21 Pros and Cons of Backpacking Travel from an Expert (2024)

Wondering about the pros and cons of backpacking?

You’ve come to the right article as I’m a full-time backpacker and I’ve visited more than 20 countries on a budget.

There are so many amazing things about backpacking, and in my opinion, it is the best way to travel.

But there are also lots of downsides that most people won’t tell you about before encouraging you to take your first trip.

In my opinion, the pros heavily outweigh the cons, but to help you decide for yourself, I’ve put together a list of pros and cons that I have experienced from my trips.

Pros and Cons of Backpacking

There are so many pros and cons of backpacking. Some of them are obvious like “you get to travel” so I’ve tried to be a lot more specific and show you the actual advantages and disadvantages of backpacking. And I’ve been honest- a lot of people never talk about the downsides to budget travel. So here’s my thoughts:

1. Pro: Affordability

The biggest benefit of backpacking is how affordable it is. Backpacking is the cheapest form of travelling, and it’s significantly cheaper than travelling with a suitcase.

The most popular countries for backpacking are usually countries which are budget-friendly like Thailand, Vietnam and Laos. In these countries, it can often work out cheaper per month to backpack than it would to live at home and pay bills.

A picture of me in front of a waterfall.

2. Con: Safety Concerns

On the other hand, the biggest downside to backpacking is that it’s naturally less safe. In my opinion, backpacking isn’t dangerous, but when you’re staying in a hostel room with 40 people, you’re obviously less safe than staying in a private hotel room. And the popular countries for backpacking are considered to be less safe as laws aren’t as strict as in other places.

But if you ask me, as long as you have common sense and take personal safety seriously, you shouldn’t have any major safety concerns about backpacking. Plus, make sure you always choose a hostel which has a good safety rating.

3. Pro: Flexibility

One of my favourite pros of backpacking is how flexible it is. Backpacking allows for so much spontaneity. That’s why I always recommend that rather than planning a strict itinerary, you just make a list of places you want to go.

I remember a time I was visiting Rome on a budget and friends I made in the hostel were all going to Florence but I already had booked a flight back to Dublin. Oftentimes the best memories and experiences come from spontaneous things- so make sure to allow yourself the flexibility.

A picture of me in front of the Colosseum at night.

4. Con: Limited Luxuries

A big disadvantage of backpacking is that you give up many luxuries. Sleeping in a room with multiple other people, sleeping on a mattress that’s probably not the comfiest in the world, using a bathroom that won’t be as clean as a hotel’s bathroom, eating in a kitchen that might have stains everywhere. These are common things that you just have to accept while backpacking.

But I will say that you get used to it pretty quickly. If anything, I’ve lowered my standard of how I’m willing to live, which means I appreciate things I would have previously taken for granted. So there is a silver lining.

5. Pro: Simplicity

The simplicity of backpacking also makes you appreciate the finer things in life. Since you only have a backpack (you can take your backpack as hand luggage on planes to save money), you are limited in what you can pack.

You only really bring the essentials with you. For example, I never bring aftershave with me, I only use deodorant when I’m backpacking. My mindset is: I don’t need to smell nice, I just need to not smell bad. I have a list of things to take to a hostel if you want to see what I take with me.

In a way, you could describe backpacking as being minimalistic. And in my opinion, this makes for a more authentic travel experience. Rather than worrying about what you’re going to wear that day, you just put on whatever is clean and get out there and appreciate where you are visiting.

6. Con: Limited Privacy

Staying in a hostel has a clear disadvantage and that is the lack of privacy. You’re sharing a living space with lots of other people, and have no space to yourself, and nowhere to go to be alone.

The kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, common areas, and work areas, are all shared. I always choose a hostel over a hotel, but the lack of privacy is one major downside.

Most people are respectful and follow hostel etiquette, but you always get that one person who has no consideration for others.

You do reach a point where you feel like you just need to be by yourself. Many backpackers will book a private room every now and again for this reason. For me personally, one night a month is enough for me.

A picture of a typical hostel room. There are lots of pros and cons of backpacking but the lack of privacy is one of the biggest cons.

7. Pro: Cultural Immersion

As I said, backpacking is one of the most authentic forms of travelling. A big positive to backpacking is the cultural immersion you get.

Because you want to save as much money as possible, you’re going to eat like a local rather than as a tourist. So you get a more authentic food experience.

