 days and not move anymore. Even though all the impressions from the cities and the new culture were amazing, I was very tired and ready to chill out. So I appreciated that from now on I only had to worry about which bikini to wear and what I would have for lunch. I was able to calm down and relax before heading back to work.
Last but not least, remember that backpacking is just one of many ways to travel and even though I will definitely be doing it again it might not be for you.
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