I have been travelling the world now for 20 years. I have travelled to over 100 countries on all but one continent in every way imaginable, and with all that experience here are my top 100 tips for travelling the world after 20 years of backpacking.
Travelling the world is not as hard as many people think, all you need is your passport, a plane ticket and a heart full of adventure. But being an expert traveller takes a lot of time, trial and error and a ton of mistakes!
And believe me, I have made a lot of mistakes in all my years of travel!
This is why I want to give you the full benefit of all of my 20 years of backpacking around the world and give you a hundred of my top tips, so you can avoid all the mistakes most newbie travellers make and become a true travel ninja.
So after twenty years of backpacking around the world independently here are – in no particular order of importance – 100 of my top tips to help you travel the world like an experienced travel pro.
1. Never Underestimate The Necessity Of Travel Insurance.
Travel insurance is essential. It just is. It can be hard to imagine anything going wrong on your gap year or round the world adventure – and odds are that it really won’t – but the problem is that you really need to prepare for it anyway. The last thing you want if the worst does happen is being left with a hospital bill the size of an average mortgage or having your entire travel fund swallowed up and having to end your travels early because of some mishap. It really just isn’t worth the risk.
2. Don’t Leave Vaccination Advice Too Late.
I run an online travel clinic and one thing I see on a daily basis is people asking what vaccinations they need a week or less before they are due to travel. That is just not enough time! Travel vaccinations are one of the basic health considerations every traveller needs to take care of before they travel, and one thing everyone forgets is that sometimes a vaccination may need multiple shots or you may need more than one type of vaccine depending on where you are going, and that can take anywhere from a couple of weeks to a couple of months. If you are going travelling make an appointment to see a travel health specialist at least two months before you leave!
3. Always Carry A Good First Aid Kit.
A well stocked first aid kit should be an essential item in any travellers backpack, you never know when you might need it, but it really isn’t necessary to go overboard. Just the simple basics will do.
4. But Don’t Carry The Entire Pharmacy’s Stock Cupboard With You.
The biggest mistakes I see with basic travel first aid kits tend to be at each end of the extreme scale. Travellers either take nothing, or they go way overboard and carry way too much equipment and medication.
For those who go overboard, remember that clinics and pharmacies can be found in most major towns and cities throughout the world to replenish stock or buy things as you need them, so you don’t need to carry multiples of everything. I mean if you don’t know how to use a triangular bandage is there any point in carrying one? And it is generally not the best idea to take a ton of medication ‘just in case’ without advice from a pharmacist or nurse on whether you should be taking that medication in the first place.
5. You Can Buy Or Replace Most Things As You Travel.
Most average backpackers will never be off the beaten path long enough that they won’t be able to find a pharmacy to restock a supply of plasters or get some more anti diarrhoeal tablets, so there really is no need to carry a years supply all at once.
The same is true for other things as well, lose or destroy a few T shirts in the hostel laundry? No problem there will be a local market nearby. Lose your phone charger? You can find a mall in the next city you pass through. There is always a way, so don’t worry so much.
6. Avoid Mosquito Bites.
Now considering the risk of getting malaria, dengue, zika or any other number of diseases this should be an obvious one really but it is surprising how many travellers get really nonchalant about protecting themselves from biting insects when they travel.
It is essential that wherever you travel you take measures that are equal to the risk. If mosquitoes are prevalent in the places you are travelling to, even if there is no risk of malaria, then you should still use a good mosquito repellent as well as covering up as much skin with loose, comfortable clothing as possible, and if you have insect repellent clothing then even better! Trust me, you do not want to get sick from a mosquito bite! If you are in a region that has a high risk of malaria as well then it is also important that you get professional advice on taking antimalarials.
7. Always Look After Your Health.
Your health is the single most important thing you have. Everything else can be replaced. That is why it is not only essential that you you exercise and take care of your body and health when you travel, and that includes making smart choices about protecting yourself from the heat and sun, maintaining hand hygiene and avoiding dodgy food or drink where you can, but also learn to listen to your own body and know when something is not quite right. You don’t need to be medically trained and know the signs and symptoms of every single element but you should know when something isn’t as it should be and you should get it checked out.
8. Know How And Where To Get Help If You Need It.
It is always a good idea to do your research before you arrive anywhere new and just have a good general idea of where you can find the hospitals, pharmacies, medical clinics, police stations and embassies just in case you need them. Are there tourist police available in your destination? What is the emergency phone number? This basic knowledge can be a real life saver in an emergency.
9. Always Have A Back Up Plan.
If something went horribly wrong on your gap year or something terrible happens while you are travelling and you need to bail quickly, it is essential that you have an exit strategy that will get you out of that situation and to a place of safety as quickly as possible. All this means is basically having funds in a separate account or even just an emergency credit card so that you can buy a last minute flight home or out of the place you are in, knowing where you need to get to and how to get there in an immediate emergency and a plan of action with a loved one back home who can help you extract yourself from a situation if you need it.
10. Don’t Be Afraid.
Travelling the world is overwhelmingly safe, that is just a simple statistical fact and yes that goes for both men and women equally. The problem is there is a lot of fear and scaremongering about travel and that not only increases travellers paranoia but it can also put a lot of potential backpackers off travelling altogether and that is wrong. The facts really are that backpacking around the world does carry some risk but that risk of becoming the victim of a crime or anything bad happening to you are actually quite low, and can be reduced even further with reasonable common sense precautions and knowledge.
11. Increase Your Situational Awareness.
This is travel safety 101. All this means is just staying alert and being aware of your surroundings, that’s it. Take out the earphones unless you are in transit or in your room, lift your head up from the screen of your smartphone and pay attention! You don’t need to be paranoid about everything but if you pay attention, stay relaxed but alert and keep an eye on your belongings and your surroundings, you can reduce your chances of becoming the victim of a crime significantly.
