Looking for the best backpacking hacks?
You’ve come to the right article as I’m a full-time backpacker and I’ve visited over 20 countries on a budget.
Backpacking is one of the most popular forms of budget travelling, and in my opinion, the best kind!
It’s a great way to travel cheaply, but it’s also really practical to have a backpack. It’s much easier to move than a suitcase.
But there are some things that are annoying about backpacking unless you know how to overcome them.
So to help you on your way, here are some of the best backpacking hacks and tips I have come across as a full-time backpacker.
Backpacking is a great way to save money on luggage on a plane, as most backpacks count as a carry-on. And as I said in the intro, it’s much more convenient than a suitcase.
There are so many backpacking hacks that can make a backpacking trip significantly easier, more comfortable or in some cases, better.
You’ll learn so many things while backpacking, and you’ll develop your own tips and tricks. But without further ado, here are some of the best tips I can think of for a first-time backpacker, or a seasoned backpacker alike.
1. Pack light
The number one and best tip I can give for backpackers is to pack light.
There is an old saying for long-term travel: Whatever you pack, half it. Whatever you budget, double it.
Personally, I only agree with half of that phrase, and it’s the first half. You likely don’t need everything you pack.
You can find my full backpacking packing checklist which provides a checklist for the essentials.
Packing light also allows you to have room in your bag to bring home any souvenirs or collectables. For example, I like to keep some free leaflets I get from attractions, some people collect keyrings, magnets, etc.
2. Only have a rough plan
A common “mistake” (although I don’t like using that word- everyone likes to travel differently) I see amongst long-term travellers is having a day-by-day schedule.
I strongly recommend against this.
Have a plan, sure. But don’t plan 3 months of travel down to the day.
You don’t know what’s going to happen, who you’re going to meet, or what other things you might find to do.
For example, on one of my first solo trips, which was to Rome, I had booked things for almost every day. This meant that I couldn’t join newly made friends who went out for drinks, instead, I was committed to a tour of the Stadio Olimpico, the sports stadium.
One of the best benefits of travelling alone is you have complete freedom and flexibility.
If you allow an open plan, it means you can do whatever you want, whenever you want to. I recommend only planning places you want to go. I don’t even suggest planning the number of days.
An example, many people begin backpacking Thailand with a week in Bangkok. Personally, I think this is too many days, and 3-4 days would be better suited. On the other hand, you may find a place you love and want to stay longer.
With an open plan, it’s also easier to change plans while on the move. Going back to the Rome example, I made two really good friends in my hostel, who both were coincidentally going to Florence after Rome. If my plans weren’t so set in stone, I likely would have joined them in Florence.
3. Stay in hostels
This one may be a bit obvious, but if you are a backpacker, you likely want to save money.
One of the biggest expenses while travelling is accommodation, and hostels provide a cheap solution.
There are lots of differences between a hostel and a hostel and each has its advantages, but a hostel is cheap and you want cheap, right?
But what is also great about hostel life is that you are pretty much guaranteed to meet like-minded people. Staying in a hostel makes it so easy to make new friends.
Before my first stay in a hostel, I had read how easy it was to meet new people. But I never quite grasped how easy it really is until I stayed in a hostel. It’s super easy and you will meet so many amazing new people, I promise!
And if you are concerned about safety, you can read my post on “are hostels safe?” but to summarise, you don’t have anything to be concerned about, for the most part.
4. Eat street food
Another big expense while travelling can be food if you allow it to be.
Eating street food is one of the best backpacking hacks there are. Not only does it save you money (if you are backpacking Southeast Asia, you can expect to pay like $2 for a full meal!) but it also means you are eating more authentic, and usually more delicious food!
And don’t worry, the rumours that you will get food poisoning aren’t as likely as people like to make out. After all, you are literally watching your food being cooked in front of you.
5. Be open-minded
As a backpacker, you NEED to have an open mind. It’s simply a must when travelling long-term.
This means that you won’t judge people based on first impressions (let’s be honest with ourselves, we have all done this at some point), you embrace new experiences and you immerse yourself in the local culture.
For example, someone backpacking Brazil may not be particularly outdoorsy, but it would be a sin to visit Brazil without heading into the Amazon.
I’m not saying throw yourself into things that you don’t enjoy or will make you uncomfortable, but simply be willing to learn, be willing to try new things.
One of my favourite phrases I’ve picked up from travelling is hakuna matata. Yes, that’s the phrase from the Lion King. But if you delve into its actual meaning of no worries, and the philosophies of going with the flow and not letting anything fluster you, it’s a great attitude to have while travelling.
6. Bring a day bag
Unless you are backpacking with a small 20L backpack, you likely won’t want to carry around a huge backpack all day.
