Apart from your backpack, your shoes might just be the most useful piece of gear you own. Ideally, you should travel with versatile, lightweight shoes good for both urban walking and hiking. This doesn’t mean you need to travel with a heavy hiking boot if you are primarily visiting cities. That said, save yourself from packing multiple pairs of shoes. Just pack one pair that covers all of your needs. Personally, I’ve been wearing North Face Hedgehogs for ten years and I doubt I’ll ever change. In my experience, it is better to have shoes that can easily transition from the mountains to the city with more emphasis on the mountains. That way, you will never find yourself saying “Oh, I can’t do that hike because I don’t have the right shoes.“ For all of your travel shoe needs, check out these articles:
I don’t care what other people say, hiding your money in a travel money belt is a great idea. I never hit the road without my security belt. This is a regular looking belt with a concealed pocket on the inside – you can hide up to twenty notes inside and wear it through airport scanners without setting them off. This is hands down the best way to hide your cashand weed. It is important to remember to actually conceal your money belt if it is more of a pouch than a belt. If you wear it on the outside of your shirt like a fanny pack, you are basically signaling to all the pickpockets within the vicinity exactly where all of your cash and valuables are. Use common sense and be discreet about how you wear your travel money belt. Pickpockets the world over are highly skilled individuals. It doesn’t take much of a window for them to rip you off. Protect your cash! Hide it! I’ve written a whole post about how to hide your money on your person! Check out this article for more awesome travel money belts.
One of my favorite ways to meet locals and save some cash is to use Couchsurfing. Couchsurfing truly is one of the best tools available to help save you money traveling. Plus, you are always bound to meet interesting people! If you really want to experience life with a local, I can’t recommend Couchsurfing enough. Couchsurfing has opened up so many awesome friendships for me over the years that I have lost count. Sure you save money, but the real reason to Couchsurf is to meet new folks and gain new insights into what life is like for people living in any given place. You can make life-long friends through the platform as well as gain a perspective you would have otherwise never considered. Let me be clear. Couchsurfing hosts are NOT free hostels. You are NOT entitled to a free place to stay. Make sure you do something for your host; any of these:
As much as touristy places irritate me – with their crowds and insistent panhandlers – sometimes you just gotta do them. After all, how can you travel to Rome and not see the Colosseum or San Francisco and not see the Golden Gate? Attractions like this are worth your attention, but not all of it. When I travel to a really famous city, I spend the first day knocking out as many tourist attractions as I can. That way, I can spend the rest of my time actually exploring a city and enjoying it. With no commitments, I can visit the little intimate restaurants, the overlooked art galleries, and whatnot. Best of all, I won’t feel pressured to see or do anything.
Far too often there is a divide between backpackers and locals. Certainly, every backpacker wants an authentic travel experience, and connecting with locals is a great way to get the most out of your travels. Being on your phone is the best way to miss out on interactions and spontaneous connections – don’t waste all your time on your phone or use it as a social crux to hide anxiety (I have at times been guilty of this)… Break free from phone addiction and get back to the real purpose of traveling; meeting people and having mind-expanding experiences. (Not buying a SIM card is a backpacking tip to force this.) Don’t let your only interaction with locals be from ordering food at a restaurant or buying a beer in a shop. Take the time to stop and talk with locals. Try to bridge the language gap if possible. Ask questions about their reality. Find out what they like to eat. Learn about what they enjoy doing in the place where they live. After years of doing just that, you will find that you have gleaned a collective amount of wisdom from folks around the world – a priceless part of the travel experience. Couchsurfing is an epic way to meet local people.
Trekking and hiking are two of the most rewarding activities one can do whilst backpacking… Discovering the wild, beautiful landscapes of a country is arguably the best way to connect with that country. The best part? Trekking is very cheap if not free! Apart from paying national park entrance fees, trekking permits, or mountain hut costs, trekking is cheap and accessible for all backpackers. Many of my top life experiences have occurred on various trekking adventures around the world. All you need is some motivation, your own two legs, and the right gear.
In the developing world, electricity cuts are sudden and frequent. Having a power bank to keep your electronics charged on the road is an integral tip for backpacking. I’ve done 30+ hour bus and train journeys… when you run out of power, it sucks. Some power banks can be bulky and heavy. Depending on what your electricity needs are, I recommend going with an external battery that has multiple USB ports so you can charge several devices at one time. For long bus/plane/train rides, power banks keep all of your devices charged and ready to go. If you’re on the trails, you can use your power bank for your camera. Don’t forget to charge your power bank before embarking on long journeys!
You can always judge the experience of a backpacker by the looks of their backpacks. The novices have their stuff strewn everywhere in a chaotic mess and appear to have no method to their madness. Most likely, there’s a sandal in their diddy bag and a toothbrush in their hiking boot. The veterans have a system in place – their stuff is packed away in space bags, in packing cubes, and in ziplock bags. Hell, some backpackers (like me) even label their individual bags, which may or may not be a sign of sociopathy. Be a pro and prepare for a backpacking trip properly. Organize your stuff and save yourself the stress (and embarrassment) of repacking it haphazardly. You’ll gain some peace of mind and will be better prepared when you need to move on.
Leaving room for spontaneity whilst backpacking is very important indeed. Planning your trip down to the last hour is not practical because having rigid plans where one delay derails the trip is far too stressful to be fun. Whilst you should book your accommodation in advance when visiting expensive places during the high season or going somewhere during a festival, don’t over plan your trip. The essence of backpacking is to let events develop and unfold before you. You need to be open and ready for the curve balls life throws at you. A happy backpacker is one who is organized and driven, yet not obsessive in regards to planning and booking shit. Being flexible is just another characteristic of the expert broke backpacker…
Hitchhiking is an exciting and rewarding part of the backpacker experience. It offers up the chance to meet locals and to save tons of money on transportation costs (it’s a crucial budget travel tip). If you are in no huge rush to get somewhere, hitchhiking is an excellent way to go. You never know who is going to stop and pick you up! Knowing that you need to be smart when hitchhiking anywhere in the world. Assholes do exist in every country. I would NOT try to hitchhike in or around major cities. When accepting a ride ALWAYS have your spidey senses firing. If a person sketches you out, fuck em. You have time. Be polite (don’t say fuck em), but turn the ride down all the same. Better to wait for a ride that makes you feel 100% comfortable. Check out my mega hitchhiking guide for more practical tips.