Because you want to save as much money as possible, you’re going to travel like a local, taking public transport or renting scooters. So you get a more authentic experience there too.

The same applies to activities, you want to experience things that are cheap or free, so you often get more authentic experiences rather than visiting tourist traps.

All of these things mean you get a proper feel of a country’s culture and what it is like to live somewhere, rather than what it is like to visit as a tourist.

Plus, most countries where backpacking is popular are jam-packed with culture, like Angkor Wat in Cambodia or Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer statue.

8. Con: Travel burnout

This is one of the things I very rarely hear being walked about; travel burnout is real, and it hits hard.

I see people all the time planning to go on a 9-month backpacking trip and no one has told them about travel burnout.

Well, this is your notice. Travelling, in particular backpacking, is tiring. Your days are filled with things to do and you rarely have time to relax as you’re always doing something.

Travel burnout hits really hard and hits out of nowhere. You’ll feel super tired and just want to lie in bed all day.

Thankfully, you can prevent it from happening. Every now and again, just have a chilled day. I aim for every 10 days or so. What I mean by this is instead of visiting 5 different attractions and walking 50,000 steps, just take it easy and maybe go for a lunchtime walk at a local park but chill out for the rest of the day.

9. Pro: Backpacking Community

A personal favourite out of these pros and cons of backpacking is the backpacking community.

Now I might be biased here, but I think the backpacking community is one of the best communities you can be a part of.

I can only think of a few occasions where I’ve met someone at a hostel and I haven’t gotten along with them. Sure, not everyone is going to be your BFF, but most people are really friendly and will have amazing conversations with you.

One of the biggest benefits of solo travel is definitely the ability to meet new people easily.

The thing about backpacking is that everyone is in the same boat. Everyone is travelling on a budget, trying to save money where possible, experience new things, meet new people and just have a good time pretty much. Everyone looks out for each other too.

This creates a mutual respect amongst backpackers, which is really good in hostels as most people are considerate. But the respect goes further than hostels. There have been times when I’ve been in a restaurant not while backpacking and I’ve seen someone eating alone, and rather than judging them like everyone else, I know how it feels to be in their boat.

Backpacking is one of the only communities where you can meet someone and within 5 minutes you’re making plans for what to do together the next day. That’s what I mean, everyone’s in the same boat and just wants to have a good time.

A group of friends I made while backpacking.
A group of friends I made while backpacking.

In fact, I love the backpacking community so much that I recently created a Facebook group where you can meet fellow backpackers, ask questions, seek advice, arrange meetups, share stories or anything else. It’s an easy way to connect with people before even arriving in a hostel.

A promotional image for my Facebook Group. If you click the image, you will be taken to my group.

10. Con: Loneliness

But as much as the backpacking community is amazing, it also creates a con.

When you’re travelling, you’ll meet so many great people. But everyone moves on.

You’ll make a group of friends in Bangkok, but then everyone goes their separate ways. Then you create a new group in Chiang Mai, but then everyone moves on. And it repeats and repeats.

This can be pretty lonely and is one of the biggest “ups and downs” of backpacking. You meet some people you can genuinely see being friends for life, but then after 5 days, you go your separate ways. The only upside is that now with social media, it’s really easy to stay in touch with people.

For example, in Washington DC, I met a guy from Greece. I took a trip to Athens a few months later and we met up. Don’t be afraid to ask for someone’s Instagram– I used to think it was awkward asking but the chances are that they want to ask you too but don’t want to be awkward.

11. Pro: Personal Growth

It’s pretty cringey to say, but it’s true. When backpacking, you really do grow as a person.

You learn so much about yourself – those long train journeys leave a lot of time for thinking – and you develop lots of key skills which will help you out in all walks of life.

One of the biggest things is that you become a lot more confident. You have to be confident while backpacking, and it translates into your everyday life after your trip too.

Even though backpacking has an association with partying and clubbing, in my opinion, you really mature as a person by going on a backpacking trip.

A picture of me in the Grand Place in Belgium at sunset.

12. Con: Uncertainty

While backpacking is amazing because of its spontaneous nature, this leaves a lot of room for uncertainty.

Some people like to have a clear plan and itinerary of what they’re doing and when they’re doing it. While that’s okay and everyone travels differently, it doesn’t really work while backpacking as you will always be on your own unless people tag along with your plans.