So as a solution, bring a smaller bag with you that you can use as a day bag. I can’t stress how thankful I am for this backpacking hack. Backpacks for long term travel are heavy. I don’t want to carry that around all day.
A string-drawn bag, bumbag/fanny pack, etc. all do the trick. Just something that you can put whatever you need for the day in. Personally, I use a bag like the one shown below. It’s also a backpack as a carry on so it means I don’t have to pay for luggage!
7. Get a microfibre towel
Since you want to pack as light as possible, getting a microfibre towel is a must-have for any backpacker.
Most hostels will give you towels, but on the occasion when a hostel doesn’t, you want to have an alternative without carrying around a huge bulky towel everywhere you go.
Microfibre towels are lightweight, small, and dry super quickly after you use them.
It’s not a life of luxury, but it’s definitely a backpacking hack.
8. Learn some basic phrases
Before visiting a new country, it’s always a good idea to learn some basic phrases.
Things like “hello”, “thank you”, “please”, etc., not only show manners but show a bit of effort on your part.
Particularly in countries where the language isn’t so common, so in Southeast Asia for example, you really see the effect your effort has. The locals’ smiles are so warm when they see you (let’s be honest, likely badly) attempt to speak their language.
A small effort goes a long way. I hate cliches but this one is true.
In some places, such as if you are backpacking the Gringo Trail, English may not be widely spoken and you need to learn some of the local language, Spanish in this case, to get around.
9. Get a padlock
Hostels do have lockers for you to store your stuff. But hostels do not have padlocks to lock the lockers.
So make sure you carry a padlock with you on your backpacking trip. It’s one of the most basic backpacking hacks.
Bonus tip: Get a padlock with a code to unlock it, not a key. I’ve made that mistake before.
10. Use Skyscanner
As we’ve established, backpackers want to save as much money on travel as possible.
So that’s why booking flights through Skyscanner is essential.
When I tell someone about Skyscanner who isn’t familiar with it, I describe it as a search engine for flights.
You put in where you are flying from, where you are flying to and the dates, and it finds the cheapest possible flights. It’s often significantly cheaper than booking directly with airlines.
Not to mention the incredible other features such as not choosing a destination. You can then search for the cheapest flights from your local airport to anywhere in the world.
It also helps if you can be flexible with your dates of travel. But whether you are flying domestically or a flight across the world, always use Skyscanner.
11. Take advantage of free tours
Whenever I visit a new place, one of the first things I always do is take a free walking tour. My personal preference is FreeTour.
Taking the tour allows you to see the highlights and most touristy spots, and learn a bit about the destination too.
While the tour guides do expect tips, tips of $5 compared to a $50 paid tour which usually offers a similar experience, it’s a no-brainer for me.
I especially love this tip when taking on a more expensive trip, like a backpacking trip in Europe which costs a lot compared to other parts of the world.
12. Bring flip flops
A top backpacking hack is to pack flip-flops. They are a necessity for long-term travel.
There are 3 advantages of bringing flip-flops or similar sandals:
- Light footwear, small to pack, wear in good weather
- Beaches with stones/rocks/shells or other sharp things
- Hostel bathrooms
To add to the last point, most people who have stayed in a hostel will advise you to wear flip-flops in the bathroom. It’s simply because you don’t know how other people clean up after themself in the bathroom, and personally, I’d rather not stand in a shower someone has peed in.
13. Respect the local culture
Unfortunately, in the modern world where backpacking and long-term travel is as popular as ever, there are many people who join this way of life with the wrong attitude.
I hate to generalise, especially as someone in media myself, but it tends to be people who are travelling for Instagram photos, not for the experiences.
Disclaimer: I’m not saying we shouldn’t all take unreal pics for Insta, we definitely should! But for some people, it’s top of their priority list instead of the experience itself.
So while this isn’t exactly a backpacking hack, it’s important that when travelling, you need to respect the local culture; abide by the cultural rules in the area. For example, in Southeast Asia, dress appropriately in the temples.
There are lots of pros and cons of backpacking, but experiencing the local culture is definitely one of the big pros, so make sure to respect it.
14. Don’t book direct with Hostelworld
While Hostelworld is great, and I am an affiliate for them, meaning I get money if you book a hostel through my link (so I’m shooting myself in the foot by telling you this backpacking hack), it’s not the best idea to book directly on Hostelworld.
Hostelworld is the best website in the world for finding hostels, without a doubt, no dispute. But on many occasions, you can likely book cheaper with the hostel directly.
If you find a hostel you like on Hostelworld, google the name of it. See if they have their own website where you can book directly. If they do, chances are that it’s cheaper.
If they don’t, see if they have a phone number where you can book a stay over the phone. Again, chances are, that it’s going to be cheaper.