12. Carry Some Cheap Perfume Or Hairspray And A Bunch Of Keys On A Small, Strong Chain.
You obviously aren’t legally allowed to carry mace or weaponry of any kind, but no one will question these items. Just sayin’.
13. Don’t Bother With A Money Belt.
I am talking here about those traditional round the waist bum bags that hide under your clothes or even worse, the round the neck ones. Thieves who target tourists know to look for these, they know this is where all tourists try and hide all their cash and valuables and they will look for them. And if you wear one around your neck you are potentially giving an assailant something to choke you with.
Now there are some exceptions here, you can get actual belts with hidden zips or smaller pouches for women that attach to your bra and aren’t going to be immediately obvious, they are actually okay, but stay well clear of the traditional ones.
14. Blend In As Much As Possible.
Whilst many travellers will never blend in 100%, it is easy to look like an expat or worker who is comfortable in and used to their surroundings, as opposed to a fresh off the boat tourist who is a ripe target for every thief, scammer and tout out there. Wear clothes that blend in, and no your Tiger Beer Singlet doesn’t count. Don’t advertise the fact that you are carrying expensive equipment or jewellery or a big wad of cash around with you. Don’t hang that £3000 camera with oversized lens around your neck for all to see. You may as well stick a big neon sign over your head declaring you a target for thieves.
15. Research Local Scams.
A lot of common travel scams are pretty universal, with many just being local variations of a common theme. Some are more unique to any given place. Either way, it is always a good idea to do your research before you go and just get clued up on a few of the more common scams in the place you are heading to, that way you can recognise them and avoid them if someone tries it on with you.
16. Stay In Touch.
Keep loved ones or family back home in the loop by giving them a rough copy of your itinerary, and keep them updated with a simple text or email once in a while when your plans inevitably change. This is a solid piece of advice that will help reduce the risk of anything bad happening to you as you travel, but is also great for helping stave off those inevitable bouts of loneliness and homesickness too.
17. Don’t Pack Anything You Can’t Afford To Lose.
Whether your pack goes on an entirely separate adventure than you thanks to an inept airline, you rip your favourite shorts on an epic mountain adventure or in a worst case scenario your pack gets stolen from under the long distance bus you have just spent the last 10 hours sleeping on, there is always a chance that your gear may get damaged, lost or stolen. Things are easily replaced on the road, unless they are really expensive or have a ton of sentimental value that is. So prepare for the worst and make sure that the only things you have on you are things you won’t mind losing in a worse case scenario, and definitely leave that fancy jewelry at home!
18. Use Your Carry On As Your Emergency Back Up Pack.
If you travel with a pack too big for carry on and you check your main pack into the hold, use your smaller carry on pack as an emergency bag just in case something happens to your main one, that means keeping a change of clothes or two in your carry on so you aren’t caught short in the first couple of days.
It’s also a good idea to keep up this habit as you travel just in case you need to get out of a place quickly and need to grab a bug out bag.
19. Layers Are Your Friend.
If you are travelling long term through multiple climates then knowing what to pack can be a struggle, especially as you don’t want to overpack and end up carrying far too many heavy clothes around with you that you will never wear. This is where layers come in. Not including specific extreme climate needs, carrying a lightweight waterproof that rolls up and packs away easily and a light fleece should be more than enough for most climates if you put it on top of a couple of layers of light T shirts and long sleeved T Shirts.
20. Always Keep A Smaller Daypack With Your Valuables On You.
Saying that there are always some things all travellers hold more precious than others. We all have our all essential passports and emergency money stash, everyoe now has their smartphone and many travellers now travel with a decent camera and a laptop too, not to mention that back up hard drive with a years worth of travel memories on it. Keep a small daypack with you that you can keep these in at all times. If you really have to stick your main pack under that long distance bus or you don’t trust the security at your hostel but don’t want to lug around your main pack of clothes as you look around for a better one, at least you can keep your important belongings with you.
21. Don’t Forget The Pre Trip Expenses.
So many travellers save up a lump sum for travel, go to book their flights and then find that a huge chunk of their travel budget has disappeared because they completely forgot about the pre trip expenses. You don’t want to save up £10,000 for the trip of a lifetime only to discover you don’t have anything left to spend when you get there!
Vaccination expenses, visa and passport costs (if you need them), the all important insurance, and finally – perhaps the biggest expense of all – the flight itself.
It is an easy fix, just make sure you save a specific budget for these expenses, and then have a completely separate budget for your actual travels.
22. Separate Your Sources Of Cash.
Wherever you are travelling odds are you will need to carry cash most of the time, but it is always a good idea to keep sources of cash in different areas, some in your main wallet or purse, some hidden, and a smaller amount in your main pocket that you can pull out when buying things without drawing attention to the fact you have a lot more money on you.
23. Tell Your Bank You Are Travelling, But Always Have A Copy Of Their International Number.
It’s really important to inform your bank that you will be using your debit cards abroad, and then make sure you are able to contact your bank when they inevitably block your card anyway.
24. Try And Find A Bank With No Foreign ATM Fees.
This isn’t always easy as depending on where you live you may not have that many choices (America is so much better than the UK in this regard), but try and find a bank that won’t charge you for withdrawing your money abroad. Some of the newer online banks are much better at this than the traditional UK big four. The little percentages of your hard earned money they essentially steal from you every single time all add up to quite a lot over the course of a long trip!
25. Have More Than One Way To Access Your Cash.
It is fine to have one primary current account that you can use to fund your travels and just take cash out of it if you need it, but what if that account is for some reason blocked or compromised? What if you lose the card or it breaks or is stolen? Anything can happen on the road so it is also a good idea to have a second account with a good chunk of your main travel fund in, and an emergency credit card as well. That way you always have at least a couple of ways to access cash if you need to.
26. Have An Emergency Credit Card.
I know I have just mentioned this but it is important and is worth mentioning again. You will of course have your primary accounts with separate cards for your day to day travels, but it is always a good idea to open up a decent credit card account before you leave. Make sure that there is enough credit for it to be useful, make sure you leave with absolutely nothing on it, make sure the date is valid for the whole length of your trip and finally make sure you don’t use it.
