Getting Started Backpacking

"Getting Started Backpacking" was last updated on March 03, 2014
All information below is subject to change

Are you ready for some planning? :-)

After reading this guide, you'll find that planning a backpacking trip is less overwhelming than you thought.

It's fun and can be quite easy as long as you do your research first.

It's the research phase when you're gathering relevant information that takes time. Once you have this, creating an itinerary or a budget will make it so much easier.

Have in mind that you have a lot of planning ahead of you and number 1 rule is to: flexible...

It's not the end of the world just because not everything go as planned! You will occasionally alter your plans during your backpacking trip which is very common for backpackers.

Like, you might end up not liking the place you've planned to stay for 3 weeks, and have to be on the move again after 5 days.

... Now, let's get started!

Where to travel in Asia and
how to create a travel route planner

preparing for backpacking, notepad and a pen Photo: Ladida ©

The first question you should ask yourself is:

"Where do you want to travel?"

You don't need to ramble down specific destinations yet, start with the countries.

For travel in Southeast Asia, Bangkok is normally the gateway city to the region, if coming from Europe, US, Australia and East Asia.

Kuala Lumpur and Singapore are also practical hub cities if you're coming from Australia or New Zealand, and planning on traveling in Indonesia as well.

If you don't have a clue about what countries or destinations you want to visit, you should start here:

  • Read travel guide books and research possible destinations

I recommend renting/buying books like Lonely Planet or Rough Guides. These books introduce you to all the things you need to know about backpacking, and are easy to read.

For more information on how to choose the right travel guide book, click here (opens in a new window)

  • Talk to friends who have been backpacking in Asia before and take note of places and activities you want to see and do. It's your trip. You can go wherever you want.

Remember that your backpacker-friends are your best insider-source... AND... they're your friends. They'll probably be happy to share honest advice, thoughts and experiences!

When you've decided on which countries you want to visit:

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Ask yourself these questions:

  • How much is it for a flight ticket?
  • Where do you want to start?

Start gently! When I started my first backpacking trip in Asia, India/Mumbai was my first stop. The country's beautiful, but if I could go back in time I would have picked the country as my last stop, or at least Mumbai as my last stop. 

  • Where do you want to end your trip? (at the beach, in the mountains etc.)
  • How much time do you have?

Be realistic. If you only have one month or two, focus on the places you really want to see. A stressful backpacking trip is not ideal if you can't even remember where you've been.

  • Can you easily return to a place you enjoyed if you wanted to?
  • If you don't like the new area, do you have a back up plan?

You should have other places in mind when you get in this situation. Feel free to be impulsive as well. Talk to other travelers on the road, and ask where they've been and about their experiences.

Things to consider:

  • Concentrate on one area at a time. If you're going to Chiang Mai, focus on the North. When you're done traveling in the North, travel to South and explore that part of the country and so on.
  • To save time and energy, start as north or south as possible and make your way up or down, east or west. This way, you don't need to come to the same place twice or more.

Example: From Pai to Lao border - instead of traveling via Chiang Mai again, travel directly from Pai to Chiang Khong.

To show you an example of a travel route, I'll show you the route I set up for my backpacking trip:

The trip lasted for 4 months, and I still had all the time in the world visiting these places.

I started in Oslo, then:

 Mumbai  Palolem (Goa)  Jaipur  New Delhi 
 Bangkok  Chiang Mai  Pai Thailand  Chiang Khong/Huay Xai 
 Luang Prabang Laos  Vang Vieng  Vientiane  Pakse  Don Det 
 Voen Kham/Koh Chheuteal Thom border (Laos/Cambodia)    Phnom Penh Siem Reap Cambodia  Battambang  Poipet/Aranyaprathet border (Cambodia/Laos)

- Back to Bangkok


Koh Pha Ngan  Krabi  Koh Lanta  Ko Phi Phi  

Back to Krabi  Ao Nang Khao Lak Ranong/Kawthoung border (visa renewal)  Ranong  Hua Hin  Cha-am Bangkok  

Ko Chang Island 

- Back to Bangkok again 

You can travel the other way around too, like starting in Bangkok, then travel to the border of Cambodia, Siem Reap and so on.

The great part of planning a route is that you don't need to stick to it!

Use route planners so you won't forget the important places you want to see, and to make sure you actually know where you're heading, more or less. There are tons of other places to go during this route.

You need to find the place YOU want to go to! And another thing: You'll get more out of your adventures if you're more spontaneous ;-)

Need more tips on where to go? Check out these itineraries.

If you want to go straight to a specific country/part of a country - click on these links:

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Don't know where to travel in Asia? How to set up an itinerary?

Get all the help you can get with this step-by-step guide on how to create an itinerary. Learn how to create a good and realistic itinerary for Asia.

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Pearls from the Backpacking Forum
Getting started backpacking

Here are some posts from the travel forum that can help your planning, and where to travel in Asia:

What are the highlights of Asia, country by country 
Itinerary advice for Southeast Asia 
Six weeks backpacking Thailand, Cambodia, Laos 
Bangkok to Laos, Cambodia, South islands of Thailand in 30 days 
What is the best circuit for Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and maybe  China 
Planning a trip in Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Malaysia 
Visiting a large variety of places in just 2 months - possible? 
Malaysian itinerary for one month 
How to get from Goa (India) to Cambodia 
Backpacking advice for planning South east Asia trip

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When to travel to Asia
Getting started backpacking

setting a date for travel in calendar Photo: Nigel Carse © Carse

The weather in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and India can roughly be divided into three seasons: cool, hot and wet season.

It's extremely hot during the hot season (around February to May), and it rains more during the wet season (around May-October).