So my advice is to use Hostelworld as a search engine to find the hostel you want to stay in, and then book your stay through the hostel itself.
15. Download offline maps
You’ll want to download maps of the city or place you are staying in. You can download maps on most map apps but my preference is Maps.me.
It shows you suggestions for places to eat, among other features, and of course, it shows you maps offline too.
Having a map available is important if you are going to be navigating without reliable internet. You want to always be able to get back to your hostel, no matter what.
16. Have rest days
When travelling long term, people often burn out quite quickly.
This is because they simply do too much. So another of my backpacking hacks is to take rest days.
I know, and fully appreciate, that days spent relaxing in the hostel feel like days wasted from your adventure, but trust me, it’s better taking a day out here and then than having a full-burnout and needing a week in a hostel while you are struggling (which is not where you want to be).
Rest days allow you to relax and unwind, and reflect on your experiences so far. I’m not saying you have to stay in the hostel, but don’t jam pack your schedule. Maybe have a day where your only activity is a yoga class in the morning.
17. Ask locals for advice
One of the things I have learnt from travelling is that no matter where you are in the world, you will always find good people.
Sure, you might encounter a few rude people who dislike tourists, but most people are happy to help in any situation. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes, if you were a 60-year-old woman working in a corner store, and someone asked you for advice on where to eat, would you recommend your favourite restaurant? Of course you would!
Striking conversations with locals is one of the best ways to find hidden gems while travelling, be it for food, an activity or anything. The locals know the area best, so make use of their knowledge. You never know where it could lead, you might even make a new friend in the process.
18. Leave the valuables at home
Somewhat related to the pack light point is to leave your valuables at home. Often I see people travelling with their phone, iPad, MacBook, and sometimes even more devices.
In my opinion, the only device you need is your phone. You can use it for communication like facetime, entertainment like Netflix, anything you need.
Unless you are working nomadically, and then you need a laptop too. Other devices, leave them at home.
They are only taking up space you don’t need, and why risk something getting lost or stolen unnecessarily?
The same goes for fancy watches, trainers, etc. Do you really need them?
19. Get a local SIM Card
While we’re on the topic of technology, one of my favourite backpacking hacks is to get a local SIM card.
Depending on where you are backpacking, they are usually very cheap for large amounts of mobile data. It saves you splashing out on international roaming charges from your normal phone.
The only downside is that it means your phone number changes. Of course, make sure to keep your original SIM card.
If you prefer to keep your normal SIM card in your phone, you may opt for an eSIM. An eSIM works exactly like a normal SIM card, meaning you get local data reception at a better price. Sites like Airalo connect you in pretty much any country in the world.
20. You can buy things while travelling
Another of my favourite backpacking hacks is that you can buy things while travelling. Sometimes I see people with 4 months worth of toiletries in their bag and I just think, why?
There are shops everywhere in the world, and it sounds patronising to say, but you can buy from them.
Sure, some items like sunscreen are usually cheaper to pick up at home, but the likes of toothpaste, deodorant etc., you can find in any convenience shop in the world.
21. Bring plastic bags
Plastic bags are great. You never know when they are going to come in handy.
Been swimming and your swimsuits wet? Put it in a plastic bag so your main bag doesn’t get wet.
Need to take clothes to the laundry room? Plastic bag.
Going shopping for some toiletries? Plastic bag.
If you are travelling for any period of time, I always suggest carrying at least one plastic bag. It’ll take up next to no room in your bag but will come in so useful.
22. Always have a charged phone or battery pack
No matter where you are in the world, who you are with, or how long you will be out, it’s always best to ensure your phone is charged enough to last you until you get back to the hostel.
If it isn’t, take a charging pack out with you. There are so many reasons for this but two of the main ones are 1) you will need to use maps to get back to the hostel and 2) if anything happens, and you need to contact someone or be contacted, you’ll need charge in your phone.
Sounds simple, but make sure your phone is charged.
23. Pack for sleeping in a hostel
I’ve already mentioned some items you will appreciate while staying in a hostel such as flip flops or a microfibre towel. But there are other items which you may appreciate, mainly for your comfort while sleeping.
They are a sleeping mask and ear plugs.
People will be inconsiderate and turn the lights on while you are asleep. And people will snore.
Two problems, yes, but two easy solutions too. Make sure you always have an eye mask and ear plugs.
A modern alternative to ear plugs could be Airpods if you wish to take this route.
24. Bring Student ID
Most attractions anywhere in the world will have a discounted price for students.
If you are a student while you are backpacking, bring your ID. It will save you SO much money.
If you aren’t a student, simply design and order a fake student ID.