That’s right, this card isn’t for actually using, it is for those absolute last straw emergencies when you have no other option left to you and you need to get out of a country or back home in a hurry. It does happen, and if it does you will be glad to have it. Your parents may even be happy to help you out with it if you sit them down and tell them this is your last ditch get home card for absolute emergencies. Most reasonable people will think that is pretty smart.
27. Don’t Change Money At Entry Or Exit Points.
Changing currency is almost always best done in country when you are travelling, you always get a more favourable exchange rate than you do at home or at exit and entry points such as airports that often charge an exorbitant fee. They prey on eager tourists who just want the convenience and don’t know any better.
28. Keep Track Of Your Finances.
This is just budgeting 101. You don’t have to go overboard and have a notebook with every single penny accounted for, that is just ridiculously neurotic, but keeping an eye on your daily, weekly and monthly expenditures and making sure you stick to your budget will keep you on the road for longer.
29. Travel Within Your Means.
Travel is worth every single penny you will ever spend but it is not worth getting into debt for. It is important to save up enough to cover everything you want to do and everywhere you want to go, budget well for your travels and stick to that plan. If you can’t afford to travel, then wait until you can.
30. Look For Free Walking Tours Or Airport City Tours.
Most major cities and destinations have at least a few free walking tours of some kind. Some are general and some can be very niche, but either way they are fantastic ways to explore new destinations while staying on budget. Remember though that tipping is customary, especially if you enjoyed the tour.
31. Have Back Up Copies Of Everything.
This should just be common sense but it is essential that you have back ups of all your important documents. In days gone by this just meant having a photocopy of your passport on you, but now you can also email images to yourself and upload images to the cloud that you can access at any time just in case you lose your originals or something happens to them.
32. Carry A Few Extra Passport Photos.
In the modern era of e Visas and many countries that offer visas on arrival if you are fortunate to have a decent passport, it is easy to forget the need to obtain physical visas sometimes, but as a backpacker who is likely to be hopping overland borders in out of the way places it is quite likely you will at some point need some passport photos. It is the easiest thing in the world to have half a dozen or so printed out before you leave and keep them with your important documents. This will save you from the often extortionate rip off of having to get them there and then when the border guards know you have no choice (that is even if you can), and save you a lot of time and hassle too.
33. Waterproof Your Pack.
Wherever you go in the world your pack at some point will get a good soaking, whether an airline leaves it out on the tarmac during a downpour, you are trekking through a hot and humid jungle in Belize or simply get caught in a rainy season shower in Thailand, and you are going to want to make sure your belongings stay as safe and dry as possible.
The way I do this is by using the layer system. First of all I make sure my backpack is good, solid quality and at the very least water repellent to some degree. Second I use a waterproof liner inside the main compartment and waterproof stuff sacks to keep my actual clothes and gear inside, so that if any water does somehow get inside the main pack then it still has that extra layer of protection to get through. Third I use small waterproof plastic bags with a solid seal to keep any smaller electronics in. Finally I also have a waterproof backpack cover that goes over the entire pack. That is layer on top of waterproof layer keeping all my gear safe and dry, and it barely adds any weight to the pack at all.
34. Use Stuff Sacks And Packing Cubes.
Apart from the obvious protective benefits of my waterproof versions, using a range of brightly coloured bags helps me organise my kit much more efficiently and neatly inside my pack. Once you use them you will wander how you ever travelled without them!
35. Pack A Shemagh, Or A Sarong.
Packing a sarong if you are a woman, or a shemagh for the guys, is an absolute must. These are essentially large, lightweight pieces of cloth that are versatile and have multiple uses, from headwear and sun protection, face protection from the elements, covering up when visiting religious sites, an impromptu blanket or even a rope or emergency tourniquet!
36. Always Carry A Pack Of Tissues Or Some Folded Up Toilet Roll.
Look, I’m sure I don’t have to spell this one out but many facilities around the world won’t have any, and that random rock out in the wilderness certainly won’t have! So when you get caught short that little pack of tissues in your pocket can be a lifesaver!
37. Carry Your Own Refillable Water Filter Bottle.
Carrying your own refillable water bottle with you won’t just save you a lot of money in the long term from all those bottles of water you will have to buy every single day but it will also help reduce your single use plastic waste, helping the environment too. What can be better than that? Well if your refillable bottle is a filter bottle too you can refill it from any source in any country and be assured that it is safe to drink, so it is good for your wallet, the environment and your health!
38. Always Have A Good Quality Padlock.
If you are travelling on a budget you will at some point end up staying in a hostel or guesthouse, and most dorms require you to have your own padlock to lock and secure your luggage away either in a locker or a bin under the bed, so always have your own on you. The better quality it is with a long shackle or – even better – a small steel cable, the better.
39. Get Yourself A Travel Towel.
If you are staying in cheaper hostels and guesthouses then towels are not always provided or will need to be rented out, and that is when a good quality travel towel comes in handy. They will never be as good as a regular towel for drying you off, but they do the job just fine, dry really quickly and don’t take up as much room in your pack. And you will be very grateful of the quick drying types of towel when it saves you having to pack a still wet towel and making all your pack and gear damp!
40. Develop The Habit Of Systematic Packing.
All this means is organising your gear and packing in a very specific and systematic way. This will be different for everyone of course as you will develop your own way dependent on your individual needs and type of backpack you have, but all it means is that you develop the habit of keeping things like your passport in the same hidden pocket, your first aid kit in the same specific space and your laundry in the same colour stuff sack and in the same position in your pack at all times. This means you know where to find things in a hurry and are much less likely to lose anything.
41. Develop The Habit Of Systematic Checking.
Alongside systematic packing it is also a good idea of getting into the habit of having a mental checklist every time you check into and out of a hostel or guesthouse. When you check in make sure you know where everything is and where you place everything, and when you check out make sure everything goes back into its assigned place. This will seriously minimise your chances of losing anything or leaving anything behind.