Normally the best time to go is between November-February.

When it comes to Malaysia...

The climate varies from region to region. The best time to visit the Eastern Part of Malay Peninsula, the northeast of Sabah and the west of Sarawak on Borneo would be between June and August. If you want to lay down on the beaches on the west side of the peninsula (like, Pangkor) - you should avoid the months of March and April because that's when the heaviest rainfall occurs.

However, during the cool season the prices for accommodation are higher because most people travel during this period.

When deciding, ask yourself these questions:

  • Are there any festivals or special events you want to see? (like the kite-flying festival in Jaipur, India. Or the Reggae festival in Pai, Thailand)
  • Do you want to trek, dive, snorkel or try white-rafting? How much time do you want to spend on activities?
  • Example: To get the best underwater experience, depends on where and when you're planning to dive or snorkel.

    If you're going to the eastern part of the Gulf of Thailand (Ko Chang island area), the visibility is best from mid-November through May. If you're going to the western part of the Gulf of Thailand (Koh Pha Ngan and Koh Samui area), the best time to dive is from March to October. 

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Travel Partners
Getting started backpacking

Here are a couple of tips on how to find a suitable travel companion:

Fellow backpackers traveling together Photo: Silvrshootr ©
  • You have to be able to trust and like your travel companion with at least 100%!

Remember that you'll be traveling together, sleeping next to each other, eat, party and relax together 24-7.

And even if you find the "perfect" partner, I'm not saying that you guys will never have a fight or a disagreement. The point is to find a person you trust because you'll be responsible for each other's safety. You should watch out for each other, if you get into trouble.

Can you trust him/her if you get to that point?

  • You should share some common interests. It's not a must, but it's a lot more fun to do things together!
  • The person(s) you're traveling with should have the same goals and pace as you. If you're traveling with a party-friend who just want to party the whole trip, and you want to do the partying AND the sightseeing, you should reconsider your choice.

Or if you're a person who easily gets restless, may not go well with a person who likes to take things slow. However, this can go both ways. There are no obvious solutions. That's why you should compromise before and during your trip.

  • If you're going to travel with several people, make sure you know them well. Only you know if you are comfortable traveling with these people.

Click here for information on how to find travel partner

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If you already have a travel companion, 
here are the tips you should follow:

  • Sit down and compromise on where, when and what to see and do. It's better to discuss and disagree as much as possible before departure, than during your trip.
  • Make sure you know your personal space. If you want to do something on your own, let your partner know.

It's just healthy for your traveling relationship to do separate activities.

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Tips for solo backpacking
Getting started backpacking

If you want to go solo, that's ok as well.

When traveling alone, you are never really alone. You'll always meet other travelers, make new friends and someone might even become your (new) travel companion.

I traveled alone for almost three months, and I met people from every corner of the world. It was fun!!! 

However, traveling alone has both its ups and downs.

Plus sides:

  • You get to plan your trip in your own pace, see the things you want to see and be with people you want to be with.
  • If you get restless, you can just move on without thinking of anyone else but you.
  • You are never really alone. If you like some company, you can do that easily. If you want your personal space, you don't need to tell anyone that you need space... because you're on your own!
  • What I'm about to say may sound like a cliché to you...

But when you're traveling learn alone, you will learn so much about yourself. Things you would only realise when you're backpacking solo.

    I will mention a couple of examples:

    • Independency
    • Determination
    • Patience
    • Judgement
    • Your instinct will get even better
    • And not to mention: Survival

It's your biggest lesson in life!

So, solo travelers should be proud of themselves, after been backpacking alone in unknown and new countries!

The downsides of solo backpacking:

Ticket to safe backpacking ebook banner
  • You want to go to the toilet when waiting for the train or bus, but there's no one there to watch your backpack for you.
  • It's more expensive to travel alone when it comes to accommodation and transport. That means you don't have anyone to share a room with, or to split the taxi bill with.
  • Even though you meet a traveler during your trip and accompany each other, it's sometimes better to share memories with a friend you'll actually see every day after you've returned home.
  • The worst downside when traveling alone in my opinion is the part where you get so sick that you can't go to the doctor or pharmacy by yourself. No one you know and trust is physically there to help and support you.

Want more information about traveling alone?

Go to my Traveling Alone page (opens in a new window)

Visit my page about solo travel in India for female travelers

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How to Travel as a Couple
Getting started backpacking

Traveling with your boy/girlfriend for the first time?

Traveling with your loved one can be fun and exciting! Being abroad spices up the relationship, and you get to do cool things together.

But as you can imagine, it also puts your relationship to a test.

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Like with other backpackers traveling in groups, your patience, tolerance and your ability to compromise will be tested.

But I have to admit that when you have a disagreement/argument with your boy/girlfriend, it can be far more emotional than it would have been with a traveling friend. That speaks for itself. How you manage to solve that is all up to you guys - TALK. COMMUNICATE.

personally didn't have any problems traveling with my boyfriend in Malaysia in June 2009, and Thailand and Cambodia in April 2010 ;)

We had been together for two years when we traveled in Malaysia and knew each other pretty well. But we're not perfect and we argued once in a while. After talking it through everything was alright again!

All I can say is that if you manage to "survive" a long backpacking trip together, you'll know each other in ways you'd never discover back home.

The only visible downside (which I've seen) is that several backpacker couples stay too close.

When you're backpacking, get to know other travelers and try not to be too consumed by each other the whole time.

I've experienced that travelers in general seek solo backpackers or a bunch of travelers, instead of a backpacker couple cuddling each other in the back of a pub.

I've written more about couple travel here!


When you're done planning your trip, don't forget to check out the Backpacking Checklist

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