Also, most people who go on a backpacking trip don’t know what they’re planning to do afterwards. Travel more? Go to university after a gap year? Find a job? One of the reasons people travel is to escape having to make decisions like these, but just because you are in a different country, doesn’t mean (all) of your problems disappear.

13. Pro: Learning Opportunities

Backpacking brings so many amazing opportunities to learn things. The most obvious way is by learning things in the places you visit. For example, by backpacking the Banana Pancake Trail, you will learn a lot about Buddhism and the temples in the region.

You can also learn some basic phrases about languages, embrace the cultures, learn about making food (food tours are always a good way of getting a feel for the culture of a place), and speak to locals and just learn things about life from different perspectives is refreshing.

And you never know what you’ll learn. As a random example from me, on that trip I took to Washington DC, I also met a guy from China. I’ve always been intrigued about the Chinese language and how it works, and I learnt a lot in the 3 days I spent with him.

My favourite thing I learnt was that on a Chinese keyboard on phones, you type in how the word sounds using English characters, and then it brings up the options for which word you could mean in Chinese, and you select the word. Pretty cool! As I said, you learn so many things and you never know what you might learn or where you might learn it.

14. Con: Missing home

Homesickness while backpacking is very common. Even while having an amazing time and making so many memories, you’ll still miss home.

It tends to come in waves. You’ll miss home for a few days, but then you’ll be okay for a couple of weeks. Then you’ll miss it again. And so on and so on.

Depending on what type of person you are, doing things like FaceTiming family, sending postcards, and sending them photos, are all ways to help with homesickness. But for other people, this will make you miss home more.

I always remind myself that people at home are happy for me to be travelling and doing what I enjoy.

A picture of me outside the Capitol in Washington DC. There are lots of backpacking pros and cons but missing home is a big con.

15. Pro: Physical Fitness

Carrying a heavy backpack everywhere builds up your physical fitness a lot more than pushing a suitcase around.

Plus, you’ll likely eat less than when you’re at home. I never snack when backpacking really.

And you walk a lot, so there are 3 factors which can contribute to your physical fitness while travelling. That being said, I do make sure to stay fit when travelling by doing exercises.

16. Con: Physical Strain

On the other hand, carrying a large backpack everywhere is physically straining. Especially if you’ve to do it for a prolonged period of time.

There are ways to keep this to a minimum, such as my backpacking hack to bring a day bag with you so that you aren’t taking your large bag with you everywhere you go during the day.

17. Pro: Environmental Impact

Of course, backpacking still affects the environment as you are travelling. It’s just one of those things- I offset my carbon emissions every now and again.

But taking trains and buses everywhere is better for the environment than flying. And as a backpacker, you’re going to take a lot more trains and buses than you are planes.

18. Con: Dietary Challenges

If you’re going to a region where you aren’t used to eating their cuisine, such as when backpacking in Thailand, you might face challenges to your diet.

Bali Belly is a common phrase but it’s not limited to Bali. When you change your diet completely, it takes your body a while to get used to it.

Plus there are other challenges such as you might not like the cuisine, or you might be like me and have allergies. I found it pretty challenging to avoid peanuts and sesame in Thailand, but it was doable. You just have to be very careful.

A picture of a chicken noodle stir fry.

19. Pro: Resourcefulness

Continuing on from the fact that backpacking is better for the environment, when backpacking you are very resourceful. It is both a necessity and a benefit of backpacking.

Resourcefulness in this context is about maximizing experiences while minimizing expenses.

It often leads to more authentic experiences, like staying in a local’s home instead of a hotel (Couchsurfing doesn’t cost much) or discovering a hidden gem that isn’t in the guidebooks.

20. Con: Lack of luggage space

As much as I love backpacking and I wouldn’t travel any other way, sometimes I do wish I had a bigger bag.

Whether it’s a decoration from a street market that would look perfect in my bedroom, or a souvenir for my parents, usually I don’t have the space to bring it with me.

It gets a bit annoying but one thing you are able to buy is clothes, on the condition that you then give away some of the clothes you brought with you.

21. Pro: Problem-Solving Skills

Last on the list of backpacking pros and cons is problem-solving skills, and it is a huge pro.

To be honest, a lot of things go wrong when backpacking, and you need to be able to think on your feet.

Navigating public transport in foreign countries, getting directions when you don’t speak the language, ordering off a menu when you don’t know what anything is, these are everyday “problems” when backpacking.