42. Pack Older Or Cheap Clothes That Are All Colour Coordinated.
Travel can be hard on your clothes so you don’t want to be taking anything that costs a small fortune or will tear or get ruined easily. It is best to travel with decent and comfortable but cheap clothing that you don’t mind getting ruined and and all match in terms of tone or colour so you can wear are any item with any other item of clothing and throw them all in the wash together when need be.
43. Roll Your Clothes, Don’t Fold Them.
This is an old travellers trick. Don’t flod your clothes, lay a few of them out on top of each other and roll them up tightly. This compresses them which reduces the space they take up in your pack and reduces wrinkles too!
44. Travel Light.
Don’t worry, we have all been that first time traveller who carries way too much at some point. You don’t have to go to the extreme of travelling carry on only, but you don’t need to carry a huge backpack that you can barely lift either. Most experienced backpackers learn over time that they actually don’t need to carry as much as they think they do, and travelling as lightly as possible is so much easier. There is nothing wrong with having an average size pack and a smaller daypack, but just try and whittle down what you carry as much as you feel comfortable with. If you can carry it all day without any strain then that is ideal.
45. Travel Solo.
Now solo travel isn’t for everyone and that is absolutely fine, but everyone should travel solo at least once. In my personal opinion it is absolutely the best way to travel, being alone will teach you self reliance and self confidence, it will make you stronger and more independent and make you comfortable with your own company and teach you about yourself. In short, solo travel makes you a better person! Plus the fact that you don’t have to compromise on your travels, you can do whatever you want, whenever the hell you want. And that is such a freeing experience on its own!
46. Say Hello.
You will meet a lot of people as you travel the world and it is the easiest thing in the world to say hello and create a connection. Don’t be afraid of talking to locals and asking questions on where the best places to go are, and don’t be afraid of saying hello to other backpackers and asking to join them on an adventure for a day or so. Making friends when you travel is not as difficult as many first time travellers fear, it really is as simple as saying hello.
47. Don’t Be Afraid To Join Up With Other Backpackers.
If you are travelling solo you will meet so many other backpackers and travellers on the road, and when you do you will strike up friendships pretty quick, so don’t be afraid of asking to join them (if they are in a group) for a few days if you want the company, or team up to get a discount on hiring transport or doing an activity together (sometimes things cost the same if one person is doing it or four people join in).
48. And Don’t Be Afraid To Go Your Own Way.
Even if you do join up with people for a short while eventually your paths will part and you can go and do your own thing again, that is completely normal and absolutely fine. Saying goodbye to new friends is a constant part of world travel. Or if you are actually travelling with someone remember that there is absolutely nothing wrong with going and doing your own thing for a day or so. Even couples enjoy doing different things. You don’t have to be joined at the hip and in fact it can be healthy for any relationship to have a few moments apart to enjoy what you both enjoy doing.
49. Learn Some Of The Local Language.
Learning some of the local language, even if you can only manage a few basic phrases can go a hell of a long way when you travel, and really open up your travels on a whole new level that you can never experience otherwise.
No one will expect you to be completely fluent within a few days of arriving, but everyone should be able to at least manage the basics of hello, goodbye, thank you and please.
Languages may be hard, but they also give you a far deeper connection to a place and its people, even when you are really, really bad at it, and trying to learn and speak the local language shows respect and courtesy to the people you are visiting on your travels.
50. Ask Your Hostel, Guesthouse Or Hotel For A Business Card.
If you are of exploring a new destination and get a little lost, it is easy to ask directions to get back home or just hop in a taxi and you’ll be home in a flash, right? Well not if you can’t remember the name of where you are staying (it does happen), the driver has never heard of it (but would recognise the address, if you knew it) or the language barrier crops up and they can’t understand you! Showing them a business card with the address written on usually helps negate those problems.
51. Ask Permission When Taking A Photo.
Remember that just because these are your travels and you have that awesome DSLR, it isn’t your automatic right to take a photo. Some destinations have cultural or religious sensitivities and many people may just not want their photo taken at all. I mean how would you like it if a bunch of tourists constantly shoved a camera in your face as you were going about your daily business? Just ask, or smile and gesture with the camera if you struggle with the language. It is just polite.
52. Keep An Eye Out For Local Holidays And Events.
Doing your research before you head to a destination, especially if you are travelling long term and don’t have specific arrival dates in mind is important for two main reasons. The first is obviously you don’t want to miss out on any special holidays or once in a lifetime events, but on the other side of the coin you don’t want to be caught by surprise if every local floods to the same place you are and all the accomodation and transport options fill up and get really expensive.
53. Avoid Taxis As Much As Possible.
No obviously sometimes they are necessary and there are obvious exceptions to this rule, like if you land in a new destination late at night and are tired and just want to get to your hotel, but most of the time taxis are completely unnecessary, often way overpriced and usually the source of many backpackers biggest problems. If you get taxis everywhere you will blow your budget very quickly! It is much better to use public transport as much as possible, you will get a whole different experience of the place you are in by travelling by public transport, and using taxi alternatives such as uber or grab on the rare occassions they are necessary.
54. You Don’t Have To Pre Book Accommodation.
This is something that seems to have been forgotten in the age of wifi, smartphones and booking apps, but there was once a time when backpackers had an independent adventurous spirit, and they would land in a new destination without a plan, look for a place to stay there and then and barter a rate for a bed that suited them! The big secret is with some obvious exceptions you can and should still do that! And sometimes barter great savings in the process!
55. But Pre Book Your First Few Nights In A New Destination.
At the start of your trip, or if you are flying into a new country, it is always a good idea to book the first night or two just to give yourself a bit of comfort and time to acclimatize to your new destination.
56. Expect Things To Go Wrong.
Things will go wrong on your travels, they just will. You will miss that flight, your bus will break down, you may lose something important or that awesome must see site is closed at the time you are visiting. It happens. It is how you deal with it that counts.
