10 Backpacker Rules It Is Totally Okay To Break.

Khao San Road Bangkok

Being a backpacker means travelling around the world a certain way, in a certain style and with a certain budget. Or does it? Here are 10 backpacker rules you are totally allowed to break.

Backpacking around the world is more than just an amazing adventure, it is a rite of passage, a culture in and of itself with it’s own tribes, customs, rules and even language! But not all rules are set in stone and it is your adventure at the end of the day, so here are 10 backpacker norms and rules it is okay to break.

It Doesn’t Have To Be A Year.

A gap year sounds pretty straightforward right? It’s a year out. 12 months. The clue is in the title.

It is an accepted truth that a gap year is exactly that. A year taken out to travel the world. And this is certainly the accepted truth the gap year industry tries to sell you as it attempts to flog cookie cutter RTW packages based on this timeframe.

The truth is however that it really doesn’t matter. If you want to travel for a few months and take a snap year you can do that, if you want to take the full year out or take even longer, even if you want to travel indefinitely with no fixed plans on when to return, the choice is all yours my friend. It is your trip and only you can decide when you want it to end. It really is a gap ‘year’ in name only.

You Don’t Have To Stay In Hostels.

Hostels are the quintessential accommodation option for backpackers. Half of our stereotypes are based on the stories intrepid gap year travellers have earned the hard way in these dens of morally suspect drunken choices, budget digs and sometimes questionable hygiene standards.

But they aren’t the only option out there.

Upgrading to luxury flashpacker status

Don’t get me wrong, all jokes aside hostels are amazing places and are a fantastic way to meet new people and see the world whilst sticking to a budget, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with upgrading to a private room once in a while. Get yourself a homely and comfortable room in a guesthouse, splurge on a nice hotel for a couple of nights when you first arrive in a country or have just finished an arduous jungle trek, take advantage of the range of specialist accommodation options too, from jungle longhouses to desert yurts. Travelling the world is about experiencing as much as you possibly can, so why limit yourself to just one accommodation type?

You Can Splurge When You Want To.

I know many backpackers are on budgets, some of them very strict, but that doesn’t mean that you always have to get the cheapest bed, the cheapest food and the cheapest everything else all of the time. In fact it is rarely a good idea to be that extreme and there is absolutely nothing wrong with sticking to a budget, but upgrading yourself to flashpacker status once in a while.

You have travelled half way around the world so why would you want to miss out on that epic jungle trekking experience because it was a few dollars over your daily budget?  You’ll miss out on a lot if you think that way! Why would you want to miss out on some truly great food because you keep telling yourself you have to stick to cheap bargain places. I mean street food is awesome but sometimes a splurge at Sushi King is just necessary!

where to eat in Singapore

Budgeting is important, that is not in doubt, but just leave yourself with that little bit of wriggle room. You wont regret it I promise you.

You Don’t Need A Traditional Backpack!

What? Heresy I hear you cry! Okay, I’m lying on this one. Backpackers still need backpacks (the clue is in the name)!  But there is a diverse range of choice in backpacks now. I’m certainly not going to be borrowing my parents massive suitcases anytime soon, but over the last few years there has been an explosion of choice in style, function and type of backpack and backpackers are no longer stuck with the traditional top loader backpack from outdoorsy shops.

You can get suitcase/backpack hybrids that open up fully, specialist anti theft backpacks, carry on bags that double up as holdalls and laptop cases, all sorts. The choice out there is staggering, most of it specifically designed to make backpackers lives easier. There are now a whole load of ways you can carry your life on your back and there is no shame in choosing a pack that suits you. Unless you choose a suitcase, in which case you’re on your own!

You Don’t Have To Be A Digital Nomad.

This is a relatively recent phenomenon and has only become a thing over the last few years or so, but with the increasing popularity of travel blogging and location independent working there seems to now be this weird expectation that if you head off on a gap year you have to also be a digital nomad. You don’t. At all. If you want to start your own location independent business then fine, but otherwise just go and enjoy your travels and the places you are in.

You Don’t Have To Follow A Specific Route.

Backpacker scam

Ask any backpacker and there are certain places, certain routes that are so steeped in backpacker lore that every newbie has to follow them at first almost as a right of passage. The banana pancake trail through south east Asia, the gringo trail in south America, the big loop of Europe that the Americans love so much, they are all there!

Now, these routes and countries are popular for a reason and I would never suggest for a single second that you shouldn’t go to these places. In many ways there are a lot of good reasons for newbie backpackers to follow established routes through popular countries, the infrastructure, the amount of other travellers, the industry set up around travellers in certain places, all of these and more mean that it may be a good idea to start off in these places to ease yourself in.

But you don’t HAVE to. And if you do go to any one of these countries that doesn’t mean you have to follow the crowds either. If you go to Thailand you don’t immediately have to go through Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos too. This may seem like common sense, and it is, but it is surprising how many people just follow the crowds.

Go somewhere different. Make your own path.

You Don’t Have To ‘Live Like A Local.’

I hate this phrase, I really do. It has been usurped from it’s original meaning by hipsters who think dressing in traditional native garb whilst voluntouring their way around the traditional trails is a good idea. You aren’t going to stop travelling, get a job and an apartment and spend a year struggling to pay bills so you aren’t going to live like a local, just stop it.

You Are Allowed To Have ‘You Days’.

There is often a kind of mentality that when on your gap year you always have to be ‘on’. You always have to be socialising with other backpackers in hostels (when you can get them away from their laptops and smartphones), you always have to be out exploring, seeing the sights or doing something daring or adventurous. And that is true to an extent, that is what you are travelling for after all. But that doesn’t mean you have to do that all of the time, 365 days a year. You’ll burn out fast if you try.