The longer you backpack, the better you get at these things. But backpacking’s problem-solving skills translate into real life too!

A picture of me in Nyhavn,  Copenhagen. Problem solving is one of the biggest advantages in the pros and cons of backpacking.

Benefits of Backpacking

There are lots of benefits to backpacking, many of them are listed above as the pros of backpacking. But if you want a straightforward list with all of the benefits of budget travel and in my opinion, why you should take a backpacking trip, here are some of my favourites:

  1. Cost Savings: The most obvious benefit, budget travel significantly reduces your expenses, allowing for longer or more frequent trips.
  2. Authentic Experiences: Budget travellers often engage more with local cultures, customs, and cuisines, leading to more authentic experiences.
  3. Learning Money Management: Traveling on a budget hones your financial skills, teaching you to manage and prioritize your spending effectively.
  4. Increased Creativity: Limited resources push you to be more creative in planning your trips, such as finding alternative accommodations or offbeat destinations.
  5. Environmental Friendliness: Budget travel often involves less carbon-intensive modes of transport like trains or buses, reducing your environmental footprint.
  6. Building Confidence: Navigating new places with limited resources builds self-reliance and confidence.
  7. Meeting New People: Staying in hostels or shared accommodations often leads to meeting fellow travellers and locals, enriching your social experience.
  8. Appreciation for Simple Pleasures: Budget travel teaches the value of simple joys, like a beautiful sunset or a shared meal with new friends.
  9. Adaptability and Problem-Solving Skills: You often face unexpected situations that require quick thinking and adaptability.
  10. Exploring Less Touristy Areas: Budget constraints can lead you to explore less-known areas, away from the typical tourist traps.
  11. Learning to Travel Light: Packing light is almost a necessity, which can be a liberating experience.
  12. Enhanced Planning Skills: Planning a budget trip requires thorough research and organization, enhancing these skills.
  13. Greater Sense of Adventure: Budget travel often leads to spontaneous and adventurous experiences.
  14. Mindful Spending: It teaches you to spend money on experiences rather than material things.
  15. Deeper Cultural Immersion: Staying in budget accommodations often immerses you deeper into the local way of life.
  16. Improved Language Skills: Interacting with locals, especially in non-touristy areas, can improve your language skills.
  17. Personal Growth: The challenges and experiences of budget travel contribute significantly to personal development.
  18. Unique Stories to Share: Budget travel often leads to unique, memorable experiences that make great stories.
  19. Appreciating Home Comforts: After budget travelling, the comforts of home can be more appreciated.
  20. Sense of Achievement: Successfully completing a budget trip can give a strong sense of accomplishment.

To summarise, budget travel isn’t “just” about saving money; it’s a doorway to a richer, more engaging travel experience. Backpacking teaches valuable life skills and offers a perspective that luxury travel often can’t match. And I recommend it to anyone.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Backpacking: FAQ

Below are some questions related to the pros and cons of backpacking along with my answer to each question.

What are the advantages of going backpacking?

There are lots of advantages to backpacking. Backpacking is very affordable compared to other means of travel, offers more authentic travel experiences, and allows for personal growth.

What are the disadvantages of backpacks?

Backpacking can get lonely at times, especially on long trips. You also have less privacy as you are sharing hostel rooms with a number of other people. But the pros and cons of backpacking lie heavily in the pros.

Is backpacking an ideal type of holiday?

Backpacking is the ideal type of holiday if you want to save money and have more authentic travel experiences. Due to the attitude of spending as little money as possible, backpacking activities are often more authentic rather than tourist traps.

What are the benefits of backpacking?

There are lots of benefits of going on a backpacking trip. Obviously, you get to travel and make lots of memories. But you also develop life skills such as problem-solving skills and confidence. And you get to learn a lot about different cultures.

Final Thoughts: Pros and Cons of Backpacking

And there you have it, a complete list of the pros and cons of backpacking.

If you ask me, the pros significantly beat the cons.

For me, the most important pros are the affordability, flexibility, cultural immersion, personal growth and the backpacking community.

There are so many reasons to backpack and I would encourage anyone to take a backpacking trip- even if only for a few weeks.

Ready to start planning your first trip? I’d recommend backpacking the Gringo Trail, it’s a really popular route and very easy to do on a budget.

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