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How to take your first long-term solo backpacking trip

So you’ve got your passport, quit your job, and put a notice on your lease now how do you plan your first international solo trip?


My first solo trip to Australia in 2013

Where and when do you want to go?

Do you want to go to Europe...Central America..South-east Asia? This is something only you can answer but if you aren't sure where you want to go, consider what type of activities interest you and make a decision that way. Do you picture yourself sitting in cafes, wandering cobblestone streets, and museum hopping? Maybe Europe is your vibe. Perhaps you imagine yourself snorkeling clear waters, riding motorbikes, and wandering night markets then off to Southeast Asia it is! Budget is of course a huge deciding factor- research the costs of hostels, transit, and attractions in the destinations you are considering to find to works with your budget.

Weather may also influence your decision. A European backpacking trip is going to look way different in the summertime vs winter and south-east Asia has a wet and dry season, etc. However I often prefer to travel during the shoulder seasons as it's less crowded and things are cheaper. Also be sure to research what festivals are happening during the times you want to go- I.e. Octoberfest in Germany or Songkran in Thailand.


Flights

Book the flight first so you have a due date and can’t back out. My top sites for searching for low fares are: Momondo, Skyscanner, and Google flights. However I would not recommend booking through a third party website like Kiwi or Orbitz even if they are cheaper it can cost you if things go wrong. Let's say you book a flight through a third party website and there is one layover but the first flight was delayed causing you to miss your second flight. Because you did not book directly with the airline you cannot simply go to the Airline's physical customer service desk at the airport, instead you will be stuck calling the third party sites customer service number which are notoriously difficult to deal with. Additionally if you want to change or cancel the flight you may not be entitled to a refund or will be charged hefty fees. I personally use third party site or flight search engine to find the flight that works best for me then book directly through the airline. You can even call the airline and ask them to price match the fare.


Visa

Always check out the visa requirements for your destination(s) and your nationality well in advance. Be aware that there are different rules for different nationalities. Figure out which type of visa you are eligible for and suits your travel plans. The majority of travelers simply need a tourist visa depending on your destination and nationality you may need to apply for this in advance or you might be eligible for what is called a, "Visa on Arrival," some countries are also have of a "Visa Waiver," for some nationalities. Tourists visas generally aren't very expensive but some require you to submit the details of your flight number and accommodation info so make sure you have that when you go to apply! There are also, " Work and Holiday," visas that are valid for up to a year and allow you to work to fund your travels; these are most popular in Australia and New Zealand. I would recommend researching this 3-6 months in advance. You can find all of this information on the countries official government website. Additionally, If you're going somewhere where you have the option to extend your initial visit to stay longer make sure to do this well before the expiry date to avoid big fees or even worse -a travel ban!


Accommodation

Where are you going to stay? Hotel, hostel, airbnb, homestay? The possibilities are endless but also have a huge impact on how your trip will go. Hostels are the perfect solution for cheap accommodation and making new friends. Home stays are a great way to immerse yourself in a local culture. There is also the option of housesitting or volunteering for a free place to stay!


Plan route



Now that you know where you are going how are you going to get there? You will need to do this at the same time that you are checking for accommodation—check which common "Backpacker routes, " you might want to try out and what is available for accommodation/ how much it costs to get between destinations. My favorite way to plan routes is by using Rome 2 Rio. I always say to make a rough itinerary to leave room for spontaneity. You may end up meeting people and traveling with them or you may not like a particular destination and want to leave sooner than expected so it's best not to have a rigid itinerary. Be sure to book popular activities in advance as they book up fast especially during peak season.


Join Facebook groups

There is a Facebook group for every niche interest you can possibly think of and travel is no exception. Just type in the location you are visiting plus solo travel or sublets and there will be many groups for everthing from meetups with other travelers to apartment rentals to rideshares.


Travel Insurance

Aside from your passport, travel insurance is probably the most important thing to have while abroad! It has saved me hundreds of dollars when I got food poisoning and missed all my flights on my last night in Mexico and again when I had to go to the doctor in Morocco. It's one of those things you hope you won't need to use but glad you bought it when you actually need it in an emergency. My favorite company to book with is World Nomads.


Staying connected

The best way to stay connected it to get a local SIM card. You can get one at the airport when you land or at a local convenience store in town. However you must make sure your phone is unlocked or else it won't work- you can check if it's unlocked at your local phone carrier before you depart. Alternatively, you can get an e-sim like Airalo and do everything digitally. Additionally, make sure to download WhatsApp if you haven’t got it already. Most countries in the world do not have unlimited mobile data plans so people and businesses rely on WhatsApp to communicate, make plans, make appointments, etc.


Sell everything (or put it in storage)

Begin selling your stuff 6 months in advance. Facebook marketplace place/offer up/ FB buy nothing groups are great options for most things like furniture, lamps, etc. Buffalo Exchange, Plato's Closet, and Crossroads are great places for selling clothes and shoes. You won't need to pack nearly as much as you think you do and you can take this as an opportunity to downsize. If you still end up getting a storage unit you may save money by only needing a smaller unit once you've gotten rid of most of your things!


Buy travel gear

Decide if you're going to take a backpack or suitcase. This is an (unnecessarily) controversial topic in the traveler community but it all depends on your activities, destination, and preference! I would say if you're going on a shorter trip and especially to a place like Europe or Australia you can get away with a suitcase. For destinations like South America, Africa, or South East Asia a backpack is going to serve you infinitely better. These destinations are generally hot and may not have as many sidewalks or paved roads. There is nothing worse than being sweaty and tired and trying to roll a suitcase over broken concrete or sand or carrying luggage up several flights of stairs. Sometimes your accommodation will only be accessible by boat or up a steep trek and good luck doing that with a suitcase.