Learn some patience and how to roll with the punches. It is all part of the adventure, and that is the point. Yes sometimes things go wrong on the road, sometimes you do stupid things on the spur of the moment or come across situations which at the time you may think you can’t handle, but you will make it through the other side. More importantly it is how you deal with those eventualities, how you learn and grow from them, how you let them shape you into a better, stronger, wiser person that counts.
57. Stay Calm.
When things do inevitably go wrong never, ever lose your temper. It just makes you look like a dick. Take a breath, stay calm, and remember that one day you will get a great travel story out of it!
58. Be Prepared For The Bad Days.
All of us at some point will have bad days, we are only human after all, and travellers aren’t immune to that either. In contrast to the endless stream of perfect sunsets and happy, long dress flowing snapshots on Instagram, travellers can also get tired, feel grumpy after a long day exploring, get sick, feel lonely, feel homesick, in fact any number of things that are guaranteed to make us have a bad day. But it is important to remember that it is completely normal.
Sometimes it is important to take a step back, recognise the fact you aren’t having the best day and just deal with it. Take the time you need to get yourself back to normal, have a nap, go to the gym, hydrate yourself and rest, whatever it may be that you need to do, just do. Then you can get back to living in the present and enjoying the amazing places you are travelling to.
59. Have A You Day Once In A While.
I know you are travelling the world, I know that you are in a tropical paradise, or a stones throw away from that awesome site you have always wanted to see, I know that you have spent years saving up and preparing for this, but yes, it is okay to take some time away from all that and just sit in your room and binge watch some Netflix or find a spot on the beach and read a book, or just go for a run! Whatever it is you love doing in your downtime, it is okay to just want to be on your own and do whatever makes you happy sometimes too. That awesome adventure will still be there tomorrow.
60. Give Yourself Some Decompression Time.
When you first start your trip, or you take a long flight to a new country or continent in the middle of it, every first time backpacker always does the same thing. They try to hit the ground running and give themselves a couple of days to explore the city before they head of on their grand adventure. Stop.
You need to remember the fact that you will be tired from your long flight, possibly a bit jetlagged, you will be completely disorientated by your new surroundings and probably be at risk from a little bit of culture shock too, so you need to give yourself time to adjust.
As well as booking yourself a nice private room and not worrying about having to find somewhere straight off the plane, give yourself a few days just to do nothing. Sleep, rest, relax. Get your bearings and have some real food. Just generally look after yourself. After these first few days you will feel far more rested, far more settled and far more comfortable in your surroundings. Then you can go off and explore.
61. Have A Holiday From Travel.
I know this sounds weird but trust me, a holiday and travel are two very different things. Travelling the world can be exhausting! Especially if you do it long term. Those airport security queues, long flights, early starts and epic hikes, whilst all are amazing they can be tiring too and the human body can’t go on forever no matter how awesome the activity is! It needs rest! So if you are travelling long term (or even if you are just taking a snap year) make sure you incorporate some time to take a holiday and rest. That means a long weekend or a week where you do nothing but sit on the beach, have long lies in, catch up on your reading and take plenty of naps!
62. Remember This Is Your Trip, No One Else’s.
This may seem obvious but it is a tip that is so easily forgotten in the age of Instagram and social media where everyone is constantly comparing themselves to everyone else’s travels. You don’t need to recreate those picture perfect and curated shots on Instagram, you don’t need to travel in the same way as everyone else. This is your trip, don’t compare it to anyone else’s.
63. Travel Slowly.
Slow travel is more than just a buzzword, it is a way of travel, a way of life. It is a way of slowing down on your gap year and enjoying the journey as much as the destination. If you try and fit way too much into too small of a timeframe you will end up burning yourself out very quickly and seeing a lot less in the long run.
Slow down. See less countries or less sites in one trip, but see them more deeply. Stay longer in each place and really get to the heart of the culture and the communities you are visiting. Explore all you can for as long as you can. It isn’t a race you know.
64. Ditch The Itinerary.
Sometimes the best gap year experiences are not pre planned but are discovered completely by accident. You may find that you love an island or a city so much you want to stay a little longer, you may find that you may want to leave a place you are not gelling with a little early, or take a side trip to that must see island you have never heard about until a few backpackers in your last hostel told you about it. Things change on the road and it is important to have a planned itinerary flexible enough to be open to those experiences when they do happen.
65. Follow Your Own Path.
The gap year industry is awash with traditional routes, everyone does the banana pancake trail around south east Asia or the gringo trail around south America, and that is fine, those destinations are amazing and you should visit them, if those are the destinations that excite you. But don’t head somewhere that you really don’t fancy just because everyone else is going there. There isn’t any point in going to the Philippines if you really don’t like islands or beaches, there isn’t any point going on a museum tour of Paris if museums bore you. It’s great to look at suggested routes and follow others recommendations but you have to listen to your own heart and follow your own path too.
66. Don’t Forget The Visa Requirements.
When you are travelling long term and hopping from country to country, especially if you are travelling through a list of countries that accept your passport without a visa or a visa on arrival, it is really easy to forget that not every country is so easy and some may require you to apply in advance, pay upfront and take some time. It seems like such an obvious thing but I have seen a lot of backpackers caught out by this in my time.
67. Upgrade To Flashpacker Status Once In A While.
Backpacking around the world has a stereotype of cheap hostels and even cheaper street food, of sacrificing on little things like comfort and convenience in an effort to save money and stick to that all important budget so you can travel longer. Well there is some truth to that, sticking to your budget is really important and you obviously have to travel within your means. And as a self styled backpacker myself I generally love budget travel, I think it is one of the best ways to see the world.
But .. and this is a big but … You don’t always have to stick to that ultra tight budget.
Flashpacking is essentially the same as backpacking, it just means travelling in the exact same independent way, but in a bit more comfort with a bit more money.