Luxury flashpacking bemused backpacker (2)

It’s normal at home to have a day off from time to time where you have a long lie in to catch up on some sleep, sit around all day and do nothing but read a great book or watch TV. It’s normal. We all need rest. So why is that any different when you are travelling? If you are feeling tired or have a bit of temple fatigue then just get a nice private room, grab some drinks and stream that box set you’ve been itching to see. You don’t have to do it all the time, just once in a while. You’ll be raring to go again the next day.

You Don’t Have To Travel Ultra Light!

Packing light is a great idea. It makes carrying your pack easier, more convenient and much less likely to turn you into some hunchbacked mutant shuffling their way into the next hostel, but that doesn’t mean you have to pack ultra light. I mean some backpackers (you know who you are) take this great idea of packing light and go really extreme with it as if there were some sort of backpacker Olympics they were trying to win. (There isn’t).

Planning how to travel with a good sized carry on is a great way to go, but you don’t have to narrow everything down to one change of underpants and a toothbrush in a plastic supermarket bag, and there is certainly nothing wrong with taking a backpack that you can stick in the hold either, provided of course you aren’t packing everything in it either.

Don’t listen to the extremists on either side of this debate. Find a good middle ground somewhere that works for you.

You Don’t Have To Travel Solo!

Solo travel is amazing and it is lauded amongst many long term travellers for so many good reasons. Look at any blog, magazine or site devoted to gap years and backpacking and you will feel the pressure to go solo, but you really don’t have to go it alone if you really don’t want to. Even if you have to start your travels solo because no one else you know at home has the balls to do what you are doing, there is no reason to keep it that way with so many ways to meet people on the road. Eventually you may find that you want some time alone to explore, but that is up to you.

Solo female backpacker traveler safety

Backpacking is a way of life, with the traditions, styles, ways and means of travelling the world independently built and honed by backpackers all over the world for generations, and it is absolutely an amazing way to travel. But remember it is your trip too, only you can make the decisions of what is right for you at any given time. So come and join us, be a backpacker, but if you want to add your own individual spin to our way of life, that’s all good too!

Did you enjoy this article? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below or on my Facebook or Twitter pages and please feel free to share it with any or all of the social media buttons. If you want to get more great backpacking tips, advice and inspiration, please subscribe to updates via email in the box to your right.

Backpacker Glossary: Get Used To The Lingo.

How To Plan A Snap Year.

How To Plan A Gap Year.

What Type Of Backpacker Are You?

What You Should Consider Before You Start Planning Your Gap Year.

Michael Huxley is a published author, professional adventurer and founder of the travel website, Bemused Backpacker. He has spent the last twenty years travelling to over 100 countries on almost every continent, slowly building Bemused Backpacker into a successful business after leaving a former career in emergency nursing and travel medicine, and continues to travel the world on numerous adventures every year.

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16 comments on “10 Backpacker Rules It Is Totally Okay To Break.
  1. The Novaturient Redhead says:

    I loved this article! I’ve never actually backpacked but I have travelled for extended periods at a time and the down / me day is essential!!

    • Thanks so much, I’m glad you liked it! Extended travel is a kind of backpacking! ;D But you’re right, I can’t function on a long trip without me days and down time every once in a while.

  2. Jakartass says:

    Some good rules here; in essence, go with the flow.

    re: “You don’t have to be a digital nomad.”

    There is nothing that needs to be said if you’re ‘communicating’ a diary rather than having a phone conversation.

    Take your time to absorb the moment: Carry a notebook and a couple of pens for those instant thoughts,”quotes”, and impressions. (Note the word ‘note’: there’s rarely time to write sentences when you’re out and about or on the move.)

    Later, when you have some chill time, use your notes to compose a blog post or letter which will repay re-reading in years to come.

  3. Ha! Ha! So true!

    I like doing things MY way. That way I enjoy MY travel, and I can spend MY money, how I please!

    When I went to Asia on my GAP year, I went to Thailand, but I didn’t go to Cambodia or Laos, I went to Hong Kong & Bali instead, and had just the best time!

    I went to Thailand again, a few years ago, and I didn’t take the train ‘cos the flight was just as cheap, so I flew to Chiang Mai for $25.00 and very much enjoyed the fact that it only took us 40 minutes to get there!

    I’m going to India again next year, and as much as I delight in travelling by train – in Europe – I absolutely detested my Indian train experience the first time around, so for flexibility, we’ll take a taxi from city to city and take the “nice” train from Delhi – Agra, and back again!

  4. Gwyn says:

    Oh I love this! I have met so many backpacker snobs in hostels who say you aren’t a real traveller because of this or that, it is ridiculous! Travel should be a personal thing and it’s all about how you travel personally.

  5. Seb says:

    Great post, it’s all about how you want to do it, follow your own path!

  6. Vicky Burrows says:

    It was the digital nomad one that made me laugh, it seems lie every single backpacker now is trying to be one just because they think that is what everyone does! They get their little blog up, get the digital nomad uniform of a go pro and a selfie stick, set themselves up on Insta and think that the money will start rolling in! Haha! Great post.

  7. Paige says:

    Brilliant, I think a lot of this needed to be said. Too many people are caught up in trying to ‘do it right’, whatever that is, rather than just creating their own journey.

  8. Becki says:

    I love this! Travel your own way! Its the only way to go!

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Hi, I'm Michael! I'm a former nurse turned published author and world travelling professional adventurer! I have spent over twenty years travelling over 100 countries and I want to inspire you to do the same! Want to know more about me? Just click here!

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