The person on the entrance to a theme park in Vietnam isn’t going to know whether your Uni ID is legit or not, they’re just going to assume it is.
One of the most cheeky backpacking tips but one I love too!
25. Use a Universal Socket Adapter
This is a particularly useful tip if you are visiting multiple countries at once. Instead of getting a socket adapter for one type of socket, order a Universal Socket Adapter.
It means you can plug in your plugs literally anywhere in the world as it has all the different adapters for sockets in one. It’s compact and easy to fit into a backpack too.
26. Use Revolut or equivalent
While travelling long term, you’re going to be paying for a lot of things by using your card.
If your bank is anything like mine, you are going to get charged huge fees for paying in a different currency.
That’s why it’s best to use an app like Revolut for your payments in a different currency. If you take any of these backpacking hacks away, let it be this one. You will save so much money.
There are no currency conversion fees and you can spend money however you want. It’s such a simple change but I see loads of people just paying with their normal cards, and those fees add up quickly!
27. Keep a documents folder
Keeping your important documents safe is crucial while travelling.
I’m talking passports, visas, vaccination certificates, passport photos, etc.
So I keep these in a plastic folder that keeps everything in the one place. It also means they won’t get wet if my bag does.
I like to be organised, but even if you don’t, a plastic folder is a good idea to keep your important documents safe.
28. Do border runs
My penultimate backpacking hack is to do border runs. In many countries where you don’t need a visa (depending on your nationality), there is a limit to how long you can stay.
Many people think that once that limit is up that that’s it. Their travel is finished in that country.
But a hack to get around this is to do a border run. If you are unfamiliar, a border run is where you leave the country by land a few days before your limit is up, and simply re-enter a few hours or days later.
This gets you a new stamp in your passport and resets your limit.
Some countries do have a limit on this, where you can only spend X amount of days within X amount of days, but most countries’ laws allow room for at least one border run, so you can immediately double your stay in the destination.
29. Keep your Netflix subscription
And last but not least of my backpacking hacks, keep your Netflix subscription. People assume that because you are budget travelling, you need to cut all expenses. Which is somewhat true. And also that you won’t have any time to watch Netflix.
Long journeys will change your mind. Particularly if you haven’t made a friend. An 8 hour train ride can get pretty boring without anything to do. And while I encourage speaking to people and making new friends, sometimes you’ll just want to plug in and enjoy an episode of your favourite series.
Or you might create a routine where you spend an hour watching Netflix before bed each night. Keep a bit of normality into your travels, and that’s okay.
But all in all, you’ll want to keep your Netflix subscription active. Maybe even Spotify too, it depends what type of person you are.
30. Try WWOOFing
WWOOF is a fabulous platform which allows you to get gigs working on farms all around the world in return for accommodation, food and sometimes a small wage. It’s especially used in New Zealand and Australia but there are opportunities all across the world. It’s a great way to avoid some expenses while travelling as well as make unique memories.
31. Keep a diary or journal
A backpacking trip is going to be so full of memories and special moments which you will have forever. Unfortunately, there are sometimes too many memories. Especially when it’s often the smallest moments that create the best memories. For example, you aren’t going to forget that time you bungee jumped while backpacking Melbourne, but you might forget that hilarious game of charades you had in Vientiane.
Writing a bit in a diary or journal each day allows you to reflect and appreciate your time while travelling, and ensure your memories are never forgotten.
Backpacking Hacks: FAQ
Below are some FAQs related to my backpacking hacks, along with my answers.
Some of the best backpacking hacks are to keep your plans flexible, pack light, eat street food, stay in hostels, bring a day bag, take free tours and get a local SIM card.
When travelling to new countries, you’ll want to download maps so they are available offline, get a local SIM card, learn the area of your accomodation and learn some basic phrases in the local language.
No matter how long I am travelling for, whether it’s one week or six months, my backpack always looks the same. It consists of 4 t-shirts, 1 base layer, 3 shorts or bottoms, 1 jacket, 5 pairs of underwear and socks, shoes and flip flops and sunglasses. Then a microfibre towel, padlock, sleep mask, ear plugs, universal socket adapter, toiletries, and travel documents.
If you are simply travelling, it’s not going to be used anywhere near as often as you might think, so leave it at home. If you are travelling while working, as a digital nomad for example, then it’s a good idea to bring your laptop on a backpacking trip.
Final thoughts: Backpacking Hacks
And there you have it, 31 of my best backpacking hacks.
Implementing these will only have a positive experience on your backpacking trip.
And as I said earlier in the post, you will develop your own tips and tricks too. These are just some of the ones I have come up with.
So wherever you are backpacking, I hope you can use my backpacking tips to have the trip of a lifetime. Enjoy! 🙂