In certain parts of the world you can get a lot of comfort for very little money, and that value deficit is very important. Yes you may be spending a little more than what you would in the dorm room by getting a private room in the hostel, but sometimes you need a little personal space so that extra pound or two may be worth it. You may come across an ultra fancy spa hotel or a unique accommodation experience which blows your nightly accommodation budget out of the water, but when will you have another opportunity to stay in absolute luxury for less than a basic, budget room back home per night? Sometimes the splurge is worth it, and it can be really good for you as well. Enjoy that nice, private room with en suite, enjoy the experience in that fancy local restaurant or let your hair down with a few fancy cocktails.
Backpacking the world is about experiencing as much as you can and having as many different experiences as possible just as much as it is about bragging that you got the cheapest of everything all the time.
68. Wake Up Early.
I’m not just talking about dragging yourself away from your bed for that sunrise tour, although sunrises are awesome and for the photographers out there the early morning light is some of the best you will get for photographing a destination. I’m talking about exploring a destination before all the crowds arrive, seeing and experiencing it in a whole new way and taking your time and people watching locals at a food court as they start their day. You can fit a lot into your day when you are up and out early!
69. Avoid The Crowds.
Part of this is picking the right time to visit popular tourist spots so you avoid the mass throng of tourists, such as travelling to the more popular places in the shoulder seasons or choosing the right time of day to visit. For example arriving at the Giza plateau as it opens and having the place to yourself for an hour or two before the dozens of package tour buses empty the crowds of sheep out around you. But another part is moving away from the touristy places altogether.
Don’t get me wrong, touristy places are popular for a reason and I would never suggest not visiting places like the Taj Mahal or the Pyramids, but once you have done that just take the time to explore the wider area too. Visit those lesser known places, see those smaller towns that tourists never visit, go to that eatery down the road from the famous place mentioned in all the guide books. Overtourism is a huge problem in many places now, and by spreading out your travels and exploring a wider field is what independent travel and backpacking is all about!
70. Push Yourself Out Of Your Comfort Zone.
Travelling the world is all about challenging yourself and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone but it is surprising how many travellers stay inside a bubble of their own comfort zone. Make sure you do as much as you can as often as you can to push yourself out of that and do something you never thought you could or never thought you would! Even if it is only a little bit at a time. If you are not used to outdoor activities or adventure sports, get a guide and hike up that mountain! Afraid of the ocean? Take a PADI course. Nervous and shy? Talk to a stranger or two at your hostel. It really doesn’t matter what it is, they are your comfort zones after all, but make sure you push yourself. If you do, you will come back from your trip a bigger, better, tougher and ultimately more awesome version of yourself!
71. Don’t Be Afraid To Blow The Budget Once In A While.
Sticking to your budget is important, don’t get me wrong, but every once in a while you will come across an experience so epic, an adventure that is quite literally so once in a lifetime, that it is worth splurging on.
Part of the whole point of travelling the world is to have these awesome adventures and create memories that are worth looking back on, it would be such a shame if you travelled all that way and missed out on something incredible just because you didn’t budget well enough.
You can easily plan for these eventualities in a few ways, by very slightly overplanning your daily budgets (and then being savvy enough to come under that daily budget for a while meaning you end up with a surplus), blowing the budget a little and then tightening your belt for a few days or weeks afterwards to compensate, or finally by having a separate ‘awesome adventure fund’ that only gets dipped into for such eventualities. Or even better a combination of all the above!
72. Expand Your Skill Set.
Taking a gap year is an awesome way to improve yourself in so many different ways, not least of which is by adding a few extra strings to your bow. It doesn’t matter what it is exactly, learn a martial art, take a cooking class, learn a language, the list is endless and depends on what you are interested in personally, but having an extra skill set or two is one of the best souvenirs of your travels you can get!
73. Do A Little Work.
I’m not talking about settling down and getting a proper job here, I’m talking about just a few under the radar side hustles that can help you extend your travels and pay for an upgrade in accommodation once in a while or that extra experience or even last nights bar bill. The possibilities are absolutely endless for earning a little cash on the side, especially in recent years wit the rise of location independent working on the internet, but there are still the old classics you can revert back to. I’ve known backpackers who cut other travellers hair in hostels for a bit of cash, and I for example used to occasionally teach self defence or martial arts classes to backpackers just by advertising in the hostel I was staying at. There is always a way!
74. Look Into A Working Holiday Visa.
If you want to take work to the next level and extend your travels by living and working in one country for a while, then you can always get a work specific visa. The ease and type of job you get (and how much money you earn) will depend on what skills and qualifications you have but there are always ways to find a way to combine work and travel. The best thing about this is you get to experience a culture far more deeply by living in it, you can earn real money as you travel and it can even boost your CV and help your long term career when you get back home.
75. Hone Your CV.
At some point your gap year will end, and whilst it doesn’t have to be the last one by a long shot you will probably have to return to work sooner or later. Taking a gap year to travel the world can make your CV look great and even help your career, if you know how to spin it right.
76. Put Down Your Phone And Camera On Occasion.
It can be tempting to view your gap year or round the world trip almost entirely through a screen or lens. Don’t. It is really important that you are mindful enough to just put the camera down once in a while, log off all your social media and just be present in the moment.
As the ever wise Bill and Ted once said, “the best place to be, is here. The best time to be, is now.”
This is your one chance, your one shot at this adventure, and you have spent a lot of time, money and effort to be here! Don’t miss it by scrolling through your social media updates.
77. Switch Off The Wifi.
Wifi is a great thing, it really is. It offers so much to modern travellers that it – along with the devices that people access it with – has genuinely has changed the way people travel. But I count myself lucky to have started travelling the world back when internet cafe’s were only just a thing and you had to specifically seek out getting on the internet, back when you had nothing to continuously suck you out of the moment and no social media constantly demanding attention, back when you had no choice but to simply be in your surroundings and take it all in. It is good to get back to that sometimes.
