The Virgin Backpacker’s Guide

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The first time is always the scariest. You’ve heard your friends rave about how incredible it is for the past year, and now you are about to take the plunge. Everyone has been bombarding you with their wisdom and providing all the newest tips and tricks, and you are starting to doubt yourself and your abilities. Your parents are uneasy and worried, and you are starting to think you might not come out the other side.

Sickness, excitement and pure terror comes over you when anyone mentions the word.


When putting off a getting an adult job (argh) for another year discovering the life beyond England is the ultimate right of passage. Let’s be honest – it is absolutely terrifying. Whether you are going it alone, or with friends, it’s never just a case of hopping on the plane and expecting to tumble across a totally awesome beach, cheap drinks and people you will befriend for life.

You aren’t about to jet off for a military style holiday with pre-scheduled toilet breaks and want to be able to largely go with the flow, but preparation beforehand can save you stress and more importantly money.

Seasoned backpacker Emily Cockerill stressed how crucial it is that you shop around before booking flights.

Emily, who has backpacked around the big 3; America, Australia and Asia, says, “Big travel agent companies, even the student ones like STA, make commission from every flight you book through them, meaning the overall price of your flights will be much higher. Whilst it might feel more secure going through an agent, simply looking at flights on sites like SkyScanner the night before your appointment will give you a general price idea.”

“Once you’ve got the base price, you can bargain with the travel agents to get the price lowered,” she adds.

Money can be one of the biggest stresses about backpacking; it’s expensive to book flights, expensive to book nice accommodation and expensive to be able to do the best day trips. But, don’t let rule out the things you really want to do because of cost.

Although it may seem like every man and his dog is a backpacker, the opportunity to see the world really is an incredibly special and limited one. You won’t be able to take off around the world without a planned returned date when in a 9-5 desk job, so make the most of it.

Pre-planning can make the difference between sitting on the beach watching people skydive over the Great Barrier Reef and being in that plane. Travel blogger Sophie Davies says, “If you plan your trip well you should be able to budget your travels just like you budget your life back at home. Research how much hostels are, how much dinner is each night, how much activities will cost and work out a daily average amount you expect to be spending. And then just have a contingency fund for emergencies or splurges.”

Whilst it may be tempting to pack everything and the kitchen sink to ensure you are prepared for every eventuality, I guarantee you will hate yourself for it two days into your trip. There’s no parents to wheel around your suitcase for you, you quite literally have to carry it all on your own back.

Sophie says, “My top three items are an iPhone, a journal and first aid pack. It is incredible how good the quality of images from camera phones are these days, in some cases I rarely use my camera as the iPhone quality is so good. iPhones are also really useful for keeping notes, saving travel documents and much more. A journal is always good to document your trip in because in 10 years’ time when your kids want to see where you’ve been it’s a great piece of memorabilia. A first aid pack helps you get over anything, specifically paracetamol for those killer Chang hangovers”.

Just because you are half way across the world doesn’t mean you can’t go shopping; MBK mall in Bangkok is every student’s paradise. It has 8 stories of the best fake designer clobber around, leaving empty handed is a rarity. Packing sensibly could mean the difference between buying the perfect Mulberry purse and not.

“On my first trip I packed so many things I didn’t need. Toiletries tend to be where people always go wrong, you can buy absolutely everything whilst you are there. Travel size bottles are a good idea if you are arriving early or late in a new place. Girls should really steer clear of packing hairdryers as well, it’s so hot that your hair dries quickly by itself,” Emily says.

She also recommends against taking a sleeping bag, although you might think it ensures comfort, in a lot of the hostels you can’t use them because of bed bugs. Trust us, you do not want to be carrying around an infested sleeping bag.

(Like the majority of 6 or 8 legged creatures, bed bugs are gross. You will get bitten by them. The sooner you accept this fact the happier you will be.)

 There are so many parts of backpacking that are terrifying, and if you aren’t a little bit nervous you wouldn’t be normal. But, despite the bed bugs, the budgeting, and the endless bus journeys, it will be by far the best experience of your life. Every person you come across will tell you a different do or don’t, (much like this article), but the best advice we can give on surviving travelling is to just do it.

Jump out of a plane, trek through a rainforest, drink goon from noon till night. Meet new people, explore new places, discover things you never knew about yourself.

Your first time is never perfect, but it is always memorable and will always leave you wanting more.


To see more of Sophie’s travels and her trip across South East Asia, Australia and New Zealand visit her travel website and follow her on Twitter at @TheNomadicBP, Facebook and on Instagram  

Kate Parker