Are you gearing up for your first solo backpacking adventure? You can’t help but feel excited, plus a little nervous. I have lots of trips under my belt, so I’m going to alleviate your nerves by giving you some tips. These are the things I wish I’d known before I took my first solo backpacking trip.
Only Take Essential Gear
If you’re like me, sometimes, you like to pack like you’re never coming home when you go on vacation. That’s great for a trip to a hotel in NYC, but it’s not so wise for a solo backpacking trip.
I always lay out my gear and sort it into piles — the musts, the maybes, and the nos — and only take the essentials.
What I’ve found is, if an item is only a “maybe,” I don’t need to bring it on a backpacking trip with me. The less weighed down I am, the faster I can move between places.
Be Smart When Packing
I learned an important lesson during my first backpacking trip. You have to pack your backpack correctly, or it’s hard to find gear and your back will hurt.
I like to use a backpack with five sections. I put my spare cables and cords in the bottom, my underwear in one side compartment, and my socks and pajamas in the other side.
I fill my main compartment with my clothes and put the toiletries on the top. And if I have anything heavy, I make sure to put it the closest to my back, so I don’t get backaches.
The first time I took a backpacking trip, I planned everything down to the exact time. I had a schedule to follow, and I was going to do it, no matter what.
And do you know what? About three days in, I forgot my plan and listened for the call of adventure. I determine when I will travel to each city, but other than that, I keep my schedule wide open.
Store Your Gear for More Freedom
If you intend to have a full day exploring an area, store your gear. You can do that by booking a hostel and leaving it there or using a luggage storage company, such as Bounce.
You can find options all over the world. Whether you need luggage storage in San Francisco or in a smaller city, it’s a valuable service.
I’ve backpacked to lots of remote areas without Wi-Fi connections, so I’ve learned to bring offline maps with me wherever I go.
I don’t like paper maps, though. I download Google Maps ahead of time, so I can access them offline when I take solo backpacking trips. Offline maps for backpacking make it easy to embrace each adventure.
But if you don’t want to rely on your device’s battery, you can use paper maps. Either way, you won’t need a Wi-Fi signal.
Check Your Passport
A friend of mine went backpacking one time, only to decide to stay longer than he initially planned. His passport expired when he was in a foreign country, and while I won’t bore you with the details, let’s just say it was a huge hassle for him to get back home
As a general rule, I never go on a solo backpacking trip unless my passport doesn’t expire for at least six months. If it’s set to expire earlier than that, I go ahead and renew it.
They say that a mistake is just a learning experience, and I’m glad my friend made that mistake so I could learn from it!
Pack Copies of Your Documents
I always make copies of my travel documents when backpacking. No matter how careful I am, I know that I can lose something or my gear could get stolen. Making copies of your travel documents when backpacking makes it easier to replace them if the need arises.
I always make copies of my:
- Visa, if applicable
- Driver’s License
- Health insurance card
- Credit cards
I have another true story for you, but this time, it involves me. I was backpacking in a foreign country and using my debit card to get around. This sounds crazy, but apparently, the entire town’s credit card network went down.
I couldn’t use my card for anything, including getting cash out of the ATM.
Now, I always bring cash with me when backpacking solo. I don’t load myself down with it, but it’s there in case of emergencies. I rely on my cards as long as they work, but if anything goes wrong, I have my stash of cash with me.
So, the first time I went backpacking, I figured I’d check in from time to time, but didn’t really have a plan. When I finally got to a place with phone service, I had about 100 calls from my mom, sure I was lying dead in a ditch somewhere.
She just doesn’t have the backpacking spirit!
But I did learn that it’s important to have a communication plan. I map out hostels, hotels, and public spots with Wi-Fi access ahead of time and give my family and friends an idea of when I’ll check in. They feel better, and I have to admit it takes some stress off me, as well.
Get Travel Insurance
I know, I know. Backpacking is all about freedom, so you don’t want to think about things like insurance. But take my word for it. Travel insurance for backpackers is a must-buy. I always get a policy that covers the adventures I plan to take on during my trip.
Learn the Language
Now, I don’t take a master class in a new language before I grab my gear and go, but I do learn the basics before each adventure. Learning the language helps me understand the culture, and, more importantly, I don’t look like an idiot when trying to understand the locals.
I’ve also found that learning the basic language when backpacking:
- Makes traveling easier.
- Helps me meet people.
- Allows me to slip to out of sticky situations faster.
One of the best parts of solo backpacking trips? Making friends! I love meeting people that I can share my adventure with, and many of my backpacking buddies have become lifelong friends.
To make friends when backpacking, I:
- Go on hosted events via Airbnb.
- Stay in hostels.
- Take free walking tours.
- Use social travel apps.
Give it a try, so you can make some lifelong friends of your own!