78. Learn To Enjoy Eating Alone.
If you are travelling solo then odds are at some point you will have to eat alone, and this is one of many solo travellers biggest concerns. But the truth is you will get used to it and it will be fine, but try and go beyond that, learn to enjoy eating alone! Enjoy your own company, enjoy the peace and quiet and the time to savour your food with only your own thoughts to keep you company.
79. Join The Longest Line For Street Food.
Street food all over the world is some of the best food you will ever eat and in integral part of exploring the culture, and whether you are at a food truck, street stall or food court, if there is a long line of locals you can guarantee the food is going to be great, so join that line and see for yourself!
80. Avoid The Touristy Restaurants.
If a restaurant is in a touristy area, has menus in half a dozen languages and there are touts trying to drag you into them, then odds are they won’t be the best places to eat. They may be absolutely fine, but they are often a lot more expensive and usually have worse food and service because they are just for tourists. You would be much better finding a place a short distance away that is full of locals.
81. Try All The Cuisine You Can At Least Once.
When faced with an array of dishes you have never heard of before it can be tempting to stick to what you know, or find something you like and keep having that, but try and be brave with your choices and try something completely new and different at least once a week! Or more!
82. Learn To Haggle.
Haggling is an essential skill for any backpacker but it is one that many travellers struggle with. If you don’t want to pay the tourist price for everything, you are going to have to get used to it. The best way to haggle is to remember that haggling is normal and expected, and treat it like a bit of a game.
83. But Don’t Be A Cheap Dick.
Haggling is important but at the same time it is really important that you don’t start arguing over every last penny. There really is no need to be that cheap. The vendor is just trying to make a living at the end of the day and it is just a dick move to spend an hour arguing over a penny. It is far better for both sides that you arrive at a price that you are both happy with. Yes you may have gotten that item a bit cheaper but so what? If you are both happy does it really matter?
84. Support Local Businesses.
Independent travel can have such a positive impact on the local economy, and in an age of overtourism this is far more important than ever before. Instead of staying in large international chain hotels or using companies where the profits get sent abroad and locals don’t see a penny of it, just choose instead to stay in a local, family run guesthouse, eat at the small local restaurant, hire a local guide recommended by the guesthouse or hostel you are staying in, you get the point. Make sure your travels have a positive impact by making a series of simple, easy day to day choices.
85. Local Temples And Religious Sites Are Not Just Your Instagram Backdrops.
Before you visit any temple or religious site do a little research beforehand and learn about the history, customs and significance of the site, and understand the relevance of the site you are visiting and know the rules around the dress codes and where it is and isn’t okay to take photos. I mean don’t get me wrong there is nothing wrong with taking photos at all, you just have to be a little respectful. You will not only enjoy the experience of visiting the site so much more but you won’t run the risk of being one of those annoying, disrespectful tourists.
86. Back Up Your Photos. Often.
One of the most precious souvenirs of your travels are all the photos you take along the way, and the last thing you want to do is have something happen to the phone, camera or memory card they are all stored on and lose everything!
Trust me, I have seen this happen to more than one backpacker and it can be absolutely devastating. Months and months of travel, country after country of memories, gone in an instant.
There are so many ways to back up your data now, duplicate memory cards kept in a safe place or sent home, portable hard drives, backed up onto a travel laptop or uploaded to the cloud. Any one of these are good, more than one is better.
87. Get Lost.
Travel is all about the adventure, and there is no better way to get to the heart of a new destination than simply wandering around the streets with no specific destination in mind and getting lost! You never know what you’ll find! You can always grab a taxi back to your hostel or guesthouse as a last resort if you really can’t find your way back.
Smile a lot, it is the universal language of friendship and connection. It is the perfect icebreaker, it helps overcome language barriers and deescalates potentially risky situations, and locals are more receptive to you when you flash your smile at them.
89. Read A Book.
Reading a book set in your destination, either a fiction novel by a celebrated author or one that delves into the destinations rich history and culture will frame your trip and give you a deeper experience.
90. Break Up Your Long Haul Flights.
Long haul flights are not the most comfortable at the best of times, but breaking them up into a shorter series of flights can have more benefits than saving a numb backside and a bit of boredom. Non direct long haul flights can be a lot cheaper than direct, and by extending the time in your layover destinations you can add an extra city break or two to your longer trip.
91. Use A VPN.
A VPN has become an absolute necessity in recent years. Most people now will be connecting to the almost ubiquitous free wifi everywhere they travel, whether on a smartphone or a laptop, and using a VPN will protect you from hackers, viruses and a whole host of nasty stuff. Plus it will also let you stream your favourite Netflix shows without annoying country blocks.
92. Take A Notepad And Pen.
I know, how horribly old fashioned! But hear me out, whether you just scribble down notes of the names of that awesome food court you found or potential hostels to stay in, you use it as a full blown journal or even scribble down ideas for that novel you have always wanted to get out there, an old pad and pen is a lifesaver!
93. Accept Every Invite.
Now this comes with a big disclaimer that obviously you should use your common sense here and trust your gut when it comes to your safety, and every invite should be viewed with a veil of caution, but some of my best travel memories have come from impromptu invites to underground clubs or random nights out, invites to join in a trek to a random attraction or dinner in local homes. And trust me, if you ever get invited to join a drinking game in a Russian bar or join the hotel bar staff for some homemade moonshine after closing time, then it would seem foolish to turn them down for an early night in bed!
94. Guesthouse Laundries Are The Best.
Travelling light means only having a week or so worth of clothes with you, and that means having to wash them. Many backpackers swear by washing their clothes in hostel sinks, but frankly if you find a great family run guesthouse they often do laundry as well and in places like south America and south east Asia are seriously cheap and convenient. For such a tiny portion of your weekly budget they are a convenience that are well worth paying for!
