Backpacking for Beginners

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ALL-TIME FAVORITE POST FROM 2009 RE-BLOGGED
Welcome to the World of Backpacking!!! 
If you're starting to know more about backpacking or interested about it, please continue reading. So, you've started to book your flight and/or you're currently backpacking and needed to know more or you're just plain curious, here's an article you should read.

I am a Jerik, a 26 year old backpacker. I go backpacking around my country the Philippines and around Asia. What i have here is a simple guide for all backpackers, fresh and seasoned travelers. May this be the start of your many more adventures.

Backpacking is fast becoming a byword from friends, family, acquaintances who share awesome journeys traveling around the world. Some consider backpacking as a sport, while others treat is a soul searching engine to jump start their life, all in hopes to find real happiness in an unfamiliar place, somewhere in the world. 

Let's start.



What is Backpacking? 

Backpacking is a journey to go somewhere in the world, a region, some countries, far from your home country, to spend as little money as possible through plane/bus/train tickets to accommodations and food so you can stay longer. Moreover, it is also a circuit to trek a trail unfamiliar to the tourists, and more for serious travelers who want an enriching experience by mingling with the locals. The idea of backpacking somehow started with our beloved forefathers, the Hippies, who traveled from the West to the East in search not of a greener pasture, but of unending happiness in an innocent land but with a very rich culture. Hence, the banana pancake trail.

Before packing your bags, and buying your Lonely Planet guides, it is best to fuel your mind with ideas/thoughts that will definitely help you as you brave the unknown. Remember that backpacking is seriously not just about carrying with you a backpack and going through treks to the mountains. It is a mindset. A challenge. A perception. A heart.

Why go Backpacking?
A lot of backpackers i've met along the way have various reasons why they started backpacking. 

  1. The gap year. High school students from around the world consider taking a leave for a year to travel the world before they start their college or popularly called "uni".
  2. The breakaways. Professionals working for a couple of years decided its about time to reward themselves from long hours of work with months of relaxation. Most of them quit their jobs and have saved enough money to last them months to even years on a journey.
  3. The Soul-searchers. People, young and old, facing quarter life, midlife crises. Whatever their reason is, it must be something sentimental, dreaming and/or substantial in one's life. They leave their comfortable lives for a simpler, less complicated living. Sometimes, they go back home as soon as they realize stuff, other times, they never come back home at all.

Whether you're one of the three, or you're just tagged by your friends on a trip, and you're waiting already for your flight to South East Asia, Africa or South America, below are some of the things you need to consider as you start your journey. I've listed 5 rules to making the most of your backpacking trip. These 5 rules may be broken, once in a while. But you just have to keep up with the changing times. Everything changes, anyway. Keep this in mind. For a successful backpacker, it is not just about having the most travel trips or having the longest trip, but it's all about having the best moments that will never be forgotten. 

Rule #1
Get informed.
A backpacker is someone who knows time-tables, know where to go for cheap accommodations and food, someone who canvasses on everything. The trick is to go to three. Whatever is the cheapest, that's a sure go because the goal is to save enough money for something else, like food, souvenirs. Google, threads and forums, Thorntree of Lonely Planet, and guide books are helpful sources for tips, tricks and money matters. But books, from my experience, are always outdated. The hostel you think is your best bet may have closed a few weeks ago. But definitely the best source of information are the backpackers you meet along the way. Engage in friendly conversations, ask around, most of the time, travelers/backpackers help each other out and have more or less have been there or will go there. It's the real circle of life.

Rule #2
Be prepared.
A backpacking trip is just like any other trip, it's unpredictable. Things could get worse - lost passports, missed flights, misleading tuk-tuk drivers, pickpockets, and what have you. Read Lonely Planet Unpacked as in my previous post of stories by travel guide writers who have experienced the funniest, the weirdest and the most traumatic. But not to discourage you, there are a lot of exciting, breathtaking, unbelievable stories from travelers, i included, that the experience is nothing like you've experienced before. It is one of a kind. It is unforgettable. It will be etched in your heart forever. Friends, lovers, mentors - you will all meet them along the way.

Rule #3
Act Responsibly.
Whether you're 16 or you're 32, age is never an excuse to act responsibly. Going to a foreign land isn't like going to your mate's party. There are a lot of things to consider. Customs and traditions are always advised to be followed unless you want create a scene. If you're a girl in a conservative country like India or South Asia, you're best bet is not to wear too much revealing clothes. If you're a guy and drinks too much, it is best advised to carry yourself like a true gentleman. It's not prohibited to drink a few beers and have fun but never to start trouble on the streets, fill up girls, or anything wild and unlawful. Let's be honest, Prostitution is rampant mostly in South East Asia. I don't care whatever you do if you're a guy, but don't be a dick. If you're fearless, watch Nat Geo's Banged up Abroad. You'll know why you don't shit in a foreign land.

Rule #4
Embrace the Culture.
Different countries have different cultures. People are different; that includes language, gestures, customs, traditions. I am guilty of this, i compare countries. It is better here, than there. One thing I've learned after backpacking in different nations around Asia is to just embrace the culture. Just let yourself free. Try to speak their language. Try to follow their rituals. Never refuse an offer. Learn to say thank you in their local language. Always believe in the goodness of men. Most of the time, locals will always make foreign tourists at home (except in the tourist, robbery high prone areas). Start sharing stories. Drink local drinks, like i did in Phnom Penh. Smoke a cigarette with the Thais. Sit down and try to understand Mandarin like i did in Shanghai. Forget about where you're from. It's all about them.

Rule #5
Share.
The nature of travelers is to share travel stories with their mates. It's always a pleasant feeling to be able to convince people to go out exploring the world. Inspire your family, friends, everyone you know how blessed the trip was because of the nature, scenery, the people, the culture. It's a hidden protocol for backpackers to help each other out. If you know someone who hasn't been to a place where you've been, help that person. Share your experiences. Answer his/her questions. When you travel you'll realize it's such a small world after all. People you meet along the way may be you're friends for life. Religion, nationality, etc will never be a barrier for people to connect. There's always Facebook so that people can easily write on someone's wall to meet up. I am meeting up with my friends in Thailand this February 2010.



See. Backpacking isn't such a daunting task. It's a very fun hobby and passion in life. So what are you waiting for, my friend. Head to the airport now. I say, forget about your worries because as soon as your plane lands, or you reach your destination, nothing else matters but you and the world. Have fun, socialize, learn something new, leave a mark to the people you meet. Take tons of photos. And always remember that wherever you go, wherever you are, you will always be somebody to someone. 

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