Last time I went backpacking in Asia – I mean properly with no plan or time-limit and only the idea that this was to be the start of something new – I was 18. It was right after I finished school. I got butterflies in my stomach whenever I saw a surf dude, my mum had forced me to buy a terribly ugly pair of Ecco sandals and my backpack was so big that I needed to place it on the bed to be able to put it on without falling backwards. It was awesome. We went to full moon parties, shared beds with cockroaches in the cheapest youth hostels on Khao San Road and tried to find the guys we made out with the night before on MySpace (yes, it was that long ago).
But is backpacking really only for youngsters? Of course not. For me, backpacking means to travel with a backpack without making too many arrangements in advance. You don’t need the find the cheapest hostels or get drunk on cheap beer by the bonfire on the beach. You can be a comfortable, grown up backpacker and have the whole world to conquer. It just might even be better this way.
1) Comfortable clothing does not only mean harem pants and flip flops
There’s a clear standard of what a backpacker should look like. You should wear harem pants (or fishermen pants if in Thailand), flip flops, a lot of bracelets and festival bands on your arms and if you have dreads that makes you even more authentic. But no, you don’t need to look like this. Not even close to. I never trust the ”buy stuff on the road” advice when it comes to clothes. I want to be able to feel like me when traveling, no matter how cheap a pair of harem pants might be in India. The only thing I do consider is bringing clothes that are not too revealing due to different cultural dress codes.
2) Arrange your packing like a pro
If there is anything I hate with backpacks instead of suitcases – it’s when I can’t find anything in my bag without spreading everything out of my backpack to the floor. Dirty knickers are stuck to the zip in my partydress and everything is crinkled. I got introduced to
3) You don’t need to travel by bus
Yes, it is much more environmentally friendly to go by bus than by plane. But it will also be a ten hour journey together with big groups of backpacking American teenage boys discussing what country has the girls with the nicest tits. Many times you won’t be able to read since the road is too bumpy and the toilets along the way will be the squat type. By taking a flight you might lose 70 dollars, but you will also save a day and a great amount of frustration.
4) Don’t always believe Trip Advisor’s 1st choice when traveling in low standard countries
Especially not when you are anywhere near a backpacker paradise like Khao San Road in Thailand or Thamel in Nepal. These tips will be amazing money for value – but the money will be crazy cheap and the value not what you are expecting. You also want to be able to sleep during the nights – going to a place where all the other backpackers are is not always the best idea for a good night’s sleep.
5) Worried about your career? Work while traveling!
If you’re anxious that you might interrupt your career when taking time off for traveling, I’ve got good news for you – you can work while traveling pretty much everywhere. WiFi is good nowadays even in the countries that a couple of years ago were known for their terrible internet connection. Get up early, and chill out in the sunrise on the rooftop working while the other backpackers are still dancing at the full moon party. Or go to a café and meet other people like you that also are working while traveling. Digital nomads are a thing!
6) Save 10 more dollars a day (bring lunch to work) – and travel in luxury
What we shouldn’t forget is that these backpacking countries are cheap. REALLY cheap. To save a little more when planning your trip can change your experience totally. By adding 10 extra dollars for each travel day compared to Lonely Planet’s guide, you can go from standard to luxury and it will even be hard to get rid of your money. It doesn’t make that much difference when you are home saving – but out traveling this will be a dream scenario, and you’ll never have to hesitate again when you find a cockroach in your room and want to change your hotel.
7) Use the laundry service instead of the sink
You don’t need to wash your clothes in the sink, having wet clothes hanging all over the room for days since they won’t get dry due to the humidity. Use a local laundry service instead. It costs about nothing and you will smell like fresh flowers next time you hit the town or beach.
8) Book Hotels – not Hostels or Bed & Breakfasts
I know that it sounds so much more genuine and special with a B&B or a family-owned hostel. But if you want to make sure standards are good, you should be looking at hotels instead. They usually have AC (which means less insects and other creepy crawlies) and room cleaning. Of course, you also should do homestays when you’re away to get to know the culture. But if you’re looking for somewhere to rest after a long journey, with a nice bathroom and clean bed – you’re better off choosing a hotel.
9) Take a break outside the cities
When traveling for a long time you don’t need to be ”where it happens” all the time. It can be overwhelming and take all your energy. Get used to taking breaks when you move up to a resort in the mountains for a week, or go glamping by the beach. The whole point with backpacking is to have the time to chill, and when we get a little bit older it feels like we need it even more then when we were 18.
10) Don’t forget to be spontaneous
Do the touristy things and dare to be flexible and spontaneous – that is what backpacking is all about. Just choose your way to explore the world. If you just sit in your beautiful hotel room all by yourself every night you will return home without knowing what the country and locals you visited were really like.
This is just a guide to make your trip a little more comfortable, not to make you sacrifice the experience. Dare to eat amazing street food when you have no idea what it is – just make sure you’ll have a nice bathroom to return to in case of emergency.