95. Remember That People Are Generally Good.
There are a lot of people out there who have less than honourable intentions, there are people who will want to scam you or fleece you of a bit of money, but it is important to remember that the vast majority of people you will meet on the road will be good. When you have spent a few days dealing with touts and the taxi mafias it can be easy to become jaded about people, but as long as you have your wits about you and are aware of common scams and tricks, you should be fine. Just don’t let that caution become paranoia and stop it from letting you trust people.
96. Always Have A Portable Phone Charger.
Phone batteries get used up pretty quick and have a habit of dying at the most inconvenient times, so always make sure you have a portable charger and usb cable with you.
97. And A Spare Camera Battery.
For the exact same reason as above they are well worth the extra expense because you will run out of battery and it will by default be at the most awkward, inopportune and annoying moment.
98. Reinvent Yourself.
A gap year is a time for self reflection and figuring out who you are, but it is also a time of letting go of all your inhibitions and expectations that society back home had placed on you. Nobody knows you here, and they may not believe you are an actual astronaut on a career break but this is your chance to completely reinvent yourself! Nobody knows how you did in your exams, what you did for work, they don’t know what your future plans are or what your background is, they don’t care if you let loose and make a fool of yourself on that hostel bar crawl or if you kissed too many girls, or guys, or both, on it. No one cares, and everyone – including you – will move on and carry on travelling soon anyway. Gap years are truly liberating and they give you the freedom to figure out who you really are and who you really want to be. Take advantage of it.
99. Keep An Open Mind.
Part of the point of world travel is to open your mind and expand your paradigms through having your own beliefs challenged and seeing things from different viewpoints, that is why it is important to listen, learn and don’t judge the lifestyles and customs of others if they are different to your own.
Be open minded, ask questions, embrace different paradigms. You don’t always have to agree, you may find different societal norms and beliefs that fundamentally oppose your own paradigms, but it is not your place to judge them by your own standards or your own societal norms as a traveller. You are a visitor in their home, not the other way round.
100. Make Up Your Own Rules!
Finally remember, this is your gap year! Do it any way you want!
Get The Books.
Did you enjoy these tips? If you want to gain a more in depth knowledge and understanding about how to plan and take your own gap year, and keep yourself safe when travelling the world, then you need these indispensable books. Not only do they contain the in depth knowledge and experience of 20 years of travelling the world, they also hold safety advice from ex military personnel and close protection experts, as well as travel health advice from a qualified nurse. If you are just dreaming of travelling the world or you are in the process of planning your gap year, make sure you get your copies here now.
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.
A Guide For Settling Into The Backpacking Lifestyle.
No Great Story Ever Starts With I Stayed At Home.
No One Wishes They Travelled Less When They Die.
Turn Your Gap Year Dreams Into Reality.
Warning! Reading This Can Be Extremely Hazardous To Your Comfort Zone!
Wow! That is one epic list! Thanks so much for sharing them all, I’ve followed your site for a long time now and it’s always an inspiration. 😊
Thanks Lauren! I really appreciate that!
This is such a treasure trove of information! I think you covered pretty much everything and I love the mix of inspiration and practical.
Thanks so much and I hope I covered everything, I can’t imagine anything I missed. Can anyone else think of anything?
20 years of travel! Wow! Seriously that is just amazing. I wish I had your life. How many countries have you visited?
Around 120 I think off the top of my head Sarah, that’s not including all the countries I keep going back to of course!
I am planning a two month long backpacking trip around Thailand and Vietnam in the summer and your site has been invaluable already, this has really made me think about a lot of things I hadn’t even thought of. Thanks so much.
That’s awesome Joanne, enjoy the trip and hopefully this makes things go a little smoother for you!
Love the tip about the VPN, nice one! Is there any you would recommend?
None in particular Eric. I’d say definitely get one but shop around to find the right one for you.:)
This is amazing! 20 years of travel! That is one amazing life.
Thanks Caroline, it certainly has been so far!
Yes to trying the local cuisine! I have friends who travel a little and will never venture away from KFC or McDonalds and I think it is such a waste.
I know what you mean, there’s nothing wrong with a once in a while treat if you need something familiar but don’t stick to it all the time!
Great tips, I love your site (and trust your advice) precisely because you have been traveling for so long. There are just too many blogs out now with people who are giving advice but are only a few months into their first year long trip. Keep up the good work.
Thanks Sam, I don’t disagree with you. Every blog has its place of course but I’ll call your moniker of expert into doubt if you have only been travelling a couple of months and I’m less likely to believe your ‘ultimate’ guide if you only passed through a city on a layover.
I just stumbled across your blog and I absolutely loved this list. So many adventures and tips
Thank you Miska
Congrats on the twenty years! Love the basic clothes tip, thats what I normally do myself, two shorts, one long pants and a week of T shirts, all in basic earth colours
Thanks so much, and I pretty much do the same!
Thank you for all your tips! I am going on my own gap year very soon and hope to start a blog with it! I am really looking forward to it and just wanted to say you are a huge inspiration!
Aw thank you so much Mel that means a lot! Hope you enjoy your gap year and good luck with your blog!
20 years! That is insane!
It feels it!
What an awesome piece. Great job!
So many tips! 20 years of travel is just amazing, so well done!
LOVE number 12! Low key gangsta!
Love these tips, especially the ones you wouldnt normally think of like wake up early! I love exploring city centres just before everywhere opens, you get a whole different experience!
That is so true! I love doing that too, especially for major touristy spots.
The one thing I disagree with is those travel towels! They are rubbish! Haha
They aren’t that bad! Haha! Yeah they don’t dry you as well as a normal one does I agree but the fact that they dry so quick and you don’t have to carry around a damp towel in your pack if you have to be on the move more than makes up for that.
Love this! It is so amazing that you have managed to travel for 20 years! And do as much as you have done too!
Thank you so much!
Hope in 20 years time I can be living a life like this!
I’m sure you will!
You are genuinely an inspiration. I can’t wait till this pandemic is over so I can travel again!
Thank you so much Laura, I think a lot of people are feeling exactly the same way, myself included!