Packing

Once you decide what type of luggage you are going to travel with you will need to decide what clothes and gear to put in it! This will of course depend on what season you are traveling in and what activities you plan on doing. Research the local fashion (I.e. is it a country where you need to dress modestly) and also see what other travelers wear by researching blogs, and utilizing TikTok and instagram. One packing rule I always follow is if you don't wear it at home you won't wear it abroad so skip the heels and dresses that only make it out of your closet once a year anyway. Other essentials I swear by are: packing cubes, a portable charger, and a quick-drying travel towel. The backpacker saying is to take half the clothes you were already planning to bring then half it again. You won't need everything you think you will and you want to save room for fun stuff you want to buy while there.


Vaccinations

Research what vaccinations are mandatory and which are suggested for the country or countries you visit. You can get these from a pharmacy, primary care doctor, or a travel clinic. However, depending on where you are located, they usually aren't cheap. You can actually get them when you arrive at your destination for cheaper. However, bear in mind some vaccines require a second dose 1-2 weeks later, which may affect your travel plans.


Banking and Cards

Let your bank know you are leaving the country. If they don't know and you use your card abroad the may flag the transaction as fraud and lock your card. It's also a good idea to have multiple debit cards and credit cards because sometimes ATMs will "Swallow" your card and you can't get it back. In the unfortunate event that this happens you'll be glad to have an additional card to get money out with. Credit cards are also super handy because you don't have to worry about dealing with ATMs and you can rack up miles-just make sure you get a card with zero foreign transaction fees. I also swear by cards like Wise that are designed for travelers to easily transfer money and convert currencies in the app! Wise is much cheaper than using a bank and has over 40+ currencies. Get your first transfer free by using my link here.


Pro-tip: Add your bank cards to Apple Pay (or Google Pay for Android users) so if an ATM eats your card you can still do a Western Union transfer to get cash.


Cash is King

Having multiple card options is essential but anywhere in the world remember that cash is king. Always have some cash on you in case you are in a place that doesn't accept cards or if you are asking for a favor or for negotiating- a cash offer is always going to go over smoother than paying by card as the recipient still has to pay a transaction fee and most countries payment apps like Venmo aren't really a thing. Additionally, you can pre-order money from your bank in your home country and have it sent directly to you or pick it up at your local branch. In particular Bank of America does this, check their website for all the currencies they offer. I wouldn't say it's the best exchange rate but it is way better than the airport (but please never exchange money at the airport) so this would be an ideal option for a very short trip or if you are taking out over a thousand dollars in local currency as they then don't charge a fee.


International Driver License



In some cases you will need an international drivers license even if you are just riding scooters. There are generally low cost and you can get them at your local DMV or AAA branch if you are a member.


Passport photos

Get a set or two of fresh passport photos taken and take them with you. This is for when you apply for visas in person they will need a passport photo to issue it. This can also expedite the replacement process for a lost or stolen passport.


Cancel subscriptions/auto-deliveries

There's nothing worse than getting charged for something you don't (and can't) use because you are abroad. Cancel any reoccurring physical subscriptions and consider getting a VPN if you want to keep any digital streaming services to watch your favorite content.


Reroute your mail

Even if you've cancelled all of your subscriptions and switched any bills to paperless, You'll need to give your landlord or property manager a forwarding address to reroute your mail to. The easiest option is if you have a friend or family member who would be willing to receive your mail, in lieu of this you can get a P.O. Box (expensive) or get a virtual mailbox. A virtual mailbox is a low cost digital mailbox service that contains scanned copies of your postal mail. This is a great option for digital nomads as there will be many instances where you need to provide a "Home address."


VPN

A VPN stands for Virtual Private Network and is essential if you are a traveler working remotely or if you simply want to keep up with all your favorite shows while abroad. My favorite is Nord VPN.


Give someone your itinerary

Stay safe and make sure someone knows where you intent to be. You can use a location tracker on your phone so a trusted friend or family member can always know where you are or use something like a Google doc or Tripit to share your itinerary.


Know the local emergency number

In the US we all know it's 911 but make sure to find out the local emergency number of the countries you are visiting you can find this with a simple google search.


Back up your key documents

Before your trip, scan, make photocopies, and/or take photos of your documents (front and back). I like to pack along a hard copy and have a digital version available on my phone (or uploaded to an easily accessible location in the cloud, such as Google Drive). It can also be smart to leave a physical copy with someone at home in case of an emergency.

Make backups of the following:

  • Passport and Drivers License

  • Visa

  • Prescriptions for eyewear and medicine. (If you ever need new glasses while abroad having your original eyewear prescription is a lifesaver in addition to any prescription medications.)

  • Accomodation confirmation and proof of onward travel (having this one printed will help you breeze through immigration)

In particular, its important to bring a few paper copies of your passport with you. Sometimes when renting sublets or even scooters some places will ask to hold your passport as a deposit and while you should never give anyone your passport you can give them a photocopy instead.


Download Travel Apps

Downloading apps like Google Translate and Google maps is crucial if you don't already have them. Other good travel apps are citymapper for navigating cities and public transit and Reverso app which not only translates words but local phrases and idioms. Also make sure to download the local taxi app like Bolt, Cabify, Grab, or Uber. Even if you end up getting a taxi off the street it’s good to check prices for reference.


Pro-tip: make sure to download the "offline map" of your location via google maps or maps.me so you can still access the maps when you are without data or Wi-Fi.


That's it! Once you do these things you'll be ready to hit the road. Liked this post? Pin it for later!



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16425956_10210614790837774_9921395963778

Hi, thanks for stopping by!

Hi! I’m Rachel, a Florida native, who left home in search of big adventures. I've traveled to 24 countries in 4 years and I'm here to share my best tips and travel hacks with you!

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