When you get itchy feet, the lame state of your bank account shouldn’t hold you back. Sure, you’ll have to adapt, but you’ll definitely get to travel. First and foremost, leave your prejudice and your fussiness at home. Aside from swinging your baggage over your shoulder instead of wheeling a suitcase, “backpacking” is also about sharing rooms with loads of people, with spicy smells and international snoring as the soundtrack… Not to mention the toilets. You shouldn’t leave home without earplugs and eyes masks if you plan on getting a good night’s sleep. Remember to pack your flip flops to save you from the icky-ness of nasty toilets. A good travel guide, comfy sneakers and mosquito repellent are other must-haves. A working knowledge of English, a fanny pack and a tattoo are optional… but your passport is essential. Also, learn to haggle, remember to ask about everything, and travel with caution. Once you’ve assimilated all that, you’re good to go. You’re going to meet travellers from all over the world. And these are best destinations to get started.
Bangkok’s Khao San Road has turned into a backpacker ghetto, and it’s the most famous street in the Thai capital. Back in the day, the neighbourhood traded rice… until the first cheap hostel opened in 1982. Enter the first backpackers, and boom goes the business. Nowadays, it’s one of the largest hotspots in the world for this type of budget traveller.
Most places require a camping permit. Photo: Mahir Uysal
Africa shows promise as a backpack destination: warm climate, gorgeous locations... However, the scarce amount of cheap accommodation and the lack of safety make it difficult to get around. For the minute, Zambia is a good option where you can visit some 20 national parks.
Like Bangkok, Paharganj is another great destination for backpackers, located near the train station in New Delhi. Chaos is also a trademark here: shops selling colourful clothes and accessories, cheap prices, carriers, open doors and, above all, people, loads of people. Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia –the absolute winner when it comes to combining dreamlike beaches with multiculturalism and gastronomic delicacies– and Vietnam are other South East Asian destinations that are great for backpackers. The Asian continent is ideal for two reasons: first, it’s exotic. Second, it’s super cheap, particularly when compared to European destinations or to New Zealand and Australia. The latter two have a backpacking soul, but prices are more akin to hotel suites than youth hostels.
Canada is another great option (you can volunteer at a lot of hostels in exchange for accommodation) and the nation is celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2017, so there are loads of festivals, particularly in Montreal. The same goes for Europe. It’s pricey, but packed with mountain destinations that welcome rucksack-bearing trekkers. From the Picos de Europa (Asturias), home to a Biosphere Reserve with more than 60 protected spaces, to the peaks of the Austrian Alps. If trekking is your thing, don’t forget to pack a good pair of mountain boots and a warm jacket. Mount Olympus, in Greece, is spectacular if you can brave the 3,000 metre climb. Zeus and the gods will surely lend a hand.
Mount Kinabalu is a great place to visit when travelling around Southeast Asia. The Malaysian Tourist Board defines it as “one of the safest and most climbable peaks in the world.”
Going back to the guerrilla economy, a host of Latin American countries have become top notch destinations for backpackers, most lured by the low prices and friendly locals. Hostal Prisamata, in Salta, in the north of Argentina, has the perfect slogan for a backpacker. Chill and going with the flow are the two key elements. Nicaragua also ticks all the boxes as the perfect backpacking destination. It’s easy to wander the streets with a backpack, the locals are very friendly and it’s home to cities like Granada, with houses and colonial churches that are reminiscent of ancient times. If you like walking on the wild side, you’ll love sliding down volcanoes – it’s all the rage!
Telica, 30 kilometres outside León (Nicaragua), is an active volcano. Photo: Matyas Rehak / Shutterstock.com
Che Lagarto hostel chain is also big on the Latin American ‘backpacking’ map. They offer affordable accommodation in Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile and Peru. Besides, if you run out of money half way through the trip, you can always do some seasonal work before you hit the road again. Their slogan ‘Life Is Now’ sums up the principles of the backpacker life.